Tag Archives: dating

Nobody Wins the Waiting Game

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Hello, lovely reader.  How are you?  Would you care for a glass of Berocca?

There’s a very nice pub near my house which my friends and I have nicknamed Hanging Gardens of Babylon, mainly because it has the best beer garden in the entire metropolis.  Last Thursday evening – despite the fact that it had been half-heartedly snowing all day – my friend and I decided to sit in said beer garden and have a jolly good catch up.

Wrapped up warm and clasping our pints, we endured the wintry weather by distracting ourselves with chat, and by militantly turning the outdoor heaters back on whenever they timed out.  After a while the conversation turned to our love lives and it transpired that my friend had recently met someone.  Sort of.  In her own words, she thought that “maybe there might be a sort of thing perhaps but not really oh I don’t know it’s complicated stop looking at me like that Vicki”.  I don’t know what she’s talking about, by the way.  I’ve never given anybody a look in my life.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that the chap clearly likes her and has been trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to ask her out on a date via a popular social media messaging platform.  (For the record, lovely reader, it turns out that you can message people on Instagram.  Did you know that?  I had no idea.)  When I suggested that she take the initiative and ask the guy out herself, her first question was “can’t I wait for him to ask me out?”

I had two problems with this.  Firstly, what the hell is this “waiting” nonsense about?  The friend I am talking about is an absolute marvel.  She has found herself great jobs, created huge projects and been promoted umpteen times because she has always had precisely the opposite attitude to waiting around: she knows how to get things done.  Once she has decided that she wants to achieve something, she flipping well works her socks off until she achieves it.  This is a quality in her that many people love and admire, and her refusal to twiddle her thumbs and hope for the best is precisely what makes her such a powerful woman.  So why does she want to wait around to be asked out?

Secondly, this friend of mine was blithely ignoring the fact that the poor guy had been trying to ask her out for several days and that she had wilfully pretended not to notice.  Some people – most of us, if we’re honest – would rather ignore a whole bunch of signals than risk looking foolish by jumping even the tiniest distance from enormous hint to obvious conclusion.

Sadly, I think that a lot of us feel this way when it comes to emotional risks.  It is easier to wait and hope that the other person will be brave, never saying or doing anything that has any implications whatsoever, for fear of looking foolish and being exposed as someone who feels things.  The chap in question clearly felt this way and had been hoping that my friend would bite the bullet.  I suppose it doesn’t help that the metaphors we use for being bold are so violent: jumping the gun, biting the bullet, etc…

I know that succeeding in life and at work are not the same as being successful in love.  If you work hard at a diet then you will get healthier, for example, whereas there is no such guarantee when it comes to relationships.  Feelings are tricky bastards.  Having said that, if everyone sits around waiting for someone else to say something then nothing will ever get said.  The person who “loses” the waiting game is the one who is brave enough to speak up first.  So who is really the loser?

It took me a solid half hour to convince my friend to ask this guy out, and I had to threaten her with some dreadful stuff just to make her consider it: refusing to buy my round, for example, which is not a tactic I enjoy resorting to.  When she did eventually send the message, she immediately downed her pint and called me all sorts of names, which was absolutely fine.  But then she asked me another question: “what if he says no?”

And here we reach the heart of the matter.  What is the worst that can possibly happen if you put yourself out there and declare your true feelings?  What horrendous, life-ruining, earth-shattering consequences arise from risking rejection?  Obviously you lose your job, your friends abandon you and your ears fall off.  That’s how it works, right?  No?  Interesting…

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I (Broken) Heart London

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Hello, dear reader.  How’s it going?  Anyone taken the plunge and turned their central heating on yet?

Last week my friend Abi and I went for a catch up, which is always a lovely thing to do, because Abi is marvellous.  She and I met on an appalling theatre tour in 2013, and ever since then we’ve been a very good team in a crisis. This was especially important last week because we’d both been through a pretty rough time.  Lowlights included moving house under sad circumstances (Abi), trapping thumbs in train doors (me), and getting our hearts trodden on (both of us).  Don’t worry, I won’t go into details.  Unless you want to know about the thumb-trapping thing, which is so embarrassing that it’s automatically funny.

