No spring chicken

Wedding season has arrived. Or, more accurately, hen do season is in full swing, shortly to be followed by wedding season.

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

This weekend I went to the first hen do of the year.
A late night and more than £150 later, I’ve spent today feeling old, awkward and like a very bright light has been shone on my singledom.
Yep, wedding season is most definitely here.

I was the oldest at this particular hen do by quite some years. At 12 years older than the bride, even my own ‘baby’ sister (she’s an adult mother of two…!) clocks in older.
I knew from the off this one was going to be a challenge. The only two potential other hens I would have known are both married with young children and both sent their best wishes for a great time but declined the invite early on, citing childcare reasons.
I had eyed up the cat wondering if I could get away with the same, but really, us single girls have no choice but to rock up, smile broadly and attempt to rock it out with the youngsters.

A day and night on the town with a group of mid-twenties girls I’d never met before was going to take some energy. I’d had an early night in preparation, secretly stashed some flat shoes for when it all got too much and planned to break the diet and nosh some carbs to help with the alcohol.

Except in the end I probably could have drunk them all under the table and instead they caught me out in a way I was neither prepared nor equipped to deal with.
The non-stop conversation topic wasn’t strippers or alcohol shots or nightclubs or man-horror-stories – it was weddings. Their weddings. Their engagements. Their engagement rings.
In a room where I was a decade older than my nearest contemporary, I was not just the only singleton, I was the only one not married, engaged or pregnant. Two had been engaged since Valentines Day, one was a newly-wed, one was three months pregnant, one was married with a five-month old and one was married with a two-year-old.

One by one the how-we-met and how-he-proposed stories flowed. One by one, I counted down the moments until it would be my turn.
“That’s not an engagement ring, is it?” one of them cleverly deduced from the genuine 100% cut-glass sparkler I wear on the middle finger of my left hand.

And that’s where the inevitable began. Even when you say with a smile that you’re single, when you don’t apologise for it and don’t look ashamed, the responses are the same: “Don’t worry! You’ll find someone!” and “I thought I’d be single forever too!”
And then if you make the hideous error of saying it really is ok and you’re quite happy single – which I did, because the prosecco had taken my brain away – nobody believes you anyway.
My personal favourite from the night was when a newly-engaged 24-year-old who was annoyingly beautiful and had the self-assurance only a 24-year-old can, placed her hand over mine, smiled gently and told me about her cousin who despite being 35 had recently found a man and they were all feeling hopeful it might work out this time, even though he’s a divorcee, so I shouldn’t worry, it really is never too late.
Oh phew. Thank goodness for that reassuring little tale.

It’s nights like this that serve to remind me that no matter how much I have worked hard to not give in to stereotypes and feel ‘less than’, that it doesn’t matter I’ve never made it up the aisle – to so many people there is only one way to live a life and the sooner I become more like them the better for all of us.
Momentarily, I thought about mentioning divorce rates, or pointing out that being single doesn’t actually count as deviant behaviour, but I didn’t.
As usual, I smiled back, quipped that her lovely story shows there’s hope for us all and changed the subject.

And this morning I woke up with the cat asleep next to me. But I also woke up feeling more alone than usual, a little bit like a weirdo and a lot like if I stared in the mirror long enough, I’d work out what was wrong with me.
I might have felt like the old-bird of the hen do, but age doesn’t automatically make you tough old-bird and it’s going to take me a while before I feel like shaking a tail-feather again – hopefully before round two at the wedding.

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Fifth wheel keep on turning

I’ve never particularly been a fan of Tina Turner, but ever since the weekend, a version of Proud Mary, with the lyrics wrong, has been stuck in my head.

105H (2)

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography

I’d had plans to meet up with two girlfriends for dinner and drinks on Saturday night and was looking forward to seeing them both. One has been married several years and the other is the friend who married this June and whose wedding I took a deep breath and went to alone.

On Saturday morning, one sent me a text to confirm which restaurant she’d booked, and by the way, she’d realised she’d forgotten to tell me the husbands were coming too.
My heart sank. My night with friends was going to be an evening of feeling the odd one out, making the seating layout awkward, arriving alone, leaving alone, and generally feeling like a massive gooseberry.
One husband, I’ve met once (at the June wedding) the other I’ve also met once, when he was the groom at the June wedding, and likewise that’s the only time they’d previously met too.

