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.

How to Forgive

Maybe you’re already rolling your eyes, but hear me out. Forgiveness is pretty powerful, but it’s much misunderstood.
There’s probably someone in your past—possibly even your present—who troubles you. Who wronged you, who wounded you. Their very existence is the grit in your eye, the stone in your shoe. And that’s why you need to forgive them.
It doesn’t mean that the things that happened to you don’t matter; they do. It doesn’t mean you have to be friends with people who have wounded you; you certainly don’t. It certainly doesn’t mean that you have to face that person and tell them you forgive them; they don’t even have to know that you forgive them, or even that you thought of them at all.

Forgiveness isn’t about them. It’s about releasing the hold that those incidents have over you. It’s about escorting those people out of your head. It’s about reclaiming your life from them.

I spent a lot of my life carrying those ghosts with me: the shadows of conversations, of friends I didn’t see any more, sometimes even of people who weren’t alive any more. Always there in a corner of my mind. Tinting my thoughts grey. Taking me away from the present.
And I wasted energy fighting them: endlessly replaying arguments, raging against how I was treated, confronting people in my head because I couldn’t confront them in real life. Over and over. Exhausting. And it didn’t bring me any peace; instead, I built a prison and trapped myself in my own thoughts. I was waiting for apologies that were never going to come (and in some cases, I later reflected, weren’t even owed to me).
There was only one way to release the hold they had on me, and it was within my power, not theirs. Forgiving them.
Frankly, the thought appalled me at first. I’d been nurturing my resentment over the years: it felt powerful. It even gave me a strange sense of importance; I’d been wronged, which meant that I mattered. But the crushing, all-encompassing rage was tiring, and I wanted to put my burden down. So, I started looking more closely at what I was really angry about.
A number of those injustices evaporated as soon as I prodded them. Take, for example, the friend who hadn’t been there for me when I needed him; I’d felt resentful towards him for years. But, eventually I realised that my upset actually stemmed from my own inflated sense of self-importance, rather than from anything he’d actually done. The fact was that I clearly wasn’t as important to him as he was to me. However, rather than understanding and accepting that, I’d made myself important to him—in my head only—by inventing a situation where he’d deliberately wronged me. My expectations of him had been unreasonable, no apologies were due, and the anger vanished. And the same with many of my grudges: I was surprised how many of them boiled down to nothing worse than a bruised ego.
Of course, that wasn’t the case with every situation, and eventually I was left with the people who’d genuinely wronged me. These situations ranged from the relatively trivial—the ‘friend’ who’d stolen money from me, the anonymous car driver who shouted “FAT BITCH” at me when he didn’t like my driving—to the devastating, the life-changing (I’m not in the mood to give examples today, but you can probably imagine). I didn’t want to carry those memories and those people around with me any more. And so I started forgiving them.
As I’ve said before, this does not mean trivialising the things that have happened to us. They still matter. But releasing the anger was therapeutic. My teenage ‘friend’: everyone makes mistakes. She didn’t even owe me the money any more; her parents paid every penny back at the time. In my head, I hoped that she had grown up to be a more honest person, and I forgave her.
“FAT BITCH” man? I reasoned you had to be a pretty angry, unpleasant person to want to shout something so nasty at a woman. I felt sorry for him, and then I forgave him. These were the easy ones.
The deepest wounds were, of course, the hardest to forgive, but also the most necessary. I looked at those incidents one at a time; with each, I sat with my pain for a while and reflected on it. I reminded myself that none of these people were monsters; they were just people. People with flaws, people who might not be terribly nice, people who I didn’t like; but, ultimately, just people. People that I could forgive.
And I did forgive them. One by one. And, at first, it hurt like hell—saying the words “I forgive him” for the first time made me cry—but I still forgave them. And, with each act of forgiveness, I took another piece of myself back. The heaviness, the shame, the fear gradually lifted within me as I kept forgiving.
Of course, the pain doesn’t just vanish overnight, and some people needed repeatedly forgiving. Actually, some people I forgive everyday. But I remind myself, I’m not doing this for them. I’m doing this for me.
And I forgive them.

Happy Mother’s Day

Every Mother’s Day, I remember the time I picked up my sobbing smallest daughter from school.

SD: *sniffle sob*

Me: “Are you alright, sweetie?”

SD: *sobbing* “My teacher told me not to tell you I’d made you a Mother’s Day card, or I’d ruin the surprise. But I want to tell you I’ve made you a Mother’s Day card because I’m so proud”.

Me: “Aw, you made me a Mother’s Day card! That’s lovely!”

SD: *boo hooing* “BUT I CAN’T TELL YOU I MADE YOU A CARD SO I HAVEN’T TOLD YOU AND SO YOU DON’T KNOW.”

