Category Archives: Love, singledom, confidence, women, fertility, age

Some thoughts on being single in London

Recently, I’ve seen too many single friends get upset because they’re single. And it baffles and frustrates the crap out of me because they are fabulous and fun and clever and beautiful, all of them (and no, I’m not just saying that because they’re my friends). I also know some brilliant single guy friends who complain about never meeting the right woman. This comment on my post on the Free Decade summed up the panic you can feel when you’re single and it makes  me really sad to see people I love feeling like that.

It’s not just the fact of not having a partner or not having had a shag for a while, it is the effect it seems to have on self-esteem and confidence. It is easy to become cynical. I’m not single right now, but I was for a long time when I first moved to London. I ended up enjoying it, but I did go through a long period of miserable Saturday nights in; sitting on the single table at weddings next to a gay guy and the bride’s 15 year old cousin and getting far too drunk to cover the fact that I was gutted that my friend was getting married and I was so far behind; and getting irritated by and envious of my smug married friends. So I have been thinking a lot recently about my single friends who I adore, and I had some thoughts which I wanted to share. This is for you *raises wine glass*.

1. DO NOT PANIC. The man for you is at this very moment in shiny armour astride a white horse, scratching his head and saying “so where the fuck IS she then?!”.  Its just a case of meeting really.

2. YOU HAVE TIME. There are many inspirational 40-something women who are having their first babies now. The way I see it, as long as you don’t break the world record for the oldest mother alive (currentlyOmkari Panwar, age 70), then you should be OK. I’m being glib but life isn’t a 100 metre sprint, its about longevity, finding the right person for you.

3. YOU HAVE TO LOOK. Ladies, you will not find your ideal man at ballroom dancing class or pilates. Men, your ideal woman will not appear on your sofa while you’re watching Top Gear.

4. BUT IN THE RIGHT PLACES. Tiger Tiger, the Crazy Kangaroo and Infernos are inappropriate pulling venues in your thirties and above (although Lady B is an exception to this rule). I’m also cynical about singles nights as I hear again and again that there is a distinct lack of men (Ms Marmite Lover’s single Valentine’s night was a classic example and it was no surprise that Time Out advertised for more men on twitter the night before their recent singles event). So if I was a single bloke it would be a pretty good bet. But ladies, I’d spend your cash in the pub instead. It is also, in my humble opinion, utter bullshit that you will meet a man through starting a class or a course – I’ve done a few in London and they are pretty much all filled with women. Now I think about it men don’t actually do much do they? Which means that the ideal place to meet is the pub, no matter what age you are.

5. CONSIDER INTERNET DATING. In 1990, 40% of couples met their partner through their friends. Between 2007 and 2010, 17% of couples who married met through internet dating and 20% of couples were introduced through the internet (tis true – read here). Yes, it can feel unromantic and shallow in its selection process, but it’s efficient and I know more and more people who have met their partners this way. And I have to be honest and say I met The Chef on Guardian Soulmates (he was my first ever internet date) and I’m bloody glad I did – I’m not sure if our paths would have crossed otherwise. I’m still reconciling myself with the fact that we met there, and I do get embarrassed when people ask where we met, but I would definitely recommend trying it. My advice would be to arrange to meet up after a few emails – you won’t know what they are really like until you meet them and the image you are building up in your head may be wrong. Also, there is nothing more depressing than a terrible date and you will know how you feel about the other person in about 30 seconds, so arrange a quick coffee and say you have plans shortly after so you can make your escape easily if you need to. Sudden US conference calls that require your urgent attention can also be useful.

6. A BAD RELATIONSHIP IS WORSE THAN BEING ON YOUR OWN. Being in a “relationship” with someone who won’t commit, or treats you badly, or is married to someone else, or is only interested in sex, will not make you happy (if you are a woman at least). The great stuff about relationships – the trust and the love and the Sunday walks holding hands – are typically missing and it will bite into your self-esteem. I see it again and again with friends but it can be hard to walk away when it is a choice of having someone rather than no-one. I just think it is very rare that these relationships don’t end it tears. Remember how fabulous you are and walk away. Yes your Saturday nights might be lonely again and you may miss the sex, but you will soon be walking with your head held high again.

