Three things I learnt in my 3 single years

In my post about what I learnt from a 4 year break up I mentioned that I also learnt ‘lots of other things, about myself, the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person I want to be with.’ This is true and here’s a breakdown of that journey.

Single Year 1: Learning about myself

In my first year of being single, amidst the initial trauma of a break up, the first thing I learnt is that I knew my own mind enough to have made the right decision. While I was stuck with some feelings of guilt, the focus shifted to what I really wanted in life. Where did I want to live? What kind of career did I want? I realized I could be anyone I wanted to be and anywhere in the world. I only had myself to consult. This was liberating but also overwhelming. Should I quit my job and work on yachts in the South of France? Or should I get a job in a cinema on a ski slope and learn to ski? I seriously investigated any kind of life that was nothing like my current.

I concluded that I didn’t want to live in London anymore. I was stagnating there and I wanted an adventure. And that’s how I got plotting to move to New York. I had a goal with a unique focus and it made me feel like my own person again.

What I also noticed about that year, on reflection, was that I sought male attention. I wasn’t used to being alone and made a string of bad dating decisions. I dated more than one person at a time, I hooked up with a friend, I had my first one night stand. All a disaster. I slowly realized that I was affected by the behavior of these men I supposedly didn’t care about. The common advice for singles is ‘make the most of it’ but I would be more selective if I had to do it over again.

Single Year 2: Learning about the kind of person I wanted to be

Freshly arrived in New York for my adventurous new life, I adopted the ‘yes man’ approach. I said yes to everything. I didn’t necessarily stay friends with all those people I met in the early days but sometimes I met other people through them. I also did a lot of solo travel to locations I’d always wanted to go to, like Mexico and girls trips to party places like Ibiza. I even went on a mom daughter cruise around the Caribbean and discovered that my mom was a very cool person and travel buddy.

Girl Time in Ibiza

                                                               Girl Time in Ibiza

Party Boat with Mom

                                                             Party Boat with Mom

While on this busy exploratory streak, I also learnt that I had some work to do on myself. There were things I was fearful of, things I was angry about and things I didn’t know what to feel about. I decided to self examine more. The easiest way to do this (if you live in the US and have health insurance) is to go to a therapist. I don’t say the best way, just the easiest. If you can’t afford a therapist, I would suggest setting a timer at home and talking to yourself as if there is a therapist listening on a chair opposite you. One hour of uninterrupted time with yourself will tell you everything you need to know.

With a little bit of probing I learnt that I could let go of certain emotions and stop fearing certain others. I felt much calmer about life in general, less like I was racing against a clock or competing against a sea of un-named faces. I spent more than a year away from my family that year, fighting against the balance of what was expected of me and what I wanted to give. By the end of that year, there was still lots to learn but I felt like I knew what I was striving for. I’d made enough mistakes to see what needed more work but I stopped self-flagellating.

Single Year 3: Learning about the kind of person I wanted to be with

In my third year, I decided to reset. I was looking for discipline and rigour. I was tired of saying yes to everything, tired of eating out and staying out late. I moved into an apartment by myself, stopped drinking for a month and signed up for a cycling training program with New York Cycling Club, doing long distance rides in a group every Saturday for 10 weeks. I felt fit and strong and focused. I stopped dating (for a bit) and I don’t recall but I apparently told a friend at the time that I wanted to be in a real relationship. So I know that I knew what I wanted.

I spent the Summer with friends going to the beach, sailing, cooking at home. I didn’t realize that in amongst this group of friends was the person I would end up being with. We would talk about everything, including what we were looking for in a person. I recall citing a list of ’10 things I was looking for in a man’ to him on a car journey home.  Things like ‘quietly confident, ambitious, must think he’s won the lottery, good face’. I remember it fleetingly crossing my mind that the American fit the description of most things on my list other than thinking he’d won the lottery (he showed no interest at the time). I think it was this exercise of actively naming what I wanted and recognizing that there was someone in front of me who represented the majority of the criteria that prompted me to explore the option when it became available.

7-10 of The 10 things I look for in a man: Feed me, take me to the beach, take me on a boat (please):

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Don’t get me wrong, three single years is a long time to learn all these lessons and if I were to find myself single again, I hope I wouldn’t have to re-learn all of them. I was also 3 years away from 30, trying to make a life in a new country, hating my job and at one point adjusting to the idea of having a very sick father. But we all have things going on all the time and break-ups and being single probably won’t come at a good time. Whatever your circumstances, I guarantee it will be a great time to learn about yourself.

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I’m a Proud Legal Alien

Having morphed into a consummate New Yorker in just six months I wasn’t too sure how I would feel about being reunited with my ex-city. But stepping off the Heathrow Express onto the grey cobbled backstreets of Paddington, I was overwhelmed with a fondness bred out of familiarity. Rush hour was in full swing, with commuters in their Burberry trenchs muttering customary ‘pardon mes’ as they scurried past.  Luckily the men are never in so much of a hurry that they forget their manners – I had one heaving my suitcase up the stairs before I’d had a chance to feign weakness. Ah, gracious home to chivalry and, what’s that smell!? Pie!  The pervasive whiff of Cornish pasties made me mourn all the other great British products (mainly Waitrose, Asos and the BBC) now lacking in my everyday life.

