Saturday, 17 October 2009


I speak from experience when I say that knowing you have upset your friend is an awful feeling. Experience also allows me to say that being upset by your friend feels much the same. Friendships are so precious that the idea that something might happen to harm ours can be quite frightening. It is a difficult thing to have to hear criticism from your friend; after all we all like to think we are good people, good friends, good siblings etc. The reality is, however, that we all have faults, we are not always in favour with others and others are not always in favour with us, the truth hurts and if you’re anything like me you’re going to say it and people aren’t going to like the sound it makes and so guess who gets shot?

I am fortunate in that I have good friends; I am part of a very close group of best friends and I also have strong friendships outside of that group. The origins of a lot of my friendships were circumstantial, some of my friendships are obvious and some are not so obvious. For example I have what some people see as an ‘unlikely’ friend. Our history with each other is one of arguing and being worlds apart yet we learned to see past ourselves and get on with each other.

My friendships have changed overtime, some deliberately as a result of effort (or the lack of it) and some not so deliberately. Of the ones in which the change was more of a passive occurrence than an active decision, some I understand well and some not so well.

Real friendship is supposed to be quite robust I think. But then it’s not meant to suffer too many blows is it? Life though happens and ultimately we upset our friends or they upset us. I think I can safely say that some things are universal, “my best friend slept with my boyfriend” is probably not the type of fallout a friendship is built to survive although many do, or so I read in magazines.

But what about all the grey areas? What about when you both have a valid point? When you are both hurt/angry/frustrated? What about when your unlikely friend was your unlikely friend for a reason – because you really were worlds apart after all? Only now you have grown to value each other and in doing so have become less disposable to each other?

From personal experience and lapping up other people’s, I have come to understand that the dynamic of a relationship is very likely to change for the worse if you don’t deal with an issue because you ‘don’t like confrontation’ or think it’s ‘nicer when people just get on’ or think it’s best to ‘leave someone to cool down’ etc. You are taking a risk if you choose to ignore a situation and you are being foolish if you expect to find the dynamic unchanged when you do chose to revisit it. This is the thing about human interaction, you don’t necessarily need someone to vocalise their dissatisfaction, it is often apparent and in the case of people who know each other quite well easy to see. Yet some people find it so difficult to say how they feel. Granted saying to your friend “you have upset me…” or words to that effect is not easy. Quite often its unchartered territory and the response and the potential fallout are as yet unknown. As a person who is quite open and honest (for my sins I can assure you, that trait has not necessarily done me many favours) I struggle frequently with people who are not. I like to think I treat people as I’d want to be treated myself and so I expect to be treated by my friends as I treat them. I have come crashing back down to earth on several occasions based on those expectations and I have learned that I have to modify them, as I am sure others have had to do where my shortcomings are concerned. So then is disappointment not just poor expectation management? I have asked myself this question numerous times in recent years and I cannot quite let myself concede that it is. In doing such a thing would I not just be insulting my friends? Who wants to hear “well it’s fine, I am not upset with you anymore because I have lowered all expectations where you are concerned”? That’s not to say it can’t be done, I myself have done it and those people it applies to I no longer consider close friends. Not that it’s ever a conscious choice, being the ‘feelings’ person that I am it’s just ultimately where my feelings have lead me disappointment after disappointment.

Does it follow then that forgiveness too is not a conscious choice? Is forgiveness not a feeling, a state of mind? There are times when people are forgiven before they have even sought it and other times when no matter how hard you try to move on from an incident you find where once there used to be acceptance and openness there is now a closed door. And it is your closed door, you may want it open again but you find that you can’t /won’t open it. How forgiveness is sought (if at all!), the effort a person is willing to go to in order to show your feelings are important to them makes a difference. So what happens when you feel the apology owed to you comes too late? Or you doubt its sincerity? What if you feel not enough effort has been made to see the situation through your eyes? How then do you bridge that gap? What you have in reserve in a friendship goes a long way towards doing just that; if you have a long history of trust then you have more plaster, so to speak, with which to fill in the cracks. But if your friendship is a new one, or if its origins are less than pretty, with what then do you pave the way to reconciliation?