7. YOU’RE SINGLE, SO WHAT? Don’t let it affect your self-esteem or your confidence. You aren’t a failure – life is often won and lost through timing, being in the right place at the right time. Do all you can to boost your confidence. And it is dangerous to tie your self esteem too closely to finding a mate – the ideal is to be happy on your own, just happier when he or she is around.

8. THE ART OF THE PULL. If you are in a same-sex group of friends of more than 3 people, you are unlikely to start chatting to the opposite sex. And it is a great idea to go on the pull with your coupled-up friends – they are much more likely to walk up and chat to new people because they don’t really care what happens, although you may find yourself cringing at obvious match-making. Be open-minded and talk to people you might not fancy the pants off – attraction can develop…or they may have fit friends. And don’t be too cynical about the whole thing – yes it feels a little naff when you are a bit older but it can be a hell of a lot of fun too.

9. RELY ON YOUR FRIENDS. Often Londoners are so busy they won’t pick up on the fact that you always suggest Saturday night to meet, and are always told everyone has plans already. Saturday nights alone can be miserable, but if you don’t tell your friends how you feel, they won’t understand how important it is to invite you out. And don’t avoid your couple friends, they are still fun to hang out with…or they may have fit friends. Girls’ and boys’ nights out are brilliant – but remember the 3+ person pulling rule.

10. FORGET ABAAAHT IT. Don’t let your quest for a partner and your desire to get married take over your life. The grass isn’t always greener, there is more to life than just being in a couple. Think about your career, your friends, your holidays and concentrate on that for a bit. Take off the rose-tinted glasses – your married and coupled-up friends have the same sorts of problems that you have – life’s worries don’t fade away just because you’re shacked up.

11. ENJOY IT. Being single can be brilliant. You can do what the hell you like, you can be selfish. You can spend all your time socialising. Or sitting in your flat eating cheese and onion sandwiches and picking your toenails. You can snog random and/or inappropriate strangers. You pick where you go on holiday and how tidy or untidy your flat is. You can spend your money on ridiculous things, eat, drink and smoke what you like. Enjoy it while it lasts!

On grief

The more I write about happiness, the more I read other blogs about happiness, and the more I see that often those who write about happiness are those who have experienced great sadness.  Maybe experiencing sadness means you appreciate happiness more*. In any case, I wanted to share my thoughts on coping with grief with you. It may help if you’re having a rough time of it. And, if I’m honest, the writing of this is a little bit of therapy for me too. Here goes:

Stage 1 – Trauma

IT happens. This stage is like emotional jet lag. One moment you’re doubled up wailing and looking in the mirror and not recognising the face. The next, you might feel catharsis, something like relief. And sometimes hope and excitement and then back to grief.

Your concentration is terrible. You’re in something like shock – you might not tell your left from your right. Driving a hire car may be costly. You may laugh and cry within the space of a few minutes, often at completely inappropriate times. Going to the supermarket to buy milk, you may end up standing in an aisle, holding a pumpkin and wondering where on earth you are and what you are doing. You may find yourself phoning 118 118 and ask to speak to the man who sings that song that makes you cry. Your right shoe is on your left foot and vice versa.  Certainly, nothing else in the world matters.

You may take up smoking in the morning, drinking at lunchtime and staying up until 4am. You can barely leave the house, your hair is greasy, you can’t sleep and you live in trackie bums. At times, you want to talk for hours and at times, you want to be left alone. Your friends are confused. You need to get your shit together and get healthy at some point, but not yet. Tell your boss and your friends – you can’t cope with work shit and any other shit on top of this.

If you imagine you have an open bleeding wound, then you just ripped the plaster off.  It feels necessary and unstoppable and human. But also hopeless and uncontrollable, and just very, very sad. At times overwhelming, which is exactly the moment when you must call a friend or your mum and just cry. Thing is, you need to get through this to get to the next stage.

