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Archive for the ‘singles’ Category

No girl is an island

I know it’s been a while. There are a couple of reasons: 1) I’ve been a bit ill and whinging, moping and feeling sorry for yourself really take up your time; and 2) It was Easter so I’ve been home to experience some motherly love and a fridge that actually has food in it. But, as well as an endless cheese supply and intravenous gin, home also means an enforced state of complete and utter not-looking.

I was brought up on a little island, roundabout here. It’s a pretty place with lots of beaches and flowers and cliffs and things. In summer the sun shines, when it’s not raining, and the tourists burn like hog roasts. About 65,000 people are crammed into 30 square miles of space, which to give you an idea is about the same size as the centre of Nottingham. There the comparisons end though. There’s no sea in Nottingham and there’s no gun crime in Guernsey. It’s a fair trade in the circumstances.

But when I hit 15, this non-ballistic sea presented a major problem: it’s quite big and deep and does a jolly good job of trapping you on small land masses. (I am the next Attenborough.) And all that trapping doesn’t just trap you, it traps everyone else too. So basically, after a decent amount of time, say 15 minutes, you know everyone on your small land mass or you know someone who knows them. Or, beyond the age of 15, you know someone who’s snogged them. After 16 that becomes shagged them. After 21, had kids with. After 25, divorced from. Island life does not make for rich pickings in the love department.

I think the last time I snogged a Guernsey boy was in 1997. (Please, someone, correct me if I’m wrong.) Among my snogs to that point were a bloke who it later transpired had snogged my sister a few weeks before (I’m shuddering at the thought) and another who’d just snogged my mate, and I mean just. I’m sure there are other similar eye-scrunching episodes but I don’t want to think about them long enough to remember. We all do daft things when we’re young but these, in hindsight, were more than a little bit wrong.

Being a small community with a big sea to block it off from DNA infiltrators, this sort of snog-swapping goes on until much later in life. I would probably still be part of it if I were single and back on the Rock. I would probably have to be. On the evenings I went out during my last visit, I wasn’t even tempted to give a bloke the proper once-over – no-one presented any allure, or certainly nowhere near enough to warrant a rule-break.

There was limited choice available when I was 15, when everyone was still single and ready to suck the face off almost anyone else, provided they were of the appropriate gender and used a bit of Clearasil. When you get to 31, that small field has – between marriage, emigration, sexuality-swap and untimely death – slimmed down a lot. When you subtract all those who’ve exchanged fluids of some kind with a friend/enemy/neighbour/kid-you-used-to-babysit-for, there’s essentially no-one left.

On a night out, a friend of mine was telling me her brother was on the look-out for a nice young lady and bemoaning the fact there were no girls left on the island who didn’t have some kind of history with someone he knew. Later I realised, even if I lived on the island, I couldn’t go there – he once went out with one of my good schoolfriends. The tangled web is woven pretty tight on the island.

Don’t get me wrong – and please don’t any of my island friends send me a barrage of bloney abuse – Guernsey is great. Here, let me show you.

Fancy a dip? Don't forget to slather yourself in goose fat

Fancy a dip? Don't forget to slather yourself in goose fat.


Centre of pic - boys' college. Many a day spent hitching my skirt shorter past there.

Ah, a beautiful tax haven glinting in the sunshine


Guernsey cows - cuter than Guernsey boys

Guernsey cows - cuter than Guernsey boys


Guernsey is genuinely sunnier than the UK, you can see France on a clear day, the sea is clean, the beaches are amazing, the seafood is fresh, booze is cheaper, tax is lower, people are more relaxed, the only thing you have to worry about when walking home late at night is rats, and nowhere’s more than a 15-minute drive. It’s just that, well, nowhere’s more than a 15-minute drive. Unless you want to see a comedy show or some sculpture or a gig by a band with an actual record deal. Then it’s a 15-minute drive to the airport, a 45-minute flight to Gatwick and a 30-minute train journey to central London.

