Part 162: Broderie Anglaise

Screenshot 2016-01-18 00.39.39

I used to have this boyfriend who was obsessed with the colour white. More specifically, he was obsessed with women dressed in white – possibly because he’d absorbed lingering cultural tropes about purity, chastity, virginity etc. and tediously allowed them to fuel his fetishes. Or maybe he just liked the clean brightness of bleached cotton; how it reflects the light, so that the wearer appears bathed in an ethereal glow. I can see how that would have turned him on. He was quite pretentious.

Obviously I was a massive disappointment to this particular boyfriend (and all the subsequent ones, but let’s not go there. Too depressing), because within seconds of my donning any white garment it became immediately smeared with bike grease, ketchup, lipstick or some other substance (fag ash, Ribena, coffee and, most often, let’s face it, wine) that I don’t remember spilling, but there it was, memorialised in a faded brown stain (every stain turns brown eventually, no matter its original colour. No one knows why) on the breast-pocket of my linen blazer. And it doesn’t matter how fine you are, a big brown stain is a turn-off, signifying, as it does, filth and lazy hygienic habits and minimal hand-eye-coordination. Not hot. Not erotic. Not the grist for anyone’s sexual mill.

No wonder he dumped me.

(Before we move on, can I just ask: how are you supposed to wash white clothes? Even if I put Daz in, after four or five washes they inevitably become grey and floppy and sad and wearing them in public is just too much like failure. I know it’s possible to keep your whites pristine because I lived with this girl for a while and her whites were always sparkling, though she could never fully explain how she managed it – and we’ve fallen out so I can’t ask again. Help me.)

I’m not sure if it is a result of my ex-boyfriend’s fetish, or a symptom of my escalating mental illness, but for the last decade or so I have been increasingly preoccupied with broderie anglaise. When I’m not worrying about work, men who don’t love me, or the prospect of dying all alone with no babies, I am googling broderie anglaise and imagining myself living some other life. Calmer, more wholesome. A life where I know what cheesecloth is, and how to sew. I’m wealthy and bohemian and I carry my firstborn about in a hemp sling that I bought at a craft market. I accessorise my wardrobe of whiteworked frocks with hooped gold earrings. I drink red wine without spilling it, I spend my weekends at a second home in the country and I can smoke marijuana without triggering an existential crisis. On Sundays I do not sit in my flat main-lining Carpool Karaoke in my pyjamas, eating an out-of-date cheese string and tweeting Deliveroo to discover the whereabouts of my takeaway, I bike to the local market and buy organic chicken for a wholesome family stew.

You might be wondering how all of this would manifest through clothes. And I don’t know how to explain it to you other than to say: Hello? How much better would my life be if I were invited to functions where this was an appropriate outfit:

Screenshot 2016-01-17 00.52.36

Because the tragedy of it is, I don’t own any broderie anglaise, despite it being my favourite fabric, by some margin. (I did used to have a dress and couple of tops, but they pulled taut over my bosom in a most unflattering way and see above with regards my ability washing and wearing whites.) Even though I am 100% sure that a wardrobe of broderie anglaise would improve my life tenfold, I just carry on buying everything in leopard print and accessorising with a black wicker shopper I got free from a winery because I can’t afford the bag I want. It’s sort of like how I can’t be arsed to do online dating, or flirt with anyone, or engage in any serious way with the idea of sperm donation, even though I really want to get pregnant at some point in the not too distant future.

I suppose if it does anything useful, broderie anglaise serves as a reminder that it doesn’t take much to move towards happiness. You can embrace the ideal version of yourself very easily, if you are just brave, drink only clear liquids such as vodka and water and don’t let the internet distract you from your ultimate purpose. That is why I have ordered a cropped linen broderie anglaise polo-neck off net-a-porter, and am about to buy some gold hoop earrings. It’s never too late to have what you want, darlings.

I’ll see you in the autumn, with my baby wrapped in hemp*.

*I’ll actually be back next week with another nonsensical essay on my non-existent love life. But you know what I mean. Also, if you’ve had sex with me recently (yes, you. I know you read this even though you don’t answer my text messages) don’t panic. I’m not pregnant, that I know of. It’s just jokes.

