Posts Tagged: relationships

…But Words Can Never Hurt Me

I’ve always been scared to write about this.

That’s kind of silly isn’t it? I mean, I’m a writer…I shouldn’t be scared to just…write. Last week I sat with my best friend in a Starbucks yelling so angrily at the top of my voice how I wanted him to suffer that a group of teenagers turned around, moving from pretending not to eavesdrop to full on reacting as if they were in the conversation.

“Bad break up,” I quipped.

“Five years ago!” She added.

“Cheers, that definitely makes me look less psychotic right now,” I replied.

Yeah, I need to write about it.

But I don’t really know how start. It’s like there’s just a brick where the words should be and no matter how many times I turn it over it doesn’t turn into what I want to say.

Some years ago I started dating someone who bullied me. He didn’t hit me. It’s so easy to define why someone physically abusive is bad. He didn’t physically do…well he didn’t really physically do anything. He wasn’t violent but he didn’t touch me affectionately either. There was very little warmth to him. Knowing myself as I do now, after 5 years of therapy (and still going strong – I should probably get her some wood for that anniversary because she’s officially my longest relationship) I can’t imagine why on earth I was with him. I can’t bear to think of how I let myself stay in that environment for so long – 2 weeks shy of a whole year. It makes my heart ache with hurt and anger for my younger self that I didn’t have the awareness or the confidence to call it out for what it was.

It was gas lighting, keeping secrets and lying. It was putting me down constantly. It was controlling. It was bullying. It was emotionally and verbally abusive.

I have a really excellent memory. Freakish almost. But I think back to that year, that relationship and I’ve blocked out whole chunks. Memory is a funny thing and while I think the forgetting protects me, I also sometimes think I’ve demonised him in my head. Recently I told someone a couple of the small things I remember clearly and definitely happening and they were so shocked by them and by how I just shrugged sadly after I said them…because I can’t do anything about them now. They happened and I can’t go back in time and stop myself or give myself the confidence I desperately needed to get out. So maybe between the forgetting and the remembering I have got some accuracy…what I’m saying is, I don’t know. I just know it wasn’t good.  Here are the clearest memories I have:

  • If I made a joke he’d glare at me and say, “You’re not funny, why are you talking?” even if everyone else laughed.
  • If I made a joke that he clearly found funny he still wouldn’t laugh, he’d just look at me with a kind of begrudgingly impressed smirk on his face and then say, “Well done.”
  • He once told me my best friend’s legs were nicer than mine and that they’d always be nicer than mine. That I could put makeup on my face to make that better and that’s great but I couldn’t ever change my legs.
  • He was only really nice to me when he was drunk.
  • I don’t drink alcohol and normally that’s not a problem. But I made him a ridiculous birthday meal of roast duck and a whole bunch of other things that took me all day to cook for him and his friends to enjoy and they played drinking games and when I said I couldn’t join in so could we do something else, he insisted they would be playing and suggested I start doing the washing up instead. It is one of only a few times I really wished I could drink because if I could drink maybe I wouldn’t feel so left out of the dinner party I had made. When I cried in bed that night he told me I was overreacting.
  • He lied about his sexual experience and then later when the truth came out, made me feel foolish for having believed him.
  • I remember crying at my parents’ kitchen table asking them why he didn’t love me. They didn’t have an answer.
  • I remember trying to break up with him and it’s the only time I’ve been so close to ending it with someone and been pulled back in because he kept telling me I was right and it felt like the first honest conversation. How can you not give someone the chance to redeem themselves when they’re finally being honest with you? Or at least you think they are.
  • He went on holiday with a female friend and I wasn’t comfortable with them sharing a room and for part of it, sharing a bed. He told me I had no say in the matter and did it anyway.
  • I once turned up at his place doing the whole underwear, heels and trench coat thing at 2am in a tight turnaround between trips for him. We only had about 3 hours and I’d also bought him snacks to take on his trip resulting in a farcical trip to Tesco, changing in my car into just underwear but forgetting the carpark was very well lit, bashing my head pretty hard on the horn attracting even more attention to myself. He made me wait while he played FIFA with his flatmate.
  • He expected me to go down on him but would make the biggest fuss about reciprocating. He made out like it was gross and he was so reluctant. Strangely enough reluctance about my body doesn’t make me feel great.
  • He would never offer me information freely so if I ever wanted to know more than “I’m out with friends” I’d have to ask each individual question – where are you going? What are you doing? Who are you seeing? I felt like I had to interrogate him which was weird for me because I’m neither a stalker nor an interrogator by nature. Everything was kept separate from me.
  • I remember we had 6 happy and fun weeks in the middle of the relationship. I remember how good he was to his friends and wished he could be that good to me. It wasn’t all bad. When something or someone is all bad you can’t hope that things will be better. You don’t stay when something is always consistently terrible. It’s not as simple as that. People are rarely so black and white. So I remember that how he treated his friends and those 6 decent weeks were all I needed to give me hope that one day he’d be that nice to me. Now I think 6 weeks isn’t very long at all. Now I think it was only good in comparison to how sad it was the rest of the time. Now I don’t know what I was doing for the other 44 weeks of our relationship.
  • I remember crying while I told him I loved him after nearly a year and saying that I knew I shouldn’t be saying it because I was sure he didn’t love me and I wished I didn’t love him. He replied, “I don’t love you.”  Nothing to soften the blow, nothing to make it gentler. He just came out and said it. I asked why he’d been with me for so long if he didn’t, what he thought he was doing, did he think he’d just wake up one day and it would appear? He said that’s how it had happened before but I didn’t buy it. I remember being totally heartbroken even though I had known it already, even though deep down somewhere I knew it wasn’t a good relationship. Confirmation of sad suspicion doesn’t actually make it better.