Anyway, our conversation moved from the specifics of our own failed romances to the general way that dating in London seems to go these days: matching, chatting, meeting, dating and then…nothing.  Technology has made it frighteningly easy for people to disappear just as soon as you think things are going somewhere. Not an encouraging prospect.  Setting aside the fact that love is being left mostly to apps nowadays, the whole new relationship thing does seem to have lost a bit of its charm.

“Where are the flowers?”  Abi demanded.  “Flowers used to be a thing, right?  But when did any of us last get flowers?”
“Er…I got some the other day.”
“What?! From who?”
“Well…my sister.  And she was trying to cheer me up about getting dumped, so…” “Doesn’t count really, does it?”
“Nope.”

Generations gone by had rules and systems: courting, proposals, betrothedness. (“Is that a word?” “Too late, she’s said it now.” “Shall we…?” “No, best let her carry on. You’ll only confuse her if you interrupt.”) Our parents and grandparents knew what they were doing, because love in times gone by was a practised dance: everyone knew the rules and which move came next in the sequence. Love in times present is more like a Harlem Shake video, where there are no rules and no discernible moves at all.

Part of the problem, Abi and I decided, is the euphemistic nature of relationships: “dating”, “seeing each other”, “taking things slowly”, etc. I’m all for people discarding labels that don’t work for them, but there is no allowance for progress. No one wants to admit that, eventually, they’d really like a nice partnership with another human being.

Abi told me about a friend of hers who is originally from Germany, and how the non-committal dating scene of London horrifies her. In Germany, this friend says, people go on five dates, kiss, and then they are in a relationship. No tricks, no games, no messing around. Those are the rules. I admit that these rules might not work for everyone, but I like the idea of a structure, of development. Couples who are working towards something as a pair of people who are interested in each other, rather than two individuals who are competing to see who can be less emotionally invested.

I have a group of friends who live in the Highlands, and they are all in happily married couples.  I’m not suggesting that they don’t have problems, or that their relationships have all been super easy, but they have all invested time and energy into making their relationships work.  During my last visit my friend Robyn joked that the only reason for that is, in that part of Scotland, there is nothing else to do.  She was being silly to make me feel better about being single, which I love her for, but I wonder whether there might actually be something in what she said.  Are the men and women of London so distracted by their jobs, pop-up bars, house-warming parties, Oyster cards and Buzzfeed articles that we can’t focus on each other for more than five minutes?  Is there any way to find a half-way point between being busy and being in love?

“Like, half-way between London and Inverness?” Abi asked when I brought this up.

“Yeah,” I said, and then realised something.  “Actually no, because that means we have to move to Blackpool.”

Have an amazing day, gorgeous reader.  Abi and I are both fine, by the way.  We’re certainly not moving to Blackpool just yet.

You Are Not A Casserole

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Hello, you fabulous human being.  How’s this week been for you?  Busy?  Me too.  Put your feet up for a bit.

One of the most enjoyable experiences in life is the overheard conversation snippet.  You know the sort of thing: you’re walking past a couple of friends who are in the middle of an in depth chat, and as you pass you hear one of them say something insane like “…and then the whole thing went bright blue!”  Not knowing the context of a conversation can make for very confusing and amusing listening.

The other day I was sitting outside a pub with a couple of my lovely girl friends, discussing life, the universe and everything (i.e. boys).  Don’t get me wrong – my friends and I cover many fascinating and intelligent topics of conversation on a regular basis, but even the most sassy and savvy of us occasionally need to rant about the opposite sex.  On this occasion, one of my friends was asking for advice about a guy she thinks she’s dating, but isn’t sure.  Here is an extract from the discussion:

“He’s going to house-sit with me at the weekend, and he took me out for an amazing dinner, and he calls me “his girl”…”
“Well, that sounds promising.”
“Yeah, really promising.”
“But what does it MEAN?!”

