My new love treats me a little rough, but I quite like it. After a session, I’m gasping for breath and a little sweaty. The next day I can barely walk. Sure, I’m not very good yet, but that’s why I practice. My heart beats a little quicker when I think about what we do together. Sure, sometimes we swap partners, but if you really love someone, you’ll always be together, right?
I can’t remember where I read it, and who said it, but there’s a quote which perfectly sums up my new love: “To win the game, you don’t have to be the most athletic or talented. To win, you must have passion for the game, determination and complete faith in yourself and your team.”
And that’s where I am. As long-term readers will know, I used to play rugby when I lived in London. After moving out here, I wasn’t too impressed with a) the standard or b) the attitude of the female rugby teams. And so I just stopped playing.
Until about 8 months ago.
Last summer, for wont of anything better to do, I started playing what I used to think was the poor relation of rugby – touch rugby. Whenever I was asked to play touch previously, I’d roll my eyes and suggest the pub instead. Any game with no contact and an excessive amount of running wasn’t really my thing.
Until about 8 months ago.
Since then, my life has been a whirlwind of tournaments, training, and travelling. I’ve been picked for a national squad, I’ve scored two international tries, I’ve starting voluntarily exercising. The new love of mine has taken over my life. I don’t have a free weekend until the end of July. My friends barely see me. My life is a cycle of work – playing – training – travelling – washing smelly kit – work. I am endlessly frustrated with myself for not being good enough. I worry incessantly about how my ineptitude is going to let down my team. I think about it, I dream about it.
The other week I wrote about the life of an expat and my tips on how to make things a little easier on yourself.
The post stemmed from an article which, in summary, said that one of the problems with living the expat life is that you are constantly missing out on things going on back home. Friends getting married, friends having babies, friends getting divorced, friends having more babies.
I’m lucky, I’ve never really felt that apart from my friends in the UK. I keep in touch via the wonders of the internet and, very occasionally, have been known to write the odd letter. (some would say my letters are very odd, but that’s another story).
This is all a very long winded way of saying that I’m still in touch with a lot of people from home, well done me etc.
Long time readers of this blog will know all the malarkey with N (if not, this post points you to the most relevant outpourings). You’ll also be aware, that I’m still in touch with N. That I was invited to the wedding (and went).
I don’t mind being friends with him. We went out for 5 years, for goodness sake – this man, for all his faults, was a major part of my life for a long time. It’s not the most conventional of friendships – we speak sporadically, the conversation is neutral, I never speak about men, he concentrates on his new life. We talk about rugby. And our respective parents. A muted version of adult conversation.
He’s been married over a year now. It was therefore no surprise that a baby was soon on the way.
N popped up on google chat the other week.
N: Hello Miss Moo [his nickname for me when we were going out.]
me: Hey! I was thinking about you the other day. Has baby arrived?
N: bounding baby girl born and happily pooping away
me: congratulations – when? name?
N: born last thursday……name undecided…actually *nuttycow* is a front runner…. Little Moo for Big Moo to visit…
Eh? My ex boyfriend and his new wife were thinking of calling their first child by my name?
For the most part, depending on the amount of time we went out, exs’ names have always become off limit for me after the breakup. Do you really want your child to remind you, every day, of the past, what was, what wasn’t, taunting you with the failure of yet another relationship? Ok, so maybe that’s over egging it a little, but you get what I’m saying. You don’t name your child the same thing as your ex. Generally, it’s weird.
There are exceptions. If the name is fairly common and lovely (say, for example, if I had a name like Emma, or Sarah, or Rachel, or Catherine) then, sure, it’d probably work. But my name? Despite the fact a character on Home and Away suddenly appeared bearing the same name, it still isn’t that common. I don’t know another (although there used to be one in my class when I was about 6). I’d hazard a guess that most of my friends would probably say I’m the only one they know…
So yes, to say I was a little, weirded out by the conversation would be an understatement. They couldn’t be serious about it… could they?
Two weeks later:
N: all done…*nuttycow* Middlename Surname…………….naming babies is a pain in the arse
How does one respond to that? (short of running away screaming)
Good ol’ Samuel Langhorne Clemens, not only did he have a cracking name but he had a bit of a way with words, didn’t he?
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Wise words indeed. After all if, three years ago, I hadn’t pack up my meagre belongings, where would I be now? It’s a topic that comes up on almost on an annual basis. I reflected a little on the comings and goings a year ago. And now, another year on, I’ve started thinking about it again.