Part 161: Exit Strategy (or, Simone de Beauvoir as a Vessel for my Self-Pity)

ID-100190656

 

‘Your life’s great,’ my brother enthused, unconvincingly, the other night. He was visiting me in my new, provincial hometown, having taken the fast train from London Paddington because I had called on New Year’s Day and told him, between sobs, that there was no way I would survive through January and the way things were going the chances of my making it to the other side of the weekend were also slim.

‘I mean it,’ he said. ‘You’re living Simone de Beauvoir’s dream right now.’

I responded with a puzzled, ‘?’ – but only because ‘fuck off’ seemed overly aggressive after he’d shelled out almost £100 to travel halfway across the country to make sure I didn’t throw myself under a bus.

‘Independent woman,’ he said. ‘Totally self sufficient and successful.’ (Read, also: single and sexless).

I am not 100% sure that my brother has read Simone de Beauvoir, and my memory of her work is patchy due to my only reading it in fervid chunks, under the influence of whisky and heartbreak (dense French feminism is not really my bag when happy and sober, what with Legally Blonde being much more straightforward and easy to digest), but I don’t particularly remember that being her message. And if it was her message then she was a total hypocrite who knew nothing of the pain I am feeling, what with never having had Jean-Paul Sartre shag her on and off for months on end and then just ignore all her text messages, even the funny ones peppered with crying sad face emojis.

Simone de Beauvoir never had to make an Apple Music playlist called ‘Hurty Heart’ to help her cope with rejection and email it to herself because she doesn’t know how to transfer a playlist from her laptop to her iPhone. Simone de Beauvoir never had to watch Bridget Jones’s Diary with her BFF and his family on the night before Christmas Eve and have her life refracted back at her as a dated cultural cliché. Simone de Beauvoir never had her mother tell her that she should research dating websites because if she didn’t meet someone online, how else was it going to happen for her.

Simone de Beauvoir had her novels and memoirs published by other people in books with pages and covers, and did not have to post them online, herself, so people could read them for free and then accuse her of attention seeking, punctuation misuse and immaturity. Simone de Beauvoir probably didn’t date men who told her that they’d been reading her writing and it was quite good but they probably wouldn’t be reading anything she wrote again because she used ‘too many long words.’

Frankly, if the life I am living right now seemed hypothetically attractive to Simone, back in the last century, when she was alive and could think about possible futures, she didn’t know what she was talking about.

If she had known, she might have advised me to work harder on my exit strategy – because she was a clever woman and she would likely have realised (as my brother and I – who almost certainly have a lower collective IQ than the lovely Ms de Beauvoir once did – when we watched Easy A in a failed attempt to lift my spirits on Sunday night) that the exit is my downfall. The exit is the point at which it all starts to crumble away, like stale biscuits, dusty to the touch, except that stale biscuits don’t send desperate, pleading text messages to men they’ve slept with because they are scared of dying all alone and never having any babies.

I have never known how to get out of anything with dignity, in a timely, appropriate fashion. I always want a nightcap after dinner, even if it’s really late and we all have work in the morning. I am the last person to leave any party I am ever invited to, either drunk with my dress tucked into my knickers and mascara smudged all down my face, or the next morning, in a similar state, only with the host irritably cleaning sick I might well be responsible for out of her carpet. It wasn’t cute when I was 16. It definitely is not cute now that I am 32. And in relationships I similarly cling on to the bitter, twisted end, rather than backing away gracefully when his indifference first becomes apparent. I just lose control and hold on and on, and it never has positive results in terms of either my mental health, or the relationships in question.

But what is the best way to exit before it gets out of hand? Ghosting is vile and borderline evil (and the only time I have done it myself it prompted two years of guilt and an eventual apology to the baffled ghostee, who had, by that point, moved on). I will not indulge in such behaviour. As the ghostee you are without power, but surely there is one last sniper move that might leave you with the upper hand? And if you leave it nicely, with one or the other of you saying you had a lovely time but maybe this is not a thing with a future – then what? How do you live with the possibility that you might have closed the door on the last chance you’ll ever have to be loved, even if he is a complete dickhead who just keeps making you cry?

Is this 2016 for me? Will my self-esteem finally dissolve to the point that it evaporates out of my skin, like a vapour?

It’s January and (as everyone keeps reminding me) perhaps not the best time to pose, or, indeed, answer, such questions. But stay tuned, babies, because, as a motivational quote I read on instagram just now reminded me: when God closes a door, He opens a window.

Happy New Year.