Those are just the bits I remember. People tried to tell me maybe it was just his style of banter but those don’t read like “banter” do they? And some of them might seem like they’re not that big a deal on their own but put them together and repeat over a year – the criticisms, the undermining, the constant verbal blows…you can see the picture forming and it’s not pretty.

I changed after that relationship. There was something hopeful that I no longer possessed. Perhaps it was naivety and that’s not meant to last, but I wonder if it’s supposed to disappear slowly rather than all at once. Since then I have developed a pathological need to know where I stand. I hate being in any kind of limbo for any amount of time. I need to know what I mean to someone, what the status of a relationship is in any context and I need to know it immediately. I came out of that relationship with less confidence in myself and less belief in my judgment. I had a whole giant bucket of trust issues and zero belief in the idea that someone might ever want or love me. When someone literally tells you they don’t love you and they’ve kept you around for a year to bully and toy with anyway…well it’s not hard to see why my self esteem was in shreds. It took me 4 years to have another relationship and at the start I had a huge hyperventilating, sobbing panic attack about the fact that I liked someone, that I was making myself vulnerable to another human being. Before, I’d been able to fall in love almost too easily and with the carefree abandon of someone who wanted to just give and make a partner happy. But after, I couldn’t even like someone without freaking out about how much of myself I might lose. Because what if I give and they just take? What if I give and not only receive nothing back, but actively give up a piece of me? How many pieces do I have left that are expendable?

Feelings and expressions of them had no place in our relationship. When I showed my feelings he treated me as less intelligent than I am. He treated me like I wasn’t worth listening to because my feelings made me irrational or less trustworthy. And when someone treats you like that for a long time, slowly in little increments you start to believe them. I started to believe him.

I have big, full, tidal waves of feelings. Sometimes when I feel something I talk almost entirely in hyperbole (I know right, what gave me away?) because the feelings are so big normal words don’t do them justice. Sometimes I’m so full of love it fills my chest like a balloon and I really think it might burst because I’m so happy to be surrounded by my closest people. That kind of overwhelming bubble of pure joy in your chest feeling. Sometimes something hurts me so much it spreads, also through my chest, like ice creeping over roots and freezing them, snaking around my heart and my lungs and squeezing so I can’t breathe because it’s so tight.

But this man to whom I gave so many of my feelings seemed to believe they made me weak. He seemed embarrassed by them as if they were an indication of something wrong with me, something I ought to be ashamed of. Feelings were not for showing to anyone, not even the person you’re dating for a year. I felt like I had to squash all my giant feelings into a tiny, tiny box. Make each of them as small as seeds and put them away.

Of course now I know my feelings don’t make me weak. My feelings make me open and strong. My feelings challenge other people and me and they certainly have no negative impact on my intelligence. My feelings take up space. Those seeds that I squashed down burst out of that box and they grew and grew. Now they’re the size of the biggest oak tree, no, the biggest oak tree forest you have ever seen. It’s a forest that gets richer, wilder, more complex and beautiful every time I let myself feel something new or scary, good or bad.

I once tried to confront him about how he treated me. Six months after we broke up we went for a walk in a park and I tried to talk. But he wouldn’t admit to treating me badly. He brushed me off instead of acknowledging how I felt and I certainly didn’t get an apology. He dismissed me – he didn’t say these words, but he might as well have called me a hysterical woman because he treated me like that’s what I was. He made out it wasn’t that bad, that he didn’t know what I was talking about. I think I even ended up apologising to him. For months I was so angry that I didn’t have answers. I couldn’t understand what had made him treat me that way for a whole year.

I have a different kind of anger now. I’m angry that I didn’t know better even though I couldn’t possibly have done. I’m angry that I didn’t have all the confidence and self worth that I have now. If someone tried to treat me like that again I’d call them out on that crap so damn fast. I’m angry, with the self awareness and knowledge of being nearly 29 for the young and trusting 22 year old that I was.  And I’m so deeply angry that I’ve had 5-6 years of dealing with the damage caused by that relationship and he was seemingly unaffected, unharmed. I was left in the rubble of myself trying to find and pick up pieces of me after he had set fire to them, and he just walked away.

