How to get through a break-up (with your sanity relatively intact)

1) GRIEVE…
Even if it was a horrible relationship, even if you hated him by the end and you’re quietly relieved he’s gone, even if he used to chew his toenails in front of your parents*, take some time to acknowledge your sadness that it’s all over. There might only be a pea-sized smidge of sadness, but it will be there and it must be acknowledged; you’ll have gone into the relationship with at least some hopes and expectations and it hurts to let go of them.

2) …BUT NOT TOO MUCH
It’s fine to wallow in grief for a while, but never to drown in it. You may have a job that needs your attention. Kids that need feeding. A goldfish that needs whatever goldfish need. Hell, you also need to look after yourself and remember to shower daily. If your grief becomes all-consuming and stops you functioning for an extended period of time, do ask for help (perhaps from friends or a counsellor).

3) APPROPRIATE REVENGE
Take the form of revenge that best suits your situation. I’ve always believed that ‘living well is the best revenge’, so I just get on with forgiving my exes and living a good and happy life. But that’s just me. I’m a tiresomely Pollyannaish hippy. Your situation is different, and your situation may dictate that you fill your cheating-scumbag-ex’s sock drawer with anchovies while he’s on holiday with his new girlfriend. Who am I to judge? (Seriously though, if you’re going to have to continue to see your ex—perhaps you have kids together—I highly recommend taking the moral high ground rather than a tin opener to a can of anchovies.)

4) DON’T FIXATE ON THE MONEY
Many people think they can ‘win’ a break-up by keeping the most money. But the stress of getting there is horrendous, and money isn’t happiness. Try and divide everything up between yourselves; getting a solicitor involved generally means you’ll be splitting the pot with them as well.

5) REMEMBER THAT THEY’RE PROBABLY NOT AN EVIL MONSTER. PROBABLY.
You loved him once. You even loved him enough to kiss his reprehensibly lying mouth. Yes, he may repel you now, but you loved him once. Try and remember there is something good about this person; don’t demonise him. (Especially if you have children together. I cannot stress this enough.)

6) PREPARE FOR A MATE CLEAROUT
Some friends will stick with you. Some friends will ask what they can do, and then never call you again. Some friends won’t ask what they can do, and will simply never phone you again, because they are busy hanging out with your ex and renting caravans together. This is all fine.

7) NO, NO, I’M SERIOUS, YOU HAVE TO LET GO OF YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF OTHER PEOPLE’S BEHAVIOUR
Perhaps you thought your friends would grab their blazing pitchforks and drive the bastard out of town? Instead you’re mildly perturbed to find that one friend has invited him to join their darts league, another friend has formed a covers band with him, and yet another friend has actually gone ahead and married the cheating swine. It hurts, yes, it hurts like salted sunburn, but what your ex does is none of your business, and perhaps these people were never really your friends.

But more than anything else, just because you don’t like your ex, doesn’t mean other people have to hate him too.

8) DO WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT
The future is now yours to do whatever you please with. No more compromising for you! Couldn’t get a cat because he was allergic? Get yourself all the cats. Want to eat pork for every meal for three months, because you were sick of keeping kosher? I can heartily recommend this from personal experience. (I only stopped when I realised that I was permanently, unpleasantly, dehydrated.) Go for it, buttercup.

*Yes, I used to date someone who did this, and I’ll post about him another time.

On Being a Grown-Up

I’m not cut out for this, I’m really not. Being an adult is much harder than it looked in the brochure. When I was small, I couldn’t wait to grow up, fondly imagining the time when I’d have all the answers, gliding gracefully between the days, busy only with the sheer enjoyment of living. I’m glad I had no idea how wrong I was.

Life is much more complicated than I ever gave it credit. There are bills to be paid, lines to be drawn, principles to be defended. And laundry to be done. So much laundry. Don’t get me started on the bloody laundry.

