THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #18
It was a wintery, blustery day. We'd been for a long walk through the country park. chatting happily. Rather a promising first date, I thought, topped off with a hot chocolate in the cafe.
He grabbed the bill as it arrived:...
Him: “Do you want to see me again?”
Me: “Sure! I had a lovely time”.
Him: “Are you sure you want to see me again?”
Me: “Yes, I just said I did”.
Him: “I don’t want to put you on the spot here, but you’re definitely sure that you want to see me again?”
Me: (getting less sure by the second) “Errr, yeah”.
Him: “Well, in that case, I would be delighted to pay for your hot chocolate”.
Him: “Well, I wasn’t going to offer to pay for it if you’re not going to see me again.”
Me: “I'll pay for my own hot chocolate, it's fine."
Him: “I’ll buy it for you if you’re going to see me again”.
Me: “I’d really rather just get it myself, thanks.”
Him: “No, no, no, I insist. My treat.”
Me: “No, really.”
In the end, I let him buy me the bloody hot chocolate. But he never called me again (and I was somewhat relived).
HOW TO GET THROUGH A BREAK-UP (WITH YOUR SANITY RELATIVELY INTACT)
Even if it was a horrible relationship, even if you hated him by the end and you're quietly relieved he's gone, even if he used to chew his toenails in front of your parents*, take some time to acknowledge your sadness that it's all over. There might only be a pea-sized smidge of sadness, but it will be there and it must be acknowledged; you'll have gone into the relationship with at least some ho...
ON BEING A GROWN-UP
I'm not cut out for this, I'm really not. Being an adult is much harder than it looked in the brochure. When I was small, I couldn't wait to grow up, fondly imagining the time when I'd have all the answers, gliding gracefully between the days, busy only with the sheer enjoyment of living. I'm glad I had no idea how wrong I was.
Life is much more complicated than I ever gave it credit. There are bills to be paid, lines to be drawn, principles to be defende...d. And laundry to be done. So much laundry. Don't get me started on the bloody laundry.
But then, there's the sweet contrast between being a grown-up and growing older. The former promises disappointment and expectations that can't ever be met. The latter is a balm; the older I get, the more comfortable I am in my own skin. The more secure I become. The more I sense and value the love that surrounds me; the more I appreciate my friends, my family.
The flip side to that: being able to lovingly let go of some relationships and people. Recognising the friendships that used to work, but don't any more. And finally understanding that what other people think of me is none of my business.
These days, I have a sense of happiness, of peace, of calm, that I've never known before. Even amid the chaos of the endless logistics and paperwork. And the sodding laundry.
Being a grown-up royally sucks, but at least growing older is great.
I went to see Home Alone 3 with a mate. We'd always had totally different tastes in cinema so, true to form, she was convulsed with laughter and I was bored rigid. For some light relief, halfway through the film, I nipped to the loo.
Business done, I went to open the cubicle door. But, the lock had jammed. I thumped the door. Nothing. I shouted myself silly. No-one came. This was back in 1997, I didn't have a mobile phone, so I resigned myself to being stuck until my friend ...raised the alarm.
Because surely she'd soon notice I hadn't come back.
Surely she'd soon realise I'd been gone for much too long.
After twenty minutes, I realised that either she hadn't noticed I was gone, or had assumed I was having bum troubles and didn't want to disturb me.
Another ten minutes passed.
As much as I hadn't been enjoying Home Alone 3, being stuck in a toilet cubicle in a branch of ODEON Cinemas* was marginally less fun.
In desperation, I took off my shoe and started hammering at the lock. My impressive DIY skills did the trick (or perhaps the gods of misfortune felt sufficiently sorry for me) and the door popped open.
I made it back into the screen as the credits rolled.
My friend looked round at me. "Where were you?"
"I've been locked in the loo for the last half hour."
"Did you not notice?"
"It was such a great film."
So, there you have it. I am officially less great than Home Alone 3.
(*since demolished. It's all it deserved.)
BRAND NEW SERIES: MY ENDLESS FAILINGS TO BE A GOOD JEW #23 (a tale of quizzes and public humiliation)
I am Jewish in the same way I am white and English. I don't have a sense of triumph or superiority about it; it's just how I happen to have been born. It's only one aspect of my tumble of genetics—like my brown hair and my long toes—and not something that defines me.