A couple of expat friends have been posting links to a Thought Catalog article about expat life: What happens when you move abroad. The article surmises that all expats are secretly yearning to go back “home”. That, no matter how long they’ve been in a country, secretly, “home” is always better. That there’s a constant fear of “missing out” by being away.
The anxiousness that was once concentrated on how you’re going to make new friends, adjust, and master the nuances of the language has become the repeated question “What am I missing?”
And, I’ll admit, this post started as a rant. I thought about taking quotes from the articleand pointing out, ad nauseum and in painful detail, how the author is obviously taking the wrong attitude to living abroad and therefore their article is all a load of shit. I thought about extolling the virtues of living away from “home” and how I can’t even imagine moving back to the UK. I thought about explaining all the pros and cons of my new life and why anyone thinking about making the move should just do it.
(You don’t believe me. Some of the thoughts in the article made me fume: “There will always be a part of you that is far away from its home and is lying dormant until it can breathe and live in full color back in the country where it belongs” What the actual fuck? Because you’re not at “home” you’re living some form of half life? Because change and new experiences drain the life out of you? Seriously, if you hate it so much, move home why don’t you? Leave the challenges to us!)
However, my voice of reason, Dixie Chick, gently suggested that maybe my attitude has changed through time and experiences. While I was quick to scoff at this, it seems that, as ever, she had a point. There was a point that I had to let go of my old life and make a move forward with my new one. And it wasn’t easy. I felt very alone. But I picked myself up and carried on.
And so, as I think about it, I realise that some expats haven’t been as lucky as I have when moving abroad. Some people, despite having made a decision to move away from their home country, absolutely hate the life of an expat – it’s big, it’s scary, it’s different. And so they cling to their old ways, to people from “home”, to their quarterly flight back to see their family.
I don’t think this is the way to go about it, fellow expats. Whether you’re a trailing spouse, a young free and single, a worker, a student, a seasoned traveller, a newbie, there are so many things I’ve learnt along the way that I think can help anyone make their new life as good, if not better, than their old one.
1. Make different friends
It’s so easy, so painfully easy, to fall into a circle of work friends. After all, they’re all in the same boat. Dealing with the bureaucracies of the same company, that same woman from HR, sometimes the same projects. They get the pressures you’re under. They’ve had to go through exactly what you are having to.
Stop it. Move away from the easy route. It’s easy for a reason.
While there’s a place for work friends everywhere you go (after all, The Canadian and Dixie Chick were both friends I found through work) it is so important to find friends away from work.
Seriously, I cannot stress this enough – try and get a wide circle of friends.
Different friends have different purposes. You spend the best part of 45 hours at work a week. There are times when the last thing you need at the end of a long day or week, is to be surrounded by the people you’ve just left the office with. There needs to be some respite. There needs to be someone else. You need to have conversations that aren’t about work (and, no matter how many times you tell yourself you won’t become *that* person who talks shop, you will). You need people that you can truly be yourself around without that niggling feeling that it’s secretly being noted down and phoned into the Compliance Hotline on Monday.
How do you find those other people….?
2. Find something you love
Everyone has something they love. Everyone. It could be reading. It could be sport. It could be knitting. The cinema. Writing. Conversation. S&M. Whatever.
And if you like something, it’s likely that there’ll be other people in this new world of yours who’ll like it too. There will be clubs, casual groups, places these people meet. Go there. You need to shed that (typically English, it has to be said) reticence to put yourself out there and force yourself to be sociable. Don’t say no to new experiences, go to random meet ups. If there’s nothing set up, why not do it yourself? It may be that there are a stack load of people out there, just like you waiting for someone to…
3. Make the effort
Making the effort is two-fold. Firstly, you have to get out there and make the first move. If you don’t look after yourself, other people aren’t going to do it for you. This means you have to organise drinks, dinner parties, groups, events. Yes, it takes time and commitment Yes, it’s likely that you’ll get no thanks for it. But it also means you’ll fulfil points 1 and 2.
Secondly, make an effort to get involved with your new home. It could be shopping around for new food, expanding your tastes. It could be exploring local haunts, feeling a little lost, a little out of place. It could be learning the language, getting things wrong, asking questions. Whatever it is, you need to throw yourself into it. If you don’t try something new, you’ll never learn.