But then, there’s the sweet contrast between being a grown-up and growing older. The former promises disappointment and expectations that can’t ever be met. The latter is a balm; the older I get, the more comfortable I am in my own skin. The more secure I become. The more I sense and value the love that surrounds me; the more I appreciate my friends, my family.

The flip side to that: being able to lovingly let go of some relationships and people. Recognising the friendships that used to work, but don’t any more. And finally understanding that what other people think of me is none of my business.

These days, I have a sense of happiness, of peace, of calm, that I’ve never known before. Even amid the chaos of the endless logistics and paperwork. And the sodding laundry.

Being a grown-up royally sucks, but at least growing older is great.

The Curse of Home Alone 3.

I went to see Home Alone 3 with a mate. We’d always had totally different tastes in cinema so, true to form, she was convulsed with laughter and I was bored rigid. For some light relief, halfway through the film, I nipped to the loo.

Business done, I went to open the cubicle door. But, the lock had jammed. I thumped the door. Nothing. I shouted myself silly. No-one came. This was back in 1997, I didn’t have a mobile phone, so I resigned myself to being stuck until my friend raised the alarm.

Because surely she’d soon notice I hadn’t come back.

Surely she’d soon realise I’d been gone for much too long.

Surely.

After twenty minutes, I realised that either she hadn’t noticed I was gone, or had assumed I was having bum troubles and didn’t want to disturb me.

Another ten minutes passed.

As much as I hadn’t been enjoying Home Alone 3, being stuck in a toilet cubicle in a branch of the Odeon* was marginally less fun.

In desperation, I took off my shoe and started hammering at the lock. My impressive DIY skills did the trick (or perhaps the gods of misfortune felt sufficiently sorry for me) and the door popped open.

I made it back into the screen as the credits rolled.

My friend looked round at me. “Where were you?”

“I’ve been locked in the loo for the last half hour.”

“Have you?”

“Did you not notice?”

“It was such a great film.”

So, there you have it. I am officially less great than Home Alone 3.

(*since demolished. It’s all it deserved.)

MY ENDLESS FAILINGS TO BE A GOOD JEW #23 (a tale of quizzes and public humiliation)

I am Jewish in the same way I am white and English. I don’t have a sense of triumph or superiority about it; it’s just how I happen to have been born. It’s only one aspect of my tumble of genetics—like my brown hair, my tendency to develop gall stones, and my long toes—and not something that defines me.

As an adult, I don’t specifically seek out Jewish friends. But as a child, my social life was a whirl of Jewish activities. First one Jewish social club, then another. Sunday school classes. Holiday camps. But it was one of the social clubs that lead to my first great humiliation.

It started with a quiz, one Sunday night. Now, I am good at quizzes. No, more than that. I am dangerous around quizzes. They awake a powerful beast inside me, one that’s constantly compelled to shout, “I KNOW THIS ONE”, and to hog the pencil and answer sheet. It took me a long time to realise that the actual purpose of a pub quiz should be to spend time with one’s friends and have fun, not to endlessly crush those around you with your unassailable powers of general knowledge.

I mean, it’s fun to show off your prowess (who knew what the last words were that Rimmer from Red Dwarf uttered*, thus winning the bonus round and the whole quiz for my team? Hi there!) But there’s also the opportunity to show tact and kindness to those around you, and to sharpen your diplomatic skills. Your teammates believe that number 7 in the picture round is a snap of Alanis Morissette, when you know it’s actually Dave Grohl**? This is your time to gently, insistently shine!

Anyway. As I say, I’m good at quizzes, which is how I made it through the first and second rounds of the national youth organisation’s quiz and into the grand final.

This final was a big deal. People had travelled from all over to be there. The grand prize was a place on the youth group’s foreign trip. The contestants were on stage, there was a big audience and and I was doing pretty well.

Until the Hebrew round. I had no idea there was going to be a Hebrew round. But there was.