I think I was scared to write about it because of how small and mentally unsafe he made me feel. It was like even talking about my feelings around this relationship conjured up that tiny box for squashing in those seeds. I still want answers. I still want an acknowledgement from him that what he did to me was wrong. I mean, I think it was cruel, but I’ll settle for wrong. I want an apology. I want to know if he ever regrets it, if he’s embarrassed by how he treated me rather than by my feelings about it. Everything was always on his terms – cold, professional almost, and obviously unfeeling. A blank and unreadable veneer covering over all the stuff he didn’t want people to see. I’d like there to be a conversation on my terms…but I’ll never start it because I’m still scared. I am terrified that if I approach him I’ll be dismissed again. I imagine he’d sneer and be kind of irritated by me, like I’m a fly buzzing around him, just something to bat away with his hand but not give any thought to. He’d say something like “It’s been years, why are you even still thinking about this? We’ve both moved on.” and we have. We’ve moved on to other relationships and I am happier than I have ever been in mine. But that would crush me. It would break me into tiny pieces and prove that I was right – that he was totally unaffected. That it was all such a total waste. He took things away from me and discarded them because they meant nothing to him. I don’t want to give him that conversation too. I don’t want to give him anything else.

I’m brave, open, smart and strong. I even quite like my legs, unchanged though they are. I am unashamed of my feelings and I take up space with all of them now. I have grown with my forest but I don’t think I could take it if I were to be brave enough to approach him and he burned my forest to the ground. I could not give him that too.

That at least is on my terms.

How I lost My Virginity

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There was once a girl…let’s call her Abi.

Abi was 17 years old and thought she was pretty cool. You see she had this boyfriend and he was a bit older than her. Not *loads* older. Just a few years. She was 17 and he was 21. That’s not that much is it? OK, he was nearly 22. So the best part of 5 years between them. That’s still not that much is it?

Spoiler alert: It is.

But we’ll talk about that more later.

Abi was a little bit (a lot) infatuated with this guy. He was older and weird and a bit messed up and mysterious and wrote poetry and played the guitar (of course he played the guitar. At 17 if he doesn’t play the guitar, he’s basically not human).  She was also kind of afraid of him because he was older and weird and a bit messed up and mysterious. The poetry and the guitar weren’t scary.  The mix was heady and intoxicating. He was wild and she could tame him. Heathcliff and Cathy but in real life and without knowing each other as children or living together.  It’s like the vampire fantasy. The whole thing hinges on there being this creature, like human but not human, of immense power, physical and mental strength. The vampire is dangerous and could easily kill you. Why is that sexy? Because it chooses not to kill you. It’s sexy because however strong it is, the vampire is weak for you. And that’s just gorgeous isn’t it? We all want to be someone’s weakness. The exception to their rules.

So Abi’s there, aged 17 dating this guy who’s 21 and he’s obviously way more experienced than her because she’s a naïve girl from North London who has led a fairly sheltered life mostly consisting of school, summer camp and home. She’s going to go inter-railing through Europe that summer with her best friend and that’s going to make her grow up a bit but that hasn’t happened yet and it’s that pre-summer summer we get in England where it’s sticky and hot and the days smell sweet and it’s that hazy heat, the kind that lingers, heavy in the air and the light makes the green of the grass and the blue of the sky technicolor but conversely when you remember it, it’s like the sun is always just about to set and everything is surrounded by a golden hue.

They’ve been dating since February / March or so. It’s vague because it has been clandestine which has only made it more exciting. She knows her parents would not approve. It’s not been a long time, 3-4 months, but it has been very intense. He’s going away and they’re fooling around, as they do, and he wants her to tell him she loves him. It gets him off. She does, she says “I love you” and then says his name and a small voice in the back of her mind (one that is possibly projected with the benefit of hindsight? Memory is fallible of course) tells her that she feels a little used when he does this, that she’d like it to be more organic and less demanded and an even smaller voice is not 100% sure she means it.  For all the excitement and intensity, she’s not totally sure she trusts him.  She has not had sex with him yet. She has not had sex with anyone yet and she’s not sure she’s ready for it so she’s held off. He’s asked, repeatedly, and each time she has refused.

And so it is June. This is the last time she will see him before he goes away for three weeks but it’s actually not such a bad thing because she has exams and he’s the biggest distraction for her. So they’re fooling around, as they do, and they’ve done the things that lead up to sex, hands and mouths, eyes looking up and breath catching and it’s all been fine. So they’re naked and rubbing and it’s not quite sex but then she feels something that is not his finger just start to slip into her and she jumps back and says “NO.”

And everything is still for a moment as he watches her. He’s impassive and still hard and she’s wary. And he tells her that it’s done. He says

“You know, you basically just had sex.”

Basically?

“Erm…what?”

“We might as well do it now. Because technically you’re not a virgin any more.”

What is he talking about?

“But…you didn’t even…it didn’t hurt or anything, it was a second and I stopped you so…”

“It still counts.”

“How? It was barely…”

Can’t find the words. Still too young to articulate things properly.  He sighs. Exasperated?

“Sex is when a cock goes into a vagina and that’s what happened. I went inside you. So if it’s even for a second, it’s still sex, it counts.”

He’s so matter of fact.

“But how? It didn’t even feel like anything? How is that…that can’t be right?”