4. Stop the comparisons
Yes, maybe the bread at “home” is better. Things may be cheaper. You may have more choice. There are a million ways in which “home” will be superior to your new world. But it’s that difference that you wanted, right? It’s part of the reason you moved. Constantly converting prices, complaining at the way in which things work (or don’t), getting frustrated at difficulties – we all do it, but we need to stop. Find new ways to work, find ways to make things happen, embrace the alternatives. Part of the adventure of the expat life is the stories, memories and experiences you gain. You will grow, you will mature, you will expand your horizons. All of these are making you a better person.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Just because you’ve moved somewhere new, it doesn’t mean you need to be alone. There will be other expats around you and, because you feel you need to immerse yourself in your new life, it doesn’t mean you should shun those who are able to help you. The problems you’re going through are not new ones. You don’t have to face them alone. Ask for advice, talk to people, take on advice. And, in return, when you’re an old hand, pass on your knowledge to other newbies you see. Just think how grateful you were when people helped you out – do the same for others.
6. Don’t cut yourself off
It’s tempting to think that if you cut off your old life, your new life will be easier. Not so, your old friends may be many miles away, but that doesn’t mean they stop being your friends. The distance will test your relationship but, hopefully, will make it a hundred times stronger. Similarly, the expat life is a transient one. New friends will come and go. Keep in touch – expand your network. How lovely it is to hear a friend say “I’m going to XYZ” and for you to be able to respond “Oh! I have a friend there, let me put you in touch.” All it takes is a quick email, a funny postcard, a skype date, a post on their facebook wall. It’s so easy to stay in touch with people all around the world with minimal effort. Take advantage of the digital age we live in.
7. Enjoy going back “home”
There is no doubt that going back to familiarity is a joyous experience. Visit friends, family, old haunts. Take advantage of all those things you miss (I, for example, find it a revelation to wander round a Tesco. Look at all the choice! Look at the prices! Oooo, proper bacon!) Take some home comforts back with you, of course. But realise that you’re on holiday. Your new home is somewhere else. And that’s not a bad thing.
8. Don’t be afraid if it doesn’t work out
It may be that, after all your efforts, your new life isn’t enough. It’s not what you expected, it’s not what you want. And, no matter how hard you work at it, it’s never going to be right. That’s ok.
Do give it a try. Don’t stay somewhere you hate because you’re stubborn.
It isn’t a failure to leave. You’ve given it a go, you’re made a choice, you’ve taken a risk. How many other people you know haven’t even considered it? Take the experiences of your move and make a change in your new life. The whole point of travel and the expat life is experiencing new things, and growing through things you get wrong as well as things you get right. It’s not for everyone.
… But if it is, take advantage of every wondrous day.
We’re coming up the first anniversary of the inaugural meeting of John’s Club.
The premise of John’s Club is simple: Member of John’s Club, shall, once a year, meet, drink, dance, eat, laugh, and make memories.
There are, at present, only two members of John’s Club – Bad Influence and Nuttycow (it’s not that we’re against other members, it’s just that we don’t think anyone else could handle the two of us together for four days without having to be committed).
The first meeting of John’s Club was held in Carcassone, France. A quiet market town in the southern part of France, it seemed the perfect destination for two intrepid explorers. After a quick search on t’internet, we acquired an apartment. It was cheerful, it was well decorated., it was near the centre of town.
“I must warn you,” said the owner, “the area isn’t ideal”. It was slap bang in the middle of the only dodgy street in Carcassone. That wasn’t saying much. Dodgy in Carcassone has a slightly different meaning than, say, dodgy on the Caledonian Road.
Gangs of balding, denim wearing, middle aged men with beer guts and roll ups hung around. Children ran in the streets, playing. Women, loitered, talking to their neighbours. Somewhere a radio blared out the Gypsey Kings. Scary indeed.
We opened the triple locked door and, a quick walk down a light hallway later, found heaven. The apartment was perfect. Perfect in the fact it had a fridge for wine and cheese. Perfect in the fact there were wine glasses in the cupboard. Perfect in the fact it had a private patio for summer sunshine drinking. What more do two girls need?
The first session of John’s Club had come to order.
Over the four days that followed, it was quickly established that John’s Club doesn’t really have rules, as such. More like expectations.
Expectation 1:If there are single members of John’s Club, the non-single members should act as wing man and talent spotter.
Bad Influence managed to rustle up these tasty specimens for me.
I’m particularly a fan of the Texas Tuxedo look he’s got going on there. It goes delightfully with his mullet. I am not joking when I say that this picture represents the hottest male specimens we spotted the whole weekend. (Note for next meeting: do research on ratio of hot men to mullets).
Expectation 2: Every club needs a clubhouse.
In this case, it was the Black Pig in the middle of Carcassone. Even though we were only in town for 4 days, by the 2nd day, the barman knew us so well that he a) bought us wine without us asking b) kept bringing us wine until we fell over.