It’s hard being small sometimes…

The Problem with Step-Kids

Don’t get me wrong, I adore my step-kids. It’s just that I don’t want to call them my step-kids.

There’s something distant about that “step”, something that I really don’t like. That “step” implies that a degree of disconnect, a lessening of love. That “step” says, they’re only my partner’s kids, they’re not mine.

Wading back into the dating world, as a single mum, I realised that most prospective suitors would probably also have children. But I was concerned, remembering stories from acquaintances of how they could barely stand their partner’s kids. What if I wound up in that situation?

And then, a mate and I surprised ourselves by falling in love. I knew he had kids; he’d often shown me pictures of them, told me how great they were, how proud he was of them. I used to look at those pictures, nodding politely; never imaging I’d ever meet them, let alone that I’d love them too one day.

I remember the day I finally met them. Struck by that sweetness, the blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar, making them so easy to love. He’s charming like his dad, with his nick of mischief too, and an innate confidence that’s all his own. She’s got her father’s strange, endearing mix of impulse and caution, twisted in her own sense of humour.

Love is a funny thing; there is never quite enough time for everything, but there is always enough love for everyone. Suddenly I didn’t just have a boyfriend, I also had two bonus kids. They weren’t his children anymore, they were ours.

We have an understanding. When we’re out, people often say, “Does your daughter want…?”, “Doesn’t your son like…?” And we don’t correct them. Because it might not be factually accurate, but it’s certainly good enough for us.

I say to them, you know I’m not your mother, I’m not trying to be your mother, you have a wonderful mother already. But I love you like a mother does. I love you like a mother does.

THE WINNING LINES #10: Tales from my dating days (Valentine’s Edition)

I’ve never liked Valentine’s Day. I firmly believe that, if you love someone, you should show them every damn day.

Perhaps you’ve been admiring someone from afar for a while, and think that Valentine’s Day might be the day to show your hand? No. If you like them today, do something about it today. It might not work out, of course, but so much better to get on and get over it, rather than moping around until February 14th.

Anyway. It was Valentine’s Day and I had a boyfriend, although he is not the subject of this story.

That honour goes to an ex of mine. Well, I call him an ex although that’s rather misleading. We’d been seeing each other for a while, but never officially dated; every time we drew together he’d retreat (I’d usually hear him shouting: “I’m not ready for a relationship!” as he vanished into the distance.)

Tiring of this, eventually, I started dating someone else. But the ex (as it were) and I had stayed in touch, agreeing to just be friends.

Valentine’s Day arrived. The first post in my Facebook newsfeed was by my ex. He’d uploaded a video of himself, singing a song “for the woman I love, and have probably lost forever.”

“Oh dear”, I thought, when I saw it. “I wonder who that’s for?”

Then I checked into the website I ran (at the time). He’d posted the same thing there. Oh. It couldn’t possibly… could it?… he wouldn’t?…

On cue, the doorbell rang. The postman needed me to sign for a letter. Turns out, it was a Valentine’s card from my ex.

I watched the video again. Now, you may know “Wonderful Life”. It is a tremendous song, but possibly the worst choice of love song ever. It’s a song abut the singer: how lonely he was. How he needed a friend. How unfair it was. “Look at me”, said the lyrics, “Look at me standing here”. You learn nothing about the person he’s singing to.  Nothing.

None of this was about me: it was only about him. And he’d sent me a Valentine’s card, even though he knew full well I had a boyfriend. What did he think was going to happen, that I was going to immediately ditch my boyfriend and declare my undying love? Did he really think I was that shallow? That’s not love. I was merely a prize to be won, like I was a bloody goldfish at the fair.

I fumed for a while about how to respond. I started composing a restrained “Sorry, but you know I’m not available” text, when I checked Facebook again.

He’d updated his status again. Now it read: “Fuck this, I’m sick of waiting for a response, I’m going back to bed”.

Charming.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Farewell, Wuffles.

Two years ago, we drove to the shop to pick out a pet. With six of us, it’s sometimes hard to make a decision, but this was easy. Amongst the little scraps of fur sat a giant ball of fluff. With two huge beady eyes and the wuffliest whiskers that you’ve ever seen, there was no doubt about which hamster we all wanted. The sales assistant gave him a quick once over: “Yes, she’s definitely a girl*” and popped him in a carrier for us.

I drove home as carefully as I could, Si holding the little cardboard box. Every bump in the road and pothole seemed enormous, with Si murmuring “She’s* not moving, I think she’s dead” as we drove. But, we got him home safely.

Si is not a lover of instructions, and had missed the part about leaving the hamster for three days to settle in. He plunged his hand in to pick the little guy up, and was rewarded with a pair of needle-sharp incisors sunk deep into his thumb.

