Abandon Me, Dump Me, Fire Me: The kindest things that the men in my life have done to me

I find myself at a crossroads in my life not knowing which road to take. As I try to work out how I got here – single, jobless, directionless – I realise that it’s in part the fault of the men in my life, in particular: my biological father, my ex-boyfriend and my most recent boss. Paradoxically, I am eternally grateful to them for abandoning me, dumping me, and firing me, for I realise now, thanks to the gift of hindsight, that these are the kindest things that they could have done for me.

Abandon Me

I never knew my biological father. ‘Abandoned’ before birth, he and my mother separated before I was born. However, my mother met the man I call ‘Daddy’ at a party when I was 18 months old. For the past 24 and a half years, I have been loved and looked after by a man under no obligation to commit his life to being a father to me, but who has. Abandoning me and leaving the space for another man who wanted me as his daughter is something that I am eternally grateful for; for without it, I wouldn’t know my Daddy.

Dump Me

Valentine’s Day. He walked out of my room and I knew that this time, it was over. An irreconcilable difference: I want a future with marriage and children, he doesn’t. Would I have ever ended things with him? Probably not. Do I resent him leaving me? No, I respect him immensely. I respect him for loving me enough to let me go, knowing that if he couldn’t commit, he needed to release me to find what I am looking for and to give himself space to work out what he wanted in life instead.

Fire Me

“This isn’t working, is it?” he said, as I burst in to tears in his office. He was the best boss that I had ever had, and the office was the best place that I had ever worked. However, the job wasn’t the right for me and was slowly bringing me down. “Have you ever thought about journalism?” he suggested, after I explained that I had absolutely no idea what I am doing with my life and was clueless as to what I might do next. My answer was yes: I have always wanted to write and it’s not the first time that someone had suggested that I would be good at being a journalist. Rather than go home and cry under my duvet, I started researching journalism courses and writing opportunities. I called a friend who I knew worked as a journalist and asked her advice. I drafted this blog post. I felt something stirring in me that I hadn’t felt in a while: determination.

These men made difficult decisions and ones that I would have never asked for myself. Yet I will be eternally grateful to them for being brave enough to hurt me knowing that I deserved better and wanting me to be happy. For through the bitter experience of pain comes the sweetness of hope: the hope of the endless possibilities that are to become my future.

Image courtesy of @benreeson benreeson.com

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Things That I Forgot About Relationships

So, after 5 years of being single and a quarter-of-a-century-life-crisis, I decided to get dating. However, having been out of the game for so long, I soon realised that there were aspects of relationships that I had completely forgotten about. Here are some of the them:

1. Cost

Date nights (when did the cinema get so expensive? And when did it cost more to have a decent centre-of-the-theatre seat?!), eating out (especially at the start when you’re too embarrassed to pull out a 241 voucher…), dining in (cooking properly compared to my regular can’t-be-bothered-beans-on-toast dinners), travelling here and there, telephone bills, Christmas, New Year, birthdays, Valentine’s Day… Hello overdraft/worth every penny.

2. Absence

When you look back to previous relationships, you remember the time that you were together. You forget about time that you spent apart. I forgot what it felt like to miss someone. To crazy miss someone. To viscerally long for someone – teenage dream style.

3. Jealousy

It hit me, out of the blue, during a hypothetical discussion about top three hot celebrities. It was not logical; I am sure that the television screen is not the only thing keeping him and Anna Friel from being together. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel possessive and jealous. I was struck by how wonderful it felt to feel something so instantly and intensely – like a dormant organ located somewhere in my gut was defibrillated back to life.

4. Family

Nervous first meetings. Embarrassing conversations about you as a child. Better understanding a person by seeing them in context. And after a while, expectant glances at your ring finger/womb…

5. Sacrifice

Sacrificing personal preferences and viewing pleasures to accommodate someone else’s plans, favourite food and television habits. I am glad that I learnt how to make the most of being single by pursuing hobbies, doing what I wanted when I wanted (within reason), and learning what makes me tick, as it has helped to discern what I can and cannot sacrifice in relationships. For example, I learnt that I cannot sacrifice time with my friends, efforts to run my own business, and weekly creative time as they make me who I am and bring me to life, but I can sacrifice Made in Chelsea for a cricket match, or a fuzzy and very American Rom-Com for a heart-rendering Michael Haneke film. But deeper than that, there is something about sacrificing your time to welcome someone else’s presence, pleasure, and problems. Something that I forgot about when I just had me to think about.