As an adult, I don't specifically seek out Jewish friends. But as a child, my social life was a whirl of Jewi...
THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #17
I’d been seeing a guy for a little while; he lived a long way away, so all our dates had been in restaurants and bars. Things had been going well, and I'd agreed I'd stay the night at his.
When I arrived, he was apologetic; there was a problem at work and he'd been thinking about cancelling, but still wanted to see me. However, he'd need to check in with work occasionally....
He left me with a drink while he answered a few emails. I checked out his books and his CD collection while he was gone (doesn't everyone?) When he came back, he explained he'd have to keep an eye on his phone during dinner.
Well, there's a difference between keeping an eye on your phone and giving it your full attention. We didn't talk much during the meal, and he seemed to get more and more agitated about work. I tried to chat about his taste in music and books, but a frostiness settled; he shut the conversation down and went back to looking at his phone and ignoring me.
It just didn't make sense. He'd said he was happy to see me, but his actions said the opposite. It's not fun hanging out with someone who blatantly doesn't want you there, and I wanted to leave; but I was 70 miles from home, I'd had a few drinks and couldn't drive, and public transport wasn't an option.
I was stuck at his. There was nothing that could be done but brave it out until the morning.
He had the one bed, so we both had to spend the night sharing it, keeping as much distance from each other as possible; not talking, not touching. I didn’t sleep a wink.
The next morning, he woke and said he had to get onto a conference call with work immediately. I said I’d leave, but he told me to stay, saying that the call wouldn't take long. I didn’t want to seem rude, so I stayed.
Two hours later, he was still on his call, and I was feeling thoroughly stupid. Several times, I stuck my head around the door to say I'd be going, but he insisted I stay, that he'd be off the call soon.
Eventually, my anger and discomfort finally overtook my desire to be polite. Enough. He didn't want me there, whether he was prepared to admit it or not. And—more importantly, although it'd taken me long enough to get there—I really didn't want to be there. Time to go.
Time to go. As I headed for the door, he muted his call to tell me: “It’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone over to mine. I’m not good with having other people in my personal space.”
I drove home, angry and upset. I presumed I’d never hear from him again, but he phoned me three days later. Maybe he thought he hadn’t insulted me enough yet; he told me he’d called to explain that he didn’t want to “take the relationship any further, because you’re obviously much keener on me than I am on you." And in the next breath, he asked, "Do you want to be friends, though?”
I laughed—a sharp, hollow, laugh—and said no, thank you.
#Glasgow is a wonderful place. I had a pretty tremendous time there, but my favourite memory was trying to get from the exhibition centre, back into the heart of the city, when a bus pulled up.
Bus driver: Hi! Nice necklace....
Me: Thanks! Are you going to the city centre?
BD: No, you want Derek.
Me: Excuse me?
BD: Derek. He's driving the bus that's about five minutes behind me.
And yes, Derek did drive me back to the city centre (and was somewhat surprised when I greeted him with a hearty "HI DEREK!" What a charming place).
As a child, I was obsessed by numbers.
No. I was ruled by numbers.
I spent my life trying to make sense of the world by trying to see patterns in it. When walking, not only would I studiously avoid the cracks, but I'd have to tally my steps as well. Counting to nine, over and over, soothed me. The world was scary and confused; I wanted to smooth everything down and make it safe. No cracks, count to nine, no cracks, count to nine....
THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #16
Before the date, he warned me that he got very nervous on first dates and often talked a lot. Fine, I sometimes talk a lot too. But he really wasn't kidding; I sat and listened to him talk about himself for the best part of three hours.
Eventually, he paused for breath, looked at me and said:...
Date: “I suppose I’d better ask you something about yourself, hadn’t I?”
Me: “That’d be nice.”
Date: “So, tell me about your ex-husband.”
Date: “Your ex-husband. How did you meet each other, how long were you together and when did it all go wrong?”
Me: “I don’t really want to talk about my marriage, thanks. Isn’t there anything else you want to know about me?”
Turns out there wasn't, as he went straight back to talking about himself again. At the end of the evening, he apologised again, put it down to nerves, and promised to do less talking and more listening if I’d meet him for a second date. I agreed.
