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.

THE MOVE

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Judging by how frequently I post on social media about my back-and-forthing between two cities, I’m sure you are aware that I have emigrated to the west country. That’s correct, I now live in Bristol. And have done since July.

I know right? Fucking weird.

Ever since I spent three years wishing my way out of Exeter, never did I dream that I would be leaving the motherland for the west anytime soon. But lo and behold, five years later, here I am.

The move wasn’t a decision made based on personal career progression or the fact I had a burning desire to fly the nest. Instead, my boyfriend got his dream job here, I was stuck in one that I didn’t love, I was looking for a new chapter and, whoever it is that writes our stories, decided that my plot line was growing a little stagnant and a move to Bristol would be the thing to change it.

Now, I could sugar coat this for you and pretend that it has been a euphoric experience that I will never forget, but what would be the point in that? I could be all dramatic and say that it has been torture, but that would be lying. In truth, moving from London to Bristol has been pretty… easy.

Yes, like any new change, the first couple of weeks were hard. I cried every time I thought about leaving my colleagues behind or driving away from my family and I delayed packing until the very last millisecond. I would ask all and sundry if they thought moving was a good idea just to doubly check that I was making the right decision (my own intuition has never been enough for me) but then it happened. I handed in my notice, packed up my stuff (albeit in stages) and followed my heart to Bristol without a job or any real idea of what I was going to do here.

I have never been the type of person who would have things fall into place for them. Major milestones would turn into calamities and everything seems to go a little wrong in my world. It’s been a long time coming but things have finally sort of done just that. Within a week of moving to the city, I was signed up to start a new job in Digital Marketing/PR – something that I had always been told I’d be great at but never really understood what it meant and, although there are days where I desperately miss working in education, the kindness of the people here and their great breakfast spots have made this transition a smooth one and I will be forever grateful to you for making me feel like I am exactly where I should be.

But let’s not talk too soon.

Between starting a new job and piecing together our beautiful new flat, as well as swanning off to foreign lands for friend’s weddings and such, I haven’t really had the time to stop and think about what’s just happened. But, as the summer draws to a close, things are slowing down and I can see the dust settling – I think I’m about to know how I really feel about all this.

The truth is: London was my first love. I was born there. Raised there. I had my first kiss in Ealing, drank my first drink in King’s Cross, broke my wrist in Russell Square, interned in High Street Kensington, White City and The Strand. I landed my first job in South Kensington. I have dated guys from Fulham, Clapham, Kilburn, Battersea, Camden, Stratford… and the rest. I have enjoyed carnival after carnival. I have climbed over the gate of Buckingham Palace, late at night and enjoyed a beer with friends. I have put fairy liquid in the fountain at Trafalgar Square, only to be disappointed that it didn’t turn central London into a giant bubble bath. I have enjoyed club nights at Fabric and Koko underage, sat on park benches with nothing but a Smirnoff Ice and Adele’s Hometown Glory – be it cringe or not – speaks to me. My whole life history has been written in the capital and I am not sure I’m quite ready to write the rest of my story anywhere else – but then I ask myself: is it really living if you live in one place your whole life?

London, I simply just miss you. With your dusty seats, pushing, shoving, ample rooftop bars that overcharge me for shit cocktails and lack of outdoor space. I love you because you gave me so many great venues for dates, you were the inspiration for this blog and you make life so fun that healing a broken heart was doable. I met my best friends because of you. I am strong and street-wise because of you. I admire you for opening your arms to different nationalities, genders and sexualities on a daily basis, even though you don’t always quite understand them. People think you are so harsh, grey and greedy but in reality you are a beautiful combination of strength and exuberance masked behind a haze of concrete and violent news stories.

Bristol, although I do fancy you a little bit and you treat me so well, with your laid back charm and carefree persona, London makes my heart beat that little bit faster than you do as I crawl into it on the train and I miss it more than I miss my own mother, so I think you and I both know this is temporary. But not all great love stories have to last a lifetime, do they?

They say that home is where the heart is and I’d have to agree.

Mine is most definitely nestled somewhere in the depths of that city, keeping it warm and waiting patiently for my return, whenever that may be.