Some bastard—some evil, evil bastard—had come up with a round where we had to write the Hebrew translations of English words on a sheet of A4. It would have been a breeze if you a) had a good working of the Hebrew language and b) knew how to write words in Hebrew.

Sadly, I had neither skill.

“Bicycle”, they announced. “Children.” “Ice cream.”

Around me, the other teens were scribbling the Hebrew equivalent on their pages. Me? I had nothing. I was seriously screwed. Actually, I did know one of the words; “yeladim” means “children” (this is the only thing I remembered from my many mornings at Hebrew school having repeatedly listened to the teachers bellowing “SHEKET YELADIM!”/”SHUT UP CHILDREN!”)

But it was no use. I had no idea how to write it—or anything, really—in Hebrew.

I had to hand something in. Blank pages seemed like too big an admission of defeat; I couldn’t sit there not writing while everyone around me flourished Hebrew across paper. So, I made it up instead. I drew elaborate squiggles across the pages, in beautiful colours, hoping that they would magically transform themselves into legible Hebrew, thinking I could hand them in, and no-one would really know.

And then, the answers. And then, the horror.

“As we announce each word, hold up your answer sheet for everyone to see. Bicycle. אופניים”

The other contestants proudly held their answers aloft. I reluctantly raised my fraudulent scribbles.

“Children. יְלָדִים”

I could hear the titters from the audience, growing as the answers were revealed and I turned over yet another page of nonsense. One boy—who I had a mild crush on—was nudging his neighbour, pointing at me. And laughing.

“Ice cream. גלידה”

The humiliation, and the echoing laughter, dragged on and on.

Of course I scored a big, fat, well-deserved zero. It was enough to cost me the prize. It was enough to fray my relationship with Judaism a little further. It was enough to instil a fear of the spotlight that’s still with me to this day. But was it enough to sour my love of pub quizzes? Not even a little bit. I’m good at quizzes (unless they have a Hebrew round).

 

* “Gazpacho soup.” You’re welcome.

** Later, when the answer is indeed announced as Dave Grohl, you will cheer, vindicated, until your teammates shamefacedly confess that they changed the answer back to Alanis Morissette while you were in the loo. You will tell them that’s OK, while secretly wishing painful monkey-based death upon them all.

THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #17

I’d been seeing a guy for a little while; he lived a long way away, so all our dates had been in restaurants and bars. Things had been going well, and I’d agreed I’d stay the night at his.

When I arrived, he was apologetic; there was a problem at work and he’d been thinking about cancelling, but still wanted to see me. However, he’d need to check in with work occasionally.

He left me with a drink while he answered a few emails. I checked out his books and his CD collection while he was gone (doesn’t everyone?) When he came back, he explained he’d have to keep an eye on his phone during dinner.

Well, there’s a difference between keeping an eye on your phone and giving it your full attention. We didn’t talk much during the meal, and he seemed to get more and more agitated about work. I tried to chat about his taste in music and books, but a frostiness settled; he shut the conversation down and went back to looking at his phone and ignoring me.

It just didn’t make sense. He’d said he was happy to see me, but his actions said the opposite. It’s not fun hanging out with someone who blatantly doesn’t want you there, and I wanted to leave; but I was 70 miles from home, I’d had a few drinks and couldn’t drive, and public transport wasn’t an option.

I was stuck at his. There was nothing that could be done but brave it out until the morning.

He had the one bed, so we both had to spend the night sharing it, keeping as much distance from each other as possible; not talking, not touching. I didn’t sleep a wink.

The next morning, he woke and said he had to get onto a conference call with work immediately. I said I’d leave, but he told me to stay, saying that the call wouldn’t take long. I didn’t want to seem rude, so I stayed.

Two hours later, he was still on his call, and I was feeling thoroughly stupid. Several times, I stuck my head around the door to say I’d be going, but he insisted I stay, that he’d be off the call soon.

Eventually, my anger and discomfort finally overtook my desire to be polite. Enough. He didn’t want me there, whether he was prepared to admit it or not. And—more importantly, although it’d taken me long enough to get there—I really didn’t want to be there. Time to go.

