Why my best Valentine’s Days have been when I’m single

Sex and the City Valentine

I kind of feel about Valentine’s Day the way that other people feel about New Year’s Eve – a bit too much effort, never as good as you hope and not really worth the bother. (I will never understand why people feel this about NYE – it’s an excuse to go dancing and partying with people you love, with a bonus free day off the next day – why on earth would you not want that?!)

This Valentine’s Day though, it seemed like everyone, whether single or coupled up, was making more of a big deal of it. It’s not that the shops were unbearably full with it (possibly even less so, this year) but more that people were actually asking others what their plans were, and making some of their own as if it was a real holiday to be celebrated.

Single or otherwise, I’ve never felt the need to even acknowledge it, but convention kind of means that if you’re a couple you’re supposed to mark it somehow. And that’s why this weekend, as a singleton, I got to thinking about what I would have been doing had I been with someone, and it made me realise: I’ve never had a great Valentine’s Day as a non-single. Not in a, get-the-violins-out-I’m-so-unlucky kind of way, but it made me see that a) I’m quite pleased not to be with someone for this ramped up 2016 version and b) if I wasn’t, I certainly wouldn’t be making plans other than maybe a takeaway and a DVD (piss off with your ‘Netflix and chill’, I’m old school).

In fact, it’s not so much that the years where I was with someone were bad (though they generally involved overpriced meals in horrid restaurants, severe anxiety because of the general pressure of it and occasionally, mild food poisoning), but actually that the single ones were just SO damn good.

I’ve got some brilliant friends, luckily, and from the time that a few of us went to a dating event in which a topless man and woman served us cocktails in little more than a thong to the night where we all went bowling and drank quite a lot of cocktails which makes it quite hard to throw straight, my single Valentine’s Days have been an absolute hoot.

This year was slightly less exciting – I stayed in, settled on the sofa with copious amounts of tea and a brilliant film (Ex Machina, highly recommend). I suppose company would have been nice, but there’s something wonderful about not having to please anyone but yourself for a whole day. Someone corny would call it self-love or something equally hippy-ish, but to me, that’s just a perfect Sunday. Same time next week, hopefully…

The alternative 30 before 30 list

MjAxMS1iMTA2ZWZjZTE2MGRhNWU3

In three short days I will turn 30, and so I have just deleted the ’30 before 30′ list I optimistically wrote on my phone last year because frankly my heart was never in it and I only ticked off one thing. But do I feel bad? Not really. There’s plenty I could have done, but who says I have to do it before Tuesday? It’s just a Tuesday, when you think about it.

It got me thinking about everything I *have* done, though. Glass half full and all that. And I think I’ve done OK, all things considered. So here’s my alternative 30 before 30 list – what’s on yours?

Before I turned 30, I…

  1. Went to Disneyland as an adult and screamed on a log flume like a child
  2. Actually got into the career I wanted
  3. Won an award for my work in the career I wanted
  4. Went to a real festival and survived, just
  5. Camped in a heatwave and a thunderstorm. Yeah, I won’t be doing that again
  6. Got a First and threw my hat in the air like a proper cliché
  7. Became an auntie 3 times. Totally taking credit. I’m an awesome aunt
  8. Went on a flight by myself (this is a BIG deal for me, and it was horrid)
  9. Had a mini holiday romance
  10. Swam with dolphins (OK it was more standing than swimming but one has to be sensible when one can’t swim)
  11. Went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, twice, without fainting or falling off
  12. Climbed Arthur’s Seat, in sandals. It was terrible
  13. Was a maid of honour for someone completely awesome
  14. Went to a sex museum in Amsterdam. That was weird
  15. Partied all night in Ibiza (quite a few times, actually)
  16. Got drunk at Vogue with my best friends
  17. Wrote my name along with my first boyfriend’s on the wall in Verona by Juliet’s balcony
  18. Sang along to the actual Backstreet Boys in Hyde Park
  19. Learnt to drive. Not that well, mind
  20. Partied in a gay bar in Berlin
  21. Snorkelled. I may have been a bit blind but I saw some stuff and didn’t drown
  22. Saw Beyonce live. May have cried a bit
  23. Saw Five live and fell in love with Scott all over again despite not being a teenager anymore
  24. Sat within a few feet of an actual real lion as it played with a ball
  25. Could actually say ‘I’m with the band’ as we sat on A’s tour bus and had a little chat in Newquay, aged 18
  26. Read a LOT of good books. I’m practically Matilda
  27. Wore glitter at every appropriate opportunity
  28. Rode in a tuk-tuk (I’ve always wanted to do that)
  29. Learned Spanish. Well, some Spanish. And then forgot most of it but at least I tried
  30. Found the kind of friends that make everything better, and who made a lot of the above happen…

What’s on yours?