You can stop it of course – you could drink or medicate yourself through it, or ignore what you are going through (the plaster goes back on) but then you never get to 2. Your friends have been amazing but sadly, you need to spend time alone, cry, be sad, be brave and let yourself feel it all. Lay off the booze, be selfish, don’t book up all your time and cancel appointments. And, eventually, you get to 2.

Stage 2 – Regrets and what ifs

What if I hadn’t moaned so much, if I hadn’t been so selfish. I should have told them I loved them more, visited more frequently. I should or shouldn’t have done x and y and z and any number of things. There is an urgent desire to atone, to finish unfinished conversations. You may never be able to. But if you still can,  you should wait until you’re less emotional – it could go horribly wrong and you might not get the response you want. And the other person may be grieving too and need their own time.

It’s good to write a letter or a diary. Start it as if it’s a normal letter – how you are, what you’ve been doing lately. Then what you wish you’d said or done and how much you love them and thank them for everything and tell them how much you miss them and are so so sorry. You may never be able to send it. But if you still can, don’t send it yet – what until you get to 4 and only if you still think you need to.

At some point you will reconcile yourself that what happened happened and you can’t change it. You may go back to 1. Or you may get to 3.

Stage 3 – Development

You may cut your hair, start an exercise routine, buy new clothes, book a holiday. You are likely to rack up debts. Try not to get a tattoo or a nose job or anything permanent – this too is a phase. Taking up hardcore drugs or a marathon is equally not wise.

This is a consolidation, a meditative phase where you realise what the truth is – what really happened, the fact that you could do nothing to stop it happening. More importantly, what it means for your future, what you can do to move on, the person you really are and what you really need.

You may realise that you slept OK last night or you didn’t cry today. At times you may feel like you’re fine – but you’re not quite there yet so be cautious. Friends may have stopped calling or texting, which can make you feel lonely. Make sure you tell them how you feel because you need them still. You may still go back to 1 and 2 but eventually, you’ll get to 4. 

Stage 4 – Healing

Last night you slept. And then today you suddenly realised you felt happy. You may have felt positive, that life is full of possibilities. You smiled openly in the street. You told your friends how much you love them. It may have only lasted a short time but it was genuine. You’re almost there.

You’ve learned some things about yourself – who you are, what you need and what you want. You shouldn’t go back – it’s time to move on. Start a new course or think about making changes. Work on friendships and your family. Be positive – this process has made you a stronger, more knowledgeable person. Life is out there waiting for you – you’re ready and you WILL be happy again.

So what are you waiting for? The world is your oyster, your friend and your playground – go jump on the swings.

* See Kahlil Gibran’s On Pain where he says pain is the breaking of the shell of your understanding.

What Women Want

If your immediate response to the title of this post is a Stirling-esque who cares?” then this post isn’t for you. However, if you have problems understanding your wife / girlfriend / female friend, then it might help a little. I should start by saying that I am unbelievably lucky to have had the most wonderful boyfriends and male friends who this is in no way written about (although some things may be familiar…!) – I am writing this for men in general. Secondly, I obviously can’t speak for every woman in the world. We are all wonderfully unique and complex and, thus, rather difficult to work out (which is frustrating for men who are generally very simple). But I think I know women pretty well so I can talk for at least some of us. So here goes:

1. We may earn more than you. We have our own careers, mortgages, social lives. We want to be respected for being clever and independent and we want you to be proud of us. But at the same time it’s tiring being strong all the time – we sometimes want you to come up with holiday plans and find the passports, stay by our side at a party and come up with date night ideas. Its OK for us to be strong and vulnerable at the same time, you just need to accept both sides.

2. We don’t care how much you earn as long as we agree with you on how comfortable we want life to be and are able to afford the things we need to live this life. We don’t need expensive gifts but we like you to treat us now and again. We’re happy to lend you money. And ALWAYS buy us a birthday present, it doesn’t matter if it’s small. We don’t mind if you’ll never be the boss but we want you to be happy at what you do and fulfil your ambitions.