We are such creatures of habit that he was well aware that not only did we require a seat in the sun but that, at around 3 in the afternoon, a shot of coffee was required before the next carafe of rose was carted out.
Expectation 3:Food should be eaten on a near constant basis.
Leave your diets at the door, members. John’s Club is not for the faint hearted. There will be food. A lot of it. It will not be lentil based. You are unlikely to eat anything remotely vegetable based for the duration of John’s Club (unless you count liquid grapes as vegetables?)
Food is incredibly important to John’s Club members. It’s unlikely that the Club will ever meet somewhere that isn’t renowned for its food. (France, Italy, Spain, Greece, all possibilities. Kazakhstan, probably not)
Expectation 4:Drunken shopping will occur.
You have to be prepared to go home with a combination of odds and ends that you never knew you needed. There will be plenty of giggling and cajoling.
At the first meeting I came home with a cushion with a dog on it, a le Crueset teapot, and endless bit of stationary. Bad Influence spent her mortgage money on a purple leather jacket.
Expectation 5:No matter how hungover you are, how high your heels are, or how steep the hill, members of John’s Club will do at least one element of sightseeing on their trip.
After all, why leave the confines of your homeland if you’re not going to experience the local culture?
At our last meeting, “sightseeing” involved walking up the hill to find more food and wine.
But it counts, right? Look, hills! Castles! Night sky! Beauty! We also managed to get ourselves lost for about an hour and a half (noted under “experiencing local culture”)
Expectation 6:Be prepared to regress to childhood.
Before going out of an evening, we sat outside in the dying sun, squealing like children as we played Mikado, Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders (for like, 3 seconds, boring), Gin Rummy…
Bad Influence tried to beat me at Monopoly. Rookie. As has already been established, I’m proficient at playing the long game. (Please can I just point out that not only did Bad Influence spectacularly lose at Monopoly, she also seems to have run out of wine. Tsk.)
Expectation 7:At least one of the days of John’s Club will be devoted to slovenly behaviour.
If you’re going to be running around like a mad thing most of the day, you’ll need to have some time to actually relax, right. What better way to do this than with wine and food?
In our first meeting, our “we’re doing nothing day” was Easter Sunday. Since we figured everything would be shut anyway, Bad Influence and I spent our entire day (and I mean, we may have moved about 5 times in total) in bed, watching House, drinking wine, and eating cheese.
The whole day. Every time we made an effort to move, we decided that bed and another episode of House was probably more exciting that anything else we could be doing (you know, like getting fresh air).
Wine in bed is surprisingly overlooked as a pastime.
This year’s meeting? Munich for Oktoberfest. Oh god.
I meet the Scientist at the local rugby pub. He is standing with a casual acquaintance (part of the Irish Mafia that always seems to be propping up the bar). A quick glance at the Scientist tells me three things:
1. He was tall
2. He was new to Lausanne
3. He was passable. And had nice arms.
And so I chat to him. I’m sociable (and shallow) like that.
And we talk. And talk. And talk.
After the rugby, we talk some more. Around me, everyone is getting progressively drunker (the Scientist included) and I am getting progressively more bored with the whole being sober lark.
About half way through the evening, a friend pulls me aside. “How’s it going with the big boy?” he asks. I shrug, non-committally.”A nice guy, funny to be around, good company.” I reply.
“You’ve got competition” he says. Again, a shrug. If another girl wants him, she’s welcome to him. Yes, he’s nice. Yes, he’s quite hot. But jeez, I’ve just met him. I’m not going to straddle him in the middle of the bar, and I certainly have no claim on him.
Sure enough, about 10 minutes later, an American girl joins the group and starts talking to the Scientist. I take the hint. However, suddenly, the Scientist is back talking to me. About 5 minutes pass and a friend of the American comes over. She stands in front of me and drags the Scientist off to her table.
On my own once more, I turn and make conversation with my other friends. And there he is, back again.
“You’re popular this evening” I tease.
“Yeah” he says, looking confused “they wanted to complain to me about some guy that was coming onto them. What am I supposed to do about it?”
(As an aside, this is more evidence that fundamentally, men are clueless)
At about 11.30 I decide that being sober sucks. I say goodbye to all and sundry and left the pub. As I leave, American girl’s friends are also leaving. “How’s your friend?” they ask. ”Our friend’s really pissed off with you” they continue. “She liked him and you kept blocking her”.
I walk home, smiling.
The second meeting:
“Oh! You’re here again”, he says as I enter the pub. Shows how much he knows – when rugby’s on, I practically live in the pub. “I’m here again” I confirm.