6. Gender

Men forget things. Hanging the tea towel back on the rack, putting the seat down, or what you just said.

Women remember everything. Even that tiny comment about a ten-year-old, worn and puff-less puffa coat being ugly. IT’S COMFORTABLE.

7. Love

How difficult it can be to let someone love you. Sacrificing your self-sufficiency (I can carry that bag!) to let someone do something loving for you. Though, one of the benefits of being single for so long has been how easily being loving has been. I am so grateful for the opportunities to be caring and romantic towards one special person after five years or baking cupcakes and sweet treats for my colleagues…

Too Good To Be True?

I sat in the winter sun enjoying brunch with one of my gorgeous girl friends. We were reflecting on the past year and how much things had changed for us both since last December. She looked radiant; her face lit up as she filled me in on her job, love life and her life in London, all three of which had changed dramatically over the past year – and for the better. “It…it feels too good to be true, Jules” she said.

I shared that I had found a property on my dream street in the new town I had just started working in. It was (fairly) affordable, within walking distance from walk and the town centre. However, the bathroom and kitchen had not been photographed. I was due to view it that Monday, and I was completely stressed out. “There must be something wrong with it. The kitchen’s probably going to be a mess and I bet that the bathroom won’t have a shower,” I fretted at her, “it’s just too good to be true.”

When did we become conditioned to expect bad things to happen and to be suspicious of goodness? As children, we approached the world with open arms. Yet somewhere along the line, we got burnt. We experienced a bad thing. Life got difficult. We got older. We grew cynical and ‘learnt’ that “all good things must come to an end” and that “if it sounds too good to be true, it is!” But what our relentless search for the catch is the thing that ruins it? What if our disbelief that something could be good, might work out, run smoothly, or be a fulfilment of a dream prevents us from the real truth – the truth that sometimes good things just happen?

What would life looked like if we lived a bit naively and took things at face value? Would we be more frequently disappointed? Probably. Would we be more happy? Maybe…just maybe…

Silence is Golden

Silence. One condition, five different experiences.

1) Exploring the vast expanses of an art gallery, feasting on the fruits of artistic labour. He turns to you and comments on how nice it is to be with someone and to not feel the need to talk. A joke follows to ascertain whether or not he is being sarcastic and if the subtext might be that you talk too much. The confirmation of his sincerity reassures your insecure self. The inexpressible comfort knowing that he is walking alongside you and that he just…knows. You do not have to say a thing.

2) Your fixed stare at a blank computer screen while they are bonding over the latest shortcomings of an absent colleague. The longing to fit in, be accepted, and the allure of the act of participation. The curiosity as to whether or not anyone actually notices that you are not saying anything. The hope that you will be trusted for your silence in the long run juxtaposed with the sacrifice of being seen as boring.

3) Stealing glances in an attempt to establish whether or not he is interested; if his spontaneous text was an attempt to reach out to you or simply a message meant for somebody else. The tension of knowing that he knows that you know that he has not explained himself. Avoiding eye contact for fear that a glance caught might demand an explanation. The clutching at the straws of things that you could possibly say to ease the awkwardness, and the acute awareness of a lack of words that might have the potential to save you from looking like a complete plank.

4) Dinner. They are talking at you, not to you. You can see their lips moving, but you cannot hear what they are saying. They realise that they have been talking for the past half hour and that you have not said a word. Yet, through their own inability to connect with you, they simply continue talking. You sit. You sit and hope that you might get your ‘King’s Speech’ moment before the meal is over.

5) The rare and surprising turn of events when you realise that a thought has not popped in to your head for a good few minutes. You have been distracted by the vast and beautiful landscape before you commanding your stillness, asking that you give yourself permission to be absorbed by your surroundings and inviting you to be part of something bigger than yourself.

Silence. One condition, five different experiences.

The Humble Laundry Basket

Airing my dirty laundry in public…

What object symbolises stability for you?

My mother gave me a cute, white laundry bag with washing symbols on as a gift when I went off to university in 2006. Since then, I have lived in halls of residence, lived with a family, had a couple of rented flats, sublet from friends, and on one occasion stored half of my belongings under my desk at work whilst transitioning from sofa to spare room. The benefits of a laundry bag over this time have been its compactness, its squishability, and its ability to be transported from halls of residence to laundrette to parents’ house with the greatest of ease.

