We place a lot of pressure on ourselves to be all sorts of things. The phrase “I should be…” resounds in our heads all too often. It took me a long time and the end of a terrible relationship to realise that I was not happy. I look back at my 22 year old self and I think about the things I would like to tell her. It’s not so much advice as reassurance and some warnings. I suppose it’s mostly a heads up on what to expect, to 22 year old Abi from 27 year old Abi.
Your hips will get wider.
Your arse will suddenly appear where previously little to no arse was. Do not be alarmed. It’s a good arse.
You won’t be able to do all nighters any more. You’ll think you can but you’ll get to anywhere between 1 and 4am and suddenly it won’t be worth it and all you’ll want is your bed.
It won’t be as easy to get back to sleep if you wake up early, regardless of the time you went to sleep. That one will annoy you. Loads.
You still won’t be tidy but you’ll be better than you were. It will continue to be a constant battle.
You won’t have to work in an office. I mean, you’ve aged 5 years but you’re not a totally different person. You’ll be resourceful and find work where you can to earn enough money to get by. You won’t be rich…yet.
You won’t be living all your dreams but you’ll be working towards them. You’ll know you’re going to keep doing that, slowly and steadily. It won’t stress you out that you’re not there yet.
You still won’t have grey hair nor will you be bald. You should probably stop worrying about going bald. It’s really very unlikely.
Gravity already affects your breasts. It’s going to keep doing that. Increasingly so. They’ll still be big. You won’t get a reduction. The great descent will continue. No one else will mind.
You’ll have different friends but they’ll be better and stronger friendships than you could ever have believed. They’ll be filled with laughter, support and love and the kind of acceptance you don’t yet know because you’re 22. They will be wonderful friendships with incredible people and they’ll be a testament to both you and the people you will choose to give parts of yourself to.
You will make better choices all round.
You will still sometimes make terrible choices. You’re not perfect. You never will be. But you’ll no longer be putting pressure on yourself to be perfect.
You won’t care what people think of you. You really won’t. You will feel so entirely liberated by that.
You’ll still be loud but it will be about things that matter. Mostly. Sometimes you’ll still just be loud.
You’ll be able to spend time alone and it won’t feel like you want to panic and run away from yourself.
In fact you’ll really like spending time alone. You’ll relish the peace, space and quiet.
You’ll find romantic trust and love much harder. It will scare you more.
You’ll exercise. Seriously. Believe it.
You’ll have had 3.5 years of therapy and it will have been one of the best decisions you ever made for yourself. You’ll still be going to regular sessions now. Because of it you’ll understand your own mental health much better and you’ll be more open and empathetic towards others.
You’ll have started to understand what it means to be kind to yourself. How to look after yourself and read the signs of when you’re trying to do too much or running from something you want to avoid dealing with.
You’ll be a massive, raging feminist, amongst other things.
You’ll want to help the world. A lot.
You’ll be more politically engaged and educated and interested in the world around you than you ever have been.
You’ll believe very strongly in adoption.
You’ll believe less strongly in religion.
You’ll still believe in God but how you define that God will have changed and probably will continue to change.
You’ll get to 27 and you’ll have never felt more sure of what you think and how to express it.
You’ll get to 27 and you’ll have never felt more beautiful or attractive or wanted, by friends or partners or colleagues – by people in general.
You’ll like yourself – your personality and your body – more than you could ever imagine at 22.
And even though you’ll know it won’t last forever because stuff just happens all the time, right now in this moment, at this age, you’ll be delighted by life.
22 year old Abi. It’s going to be ok. You’ll see. You’ll get there.
And when you do, you won’t believe how wonderful it feels.
You’ll get to 27 and you’ll be happier than you’ve ever been.
Wait…what the hell is that?
You’re torn between moving to find out and not moving in case it wakes.
Last night’s antics slowly return to your hangover brain. Oh. *That’s* what that is.
You crack open an eye. Hmmm. Yes he’s definitely asleep and that heavy thing you thought might be a massive book lying open and heavy across your middle is in fact his arm. Oh good. You’re trapped.
You hold your breath.
You release it.
You consider your options – go back to sleep now and deal with him later, run away and just bequeath your bed, room and flat to him, telepathically summon your master of martial arts brother or kick him out now.
You just want him to leave. Why doesn’t he know that!? Why is he still there?! GET OUT OF THE BED, MAN WHOSE NAME YOU DON’T REMEMBER. Phil? Was it Phil? Oh it could have been anything. You’re pretty sure it’s not Greg though. You can’t explain it, but you know with 100% certainty his name is not Greg.