Clearly hauling ass off the island at 18, and barely making a reappearance for longer than a week since then, hasn’t worked out for me in terms of the man thing. But I’ve done a lot of personal, if not physical, growing instead. I got a degree (no unis on Guernsey), worked in the Valleys of south Wales (no unemployment on Guernsey), saw a dead tramp floating in a river (only 2? tramps on Guernsey), saw a river for that matter (river + island = 2 islands), went on strike (illegal on Guernsey), got some letters after my name (not all available on Guernsey) and entertained a number of menfolk, none of whom had snogged anyone I knew before (not available on Guernsey).

I’ve no doubt moving back to the island would immediately and completely zero my FAILs. I wouldn’t look at all. Not once. I wouldn’t want to look because of the reminders of transgressions past, and I wouldn’t have anyone to look at because even the transgressions past are married now. And a bit fat.

But I am as certain as I can be, with no empirical evidence whatsoever, that not-looking on Guernsey would get me no closer to finding myself a lovely chap than to continue looking my little buns off here in London. And at least here in London, I can unsuccessfully look my little buns off at a Daniel Kitson show or at The XX gig at Somerset House or with the beautifully unreal realism of Meredith Frampton at Tate Modern. Or, indeed, whinging and moaning about being ill, at home, alone, like a hermit. (Not one from Herm.)

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www.theunbrokenrule.com

There’s no big talk in me saying this: one of the rules of engagement in my experiment I know I will never break. It’s Rule 7 – No internet dating.

I’ve done this quite a bit in the past, having started out with the interbobular hook-ups in spring 2007. I thought it was a good way of increasing my chances of meeting a good egg. Pretty understandable. Nothing unusual there. In the following two-and-a-half years, I made guest appearances on four different dating sites for a total of about 10 months, never staying all up in men’s e-faces for more than two months at a time.

I can’t remember exactly how many men I met. I did just try to scribble their names in a list but (shamefully?) can’t remember them all. (I can, however, remember the name of every guy who’s poked me. I think… Yes, yes, I can. I just checked.) Anyway, at a pretty reliable guess, I probably dated about 20 men.

All except two of the 20ish meet-ups were either one-date wonders or went no further than date three. One moderate stand-out made it to six dates, another to three months. Out of all of them, I think I called it a day on the majority, the minority on me, and there were only maybe three of those that I was sad about. One of them was the three-monther, which is the only one to remotely qualify for the title of relationship. Even Carol Vorderman could work out those are not exactly the greatest odds.


(Had to be done.)

But apart from the fact that, for me, internet dating has proved a spectacularly abortive method of finding a relationship, there are many, many, many other aspects which make the whole thing a bit of a fucking drag. Let me enlighten you – if you’re one of the 14 people left on the planet who haven’t tried it yet. (This does get a bit epic, so put the kettle on, yeah.)

The judgements
When I started internet dating, I came into it all shiny-happy-open-mindy, not wishing to rule anyone out for any overly-stringent reasons. But the whole set-up of internet dating forces you to make conscious judgements about people from the outset.

Anyone who knows me will know I am a pedant. A know-all and a pedant. Especially when it comes to spelling, punctuation and grammar. I’m not in the least ashamed of my status. In fact, I’m proud of it. For me, his ability to string a good sentence together was of paramount importance in my search for a nice young man. I’m also a tallist. I like tall men. I think it’s some Darwinian force preventing me from having midget offspring. So those were two definites going on my “I Want” list for internet dates.

But when faced with questions about the job, income, politics, religion, drinking levels, desire for children and number desired(?!) of my potential Eggbert, I was driven down a far rockier path of judgement. I suddenly had to answer questions about factors I’d never even considered before.

In merely putting up a profile, you have to express preferences for age, height, body type, location. Any of those is, in itself, a judgement. You could just leave all the criteria blank, but if you do that you may as well stand at Piccadilly Circus with a sign round your neck saying ‘Single. Wanna bit?’ and be prepared for all-comers. The thing is, when you get into the selection-criteria game, it’s very hard to stop. It’s like poker without the big cash prizes, although the untelling faces are definitely the same.

All sites then use the boxes you’ve ticked to generate some form of compatability score, so when you flick onto someone’s profile you’re immediately given a superficial reflection of how closely they meet your wants. It’s all too easy for your eyes to dart towards this, your brain to think “Hmph, 76%?” and your judgement to say, “Not worth your eye-time, girlfriend.” That’s if you even get to see someone, because the profiles returned in your searches also heavily reflect the box-ticking you’ve done.