Time to go. As I headed for the door, he muted his call to tell me: “It’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone over to mine. I’m not good with having other people in my personal space.”

I drove home, angry and upset. I presumed I’d never hear from him again, but he phoned me three days later. Maybe he thought he hadn’t insulted me enough yet; he told me he’d called to explain that he didn’t want to “take the relationship any further, because you’re obviously much keener on me than I am on you.” And in the next breath, he asked, “Do you want to be friends, though?”

I laughed—a sharp, hollow, laugh—and said no, thank you.

Glasgow

Glasgow is a wonderful place. I had a pretty tremendous time there, but my favourite memory was trying to get from the exhibition centre, back into the heart of the city, when a bus pulled up.

Me: Hi!

Bus driver: Hi! Nice necklace.

Me: Thanks! Are you going to the city centre?

BD: No, you want Derek.

Me: Excuse me?

BD: Derek. He’s driving the bus that’s about five minutes behind me.

And yes, Derek did drive me back to the city centre (and was somewhat surprised when I greeted him with a hearty “HI DEREK!” What a charming place).

Numbers

As a child, I was obsessed by numbers.

No. I was ruled by numbers.

I spent my life trying to make sense of the world by trying to see patterns in it. When walking, not only would I studiously avoid the cracks, but I’d have to tally my steps as well. Counting to nine, over and over, soothed me. The world was scary and confused; I wanted to smooth everything down and make it safe. No cracks, count to nine, no cracks, count to nine.

Words were a challenge. If I saw a poster when I was out—perhaps an ad on the side of a building or a bus—I had to make that add up to nine too.

Let me explain it to you. First, I’d count up the letters in each word. Then, I’d have to find the combination that let them produce a 9.

Let = 3
me = 2
explain = 7
it = 2
to = 2
you = 3

(3 – 2) + (7 + 2 + 2) – 3 = 9. Phew.

There were no exceptions. If a sentence didn’t work first time, I had to jerry-rig a solution.

Let = 3
me = 2
demonstrate = 11

(3 – 2) + 11? No
(3 + 2) + 11? No

Let’s use the spaces in-between words now.

Let[space]me[space]demonstrate

Let = 3
[space = 1]
me = 2
[space = 1]
demonstrate = 11

((-3 + 1) * (2 – 1)) + 11 = 9! Phew!

For one sentence? A bit of a challenge. For every advert I saw? Exhausting.

And so I measured out the world in steps and counts, keeping everything safe by reducing it to the magic number nine. Over and over and over. No exceptions.

There was comfort, for a while, in this endless result, but over time the game expanded. I would bang my foot as I answered my maths homework. I had to produce the answers in time to the beat. It wasn’t enough to count the written words, when people spoke to me, I had to add their sentences up, make everything sum to nine. Objects around me had to be mentally rearranged so that they spoke of nine somehow.

There’s a vase on my mantlepiece. It features a flower with six leaves, a stem, and a two-tone head.

1 vase * (6 leaves + 1 stem + 2 colours) = 9. Phew.

It is a big ask of anyone to keep the universe safe by performing endless calculations. Let alone a child. But I had no choice; I was unable to stop. Walking and counting, walking and counting.

It didn’t even occur to me to tell anyone or seek help; this was simply my job and my comfort.

Now, for something that was so central to my life, it’s strange that I can’t tell you what happened next. I don’t remember when or how the obsession eased, but it did—so gradually that I didn’t notice.

It’s still there though, waiting for me. It occasionally returns—in other forms—when I’m stressed. I was sucked into Sudoku and spent hours boxing the world into grids. Similarly, solving logic puzzles. Latterly, Candy Crush.

The pull is still to ignore the mess in my life, and make neat sense of another chaos. But now, as an adult, I can think fondly of that little girl—frantically counting and counting—and understand now that the world simply can’t be sorted, solved and smoothed. Sometimes we just have to life with its jagged edges.

THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #16

Before the date, he warned me that he got very nervous on first dates and often talked a lot. Fine, I sometimes talk a lot too.

But he really wasn’t kidding; I sat and listened to him talk about himself for the best part of three hours.

Eventually, he paused for breath, looked at me and said:

Date: “I suppose I’d better ask you something about yourself, hadn’t I?”

Me: “That’d be nice.”

Date: “So, tell me about your ex-husband.”

Me: “What?”

Date: “Your ex-husband. How did you meet each other, how long were you together and when did it all go wrong?”

Me: “I don’t really want to talk about my marriage, thanks. Isn’t there anything else you want to know about me?”

Turns out there wasn’t, as he went straight back to talking about himself again. At the end of the evening, he apologised again, put it down to nerves, and promised to do less talking and more listening if I’d meet him for a second date. I agreed.

So, the second date arrived and, again, the gentleman started talking about himself without asking me a single question. I tried to get the odd word in, but he was a tsunami of conversation. After two hours:

Date: “I said I was going to ask you something about yourself tonight, didn’t I?”

Me: “Yes, you did.”

Date: “So, tell me about your ex-husband.”

Me: “Seriously?”

Date: “Yes. How did you meet each other, how long were you together and when did it all go wrong?”

Me: “You know what? I’ve got an early start in the morning, let’s call it a night.”

The Age of the Train

I can’t ever sleep on public transport. Ever. No matter how tired I am.

There is a good reason for this.

I’d been up all night in Brighton; it was my best mate’s hen night and we were celebrating hard. We didn’t bother getting hotel rooms; we were too young and too broke. The plan was simply to stay up all night until the trains started running early the next morning.

So, we bounced round the town, in and out of clubs, giddy with excitement and whatever the hell we were drinking until, exhausted, we fell onto the first London train of the day.

This was sometime in the 90s, and the train was the old-fashioned stock with small compartments. Each little carriage had benches that were the perfect size for sleepy revellers to crash on. There was barely anyone else on the train, so we grabbed a separate carriage each, stretched out and passed out.

….

Suddenly I was awake. Very awake. Something was wrong.

There was a man stood over me.

No, more than that. He was leaning in, right over me. Much closer than he had any right to be. There was a man, who was hovering over me while I was sleeping, and I was suddenly aware of how vulnerable I was.

Me: “What are you doing?”

There was an awkward pause.

We looked at each other.

I had the distinct impression he was trying to think of something convincing to say.

Him: “…I was thinking that you might want a foot rub?”

Me: “No. I really don’t.”

He left the carriage pretty sharpish.

That was a good 20 years ago. I’ve not slept a wink on public transport since.

THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #15

If they ever create a GCSE in Having Awkward Conversations, I hope this conversation is included as part of the syllabus.

We had our first date in a lovely country pub. All was going well until:

Him: “I read something interesting in the newspaper this week.”

Me: “Yes?”

Him: “Apparently, the thing that determines how long you’re going to live isn’t what your parents died of, it’s how old they were when they died.”

Me: “…Oh?”

Him: “Yes. My parents are still alive. How about yours?”

Me: “Errrrrrr, my mum’s still around. My dad died a while ago”

Him: “Really? How old was he and how did he die?”

Me: “Can we talk about something else, please?”

Him: “Don’t be shy, you can tell me!”

Me: “Really, I’d rather talk about something else.”

Him: “But it’s an interesting conversation!”

Me: “I don’t want to discuss it.”

Him: “Oh come on, this is fascinating stuff!”

Me: “Fine. He killed himself when he was 59. There you go. Happy now?”

Him: “Oh right. Did he kill himself for any particular reason? He didn’t have any genetic diseases or anything, did he?”

I made my excuses shortly afterwards and ended the date. He was keen to meet up again, but I couldn’t bear to find out what other delightful questions he was going to ask me.