THE PLUS ONE

If you know me IRL, you’ll know I love to talk, that I live for socialising and admittedly, at times, enjoy being the centre of attention, but there is simply not a chance in hell I would attend an event of any kind (except for a work one) on my Jacobs.

In fact, walking into a room full of people I don’t know without someone on my arm (be it pal or partner) fills me with dread and panic. I find silences and standing alone oh so awkward, filling them at any opportunity and the thought of having to twiddle my thumbs while everyone around me has a good time fills me with fear.

As someone who would happily take a lone ranger under the wing of me and my friends, I’m not sure where this fear that no one in the room would want to talk to me has come from, and why I don’t have enough faith in other people to do the same for me, but tonight, I found myself at a loss for people to attend an event with, and instead of going it alone, I let this fear get the better of me and bailed.

I would secretly love to be the sort of woman who can rock up to events alone and work the room as confidently as when surrounded by my posse, but I’m not convinced even the most confident of women could manage it.

But I’m all for self reflection and improvement, so I’d like to know if I’m wrong.

I’m not talking going alone to a party where you’ll know other guests by the way, I’m talking going alone to a party where you will definitely, 100% know nobody. Is it lame I can’t do it? Should I work on being able to? Or is it simply natural human instinct that I’d like back up.

If I’m alone and you think I should’ve been a bit more brave, then I’m going to add it to my ‘Before 30 Bucket List’ – (eesh, how am I there already?)

If you’re with me, I’ll stop beating myself up about it. Sometimes humans don’t need to be brave, they just need to do what feels right.

(If you were wondering, the event I was supposed to go to before everyone bailed on me was Lauren’s Girl Vs Cancer, #notapityparty – If you would like to support her cause, buy a banging t shirt today.)

THE COLLEAGUE

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People often talk about how important their friends are.

We so frequently recall fond memories of those we have known since university or school and we praise our families for being wonderful- and don’t get me wrong, these people are the people I turn to first. I do feel, however, that we need to give our work colleagues a little more credit for the crucial part that they play in our everyday lives.

Hear me out.

I get that your boyfriend/girlfriend/lover has to endure a run down of the last eight hours at the end of a long, hard day. I know that your girlfriends are the ones nursing your broken heart when things don’t quite work out as planned. Your mum and dad will no doubt be the ones to get you through a really rough patch, it was your grandparent’s job to spoil you rotten and your brother or sister are there to let you know that you’ve put on a bit of weight when no one else will. But the people you work with? They’re the ones who see you everyday, come rain or shine. On a good side of the bed day or on a bad side of the bed day. There’s no respite for those you share a desk with and they have to look at your face for at least six hours a day, whether they (or you) like it or not and this is why I feel it’s high time we celebrate these people we find ourselves spending most of our time with.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that a good work colleague is hard to come by. In fact, starting a new job is a bit like an arranged marriage: you just don’t know what you’re going to get, but what I can say, with some certainty, is that knowing that I can have snippets of great conversation and a laugh at some point between the hours of 9am and 5pm is what makes me stop hitting snooze on my alarm each day. Aside from loving what I do, of course.

More to the point though, post-education, where else do you get the chance to meet and make life-long friends anymore? As a twenty-something, you can’t just approach people in bars and ask them to hang out with you as a mate. Nor do apps intended for this purpose ever really work. Friendship groups are set in stone by 27 and work is the only place you get to meet anyone new. Yet another reason why work colleagues are the bomb.

This positive outlook on desk mates, however, isn’t always agreed upon. In fact, I’ve heard tales-a-plenty about torturous co-workers in the last few days and I recently listened to a podcast by The Pool where someone had written in to ask for advice on how to handle their god-awful neighbouring teammate who chewed really loudly at their desk and sighed a lot. First of all: really dude? personal space, please. Secondly, it made me realise how lucky I have been. Although I’ve had some awkward romantic encounters and have faced both healthy disagreements and a couple of disappointments throughout my working life, I have always managed to find people I click with within my team, company or school and it is those humans who I would like to celebrate today. The ones who put up with my incessant need to talk things through, the ones who help curb my habit of writing endless lists and those who spend hours after work chatting, just because.