3. Become acquainted with the toilet brush.

4. Internet daters – don’t feel obliged to prove you are the sort of man YOU THINK we want:

  • Photo 1 = your sister told you that you look cute (but it doesn’t really look like you)
  • Photo 2 = Trekking somewhere foreign (me man, climb mountain, am available for mini breaks)
  • Photo 3 = arm round a fit woman (to show us that you have fit friends? that you once dated someone fit? that if you deign to put your arm round a fit woman in a bar she won’t push you away in disgust?). The fact is WE’RE fit so all that matters is that we would allow you to put your arm round US
  • Photo 4 = with friends in pub, drinking beer (am not social leper)
  • Photo 5 = drinking coffee, reading a book, looking thoughtful (I can be deep and meaningful and we can talk about Sartre while I stroke your hair, or if you like we can just get pissed – see photo 4)
  • Photo 6 – “fun” photo (I am HILARIOUS – tie round head, air guitar or similar)

What we actually want is to see who you are. We want someone with nice eyes. Who looks interesting and has chosen photos that show the man not a stereotype. Who is honest and romantic and knows themself and what they want. Isn’t afraid to mention that they want kids too. And has nice guns (we can be shallow too).

5. Yes, we KNOW we are being ridiculous for getting upset at that stupid small thing which has no real connection to the conversation we were having. We KNOW you don’t understand. We know we SHOULDN’T get upset. But we ARE upset. Although we’ll be fine soon. Just stop lecturing and give us a hug and tell us it will be OK.

6. If we’ve gone to an effort to dress up, you really should say how lovely we look, no matter how long the relationship has lasted (and even though you secretly prefer us hungover, sans make up, in an old t-shirt and jeans).  Appreciate matching silk underwear – all that stuff about us wearing it for ourselves is bollocks, most girls are far happier in cotton M&S. And know when to make an effort yourself too.

7. We know we sometimes drive badly and can’t cook very well. But tell us in a non-patronising way because we’re fiercely independent and we’re trying to look after you and don’t want to feel stupid. And we don’t know what “riding the clutch” means anyway.

8. We realise you don’t give a toss what colour the walls are, what type of lamp shades we get and how the house plants are looking. But we are nesting and want you to be part of it. We have grown up with adverts and films showing couples in overalls redecorating and getting covered in paint and being all cosy and cute, its our little fantasy. So grab the tool box and join in and look like you’re having fun (it actually can be and you’ll have a great sense of achievement – honestly). At the very least remember that you may get a nice dinner, beer and other oft-requested rewards at the end.

9. The following are not funny: jokes about our biological clocks tic-tocking, references to us being “on the shelf” or similar, any form of fart joke, comments about our mothers. We do however have a pretty dirty sense of humour and will laugh as hard as you to The Inbetweeners and keep your mates amused for hours at the pub.

10. If we’ve put on weight, its either because we just gave birth to your 8 pound baby or we’ve had a few too many burgers lately. But believe me we’re well aware of it. In fact we worry about it constantly. If you refer to it in a negative way, we will either (a) make ourselves feel better by eating more (we comfort eat when sad. And many of us comfort eat when happy too, double trouble); or (b) lose the weight in a focused way and promptly look for someone more sensitive and non-judgmental. Best way to deal with this is to make us feel beautiful anyway – we’ll lose it eventually and if we don’t, make sure you appreciate the new curves.

And “I love your thunder thighs” is not an acceptable compliment even if you meant it as one.

Happy 1st birthday to the HPL!

Thank you to my gorgeous friend Giavanna who baked – baked! – this cake herself and for the candle and accompanying red wine 🙂

Dear readers,

The HPL is very happy because we are 1 year old today. Yes, on 15 October 2009 I began this blog with a fairly crap post imaginately entitled “Hello London” and the rest is history.

So what has happened in this year and how has my life changed by following the HPL rules?

Well, its been a tough year. A very sad break-up (which, with his blessing, I will write about in due course), moving jobs and losing good friends to the land of marriage and babies and life outside London. I have written about the confusion I’ve felt as an unmarried 30-something in my post about The Free Decade and how rubbish it is to read articles about our dimishing fertility here.