In the end you manoeuvre yourself so that one arm is free enough to reach your phone which was on the bedside table but has now fallen to the floor, ew, under his yesterday’s boxers, which means that he’s definitely still naked. Well that’s that one answered then.
You text your sister/cousin/friend/mum and ask for advice on what to say to make the other human currently taking up space far too near to you leave.
“What do I do to make this guy leave the room? I want him to go!”
Here are some responses you’d get from me if I received that text:
1 – Tickle him then inform him entirely seriously that it wasn’t your fault but your shadow made you do it. Proceed to hiss at your shadow and explain that’s the only way to make it behave.
2 – Put on your fanciest dress and make sure you’re sitting on the bed gazing at him when he wakes up. He’ll go faster if you also stroke his hair.
3 – Call him “Petal”, “Pumpkin”, “my special wittle bed bear” or the wrong name in a baby voice.
4 – Stand over him holding a cross (fashion one out of 2 pencils if you don’t have one readily to hand) and talk in Latin at him. When he asks what you’re doing tell him he was sleeptalking and everyone knows sleep talkers have demons inside them that must be exorcised.
5 – Finish every sentence by neighing like a horse but under no circumstances acknowledge you’re doing it.
6 – Tell him you need to change your tampon and the spiritual blood goddess Menstruata requires that you do it in your bedroom alone. When he asks if you had your period last night just don’t answer.
7 – Call a friend and talk very loudly about how you’ve met the love of your life and you’re going to be together forever and he’s in your bed RIGHT NOW.
8 – Eat some monster munch. Breathe heavily on his face repeatedly.
9 – Begin cleaning while singing Disney songs and tell him that you’re convinced in another life you were the embodiment of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and any other princess who had the ability to communicate with animals. Then crouch down, pretend you’ve seen an ant, spider, beetle or woodlouse and begin crooning to it.
10 – Read out the shipping forecast.
11 – Tell him you’re 14 and your dad will be home soon.
12 – Find any paper or magazine and find the horoscopes page. Begin cross referencing as many as you can in print and online and then declare either that he must go or he must stay forever because the stars have said it is so.
13 – Tell him you, your aura, an effigy and a candle need some time alone to think about what you’ve done.
14 – Bark at him. Like an actual dog.
15 – Offer him a massage and be terrible at it. If you don’t want to hurt him, don’t touch him at all and when he says something, look terrified and tell him that you’ve learned the hard way that you don’t know your own strength.
16 – Mime. Everything.
17 – Make a boat on the floor and sing “Row row row your boats gently down the stream” at the top of your voice, while intermittently shrieking that the sharks are coming and nowhere is safe but the boat. For greater effect, throw a glass of water over yourself.
Of course, if none of the above work or appeal to you, you could just try telling him you have stuff to do and would he mind leaving sooner rather than later please. There’s always that option. But if you’re not going to be up front and honest about what you want to say, you should at least be creative with your lie.
This was written September 2012:
I recently went to a book talk. Yes I know, I’m in my 20s and I go to book talks, settle down, I love books. Now this was not my first book talk nor do I imagine will it be my last. This particular one was like a lot of book talks in that it was promoting the release of a new book by the author – Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson – and unlike a lot of book talks in that the conversation, between Mr Jacobson and his agent, Jonny Geller, did not solely revolve around the writing of said book.
The talk was far more interesting than that. It was set up in the style of Desert Island Discs but it was Desert Island Books. Mr Jacobson took us through the books he would choose to take with him to a desert island in one of the most fascinating talks by a writer I have ever been to. Mr Jacobson took us through Dr Johnson, Jane Austen, D H Lawrence, Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad into the depths of his childhood, be it real or reimagined, through relationships with people, writers and books and right up to the writing of his own literature. It was a literary journey told in the most compelling way, by a charismatic man who is passionate about the reading and writing of books.
I was at times literally on the edge of my seat. I was enthralled. But when the floor was opened for questions, I noticed something interesting. I recognised the archetypes of the people who frequent these book talks. The phrase “there’s always one” came to my mind for almost every person who asked a question. Why are there these people who seem to play the same roles at this type of event? Why is it they always feel the need to speak, to repeat the same patterns? Here are the people I have found at book talks, over and over again:
The Furious Note-Taker:
He or she will sit with a pad and pen, scribbling down every word the author utters, occasionally leaning over to you to ask “what did he say?” when something utterly crucial or insignificant has been missed because the note-taking has overtaken concentration. The sad thing about this is that this person has missed the point of a book talk. It’s not supposed to be a lecture – it’s a show to be experienced and a good book talk will provide a show, keep you engaged and stop your pen on your pad because you’re being made to think in the moment. This person may have the talk verbatim on their pad but he or she will have missed out on experiencing the character that is the author.