Basically, internet dating makes you judge very fast whether to bother even reading five paragraphs about someone, let alone writing them an email or actually meeting them, based on a badly-calculated percentage derived from a badly-defined set of criteria clicked on by a badly-in-need-of-a-shag you. And, remember, for all the open-mindedness you employ – or want to employ – chances are those who are on your receiving end are probably judge-judge-judging away based on their own handful of shoddy tick boxes and a few well-angled snaps.

The Hobson’s choice
Internet dating is fun for a couple of weeks. Really fun. Scrolling through hundreds of eager faces, chortling at their jokes, reading their tales of derring do, learning of their unusual pastimes or left-field taste in music – it’s like you’re in a good bar that’s rammed with people and you’re absolutely guaranteed a comfy seat to look for the best. People will also look at you, maybe send you a few messages, you’ll send some yourself and await their replies. Will they, won’t they, do they, don’t they – it’s all tantalisingly exciting. At first.

But after the first couple of weeks, it feels more like you’ve wandered onto the set of Cheers, because in this bar everyone knows your name. And you know theirs. And their photos. And their unimaginative headline. And their dullard hobbies. And their same-as-everyone job. And their “I hate talking about my self”. And their “I never know what to say”. And their total inability to spell – OH MY GOD! THE SPELLING! And their complete ignorance of even half-decent grammatical constructs – JESUS! THE GRAMMAR!

Get your house in order, big man

I feel a smiting coming on, and it ain't from up above.


It’s like being stuck on the most uninspiring fairground ride that just keeps going round and round and round and round and round and… Within a couple of weeks you’ve seen (and maybe done if you’re a slag) it all, so all there’s left to do is sit and wait for the newbies to arrive which, given the trickly pace at which they do so, you may as well go and do in an actual pub.

The repetitiveness
So all this dodgy-dating, identikit-browsing and judgemental-searching has been going on for a few weeks. Every day you log on to your email. You might have a few alerts from your site telling you about new messages or indicating percentage ‘matches’. You click through. You log on to the site. You go to your inbox there. You read the few messages. One might be interesting. The rest will be dull. Or odd. Or ctrl-C/ctrl-V. Or dirty. Or from a septuagenarian with five kids. A dirty one.

The one that’s okish you’ll follow up on, click through to their profile, check out the compatability score, flick through the pics. If they’re moderately attractive you might read the blurb. You’ll see a glaring spelling mistake or a liking for Michael Bublé or a “Where to start? I never know what to say”. You’ll hit the ‘new search’ button faster than your snappiest snap judgement. You’ll click on another profile, check out the compatability score, flick through the pics… Now repeat this process 20 times a day, every day, until you get it right. Yes, you’re a young, attractive Bill Murray and this is Dating Groundhog Day.

The people
Let’s not be too theoretical about things though. Here’s some good, real-life evidence in case you’re still unconvinced: a brief précis, a few lowlights if you will, of some of the people who’ve sapped hours of my valuable life on internet dates. Gawd love ’em. Someone has to. I’ve given them all appropriate film and TV pseudonyms, as much for my own amusement as their anonymity.
Ensemble cast: Left it to me to have the conversation because, although they remembered their fancy suit and clean shirt, they forgot their fucking personality.
Incredible Hulk: Three stone heavier than in his clearly ancient pictures who, after eating bar snacks, sat back triumphantly in his chair and picked his teeth. For 10 minutes. Right to the back.
Private Frazer: Sulked through the first bottle of wine and, as he cracked open the second, informed me, “I’ve had a shit couple of weeks.”
Dirk Diggler: So focused on his prime objective he nigh-on rammed my head into his lap before I’d finished my first drink
The Hooded Claw: Confirmed my belief that blurry photos in which faces are partially obscured by beer bottles indicate huge insecurities about appearance.
Astro Boy: Had a bit of the former-child-star about him, if you know what I mean. But then he was the former child star of a kids’ sci-fi TV show. My advice: no actors, especially those whose careers are dead.
The Man Who Cried Wolf: Keen-beaned through the first date then rang the next day all over-emotional to treat me to a 20-minute diatribe on how he’d not got over his perfect ex.
Dr No: Wouldn’t take no for answer. Still wouldn’t take no for an answer. Didn’t take me pushing him off me for an answer either. Just about took no for an answer when I wriggled to the floor and grappled to my feet, giving him the look of death as I pulled my hair out of my face. After accusing me of frigidity, as expected, he then announced as I opened the door, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out.” “I’m not,” I tersely replied and pushed it in his face. (A six-month break from internet dating ensued.)