It was time for the solemn business of choosing his name. This was more difficult than picking out which hamster we wanted; there are six of us and many opinions. But we put forward our choices (Si proposed “Bitey”) and voted, and Wuffles he was.

Hamsters don’t look like much. It’s hard to explain exactly how a small bundle of fluff can have a personality, or be so adored. But Wuffles was. The simple happiness of watching him waddling around, the tickly joy of him pottering along your hand, the deliciously tactile floofiness of his fur, and the zealousness with which he stashed away peanuts kept us all entertained. Sometimes, in a world that can be harsh and confusing, you need a bit of trivial, uncomplicated happiness, and that’s what Wuffles gave us.

However, while we got a lot of pleasure from Wuffles, he was always—as one would expect from a hamster—entirely indifferent to us. He never gave any suggestion that he was pleased to see us. For the first year of his life, he would even raise himself up on his front legs, direct his bottom along the wire bars, and pee out of the cage onto our wall and carpet. Wuffles, basically, didn’t give a crap about anything but his sunflower treats and his wheel, and I rather respected him for that. He simply sat around, looking simultaneously magnificent and daft. “Look at our stupid hamster”, we’d coo, lovingly. “Look at him.”

We were lucky to have two great years with him. But over the weekend, he lost interest in his food. He suddenly slowed down. I couldn’t even entice him with a favourite sunflower snack. Si fed him drips of water by hand. The last two days passed in a strange sort of daze, with me popping in to check on him every hour. In an echo of his first car journey, I’d murmur to Si, “He’s not moving. But I think he’s still alive.”

His decline was so quick, we weren’t even able to take him to the vet. Last night, he was quiet and so still. And so small, now. I sat on the floor, cradling him in my left hand, listening to the click of his breathing. He didn’t move at all. I could barely get him to drink. We moved his cage into our room so he wouldn’t be alone (not that he would have cared). In the morning, he was curled up peacefully; he was gone.

A pet teaches you a lot about life, of love, of loss. Yes, Wuffles was only a hamster, and a stupid hamster at that, but he was our stupid hamster and we loved him.

Sleep well, little friend.

*A year or so after we got “her”, Wuffles was climbing the bars of the cage when I noticed, with some horror, that “she” had some lumps on “her” undercarriage. It turned out that these were merely fluffy testicles and that he was definitely not a girl.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I like Christmas. Very much. More than most people (which is particularly unusual given that I’m Jewish). 
 
But Christmas has always been my favourite time of year (except for a few years where I fell out of love with it, but more on that later). And it’s never been about the gifts (indeed, as the esteemed Ms. M Carey says: “I don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree”), it’s always been about the people.
 
My parents used to own a gift shop and, as you can imagine, they used to be ever so busy in the run-up to Christmas. So, after school had finished, my sister and I would be packed off to my aunt’s to stay while they worked right up until the end of Christmas Eve. We’d be kept busy “helping” my aunt prepare for Christmas, giggling ourselves to sleep each night, tucked up in twin beds with a tiny Christmas tree inbetween us.
 
Come Christmas morning, our parents would arrive. I was always overjoyed to be reunited with them, then the rest of the day would pass by in a haze of laughter and food. It was a day of traditions—many of which were shared with other families, others were uniquely ours, like the Annual Family Walk (which was much talked about but rarely actually happened), the Annual Family Talent Show (which very much happened and still does)—and I loved every minute of the day.
 
Things change. They always do, they have to. I grew up, I could look after myself, I didn’t need to stay at my aunt’s any more. I got into a relationship with a man who didn’t celebrate Christmas and my love of it was dimmed. And after my father died, it became harder and harder to celebrate it; the joy of Christmas tempered with the knowledge that someone important was missing, that my happiness had a hole in it. My family shifted.
 
Things change. They always do, they have to. I moved into a new home, with my girls. New start. And I saw Christmas afresh, through my kids’ eyes, and I started falling in love with it once more; it came to represent all that was joyful and good. I started celebrating it again, more intensely than ever.
 
A while later, I also fell in love with a friend of mine. He was amused by, and supportive of, my love of Christmas and he came complete with two wonderful bonus children; suddenly I also had a brand-new family to celebrate Christmas with.
 
My favourite song—not just for Christmas, but for always—is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Specifically the original lyrics*: “Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow. So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
 
2017 has been a really bloody difficult year, and I’ll be glad to see the back it. But, we muddled through it and I celebrated this Christmas with my sister and her delicious family, my mum, my aunt, my boyfriend, our kids (and the little dog). It was loud, it was joyful, it was perfect. I was as happy as that little girl, on Christmas Day, watching her parents’ car pulling up.
 
So, have yourself a merry little Christmas now xxx
 
*None of this “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” business, that line was rewritten at Frank Sinatra’s request. I prefer the hopefulness and gentle melancholy of the original.