And so on and so forth.  Despite being clever, worldly, independent and hopefully fairly likeable young women, my friends and I are still flummoxed by what men’s behaviour “means” more often than we’d like to admit.  We have all – including you, fabulous reader – learned a lot during our short stays on Earth so far, including our strengths, weaknesses and alcohol tolerance levels.  Why then have we not learned something very simple, something that even tiny children understand: that we only get answers by asking questions?

It’s not as easy as all that, I know.  And we’ve talked about this before: the importance of being emotionally honest even though it feels so alien to us, the terror we feel when we have to be frank about what we want, and the excruciating embarrassment we feel about having strong feelings at all.  Needing an answer from someone, whether they’re male or female, has somehow started to mean that we are needy full stop.  Not to the person we’re confused about, necessarily, but definitely in our own heads.  And so we don’t ask; we just stew.

What the conversation boiled down to – if you’ll excuse the appalling pun – is that stewing does nobody any good.  In the heat of our debate about the virtues of honesty and openness, I ended up declaring “YOU ARE NOT A CASSEROLE” to my lovely, confused friend.  At that precise moment an unfortunate young man walked past and gave us a very strange look.  I do not blame him in the slightest.  Context was particularly important there.

But my point stands: we are not casseroles.  We should not leave ourselves to stew in the pressure cookers of uncertainty, waiting for the vegetables of heartbreak and the dumplings of rejection to descend into our lives.  The happiest people I know are not the ones who never get broken up with, rejected or hurt.  They are the ones who save themselves a lot of time by asking questions, finding out what other people want from them and getting on with life in the aftermath, whatever the outcome is.  I know – BELIEVE me, I know – that asking people questions like “how do you see our relationship?” etc. is a daunting prospect, but if we don’t ask we won’t find out.  If we don’t find out, we are wasting our time.

And who on earth has got time to waste?  Not you, that’s for sure.

And They Lived Honestly Ever After

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Hello, dear reader.  How’s your day treating you so far?  Did you remember to return that phone call?

Today I’d like to talk about what makes a modern fairytale.  I used to refer to a friend of mine as having achieved the twenty-first century happy ending, because she went through something that a lot of us understand (but with unexpected results).  When we were in our first year of university she had a very casual, mostly physical relationship with a guy whom she ended up having strong feelings for.  When she told him that she wanted a proper relationship he freaked out and backed off, and they didn’t speak for several months.  One day he woke up, realised that he did want to be in a relationship with her (and had been behaving like a cowardly eejit), dashed over to her student flat and begged her to let down her long, flowing locks.  Or open the door or something; I can’t remember the details.

Let’s face facts: that story is a rare example of how a typically messy dating situation can be resolved atypically (that is, happily).  Why doesn’t that happen more often?  Well, gather round and I shall tell you: because we are too afraid to be honest.

What happened to my friend is quite simple: the guy spoke up as soon as he realised what he wanted.  We like getting what we want, don’t we?  That makes perfect sense.  And yet we fool ourselves into believing that our beloveds would keep quiet on the subject – why?  Why, if the person you adore consciously feels the same about you, haven’t they said so or done anything about it?  Where’s the logic there?  You are fabulous, and the right person for you will not risk letting you get away.

Let’s agree that when someone wants you, they will be honest enough to come and get you.  There’s your happily ever after; next, please.  The problem is the other side of the coin.  Not everyone has the courage to say how they feel when the truth is actually “I’m sorry, but I don’t love you.  Let’s be friends instead.”

That conversation can be hurtful, awkward and difficult.  I know that.  But the thing is that not having it demonstrates a lack of respect for the other person which is a thousand times worse than the fact that you don’t love them (which is, after all, not technically your fault – the heart wants what it wants).  Love is irritatingly uncontrollable, but respect is a human right.  If you don’t have the courage and courtesy to have that conversation you are a) holding up your own happy ending and b) holding up the other person’s.  That’s just rude.