The Unpublished Author:
This person will come up with any question they can think of, however irrelevant and moronic, just to mention the fact that he or she is an unpublished author. “Um, hello, my name is Sam Smith and I have read a couple of your books, this new one too, somewhat enviously of course because I myself am a writer, as yet unpublished but I’m not bitter or anything and I was just wondering, with regard to your book, my question is: what is…the time? Also here is my manuscript, please read it or get your agent to read it, you have to take it now because we’re in front of all these people aren’t I clever for foisting this upon you.”
The One Who Has Read Everything:
This is the person who has read every book, essay and article by the writer. This is the person who claims to know the books better than the writer himself and will ask the longest, most complicated question in the most elaborate language, taking the most circuitous route to ask a very complicated and important philosophical question about the writer’s style, philosophy, belief, tone, structure, essence of being. This person is pretentious. Most people stop listening after the fourth sentence and even the writer begins to look bemused after the ninth. This person is obviously a thinker and intelligent. Unfortunately this person is actually trying very hard to be a thinker and thinks he or she is more intelligent than is actually the case. This person will not get a satisfactory answer to the question and will try to argue a moot point until somebody smart and in control of proceedings moves the questioning on.
The One Who Has Read Nothing:
This person has not read anything by the author and announces this very proudly before asking something about the state of education and literacy in this country that the author cannot possibly hope to know.
The One Who Reveals Too Much:
This person is a tricky one. On the one hand he or she is incredibly brave for being so candid and honest in a public environment. On the other, he or she is socially naïve for revealing so much about his or her life and being so candid and honest in a public environment. This is the person who reveals his or her very personal reading experience, often (but not always) relating to the death of a relation and usually involving tears. It is both moving and painfully awkward to listen to and feels a lot like it should be a private conversation between the writer and the reader – something to go up and speak about afterwards, not announce in front of the other 100 people. The room is left feeling an odd mix of social distaste and human respect.
I wonder which of these categories I fit into. I asked a question, I took a couple of notes down about things that made me think and to all intents and purposes I am an unpublished writer. I’ve not written a novel nor do I have any intention of writing one but I feel that is beside the point. Maybe I’m “The One Who Goes Home and Writes a Blog About It”. I’m sure there are more like me. I’m not judging any of these people nor am I suggesting I’m any better than them. I’m obviously one of them in some way and in fact, I’m rather fond of them. There is a comfort in knowing that someone will plug their unpublished novel, talk nonsense at the author or reveal too much of themselves. There is a comfort in the familiarity of it all. I wonder exactly who these people are? Perhaps it’s just the same few, going to all the book talks…
…No that’s ridiculous of course it’s not. But maybe there’s a novel in that.
NB this is written from a straight female perspective, but it pretty much applies to either gender – I’m just too lazy to keep writing in the other options. Switch it over in your head if you need to. You’re all intelligent enough for that.
1- Abusive. In any way. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Get out. It may sound obvious but I have it on good authority that it is a lot harder than you’d think.
2- The guy you keep giving chances to. Why do you give him so many chances? OH of course because this time he’s going to change and you know he will because he said so. Um. No. The hands are pointing to Reality o’Clock and it’s time to wake up. He won’t change. If you can accept him as he is then by all means stay with him but do not mistake habit for happiness. Do not mistake familiarity for love. If there are things that bother you so much that you’re miserable most of the time, then why are you with him? A relationship cannot work if you’re constantly trying to change each other. Of course, compromise, but to keep trying to change someone is wearing for both of you and only ends in misery, frustration and disappointment.
To quote Lorelai Gilmore of Gilmore Girls “You don’t want to be in the business of changing people.”
3- The guy who asks for money all the time. You’re always covering his share of the bill, paying for stuff, buying him things. Of course you don’t look at someone’s finances to check they’re on a similar income as you and relationships are not about money, but they are about give and take. With a difficult money situation it can be hard but often it’s a proportional thing rather than an actual figures thing. I’ve dated people earning less than me and earning more than me and OK, sometimes I can’t buy dinner that night but I can buy the coffee the next day. It’s not always the amount you’re spending but the thought that goes into treating the other person. Plus I love coffee and sometimes I’d be happy if someone would just caffeinate me instead of feeding me. Then again, perhaps some of my priorities are a bit skewed.