So, colleagues of the world: although we might have to make small talk with one another on impromptu tube rides home, spend lunch times working next to each other instead of eating across from one another and we may get a little inappropriate at after work drinks, you are what makes the 9-5 bearable, so let’s be grateful for that.

Tomorrow, take the time to offer a colleague a cup of tea or fetch them a diet coke from the shop. If you have a bit of spare time, offer them a helping hand with something they’re working on, or just get blind drunk on prosecco after hours for no reason at all.

You never know, once you get to talking to people, you might go from being colleagues to life-long friends.

Lord knows, stranger things have happened.

#LOVEISLOVE

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Every now and again, we get a little reminder that not all human beings are on the same proverbial page as us.

Unfortunately, these reminders come in the form of death, destruction and heartache.

I mean, at what point are these people going to realise that if we all hated each other a little less and instead respected one another’s values, lifestyle choices and beliefs a little more, this world that we live in could be an even more beautiful place than it already is? A place of tolerance and peace? A place where it is okay to be gay? Because right now, we are destroying it.

As always however, in the face of pure evil, I would like to encourage you to focus on the good. I, for one, am so proud to be alive at a time where the majority of human beings disagree with this one, rogue gunman. I am so grateful to live in a country where it is okay to publicly pull together in support of the LGBT community. And I am relieved that, in 2016, many of us understand that love is simply love, regardless of age, gender or race. Just take a look at London last night, for example. I couldn’t be more proud of my city for standing up to this act of terror in such a peaceful way.

Please continue to spread messages of love and support to those families around the globe who are suffering today and every day. If we can all pull together as a human race, we are one step closer to defeating ‘them’.

Stay safe.

THE LAUGHTER

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Not a day goes by where I don’t laugh. I mean it. It’s not a conscious thing, I just don’t think my subconscious would allow for anything else.

I’m not saying that I laugh my tits off at funerals and I certainly don’t always see the best in everyone. I don’t have a constant, deranged smile on my face, but nor do I succumb to frowning more often than necessary- not only because it gives you wrinkles but because it’s just plain ugly. School reports would often ask why I found things so funny, why I couldn’t sit still in class and stop messing around with friends. I think I just realised – perhaps a little too young – that life shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

And by that, I don’t mean the big things. Of course, there are elements of life that we must treat with a little more tact than making a cheese and pickle sandwich on a Thursday afternoon, such as raising kids or forging a career.

But when it comes to the small stuff? Don’t sweat it.

I’m talking about the rude people you encounter on your morning commute and the self service tills that just don’t seem to work, despite it being 2016. I’m thinking of the times your friend cancels on you at the last minute or the promotion you missed out on at work. I’m thinking about losing bank cards or missing the 28 day curfew on a return. You know what I’m talking about: the niggly annoyances of every day life that make you just want to scream (until you get a little perspective, of course). The same niggly annoyances that make everyone look so grey and miserable as they move around the city.

Don’t get me wrong, you’re permitted to be annoyed – in fact, it’s healthy to react to things – but negative thoughts lasting longer than 30 minutes? You’re wasting your time. You won’t get that half an hour of wallowing back, that person is still going to have been rude to you and you won’t be able to change the past: so why are you still making it your problem? Instead, find the strength to turn the situation around: laugh at their ill manners and know that it will come back to bite them on the bum; shrug at your boss’ poor decision making skills and, most of all, keep your goddam chin up.

Whether you are the CEO of a billion dollar corporation, a cleaner at the cafe around the corner or an overworked NHS nurse, the truth is, the perils of daily life can get us all down at one point or another. Things bother us and, in our own little worlds, the small gripes become big gripes and, when they add up, it can become really difficult to get up in the morning.

But there’s not much we can do about bad days, sadly. They happen to the best of us.