Modern dating is a jumbled up mess of we’re-not-dating-we’re-just-seeing-how-things-go, seeing-each-other-sort-of-officially-but-not-quite, oh-I-thought-we-were-allowed-to-see-other-people, and (if you are my flatmate) skipping-through-a-meadow-holding-hands.  Things are unclear and confusing, so don’t make it worse for yourself and for others by dragging your heels unnecessarily.  No fairytale ends with “and she lived uncertainly ever after, waiting for his phone call and not dating anyone else just in case.”

Have the best Tuesday of the year so far.

Sex and the (Hammersmith and) City

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Hello, you brilliant human being!  How are things?  I can see you’ve caught the sun.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Sex and the City as much as the next twenty-something girl.  It’s funny, sometimes touching, and a few of the characters are actually quite loveable.  It’s excellent put-your-feet-up, do-we-have-any-junk-food, sod-it-let’s-have-a-duvet-day television.  Best of all, watching it with your best friend gives you ample opportunity to complain about the insane behaviour of the characters, the implausibility of the plot lines and the animal cruelty issue of Sarah Jessica Parker being forced to act.

Maybe New York is exactly like Sex and the City, and we London girls are missing out on a whole metropolitan man-fest.  I doubt it, though.  Anyway, Sex and the City just wouldn’t work on our side of the pond.  Here’s why:

1) Is It Actually Raining Men?
As far as I can tell, New York is having some kind of eligible bachelor epidemic, because the four main characters meet men all the time.  I mean they can barely get out of the front door in the morning before a charming chap with a cheeky grin comes along.  That would never work here.  Londoners are usually slightly cross-looking and in a tearing hurry; we don’t have time to stop and smile winningly at random strangers.  Also, we’re British, for God’s sake – we don’t smile at strangers.

2) “And just like that…”
Probably as a result of number 1), the main characters go through the same emotional roller-coaster in pretty much every episode: meet man, flirt, date, sleep together, discover unconquerable flaw, have internal struggle, break up with man, feel immediately ready to go back out there.  I know some Londoners do date like that, but in general our cycle seems to be much more meet man, try to flirt but end up saying something silly/embarrassing, show great surprise and glee when he gets in contact, go on dates, discover a slightly concerning flaw, think about it, carry on dating until an actual problem comes up, break up, feel sad/angry/hungry, get back out there several weeks later feeling insecure because of getting hurt and having put on weight from all the ice-cream.  Not good television, perhaps, but it’s how we do things on this side of the pond.

3) We Don’t Talk Like That
I realise that as a smart, city-slick show about a fast-paced lifestyle, it makes sense to script sharp and sassy dialogue for the main characters.  Here is my problem: London girls are totally capable of being witty and hilarious, of course, but a) not ALL THE TIME – we all have off days when all we can manage is a “nhuh?” and b) not when our friends are telling us about their emotional problems.

4) No one Would be Friends with Carrie
Which leads me neatly on to my next point – why are the other three friends with Carrie?  She is so busy trying to be funny that she never listens to her friends, and as a heroine she leads a spectacularly bad example of whining, hair-tossing and flirting in the most cringe-worthy manner.  If she were a London girl her friends would have taken her aside a long time ago and told her to stop being such a diva.  And for God’s sake, stop putting your cigarettes between your teeth, you look ridiculous.

5) We’re a Bit Busy, Really…
One thing I really do appreciate about the concept of Sex and the City is that it spins a typical female insecurity on its head to make women laugh, i.e. it portrays women comparing men in bed rather than the other way around.  Having said that, the four main characters always manage to get the conversation back to sex, even when one of them is having a major life event, like a career crisis or getting married.  I mean, REALLY.  Talking about sex that much is just too time-consuming, too awkward and too un-British to work over here.  When would we find time to talk about the weather and public transport, for goodness’ sake?

Have a beautiful Thursday.

A Realistic Romance Recipe

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Hello and happy Wednesday!  You’re looking lovely today, if I may say so.