Despite a sinking disappointment, I responded with a cheery ‘looking forward to it!’ lie and then spent the rest of the day dreading it.
By early evening, I’d realised that I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to pretend I wouldn’t feel like a loser going to dinner with two couples and sent my friend an honest text – apologising for being a party pooper, but that I was going to stay in, was feeling a bit like a fifth wheel and didn’t want to make ‘couples night’ awkward.
She said she was disappointed but understood, we’ve exchanged a few messages since and all is well.

But since the weekend I’ve been left with a strange and unsettled feeling.

Was I being a bit pathetic by not going? Or had my friends both forgotten what it was like to be the one who had to rock up alone and then stare into their food when husbands/wives were focused on each other?
I mentioned it to some other friends on Sunday and their instant reaction was that it had all been pretty insensitive and I should have been told earlier, rather than finding out Saturday morning and leaving me the option of looking either a) like a sulky singleton or b) smiling through a fairly grim evening for the sake of saving face.

I don’t think either friend would ever be deliberately thoughtless or insensitive, it’s just not their way, but I wonder how quickly the social safety of coupledom makes you forget the lonely minefield of navigating everything alone?

I have other friends who are couples and who I’d call both of them friends, and it never feels awkward being around them. So perhaps this occasion was partly so dreadful because I know neither husband, they didn’t know each other and so the evening wouldn’t have the relaxed, easy atmosphere of established friends.

So many social occasions feel like fire-walking when you have to go it alone and you don’t have the carefree easiness of your twenties to fall back on, when most of those around you were single too.
There’s a time when you realise you’ve hit the tipping point and the nights when you have to put on your best brave face and walk into a room like you’re delighted to be alone in a sea of couples outweighs the nights when you and a couple of friends chat your way through a bottle of wine and nobody cares whether its a cat or husband waiting at home.

I try so hard to resist the social stereotypes that assume that a happy life only comes in a twinpack.
Most of the time, I do have a happy life and I am fortunate that I have lots of very lovely friends to spend very lovely times with.
So why was Saturday a step too far?
Why was being the fifth wheel something I just couldn’t manage this time around?
And are we supposed to be honest when we’re feeling a bit punctured and worn, or slap a smile on and keep on turning up anyway?

Back to school

Unsplash / Lizzy Gadd

Unsplash / Lizzy Gadd

I may be 30-ahem-something and schooldays may be a fading memory, but even now, the looming arrival of September always feels more like the start of a new year than January 1st does.

The start of a new school term was always such a major event of the year and brought noticeable and tangible change, from those early primary school days in your brand new uniform, to the spotty teenage years, all the way through to your first move away from home and arrival at university.
The limp, cold and hungover arrival of new years day still seems mediocre in comparison.

I decided to take a summer holiday from blogging, not because I’d been at it so long or so prolifically that I was in need of a break, but because I’d begun to wonder if it was doing me much good.
Writing posts, sharing your thoughts and receiving friendly feedback is often a tonic.
But, I had found that I was starting to think about many things in a way I hadn’t for a while.
Writing blog posts about my single status was making me feel both comforted and like I was finding kindred spirits out there, at the same time as drilling down into emotions that weren’t especially fun.
There were times when I felt worse having expressed or admitted to something than I did before I started. Perhaps the need to keep reviewing my world to generate content meant I was thinking deeper or focusing on things in a way that wasn’t always helpful.

So, I’ve had summer off, I’ve been to parties, I’ve drunk a bit too much, a friend and I enjoyed a jaunt around Italy for a couple of weeks, I’ve survived being the single-girl at a wedding and I’ve had a bit of a mental and emotional ‘regroup’.

And so now, with the arrival of a new school term, and what feels like the start of a new year, I can’t think of a better time to re-connect with the blogging habit and start exploring a new way of writing, or thinking or exploring my world.

I wanted to blog as a positive action, not to moan or feel sorry for myself and whilst I think I have so far largely avoided those pitfalls, I was perhaps in danger of falling into them.
A holiday has been good, but I’m feeling ready to break out into a new term and crack open the digital pencil case.