Second date arrives and, again, the gentleman started talking about himself without asking me a single question. I tried to get the odd word in, but he was a tsunami of conversation. After two hours:
Date: “I said I was going to ask you something about yourself tonight, didn’t I?”
Me: “Yes, you did.”
Date: “So, tell me about your ex-husband.”
Date: “Yes. How did you meet each other, how long were you together and when did it all go wrong?”
Me: “You know what? I’ve got an early start in the morning, let’s call it a night.”
THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #15
If they ever create a GCSE in Having Awkward Conversations, I hope this conversation is studied as part of the syllabus.
We had our first date in a lovely country pub. The conversation was flowing well until:...
Him: “I read something interesting in the newspaper this week”
Him: “Apparently, the thing that determines how long you’re going to live isn’t what your parents died of, it’s how old they were when they died”.
Him: “Yes. My parents are still alive. How about yours?”
Me: “Errrrrrr, my mum’s still around. My dad died a while ago”
Him: “Really? How old was he and how did he die?”
Me: “Can we talk about something else, please?”
Him: “Don’t be shy, you can tell me!”
Me: “Really, I’d rather talk about something else.”
Him: “But it’s an interesting conversation!”
Me: “I really don’t want to discuss it.”
Him: “Oh come on, this is fascinating stuff!”
Me: “Fine. He killed himself when he was 59. There you go. Happy now?”
Him: “Oh right. Did he kill himself for any particular reason? He didn’t have any genetic diseases or anything, did he?”
I made my excuses shortly afterwards and ended the date. He was keen to meet up again, but I couldn't bear to find out what other delightful questions he was planning on asking me.
I can't ever sleep on public transport. Ever. No matter how tired I am.
There is a good reason for this.
I'd been up all night in Brighton. It was my best mate's hen night. We didn't bother getting hotel rooms; we were too young and too broke. The plan was simply to stay up all night until the trains started running early the next morning....
So, we bounced round the town, in and out of clubs, giddy with excitement and whatever the hell we were drinking, until, exhausted, we fell onto the first London train of the day.
This was sometime in the 90s, and the train was the old-fashioned stock with small compartments. Each little carriage had benches that were the perfect size for sleepy revellers to crash on. There was barely anyone else on the train, so we grabbed a separate carriage each, stretched out and passed out.
Suddenly I was awake. Something was wrong.
There was a man stood over me. Much closer than he had any right to be. There was a man, absolutely in my personal space while I was asleep, and I was suddenly aware of how vulnerable I was.
Me: "What are you doing?"
There was an awkward pause. I still have the impression that he then said the first thing that came into his head:
Him: "...I was thinking that you might want a foot rub."
Me: "No. I really don't."
He left the carriage pretty sharpish.
That was a good 20 years ago. I've not slept a wink on public transport since.
THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #14
We'd been flirting outrageously for weeks online, and it was half an hour before we were finally supposed to meet.
My phone went. It was him....
“Hi. I can’t make it tonight because my dog’s not very well.”
As excuses go, that's entirely reasonable. I get it. When someone's dependent on you—whether they're a human or a furry friend—you have a duty to look after them. So, I didn't mind him cancelling at all.
But I was mystified that I never, ever heard from him again.
I've learned the hard way to be suspicious when there's an empty seat on a packed train.
It was a Monday morning, and I am not a morning person. Befuddled from sleep, and desperate for a bit more rest, I was chuffed when I boarded the Victoria Line and spotted a spare seat.
I slipped into it triumphantly....
My joy was short-lived, however, when I noticed the smell. The assault of it was so strong—rancid, meaty—that I thought I might puke. I looked around desperately for the source of it, then realised, with some horror, that it came from my neighbour.
And then, he rested his head on my shoulder.
This was not good. I could smell his hair in my nostrils. I'm quite particular about who touches me, and I was feeling a little faint. Surely, there had to be a good reason for him to be doing this? Ah, he had his hand in his pocket. He was having trouble reaching into his pocket, so he'd stretched out and that's why his head was on my shoulder. Or so I figured.
But he was spending quite a long time reaching into his pocket. And his head was still on my shoulder. And his hand was moving pretty rhythmically in his pocket. And... oh... oh god...
