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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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.

Going it alone

This week, I received my fourth wedding invitation of the year.
It’s unusual, having so many in one year.
And there is always a slight mixture of feelings when I open the envelope and find the invite inside.

Victor Hanacek / PicJumbo

There is a mixture of happiness for the couple to see their plans progressing, delight to have been invited to be a part of their special day and, it pains me to admit, just a twinge of sadness that it is unlikely to ever be me sending the invitations.

Of the four, I’ve been to one so far, with a group of friends. Two of the remaining weddings are of people I also share several friends with and will be going along in a group.
The other is the wedding of a wonderful friend whom I have known a long time, but have never really shared a wider friendship group with. At her wedding, there will be one other person I know, who will be attending with her husband.
It is this wedding that is playing on my mind.

The bride-to-be is one of the most beautiful people I have ever met, both inside and out and I treasure her friendship. We have that sort of friendship where actually we rarely see other (and I’m yet to meet her fiance) but when we do meet up, it’s like no time has passed at all.
So when she handed me the invitation to her wedding, which is late next month, over lunch one Saturday, I was thrilled.

Ever since that Saturday many weeks ago, I’ve been mulling over whether to show up alone to a wedding where I know virtually no-one but the bride, or whether to find someone to join me, just so I don’t have to go alone.
Despite knowing I’m single, she had been kind enough to add a ‘plus one’ to my invitation, and said it would be fine to bring a friend.

Part of me has been tempted to ask a friend along, which of course then just makes two people who don’t know anybody else, but makes it easier for me so I don’t have to go alone.
The other half of me has thought “no, you should go alone, what’s the big deal?”

And yet, it does feel like a massive deal, like it’s some kind of failure to turn up to a wedding – a celebration of love and togetherness – alone.
It feels like I’m saying “you know that thing you have? The love, the happiness? I don’t have that.”

Going to a wedding, a wedding, alone. Perhaps I should wear a dunce hat.
As we celebrate love and joy and share in a very special day, I’ll be doing so at the same time as knowing I do not have that love in my life, that when it comes to relationships, I’ve never quite got it right.

Viktor Hanacek / PicJumbo

I know that I can walk into the ceremony alone, that I can take a seat, that I can watch with happiness as my beautiful friend says her vows.
I’m also pretty sure that when evening comes and there is dancing, and couples and groups of friends take to the floor, that I can slink away unnoticed.
It is all the many moments in between that it pains me to admit I’m dreading.

You know the bit just after the ceremony but before the meal and speeches, where everyone has drinks and conversation and the wedding party have their pictures taken? I’m not looking forward to that bit.
I have to either stand and be alone, hide in the loo, or become that cliche lonely person who makes conversation with whoever wasn’t able to to avoid eye contact and look away quick enough.

I think the meal will be ok, because I expect I’ll be seated on a table with the one other person I know (and her husband who I’ve never met). Except they don’t know anyone else either, so will be looking out for each other.
And what if having a single person has mucked up the symmetry of table plans?

And you know the bit after the meal? After the speeches? Where people go the bar, chat, laugh? The bit where it’s too early for dancing but the meal is over?
I’m not looking forward to that bit.
I’m not a massively shy person, but I also think I have enough social grace to know when people aren’t really looking to make a new friend, or chat to a lonely-looking stranger – and I think weddings probably fall into that category.

I previously wrote about feeling like other women don’t like the single-girl near their husbands at parties. I’ve never been to a wedding alone before, but I would guess that amongst the guests, it is a time when that feeling of being a couple is especially important, a time when a ‘keen to chat’ other guest is probably least welcome in your clique.

On the one hand, I feel like there will be a few pairs of eyes, looking at me and pitying me whilst at the same time feeling glad they are not the one who turned up alone.
On the other hand, I also know that most people are too busy getting on with their own day to be preoccupied with how you are living yours.
And yet I’m terrified I’ll either cope by getting really drunk and will say something ridiculously Bridget Jones-esque during dinner conversation, or that I’ll end up clock watching until the time when I can say polite goodbyes without seeming rude or ungrateful for my invitation.

Perhaps if the bride wasn’t a woman who was kind and lovely to her core.
Perhaps if I wasn’t truly excited to see her so happy.
Perhaps if I wasn’t so delighted to have been invited to be a part of the day.
Then, perhaps I wouldn’t feel quite so anxious or wouldn’t care about how this day will pan out, because maybe I wouldn’t care about going.
But I do care, I want to see my friend enjoying her big day and I’ll be damned if my own sense of loneliness will overtake that.

I tell myself that I will be a beacon of modern, independent womanhood, that I am perfectly fine just as I am thank you very much and that I push my shoulders back and be proud, not ashamed, of who I am.
More likely, is that I’ll keep thinking I should go and stand in the corner for getting it all so very wrong.

I am perfectly happy going to the cinema or theatre, or even to a restaurant on my own, and yet, more than any other social occasion, there is something about going to a wedding alone that seems especially like a sad indictment of your own failure to find the love or companionship that this day celebrates.