So yes, as you can see, it’s no e-picnic out there in Interbob-datey-land. I don’t deny that it can be fun and I don’t deny that other people have found love through it – I just happen to find it more unfun than fun and I just happen not to know personally one single internet couple that has stayed the course to marriage/house-buying/civil partnership.

If you disagree with me, tell me about it. If you want to know another – extremely funny and well-worth-reading – side to the internet dating story, go and pay my friends over at The Dates of Wrath a visit. Get your info and make up your own minds, just remember that I’ve tried it extensively and, well, look what I’m doing here now. And if that doesn’t convince you…

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So far, I’ve written about the funny side of this experiment of mine. The last few days have made me think more and more about the – let’s not call it serious – the less funny side. I’ve poked fun at my inability to stop myself getting a good daily eyeful of man-talent, I’ve mocked my admission of congential perving, I’ve taken the piss out of the slutty tactics I employ in attracting bar service. But there’s more to me than comedy, lechery and boobs – I’ve got feelings, too, you know.

My friend Berit made a smart point when I told her about this little project and the rules I’d set myself. We were discussing what looking really means and she said it’s not so much the act of looking directly at people, or looking out for people to look at, which is the subject of my experiment; it’s more the expectation the looker holds in their mind when they do the looking. Or the making eye contact. Or the flirting, the chatting up, the meerkatting, the accepting invites with ulterior motives or the internet dating.

One for the compost

Welllll helloooooo laydeeeez!


But I’m not sure what my levels of expectation are. I know I’m not desperate for a boyfriend. If I were, I would have one tomorrow, and he would be fat, ugly and stupid, with the creative impulses of a cardboard box and the personality of a wizened parsnip. There’s no shortage of them and they’d certainly want to get into this hot dish.

I also know I’m not desperate to meet Mr Mazing. If I were, I’d be turning every fat, ugly, boring, thick, wrinkled parsnip into the man-apple of my mind’s eye. While I’m certainly open to giving chaps a chance and seeing where things go, in the past year I’ve called it a day on more close-but-not-quites than those I’ve thought way-hey!! about. There’s no denying, though, that I am on the look-out for a Mr Mazing. (I don’t say my Mr Mazing because I don’t believe in The One – why is a diatribe for another time maybe.)

Really, the only definite aim I can have for myself in this project is to stop looking for Mr Mazing altogether. Some of the rules I’ve set may seem reasonable in this pursuit, some may seem trivial. I mean, throughout any given day, we each make eye contact with any number of different people, most of them not big, hot hunks of manmeat – to stop doing that might seem silly. But my thinking was that regular, small adjustments would effect an overall greater change. Little acorns, mighty oaks, that sort of thing. Only it turns out the smaller changes are actually the hardest to make.

First off, there’s the whole thing of trying not to do something in fact making you far more likely to do it, or at least think about doing it. For example, if I tell you not to think about Ann Widdecombe naked except for sequinned nipple tassles and a heart-shaped merkin, all you’ll think about is Ann Widdecome naked except for sequinned nipple tassles and a heart-shaped merkin. (Yep, I nearly vommed too.)

Amnaesia's never been so appealing

Penny for your thoughts


It’s become partly the same for me. Not frequent visions of Widders in her birthday suit, but thinking about not looking at men is increasing the number of times I actually Iook. I’m having to reprimand myself for looking, or stop myself from looking, or dart my eyes away to avoid looking, so many times that I can’t genuinely believe I ever used to look this much before.

Secondly, there’s the possible influence of knowing I can’t look that’s leading me down the path of temptation towards the forbidden fruit of looking. Thirdly, there’s the fact that by reprimand or prevention, I’m drawing attention to the very act of looking in a way I never used to. Back in the good old days, the before-not-looking days, I would mindlessly gaze around rooms and tubes and streets hoping my eyes would light upon some tummy-wibble-inducing male specimen. Now I’m doing it mindfully while trying, mindfully, not to do it. And failing. A lot.