Not for the first time, my inspiration for a blog post has come from an episode of How I Met Your Mother.  If you’re not a fan, don’t worry – I’m only using a tiny snippet.  Two of the characters are discussing what it takes to make a relationship materialise, and one of them claims that chemistry is the key ingredient, and that “if you have chemistry, you only need one other thing: timing, but timing’s a bitch.”

Chemistry between two people is obviously very important in romantic situations, and timing is clearly essential (and also a bit of a bitch).  But relationships are very rarely that simple, and I think we need a few more bits and pieces to make the blasted things work:

Referees

As in people who provide references, not the football people.  I’m not suggesting that we turn the pursuit of a relationship into some kind of emotional job hunt, but it can be much easier to let your guard down with someone if a mutual friend will vouch for their behaviour.  Lots of people meet their significant others through friends or family, and I think that they start relationships with a very clear advantage.  If you meet someone in a bar and they make a great first impression then that’s lovely, but it’s a massive bonus if someone you trust can tell you for certain that this person has no criminal record, is good with kids and usually remembers to return phone calls.

Confidence

As Dexter says to Emma in One Day, “You’re gorgeous, you old hag, and if I could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life it would be this: confidence. It would be the gift of confidence. Either that or a scented candle.”  Confidence covers all sorts of things, including the belief that you are a lovable person, the ability to look (and more importantly feel) good in your own clothes, and the willingness to start a conversation.  You might have unbelievably strong chemistry with someone and the timing may be perfect, but if all you can do is mumble into your shoes then your would-be romance will go nowhere incredibly rapidly.

Communication

This one is the most difficult (especially for us Brits), and annoyingly it is also the most important.  Nothing will work between two people unless they communicate.  (I’m starting to feel uncomfortable even typing this bit, to be honest.)  We don’t like talking about our feelings, do we?  Oh, sure, over a drink with our friends or in a post-break up rant, absolutely.  But with the person we want to go out with?  Good heavens, no.  It can’t be done!  We’re supposed to tell each other where we stand, how we feel and make sure that no one is being led on or getting confused?  What a ridiculous notion.

Communication issues are the reason that Jane Austen novels are longer than two pages, why Bridget Jones takes so long to get Mark Darcy, and they make up the basic plot line of every rom-com film ever made.  If the characters told each other the truth earlier on in these stories, they would be happier much sooner.  Sure, the films would be rubbish and the books would be abysmal, but you are not a character in a story.  You’re a real person, and no one is going to write your happy ending unless you flipping get on with it.

Besides, you deserve to be happy.  You’re a legend.

Have a superb Wednesday.

Phone Off for Friday

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Good morning!  It’s finally Friday!  And it’s sunny!  What did we do to deserve such good fortune?  I don’t know.  Let’s just enjoy it.

I have decided to turn my phone off for 24 hours, as of 9am today.  On the one hand, this is a pretty big decision that will have an impact on my ability to contact people, check the time and look up travel plans, but on the other hand, it’s just a phone and it’s not going to kill me.  Let me walk you through this seemingly random decision, and then see whether you might want to do the same thing:

Distraction
My friend Andy told me recently that I seem to be really, really busy for someone who doesn’t go to work.  And he’s right.  (Let’s brush over the fact that I tend to work in my pyjamas, ok?)  The point is that I genuinely do have stuff to get on with, and having my phone on my desk is just a distraction.  You’re a  busy person with a lot of stuff to do too, aren’t you?  Exactly.  Imagine how much more efficiently you could work without your phone in the corner of your eye.

Responsibilities
Speaking of work, lots of my friends have several email, Twitter and Facebook accounts synced on their phones (because of all the theatre company stuff we get up to, you see), so whenever anything happens on one of those, we feel the need to respond immediately. However, I have made a life-changing discovery: we don’t have to do that.
If your work comes down to email messaging (i.e. you’re not a doctor, fire fighter, etc.), then it’s really not that urgent.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to work at the same speed as technology all of the time.  You don’t have to stop walking in the middle of the street to reply to a message, or halt a pleasant conversation to check your emails.