But its also been a really positive year. I have started appreciating the beauty of London’s architecture and parks. I’ve started liking Londoners a lot more, and can hardly believe all the fun and interesting things to do and places to go right on my doorstep. I’m definitely making the most of life here now, getting more into films and music especially. I know myself better. My relationships with my friends have improved and I appreciate them more I think, I call people more rather than texting and I’m closer to my mum than I have ever been *waves*. I think I’m a bit kinder. And things have happened recently which have made me excited about what lies ahead for me in the future.

I decided early on to write with a certain persona – to only write upbeat, enthusiastic and positive articles which would try to inspire and encourage. Those that know me know that I’m actually a grumpy cynic at times, but forcing myself not to criticise and to concentrate on the positive has defintiely rubbed off on the way I see life. The process of writing has also given me confidence – as a shy extrovert it has allowed me to express myself and stop caring so much what people think. And I think I’m finally growing up – I enjoy my job and am finally happy for my life to slow down a little.

And I seriously have gained 5 pounds since I started – all that eating out and burgers and trying new restos had to go somewhere. I don’t really mind though (am channelling Joan in Mad Men).

An unexpected pleasure in all this is that I’m really enjoying being part of London’s blogging community *waves*. From the start, I had encouraging words from Luiz from The London Foodie, Krista from Londonelicious, Matt from How To Get A Grip and Jason Cobb from the Onionbagblog. And since, I have developed virtual friendships with other bloggers and readers like Stephanie Sadler from the Little London ObservationistSteve Slack, Alex Moore from Rosa’s and Hayley Cull from Slow London. And I have made real-life friendships too – Caroline from Caroline No, Uyen from Fernandez & Leluu and Ute from Hungry in London. I have really enjoyed meeting these funny, feisty and eloquent women for food and gossip and its great to find people with so much in common.

And my stats (I know bloggers love stats)? Well, in my first month I had 732 hits (mostly my mother) and last month I got just under 10,000 hits which I think is pretty good in my first year. I have 82 email subscribers *waves* but then I ALWAYS seem to go back to 79 so not sure who I’m annoying and why. They are mostly women which reflects what I write, but I’m hoping to have some manly guest posts from men in the next year. I have 343 fans on the Facebook page and796 people follow me on twitter. At times, the fact that ANYONE reads this blog, let alone people I’ve never even MET, scares me a little. And sometimes I feel pressure to post stuff when I don’t feel particularly upbeat. But for me the key is to write the blog as if its still only my mother who reads it, be true to myself and not try to impress anyone. And develop a slightly thicker skin when I lose a follower or a fan.

So, if you’re still reading, thank you very much for doing so and I hope at times this blog has inspired you to try something new, or think about happiness a bit, or appreciate London a little more. I’ve noticed that my friends have become a little influenced by the blog – they’ve been trying new places and reporting back – so I hope the love has spread your way a little bit too.

Thanks for sticking with me this year and I promise the terrible twos will be just as fun.

Sasha @ The Happiness Project London

PS. As a little birthday gift to you, I thought I’d reveal the “after” photo of the awesome cartwheel I did on that lovely beach. As you can see, appearances are deceptive. It was actually quite crap. Enjoy!

Another day, another happiness survey

Three more happiness surveys from Melbourne University,  Princeton University and Relate which say:

  • If your partner is neurotic, you are less likely to be happy.
  • If you’re altruistic and have family goals you are more likely to be happy.
  • If you’re religious you are more likely to be happy.
  • If you’re overweight, you are less likely to be happy…
  • …Unless you’re a man, in which case you’re unlikely to care.
  • Money can’t make you happy…!
  • …But you’ll be unhappy if you earn less than £50,000.
  • And finally, and this is a good one, if you’re in your late 30s and early 40s, you’re likely to be feeling stressed and depressed and lonely. You don’t see enough of your family and friends, if you have any, you work too hard and worry about redundancy. Something to look forward to then.

So what can we take from all this? Well, according to these surveys we’re all a little bit f*cked. Especially if you’re an aethiest 30 or 40-something who is overweight and overworked and skint and married to someone neurotic. Which sort of applies to most people I know.