Mmm. The British are So Wise.

For the next few days I re-kindled my love for London. I found myself lured back into the same smelly pubs and Kings Rd clubs crawling with Public School boys that made me want to leave the city in the first place. But this time my experience was brightened by nostalgia.  Here, in the land of my father’s birth, I was understood without any repetition or clarification required. It was liberating to be able to drop a sarcastic witticism without its literal meaning being dissected (typically the response to my brand of humour in New York).

Even McyDees is Witty in Britain

Besides the cultural nuances, there are some distinct differences between London and New York and how their people live. Some of these, I believe are purely a result of the physical environment: Manhattan is small and compact compared to sprawling London, meaning you can cover more ground in a day or even an evening. You can walk to most places or hop in a taxi if you are rushing (you often are, given you can fit more into the day). This means that while New Yorkers are busy, busy, busy, they tend to be left with more energy than Londoners, who are fatigued before they even surface from the tube.

A good illustration of this is a typical Friday night in London versus New York:

In London you emerge exhausted from a long week of work, fall into the nearest pub with your colleagues and have a good old moan over five white wine spritzers before staggering home again at 8pm, most likely to your boyfriend who has just performed a parallel ritual in some other part of town.

In New York you emerge exhausted from a long week of work. But you might workout (its literally survival of the fittest in this town) or if you’re feeling defiant you might pop home for a nap. Then you’ll take some time to transform yourself into a fresh un-work look for a whole new chapter of Friday – the Night, which consists of dinner, drinks and possibly dancing.  If you have a boyfriend (unlikely given the competition) he too will be out. In New York in my experience, couples also venture out to socialize on a Friday night – I suspect they are just more likely to have opted for a nap first.

Maybe it’s this relative ease of existence that translates into another stark contrast between Londoners and New Yorkers. Londoners are notorious for moaning about their city – the sticky tube, the gloomy weather, the silly mayor.  New Yorkers LOVE New York . I love NYC logo is not just for tourists, it’s proudly displayed on everything from dry-cleaning to the plastic bags used for take out. When people ask me how I like it here and I say ‘I LOVE New York’, their eyes sparkle – right freakin’ answer!

 

Non Touristy Tees

Maybe it’s because of these two features – an abundance of energy and a fanatical love of their city, that New Yorkers pride themselves in being walking Time Out guides.  Any New Yorker worth his salt (artisanal preferably) knows what exhibitions have just opened, what restaurants are ‘trending’, what restaurateur they were opened by (and the chronological order of the places he opened before that), where to buy the best local organic grass-fed nitrate-free uncured bacon and what dj is playing in what hidden warehouse in Williamsburg. If you don’t know these things or worse, don’t find them of interest, you will struggle to obtain authentic New Yorker status. In London, all you have to know is who got knocked off X Factor at the w end, in New York the stakes are a bit higher.  But then so too are the rewards.

Decline of a London Hair Dynasty

I was feeling in a bit of a ‘decline’ this w-end. For anyone not familiar with this expression it is not quite as dramatic as the fall of the Roman Empire or anything but designates more of a temporary personal decline.  It was coined by my mom when our little Maltese Poodle returned from the doggie parlour having had all her beautiful white curls rudely shorn off. She crawled up under a bed in the spare room and didn’t come out for two days. Poor little thing felt too exposed.

My decline could quite possibly be linked to my own harrowing hair experience. My London hairdresser, Justin, and I had a special bond. Yes, we had years to build it but he understood me from the beginning. Knew what I was feeling even before I did, could advise me on whether the guys I was into were gay or not and most importantly, knew how to make me a pretty natural blonde (whilst consistently undercharging) such that people would ask: ‘You get your hair dyed – really?’ Seeking desperately to emulate this precious relationship I had been to great pains to review every entry in Yelp returned in a ‘hair salon blonde’ search prior to settling on Kris at the Little Hair Shoppe for $$. Given that prices range from $-$$$$ I thought I’d be in a safe zone.  It started out well – I warned him that I was VERY nervous to be changing hairdressers (I love and miss you Justin) and he responded reassuringly that he would be VERY gentle with me. He appeared to listen to my precise instructions on cut and colour and then got to work while I ate my sandwich and we bonded over what Rihanna had worn to the Grammies. $330 and 3 hours later I left thinking it had gone OK, but a yellow wall and soft light in the salon meant that I couldn’t be too sure.

