How to go fishing for dates….

Chance is always powerful. Let your hook always be cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish.

Ovid

I love random encounters with people. I’ll often give more credence to an opinion expressed by a randomer I’ve just met than members of my own family.

So it was a few weeks ago when I was accosted by a chugger in Lidl trying to sign me up to a breast cancer charity. As I was signing on the dotted line, I know, I’m crap, I can never say no, the woman asked me about my extensive wristband collection. I explained about the recent flying solo adventures and she breathily told me she’d met the current love of her life on Plenty of Fish, and that I should try it. Her ex was controlling. Her new man brought her flowers.

Funnily how I so quickly fell into the old, well you’re single, so you must be on the look out narrative. Why do people never assume that if you’re single you’re happy to be so?

Cue me, once home, firing up the laptop, filling a glass with some voddie n Coke, and signing up. It seems so shallow to make snap decisions about people simply based on a mostly out-of-focus photo and some badly written personal information, but what the hell. I talked my work buddy into joining as well, so we could compare notes on the whole experience.

After two days I’d already decided that the whole thing wasn’t for me. And the only person I ended up chatting to was one who’d sent me a lovely and thoughtful message. Only to back it up with one that was just as equally rude. It must say something about my previous relationships and choice in my men, that because he’d been rude I opted to enter into conversation with this guy. He’d had a bad day, he said, he wasn’t normally offhand, but had just had a row with his boss. He was sorry for being unforgivably rude.

It says something about the brain, that despite this initial bad start, I’d extrapolated from his very poor profile photo an image in my head about what this person looked like in real life. He was entertaining and chatty in his messages, engaging with his questions and pretty attentive, so my brain invented a persona that I liked, despite the fact we’d never met. It’s rather a surreal experience, on one level to be so in tune with someone through typing, and on another level to know nothing about what they look like, smell like, dress like or how they take their tea. I suppose my brain had to fill in the blanks other wise it would have been blown by the whole experience.

He was quite clearly someone with some experience with dating, as, after I’d agreed to meet, he laid down three rules. One that I should arrive on the night armed with a joke. Two that he should pay for the entire evening and three that at the end of the night he wouldn’t put me on the spot and ask me what I thought.

I agreed to meet in my favourite local. I biked, again. I met him at the same pub I’d met my other date in. He was early. And shorter. And older than he looked in his picture. He was very polite, chatty and charming. But something in his demeanour seemed quite dominating. I felt uncomfortable about not being able to pay for anything. I always stand my rounds and this didn’t sit right. We went for a fabulous pizza and sat outside as it started to rain. It should have been romantic. I just wanted him to be the person he’d been in my head. Alarm bells were ringing. Here I was going for the same type again. Dark, dominating, opinionated. At least I’m learning now. My head is starting to take charge and knows that the last thing I need in my life right now is a repeat of my usual relationship patterning.

I returned home to a message that contained six kisses. You can learn something about someone’s ardour from the number of Xs that they put on the end of a message. He seemed keen. I’d got a couple of red flags waving about in front of my face, so I’d very politely explained that he was a lovely guy and great company, but that he ultimately wasn’t for me. I wished him luck. I took my profile down from the site and decided, that it too wasn’t for me. You see, I’m learning!

How not to go on a date…

I love the smoke shelters on nights out. I always end up chatting to interesting people out there. It’s where the best conversations happen. A few months ago I ended up chatting to a guy on a night out who had a Black Jack vape, it was like smoking sweeties. I’m not a smoker, but there’s something about drinking pints of cider that always makes me want a hit of nicotine.

The actual details of the conversation I had with Vape Guy are a bit hazy as I was several ciders up at that stage in the evening, but we got on quite well. A few weeks later I was coming out of a pub and bumped into Vape Guy again. We added each other on Facebook this time, before I sauntered away down the high street with my mates.

The next day he’d messaged suggesting we meet up for a few beers and my sober self remembered the previous night’s meeting. He was single. He said. And not looking for a relationship, just wanted to engage with new people. ‘Go on a date’ is on my bucket list, so I agreed to meet up on a weekday night. Nothing too serious, but at least I could chalk up another new experience. Albeit far too late in life. I should have been doing stuff like this back when I was a skint uni student, much thinner, younger and not when I should be entering the hot water bottle and early night phase of my life.

