Seasonal Change

This w end I spent some time preparing a boat for the Winter or in boat language ‘winterizing’ it. Boats are not used to being off the water and need some extra love to prepare them for the long lonely stretch ahead, without their beloved wind, ocean or sails. This is a time for them to repair and rest for the next season.

On the drive home from the boat the leaves were showing off their red, goldy, russet colored magnificence and the deer were scampering around, doing whatever it is they do before Winter sets in. It made me think about how best to winterize myself – what to take a rest from and how to reflect, reinvigorate and prepare for new things.

Whatever your situation, Winter brings opportunities. Some of us are like the boat and will spend Winter alone. Others are scampering around in a frenzy trying to find a filler boyfriend, while others still are already smuggly coupled up. Whichever category you fit into, we can all take a lesson from nature and make the most of this chane of season.

3 good reasons to motivate this season:

  1. Re-calibration: This is the perfect time to check back on your long forgotten New Year’s resolutions and your dormant to-do lists and ask yourself what it is that really matters to you right now. We are easily distracted from personal priorities in the warmer months, choosing friends and fun over the solo time required to dedicate to important goals. Figure out what your priorities are and start investing time in them.
  2. Productive hibernation: Once you have re-set your priorities, it’s a race against the New Year to make as much progress as possible, and what better way to do this than by staying home where it’s warm and buckling down to do some work. I’m really looking forward to less social and outdoor obligations and more time dedicated to the projects that are important to me. For those of you that are smuggly coupled up, you are still at risk of distraction. Make home time your time to be productive and try to schedule relationship time outside of the time required to reach your goals. For single people, be selfish while you can and put your personal goals first, sheduling time for seasonal fun around them.
  3. Seasonal festivities: I tend to have fantasies about all the books I’ll read and TV series I’ll plough through in Winter but this rarely happens because I’m soon distracted by this special season’s unique suite of attractions. In no particular order some of my favourite things to do over Fall and Winter include: Halloween dress up, Apple Cider, Christmas markets, Christmas present selection and giving, ice skating, wearing fluffy coats to the Theatre, sparkly shoes at holiday parties, New Years with friends, fireworks, walking/playing in snow, skiing. Plus, my personal favourite, because I’m a Southern Hempisphere person at heart, the Winter break to an exotic beach location.

I leave you with some seasonal wisdom from the poetry section of the Bible,  Ecclesiastes, (or if you’re a Beatles Fan you may recognize it as Turn Turn Turn…and can hum along as you read): Turn Turn Turn

Happy sewing to all this Winter!

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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):

IMG_9689

IMG_9584IMG_0885

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.

The Filler Boyfriend

I knew I needed one. I just wasn’t sure I would ever be able to pull it off. That elusive concept – a part time boyfriend. Someone you do boyfriend like things with but who isn’t really a boyfriend. He’s just occupying the space in-between until a real boyfriend comes along and sweeps you off your feet. I’d heard people talk about fillers and thought it sounded like quite a sweet set up but wasn’t convinced I could pull it off. I’ve always had a tendency to actually really like the people I’m with. Granted, it wears off quickly, but there has to be some initial person-to-person appreciation.

My friend says I have ‘un cœur d’artichaut’, a 19th C expression meaning to fall in love easily – a reference to the artichoke plant that allows its leaves to be easily yanked off to gain access to its delicious heart:

A Juicy Leaf for Every Crush

A Juicy Leaf for Every Crush

I’d never thought of myself in this way, but I suppose even though I  am quite selective about longer term partners I am really a helpless romantic at heart, which means I develop little crushes on all different types of men all the time. And so it came to pass that after a long Fall drought I decided to give this tall, dark, handsome filler a chance.

It happened in a remarkably predictable way. We met at a friend’s birthday and exchanged a few facts. He works in Finance, doesn’t like what he does. Works out a lot. Spent Summer in Ibiza. He bought me a drink. I spoke to other people. He felt neglected. He told me so. I said buying me a drink doesn’t guarantee my company for the night and I left. He was hooked.

So as most brave New York men would do he ‘befriended’ me on Facebook. Apparently this is a tester to see if you want them in your life. I ‘accepted’. Then nothing. The dating game is so boring.  So I suggested I owed him a drink and what do you know, we were ‘dating’. Drink here, dinner there. Movies at the cinema, movies at his place.  Great once a week winter-warmers. While I always suspected we shared very few common world views other than Obama for President and couldn’t be sure after date 4 or 5 if he had ever made me laugh, I thought it was worth pursuing until a real boyfriend came along. Anyway, you’re always a more desirable flower to bees when there’re already other bees buzzing around trying to extract your pollen, right?