Image – someecards.com

Goodbye, 2015

Don't Look Back

Unfortunately, being a thinky Capricorn, I am one of those people who tends to get a little sentimental at New Year. It’s a bad habit of mine to look back, often, and of course as the year comes to a close and everyone lists the brilliant things they’ve achieved and their plans for the following 12 months, I’m all the more prone to too much reflection. But the truth is that 2015 kicked my butt so much that I’ve been avoiding looking back at all.

This morning as I woke in a post-NYE celebration haze, I actually felt relief when it dawned on me that 2016 was here. I know nothing has essentially changed in the past 24 hours, but it still feels like a new chance, a new start, and as silly as it sounds, like the pain of 2015 is finally behind me.  Which is perhaps why I now feel able to write about it.

As briefly mentioned in my last post, the last half of 2015 was kind of a disaster.

One Friday in September I got the phone call that I’ve been dreading my whole life: my mum had been diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t even know she’d been to see a doctor.

The moment I heard that word, that evil, bastard word, my world fell apart. And there really is nothing to say, nothing that anyone else can say, when something like this happens to someone you love. No words seem enough, and no words come when you feel like you have so much you should say. No words of kindness are big enough, no matter how lovely the intention. Nothing matters. My brain went to sleep, all except for four words which repeated on a cycle for days, weeks: my mum has cancer. Those, and ‘but what if…’, which are the most dangerous of thoughts for a fragile mind, and ones which kept me awake night after night.

Cancer was suddenly everywhere; I was reading about it everywhere I looked, everyone I saw knew someone going through it or had a story to tell or questions to ask, every advert seemed to be for cancer charities, every soap had a cancer storyline. It took over my life. I was overflowing with fear and anxiety yet completely numb at the same time.

But the thing is, and what I have to remind myself every day, is that we were lucky. We were so, so lucky. It was cancer of the womb, and two weeks later she was to have a hysterectomy to remove the lot. The surgeon practically guaranteed that everything was going to be fine (or at least that’s what my wonderful, brave, strong mum told me over and over). I was still an absolute wreck, of course, especially on the day of the op. But then we had another phone call – the one saying she was OK. My dad and I cried with relief and hugged, properly, for the first time since I was a child. We visited her in hospital as soon as we were allowed and her main concern was her eyelashes.

From start to finish, the whole ordeal was just a matter of weeks, from the diagnosis to the all clear. Two life-changing phone calls. It feels like a bad dream, and yet so real and so raw that the fear of it still plagues my mind on a daily basis. It pushed me to my limits and then some; but I’m also so grateful at the outcome we were blessed with, and can’t quite believe it’s really over. But it is. And, happily, so is 2015. I’ll never forget it, but unlike previous New Year’s Days I’m not going to spend too much time analysing it either.

So here’s to 2016, good health, and looking forward for a change. The view is better that way.

 

Find out more about this type of cancer here

Image: Heart and Willow Prints. Print available to buy on Etsy here

When a plan comes together… and then everything falls apart

New home

So, it’s been a while. That big decision I was making was where to live, and whether it was fate, falling into it or gut instinct I’m not sure, but I found a house and went with it. I’m not sure it was entirely thought through, but it all slotted into place; the new area and house just clicked. Of course nothing is that simple and moving is the worst thing ever thanks to a thing known as estate agents – seriously, are they trained by the devil or something? – but nevertheless we moved in and I’m back in a beautiful part of south London. Hurrah.

For the best part of six months I’d been putting off any other decisions, plans or ideas until ‘after the move’ because it was stressful and taking up 95% of my brain at any one time. Everything was to happen ‘after the move’ because things would be simple and easy by then, right? Ha.

In the midst of moving, my work life (i.e. the only solid constant in my life, bring out the tiny violin) kind of… exploded. We also moved office on the same day that I moved house. I do not recommend this. Then I went on holiday (I do recommend this but not less than a week after you’ve moved), came back and not long after I had the most devastating news of my life so far (I’ll explain later). This sent me into a weird, not-really-there kind of stupor for what seemed like an eternity until I then heard the best news of my life: that everything was ok. Er, then I got ill and I’ve been back in a fog of brain-fail ever since.

So all those things I was going to do and sort out in the second half of 2015 haven’t happened. I can barely string a thought together (or a sentence, as this post probably shows), never mind an idea. The thing is, life doesn’t take a break while you get your shit together, no matter how much you want it to. The saying ‘life is what happens while you’re making other plans’ or however it goes is just as applicable when you’re not, er, planning.

Time kept ticking and now I have less than two months until my 30th birthday, and what I thought was going to be a monumental final year of my twenties has not only been rubbish but has rushed by so fast that I’m not even sure I was there for half of it. It’s no wonder the mindfulness movement is in full swing; being in the present instead of thinking about the future is underrated…

 

What to do when you don’t know what to do

Magic 8 ball

I think the main reason I can’t plan ahead is because I cannot make decisions easily. A current big decision in my life has a deadline (usually helps) and yet I’ve consulted friends, pros and cons lists, astrology, Twitter, my mum…. and still not worked out either what I want, or what I should do.