Is it right? Is that it? Did I lose my virginity without even noticing? Is that how that just happened? That cannot be right. I’ve had sex education, I know it must be more than that.

“No, it is right. Legally we just had sex.”

Legally? He does seem sure.  And he has had sex and I haven’t and…what if he’s right? He is older than me. He must know what he’s talking about.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course.”

“I’m not.”

“Look, you’ve already done it. What’s not to be sure about now? We might as well carry on and do it properly.”

He must be right. He’s very convincing. I don’t know how to say no to this. He’s made such a strong case, and if I’m already not…

“OK.”

He moves immediately to action, doesn’t ask me if I’m certain or if I’m ok. He positions me, telling me he knows what he’s doing and that it shouldn’t hurt this way as long as I do what he tells me. I don’t say much because there’s a lump in my throat and I’m afraid and I don’t know what I’m doing and it feels wrong but it’s happening now and I don’t know how to stop it. I’m sad because I lost my virginity without even realising it and I wanted it to be special and feel right and this doesn’t but it’s too late now because he’s put on a condom and he’s pushed into me and onto me and he’s right, it doesn’t hurt but I don’t like it either. It’s an alien sensation. Or at least I remember thinking it is. It must have been. I don’t really remember what it felt like, just that I was surprised it didn’t hurt and I thought it felt strange. I can see the picture of us so clearly, imagining the bird’s eye view. I’m on my back on his floor, legs spread wide and he’s on top of me pushing into me over and over.  He tells me to tell him that I love him. I say it. But I know this time that I don’t mean it.

And as he finishes I start to cry. It’s the only time I’ve ever cried after sex.

We didn’t sleep together again after that. I didn’t tell anyone it had happened. I didn’t talk about it. I think I was ashamed but I couldn’t identify it. He went away a couple of days later and we broke up the week after he returned. The next person I had sex with was 6 months later and despite my previous experience, neither of us really knew what we were doing. I was his first and as far as he knew, he was mine. I told myself that this was my real first time, because it hurt and that made it real.  It was a discovery together and a bit fumbly and awkward and it hurt and I didn’t cry after and that’s how it was supposed to be so that would be my first time.

But it wasn’t.

I didn’t talk about it for 6 years. Ironically when I did finally tell someone it was a boyfriend who treated me very badly and spent an entire year making me feel like shit. Weird isn’t it? I wonder if my subconscious was trying to draw a link between the terrible romantic decisions I was making. Even he was shocked. It made me shocked. I hadn’t thought about it. I hadn’t thought about the implications of it. He used the word rape. I’ve not told many people about it since I told him.

I don’t think I was raped. I don’t think of myself as a victim. This isn’t a sob story. I don’t have issues with sex now. I was heavily pressured into doing something I didn’t want to do, something I very much wasn’t ready for. You may have gathered by now that “Abi” is me. I mean, I didn’t do a lot to hide it, I GAVE THE GIRL IN THE STORY MY NAME FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, HOW MANY MORE CLUES DO YOU NEED? Also the title of this post is How I Lost My Virginity so really, what did you expect? Come on. Keep up guys.

So why, 9 years on have I decided to write about it? Let’s talk about that age gap.

4-5 years between two people is loads when one of you is under 20. At 17 you’re still at school. I met a 17 year old this year who I became quite fond of in a “let’s adopt a little sister” kind of way. She was up at the Edinburgh fringe for a while and I felt somewhat responsible for her well-being. This wasn’t something she asked of me or expected of me, but something I felt nonetheless. Being the oldest of 3 siblings by quite a few years, it is sometimes difficult to escape that nagging feeling that I am responsible for those around me, especially if they’re younger than I am.

This lovely 17 year old girl told me about an experience she had with a much older man the year before. I was shocked by it. Because she’s 17 now which meant she was 16 then and that is really young. When you’re 17 you don’t think it is, but there is such a huge difference between someone who is 22 and someone who is 17.  And I was looking at her and I was shocked and sad and suddenly I was 17 again and I understood. I understood it all as I had not understood it then and it made me so very sad for me and for her and for all the young girls who are taken advantage of by significantly older men who should not even be talking to them, let alone trying to sleep with them.

I don’t think the girl knew at the time that it was actually a bit strange for a man in his late twenties to be paying attention to her in this way. Maybe she did and it didn’t bother her, but the inference was that now she realises it was a bit weird and then she didn’t. Because it’s slightly overwhelming in a star-struck kind of way, being young and impressionable and having someone who wants to make an impression. Being the recipient of that attention feels good. And you forget about what the intentions behind it might be.

So I suppose the reason I’m writing about this now is that I would never let anything like that happen to me now. I’m outspoken and strong and confident and I know my own mind these days. I was about to have sex with someone recently (oh calm down, I’m 26 years old) and he asked if we needed to use a condom. I told him that although I do use a form of contraceptive (contraception? What’s the difference between the two? Anyone?) that yes, we do need to use a condom for all the STD’s I don’t want to get. And yet, he tried without a condom. But I’m not 17 anymore and I know how to respond in situations like this.