But lets be positive for a second. What they also mean is we should all just chill out a bit about work and money and see our family and friends more in a face-to-face or over-the-phone way. Less texting more picnics. Work out a bit. Find religion or a good substitute (possibly grape-based). And avoid dating neurotic people. Unless you’re neurotic yourself, in which case find a partner who is unfeasibly happy or stupidly oblivious. And lets all stop worrying about sodding happiness surveys telling us how miserable we are…:)

So how happy do you really need to be?

Elle magazine’s August issue had another article on happiness – I hadn’t realised quite how much this blog is part of the zeitgeist until now. The article was called “Is content the new happy?” and questioned  why we are less happy nowadays than ever before, referring to a survey which showed people were happier in the 1930s – the days of the great depression. Alice Wignall, the author, thinks it is because we have so many options, we want for so much, that happiness is a continual and unfulfilled search.

She interviews many of the HPL’s favourite happiness people – Robert Holden from the The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin from the The Happiness Project (note to self: well done for coming up with an original blog name) and Alain de Botton’s School of Life (I actually hadn’t realised that the School of Life was De Botton’s baby, will definitely have to pop along now). She talks about how the things that we think make us happy – the payrises, the material things – only provide temporary happiness. And she suggests that our constant treadmill pursuit of happiness means we ignore the good things in our lives and are never just content with what we have. She thinks that if you lower your expectations and appreciate what you have, this contentment will make you truly happy. She even says she’s been finding happiness through gardening.

I was reading the whole thing going *jumps up* That’s what I’ve been saying!! Meeee!!!! I could have written this article myself  it was so similar to what I’ve been writing about lately. In my guest post on How To Be Happy  I said that happiness can’t be achieved by things, or bestowed upon you by other people, because it is a state of mind. You cannot be made happy, you have to become happy in yourself (as she says – buddhist monk style).  

I totally appreciate her point about not constantly trying to do or buy things to make you happier – better clothes, losing weight, a different partner, better social life. The problem is the world is our oyster nowadays – Facebook and twitter are full of people trying to show how much more fun they’re having than you are, and the list of what we can do and buy, where we can travel and live, is endless. But rather than constantly pursuing every possible source of happiness, we could all do with appreciating what we have, counting our blessings, being positive.

So here’s what I think. Your life generally splits into 4 categories – job, friends & family, partner, home. Typically, if one’s going well, something else will go tits up, apart from the occasional smug time when you realise that everything is perfect. And then it all goes tits up again. Rather than striving for perfection in everything, we all need to know ourselves enough to understand what we NEED from each. For instance, I know I have to have a job I love to be happy (and am very lucky that I now do). I also know that I am happiest when surrounded by my friends and family and any niggles with any of them will mean I’m not truly happy. I’d like a bigger flat but I’m working on the little one I have to make it even nicer and this makes me appreciate it more. I know I don’t need money or a flash lifestyle, but I do want to be loved for who I am.

So, don’t rely on anyone else’s standards of what makes them happy, don’t seek perfection because you won’t find it, don’t envy thy neighbour’s facebook photos and remember its your own little world that matters. Appreciate what you have. And call your mum more. And new lamp shades really make all the difference in a small flat, as do new pillows.

My guest post on the How To Get A Grip blog on “How To Be Happy”

Those who have read the HPL for a while, or who “like” us on the Facebook page will know that I love the blog How To Get A Grip for its straightforward advice on life, love, and why you should turn your TV off more.

So I was delighted to hear that Matt got a book deal. Both for the fact that he deserves it for his brilliant writing, and because he was so knackered by writing it that he invited me to do a guest post. So, I wrote a post on How To Be Happy and you can read it here. I really enjoyed writing it – for the discipline in summarising what this blog is all about, for inspiring me to follow my own advice, and for attempting to write in Matt’s no nonsense style.

I can’t wait to read the book when its out and in the meantime, I hope you enjoy my little post! I also reckon Matt has about a trillion more readers than I, so I’m looking forward to comments coming this way too – feel free guys x