That ‘just stepped out of a salon’ feeling was quickly crushed when my roomie’s dagger went straight in with a blunt: ‘But don’t you get your roots done too?’  $330! I could’ve bought a return flight and hotel package to Puerto Rico and got natural sun streaks for that price. I know I said I wanted it to look ‘natural’ but seriously…

The most frustrating part is that you can’t return highlights.  I’m usually a very savvy consumer and demand ultimate satisfaction from each and every my purchases but I’ve decided to put this one down to bad luck and New York naïveté and next time make sure I get an exact quote for ‘super long’ hair and remember to take Justin’s carefully penned hair script.  Even then, finding the perfect stylist is like finding the perfect boyfriend – you have listen to your instinct in the first five minutes of interaction with them. When I saw how Kris had his hair braided and heard him utter ‘I usually like to do chunkier sections’ I should’ve run as fast as I could to John Frieda on the Upper East Side.

Lesson learnt. Now I just have to mentally pull myself out from underneath that bed for the next 3 months.

For blondes lucky enough to live in London please do yourself a favour and go see Justin at Fresh in South Ken.

Soosh-Fix

Sushi is not a special occasion food for me. I feel like it often. This is a problem in London, where finding a happy place somewhere between Nobu and Yo Sushi is a massive challenge. My first 7 sushi–eating years were spent in South Africa and left me with a totally warped sushi world-view. You can’t expect fresh quality fish at reasonable prices to be the norm when you stray too far from the ocean. Such luxuries are reserved for places like Sydney and Cape Town.  Fact. So I’ve pretty much given up on Sushi in London. Unless it’s an occasion that merits an outing to a quality establishment like Dining’s, I tend to settle for a lunchtime box from Itsu.

Hence my excitement last week when a similarly discerning and sushi-loving friend announced she’d become a local at a little soosh spot on Lavender Hill.  Her sister’s boyfriend happens to own the place and has adopted her (and her friends) as in-house tasters and atmosphere makers. Not that he needs much help. The menu offers a full range of yummy and beautifully crafted Sashimi, Nigiri and all the Makis as well as platter options in all the right combos. The lighting and décor are glowingly dark and Lost in Translation-esque.

The best part is the intimate service. So attentive was the sister’s boyfriend that a second complementary bottle of wine was on its way to us while we’d hardly dented the first. Naturally we had no intention of drinking it but the problem with the two of us is that we don’t have the best track record when it comes to Monday night outings. The last time I visited Lavender Hill with her saw us consume five Margueritas in way too quick succession while plotting our 3-phase guide to a surviving a break up.  The result was a splitting Tuesday headache. So predictably for us, it only took a few more morsels of Uramaki before we were tucking into our second refreshing bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and had taken up work on the book again.

This place is a very welcome filler for London’s big sushi gap. £20 later we’d washed down a whole lot of top quality soosh, had way too much wine and a great night. If it wasn’t for my imminent move to New York (please God let there be quality sushi for non celebrities) the real appeal for me would be that they’ve got three more branches in Central and West London so no overland train journeys required for a quick fix. Oh Ukai, if only we’d been introduced sooner!

Beware Mr Nice Guy

You have to be very careful what you wish for. I’ve been ranting to pretty much anyone who will listen that I need a man. Any healthy specimen will do. Just some casual, no strings, unsentimental fun. You’d be surprised at how much of a challenge this search can be. It has taken me a year of singledom to realise that I attract two types of men: those who are in love with me and those who don’t give a shit. The in-between ‘I think you’re a cool person, let’s hang out for a bit and part fondly’ is nowhere to be found.

This, my last w end in London, before a Trans-Atlantic move saw my housemate make an attempt at a declaration of affection after a year of co-habitation. Sadly, the Nice Guy, is much harder to deal with than the Asshole. It’s very hard to know what to do with the Nice Guy. In this particular case I had to untwirl myself from his outstretched arm, take a massive step back and respond to his ‘have I got this wrong?’ with a big fat ‘yes’ and carry on doing the dishes. Awkward.

The start of the week saw the appearance of Nice Guy II. Smarter this time. Sneaky even. Didn’t see him coming. He’s a colleague so the invite to some ridiculously posh ball at the Institute of Directors almost came in the guise of a networking thing. I responded to the offer in the same way that any self-respecting woman would do on a Monday – by saying I’d have to check my schedule and revert.  All of five minutes had passed when I got an e-mail announcing that it was the last day for ticket sales so he’d taken the liberty of securing me one but was sure I would be able to suffer the champagne and four-course meal. Oh and PS. It’s a black tie event. Bloody cheek! I mean seriously, who has that kind of dress just hanging in their closet? I had a horrible feeling my favourite skintight very-above-the-knee 100% black leather dress wouldn’t be appropriate.

Naturally I sought a range of trusted female council on how to approach my To-go or Not- to-go dilemma.  The resounding conclusion was logical: tricked into it or not, I must go where the champagne will flow freely. So I’ve managed to dig out a very long, very not skintight black dress and will be generously be providing this chancer with the pleasure of my company. I can only pray for the absence of an awkward moment on the night and that this will be the last of any big gestures from the Nice Guys for some time to come.