Sitting on opposing tables, eye contact flickers between us. Smiles. Glances. The beginnings of a flirtation – a warmness in my stomach – a rising blush – that contentment I get when I smell freshly baked bread or newly cut grass
“You’re not leaving are you?” he asks “Why don’t you stay with us?”. I don’t need to be asked twice.
We both leave the pub much later with new numbers in our phone.
The third meeting:
“Going out this weekend? Fancy grabbing a bite to eat?” I text.
“Sure, sounds good” comes the reply.
We go, we eat, we walk, we drink, we talk.
It’s 1 o’clock and I make a move to leave. 3 Swiss kisses. More lips than cheek.
The fourth meeting:
The back and forth texting has continued. I ask him round. He declines but maybe another time? Is he going to watch the rugby? Maybe, but he’s playing so he might be late but maybe we’ll see each other later? Maybe, maybe, maybe.
I’m annoyed. So I sulk. I sit on the sofa and sulk. My friends call. Where am I? Stop sulking. Come to the pub.
And so I’m in the pub again. And there he is. There is he with his arms around a small, dark haired girl. He ignores me. I go over and introduce myself to her. She is smiley and lovely. She’s over from Ireland to visit him. He ignores me.
As he leaves, he tries to shake my hand.
He texts me. Twice.
I ignore him.
(Thanks to Monsieur de la Pérouse for the photo. You can read his travel blog here – be warned, google translate is probably required)
I was recently accused of neglecting my writing because, and I quote, I’ve “started writing in circles”.
Looking back over the last couple of posts, it seems that my critic has a point. All I seem to write about nowadays is men: complaining about the lack thereof, the fact I don’t understand them, the fact they don’t understand me, why can’t I find a nice one, why did he turn into such a bastard, I’m so lonely, I love being single.
And it’s spiral after spiral of happiness and despair. One after the other. Yeah, sorry about that. I hate to tell Monsieur de la Pérouse that this post is unlikely to be much different.
Oh, it’s going to be a slow, long game with this one.*
Where were we? Ah yes, that’s right. I’d just found out that this man, this man I’d lusted over for the last 2 years remember, this man was single.
It was a Saturday night and, as is my wont, I was in a local bar with a girlfriend (for the purposes of this post, simply J). It was someone’s birthday and she had dragged me along with her as her “date”. As we arrived, she dashed off to make the obligatory “Happy birthday! You look fabulous! Is that a new dress/haircut/face” chat. I hung up my coat and squeezed my way through the incredibly French crowd – “Excusez-moi, excusez, pardon, ex-”
A frantically waving arm to my right catches my eye. Thank God! Other friends! I won’t be forced to make stuttering small talk with strangers in painfully bad French. Kisses all round for H and A, and then I see him, standing a little further back. Monopoly. (please see explanation below)
What’s he doing here? Why’s he out on his own with H and A? Why isn’t he with his male friends doing manly things like spearing boar and making fire?
“You look nice” says H, always on hand to make one feel better about oneself. “I love your eyes” chips in A. The girls look at Monopoly expectantly, question marks in their eyes. He grins and starts to speak. Saving him from having to come up with the remainder of the triumvirate, I suddenly spot a small table hidden round the corner that’s free. Leaving dignity aside (a rare commodity anyway) and leaving him mid-sentence, I make a dash for it, elbowing aside the too-slow underage drinkers. Suddenly we’d found our place for the evening.
It was an easy night of conversation. J, H, A and I chattered about everything and anything. Monopoly looked slightly confused (and, at times, more than a little uncomfortable) at having stumbled onto an impromptu girl’s gossip session but skilfully held his own. An occasional gem of information about the inner workings of a male mind. A well placed sparky comment to stop things getting too serious.
And I looked, and glanced, and smiled, and wished.
He went to the bar.
“You know Monopoly’s single again?” I nearly missed the passing comment from A.
A quick dissection of the circumstances followed (“about a month ago”, “she dumped him, apparently”, “no, I think he’s ok about it”) and then conversation moved on. At least, for most of the table.
I sat there considering. A month single, that’s a good amount of time that he’s not completely rebounding. She dumped him, not so good, he may still be pining. He’s ok about it? Hmmm, hiding his feelings probably. So what do I do now? Make a move? Pretend I don’t care? Try and set him up with someone else (invariably my default when I fancy someone – why do I do that?) Carry on as normal?
