Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Just say No

I have been thinking about my compulsion to say yes to everyone and to all requests that come my way. Does this make me an especially nice person or just a needy scaredy-cat, who doesn’t think any one will like her if she isn’t always pleasing? It’s such an ingrained habit. But what if I had done things differently and said ‘No’ instead …..

First meeting ever, May 9th 1980, Mod Boy pulls up on his scooter just like an extra from Quadrophenia. I am instantly smitten.

 “Can I come to the party?” he asks politely.

What if I had said “No, go way you silly Arsenal loving loser we just won the FA Cup so there!”

 My entire romantic knowledge would have been changed for ever. The 15 year old me would never have experienced a first date which included chasing chickens from his sitting room and then being lured into  his bedroom and reassured it was ok I could keep my knickers on. To be fair I wasn’t wearing much else; it was very hot and they had a pool. We’d been swimming. I didn’t own a bikini top, not really having anything to put in one.

 October a few years later …..I could have said no when the offer to go to Morocco in a camper van with another couple came up. But I would have missed the chance of being stuck in a hovel in the mountains with no fresh water, (lots of coca-cola though), bread that had been baked in August and goats, both as companions and to eat.

 I could have said “what a mad idea you, crazy boy. Go on your own. Don’t drag me into your drug dealing fantasy.”

If I had said no when he flew to Los Angeles to ask me to return to London and marry him I may have become an American citizen with a condo in Malibu.

 Or I could have said “no I’m not coming back because I know you have been sleeping with my best friend.”

 But then I wouldn’t have lived in Camden in the late 80’s when it felt very cool to be doing so. And I wouldn’t have been in the position of meeting a man who I could have adored.

 If I had said “no it doesn’t matter that I married someone else just a few weeks before you - Mr So Right - came along,” I would have known what it was like to have an affair.

Maybe I could have said no when the husband asked to come home after realising the affair He had embarked on wasn’t working out.

 “No you can’t walk away when you fancy, leaving me with two small girls who want to know why daddy isn’t here.”

But then we wouldn’t have had a few lovely years of it being really great; a time of making it work as a family.
           If I had said no clearly, loudly and with absolute passion we may not have lost our business, or house, and a fair few friends.

 “No, we aren’t going to deal with it by disappearing off to Spain. No, running isn’t the solution. No, that isn’t in the rules, flirting with women in a foreign country does count. No, you cant have another chance. No, it’s really over this time.”

“No I can’t deal with this any more,”

  But then I wouldn’t have had to find a novel way to pay the school fees and I may not have gone to University where I meet someone who has become one of my very best friends. Perhaps my eldest would not have got a scholarship to big school and never even considered Oxford.

 If I had said no, I’m too tired to get on the tube I may have missed the daily trek across town take ‘The Baby’ to ballet class. And I may never have had to wander around parts of London that I had forgotten existed, remembering how much I loved the excitement, the buzz of certain areas.

 “No, I don’t need to stay in the East just because it suits you.”

I could have said “no, your eating is not my responsibility…. No, I am not going to stop everything to make you well. No, my career comes first. No, you will have to go into a unit because this is disrupting your father’s supper. My marriage is more important than your health.”

 I may not have a relationship with my daughter if I had said that.

 What if I had said to Him no, you aren’t moving with us?

 “This is a new start on my own. No, its just going to be about me for a change. No, your feelings are no longer my concern.”

Oh well yes I did say that. Good for me.

No, I’m not being irrational. No, hormones are not to blame. No, I really mean this. No, this is not just a reaction to my father’s death. No, there isn’t another man involved. No, I can manage on my own. No, you cant come back… well OK, I didn’t say that… not as clearly as I should have done any way.

So it’s taken me a while but I think I got there in the end. However I have to learn to say to other things now…
No, I shouldn’t have an extra glass of wine.
No, I cant squeeze any more guests into my flat, even just for the Olympics.
No, you cant have a party, even a small one.
No, other people must take turns at emptying the dishwasher.
No, I will not drive you to work in the traffic when the football season commences as it is quicker to walk
No, you cant bring your small children to my wedding, its not a suitable venue.
No, I really don’t want wedding presents.
No, there is no chance I will change my mind at the last minute.
No, your father can not come, even only to the evening. Please help me stick to this one, especially if I said yes to the extra glass of wine – I know my own weaknesses.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


The Right Site at the Right Time    


           I find it very odd how quickly I forget the past; it’s not just misplacing someones name or not remembering where I left my keys. I seem to lose track of reality and personal history. This weekend I was at a gathering and a woman I hadn’t meet before started asking about how my boyfriend and I got together. I told her about our meeting in a coffee shop; how impressed he was with my ability to drink endless strong, black Americanos and what a wimp he was because he had to revert to milky tea after the first coffee. I explained that we talked non stop for 2 hours and how I left with the feeling that my world had subtly shifted. She was curious to find out if I had experienced ‘love at first sight’ .We talked about being able to get to an age where you can control who you fall in love with. And I told her how nervous he had been when he ventured to ask if I would be up for meeting again; a proper date.