I definitely called this one wrong though. He may have told me that we were just hooking up for a chat, but he clearly wanted more from our encounter. As I chained my bike to the railings outside the pub I could see from his face that this wasn’t just about a casual chat. He had a hunger in his eyes, and seeing him with my sober eyes for the first time I realised that I probably hadn’t thought this through properly. But my bucket list is all about making my comfort zone more elastic, so I headed towards him, smiled and decided to tone down my natural flirtyness, as I didn’t want to come across as too keen. And I definitely didn’t want to give the impression that this was going to be repeated. I’m a people pleaser by nature, but I’m learning now that just because a guy likes me I don’t need to enter into anything. I’m learning discernment.  

He spent a lot of the night talking about his ex partner and what her issues were, as well as his ex wife, who he still seemed to have some degree of fondness for. I’d had this fear that we wouldn’t connect, and we didn’t, well not from my side anyway.

As per on my nights out I ended up chatting to some new people, in this case, two guys from a local builder’s merchant, who happened to be sitting on the table next to us. This didn’t go down well with Vape Guy who wanted to keep me to himself, and kept trying to extricate me. I took the opportunity to welcome the new pair into our conversation as it lifted the mood somewhat. I always tend to collect new mates on nights out, and my date night was no different. Vape Guy was persistent though and asked if I wanted to join him with a pizza and take it back to his. I politely declined, jumped on my bike and pedalled off into the night air.

I’ve been a serial monogamist my whole life and never played the men field. This is the first time in my adult life that I’ve not hopped out of one long-term relationship into another and I’m going to have to learn to go on dates, and deal with the toe-curling nature of them if I’m going to explore my single life to the full, and decide whether or not I want to return to the world of coupledom. It’s looking more likely that sticking with having fun, and not arguing about whose turn it is to wash up is winning out at the moment though.

How to create a soundtrack for your new life….

One good thing about music. When it hits you, you feel no pain.

Bob Marley

It’s taken a lot of bottle for me to reboot my life. To walk away from a house I’d lived in for 20 years, as well as its contents, and to leave my husband of 10, not to mention agreeing to a split custody agreement so I don’t see my son for two days a week.

I’ve had to rebuild from the bottom up and as I stand here eight months down the line glowing with freedom and settling into new routines and rhythms it’s easy to forget that some mornings I can wake up feeling like I’ve got a boulder to push uphill.  This boulder is a hardened ball of fear about my son, anxiety about being too old to start my life again and worry about spending my days alone with just my cat.

On those days when I wake up thinking that I won’t get my groove going for the day, and the uphill push seems to much, and when the old anxieties and low mood kick in, then I need a shortcut to get me back up there with the energy to take on my Sisyphean task. The best way I’ve found to do that is through music.

When you’re a teenager music becomes part of your identity, then as you age the volume turns down, song lyrics lose their impact, albums gather dust.

When I was with my husband I stopped listening to music, stopped dancing, and allowed his different rhythms to become mine. But now music has become a fundamental part of each day and I’m finding my own drumbeat again. When I’m in my car the stereo plays at ear -bleeding levels and I sing away at the top of my voice. When I’m at home itunes plays in the background, and when I’m out and about on my solo adventures my battered pink ipod staves off self-consciousness and gives me my own soundtrack to walk around to.

This summer I discovered The 1975, their 2012 hit Chocolate has got me through some grey days and when the first strains of the track begin they lift me and get my adrenalin pumping. Their tunes allow me to be my alter ego – the strong independent woman, who is badass, sassy, loud and amazing. I plug into the music and she appears to mask and protect the anxious, fretful person underneath. So, you see, I fake it till I make it, and most days it works. In my head my life is a film reel with music playing as the soundtrack. Walking into a pub on your own? Just make sure you’re pumped with tunes before you do and you’ll walk in there like you own the place. Fancy going for a walk but feel like you stand out for not being coupled up? Get some grooves going and you’ll stride along smiling to yourself at how good you feel listening to some great tunes and not caring that you’re not one half of a pair. I can guarantee I look a lot happier flying solo with my own soundtrack than a look of hooked-up people do!