Part 160: Second Wives

Screenshot 2015-12-26 17.17.37

I’m very tedious on the subject of weddings. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been somewhat cynical about love in general these past few years, and wont to tarnish the sheen on other people’s happiness by penning cutting observations and (my favourite) thinly veiled digs at former mates who have committed the terrible crime of marrying and having babies. (In case you were wondering, I have especially resented the PR-career girls, using their marketing expertise to splash news of their happiness all over the internet, thereby rubbing my face in what should remain private contentment, and causing me to target Bad Vibes right in their direction.) (The truth is, I just can’t cope with anyone being more successful and contented than I am. At least in the romance/domestic arena.)

I laugh with a cold, hollow bark – like a knowing, icy wind – at the sad, open desperation of wannabe princesses on Don’t Tell the Bride, who sing the praises of their mediocre grooms and grimace weakly at the cameras when they realise he has blown half the budget on a stag do in Poland, and that they will, therefore, be married in the conference centre of a budget motorway hotel on the A2, wearing a second-hand dress that cost £90 off eBay and doesn’t quite fit. My all-time favourite was the one with the groom who spent the entire three-week planning period in Vegas with his mate, flying his bride out last-minute to marry in a gaudy chapel, far away from the friends and loved ones she had dreamed of spending her ‘special day’ with. Closely followed by that episode with the ginger wide-boy who made his soon-to-be wife to jump out of a plane in full wedding make-up, despite her fear of heights, minutes before the ceremony.

Imagine spending your life with someone who cares for you so little. This is what relentless exposure to heteronormative dating culture has done to us. We just want to be loved by a man. We don’t even care if cares about us, so long as he’s vaguely handsome, in a certain light.

‘Fucking weddings!’ I always say if the subject ever comes up – by way of you inviting me to yours, for example, or telling me about a beautiful one you attended last weekend, up in Scotland – ‘they’re a load of old conformist bullshit and I wouldn’t be seen dead participating as anything other than sexy, drunken bridesmaid or morose guest, begrudging you a gift because it cost me £400 to get here and, more to the point, you asked for cash, which isn’t a gift, it’s greed.’ (Whatever you do, my darlings, please realise that sending me – who will very likely be sat on alone on my yellow sofa, in an under-heated flat, receiving a non-committal text message – ‘Wot u up to?x’ – from my latest squeeze, mourning the decline of my fertility and really trying not to smoke another fag in case this cough turns out to be lung cancer – a thank you card from the Maldives, or an email note with a photo of your new kitchen, which my donation has kindly enabled. This is what the Americans would call a ‘dick move’. It is the kind of smug, cuntish behaviour that, if there were any divine justice in this world, would precipitate your immediate, public downfall. You can blow £25k on wedding? Babe, you really don’t need £50 from your guests. (What? I never said I was a nice person)).

From now on, however, you’re best advised to ignore anything I say about weddings. Because the truth is that I want a wedding as much as the salivating sad-sacks on Don’t Tell the Bride, as much as all the vapid PR professionals of my acquaintance, as much as those little girls dragging dusty net curtains behind them in a makeshift veil. I am not immune to the lure of contentment. The other day I saw a cartoon where fat little animated people in stripy pyjamas cuddled up on a sofa and loved each other and I cried. Also, I would really like to wear a massive red skin-tight dress while I’m still young and hot enough to pull that off, and to have a good man stand up in public and tell people he loves me – and then take me home to indulge in unspeakable acts that will result legitimate, fat-faced babies. I want it now, before it’s too late. I have only been pretending otherwise as a kind of prolonged sarcasm, prompted by a couple of heinous relationships and a fear that True Love might not exist.

I’m starting to think that I might have been foolish.

The problem is that the good men are all married off now, more or less. The ones with the ability to show up on time, display passion for anything other than Fifa and commit consistently, for the long-term. The ones who really believe in love, who you could take home to meet your parents and invite to dinner with your very best friends – they’ve already found a bright-eyed peer to pair off with – or else they’re waiting for someone younger and better looking than you.

If I wanted a happy marriage, I should have agreed to one a long time ago. (Nobody was remotely interested in marrying me when I was in my 20s, or indeed, now. But let’s not let that get in the way of my regret.)

The good news is that I recently remembered about second marriages and they’ve made me feel quite optimistic about love again, just when I was on the verge of chucking myself out the nearest window.