I said at the start about this being like a smackhead coming off crack or a fattie coming off biscuits. I meant it as a joke. With hindsight I see it’s a very hard reality. And this is only week two. I gave myself a year for this experiment because I wanted to be fair to the theory, give it a real airing and see if it holds up, avoid as many accusations of bias or sabotage as possible. But sitting here now, I’d be really surprised if I can keep going for a whole month, let alone 12. Not looking is a surprisingly exhausting activity.

Not looking also has unexpected knock-on effects on my general feelings. In trying to avoid looking at faces, I’ve looked at the ground a lot more. There’s a theory that, when someone looks down, they go inside their own mind either to understand a concept or listen to their internal voice. One positive side-effect of looking down has been greater avoidance of dog shit, but a more negative one has been far greater exercising of my little internal monologue. I am very bored of the sound of my own over-thinking voice right now.

Hubba hubba

Gratuitous placement of wibble-inducing manmeat

There’s also the issue of overcoming the fear of not looking. As I said, I’m not parsnip-desperate but I do want to find someone. Sooner would be better, of course, but I’d like to think the wait for Mr Mazing will seem worth it in the end. I only wish I knew when that end is due to come.

My response to the lack of clear timetabling is to keep myself occupied with the search. Taking away that distraction has left me twitching in its vacuum. What if I don’t notice the lingering look of a fellow tube-traveller? What if I miss out because I don’t drag myself to that party? What if Mr eMazing passes me by because I’m not touting myself on the interbob? To sit here doing nothing about a situation I’d like to change is not my usual style. It feels a little like fiddling while Rome burns – Rome burning being the coupling-up of all the non-parsnips: the sausages, the charcuterie, the manmeat that I believe is still out there.

People counter this fear of mine by trotting out the old “if it’s meant to be…” defence. Unfortunately, this doesn’t wash with me – as well as not believing in The One, I don’t believe in fate. That’s my barbecue-lighting humanist side. It leaves me thinking that if I’m not looking, it’s not going to happen. This is as much a test of a theory as it is a test of will.

So yes, while all these things float around my head, I’m also conscious of the fact I need to keep these chronicles entertaining. You and me, we can’t be just about having fun, but we can’t be just about getting serious either. So, I’ve decided, each time I look or break any other of my rules, I’m going to hit myself around the chops with a wizened parsnip. Not only will it remind me of what I’m not missing, it’ll also inject some comedy back into proceedings. And right now, I need to remember both the time I’ve wasted on bad root vegetables and the importance of living on the lighter side of lovelife sometimes.

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Day Two Situation Report.
FAILs: at least 14.

If I’m honest, I stopped counting. Not a good not-looking day, not good at all. A day of fails and a day of disgruntling realisation.

FAIL #1 happened 25 minutes after leaving home. Twenty minutes of that time I was riding my scooter. Obviously I was looking, but it’s a completely different kind of looking. Gawpface-lechmonger-looking and scooter-rider-looking are – and forever will remain – mutually exclusive activities. I like my innards where they are, not doused liberally across the tarmac of Elephant & Castle’s double roundabout hell.

That'll take more than a little Vanish

Today, as yesterday, I was caught out by an early Rule-1-breaching eye contact sesh, this time with a bloke who wasn’t even worth the ocular muscle movement. I marched on fail-free until lunchtime, aided and abetted by the barren man-wasteland that is my workplace. Then one little meerkat slipped out of the burrow as I went to fetch a sarnie. FAIL #2.

FAIL #3 occurred at the gym, potentially dangerous ground for rule-abiding citizens of Notlookingshire. Or it would be if my gym wasn’t in a very gay part of town and packed to the gunwales with hot, toned, well-dressed, good-smelling men with absolutely no interest in my lil’ piece of straight-girl ass. But it seems, even then, I can’t help myself. So yeah, FAIL 3: meerkatting gay guys. Way to go, girlfriend (finger shake, head waggle).