4- You don’t find him attractive. Sounds superficial but let’s be honest, there are not many people who actually want a relationship without sex. You may get on so well, he may be your best friend and understands you and is able to take care of you and bonus, he’s rich so he can give you a life of comfort and dinners and lovely holidays and you love him like a brother (hint: that’s the problematic part) but you just don’t fancy him. It won’t end well. And I count having rubbish or no sex for the rest of your life as it not ending well. Oh and while we’re in the bedroom…
5- The sex is bad. Really bad. Or maybe, for example, he won’t go down on you. This is potentially a controversial one but gentlemen – you all need to get over this reluctance to go down on a woman. Some men, from what I understand are totally fine with it. Good – you can all stay. Others, it seems, are less fine with it. Now obviously, this is a totally subjective thing but it can make up a large proportion of sexual activity and frankly sex is a whole lot less fun without it. And guys, it doesn’t count if you’re making a woman feel bad about it – that’s not fair. You’re not enjoying it (we know this, because you’re making the biggest fuss known to mankind) and therefore we’re not enjoying it because no one feels sexy knowing that the person they’re with feels under duress or worse, is grossed out by a part of our body that they seem happy enough to enjoy in other ways. I’m no hypocrite – I think women need to get over this mentality of “I’m not putting that in my mouth” too. Thinking about how much pleasure you’re bringing your partner is the best thing to focus on to get you through the experience if you really hate it that much. Or do a lot of teasing. Power play can be a whole world of fun. Also none of this applies to teenagers (or adults for that matter) who are being pressured into something they are not ready to do. That’s a different situation and not OK. The point is that it’s important for the sexual side of the relationship to be give and take as much as the rest of it. Both partners need to be satisfied.
6- I think this is the hardest one of all. This is the relationship that goes wrong for no discernible reason. And yet there appear to be so many reasons. The timing is bad, the weather is bad, it’s his fault, you blame yourself, it’s 6 of one and half a dozen of the other, you don’t fight enough, you fight too much, he has issues you have issues, one of you has a cold and then you both need tissues (I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself, I needed to make something rhyme there), you never see each other, you see too much of each other. Whatever it is you can’t quite pinpoint what’s wrong. He doesn’t cheat and you don’t lie but you feel you don’t really know each other. You text all the time but the communication sucks. It’s not a specific thing.
It should work but it doesn’t. And because it should work you have all these expectations of each other. On paper you’re perfect but people are not made out of paper. People are 19-Dimensional, wonderful, contradictory beings who can be immature but not childish and vice versa. And however hard you try, things still seem to keep going wrong. This is the one that it hurts so much to walk away from because if only you could be slightly different versions of yourselves around each other things would be so different and it would work so wonderfully well. You walk away and it is just so sad because it’s the last thing you want to do and you keep questioning the decision and never quite settling on if it was right or not. You want to keep trying because you hope that maybe that thing, that intangible thing that’s holding you both back from being the couple everyone would like to be, would like you to be, that you would like to be…maybe it’s just one more deep conversation away from disappearing. Rationale and feelings collide in an internal conflict of agonisingly epic (dis)proportions. Something pulls you towards him, equally intangible as the thing that keeps the two of you from working. And against all of that you just keep hoping. Ultimately, for a totally inexplicable reason, you just don’t bring out the best in each other.
To my inexperienced and probably quite naïve mind, the thing we want is the version of this relationship that works. The one where something just shifts, it clicks and (sigh of happy relief) you work. It’s not always easy but instead of the difficulties forcing you apart they bring you closer together. Instead of feeling lonely and isolated from one another you lean on each other for support. Instead of hurting one another you make each other happy. You compromise without trying to change each other and you love each other not in spite of the quirks and insanity but because of them. You make up after fights and eventually laugh about them because that’s what grown ups do. You do have to work at things but it’s OK because that’s what you want. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that’s what I want.
I’m quite poor at the moment – ok, not so poor that I don’t have access to a computer and therefore can’t type this blog, but in Western/London/middle class/all the people I know and am friends with terms, I am not a rich human.
In a recent conversation with a friend I said (AS A JOKE)
“I’ve found a new way to save money.”
“Go on…” he replied.