“GET OUT OF MY VAGINA!” I yelled in his face. I shoved his chest, hard. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? I SAID WE ARE USING A CONDOM!”

And that was that. But at 17 I had no idea how to say no to the older, suave man on top of me. I had no idea how to articulate what I wanted to say. I didn’t know that it was fine to be that blunt as long as I got the message across. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. I’m not even sure I was self-aware enough to entirely know what I even wanted to say. But I do know it wasn’t “yes”.

So if you’re in your 20s or older and you’re male and you’re reading this – please don’t hit on girls whose ages end in “teen”. They’re too young. And you might not like who you become if you end up sleeping with them. Don’t kid yourself. However mature they seem, they’re still a teenager and you’re taking advantage of that.

And if you’re a girl of an age that ends in “teen” and you’re reading this, then please don’t be afraid to say no to a man because he’s older and seems wiser. Listen to what your head is telling you. If you don’t feel entirely comfortable doing something, don’t do it. Don’t let someone convince you into something you’re not ready for. Your thoughts and feelings are just as valid as his and you know yourself better than he does. It’s okay to not be ready, and it’s okay to say so.

Lost In Communication

 

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 “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw

“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” – Charles Dickens

 

I’m on my phone a lot. I’m on my computer a lot. I’m a writer – I use a lot of screens. I would say I’m fairly close to being a master of electronically communicated comedy. I’ve got the text shouting thing down pat. A well placed capitalised sentence can induce “Actually laughing on my own, in public” from my recipient.  Yeah that’s right. I’m good with the written word. And I can type super fast so I never miss a beat or a joke.

But what is this doing to us as human beings?  Is it healthy?

Well, all the evidence would suggest no. It isn’t. I say “all the evidence”…I really mean “my reactions to things”.

If, as many people do, you have an iPhone, I know I can contact you in the following ways:

Phone call

Face time – also FaceTime voice call

iMessage

Text message

Email

Whatsapp (probably)

Skype instant message or call

Facebook – wall post, tagging in a status or private message

Twitter – public post and DM

Viber message or call (though I don’t have it so that one might be difficult. But in a pinch, I could download it, check to see if you have it and then if the other 9742 ways didn’t work I COULD GET HOLD OF YOU THIS WAY. At the very least I could invite you to use it. That’s what a sane and reasonable human would do, right?)

Off the top of my head I have just listed 16 different ways to contact you. SIXTEEN. WHY DO WE NEED TO BE CONTACTABLE IN SIXTEEN DIFFERENT WAYS?!

I cannot convey strongly enough how much this freaks me out. And how much of a contributing factor I believe this technology and communications phenomenon is to the ever increasingly psychotic behaviour of people in the Western world.

 

I am not a patient human being. I’m just not. I do try to be, but naturally I’m impatient with anything from replies to messages and emails to adults understanding basic concepts. I don’t do well with slow people. I operate at a high speed and I expect others to keep up. I suspect I have been made much worse by the high speed and higher speed and higher higher speed internet that makes everything so easily available.

 

Inevitably this brings me to online dating. We get to know people through screens, via websites and messaging services. We want them to text after a date, not call. It used to be that we waited for a phone call. Now we don’t talk, we text. That is a severe communication reduction. I was once in a relationship where we texted all the time but never really said anything. It’s so easy to do that. It’s not easy to phone someone and then not say anything without quickly realising that something is wrong. As a generation, we have become inept at making phone calls when we should.  We have lost out on getting to know each other vocally when we aren’t face to face. Of course there are some people who have never been the type to talk on the phone, but more and more we don’t have conversation, we just chat.

 

It can be argued that people used to communicate through writing, so actually what we have is a throw-back situation to the days of writing letters.  Here’s why that is not true – letters take time, thought and care. Occasionally we may choose to write an email over which we spend a lot of time, but I believe that is quite rare.  When someone hand-writes a letter to me and I open it, that is all I see. That letter has been written without distraction. I know the letter has not been interspersed with Facebook and twitter and emails and other things. It has been crafted by hand for me to read. Similarly, I give it my full attention.  When an email is written it is probably one of many tabs open. There are 9 million other things you can do on that computer screen. It’s not the same and does not elicit the same response as a letter.

 

Now let’s talk about mental health. There’s a lot of debate about if mental illness is on the rise, or if we’re just less taboo about it than in previous years, so we’re more aware of it. I think it’s perhaps a bit of both. I also think that part of the reason for the increase in young people suffering from depression, is that we don’t have time to process anything anymore. Living in the age of technology is overwhelming.  We’re expected to act quickly on everything.  Things have to be done immediately, if not sooner. The brain is wonderful – fast moving, adaptable, fascinating. But conversely, we need time to process information and news and ideas.  We don’t have the ability to know things immediately.  Ironically, we are given the most time to learn and understand new things as children, when our brains are actually at their speediest.

 

We are fairly immune to emails now. I have been given the advice to make a phone call when applying for a job so my emailed application doesn’t just fade into the blur of so many others. If you want something done by someone, you should call the person or go and see them – emails are much easier to ignore because we don’t see them as important. We are desensitised to them.