Social Skills
Which leads me neatly on to the next problem I have with phones: what the crap have they done to our social skills?  It has now become acceptable to get out your phone and tinker with it if you are in a large group conversation, feeling a bit shy or just bored while your friend is talking to you.  (I have a friend who does that quite a lot, and I won’t name and shame, but you know who you are.  Stop doing that.)

Rejection
There’s a bit in the first Bridget Jones book where she complains about the passive-aggressive role of the telephone in dating, i.e. that getting home to find messages on your machine means that you are loved, beautiful and popular, whereas having no messages means that you will die alone and be eaten by Alsations.
Sometimes we have the same problem with mobiles, don’t we?  The immediate response thing is an emotional issue as well as a work one: when our friends and beloveds don’t reply to texts straight away we feel wounded and wronged.  Let’s take a day off from that.

Rebellion
I’ve just started reading the His Dark Materials trilogy, and it strikes me that we tend to see our mobile phones the same way the characters in the novels see their daemons: embodiments of our souls which we cannot emotionally or physically bear to be parted from.  They’re not.  They’re just phones.
I know that mobile technology makes life a lot easier, but I also know that I was perfectly fine for fourteen years before I even heard of mobile phones.  Our phones do not rule our lives or define who we are.  We exist without our phones, and we are actually far more interesting without our faces glued to them.

Have a record-breakingly good Friday.

Girl Code: Not Quite as Complicated as the Enigma Machine

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Hello dear reader, and welcome to your weekend!

First of all, a lot of congratulations are in order: to my friends who just got engaged, the ones who got married yesterday and the ones who, as of this momentous day, can now get married in the UK.  What a fantastic day for love and marriage.

Now, to the topic at hand (which as usual is pretty silly): those of you who watch How I Met Your Mother and/or are male will be aware of a mysterious set of rules called The Bro Code.  This is a list of regulations that men are supposed to abide by when they’re out and about with their mates, and a lot of them pertain to their duties as wingman.  It’s fairly standard stuff about solidarity, the pursuit of women and being manly.  A lot of the guys I know follow this code whether they realise it or not, but here is my question: where’s the Sis Code?  The Magda Carta, if you will?

Well it exists, but it doesn’t, if you see what I mean.  You know how people talk about there being “unwritten rules”?  Well, girls have those rules off by heart backwards, upside down and in seven different languages.  We don’t have to write them down to know exactly what they are, and when we sense someone breaking the Girl Code we can tell over a distance of up to eight hundred metres (reduced to six hundred on a blustery day).  But just so that there are no misunderstandings, I have written a few of the rules down:

  • When a girl shows you a photo of the guy she likes, the appropriate response is only ever “Aw, he’s lovely!”  THAT’S IT.  Don’t comment on his massive ears, don’t start drooling over him yourself, and for heaven’s sake don’t ask what’s up with his facial hair.
  • You must always hate the new girlfriend of your friend’s ex-boyfriend, at least until said friend is over the situation.  Which brings us nicely on to:
  • Your ex’s friends and your friend’s ex are off-limits.  This is non-negotiable.  No, not even then.  Or then.  No, definitely not.  Stop trying to find ways around this; it’s insurmountable.
  • Use your make-up bag for good, not evil: if you’re dressing up and going out, make sure that you are doing it for the sake of your own confidence, not to make another woman feel small or to impress a man.  (Example: don’t wear white to someone else’s wedding.)
  • Always accompany your friend to the bathroom.  Guys never understand this, but there are several possible reasons for making this activity a team effort: being in an unfamiliar place and not wanting to get lost alone on the way; protecting one another from scary loo attendants; continuing a conversation that is already in progress.  There are loads more, but those are the ones that sound least odd.
  • On a related note, if you are out in public and your friend turns to you and says “I need to talk to you”, then you drop everything.  There is probably a socially-awkward situation to diffuse, or a wardrobe emergency.  As you get to know your friends you will be able to communicate this non-verbally across tables, crowded rooms and dance floors, but remember to use your eyebrows sensibly.  You don’t want to end up like Emma Watson, whose acting style is entirely dependent on the caffeine-infused caterpillars above her eyes.
  • Don’t be mean for no good reason.  (Ok, I definitely just broke that one by being mean about Emma Watson, but seriously.  Her eyebrows genuinely worry me.)
  • This one is my biggest pet peeves, and unfortunately loads of girls do this: don’t be a story-topper.  If someone tells you something really good or really bad that’s happened to them, do not under any circumstances say “Well if you think THAT’s good/bad, listen to what happened to me…”  You haven’t been listening to your friend, and it’s painfully obvious.  One day you will hear yourself say “Well if you think’s THAT’s good, I’ve just been made High Majestic Overlord of the Seas and Sky!” and realise how ridiculous you’re being.
  • Always be willing to lend your shoes.  I don’t know why, but it’s important.
  • Take the time to compliment each other, and not just “oh, I love your earrings, where did you get them?” Make the effort to tell people that you think they’re brave, kind, good at roller-skating, etc.  It’ll take you two seconds and it’ll make their day.