As I was telling her all this there was a slight niggle in the back of mind. I couldn’t work out what I had been doing buying coffee on a normal Thursday afternoon when I hate spending money on hot drinks I can easily make in my own kitchen. Slowly I remembered. This had been no chance encounter. We had arranged to meet via email after having messaged the pre-requisite number of times on an internet dating site.  Hot, Flustered and looking remarkably guilty I dashed to the loo. I was concerned that I may have been deliberately covering up the true beginnings of our relationship because I was (am) embarrassed to admit that I found the man I am going to marry online.

Why should I feel ashamed that I am in love with this amazing, gorgeous, talented man, whom I probably wouldn’t have bumped into in my normal day to day life (see above re: not liking to pay for anything I can get free at home….) ?  It is obviously sensible for a woman of a certain age who has gone through a tiring divorce, has 2 stroppy teenage-ish daughters and has been off the market for, let’s say, over 20 years, to look before she leaps. It is also quite fun to go online and pop a man into your basket in the same way that you shop on Amazon; knowing that you can change your mind at the till before you commit.  And yet I still want to hide the fact that I resorted to a dating agency because it feels a bit sleazy and what was wrong with me that I couldn’t get a date in the real world?

Of course the truth is that divorce had rocked my confidence. For the first few years after we separated I avoided confronting any man who so much as smiled at me, looking over my shoulder to see if there was a pretty girl two paces behind. I was drowning in doubts, crying at sad songs and generally acknowledging that I had been a failure as a wife. However spending Saturday nights on i-tunes becomes boring and costly. Eventually  the repetition of drinking too much after downloading  that ’Album’ again – because you deleted when you decided it was bad to remind yourself how much you miss him – has to stop.

My first tenuous venture into the internet dating arena was a free trail offer. You only get a set amount of messages and limited views, so there was no harm in setting up a profile. Although there is the agonising over a photo. And the dilemma as to whether any one else, especially males, are actually telling the truth. It took me a few weeks to get up the courage to enter bank details and commit to the real experience but I thought that I may as well give it my best shot.  I realised very soon that men of a certain age are absolutely delusional, they all want - and seemingly think they are going to get- woman 20 years their juniors with no children, no baggage and their own extensive share portfolio. If you are a woman in her forties with children and an honest description of your real life then be prepared for a limited number of matches. Many of whom will be on every dating site you go on and who may well come across as more than a bit desperate.

So with only 3 matches to choose from I send out some artfully witty messages and wait. All replied and after a few return communications I arrange to meet one for tea. The first meeting was never going to progress; he turned up in a fleece. To say I hate fleeces is a bit of an understatement, they repulse me to the point of sickness .I would recommend to any one if you have such a strong disgust for a particular article of clothing you email a list of sartorial dos and don’ts in advance.

The next guy was a no show. A bit of an ego dent, but one more to go and always the optimist…..this one suggested a real drink, which was more realistic, and was actually fun. We had good time for a few months. He made me believe I was attractive again. It lasted until the ex-husband got wind of it. Entirely my own fault as I had neglected to change my email passwords, not thinking in a million years the Ex would invade my privacy and snoop. Na├»ve is my middle name. The chap was sweet and suggested I got myself a divorce lawyer before I went out with anyone else. But that was the end of that.

Several months, about eight actually, passed before I cheerfully decided to give it another go. I noticed that the i-tunes receipts had started to mount up again. Another site this time, one recommended by a friend who was having a good time with it and one where you don’t put yourself up, so not so cringe-worthy. Same old issue of age related difference of opinion in the sexes. Not a lot of choice. One bloke caught my eye, I found myself checking out his profile again and again, before composing a careful message about my withdrawal symptoms from radio 4 and a self imposed exile from the Today Programme.  Jump forward a few emails and the meeting for coffee.

After that meeting he had to choose where to take me on a date; a prospect I know now that was totally daunting for him as he didn’t want to get it wrong. Being so-not-a-feminist I wanted him to take control. He did. It was very romantic. We have hardly been apart since.And the rest is history.
          I chose to allow myself to fall in love with him. He loves me back. We are so different in lots of ways; we could have meet in the real world at anytime in the last 30 years and would have been very drawn to each other.  I would have fallen in love with him when he was an idealistic, cool art student. Or when he came to London to see if Fleet Street was paved in gold. I think he would have found the mad girl with blue hair that I was at seventeen a challenge. We may have crossed paths in my twenties when he wore the menswear brand I worked for. We have one mutual acquaintance at whose dinner parties we may have been introduced if she had worked out that we were both single at the same time.

So online dating worked for me. We are to be married in September. I must make sure that I never forget how we met, it would be disingenuous to put it down to pure chance; luck played a big part in being on the right site at the right time. And if you catch me waffling on after a few glasses of wine about our good fortune in liking the same type of coffee please give me a sharp look and mention that without broadband none of this would have happened.