THE PAST – AN ANONYMOUS GUEST POST

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I recently started seeing a wonderful boy.

I have know him for years and years and suddenly he asked me out. It’s been truly blissful and I may have accidentally fallen a bit, sort of, kind of… well, you know.

In an honest conversation, he remarked that I could ask him anything and he would never lie. I giggled that there was nothing I felt I needed to know that would bother me, unless he had done something hideous like slept with a prostitute (something I know a male friend has done on a trip to “the dam”).

With an expression that can only be described as a man about to commit harikari he blurted out he had.

Twice.

I took a few days to think about it and in the end we had a lengthy, upsetting, painful conversation-come-lecture where I expressed the deep level of horror I felt about what he had done. I chose to take the role of educator – figuring men just aren’t taught to see prostitution the way I and many other women have taught themselves to think about it.

I outlined for him:

  • the objectification of women.
  • the abuse of women in the sex industry.
  • consensual/non-consensual intercourse and the idea that prostitution is almost rape.
  • the actual women and their lives, histories, families, lack of opportunities and education that would lead them into doing it.
  • the crimes surrounding an industry he has now paid into: drugs, trafficking, etc.
  • what this means about his integrity. Saying no to his stupid mates when they suggest something as vile as that on a lad’s holiday.
  • the culture of the privileged: see, want, take.

Anyway, he cried, I cried, and in the end I decided I didn’t want to let his past ruin his or my future and we are trying to move on. He was 18 and then 24 (excuse me while I gag at how sick this makes me feel) and now at 30 he is devastated about it. Friends told me the only person who could ruin this relationship is me, because he didn’t know me when he did this, there’s nothing he can do to undo it and he hasn’t done anything TO ME.

I guess I am just not quite over it yet.

I am not sure the respect can come back.

He has since traveled the world and grown into a grounded, sensitive and incredible guy, but I somehow feel as though we aren’t moral equals anymore. A lot of my friends brush this off and say I am being OTT, but unfortunately this is something that makes me want to move to an island and live with Kirsty Young where it’s safe.

Obviously I don’t want to use my name here. And I don’t wish to paint my other half as a baddie because he is quite literally devastated about his decisions and I am really proud of him for telling me the truth – although he probably didn’t realise who he was messing with when he opened his mouth to confess.

I think there’s a lot more I could unpack re. lad culture, etc. but I honestly feel sick if I think about it too much, so I think I’ll leave it there instead.

Anon.

THE PADDY’S DAY

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On this day in 2006, I lost one of the most important women in my life, very suddenly and unexpectedly.

I was sitting in a history lesson when a kid in my year came in to say my head of sixth form wanted to see me. Everyone ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ that I was in trouble, but as soon as I walked upstairs to his office and saw mum standing there, I knew something was up.

Nan had a thick Irish accent, even after living in London for over thirty years. She cooked bacon and cabbage on the regs and had a cackle as loud as mine – perhaps that’s where I got it from, actually?

From a very young age, I knew she was the bomb-diggity.

We would stroll up and down the Portobello Road, popping into Woolworths to buy me secret treats I wasn’t to tell mum and dad about. We would walk hand in hand as she told me all about Mrs Boyle and the doctors at the surgery she worked at. She was actually pretty nosy and not very good with the whole confidentiality thing, thinking about it, but I enjoyed the stories nonetheless.

I would sit and stare at her from the sofa next to her chair as she smoked her way through packets of Silk Cut, wondering what it was like to smoke and whether granddad minded her doing it as he read his books or drew his pictures, nicotine-free.

I would go to bingo with her near her chalet by the sea, losing every time but somehow coming out with vouchers to spend in the shop next door. Mum hated the tat I would bring home from there but, much to her dismay, I couldn’t get enough of the naff key rings and stuffed toys from the seaside.

I would sit with her, knitting (badly) as she churned out jumpers and socks like it was nothing, talons in tact, tapping away, telling me I was doing just fine. I don’t think I nailed anything more than a couple of rows of wool, but she made me feel like a pro.

We would dance around the kitchen to an Irish tape I still have.

We watched as women from Carnival floats danced on by her home in Ladbroke Grove. Nan even let one lady use her loo, free of charge. Her costume terrified me as a tot.