If you are here because you are similarly forlorn and hopeless I would like to remind you of the following: the chances are at least some of those kind, eligible young men who you fucked off a couple of years ago, because you were too scared to love anybody then, are in empty sham marriages that will not last.

It is a statistical certainty.

I don’t want to fuel the paranoia of all the wives who already mistrust us single ladies and – because we are funnier and better company (if only due to novelty) – remain on guard, whenever we are in the vicinity of their men, but I can’t but help admit, we are looking at your husband and wondering how he’ll fare between our bed sheets. He is not off-limits, in our febrile imagination.

I mean, like, we aren’t going to seduce him now. But nothing lasts forever and one must have one’s bases covered. Especially when one is on a straight, direct path to dying alone in one’s flat and silently decomposing in a puddle by the radiator.

I quite like the idea of being a second wife (second mind. Anyone who agrees to being a third wife is involving herself in a cycle of shit from which there is no escape). Second wives don’t need conventional good-looks, because, the second time around, men are likely to realise that funny and clever lasts longer. And, having been through the trauma of a divorce (or bereavement), he is likely to understand that a functional relationship needs work. Best of all, we won’t be expected to form shallow friendships with the wives and girlfriends of his mates, because they’ll likely still be invested in wife number one.

What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m facing the New Year with cautious optimism. Just as soon as I finish this mince-pie*.

*Just jokes, I hate mince-pies I am eating Walker’s cheese and onion crisps, as per every other day of the year.

**The header image is of a Vera Wang wedding dress, circa 2012. This is how I will look at my wedding, should it ever occur.

Part 159: Acne

ID-100137270

Do you remember that kids’ board game where you had to whack little neon-coloured, protruding creatures on the head with a plastic mallet? You’d hit them and they’d disappear and then one would pop up somewhere else and you’d whack that and others would pop up and you’d bash them – Blam! Blam! Blam! – faster and faster, until they’d submit or you’d give up and go find something better to do? (When I conceived of this post, I thought that game was called Hungry Hippos, but I have just remembered that Hungry Hippos is the one where you manoeuvre a hippopotamus head to gobble up marbles. The name of the one I’m on about escapes me. Perhaps I’ve made it up.) Well, imagine that game turned biological and you have just pictured the 19-year battle I’ve been waging against my skin.

It started somewhere in my preteens, with blackheads dotted across my nose and chin, which my Dad would gleefully squeeze, despite my protests. (He’d display the tiny, spongy tubes on the end of his fingernail; calling other family members over to inspect my emissions, as though they were fascinating, deadly insects he’d found on a rainforest expedition.) And then, the summer before I turned fourteen, a violent outbreak of spiky yellow pimples, right across my forehead. Then came the fuchsia zits on my chin and cheeks; the giant, bruise-coloured cysts on my jaw and hairline. Sometimes, if I poked and picked at them they’d become infected and erupt, oozing green pus until, finally, they’d fade to a deep, red scar that’d hang about for months, or years, or, sometimes, forever. At some point in my late teens – just as I had begun to tame my horrific, pizza-like visage with topical medication and makeup, so that boys wanted to have sex with me, finally – the spots spread to my shoulders and down my back. And then, in my mid-twenties, when I had accepted that my face and back would never be entirely spot-free, but with daily intervention were just about manageable – I began to erupt, for no discernable reason, with cystic boils, right between my cleavage.

There have been good and bad days.

When I returned from a particularly glorious holiday in August 2014, my face completely clear, and I managed to snap the only selfie that has ever made me want to fuck myself. That was a good day. The time when I had a purple pustule, the size of a two pence coin, smeared right across my cheek, and an old drunk came and sat by me on the bus, staring intently at my face before whispering, ‘I’m looking at your spot’. Bad day. Any time a friend or family member tells me, ‘skin’s looking good!’ Bad day (if you want to complement an acne sufferer, DO NOT mention our skin. Compliments only serve to remind us that our skin usually looks so fucking terrible, it’s the first thing you notice).

Boyfriends and lovers have mostly been silent on the subject of my acne, preferring to compliment my peachy arse and pert, perfect titties, lest I shun sex with them. (Apart from the most recent, who occasionally asks, ‘how’s that spot on your shoulder getting on? Talking yet?’ I don’t think he likes me very much. But I’m not really ready to tell you about him. Too raw.) Still, it matters, nonetheless. I blame my acne for the terrible state of my love life because my bad skin is all tied up with my low self-esteem and my general sense that life’s great purpose – to meet and procreate with a kind, reliable, hot-backed male – will elude me, forever.