The remaining nine – nine, for fanny’s sake – were yet more breaches of Rules 1 and 4. I am absolutely, positively no good at this game. But the thing is, most of the blokes I’m looking at don’t even warrant my attention. I mean, I’m no Kelly Reilly (little known but she’d turn me) but I’m no Lorraine Kelly either.

I’ve realised it’s not that I’m looking, and failing, out of intrigue; I’m doing it purely out of habit. Male outlines are to me what bells were to Pavlov’s dogs, except when a man comes into view I look him up and down, not dribble everywhere. But then, there is no cause to dribble – most of the men I look at, and fail for, are only ringing bells with Quasimodo.

DING! DONG!

But there’s something these gym-buffed gay boys and ugly-stick-hit straight men have in common – they both raise the question: are all forms of looking unacceptable? That is, does anything fall outside the boundaries of looking? Or, what are the exceptions to the Rules? Alternatively, can I cheat?

It’s an important question; one that requires consideration, consultation and possibly a public inquiry. Your local authority will get back to you.

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I’m single and I’d rather not be. Lately, I’ve ventured to say that out loud instead of keeping it under wraps like one would with, say, syphilis or ownership of the Westlife back catalogue. My statement is usually rebuffed with a variation on one of the following themes:

a) But you don’t need a man to be happy.
I know that. Better than they do, given they’ve remained in their stale, friendshippy coupling with a dullard, lower-league man out of fear of being alone.

b) Someone will come along, trust me.
So when did God/ye gods/Mother Nature/Gaia/[insert spiritual reference here] choose to anoint their head with the power to predict the future? Spinsters exist. We were all taught French by one at school. Maybe I’m next. For spinsterhood, not teaching. Not until killing irritating kids is legal at any rate.

c) It’ll happen when you’re not looking.
Last but not least, possibly the most annoying and patronising platitude, which it seems impossible for anyone to deliver without clipping on Princess Di’s AIDS-baby-cradling face.

This one takes the most-annoying biscuit because, on top of what the others do – which is tell me I’m wrong to feel how I actually feel – it’s also telling me that I’m wrong for trying to do something about it. In other words, I may as well start memorising French books now because I’m heading back to the classroom with a heart as empty as my ring finger.

Let’s be honest here, no single person is ever not looking. Whether it’s on trains, in queues or up escalators; among friends, along streets or down the pub. Single people’s eyes habitually dart like a meerkat’s, scanning the path ahead for the next juicy beetle.

And in these modern times, alongside the traditional scanning-grounds, there’s an entire other world – the Planet Singletron – populated by those engaged in internet dating. (www.eSingletron.com* should you want to sign up, although remember, it’ll only happen when you’re not looking, so fix your gaze somewhere away from the screen.)

Why wouldn’t we all want to jump aboard that rocket into space, with a refuelling stop at Planet Singletron? Relationships are great; lovely things happen within them, wonderful things are learnt from them. That’s why people continue to strap in for the ride, despite the risk of heartache on re-entry.

What I argue with those people doling out platitude (c) is that, if people genuinely weren’t looking when they met their partners, they wouldn’t now be with them at all. They got into a relationship because they were open to one, which could never be classed as “not looking”. Ipso facto, those advisors of mine, despite their protestations to the contrary, were indeed “looking”. They just didn’t – and don’t – realise it. Looking happens, looking is constant, looking cannot not be done.

But here’s the rub: in the last three years I’ve looked high and low, long and hard. I’ve opened my mind, given some chances, taken far more, put myself out there, tried new hobbies, gone to parties, asked my friends, been on websites; and so far the results have been no more tangible than a few months (total) of fun, several unanswered texts, a couple of angry conversations, a modicum of tears, a flurry of punches (best not go into that here but suffice to say they were deserved) and a motherload of wasted effort. Looking is clearly not working for me.

So what happens if I do as my worldly-wise, vicariously-living attached friends say and stop looking? I think I’ve run out of reasons not to find out.

I’m 31 now. Granted, that’s not ancient but I’m certainly old enough to be more of a mid-summer chicken than a spring one. It does make me feel I’m not in a position to pledge never to look again. I’ll give it one year from 1 March, 2010, and see how we go. Sound fair? Good. Then let’s get on with it. Or rather, let’s get on with not.

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