Whenever mum and dad went out, I would always choose to stay at hers. Mainly because I pretty much had my own room there (complete with double bed), but also because I liked playing with the china dolls she had dotted around the house (until I broke one and cried my eyes out while she told me it really didn’t matter and glued the head back on, hiding it from grandad).

I would refuse the boiled Irish dinners she would cook, knowing in doing this, she would give me exactly what I wanted: cubes of cucumber and cheese covered in salt and pepper, alongside slices of fresh bread with butter layered thick enough to give a young kid a heart attack.

Even into my teenage years, I still loved going round to nan’s house. I used to love the plates of snacks she laid out on birthdays and the cards with swirly writing she always gave me that smelt of smoke. I particularly enjoyed the one pound coin she would press into the palm of my hand with a wink as I headed out the door, even aged 15.

And then, one day, she wasn’t there anymore. I couldn’t just pop round and see her. There would be no more chats about school or homework or boyfriends.

I was more devastated than anyone probably ever knew.

As a family of O’Briens, St Patrick’s Day has always been special, but for the past 11 years it has meant so much more than green clothes and Guinness. I still find it hilarious (as she would’ve) that someone so Irish passed on Paddy’s Day, so when I lift my glass tonight, as I do every year, I know who I’ll be cheersing to.

Miss you daily, lady.

Happy St Patrick’s Day.

THE LISTENING

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I’m pretty good at talking.

Not so much in hushed tones, but if you’re looking for a – louder than you’d probably like – conversation about pretty much anything? I’m your gal.

When I was younger, I was quite literally stuck to mum’s side. I hated soft play, kid’s parties were hell to me and I’d scream if anyone other than my parents were left looking after my brother and I. Any man with dark hair or a beard could also do one (my, how things have changed, eh?). This shyness continued throughout my childhood until about eleven years old, when the teachers at secondary school coaxed it out of me with drama, assemblies and a whole lot of encouragement – and I’ve never looked back since.

Life’s too short to keep your mouth shut, that’s my motto now.

Throughout my adult life, not being shy has meant I’ve found some scary things in life, easy. Presentations have never been a problem; meetings are welcome and small talk is my favourite, which is all well and good in the workplace. But when it comes to friendships and being able to listen to those around me? That’s where I’ve faltered. Not being able to shut up long enough to listen has meant that, at dinner parties, I shut off if someone’s views differ wildly from my own, which quite literally defeats the point of a conversation. If someone’s had a problem and decided to share it with me, I’ve tended to reply with an anecdote about something similar that’s happened to me – trying to help, of course, but not really listening. I didn’t actually realise it was a major problem until I read this quote from Stephen Covey:

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

It struck a chord with me because I began to realise I didn’t take a breath for long enough to really comprehend things I both read and heard. I was hearing and seeing what people had to say but I wasn’t really trying to understand or sympathise, I was always trying to think of a quick, clever or funny retort. Or sometimes even work through my own problems at the same time.

I’m not saying it’s been easy, but I’ve come to learn that sometimes it’s better to simply sit back and listen without any intention of replying.

THE REALITY CHECK

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When I was younger, I was a bit of a dick.

I was never outwardly mean to anyone or intentionally set out to hurt people; I think I was just a bit selfish. Which is weird really, considering how selfless my parents are. I somehow grew up to be someone who would cancel things last minute (although, thinking about it, this might’ve been down to a bad case of undiagnosed social anxiety); I would simply stop talking to people without warning when I decided I wanted the relationship to end and I would expect my friends to fall out with someone I had crossed paths with, just because.

This probably sounds like typical teenage girl behaviour, which it was; pretty much everyone behaved like a dick at that age, but I think there are plenty of us who don’t grow out of it until much later than I did and I have a very good friend to thank for that.

In my second year of university, I received a message from her on Facebook. She was at Nottingham; I was at Exeter. The message wasn’t from the girl I hated at school, nor was it from someone I’d recently fallen out with. It was actually from someone I’d spent my gap year with just a year previously; someone I was really close to and someone I had probably taken for granted for just a little too long.

I could see as soon as I clicked on it that the message was a long one which, at twenty years old, meant weeks of drama was certain to follow. I don’t remember the exact reason she sent the message. I actually can’t bring myself to trawl back through years-worth of Facebook to find out either, for fear of what I might uncover, but I’m going to assume I did something to prompt it. The essence of the message was something along the lines of: ‘you always expect people to make an effort with you, why don’t you try with everyone else once in a while?’.