Stability can be embodied by bricks and mortar, a ring, nine to fives with a health care plan, relationships, routines, family or familiarity. Me? I long for a solid, old-fashioned wicker laundry basket. Nothing speaks to me of stability more than a slightly awkwardly placed but very permanent hamper; one of the most humble and homely objects that I can think of.

Our Lost Ability To Blush

We can spend hours crafting an epistle, weeks planning a proposal, months refining a poem, or years writing a novel. The desire: to contribute something profound to the universe. To challenge a mind. To win a heart. Yet the most profound thing that I have read in ages has been a tweet. A 140 character thought. In this instance, a thought belonging to Rick Warren. Whilst perusing my Twitter feed as one might a morning newspaper, I spotted this:

It was not so much the debate on scandal, morality, etc., that tickled my fancy, rather the notion of having an ability to blush.

That blushing is a visual manifestation of emotion fascinates me. A purchasable product to achieve such an effect, aptly named ‘blusher’, has an air of irony about it – particularly, I think, when worn to attract. Those of us who blush know that it is not something that we can control, and I think that is its beauty. Embarrassment is such a transparent, honest emotion, whether it manifests as the spread of crimson across a cheek or as an explosion of anger in an attempt to divert attention. To develop an inability to blush takes practice. To build a threshold requires the demolition of walls of inhibition.

The workplace can be an arena for scandalous, disgraceful, and apparently shameless conversation. I once worked with the most outrageous colleague. She was brash, crude, rude, and a notorious gossip. Every other word was foul. She could make men who had been in the armed forces for years turn in to thirteen year old boys with her sexual explicitness. She was openly and proudly gay. One day, a fellow colleague teased her about a past sexual relationship that she may or may not have had. Imagine my surprise when I saw that she was blushing! It struck me that she was able to joke about sex with the entire office so openly and without shame, yet her threshold for embarrassment was an intimacy from her past.

And d’you know what?

In that moment she was quite attractive. She seemed more approachable, more vulnerable, more innocent and, well, more human.

I went on a date with a bit of a lad once. He was known for being, for want of a better word, cocky. Now, in all honesty I do fancy a bit of arrogance in my men as I see it as a challenge. However, this chap pushed my limit. The date was going a bit too well – to the point where I wondered if it had been scripted. He was a little bit too smooth and I had suspicions that the lines and the moves he were attempting may well have been recycled. However, mid conversation and without warning, he said something awkward. He knew it. I knew it. He knew that I knew it. He blushed.

And d’you know what?

My heart melted a bit.

Why?

Because it was real.

‘Embarrassment’, ‘shame’, ‘vulnerability’, and ‘innocence’ are not ‘comfortable’ words or emotions. They are a little bit dirty in some situations and they are often abused. I know that I have gone to great lengths to avoid them. But sometimes, just sometimes, can they not be beautiful? As beautiful as the shade that we turn when we feel them?

Catharsis (or, why I’m addicted to trashy American TV series)

It was an evening like any other. I settled down to watch a good few hours of mindless, trashy television. Flicking through the channels on a decidedly average Wednesday night, I caught the second half of two films. First up: How To Lose Friends and Alienate People (Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst). Premise: Guy works with girl. Finds girl annoying. Upon realising girl is unavailable, decides that he wants to be with her. Series of events blah blah blah… Final scene: he travels to New York to declare his love at an outdoor evening screening of her favourite film, kiss, slips his mother’s ring in to her pocket signifying that she is the “one”, camera pans to the Brooklyn Bridge and fade.

Heart fluttered. I changed the channel.

Second up: The Proposal (Ryan Reynolds, Sandra Bullock). Premise: Guy works for girl. Girl happens to be his crazy, manipulative boss. He finds girl annoying. Girl finds out her visa is about to expire and is due to be deported to Canada. Girl blackmails guy in to agreeing to marry her by threatening to sabotage his career. Guy agrees. They fly to Alaska for three days so girl can meet guy’s family and to get married on the third day. Fake wedding gets called off signifying that the girl actual has feelings for the guy and can’t bring herself to go through with it. Series of events blah blah blah… Final scene: after seeing a whole other side to girl and realising that he actually loves her and that he will lose her if she gets deported to Canada, guy flies to New York to declare said love for the girl and asks her to marry him for real this time so that he can date her. Romantic kiss, and fade.

Heart fluttering and completely caught up in the moment, I honest to God considered picking up my iPhone and tweeting “marry me” at a guy that I am in no way in a relationship with and I’ve been sporadically tweeting at over the past few weeks.