My internal monologue continued as we finished our drinks and made our way downstairs to the cocktail bar/club. It was still on my mind as I danced, drank and was totally ignored by this guy (honestly, what a tosser). I was still thinking about it as I complained to Monopoly about being ignored by that guy (not just passively ignored by the way, I was standing with him and his friends, he looked at me and then very obviously turned his back on me). My thoughts were still whirring as I realised that everyone else had left. Monopoly were on our own.
“Time to go?” he asked.
“Time to go” I said.
Lausanne is a small town, everywhere is pretty much on the way home for me, so I didn’t complain as we started walking in slightly the wrong direction. I tucked my hand in his arm as we walked slowly down the cobbled streets. I stumbled on my heel as we passed the drug dealers, clubbers and random drunks. A short downhill and we finally got to his door.
“Do you want to come in?” he asked
“I do” I said.
Sharing a beer on his sofa, watching rugby at 3 in the morning, we chatted, discussed and laughed. Curled up under a blanket, I marvelled at the sparse nature of this flat and fridge. Rugby over, beer finished, Chabal’s performance assessed, I stretched and yawned.
“Do you want to stay?” he asked.
“A bad idea…” I said. ”…but then I’m a big fan of bad ideas.”
Suddenly it’s 5 in the morning and I’m rudely awoken by the doorbell. Not a brief ring. A constant din. As if someone very drunk is just leaning on it. Monopoly’s phone started ringing. And ringing. An accompaniment to the never-ending shrill of the doorbell.
For the next 20 minutes, she stood there, outside his house, leaning on the doorbell and ringing his phone. He sat at the edge of his bed, half asleep, head in hands. I, meanwhile, cowered, like the wimp I am, on the other side of the bed, hoping against hope she didn’t suddenly find a key/break down the door.
Then, as soon as it began, it was over. She gave up.
Monopoly and I curled up again, and slept.
* “He” will henceforth be known as Monopoly – that’s also a long game I enjoy playing.
The fraudulent feeling you get when you realise you haven’t lived at home for nearly 10 years. That you pay your own bills. That you commute. On your own. That you have a job – you’re paid to work, and, worse, people are relying on you to produce things which will make a difference (and not just sit behind the till at your local Somerfield’s, chatting up other 16 year olds)
The deepening disappointment that, aged 27, you aren’t married, despite all your plans. Weren’t you supposed to be living in your country cottage by now? 2 dogs, aga, the works. Or maybe it was that stylish flat in the city centre. All marble and dark wood. Spouse by your side, you’d be taking on the world together.
The slight sorrow when you go “home” (because, of course, home is never where you’re living at the time – your current residence seems to have a transient feel to it, no matter how many cushions you buy, fairy lights you hang, pictures you inexpertly put up) and realise that all those friends you had at school have either not changed at all or beyond all belief.Whichever it is, it’s not the same.
The persistent niggle that whatever you’re doing, you should be doing something else. Wherever you are, people are somewhere better.
Your 20s flow by as you desperately try to find a path across to the other side. That place where you think you should be. That place where the grass is greener.
Time marches on.
In 9 days, I will hit 31. Jesus. 31. That’s properly in my 30s, isn’t it? No more pretending that I’m in my late 20s. Nope, it’s all about being a 30-something. And yet… where’s the feeling of dread that stalked me this time last year? Why aren’t I sobbing underneath my desk?
Simple answer: because being 30-something is fantastic.
As you near the end of your 20s, your older friends all have the same mildly-concerned faces bought about by your imminent breakdown. They listen to your concerns but then they turn to you, with an unnerving cheerfulness “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Honestly, your 30s is the best decade yet.” You wonder which cult they’ve joined.
And no, you don’t believe them. You didn’t believe them when you were 19 (“Seriously, your 20s are so much fun, it’s all about finding who you are”) and you don’t believe them now you’re standing in front of the big 3-0.
Believe them. .
It will all be fine. And honestly, your 30s are the best decade yet.
I love being in my 30s. So much better than my 20s. Mostly because nothing feels like the END OF THE WORLD.
… and that’s exactly it. By the time you reach your 30s, you realise that it really doesn’t matter anyway. You start living your life, as opposed to living what you think you should be living in order to get the life you want.
I never thought there’d be such an obvious stepchange for me but, in recent months when I’ve been weighing up my options as to the next move, I’ve realised that my life is pretty damn awesome.
Friends and family:
I know who my friends are now. I know who my closest friends are, who my good friends are, who my passing friends are, and who my old friends are.
Some are ambitious, some are settled, some are parents, some are foot-loose and fancy free. Some have great jobs, some have getting-by jobs, some have bad jobs. Some live in London, some live in America, some live in Singapore. Some of them even live in the same town as me.