At the time, I was appalled that she had sent me such a message. I couldn’t believe that someone would speak to me like that. I phoned my mum. I text my friends. I spoke to the girls I lived with about it. My boyfriend at the time said she was completely out of order. Everyone around me agreed she was a bitch. I uninvited her from my 21st birthday – the ultimate snub at the time – and we stopped speaking to each other. All the while, deep down, I (and no doubt everyone around me) knew she was sort of right.

As I was growing up, there was always a little voice inside me that willed me to stop cancelling things, to pick up the phone and call people more, to go above and beyond for friends, the way my mum always had. I was a good person with all the best intentions, but when it came down to it, I would seem to get the little things wrong.

The Facebook message didn’t end our friendship; she’s still one of my closest and best friends. It merely halted it for a fixed amount of time. The perfect amount of time, in fact, for me to heal and accept my wrongdoings and enough time for her to admit she was perhaps, a little harsh. Harsh or not, though, that single message sent to me in my early twenties has only served to strengthen the bond between us and has had a positive impact on my relationships ever since. Her honesty has not only meant that I am a better friend, but it has taught me the importance of being honest with those around me when they need a reality check of their own.

The reason I wanted to share this story was to prompt you to be a bit more honest with those around you. Next time a friend asks your opinion on something personal or when you think someone could do with a nudge in the right direction, don’t smile and nod or agree with their nonsense, tell them what you really think. Give them a straight, honest and open answer, even if it might not be something they want to hear. Yes, it might hurt them and they might not talk to you for a while, but if you think it will make them a better person in the long run, or prevent them from doing more damage to themselves than good, then just say it. It’s sort of your duty as a friend.

Just remember to be careful with your words. When used carelessly, they can cause a heck of a lot of damage.

Love Don’t Love Me – A Guest Post

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The classic 10cc goes, “I’m not in love, so don’t forget it. It’s just a silly phase I’m going through.” Although released in 1975 it’s one of those songs that seeps into your life via osmosis or… adverts.

I heard it randomly the other day and I realised that as far back as I can remember I’ve always been in love. I know that sounds trite. Like something a Richard Curtis foppish, heterosexual and non-threatening male lead might say. But I have.

There was the stand offish girl in Nursery followed by the popular boy in Primary school. Both of which were innocent for obvious reasons. Then there was the cocky lad in high school and sixth form. The list goes on. All unobtainable as I peaked out through the crack in the closet doors.

I had secret and somewhat toxic relationships in between and then I fell for my friend of six years and after I came out to him I thought I could tell him. Cutting a long story short; it didn’t end well.

It was beginning to transpire that love didn’t love me.

As Valentine’s Day approaches I begin to think about what it means to be in love and whether, if unrequited love is just a figment of your imagination, it should remain that way. It occurred to me for the first time for as long as I can remember; I’m not in love; unrequited or otherwise. And do you know what? That’s okay.

In fact, after a bout of depression, I’ve been happier than I have been in a long time. Forcing myself to do the “steps” and embrace each part of my heartbreak and depression has felt like I’ve dragged myself through the last year like a huge weight. I was looking to go backwards; back to when I was myself; the affable and hopeless romantic. I said this to my therapist who decided to cut me down in the way that she does; “You can’t go back; you can only go forwards but we can reclaim parts of who we were”. They were simple words but they had a greater consequence.

So I picked up the corpse of who I was. I cried. I told friends the truth. I unburdened myself, although at times I felt like I’ve been watching my life back. All those clichés rang true and I’m now in a new place.

So what next? It’s a question that I ask myself more and more. The fact that I don’t know has its own appeal. I’m taking time out. Then I remember what people in films say (Maybe Richard Curtis films) they say you find love when you’re least looking for it. I think of this and I think other people will think I’m insane. I’m so far in my own navel that it’s no longer navel gazing but some kind of astronomy. I’m not in love with anyone but I’m open to it and that has a charm all of its own. I’m a hopeless romantic and I don’t think it’s a silly phase I’m going through.

A gorgeous piece written by a gorgeous person. Keeping this one anonymous but, for the record, I couldn’t be prouder of them if I tried.