What. The. Heck?!

Fortunately, I had enough sense and fear of commitment to throw the iPhone across the room and assess the situation before I acquired a restraining order.

Although probably the most extreme of examples, this was not the first time that I have lost grounding in reality and been swept away by romantic plot lines. I have been addicted to American series, often shown at 10pm on E4, since the first episode of Desperate Housewives eight years ago. I almost failed my degree due to the purchase of Ugly Betty series one. Back to back episodes of One Tree Hill consumed my 21st year on earth (I refuse to watch series 7, 8, and 9 – it all went downhill after Luke and Peyton left) and most recently I have lost sleep over Gilmore Girls plot lines – will Luke and Lorelai ever get married?! A few nights ago, I actually scheduled Hart of Dixie as a recurring meeting in my Google Calender which synchronises with my iPhone so that I can be reminded an hour before my weekly fix is on Really TV.

You get the picture.

I am aware of a direct correlation between my cravings for fictional screen drama and my position on the ‘how content are you?’ scale of life. You see, when Desperate Housewives started airing, I was at school, miserable, and dreaming of living in America. When I purchased Ugly Betty series one, I was miserable at university trying to write up a dissertation last minute whilst freaking out about the future and hoping that it might involve living in America. One Tree Hill came along during the first year of living life as a graduate: directionless, stressed, and working out how I might be able to move to America instead of working in the job I had started. Gilmore Girls distracted me during a series of personal crisis that happened in a very short space of time when I didn’t have the brain space to even think of America. And Hart of Dixie’s the only regular thing I have scheduled during an unknown period of time before I actually move to America.

Why? Just…why? I can think of five reasons:

1) Catharsis.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to use the term catharsis with reference to the emotions – in his work Poetics. In that context, it refers to a sensation or literary effect that, ideally, would either be experienced by the characters in a play, or be wrought upon the audience at the conclusion of a tragedy; namely, the release of pent-up emotion or energy. When life is tough, when we are stressed, when emotions run high, we look for a release. Some people paint as a release and see their emotions or energy transformed in to a work of art before them. Some people exercise as a release and get fit. I sit in front of a television screen sharing the emotions of a bunch of fictional characters whilst getting fat.

2) Schadenfreude. Pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

Let’s face it: both a boring, eventless life and a dramatic, eventful life pale in comparison to the lives written by professional storytellers and acted out by hotter-than-you-will-ever-be stars. A New York Times article in 2002 cited a number of scientific studies of schadenfreude, which it defined as “delighting in others’ misfortune”. Many such studies are based on social comparison theory, the idea that when people around us have bad luck, we look better to ourselves. Other researchers have found that people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel schadenfreude than are people who have high self-esteem.

At least you’re not a pregnant, high-school student trying to make your marriage work after you left your NBA headed husband to go on tour with a famous rock star who was in love with you but who also slept with one of your friends and ruined her relationship with your other friend. Who is actually in love with someone else. Right?

3) Vicariousness.

They are living on a dramatic suburban street in America with hot husbands. They are attending Yale and dating rich high flyers. They are running the inn of their dreams. They are working for magazines in New York. They are having beautiful, clever children. They are running live music events in North Carolina. They are making risky business decisions. They are being proposed to. They are succeeding. They are failing. They are doing things that we might want to do but are afraid of going for. They are doing things that we can only dream of doing. Wouldn’t you just love it if that guy turned up at your door and declared his love for you? Wouldn’t you love to get Jimmy Eat World to play at your home-grown music venue? Maybe that’s just me…

 4) Escape.

Who doesn’t love not having to think about your essay, chores, job application, or family for a couple of hours?

5) Comfort.

The comfort of a weekly occurrence that to you can predict, can control the time and duration of, and enjoy.

We all indulge in those things a bit every now and again – that’s TV, that’s drama, that’s life. But when one is moved to the point of proposing to someone they have yet to ask out on a date via Twitter, perhaps it’s time to turn off the TV, get out and create an adventure out of life – something that you can look back on in years over the years to come and replay in your mind with as much colour as those 60 minutes. Engage with real people and find comfort in the reassurance that we’re in the same boat. To wake up in the morning in anticipation of the next episode of your life series. To do as you see and start that something, make that move, ask out that person, take that risk. Or to use those feelings to express and create.

Personally, I can’t wait to get out to America and do all these things. But in the mean time there are a few blank pages before that chapter that I need to fill, starting with tomorrow. Tomorrow I will not be watching TV.