The point is, that they all have their place in my life. We’re all at different stages and ages, but, despite this, they still have a part in my life. They may be a constant or they may only turn up reunions, weddings and in the Christmas post. But there they are, none the less.
Similarly, with the family, they too, have settled into their place. Do you remember that period when you were growing up and you hated your parents? They were the worst people in the world – they just didn’t understand what it was like to be a teenager. And then remember you hit around 19 and you realised that, actually, your parents were human after all? Sure, they had their faults but generally, they were the good guys.
Once I hit 30, I started seeing my parents as equals. These were people who had been there, done that. They could give advice, sympathy, congratulations. My parents support my decisions because, ultimately, now I’m in my 30s, I’m old enough, big enough, and ugly enough to make my own mistakes. A happy juxtaposition to earlier years.
Men, the love life, and getting married:
I’m not saying it was easy. I’m not saying that heading into my 30s without a steady someone by my side was fun, or enjoyable, or something I wanted. But it was ok.
Yes, I’m still single. And yes, it’s four years since I last had anything remotely like a relationship. And yes, friend after friend are getting married. But that’s ok too. Yes, sometimes it’s lonely. And yes, as Isabel says:
The only downside of 30s – people keep pointing at my womb saying “when’re you gonna use that?”
But I can deal with that. f I had settled, would I be any happier? If I had stayed because it fitted into the plan? No. Clichéd as it sounds (because, er… it is a cliché these things happen for a reason. And man, I’m pleased they do. As Blonde wisely noted:
Sometimes it’s the stuff you don’t plan for that’s the best.
Job and money:
I think that, if I was actually a fraud, if I wasn’t any good at my job, they probably would have figured it out by now. But no, somehow, I’m still gainfully employed. This probably means something.
There are a million and one things I still have to learn. There are people who I look at in awe – all the time wondering “why I didn’t think of that?” I don’t think that ever changes. We always have something more to learn.
The difference is now, I try and figure out how I’m going to get better. Instead of berating myself about how I don’t know anything and that I’ll never be any good at my job and how they’re going to fire me at any minute and how I’m not sure whether I want to do this anyway…
No, now, I sit, I take time, I try and figure it out. I try and improve. To be better.
And who knew, it actually works.
I’m now also at an age where I’ve got work experience behind me. 8 years, scarily. That counts for something. Mostly, it counts for money and responsibility. So, while I’m not managing director yet, I’m not doing too badly.
The financial freedom that comes with a stable job is something that has a calming effect on everything. I no longer have to worry about how I’m going to pay next month’s rent. I don’t have to worry about loans, and overdrafts, and credit cards, and electricity bills. Instead I have a budget. Which I stick to. And damn me, if I don’t have money left over to buy pretty things that I don’t need too.
Home and social life:
I love my apartment, love it. I love the mismatch of furniture. I love the pictures, the sofas, the carpets. I love the old self-renovated chest that sits in the hallway. I love my kitchen, my books, my pockmarked dining room table. I love it all.
It’s only recently, however, that my flat has developed any type of personality. It’s taken time. 3 years, in fact. 3 years of dinner parties, Christmas parties, pizza parties, Eurovision parties, Leslie Nielsen appreciation parties, Olympic parties. 3 years of going to car boot sales, flea markets, other people’s attics and sheds. Slowly, slowly, my assortment of bits and bobs have come together to make home.
In finding out who and what my friends are (see above) I’ve also found a social life I’m happy with. I have certain friends for certain things. Sometimes they mix, most of the time they don’t. I have my friends for cosy chats in dark wine bars. I have my friends for pizza and crap films on the sofa. I have my friends for the adrenalin fueled fun and games following rugby. I have my friends to go out dancing with until 5 in the morning. I have my wing man friends. I have my confiding friends. I have a social life which is as wide and varied as I could ever have imagined.
But I also have responsibilities, restrictions and repercussions.
I know that my hangovers are worse. I know that I have to function during the week. I know that if I play rugby hungover, I’ll regret it in a way I didn’t when I was younger. I know I have things to do.
So weigh up my options in a way I never did in my 20s.
If I want to go to bed by 9 o’clock with my book, I can. If I want to go out clubbing ’til 5 in the morning, I can. If want to just have a couple of cocktails with old friends and be in bed by midnight, I can.
It’s not the freedom to make these choices that has changed, it’s the reason I make those choices. Whereas before, I might not go out because I was still hanging from the night before, now the reason for staying home is more likely to be the things I have to do the next day.
There isn’t such a frenetic requirement to be everywhere with everyone every time. I pick and choose, and my social life is all the richer for it.