So on we rolled with our weekly text message exchange. While I might have the heart of an artichoke I have very low tolerance for bad spelling and poor planning. Below are a few randomly selected examples of texts that signaled the beginning of the end:

  1. Dinner tonightIf u dont have plans offcourse  (concerns: no punctuation and of course I have plans)
  2. K (concerns: lazy, lazy, lazy)
  3. Felix cumpleanos (concerns: I don’t speak Spanish and he does but I know that’s not spelt right AND its 11pm on my birthday – too late)
  4. Dinner drinks tonight (concerns: no punctuation and NO – I have plans tonight)

But spelling and planning are not everyones thing. On the plus side, the man came to the ballet with me – extra points for effort. The real demise came when I trekked all the way to the Upper West Side for dinner at his place one night. I had my concerns when he asked me to bring a side dish but shrugged it off. Then I arrived and I swear he was in his pajamas and not in a sexy way. It all fell apart from there  – he asked me to cook the steak, there was no wine, he banged his knife on the table while we were dining and afterwards lay down on his sofa and pulled up the basketball on his iPad. A wave of shock washed over me – he had taken me as a wife. I skipped out of there as  fast as I could in my heels and zoomed down to Soho and the real world for a friend’s party. I’d had my fill and would not be going back.

All round , it was a good experience but I’ve decided the bee metaphor was misguided and adopted a new philosophy for Spring: ‘if you don’t get off the wrong train, you won’t be at the station when the right train comes along’.

The Dating Fatigue Experiment – Part II

Most frequently asked questions about my New York life: are without fail: ‘Have you started dating yet?’ or ‘What’s the dating scene like? The answers to those questions, respectively, are yes and confusing. If you recall, a few months ago I pledged to go on one date a week for 4 weeks. I like to think I fulfilled that mission, even if it was all with the same person.

Despite my small sample size, I did manage to emerge with some interesting findings:

You can date someone for several months without a) really getting to know them and b) it being a relationship. Dating in New York is a sport. Something you do on a regular basis to to ensure you keep your eye in. Just another enjoyable way to pass the time. As an American, you’ve been doing it since childhood, so you understand all the rules and are probably quite good at it.  The rest of us need a few things explained in order to participate. The most critical rule that I’ve had explained to me by American girls is ‘The Conversation’ (or sometimes ‘The Talk’) According to this rule:

  • The Conversation determines the exclusivity of your relationship
  • If you have not had The Conversation you should assume he is seeing other people
  • The Conversation is usually initiated by the woman
  • Men do not like having The Conversation
  • The Conversation should not be initiated too soon
  • The Conversation should be kept light hearted (is received best when introduced with humour) and appear unthreatening.
  • The Conversation is not good pillow talk

My own attempt at The Conversation was admittedly amateur and ignored many of the above principles, but then in my defense I’ve not been playing this game very long.  In fact, I didn’t really even want to have The Conversation – I was more concerned with what was happening in the present than about where things ‘were going’ but then I suppose that’s one and the same in Dateland. So I went for a simple yet strong opening question: ‘Like, I was just wondering, what are we doing – are we dating?’ (trying to play the ignorant foreigner card but perhaps too threatening and not light hearted enough in hindsight). In response to my question he did two things: First he positioned himself on the moral high ground by affirming that we were in fact dating inasmuch as he was not dating anyone else (I like to think of it as dating by default). Second, he gave me a full run down of his frantic Summer schedule, including business trips, expected visitors and w ends in Montauk. He concluded by saying that he should have more free time in the Fall. Naturally, in response to that I said I would clear my schedule beginning October and look forward to romantic walks with him in Central Park as an abundance of golden leaves fall softly around us. Like – NOT!

And so out of this little experiment the number one rule of American dating is revealed: Do not put all your eggs in one basket – or at least not until you’ve had The Conversation. Critical learning if I’m to be in a relationship by the Fall.

The Dating Fatigue Experiment. Part I

So on Saturday, having just posted a blog full of wise intent – I self quote: ‘Break all communication with men, rely on them for nothing’, I met up with a guy friend and he gave me some alternate wisdom. Apparently when you find yourself (for example) in a ridiculously futile text messaging scenario with a guy and want to swear off all men for life, you should, in fact go the opposite way and embrace the world of Dating–for–Dating’s sake. I needed to give myself dating fatigue – nothing better for clarity.

I had, up to this point always wholly rejected this approach. What is the point of spending an awkward evening with someone you can’t imagine ever having anything interested to talk about with or ever wanting to kiss.  I like to think that this  in-built aversion stems from my Europeanly romantic sensibilities. It is certainly not a commonly shared value here in New York. Here dates are not about the person, they are very much about the date. Where did he take you? What did you wear?