How not to live a life of quiet desperation…

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

Henry David Thoreau

Until last summer I was a grey opaque version of myself. Worn into transparency by years of living with a joyless husband, anxiety, occasional depression and six year’s worth of lie-ins to catch up on. I felt old, tired and brittle, like a yellowing page in a newspaper you find in a loft that’s been wrapping your granny’s crockery for years and crumbles at the merest touch.

I’d just accepted that this was my life until I changed jobs, made some new friends and came blinking into the sunlight and realised that life was for living and I didn’t have to continue simply existing.

I was the original wallflower, wanting to be ignored, not noticed. Bland. Magnolia. Vanilla. Dull. I exuded greyness from every pore. I was sleepwalking through parenthood and my marriage. I did everything on my own after our son was born, from getting up at the crack of dawn with him to putting him to bed at the end of the day. In all but name I was a single parent.

Then I met someone at work, who’d tried to take his own life several times and so perfectly combined that hedonistic sense of not giving a fuck and so being larger than life and oozing freedom as a result. Something inside me, long languishing, was sparked back to life. I grabbed on to this literal life-line and let it pull me out of the gloom and into the brilliant blinding sunshine of a blue-skied summer’s day.

I realised that I was more than just a wife and mother. That somewhere along the way I’d got lost and I needed to find me again as a matter of urgency, before the last bit of myself disappeared into the ether.

What happened next took six months to execute. And the word ‘execute’ makes leaving my husband sound like it was cold, hard and clinical. When the truth is it was messy, tear-stained, heartbreaking and the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life.

Those long, hard months of last year have dimmed now, their edges worn smoother by the fact that I’ve moved on and created a new life. I love my new life, in my new house with my son. I’ve gone from being someone who was living a life of quiet despair to someone who exudes a lust for life out of every pore. I’m the colour in the grey world now because my freedom was so hard won that I wring every last drop out of each day now with no plans to blend into the background again.

How to make memories…

Summertime is always the best of what might be.

Charles Bowden

The summer months always seem to be when I come alive and feel zingy – but this year was my first ever single summer for 30 years. I’ve been a serial monogamist all my life – going from boyfriend to boyfriend, but this year I’ve flown solo for the first time in my life.

I’ve also got more time on my hands than I have for years as our split residency arrangement means that I have several days a week when my son is at his dad’s and I need to fill that time meaningfully so I don’t end up mooning around the house missing the smell of my son’s hair and counting down the hours till I see him again. I need to make myself a better, stronger person so that I can be a better mum to him.

At the beginning of June I went to a Fake Fest near to where I live with my friend. We danced, laughed, chatted and drank all day. It was amazing. My confidence was sky high. I was given a wristband as I entered the event and when I woke, slightly second hand the following morning, I didn’t want to cut it off. It represented a good time. So I left it on, until the following week when I attended another event and acquired another one. People started laughing and proffering me scissors.

Over the last three months I’ve collected more, and more, and more. If I see someone in a night club with wristbands to give out I get giddy at the prospect of adding another band to my thickening collection.

So much so that my tatty, raggy, faded wristbands are now half way up my arm. My wrist has become so dense with bands that I’ve started to count down to the final event I’ll attend this summer when I’ll gratefully cut them all off with a due sense of occasion.

To be fair, they have started to get irksome; they get soaked in the shower and I’m getting tired of having to stick them back together when the glue finally succumbs to water or sweat, but I’m determined to keep collecting them as they push me to make memories and enjoy this time flying solo.

How to fall out of love…

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Søren Kierkegaard

I’m not sure when I first realised that I no longer loved my husband. It may have been last summer when I first articulated the phrase to my boss and the words that had been swirling round in my mind came tumbling out on to the desk in front of me and clattered like smashing crockery.