I still like to receive phone calls and talk to people. There are already people who are more comfortable with screens than humans, and seek refuge behind their computers.  Our real life, person to person communication is suffering because of our dependency on technology.  Look around you the next time you’re on a bus or tube or train. How many people are on phones or electronic devices? Are we even more uncomfortable with making eye contact with strangers than we used to be?  Our basic receptors to people are not the same as they used to be.

 

There are positives of course – the wealth of information we can access, the widespread capability of the news and being able to skype or facetime with a relative or friend across the world. Like magic. Technology in itself is neither good nor bad – it is neutral, but we don’t only use it for good. We replace the validation and understanding we crave from the people closest to us with selfies, Facebook likes, retweets. We mistake these things for popularity. We mistake these things for people caring about us and we mistake the tiny gesture of a click for giving attention. We are simultaneously much more callous and more fragile now – we forget that behind each screen is an actual person just like us, and our relationships are suffering.

I do believe that our heavy reliance on technology and the fast pace at which we insist on moving is psychologically damaging. Nervous breakdowns, stress, depression and anxiety are all apparently far more common now than they were, say, fifty years ago.  Although public perception and understanding of these conditions is part of it, there is no smoke without fire. The fire here, in my view, is technology. So goodbye conversation. It was nice knowing you.

All Friends Are Equal But Some Friends Are More Equal Than Others.

I have 3 jobs at the moment and by January it might be 4. I spend the vast majority of my time at work or rushing between jobs. My socialising time is limited at best and it’s forced me to make some decisions about whom I see on the 1 afternoon I have off in 2 weeks, or for the single evening I have until the end of the month. Upon reflection those decisions are quite interesting.  Oh I know, this might not sound particularly radical –

“Well, obviously, Abi. We always have to make decisions about seeing people – we don’t see all the people all the time. This is a really stupid point.”

“Au contraire, dear reader. Au contraire.”

– because here is what I mean by making some decisions:

We all have obligation friends, or guilt friends. People who we’ve known for years and feel obliged to see. People who we like well enough, but we’ve cancelled on them for the last 3 arrangements we made so we really have to see them this time (but they’re really quite average company). People who we know don’t have many friends and rely on us much more than we do on them.

Relationship dynamics are rarely equal but when they are, those are inevitably the ones you cherish – those are the people to whom you give your only “me-time” evening in two months. Those are the people you decide not to cancel on when another shift comes up at work and you *really* need the money. Those are the people you choose.

But the others? Well…they don’t always make the cut. And life provides us with valid reasons and convenient excuses to put off those friends for another time, not limited to but including the old “I’m just really bad at keeping in touch with people”.   And you know what?  We all do it. It’s not so bad and we shouldn’t feel too guilty about it.

We place a lot of expectation on people, on ourselves. But we change a lot. We change at different rates, through different experiences. As a species we’re driven to progress and it is what sets us apart – it is what makes us so fascinating, this striving for progress and change.  Yet we cling on to constants as anchors – why? To allow us to know who we are? To measure ourselves by?  We make our  friends and family like the Mars bar – it hasn’t changed as a product since its release in 1932, so has become a yardstick of the economy.  Our friends are supposed to tell us who we are, either verbally reminding us when we forget, or subconsciously reminding us by being there and allowing us to see for ourselves.

Some say that friends are the family you choose.  but you can’t shake your family even if you’d like to and sometimes you really would like to. But the thing with friends is that you don’t have the enforced bond of blood to keep you together. That said, for lots of people in their families, that’s not enough either and people do stop speaking, seeing each other only once a year at Christmas, or not at all.

Because we do change. Undeniably, as people, as a species, we change. We fear it and yet we need it. And because we fear change, we fight it. We are quite simply not programmed to remain stagnant. But is that a good way to be and does that make anyone happy?

Friendships are not so different from romantic relationships: a good friendship requires a lot of the same components – trust, mutual respect, honesty, time, love, compatibility and the shared desire to both be part of the relationship with one another.  But although we accept that we make romantic mistakes, we seem to find it much harder to accept that sometimes we make friendship mistakes.  We’re not expected to hold on to every boyfriend or girlfriend we’ve ever split up from, but there is something inside us that insists we must maintain our dying friendships and keep them going, even if they’re failing.  We make excuses for our friends repeatedly because we just don’t want to let them go. And we shouldn’t always let them go – some friendships go through rough patches and need a bit of time or space or extra effort. Some friendships have the clout of a shared history, if not the connection of shared interests, humour or personality traits. But some friendships simply cannot last through so much change, even with all that effort and ultimately it’s because you don’t really want or don’t need them to. Sometimes we outgrow each other or we weren’t really right in the first place. It’s sad, like breakups are sad, but we move on, get over people and find new friends. When we allow those friendships to float away, we survive.