There are hundreds more of these, but I won’t keep you from your weekend any longer.  Have an amazing Saturday!

Twenty-Four Going on Sixteen

Hello and welcome to Wednesday!  I hope your week is treating you extremely well so far.

Last night two actor friends of mine came round for the first rehearsal of a short play that we’re performing in Camden in April.  The piece is about two people whose friendship is on the rocks, because they’re no longer sure what they want from each other.  The rehearsal went really well and we had a lot of fun (especially a certain unnamed actor who got a very serious case of the giggles), but we also had a very interesting discussion about relationships, friendships and how our feelings make us behave.

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As you can see, we took the rehearsal very seriously.  Anyway, as those of you who read yesterday’s blog will already know, my friends and I are not fond of fancying people.  It’s difficult and stressful and it makes us feel unnecessarily girly (and yes, that includes my male friends).  Apart from the obvious vulnerability that goes with having feelings for someone, I think that one of the problems my generation has with the entire dating thing is that it makes us feel like we’re still sixteen.  Even in our mid-twenties, when we have  a fair amount of emotional experience under our belts, we’re still not entirely sure what we’re doing or what the other person is thinking.  That’s hard to process.  How can we not have conquered this in a decade?

We as a generation have been programmed to aim high: we’re fighting against a tidal wave of economic uncertainty, we have to fight hard to get jobs (and even interviews) in a way that not many generations have had to do before, and we are annually told that our excellent A Level grades don’t mean anything.  Of course the exams are getting easier; why would we be getting cleverer or more conscientious?  It’s not like we’re trying to succeed at life or anything.  OH NO WAIT.

If we are so good at working hard for professional success, why are we so bad at coping with our personal lives?  When we were discussing this last night, one of my actors made a very good point: to a certain extent, we have control over our professional progress.  We might not always get the jobs or the opportunities that we want or think we deserve, but to a degree fate favours the people who put the hours in.  When it comes to relationships, friendships and other people in general, we have absolutely no control over how they feel about us.  Sure, we can dress nicely, smile a lot and be the best possible version of ourselves, but there’s no equity involved: being as awesome as you can be doesn’t guarantee that someone will like you.  Unfair, but true.

The bizarrely reassuring thing about this whole situation is that it gives us all a level playing field: nobody feels completely sorted when it comes to this stuff, and even the highest-flying executive can be baffled by a crush.  We have learned a lot since we were teenagers, but no one has yet conclusively proved how feelings work, so at least we’re not alone in our confusion.

Have a wonderful day, and make sure you have something delicious for dinner.

Tricky Definitions

definition

Happy Friday everyone!  I hope you’ve all decided whether to sit in the front seat or the back seat.  These are the kind of decisions that can really make or break the start of your weekend.