Granted stepping into someone else’s shoes when it means seeing yourself in a less than favourable light is not easy, especially when you cannot understand why someone feels the way they feel. I had to do just that myself. I didn’t understand how a friend was so upset over something that to me was a non-event. But I understood that if she felt strongly enough to not want to talk to me then to her it wasn’t a ‘non-event’. And is that not what we are entitled to expect from people who are our close friends?

I read a column in a magazine a year or so ago by the actress Teri Hatcher. For the most part it was very gushy and American and unnecessary but she said something that stuck with me; it was something to the effect of “if we accept that we ourselves have shortcomings then the failures of others become easier to accept”. And even though it is so simple and obvious I think it is such a wise statement simply because people very rarely look at themselves objectively (I am not entirely sure of the degree to which that is possible but certainly some do it better than others). Being able to see something through the eyes of someone else means that you gain understanding of how and why they are behaving the way they are.

Sometimes you have to go a bit beyond yourself, sometimes you have to just take hold of your fear (because let’s face it the prospect of rejection, of being wrong, of losing face…all of that is scary) and step out of your comfort zone because it is the only way you are going to move forward and learn.

Our friends are the people who are not impressed by us and who do not judge us. Our friends are those people who tell us the truth, regardless of how ugly it is or how difficult it is to hear. They give us the room to say what we might not be able to say elsewhere. Those things are rare and need to be treasured.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The all revealing smile?

I appear to be eliciting a type of behaviour which is very unusual for me. When it comes to dating and men I either like somebody or I don’t. And it takes me a couple of conversations, one date maybe and I know. I don’t mean I know if some is ‘the one’ (please, I hate that term, wish people wouldn’t use it so liberally. Apologies for my own liberal use of it). I just mean I know if I’m interested or not, I know if I want them to ask for my number, if I want to see them again…that sort of thing.

I always envied those girls who could go out for dinner with a guy, indeed multiple men (not all at the same table you must understand) without really knowing how they felt about him, or maybe even caring! I wished I could be more like that, because I thought that maybe if I could then I would be opening myself up to more opportunities and experiences.

I was fascinated by and yet somewhat dismissive of the dating habits of friends who went on date after date with various men, moving from one to the next without much emotional recoil. I have a friend who has had more dates than I have had hot dinners recently. Yet I could never practise this dating behaviour, just wasn’t me. As a friend once said to me, referring to someone who dates in this way “…you are the polar opposite to her when it comes to dating…”.

I was stuck with the absolution of liking someone - or not. And more often than not it was the latter. I saw no point in pursuing something when I knew already what some people seemingly hang around three months to find out. This was by no means a ‘rule’ or a conscience decision. It was – and is – purely and simply my gut reaction to someone; either I like you or I don’t, and I know which it is after only a few hours.

I also felt there was no point wasting my time, not to mention some poor other bugger’s time, having a meal or whatever when I know this is going nowhere, all be it that others told me I had not yet ‘given it a chance’ . And I was never comfortable with being ‘taken out’, i.e. paid for when I know that realistically you’re going to get nothing back on your investment (that’s how men look at it right?! I hope so anyway).

Yet strangely I appear to be dating a guy and all I find myself able to say about him is “I don’t know”. When people ask I seem to be able to produce nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders and a smile. I have laughed at myself and I am somewhat concerned that people are taking this to be a giggly, girly, ‘I’m all dreamy about him’ laugh – it is not! My absolution has disappeared and I am all of a sudden experiencing a very alien uncertainty. And it is that which makes me laugh; my inability to work out a very basic ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for my own benefit.

Not that I mind. I like him enough to have gone on a second date and to be considering a third. He has not set my world on fire but I enjoy his company, he is funny and I have enjoyed a few cuddles. To be clear ‘cuddle’ is not code for anything else, I very literally mean a cuddle. I would like another cuddle, I am not however sure if want a cuddle from him or if any cuddle would in fact do?