What I am trying to say though, is that we should try to deal with them better. In fact, I suggest you do one (or all) of the following: Feeling ill? Take your favourite colleague out for a warm bowl of soup and spend your lunch hour (and actually take an hour) talking about your love life, your aspirations or simply what you did at the weekend. Do not, under any circumstances, discuss your 9-5. Feeling undervalued at work? Find a hobby or start a blog and showcase your talents to those who want to hear and see them. Feeling lonely or out of touch with things? Set up a Twitter account and search for a hashtag relevant to you. Start a discussion. Ask a question. It’s free. Feeling demotivated? Sign up to a half marathon, join a gym or go for an evening walk. A little exercise really does go a long way.

But most importantly? Find a way to laugh at least once a day, no matter how hard it might seem sometimes. Find out the name of the person who makes your morning coffee or greet the TFL worker at your station. Force a smile in the face of difficulty and chuckle away the negativity. You burn calories, you acquire fewer wrinkles and – I promise – your world will become a much better place for it.

Still not feeling the fun? Click here. This clip is never not funny.

THE LOVE

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I was going to end my celebration of love on a list of things I currently adore: from the new season of Girls and fish pie to fat coke and spring sunshine.

But how could I celebrate the most powerful of all the emotions for four weeks running without even mentioning the big fat love of my own life, instead opting for a list of vacuous things I sort of like at the moment? You might find the following post gushing or boastful, but I just think it’s fitting. Because, although I find it cathartic to reminisce, and you probably find it more entertaining reading about my tragic mishaps and bad choices of the past, I think it’s important to also be grateful (and honest) about what really ticks my tock (snacks aside) in the here and now.

So here goes.

I currently share a bed with a man whom I – in equal parts – love dearly but also wish to strangle at almost every hour of the day. He is horrendous at making plans, one of the worst communicators and spends far too much time on Buzzfeed and/or BBC News, whilst I grapple for a comforting spoon or a much needed boob grope. Vegetables are exempt from his diet. He eats a little too loudly when it’s just the two of us. If it’s yellow, he let’s it mellow. He has a terrible – and really quite bizarre – phobia of pregnant women falling over. And we disagree on pretty much every political opinion a person can have.

But he is also kind. Loving. And overwhelmingly gentle for a man of his stature. He loves my freckles. He runs me baths. And he surprises me every single day. He is the sort of guy who springs a (very romantic) Valentine’s surprise on you and accepts that you choose (the not so romantic) Meat Mission as your dinner selection at the end of it. He sleeps in a single bed with you and bares the stiff neck the next day. He understands the importance of a perfectly-timed poached egg. He showers as much as you and knows a good coffee when he tastes one. He is the sort of guy who buys you a powder blue bike (basket included) for your first birthday together (2 months in). He is the type of person you meet in New York a month later while he’s away for business, just because. And he’s the sort of guy who surprises you with a trip to Norway for Christmas, so that you can pretend to be Anna from Frozen for a few days in the snow. He puts up with your singing, adoration (obsession) with Jemima Kirke and your complete inability to deal with a hangover. In fact, he puts up with you. Full stop.

So, right now, for as long as it takes you to read this post, I would like to celebrate the love I have with him. And then, I promise, I’ll get right back to humour, sarcasm and laughing in the face of anyone who takes life (and themselves) a little bit too seriously.

Love can appear out of the most unexpected of scenarios or places. In my case, it was via an app. In your case, it might be through work, via a friend of a friend, or at a very messy house party. But I’m happy to have discovered – after a month of people sharing their experiences of the heart – that, in whichever way love falls into our arms, we are all pretty damn grateful for it. Be it the good times that we can cherish, the heart break that has taught us a valuable lesson or the decisions that we have been forced to consider that only make us stronger. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

So, even if you have to pick pieces of chewed up food out of his bushy beard, share your hair bands with him or suffer from being spooned to the point of suffocation, just let love in. Because the real thing – when you eventually find it – probably (definitely) won’t look the way you think it should. And it will absolutely be better than you ever could have imagined.

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Thank you for reading and celebrating with me this month. And thanks to all those who bore their souls to me and allowed me to share their experiences with my readers.

Keep cuddling, keep smiling and keep being honest with those who have nabbed a piece of your heart, because one day it might be a little too late to let them know just how much they mean to you.