I never got over the trauma of being a teenager (which was when all this shit started. I was a self-assured, smooth-skinned, if precocious, child), despite my now having not been one for longer than I was one. But how are you supposed to get over your teens when you are – for all intents and purposes – still, actually, a teenager? With the bad skin, and the unsuitable boyfriend who doesn’t really care about you but it’s too painful to admit yet, and the borrowing £80 off your mum because you spent all your wages on a dress you didn’t need because you want to look beautiful even though you don’t really go anywhere, and the Nike Air Force, and the relentless self-obsession, and the social smoking, and the petty falling outs with your oldest friends, and the mouldy sandwich under your bed, and the inability to cope with any emotional upheaval whatsoever, and the sobbing with self-pity in the street even though you are safe and warm and well fed and intellectually fulfilled and there are people dying in wars and watching their babies starve to death right this very second, and the sporadic, disappointing sex, and the bitmoji conversations with your bffs, and the Taylor Swift fixation, and the feeling that real life is really, really far away, and the kind of believing things will get better, even though you’re in your 30s now and you watch the news and it’s pretty clear we’re headed for a nuclear apocalypse and, oh, did I mention my terrible skin?

Someone call a therapist, or a dermatologist, quick. Only proper medicine can help me now. That much is crystal clear (unlike my face).

* I think the header image I’ve used, ‘Acne is Enemy of Woman’, by SweetCrisis at freedigitalphotos.net, is the best thing that’s happened to me this week – scrap that, it’s the best thing that’s happened in my entire life, including the time my sister’s mate told me I look like a Sleepless in Seattle­-era Meg Ryan.

Part 158: Jeremy Kyle

Screenshot 2015-11-15 16.46.59

I watched three episodes of The Jeremy Kyle Show back-to-back the other day, wrapped in an orange blanket on my neon yellow sofa. I wasn’t ill – in any medical sense – but I was a bit sad, and in the mood to have my brain gently minced. So I watched Jeremy Kyle and dribbled into the overpriced silk cushions that I had hoped, on purchase, would herald a sweeter existence, but which have, frankly, failed to make a discernible difference to my emotional wellbeing (fuck you, John Lewis). I want to feel better about myself. Which is obviously the only reason The Jeremy Kyle Show exists. It gives those of us who are lonely, with no human company on weekday afternoons, a little reminder that things could be worse. We could fall pregnant and not know which of the brothers we’ve been fucking is the father. We might trust our husband of just over a year so little that we’d force him to undergo a polygraph test, on national television. We could be in a long, drawn-out feud with our sister-in-law, and she might turn up at ITV studios, brandishing the ashes of our recently deceased mother, to whose funeral we were not invited (I don’t know either babe, but it happened).

Everywhere you look there are unfortunate people, making a mess of their lives. And reading about them in newspapers (I am totally obsessed, for example, with the tragic story of that young woman who convinced her friend she was a man, and then had sex with the duped friend, who was blindfolded, using a dildo. She has been sentenced to eight years in prison for her deception – which is probably about right) and watching them on TV in all their unfiltered, bare-faced, track-suited reality is a boost to the ego for the rest of us, who are coping – or at least washing our hair and applying lipstick before appearing on screen.

Until you realise that, essentially, The Jeremy Kyle Show is a mirror. We are all only ever about three steps away from appearing on it ourselves, hysterical, angry and rejected. We are never far from breaking down in public; sobbing on the streets, with greasy hair and bacon stained leisure-wear; screaming into the abyss for something to – please God – right the terrible wrongs tearing up our guts like seaweed thrown against rock.

All we want is to feel wanted in all of our haunted, flawed, entirety. We are broken and desperate in our humanity and very, very lucky if we get a break from that through our work or our lovers or our friends.

God.

Desperation. It’s the cliché no singleton wants to align themselves with. Why do you think I’ve spent the past three and half years writing blogs in which I try to convince you that I’m happy and fulfilled, fabulous and funny and fine all on my own? It’s because I don’t want you to know just how close I am to lying down in the grass and decomposing in a puddle of my own tears. It’s because I don’t want you to know that I spent Saturday night staring at my iPhone, anticipating the dopamine hit of a text message that never arrived, downing cheap prosecco, chain-smoking Marlboro Gold, smoothing out wrinkles with the tips of my tobacco stained fingers and choking back self-pitying sobs that would have only smudged my make up if I’d let them fall – and then what good would I have been to any gentleman caller who did happen to amble by?