Getting (and looking) older:
I’m the same, but different. I look the same, sort of. My hair’s changed, my body’s changed (dammit) but ultimately, I’m a softer, slightly more worn version of what I was. And I think it suits me.
Although I’m not a fresh-faced teenager anymore, I think, much like the ugly duckling, I’ve grown into myself over the last few years. I know what clothes suit me. I know what doesn’t. (and yes Jo, I know when that skirt is too short).
I’ve found my own style. I’ve found me.
And as I’ve changed into this different version, my parents have undergone their own transformation. They’re older, slightly more set in their ways, know what they want, what they like, what they don’t. They have aches and pains they didn’t have before. They hold the paper slightly further away. But underneath, they too are the same, but different.
Do I worry about them not being around forever? Of course. Do I (or they) let it change the way they live their life? I certainly hope not.
Worrying about things you have no control over leads to never-ending spirals and circles of uncertainty.
And looking at this list of things I realise I’m happy. That I love where I live, I love my friends, I love my lack of love life, and, although I don’t love my job, I love the freedom the salary gives me.
I’ve never really been huge on Lent. When I was a kid, it was all about chocolate and nail biting. Could I give either of them up? (invariably, the answer was yes, begrudgingly). As I grew older, it was a sort of half-arsed attempt at trying to look pious while secretly scoffing/drinking/doing whatever it was I’d pretended to give up.
For the last few years, Lent has rather passed me by. And it was nearly the same this year. It was only through a morning twitter perusal (when I was supposed to be paying attention in a staff meeting, of course) that I realised it was Shrove Tuesday. Having decided that pancakes (despite being definitely not on the diet recipe list) were on the menu for supper tonight, I started wondering about Lent again.
I canvassed for ideas.
“Give up something you don’t really like”
None of these really struck me as going along with the spirit of things. After all, if you’re going to be a traditionalist about it, Lent is about hardship. It’s about fasting, it’s about abstinence, it’s about penitence. Lent is about giving up something you like, something you love, something you don’t think you can survive without.
Since I’m already on a diet and supposed to be going without most things I love, fasting was out. I decided to look elsewhere.
Penitence? I’m such a good girl, there’s rarely anything for me to penitent about. *cough*
So where does that leave us? Abstinence. Most people think abstinence means refraining from all things sexual. And it does, but it also means (and thank you my trusty dictionary) the ”restraint of one’s appetites or desires”. Now, since I’m sure as hell not getting any (and not likely to any time soon, but that’s another story) I thought it’d be a bit of a cop out to give up sex for Lent. However, there is something I desire. For which I have an appetite.
It’s no secret. I like alcohol. Drinking is fun.
But wow. 6 weeks without a drink? No cheeky glass of wine after a hard day at work? No après? Between now and Easter I have the remainder of the 6 Nations. I have my birthday. I have St Patrick’s Day. I have a rugby tournament in Nice.
And, as I started going through all the fun things that I’ve got coming up, the realisation dawned on me – giving up alcohol would be tough. Super tough. In amidst the growing horror, I heard the dormant competitor in me, stir…
No one will think I can do it. They’ll all laugh at me. They’ll try and tempt me to give up.
There’s always that one person you go to for advice. A friend, a sister, a team-mate, that homeless man who lives under Putney Bridge. There’s always someone.
Sometimes that someone is me. I’d like to think that I can be counted on to give good advice. And sometimes, evidently, my friends think the same. Granted, I may be a “say what I think” kind of agony aunt rather than a “it’ll all be ok in the end” one, but I think there’s probably room for all sorts in the agony aunt world.
Bad Influence. This is the woman who gets me into more scrapes than I care to think about.
Flashes of our times together – men hiding in cupboards, stripping in order to sell more beer at the pub we both worked at, licking men’s stomachs on her behest, drinking a pint of beer through a straw, trying to get up from a table and somersaulting onto the floor instead, a table full of mini shot bottles (and attempting to get those shot bottles into the nearby club), drunken shopping for cushions with dogs on them, Easter Sunday spent in bed drinking wine, eating cheese and watching House.
But, for all her madness and madcap tomfoolery, the woman is a goddess when it comes to giving advice. It doesn’t matter what the problem, how strange, mundane, dirty, embarrassing, simple or complicated. She gets to the root of the problem and makes it all make sense again.
In a fit of magnanimity (she must have been drunk), Bad Influence decided to open up her wisdom to the world. She wants to help you with your problems. No matter what, when, or where, she’ll come up with a solution.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org – all emails will be treated in the greatest confidence, of course.