So, hello, again.

Stepping Over A Line

picjumbo.com_IMG_1162

It’s been a long time since I felt myself ‘drawn’ to a man, nearly two years now, but I know myself well enough to know that often, not always, I have a ‘type’.
And recently, one of those ‘types’ has arrived at another office I regularly visit for work.

Tall, confident, sure of himself to the point of being a little cocky, well spoken and interesting – enter the Alpha male.
Having been in a place where I’ve avoided even the very idea of being interested in anyone for so long now, it’s taken me a bit by surprise that I’m attracted to this guy.
I’m not sure I think he’s even all that good-looking – oh laws of attraction, you do vex me so!

Obviously the fact that he’s a work colleague means I would never ‘go there’ even if it were mutual (we all only make that mistake once, right?), but, still, I’m drawn to spend time in his company.
He’s several years older than me – at least ten, maybe more – and has been about a bit, travelling around the world before returning back to the UK.

Today, whilst driving and then walking to meet a colleague, we swapped war stories about some of our life’s disasters and found some similarities.
He waved his hand around nonchalantly whilst he told me about the house he’d sunk his money into in France, and the woman who’d walked out on him.
After, he strode forward whilst telling me about the woman who’d stalked him and needed police intervention.
Running his fingers through his hair, he described the motorcycle accident that had almost cost his life.

He slowed the pace and lowered his hand when I mentioned the man who’d threatened to kill me.
He stood stock still whilst I tried to articulate the man who’d messed with my head so badly, and left me so unsure of who I am, that I can’t always find words to explain it.
We shared a wry smile and a raised eyebrow when I described the man I called my boyfriend, whose girlfriend had phoned me at work to ask what was happening between me and her boyfriend.

I have no idea if there is chemistry between us, but in the last few weeks I’ve felt we’ve sought each other out at meetings or before and after.
I know that if there is chemistry, nothing will ever come of it. It can’t.
I know that all the bad men I described were just as Alpha as he is.
I know that just thinking about something that would never happen gave me goosebumps nonetheless.

I know that entering this slightly familiar territory, hearing these different-but-the-same experiences, it feels like walking into an old bombing range – there’s an air of excitement, but you also risk stepping on explosives too.

Thank you for the music

So it took me about ten seconds to Google some info about a subject that will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, ever:
It has been scientifically proven that music affects our emotions and mood.

No shit Sherlock!!

The nerd in me wants to research this link between emotion and music and try to understand it more, but seriously, am I really going to tell anyone in this blog anything they don’t already know? (Click for more, here, if you must)
There’s the science, which is undoubtedly interesting and important, and then there’s just the reality – the raw, tangible, undeniable, goosebumps, tears, smiles or memories we all get when a certain song comes on the radio or we dig out a CD just to hear it (yes, I still listen to CD’s).

Today, the song Wonderwall, by Oasis, came onto the radio and instantly I was taken back in time to the man I spent ten years with, from 17 to 27. He was a huge Oasis fan and whilst he wasn’t a classic romantic, he used to tell me that it was ‘our’ song in his mind. It was his version of giving me roses, and I loved him for it.

So here’s some songs that trigger memories/feelings/times and places in my mind.
I’d love to hear some feedback about what songs are important to other people.

The OCD in me is quietly agonising about whether I should post these three songs in some sort of order (chronological? importance? type of emotion?) but I’m fighting that, and am just going with whatever comes to mind first.

All I See Is You – Dusty Springfield
So yes, I know that Dusty had her heyday WAY before my time, but goodness me, I love her. Her voice, oh, that voice that conveys a thousand emotions in a word. She captivates me in a way I can’t explain.
I sing this song, in the car, every few days, It’s about him, the one who broke me. The one I loved more than anything on this earth. The one who walked away.
The lyrics say it all – they say everything.
“The days have come and gone since you were here,” and yes, “In every way, all I see is you.”