It’s not a good look, is it? I think, in fact, it is exactly what my friend David meant when he said that the reason gay men love me so much is that I exude an air of tragedy. Like, Madonna, Lady Gaga or Judy Garland – I try too hard, I care too much and it’s transparent and unsettling and everybody can see right through it, no matter the bitchiness and bravado I shovel on in an attempt at disguise.

I know that other people have bills to pay, books to edit, sick mothers to tend to. I know that you don’t want to hear if I’m miserable –I know that you are miserable too, mostly. Or else you will be, very soon. But the world is dark and frightening. There are children dying of starvation, there are earthquakes. There wars leaving whole towns shattered, apartment buildings with the windows blown out, dust and rubble – a naked doll poking up out of the debris. There are men with guns stalking restaurants, concert halls and sports stadia.

And who can blame us, it the midst of the pain, (and by us I mean me and the Jeremy Kyle guests, and probably you, too, if you’re still reading), for sometimes being scared, irrational, impulsive and neurotic? We are only human, and we need love.

Who knew reality television could go this deep.

Part 157: Power

ID-100124462

Everything is about power. Unless it’s about sex. In which case it’s still about power, mostly – although it is also frequently about unresolved issues with an emotionally or physically absent parent. Which I suppose is equally about power. Which just goes to prove the accuracy of my opening sentence. Perhaps I should have stopped there.

Some years ago, as I was lolling about on a leatherette bean-bag, drinking an ice-cold coke to stave off a hangover and bathing in the vibrations of conversations my friends were having around me, this guy who I occasionally got off with at house parties – and with whom I definitely desired more – and who was, for some reason, still in my house despite the fact the party had finished twelve hours before, said that he only wanted to date stupid girls.

I don’t know if he thought I was asleep, or comatose. He might well have intended for me to hear him. I can’t remember the conversational context from which this revelation emerged. But I do remember the precise sentence that tumbled out of his fat mouth, that cold Sunday afternoon. ‘I couldn’t be with someone cleverer than me.’ He said, as I had two simultaneous thoughts (‘you’ll have your work cut out for you babe’/ ‘so that’s why you’ve been ignoring my text messages’). And to be fair to him, he was true to his word. A year or so later my one-time love interest impregnated a lobotomised brunette, and the last time I saw them, they were dancing happily together at a wedding. Pleasingly, his hair had turned almost entirely grey. And not in a good way. He spotted me sipping gin, morose and alone, on a bar stool at the other side of the dance floor (if you are currently planning a wedding, I beg of you, do not invite your single friend without a plus one. She will not like you afterwards. Especially not if that wedding will mostly be attended by people she has slept with and their WAGs) and he smiled sweetly and stuck his middle finger up at me, in an obscene hand gesture that Americans call ‘flipping the bird’. I’m not sure why.

Even though this guy was obviously a non-starter for whom I harbour no residual affection, I keep returning to his words lately, as I try to work out why my love life is such an unremitting disaster.

I too tend to choose lovers who I feel intellectually superior to. I’m not saying this has worked out well. It hasn’t. And neither has it been a conscious choice, in that attraction is never a really a choice, if you mean it. But we are fucked up. Thus, somewhere in our subconscious, we know (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘me and my one-time lover’ – you, hopefully, are far more emotionally evolved than this. If not, I suggest therapy) that it is better to have the upper hand in a relationship – and if you haven’t got the upper hand through looks, or charisma, you might as well get it through intellect. And if you are stumped by all three of those avenues, you’ll find you can get it by being an unreliable fuckwit, because we all need to hold on to the controls, one way or another.

I like to be in control.

This is why you will likely never see me staring out from an Instagram picture, left hand thrust forward, face aglow with light refracting off a recently applied iridescent bronzer, diamond of questionable clarity on third finger, ‘the boy done good’ captioned below. Accepting a marriage proposal is, ultimately, a submissive act; to submit to marriage is to relinquish control to someone else’s wishes. It is to share the burden of life. And, although, at times, that sounds rather comforting, I do not understand how people do it without completely losing their minds.