As we get older we have less free time and more routines to stick to.  This means the social circle shrinks – you have fewer obligation/guilt friends because you’re probably both too busy to feel obliged to see each other.  My brother of 15 appears to have an endless list of people who adore him (he is especially popular though so he might be an unfair example – don’t feel too bad. We’re all simultaneously baffled, in awe of, and slightly sickened by him) and he has all the time in the world to give to them. He rotates, he flits, he is a social butterfly (sorry younger brother – there isn’t a more masculine version of that metaphor. A bear maybe. A social bear? It just doesn’t give the same image. I mean, bears don’t really flit do they? A social bear would trample on everything. No, a gentle social butterfly you shall remain, younger brother.) My parents have a much smaller number of people they see, individually or as a couple. I am somewhere in the middle.  It’s just a natural progression as our lives have more unavoidable responsibilities and commitments.

And yes, of course some people are genuinely disorganised or never have a working phone, or remain stubbornly without one. And sometimes it really is difficult to make time for the people you care about because we can’t do everything. We cannot be everything to everyone. We have to accept that we must make choices, especially when time is precious.  Sometimes it will be made hard for us because the other party won’t let go – they might think they need you more than you need them and that is always going to be hard. And sometimes it will be easy because without anything being spoken, you’ll both just accept it and let go.  You’ll drift apart and that will be it.  And you both know it’s OK to let that happen. No break up is better dragged out.

I don’t believe it is that difficult to keep in touch with your friends. I don’t believe it should generally be so much effort to speak to them. Your real friends. The ones you want to speak to. It’s only such a big effort when you’re reluctant to do so.  It’s really hard to keep in touch with obligation friends.  The real friends, even the ones far away whom you skype or you have to physically leave the country once a year to see for a few days, you find a way because you want to. Those are your “more equal” friends and it doesn’t feel so hard to keep in touch with them.

I Like Online Dating. I Also Do Not Like Online Dating.

Online dating. Yes – it’s a thing. I’ve done it and it’s something I occasionally dip in and out of.  The pattern is that I try it for a month, swear it off forever and then go back to it after a few months, only to be reminded that I hate it and it feels unnatural and so the cycle repeats ad infinitum.

Let’s discuss profiles:

Although I don’t think you have to be a prolific writer to write a decent few lines about yourself, it’s actually not as easy as one might think.  It is surprisingly difficult to write an interesting and accurate paragraph about yourself without feeling incredibly arrogant (because you’re talking about how amazing you are) or without coming across like an actual mental (because you wrote something at 3am thinking it was hilarious when in fact the late night hour had lifted the brain to touch-typing filter and you spilled out a puddle of crazy.)

There are 2 things that repeatedly irritate me about online profiles.

1 – “Willing to lie about how we met.”

OH REALLY ARE YOU? THANKS GOSH BECAUSE I AM SO ASHAMED THAT I WANT TO MEET NEW PEOPLE.

This is not attractive. If the first thing I read about you is that you are happy, willing and able to lie, all I can think is “well, what else are you willing to lie about?”

There is nothing shameful about online dating now. It’s just another way to expand your social circle and meet new people.  If you’re so ashamed, either get over it or get off it.  No one is forcing you to create a profile on a dating website. OK, you don’t have to shout it from the rooftops, but if you’ve bothered to fill in your details and add photos and make up a stupid punny name, don’t be ashamed about it on the website filled with the people who are also online dating, and whom one assumes you are trying to attract.  Know your audience!

2 – Variations on the basic theme of “I like going out. I also like staying in.”

This is the equivalent of saying any of the following examples:

*I like being awake. I also like being asleep.

*I like wearing shoes. I also like not wearing shoes.

*I like having cats. I also like having no cats.

*I like daytime. I also like night time.

*I like moving. I also like staying still.

*I like smells. I also like no smells.

*I like eating bananas. I also like eating things that are not bananas.

 

To clarify, for the cheap seats, what you’re saying is “I like life.”

Brilliant. I also like life. But don’t most people have something a little more specific and interesting than “I enjoy my existence options.” ?

I will accept “I like staying in BUT I PREFER to go out.” or vice versa. Expressing a preference is encouraged. Opinions are the best, are they not? No? Oh all right then, if that’s what you really think.

Are people really this generic? Don’t people like specific things any more like the theatre, literature, art, photography, politics, stimulating conversation, wine, flying, astrophysics, the 80s, silly themed parties?  When did our imaginations and expressive abilities become so fenced in?

So to all the online daters out there:

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect there are other people out there who also want to know what *you* might be like. Yes, you. The unique, specific human being that is entirely and only you. I encourage you to be a bit braver and open up a teensy bit more. Because no one wants to date just anyone. We all want to be with the right person who makes us happy and who we can trust and know and love. But I think the first step on that terrifying path is being honest and saying something that might catch someone’s attention. So don’t be afraid to – because it simply cannot be that all those people who effectively put “I like going out and I like staying in” are actually that dull. It cannot be true, because that would be far too depressing for words.

 

As a side note – to approximately 85% of the people I’ve seen on dating websites: THAT CANNOT BE YOUR BEST PICTURE!! COME ON! GIVE ME SOMETHING HERE! Jeez.

 

 

When is casual sex too casual?