*a long-ish pause*
“It is technically called stealing…”
The thing is, when you don’t have money immediately available, you start to panic. There is a gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach that could be hunger or could be fear, or perhaps an unhealthy mixture of the two – “I’m hungry but oh God, do I have enough money to buy any food?” Chances are, the answer is “no, dufus, not really, that’s why you’re hungry and afraid.” The fear comes from already knowing the answer. And it’s not good.
Here’s the other thing – I like good shoes, food, clothes and accessories. I like good quality make-up. I like (to an extent anyway) going to a gym, exercising and feeling smug about it. On a less snobby, privileged level I simply like going out with my friends. The problem is, all of these things cost money. Whether it’s topping up my oyster card so I can, y’know, go anywhere (I topped up £10 today and the man in the newsagents told me that should get me around for one day. One day? Ten whole pounds will only cover your travel for a day!? The transport isn’t even that good here! Where is all that money going?!) or going out straight after work but not having brought dinner so having to buy some…it’s costly and stressful. So I’ve put together 14 handy tips on how to be poor but not look it.
As my good friend Rachel says: Fake it ’til you make it babe.
1 – Make use of free gym passes. You probably have a friend who goes to the gym. They get a couple of free day passes. Some gyms do 3-day free trials. Use them. If you can’t get one of those, go along with a friend, stand at the reception desk and be a bit annoying but friendly. Basically just hang out there until they let you in. Be a pain, but not a security threat. It really helps to go with a friend who is actually a member.
2 – Charity shops. It sounds obvious, but seriously you can get some actual gems in these places. Choose your areas well and you’ll be wearing designer things you couldn’t afford if you had a solid income. Plus then you’re giving to charity so you get to shop guilt-free.
3 – Be really nice to people on make-up stands – they control the free samples. Benefit are great for that sort of thing. Also MAC do free makeovers on the understanding that you’re going to buy the products after. I have it on good authority that “I’m just going to get my mum/friend as she has my purse” is a line that works a treat. Handy hint: that’s your cue to run away.
4 – This one might be questionable on the classy front but I’ve been lucky a few times here – those self service machines that we all hate? Yeah, sometimes they mess up and you get free food. That’s what big corporations get for replacing humans with machines. Saving grace of this one? You’re (kind of) sticking it to the man!
5- Walk to as many places as possible. This one is handy because it saves you money on transport (previously established to be extortionate) and is especially good for when you need to exercise but you’ve run out of free gym passes! It also often doesn’t take you nearly as long as you think it will – you can walk suprisingly far in an hour.
6 – Visit your mum. She probably has make-up she doesn’t want. And jewellery. Vintage pieces. Same rules for the grandma (if you’re lucky enough to still have one around) apply. Also they love you and want you to have the nice things you, at this rate, will never be able to afford.
7 – Buy magazines. They often have sample products. and are cheaper than actual products. £2.99 for a rubbish magazine and a free mascara/nail polish/lip gloss/moisturiser worth £10-£15? Don’t mind if I do!
8 – Ebay ebay ebay ebay – sell the things you don’t want. WARNING: you may also end up spending money. Ebay is dangerous for that sort of thing.
9 – Run a clothes swap and invite richer friends (so…anyone).
10 – London is full of free events. Go to them. If the weather is decent you can even walk to them. There are a lot of art galleries and museums that have free entry. Culture is classy. Go absorb it.
11 – Need a hair cut? Been 6 – 9 months or longer? Go to a model night at a hairdresser. It’ll take a bit more time but it’ll be much cheaper to have your hair done. Worth it.
12 – This one is a slightly sore subject for me as I once missed out on this by literally 2 minutes. At midday, Pret a Manger give away any leftover porridge because they stop selling it at 12. Either that or they throw it away. Go at midday. Pick up the porridge. Or ask for something you know they don’t have and then ask if they’re still selling the porridge. Either way, get free porridge. This is good because it’ll keep you going for hours. Those pots are really big.
13 – I have it on good authority that the Yo Sushi Selfridges food counter reduces things to 50p before it closes. This is also true of sushi in certain branches of Waitrose and M&S. Do not be afraid of the posh food places – they do good reductions when the food is no longer good enough for the usual wealthy clientèle.
14 – Go on dates – this was suggested to me by a friend and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It feels a little cheap to do it but equally, if you’re single, why shouldn’t you get a free drink/meal in exchange for your company. Oh wait. Did I just make you sound like an escort? Hmmm. Maybe the freebies of dating should be the happy bonus of being single and having the right motivation to go out with other humans. Either way, there’s a debate to be had about the ethics of this one – I’ll go into it another time.