I won’t say I haven’t thought about him since date number two but I have not been waiting to hear from him, I was curious to see if I would (I did, just in case you’re wondering) but curiosity was about as far as it went. I am pretty sure that if I don’t hear from him again I won’t be too fussed. I don’t even think my ego would take too much of a knock as a result of the rejection (it has just occurred to me that that is probably not a good sign). I was talking to a friend about him and she said, “surely ’I don’t know’ is better than ‘no’?” my response was “is it?!” I’m not used to feeling so dispassionate about something that is potentially so personal. And I feel a small pang of guilt because I am worried I might be leading him on but I tell myself that at this stage all’s fair etc and his intentions are as yet unknown so I ought not to worry myself too much.

I appear to be more interested in how he has made me behave then I am in him. Do I think I am now a changed woman? No, not at all. I don’t know why or how I am suddenly able to do what I could never do before. And I’m not sure if the credit (or blame?) lies with him or with me. It would be nice to have some sort of clarity just for my own sake. But for the moment I am looking forward to experiencing what emotional detachment might have to offer... expect me to get bored! That I am not already bucks every past trend. And therein lies my point…I am back to “I don’t know”!

Monday, 17 August 2009


Before I go any further let me just say that I do not believe in it and neither do I want perfection. I write about it because I experienced its stereotype last night but my first encounter with him had been the previous night. He was an amazing dancer, good looking, tall enough for me – at 5’3”, six foot is my absolute minimum for a guy, at 32 five years my senior (as a very young looking, and modest, 27 year old I tend to get chatted up by 23 year olds in pink jumpers - my idea of hell) and interested enough to ask for my number. And to call me – twice – when I got in that night. It was at this point I began to get worried. Actually that’s a lie, I had begun to get worried when he’d said, “I’ve met you, and you’ve met me. I’m single, you’re single…” that was a bit too much for me two hours into our ‘relationship’.

Anyway as a result of being intoxicated he didn’t have much to say during either phone conversations and I began to think he might be stupid. So the next evening as I set off for what transpired to be Chinese take away at his I was worried I was going to have to keep my mouth shut for fear he might see my brain.

I was however pleasantly surprised. Conversation flowed, he was very obviously not stupid, maybe not as witty as me but then very few people are! He was polite and attentive. His flat was nice; he had a reassuringly beautiful mirror in his living room, which I neglected to compliment him on so I doubt he is referring to me ‘polite and attentive’ but there you go. He owns two properties, drives, has invested in shares (that fact helped with my 'stupid' worries), gets on with his sibling and parents, and has a nice job. He even managed a few jokes and had a go at winding me up.

You see the list of his pros is endless! Most crucially though I got the feeling that he wants a relationship, he wants a girlfriend, he is ready to ‘settle down’. Only problem is I want the exact opposite of that. I want someone who doesn’t want a girlfriend. I want someone who wants me. One of the very first things he asked me, just after he asked if I was single, was “do you drive?” and I knew instantly he was checking out my ‘girlfriend potential’. He was sizing up how practical – and therefore how worthwhile – following up this lead was going to be. And I don’t want practical, I want real. I want something that’s worth isn’t measured up by its practicality or convenience. If this is beginning to sound romantic than forgive me because that is not my intention, I am not a romantic. It’s just that I am not going to fit into someone’s ‘girlfriend mould’. I think, as far as he is concerned, the picture I cut in his mould isn’t looking too bad at the moment. As we cuddled up and watched a DVD its fair to say I fit the sofa, I fit into his arms…as far as he’s probably concerned so far I fit!

Me fitting or not fitting isn’t really the issue here though because even though he ticks so many boxes its untrue, I am not looking to fill a 'boyfriend' mould. As good as he sounds on paper he does not have multiple stab wounds, does not sleep with a hammer by his bed and did not argue with me on our first date (yes these are all men I have actually dated). And this is why I don’t believe in perfection; because as much as those examples may sound like nightmares to most people, those men all had other things about them that got me interested and made me willing to overlook their arguably unsavoury attributes. I guess its called chemistry. Perfection is overrated, if at all it exists.