I went to a friend’s wedding and, aside from all the genuine joy and love in the room, I had a not so pleasant experience. I was sitting next to someone who I have only met a maximum of three times in life. I can actually only recall meeting him twice, but I like to leave room for human error with vagueness.

He had also recently got married and at this wedding, sitting next to me with his wife on the other side of him, he got steadily drunker throughout the evening. By midway through dinner, his wife was telling him to stop mucking around with a bottle of water and looked really quite embarrassed.  I asked for the bottle, as I was actually thirsty, and he responded by not giving me the water…kind of like a child…or a dickhead.

His wife, having rearranged her facial expression from embarrassed to exasperated, passed me the water behind his back. While my arm was lifted to pour the water, this man groped the area under my arm that also happens to connect with boob.

I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing and told him he had no right to touch me in that way, that it was incredibly inappropriate, that he does not know me and should not ever touch me like that again. He laughed. Because he is not a child, but is a dickhead. This really made me angry and I may have over reacted by threatening him with a punch to the face if he ever touched me again.  I was doubly irritated that his wife did nothing. If it were my husband, apologies would have been made and some serious words would have been exchanged later at home.  For numerous reasons.

 

I’ve noticed a trend in the way that certain men in my social circle behave.  There is a casual and total lack of respect when it comes to women. I know feminism exists, but it feels like it’s been warped to mean something different to men compared to what it means to women.  Is this just for my age group or is it the age in which we live?

In the last 10 days I’ve been sexually propositioned by no fewer than 4 different men.  (Yes I know, woe is me, some men want to have sex with me, first world problems yada yada yada).

I don’t have a problem with men wanting to have sex with me – it’s more the way these propositions were made.

One of them came completely out of the blue – “Hi, this may seem a bit weird but I wanted you to know that if you ever want to have sex with me (tonight? This weekend maybe?) the answer would be yes. Definitely. I’m just putting it out there”.

Erm, wow, thanks I’m flattered but you’re not really my type, good on you for having the balls to express yourself, I suppose if you don’t ask you don’t get.  I politely declined and heard no more on the subject.

 

The second was from a guy who regularly propositions me and whom I regularly ignore because he’s creepy. He even acknowledged the fact that I ignore him by saying “I think you’ll get bored with this before I do”.

No. No I don’t think I will. You should stop thinking that.

 

The third was someone I met last week – essentially went straight in with the classic approach of “I think you’re really hot, we should hook up.”

“Should” is a strong word and your logic is flawed. The attraction has to be two way. Or I’d have to not care about who my sexual partner is.

 

And the fourth was a friend who started with a cheeky bit of flirting a couple of weeks ago (ok, good so far) and then invited me over at 3am on Saturday night. Oh, fell at that hurdle.

 

What do all these things have in common? All these men did the same thing – they missed out some fundamental steps, that frankly count as courtesy in my opinion. When did it become ok to just jump straight in and ask a girl for sex?  What happened to asking her out? Am I supposed to be flattered that you want to have sex with me but you don’t want to spend any actual time in my company?  Am I supposed to revel and delight in secret late night trysts? (Ok that last one is actually quite hot, but only with a person you really fancy when you’ve got an established thing going on).

I don’t find it flattering if you just ask to have sex with me.  I find it disrespectful and at times, downright insulting. I said to one of these guys that if he wants to go for a drink and see what happens, that’s one thing but I’m not really down with the super casual super secret just sex thing right now. He declined. So to clarify – you want me to come over, pleasure you in all the ways you can think of, you’ll generously offer your bed to me for the whole night (“you can even stay over if you can’t be bothered to go home after!”) but you won’t spend a couple of hours in my company first? Are you shitting me? I don’t even think that’s such a lot to ask.

I’m obviously biased, but I don’t think I’m that repulsive. If I’m honest, I probably talk too much, especially if I’m nervous, and if I like someone, chances are I’m a bit nervous. So, as one guy recently put it, yeah “I’m a talker”.   But if you want the privilege of access to my body, you should at least do the gentlemanly thing and earn it with some kind time spent with me. That’s not to say you’ll get the body at the end of the night – a date is no guarantee – but you’ll have earned brownie points and increased your chances.  I find things like intelligence, wit, laughter and good conversation attractive. Those are the things that will get me into bed – not a late night text demanding my presence. Frankly, if I’m not in your bed by 3am, I’ll be in mine and I won’t be leaving it.

And what is this assumption that I’ll say yes? I don’t ask people for things if I think I have no chance of getting them, so these guys must think I’m the kind of girl who might well say yes to a quick shag. Don’t get me wrong – I actually have no problem with casual sex.  But to me casual sex means there are no strings attached, there’s no emotional commitment, and if one of you finds someone you want to have an actual relationship with, you don’t do it any more. It doesn’t mean there’s a total disregard for what one person wants, thinks and feels.  It should be entered into (yes, that was deliberate) with a mutual feeling of respect.  Sex is a wonderful thing that should be celebrated and enjoyed by consenting adults.  I believe we should go forth and…use a condom so you don’t accidentally multiply or spread disease.

Just respect your partner, casual or otherwise, and have the courtesy to at least approach with decency. However indecent the acts that follow may be.