Today’s blog is about definitions, and why they can be really good OR spectacularly awful.  We use them all the time, perhaps without even realising in some cases.  Definitions are meant to provide clarity and make something that is unknown more imaginable, but in some situations they may do more harm than good.

Let’s start with the basics: a dictionary defines words for us.  This is a wonderful thing, except when people start a speech or essay with the words “The Oxford English Dictionary defines (insert random abstract noun) as follows”.  That needs to stop.

In terms of human definitions, the most obvious initial one is whether a person is male or female.  Without delving too far into the complex issue of gender politics, I do think that this is quite an interesting one.  Firstly, there are people who are biologically one gender who identify more strongly with the other, and some prefer an androgynous identity.  In literature, many authors have chosen to use their initials rather than gender-specific first names: P.D. James, for example, and J. K. Rowling.  Again, I really am not trying to start a debate about whether women are at a disadvantage in literary circles and anonymity is necessary, but I do think it’s interesting that something as arbitrary as gender definition has a role in somebody’s reputation as a writer.

Physical definitions are incredibly tricky, and they come up most often in life.  When you’re talking to a friend and describing someone they can’t remember, physical definition is the first thing you turn to: “You know Simon.  Tall, dark hair.  Always wears a leather jacket.”  That’s not a bad thing necessarily, because it’s an aide to memory, but in some cases it can get pretty nasty.  Online dating profiles, for example, or when discussing the pros and cons of a potential partner: “She’s nice, but she’s got a really big nose.”  “I’m a curvy, bubbly socialite with long, blonde hair.”  Cringe o’clock.  These definitions are more disturbing than the memory aides because they are not about reinforcing a previous observation: they are about trying to create a mental picture of someone that allows you to judge them.  Why is an appearance-based picture of someone more important than what they’re actually like?

Appearance-based definitions are absolutely huge in the performing arts world.  Casting briefs can be incredibly specific about height, weight, eye colour and all sorts of other physical attributes.  As a writer and director I understand that you may have a very clear mental image of what a character needs to look like, but my favourite thing about casting is when somebody surprises you by being like the character, not necessarily looking like them.  On a fundamental level, I resent the idea that you could go through life being an extremely talented actor who doesn’t look “marketable”, and therefore miss out on work.  What on earth is the point of investing thousands of pounds in your education at a drama school, working hard to develop your skills and repertoire, only to discover that you just don’t look right?

Sometimes definitions can be helpful.  In rehearsals, I encourage my actors to work out as much specific detail about their characters as possible: favourite foods, pet peeves, family backgrounds and more.  These definitions may never be referred to in the performance, but they help the actors to build up as complete a mental picture as possible of who they are trying to portray.  But here’s the thing: this mental picture is based on personality attributes, not physical, and it’s there to help them do their jobs.

The issue of relationship status definition is among the most prevalent in today’s society, particularly for people my age: as those of you who have read this blog post will know, I hate the entire damn thing.  “We’re just dating.”  “We’re sort of seeing each other.”  “We’re not official.”  FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, people who are “officially” together do not have a certificate from the government or a permit from their local council; they’re just together.  And whatever you are to someone, it doesn’t matter in the slightest how the rest of the world sees your relationship as long as YOU know what the terms are.  What good does it do you if you tell your friends that you’re “not exclusive” with someone if, when they go out and sleep with someone else, it upsets you because you secretly hoped that the relationship was more serious than that?  Well, you may THINK you feel emotionally betrayed, but actually your social circle can testify that your relationship definition was “non-exclusive”, so actually you have no right to be sad.  Oh, ok.  I’ll switch my emotions off, then.  Ridiculous.

The main thing about definitions is that, if we do need to use them, I think we should use them for good things.  Aides to memory – fine.  Character analysis – fine.  (I hope so, anyway, because I get my actors to do a lot of work on that!)  But definitions that reduce a person in any way, or encourage others to judge them for something completely arbitrary, are a no-no.

Have a lovely Friday.  May your trains/buses/flying monkeys run exactly to schedule.