To enter into a romantic relationship of any kind is the emotional equivalent of agreeing to ride in a car that will, at any moment, skid off-road and careen into a deep, void-like abyss. It is very unlikely you will survive intact – but nonetheless, it is thrilling. The uncertainty. The adrenaline rush. The beating of your just-healed heart. How does one do it and maintain a semblance of sanity? How does one do it and have a secure, satisfying life? How does one – and excuse me for extending this terrible metaphor, but it’s been a long day and I’m fragile and vulnerable and nobody’s paying for this shit – ensure that the driver is calm and experienced enough to steer you to safety, after the thrill of the ride?

I’m fucked if I know, babe. Red wine helps. As do cigarettes. Unfortunately.

(I’d like to add the following disclaimer to the above: I am on the first day of a very heavy period).

*The image above, from freedigitalphotos.net is called “Black Link Chain Shows Strength Security” by Stuart Miles. I don’t know what is either, but it captures something of how I feel right now – which is the point of an illustration, surely?

Part 156: Standards

ID-100272289

I was mooching around my new hometown the other day, scraping my heels along the pavement and making suggestive eye contact with hot passers-by, when I overheard two (very) posh young women, draped in Egyptian cotton and gladiator sandals (I’m presuming they were on their way to a toga party, having not yet learned that fancy dress is undignified – but we can forgive them, they were under 25) discussing the dating game – as all young women are wont to do from time to time, regardless of wealth or social class.

‘My number one rule,’ said the first girl, flicking her heavy, honey-coloured hair over her shoulder and running her tongue suggestively over her perfect, even teeth, ‘is never date a man with change in his pockets.’

‘Of course, darling,’ laughed her mate, who had the same honey-blonde hair and straight, ice-white smile. ‘That’s cardinal.’

And off they traipsed, presumably to fuck men who only pay with £50 notes or a Coutts Silk card.

I’ve been thinking about these young women quite a bit this past week. As I age (imperceptibly to the human eye, but with an alarming inner-acceleration that means I feel somewhere in my late 40s, despite having barely cleared a third decade), I often come over all maternal and worldly whenever I hear younger women discussing their love lives. If there is anything to be said for a decade of being single, it is that it gives one significant experience from which to offer romantic advice. And from my perspective as a more mature lady – who has definitely, if not exclusively, dated men with change in their pockets – I want to say this to any young women who might be reading: darlings, don’t dismiss a man out of hand because of trivial, surface concerns, such as whether he has a job, or career prospects, or any money to speak of (if you have reached the age of 26 and are still looking for someone else to complete you in a financial and social status sense, you are going to end up very miserable, somewhere along the line). Yes, he might carry change in his pockets, but he might also have a massive dick. Or incredible cheek-bones. Or he might enjoy watching 30 Rock on a Saturday morning, and then having sex with you, very slowly, before going home. There are things in life other than money. And if I have learned one thing I have learned that he’ll always have something to compensate for his perceived flaws. Because humans are complex and surprising and capable of wonders that might not be immediately obvious, especially if you begin by dowsing them with your social prejudices.

Weighing oneself down with invisible ‘standards’ by which to evaluate potential love interests is very unwise. Romantic partners are not a corporate hotel chain. Rigid conformity to arbitrary social and cultural mores is not an indication of anything at all, expect, possibly, blandness. Yes, you’ll want him hygienic, and yes you must, of course exit, at all costs, at the first sign of any violent or abusive behaviour – however hard that might be. But your only other criteria should be whether he turns you on and how promptly he answers text messages (there is a very delicate balance between too soon and too late. Artistry in this regard must not be underrated.)

This is why, to my mind, internet dating is a flawed concept. The notion that a man might, with the tick of a box, dismiss me because I’m shorter than 5’5, wear my hair in a pixie crop and list ‘theatre’ under ‘hobbies and interests’, is enough to make me suspicious of the whole game. As if the corporatisation of our base desires wasn’t off-putting enough, all by itself.

Chemistry is the thing – and timing. And if turns out terribly, at least, with change in his pockets, he’ll have bus fare home.

*Image called something like ‘British Coins’ from freedigitalphotos.net, as usual. (Am I the only one who credits my photo sources? Should I be doing this? Might I get sued if I stop? This is a concern now that I have a little money to speak of – although my income from the blog remains, happily, zero.)