But my friend had started to make sense, if I made a point of saying yes to everyone who wanted to take me on a date, I would either very soon be so sick of it all and not want to be with anyone or I would have met someone great. Either way, ridiculously futile texting scenarios would be avoided.

So we shook on it over an Original Sin Cider in Soho. I would go on at least one date a week for four weeks, after which I would surely be cured. I was excited. I would date all types – the guy who ‘loaned’ me his YSL scarf to keep me warm, the guy who whipped Gwen Stefani into shape after she gave birth,  the dull French guy, the ad exec turned artist guy, the top chef guy – all the guys I’d sidestepped before.  What had I been thinking? If I’d started this experiment in January I could’ve been fatigued by now and ready to focus on the important things in life.

Anyway, carpe diem etc so out I went that night subconsciously ready to line up Date 1 with the first toad to show interest.  I felt a bit more relaxed about it all as my guy friend had also told me that, just because they buy you a drink or dinner, it doesn’t mean you have to see them again or even kiss them. How had I missed these critical details before? In my new super nonchalant state, the thing that I’d been waiting to happen all along happened…

I met someone I literally had too many interesting things to talk to about and someone I could definitely imagine kissing.  My first thought was: Crap! What about the other 3 dates?? I don’t want to waste them. But then I may not have to. Afterall, this is Manhattan and my Mr Interesting and Kissabale might be dabbling in a very similar experiment and on the lookout for his weekly quota.

Happily, something tells me this one might be taking a slightly longer term view. That something could’ve been that when he asked me if I was going to the Hamptons in the Summer,  and I replied I didn’t have any plans to, he very swiftly mentioned that he has a timeshare in Montauk…

Quite frankly, I can’t think of anywhere better to be fatigued this New York Summer!

No Such Thing as Just Friends

Being new to a place you track down all your connections. Friends of friends. Friends of random connections.  You trace some of your first Facebook friends to find that their current city matches yours. Bonus. People you actually once knew are again in close proximity.

But time affects your memory of interactions.  I can hardly remember what it was like to spend time with these people.  At the time of befriendment I was happily studying in Paris and in a relationship and therefore had the  luxury of having lots of pure guy friendships. A rarity for me, sadly. I’m a girly girl. I like my girly friends and talking about girly things, including boys. That’s not to say I don’t like having guy friends. I very much do. They bring a really fresh perspective and some handy dude skills. It’s just that the majority of guys I’ve been friends with over the years at some point reveal themselves to being quite open to the prospect of being more than friends. As a result, I’ve grown to believe that ‘There is no such thing as just friends’. Unless:

  • Caveat 1: Neither party is attracted to the other at all (highly unlikely)
  • Caveat 2: One party is not attracted to the opposite sex
  • Caveat 3: One party is in a relationship

Caveat 3 (and suspicions of caveat 2) recently found me lulled into very comfortable guy-friend territory with one such rekindled Facebook friend from my Paris days. Despite him being self-evidently handsome in that Tommy Hilfiger catalogue way, I’ve always maintained that he’s not my type.  Tall, olive skinned, with an athletic build and floppy dark hair really just isn’t my thing. The model scouts who’ve persuaded him to quit his job at McKinsey may be into that look, but not me. Which is why it’s so liberating that we can just hang out as friends. Turns out after all these years we have a lot in common – not only an appreciation of French and Management Consulting but apparently also obscure arty events,  Brooklyn ‘raves’ and drinking…

Turns out the Tommy Hilfiger look is fine over coffee but not over a drink or 5, which can put ‘friends’ in a very precarious position. I should have known better (especially given caveat 3) but we were having so much fun, what being at the ‘rave’ n all that it all just felt like a parallel universe at the time. A natural extension of the friendship.

So now, in broad daylight, the question becomes ‘Can we go back to being just friends?’ I’ve never experienced it myself and usually prefer total avoidance but I’ve definitely heard examples of where it has been done successfully so I’m keen to give it a try. I’m sure, if I put my man hat on, we can go right back to ‘normal’. As such, I’m looking forward to many friendly coffees gradually obliterating the memory of any un friend-like behaviour.

Love at Last Chance

As much as I love London I will not be an apologist for wanting to leave. People have tried to pull the whole ‘tired of London tired of life’ speech on me but I really doubt that when Samuel Johnson uttered these words he had any trouble getting a decent drink in this town in the early hours of the morn. Things have a changed a bit since the 18th century and so I find myself shamelessly fleeing to the city that never sleeps, where I do not expect to go thirsty at 2am.

Big moves are always daunting but thankfully there have been a number of recent signs that the world is aligning in support of my adventure. A few Saturdays ago, for example, I was at a funk party at Paradise by way of Kensal Green when the DJ affirmed my path with two back-to-back renditions of New York, New York. Wow, I previously hadn’t fully appreciated the prophetic nature of this track. Ol Blue Eyes clearly wrote  ‘If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere’ just for me.  Ok, judging by the way the rest of Paradise was getting down I was not the only one who felt like he was speaking to them, but then how many of them can flash a fresh 5 year U.S. visa in their passports?