I’d known it in my heart for a long time, but it took a long time for my brain to catch up. The human psyche is strange like that. You can know something in your soul but not recognise it cognitively for sometime.

I’d spent years being slowly ground down by living with someone who had slowly over the years left me feeling like squashed cabbage leaf, in the words of My Fair Lady’s Eliza Doolittle. And the thing about feeling like a squashed cabbage leaf is that all of your decisions are based upon that low self-worth cabbagey vantage point. The same goes for food, you comfort eat and then wear big, baggy clothes to disguise your now, overweight cabbagey-ness. Then you don’t like to leave the house because of how you look.

It’s a well-known adage that life is lived forwards but understood backwards, and so it has been with me. I came to be here because of taking the decision to attend a children’s centre on a local estate near to where I lived when my son was born nearly seven years ago. The children’s centre was in a very deprived area of my town. Having worked in journalism and teaching all of my working life I’d inadvertently ended up mixing with a very select group of reasonably educated middle-class people. Attending the children’s centre gave me the opportunity to mix with folk who had not had the opportunities I’d had and it was a game-changer for me.

Instead of reading high-minded political arguments online and in books that left me feeling frustrated, here I was dealing with people, who, on an everyday basis, were facing life at the sharp end of politics. I learned so much about parenting and dealing with a baby from these amazing women, and without them I’d have struggled to survive those early exhausting days of first-time mum parenting.

This experience led me on to take part in two local politically charged campaigns that both ultimately failed but put enough fire in my belly to start the resurrection of my self worth, and so when my son started school I started volunteering for a local gardening charity, culminating in me taking a job there four days a week six months later.

Like a butterfly emerging from a cacoon I was suddenly reborn, invigorated by working in the outdoors with a divergent group of people. It was like I’d joined the levellers and I loved it! Working there ignited my soul and my self-worth and before long what started off as slowly burning embers became like a raging fire, impossible to put out and leaving me with a difficult decision. Do I extinguish or fan the flames.

I came home to my husband one hot day last July and the sense of feeling trapped and suffocated was so profound that I screamed and cried inconsolably for hours; a primal scream that culminated in me screaming the words ‘I don’t love you anymore’ and once said they could not be unsaid. Our marriage couldn’t be put right. It took nearly six months for me to move out, in that time we tried and failed to make it work.

So far, so not very unusual. What I did do was take the decision to let my husband stay in our family home and keep most of what was in it. We also agreed that we would co-parent our son in an amicable split residency agreement, where he stays with his dad three days a week and me four days. For much of my son’s life he’d had a pretty distant dad, I chose to give him the opportunity to be a full-on parent and stocked the odds as much in his favour as possible. And eight months in, despite the fact it hasn’t been easy I haven’t regretted that decision. Our son is thriving at school, and his home lives are happier and less filled with tension. He has much more fun in his life. He has two parents who work together and put 100% of their energies into one-to-one time with their son.

Here we arrive at the title of this blog. The title of part-time mummy is in no way to suggest that I actually see myself as part-time – I don’t stop loving or caring about my son in the days I don’t see him. But I know that he is being loved, looked after and cared for by his dad, and that leaves me with days to fill when I’m not in a traditional sense a hands-on parent. This has been a challenge at times, and no always an easy one, but I hope that in improving my own sense of self worth, my son will benefit and become a more resilient person as a result. I also hope that this blog will help others who are also negotiating post-split waters and co-parenting in a brave new world.

How I came to be a part-time mummy

Don’t worry that children never listen to you, worry that they are always watching you.

Robert Fulghum

Of course, I’m not actually a part-time mummy. Once you give birth you are connected to the small person you’ve birthed 24/7. What I am is a mummy to a six-year-old whose father I have separated from. So far so bitter, right? Well not in our case, as we are as amicable as we can be and we also co-parent our son with a split residency arrangement whereby B spends four days a week with me and three with his dad. This blog is about my experiences with the changes in life both the separation and the co-parenting have brought about and how I deal with the days when my son is with his dad and I am left with the challenge of what to do with my days when the house doesn’t echo with ‘mummy, mummy’.