Do You Realise? – The Flaming Lips
Call me weird, but I imagine this song playing at my funeral, with pictures of all the amazingly wonderful people in my life. Like it is my chance to finally point out to them how beautiful they are, and they don’t get to argue back with a whole load of ‘yeah, but’ because we’re all programmed not to take compliments.
Does anyone really realise how wonderful they are? Are we all too busy putting ourselves down and feeling angsty to notice?
I look at my friends and think “wow”, so many amazing people, and how much time do we really take to recognise that? Is it so bad to notice how massively cool we are?

To Sheila – The Smashing Pumpkins
I have no idea who Sheila is, but gosh, to have someone write a song like this, for you.
I just think this is the most beautiful song ever written. I love The Smashing Pumpkins, and Billy Corgan’s voice is extraordinary. I’d say this is my favourite song, ever.
Can you just imagine, just one person in your life, thinking enough of you to write this song?
This song?

Room with a view

Room with a viewHowling wind, tall grasses, a sky that can change in just moments from sparkling blue to threateningly black, and a sea air so salty you can taste it on your lips even if you don’t make it as far as the shore.

These are things that I think of when I imagine the place that I sometimes escape to.

It is a nature reserve on the coast that to some is desolate and lonely, but to me it is a place where the air somehow has more oxygen, where I can spend a few hours or a whole day and feel like my lungs – and some of my soul – have been cleansed.

There are some places that when you go on your own, can make you feel even more alone, or repressed by your solitude. And others, that even though they are large and rambling and exposed and bleak and you don’t see another person for ages, somehow make you feel cocooned, welcomed, like a part of the landscape, part of the nature, even if for just a short time.

Walking through boggy, marshy and salty ground full of pot-holes and mud that sticks your boots, should make you feel unwelcome, as though the earth is pushing you away.
And yet here, picking your way through the grasses, stopping to watch a hare leaping ahead of you, or birds in search of food for their young, hearing the squelch of your boots in the mud, here, it feels like the place is saying “come, see what I have, experience who I am, join us, for however long you can”.

And so I don’t feel alone there, I don’t care that I’m alone.
I want to feel the grasses and lick the salt on my lips and strain to hear the waves and keep striding forward, keep breathing in the welcome.

At home, alone, I am a tiny invisible speck that nobody sees.
There, I am still tiny and alone and yet a part of it, drawn into it, with lungs full of clean air and a head that loves the cold wind blowing right through it, blowing away cobwebs of loneliness and the shroud worn by the alone.

Odd One Out

The dawning realisation that pretty much all of my friends are either coupled up or married is one of the things that led me to start blogging.
A throwaway comment from someone that I’d been ‘left on the shelf’ (thanks) has echoed its way through my mind.

New Old Stock

New Old Stock

I lamented this during a “moany” day to a work colleague, and they looked at me blankly and pointed out that maybe I needed some different friends.
Now, not to suggest I don’t like my existing friends, but I take on board the fact that for the vast majority of them, life has moved in a different direction to mine.

So, it has made me realise that perhaps I need to start branching out in some new directions.
The realisation that I need to maybe join a new club or two, take up a new hobby or two, go to a new place or two.
Maybe meeting a new person or two will make me less of the odd one out.
So far, so simple.

Until I sat down to start researching what I might like to do and drew an absolute blank.
Should I do some kind of class? (which all seem to be starting in September – months away!)
Should I take up a new sport? (I am SO rubbish at sport)
Should I join a walking club? (Two left feet…)
Should I find a book club? (Why is there no book club locally???)

On the one hand, choosing to find a new interest seems exciting and liberating.
On the other, I already feel a little bit exhausted at the knowledge that once again not only do I have to find a group that I hope will have a me-shaped space in it, I’ll also have to walk into a room on my own, introduce myself to people on my own, smile and not show my nerves on my own, and hope that someone is friendly…
Just like walking into a wedding alone, there’s something about walking into a new place alone that is scary.

And what exactly to do? It feels like the world is my oyster, until I actually start to try to research it and find myself drawing a lot of blanks.
I sat there yesterday, staring a the Google search page, thinking I didn’t even know what to search for.

Perhaps there’s a correlation between the scary bit and the blanks?
Maybe if I wasn’t feeling a bit scared, there would be a whole host of opportunities?

36 and in need of new friends.
Is it me or is that as rubbish as I think it is?
I’d love to know how fellow singletons keep busy and meet new people.
Does anyone know the secret?