Ask anyone for help in this situation and they very kindly tell you to be selfish, to decide what you want and do what’s best for you – but that is exactly the problem. I don’t have a clue, and I was brought up to think selfish people are bastards (and it’s true, they really are). Sure, I could tell you what I want in fantasy land – a townhouse off Regent’s Park, a kitten and a book deal, thank you very much – but in reality, I don’t bloody know. When there are so many options, and your choices pretty much don’t affect anyone but yourself, what do you do? Does it even matter? With no big plan ahead of me, how do I know what the next step is if there’s no path that it sets off?

That’s the first time that’s really occurred to me: being single and pretty independent means nothing I decide will really have an effect on anyone else. So why do I struggle so much to make one, and why do I allow others’ decisions to have such an impact on me? It should feel liberating to know I can do whatever I want, but instead it makes me feel even more lost, overwhelmed and desperately looking for a connection to something that I can base my decision on.

This is the problem with not having a clear life plan, the way some do. You end up blindly making choices, relying on fate or just going for the easy option rather than knowing it’s the right stepping stone towards your future. That’s not to say I think one way is right and the other wrong; a good friend always tells me to avoid the ‘shoulds’, which I imagine crop up a lot in well-planned lives – but I guess the opposite is knowing what you simply want to do and going for it, no matter what the consequences.

I haven’t worked that out yet. So until I do, I’ve decided… I’m going to check out all the options. Yes, I’ve decided not to decide. It might be a bit of a cop out, but I’m hoping something might stand out as the right choice, even if my head can’t quite make it to that conclusion just yet. Wish me luck…

Confessions of a little planner 

capricornIn writing the last few posts, I’ve realised I either come across as a completely lost twenty-something crying out for guidance, or someone who’s so spontaneous and go-with-the-flow that plans don’t even come into it.

Well, neither is true (much). While guidance would be lovely (still convinced you lot are all going to secret ‘how to be an adult’ lessons behind my back), I’ve always kind of fallen into things and fate has mostly served me well; so I’m not so much lost as I am trusting that things will be fine. Repeat to self: THINGS WILL BE FINE. But hell no, I am not spontaneous in the slightest.

But I am somewhere in between; I’m a little planner. I might not know what’s going on in five years’ time (or even five weeks) but when something comes around, I will make mini plans and have the details down.

Want to meet up on the same day that you ask me? I will work out whether I’m dressed for the part, what makeup I can top up on at the office and what it means for meal times (double Pret lunch, anyone?). I will plot my journey home and know whether it’s a last tube or Kabbee situation; I will know whether I have hangover-friendly food in the fridge (because my nights out always involve wine) and whether I need to go to Tesco on the way back. I’ll do the wine maths depending on what I have to do the next day (1 bottle + food = upper limit if awake before 12. Multiply by 2 if + soda water). Sound mad yet? I can’t help it, I’m a Capricorn. I’m organised.

That said, I am learning that the best nights come from the unexpected. Overplan anything and it’s guaranteed to fail (ever planned a birthday night out that’s completely flopped?), whereas when you do something with no expectations of where it might lead, you might end up laughing your head off in a London tuk-tuk on the way to Subway with one of your best friends, singing the Jurassic World theme tune on a night bus and spending the next day reliving the funniest night you’ve had in ages (thanks G). I’ll never lose my microplans, if I may make up that word and call them that, but I think they’re a little like rules – there to be broken.

 

Image from capricornzodiacsign.net

In praise of Pret

 

Pret logoWhen it comes to food, I haven’t yet become my mother in planning ahead. She’ll know on Sunday morning what’s for dinner next Sunday while I’m still trying to decide what to have for breakfast.

So when it comes to lunches at work, I tend to end up in Pret. And frankly, I am not ashamed. I mean, I probably shouldn’t spend between £5 and £10 a day on fancy sandwiches. But they’re just. So. Good.

Moreover, they’re healthier. Aside from the Daily Mail headlines of calorie counting, would I be eating kale, quinoa and fresh edamame without them? Of course I bloody wouldn’t. I don’t even know if Sainsbury’s in Wood Green stocks such things. Would I eat a colourful salad packed with protein and feta and a ridiculously good dressing? No, I would probably be eating a dull as dishwater ham sandwich or a bowl of nutrition-less pasta.

Separately, the main reason I don’t make my own is a phobia of Tupperware. School packed lunches were difficult – my mum had to stop trying to give me sandwiches and offer me things that would stay fresh in foil or that came ready-wrapped. Those stuffy, smelly plastic boxes that make your sarnies sweat and your salad look limp and messy are not for me. I’ve really tried, even buying colourful ones that look fresh and new, but I can’t bring myself to fill it with food, carry it on my 45 minute journey to work on a sticky tube, then have to eat it a few hours later. Yuck. How do you people do it?

So yes, I’ve pretty much been eating what could be my savings for years. But at least I know I’ve got a good lunch, right?