The next firm sign that my move has full planetary support is that I managed to strike up a romance days before skipping town. People had issued advance warnings about ‘falling head over heels’ or ‘meeting the man of your dreams’ at the very last minute and admittedly I do have a bit of a habit when it comes to pre country-change flings.  But these usually occur two weeks before scheduled departure so with four days to go I really thought I was in the safe zone but apparently this is not so until you’ve passed customs. The last chance fling will emerge when least expected.  It will present itself in the innocent guise of friendship, food and wine but can quickly transform into a frenzy of teenage-like romance, giddy declarations of the fleeting nature of time and seriously late nights.  If you do find yourself in this situation (and believe me if you are moving you will) I offer you the following guidelines:

Do:

  • Jump at the opportunity – nothing says farewell better than a smokin’ hot man
  • Bask, revel, immerse yourself – it will not happen again any time soon
  • Neglect your friends a bit – they’ll understand

Don’t:

  • Neglect your friends completely
  • Forget to pack
  • Miss your flight
  • Fall in love

And critically, do not, under any circumstances, suggest that they can visit you.  That has a high probability of resulting in a long distance relationship and we all know how much fun those are.

If you can follow these simple guidelines I very much recommend the love at last chance experience. It’s an intoxicating time bubble in which none of the usual mundane dating considerations apply.  As long as you recognise that the nature of it is totally circumstantial you can’t go wrong.

So in keeping with my own rules, I’m off to South Africa for the month where developing-world telecoms will make it easy for me to go underground and ensure that I emerge very single in New York in the New Year.

Solace in the City

 

Sometimes you just need a little Time. Time for your mind to be quiet. Time to reflect, replenish. The obvious place to do this is the sanctity of your own home. Apparently not an option to single Londoners sacrificing at least a third of their income to reside in rodent infested house shares. This harsh reality hit me at 5am on a Sunday after a frustrating three hours of tossing and turning to the party sounds of the Euro-tastic revelers in my basement. They’d invaded the night before to celebrate my housemate’s brother’s birthday. Yes that’s housemate’s brother. The guy doesn’t even live here. Don’t get me wrong, I love the odd Erasmus party as much as the next ex-international student but it’s always more fun at someone else’s house, right? Personally, I prefer my first encounter of the day not to be with a drunk person rifling through my dirty laundry in search of his coat.

So if I had been in need of some Time before I was desperate for it now. With over 10,000 inhabitants per square mile in my beloved borough of Westminster, said peace and quiet was always going to come at a price. Hence it didn’t take much rationalization to convince myself that £100 for a deep tissue massage at the Langham’s Chuan Spa was an utter bargain. Sure £100 for an hour’s worth of self-indulgence feels a bit decadent but for a whole afternoon in the sanctity of one of the most delicious hotels in town, it’s a total bargain.  Having an unnatural faith in the power of the online review I was expecting a ‘luxury haven …where guests transcend into ultimate relaxation through an individually planned holistic journey…designed to re-balance and revitalize the body and soul’.

Yeah right!

More like  ‘average massage followed by use of a cramped pool, jacuzzi and sauna polluted by the noise of small children… finished with some ‘contemplation’ time on an uncomfy lounger with only a thin screen separating you from the yapping receptionists ’.  If I was being objective I would have to point out that the facilities are really just part of the hotel’s Health and Fitness Centre and if I was staying there I’d be delighted to pop down for a dip in the skinny pool. But don’t pretend to be the ultimate Eastern spa experience. And whatever you’re trying to pass yourself off as, the distinct lack of snacks and reading material is unforgivable. Paying £4 for a bottle of water and having to hunt for the Sunday paper surely does not harmonise one’s yin and yang.  All this, topped with the predictable dollop of snobbery fitting of luxury establishments, was a recipe for a thoroughly stressful afternoon.

Luckily we needn’t all make the same mistakes. If you are looking for a quality relaxation experience that won’t leave you wishing you’d donated the cash to the Church of Scientology instead, I highly recommend the Spa London, York Hall. This major VFM option is kindly brought to us by Greenwich Leisure Ltd and Tower Hamlets Council, offering legitimate day spa indulgence for your average frazzled urbanite. A casual £23 gives you access to a pristine hammam with a dazzling array of Turkish Baths, plunge pools and relaxation areas kitted out with reading material, snacks and rehydrants a-plenty. You will leave rejuvenated and with a surplus in your pocket. In my experience, always a clear path to maximum satisfaction.

http://www.spa-london.org/home.asp