To quote Lily Allen, when I was 22 the future looked bright. I’m 31 now and while the future still does look bright, it’s sometimes hard not to wonder when it will actually arrive. I have recently realised that it never will. Or that it already has. Either way, this is my lot for now. I have a job, a car, a flat and have just hung my first pair of curtains. I really am living the dream of contentment.
But Lily was of course talking about being swept off her feet by Mr Right. Could my 22-year-old self see my life now, she’d balk at the sight – I never once thought I’d be here, on my own, at this stage. And worse, the 14-year-old who adamantly proclaimed she’d never use a dating service unless she was reeeeaaaaly desperate, “you know, like 20 or something and didn’t have a boyfriend” would choke on her own words. Luckily, as it happens, I did have a boyfriend at age 20 so didn’t have to stoop quite so low. But then I got to 24, and the stooping began…
I think one of my most promising and yet disappointing online dates was the criminal forensic scientist. A real-life crime scene investigator. Such an interesting, exciting job. Such a nice smile and attractive eyes. Such an unhealthy obsession with the blood and guts and gore he cleaned up every day. I ended that one before he turned up at my door with an axe wanting to role play.
Next was the trainee doctor. Intelligent, good looking, local. Now either he had some kind of unfortunate stomach upset that day, or his walk genuinely was camper than a pink tree at Christmas, but either way I never heard from him again and I can’t say I was disappointed.
And what about the guy who shouted at the film in the cinema, or the bloke with clown-sized feet, or the geezer who called me babes, or the perfectly nice man I just couldn’t bring myself to like in the right way. All of them brought their own hope, their own promise, their own anxiety and their own disappointment. Most of them I resented for taking me away from Grand Designs. And none of them made me feel like I was getting any closer to that bright future I – or Lily – was aiming for.
The thing is, now that the chances of meeting the marriage-and-babies-by-thirty milestone are passed, I feel in a funny sense relieved. There’s another 10 years before I need to start worrying again, and I’ve found other things – like curtain fabric and paint samples – to focus my efforts on in the meantime. The truth is, all the men I’ve ever dated for any length of time have come into – and out of – my life quite naturally, and all those relationships were angst-ridden, disappointing and humiliating enough without the privilege of a monthly subscription fee. So why bother to pay?
No. Instead, given the circumstances, and in the spirit of using my jazz hands to remain wise, I’m going to acknowledge online dating’s not working for me, leave it up to fate and shimmy on to the next pair of curtains. I mean, choosing curtains isn’t without its anxieties and disappointments either, but just think of what I can get with the money I’ll save from my monthly subscriptions! Matching cushion covers and everything! And let’s face it, what man doesn’t want a woman with good soft furnishings?! If that doesn’t work, I’ll just get a cat.
The older I get, the more of my friends I see getting married. Up to this point I have only been an observer of this occasion. A lucky guest that is invited along for the celebration, but manages to avoid the fabled stress, arguments and tears that accompany the happy day. But this year, I am lucky enough to be part of two of the most important weddings I could hope to witness – my sister’s and my best friend’s – and I will finally get to be a bridesmaid. Twice. In as many weeks.
Aside from the fact that this means I have the next 5 months’ worth of weekends mapped out for me and could recite you my vital measurements backwards, it also means I get an insider’s view on planning this special day from the safehouse of someone who is involved, but who can legitimately leave it up to someone else if the going gets tough. A bit like babysitting someone else’s children. Fun, up to a point, but once the toys start being thrown out of the pram I suddenly notice the time. But through all this, what has astounded me is the extent to which other people seem to think they have the right to input into the process without invitation.
Let’s start with the ring already being on the finger, and the squeals of delight amongst friends already being shared etc etc. Decision one. You’d think this might be about the date, the venue, the look and feel – you know, something that involves the couple and how they want their special day to be. But instead, the pressure is on to pick the bridesmaids. “Have you decided who you’re having yet?” And then it’s about whether you’re going to invite partners who have been with your friends for less than 6 months. Unless they’re already living together because that’s almost like they’re married and the thing is if you’re inviting Alison’s boyfriend Tim you should really be inviting Caroline’s boyfriend Tom even though they haven’t been together as long because you’re better friends with Caroline and she’ll probably be really upset and you definitely need to invite her sister to your hen do as well because she invited you to hers and what about your fiance’s cousin’s son’s girlfriend, she should definitely be on the list….The can of worms is open, and the buggers are squirming round on the floor all over the place!
Now, I’m not getting married, and I’m unlikely to be in the next 18 months at least, but I would guess that managing the politics of single friends’ and soon-to-be-extended-family’s fragile egos is not top of most brides’ list of things that gets them excited about their wedding. Why is it, then, that the fact two people have decided to generously invite their friends to, let’s face it, the most expensive party they’ll ever throw, free of charge, that people somehow feel they have the right to make them feel guilty about who or what they include?
Guest-zillas stop for a moment. There is no law about who you invite to your wedding. There is no law about who you ask to be part of the official party. Be happy for your friend. Be pleased you have been invited to share part of her day, whichever part that might be. But if you really, really want to make her day special, don’t expect it to be about you.
I’ve wanted to write since I was five. Of course, back then I was trying to resolve the mind-boggling conflict of how to fulfil my other ambition of being a hairdresser alongside being a famous writer. The answer was in fact simple – I just wouldn’t print a picture of myself in my books. That way, no-one would recognise me and I could snip away making small talk with strangers without a care. Because, of course, there was no question that I would be famous. It all seemed so simple at the time, and so obvious that that’s what I was going to do. Because that’s what I wanted to do.
But somewhere along the way, my plans changed. At some point in my life I decided I wasn’t going to make it as a Blue Peter presenter, or an actress (my eventual decision to drop the hairdressing had allowed my ambition to evolve into a less incognito stab at fame by then). So I didn’t even entertain the idea past my teens.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I regret any of the decisions I have made in my life – I made them after all – and I consider myself very lucky to be in the position I am with a job I really do enjoy, and a lifestyle that doesn’t mean I’m faced with the daily trauma of being snapped buying undies in M&S. And I’m not saying I would have succeeded at any of these things if I had given them a go, either. But what I do wonder is at what point the cynic in me decided it was better to opt for the safe option, and something about that makes me feel I have let my five-year-old self down a bit.
I’ve been the first to criticise the obsession there is with celebrity and “being famous” these days. Goodness, I’ve even gone so far as to blame programmes like The X Factor for the economic crisis! And that’s not to mention my disapproval of the way they laugh at deluded souls whose friends haven’t had the decency to take them to one side and say “I love you , but you need to stop.” Television chiefs should know better.
But maybe I’ve been unfair. There’s something admirable, is there not, in unabashedly following your dreams, no matter how “realistic” they seem to other people? There’s something rather exhilarating about throwing caution to the wind and giving it – whatever “it” is – your best shot. So that’s what I’ve decided to do from now on. I’m happy not to be famous. I’m happy not to have to decide whether I publish books with my picture in or not for fear of being overwhelmed by a mob of book-club members with bad haircuts. But life’s too short not to do things you enjoy doing because you’re scared someone else will do them better.
Someone once said to me that the best skier on the piste is the one having the most fun. Well, I want to be the one careering out of control and laughing my way down this mountain of life, jazz hands blazing all the way. Do join me won’t you? It’ll be a blast!