Yes, he was cuddled up to me while he had a wank on a crowded train.
So, what did I do? Did I shout at him? Did I leap up and move carriages? Did I hit him with my bag?
No. No, I did not. I did none of those things.
Instead, I sat where I was and pretended that this thing wasn't happening. Because I am very good at pretending that unpleasant things aren't happening.
And, besides, I had a seat.
THE PROBLEM WITH STEP-KIDS
Don't get me wrong, I adore my step-kids. It's just that I don't want to call them my step-kids.
There's something distant about that "step", something that I really don't like. That "step" implies that a degree of disconnect, a lessening of love. That "step" says, they're only my partner's kids, they're not mine....
Wading back into the dating world, as a single mum, I realised that most prospective suitors would probably also have children. But I was concerned, remembering stories from acquaintances of how they could barely stand their partner's kids. What if I wound up in that situation?
And then, a mate and I surprised ourselves by falling in love. I knew he had kids; he'd often shown me pictures of them, told me how great they were, how proud he was of them. I used to look at those pictures, nodding politely; never imaging I'd ever meet them, let alone that I'd love them too one day.
I remember the day I finally met them. Struck by that sweetness, the blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar, making them so easy to love. He's charming like his dad, with his nick of mischief too, and an innate confidence that's all his own. She's got her father's strange, endearing mix of impulse and caution, twisted in her own sense of humour.
Love is a funny thing; there is never quite enough time for everything, but there is always enough love for everyone. Suddenly I didn't just have a boyfriend, I also had two bonus kids. They weren't his children anymore, they were ours.
We have an understanding. When we're out, people often say, "Does your daughter want...?", "Doesn't your son like...?" And we don't correct them. Because it might not be factually accurate, but it's certainly good enough for us.
I say to them, you know I'm not your mother, I'm not trying to be your mother, you have a wonderful mother already. But I love you like a mother does. I love you like a mother does.
THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #13
This is terribly shallow of me, and I’m still quite ashamed of myself.
I went on a date with a chap who may well have been very nice. Or perhaps he wasn't. I genuinely have no idea....
I couldn’t concentrate on a word he said, all evening, because I was too transfixed by the enormous pulsating boil next to his nose.
Seriously, I think it had hypnotic powers as I couldn’t look away from it all night. If I close my eyes, I can still picture its magnificent glory. I don't remember the guy's name, but I do remember that I named the pustule "Augustus The Majestic".
I’m very sorry, Mr Whoever-You-Were. I hope you found someone more deserving of your company than me.
Delivery Man: Sorry mate, your parcel got damaged in transit and it came open. Looks like the contents are missing.
Me: Oh no, seriously?
DM: Yeah, look, there's nothing in here but bubble wrap. Any idea what was supposed to be in here?...
Me: I can't remember. I've ordered a few things recently. How annoying.
DM: No worries mate, I'll just take it back to the depot and report it damaged. They'll send you a new one.
Me: Hang on.... It's ok. Just remembered, I ordered a load of bubble wrap.
I was talking to a darling friend who has depression. We said what a shame it is that some people don't understand mental illness, or are scared of it. Because it's hard enough when you're struggling, let alone when you're too scared to talk in case you're judged.
So, let's talk.
I know a little, just a little, of the bleakness of depression, having staggered through the dark for a year or so after my father died. Life lost its colour. And it wasn't that I felt bad, it's more... that I didn't feel anything. And, eventually, I just didn't want to be alive any more.
Realising that something was desperately wrong, I did try and talk about it, but I chose the wrong person to talk to. This person told me to pull myself together, to get on with it, that I'd been sad enough for long enough.
Unfortunately, telling someone who's depressed to pull themselves together is as helpful as telling someone with two broken arms to do a press-up. Hearing that I apparently wasn't depressed—merely "selfish"—was enough to put me off seeking help anywhere else, which is a shame as I'd probably have recovered sooner with support.
But I did get better, for which I am profoundly grateful. As I say, I know a little of depression, so have nothing but deep respect for my friends who live with it as part of their everyday lives.
So. Mental illness. It's just illness. Let's be kind to each other, life's hard enough as it is. Much love. Xxxx