Female Friendships, and the Only Resolution I’m Making in 2017

In 2017 I will be drinking alcohol and eating cheese. If I exercise more it’ll be because I’m walking my friends’ dogs, dancing on the tables, and searching for cool bars. I don’t care about having a six pack, and if my eyebrows are better, you can guarantee it’s because my friend gave me a tutorial. 2017 is the year that I’m going to celebrate my female friendships.

Through the years, they’ve always been there for me. The ones that told me that the boy was punching, over a fancy gin cocktail, when I got dumped. The ones that don’t just hold my hair back when I’m sick, they plunger the sick out of the sink, tell me they still love me, and bring me lucozade and crisps the next morning. Girl friends should never be taken for granted, because through the boy troubles, the family troubles, and the work troubles, they’re always the ones who have got your back.

Women are encouraged to always be in competition with one another. Is she prettier? Smarter? She’s always more successful, and have you seen her Instagram? To die for. More and more though, I’m realising that women have something special, and that is our friendships with each other. I’ve never had such a large group of amazing female friends. Spread across the globe, I’ve got a girl for every occasion. They’re clever and funny; whether I’m waxing lyrical about feminism or discussing the latest highlighter, debating American politics or crying about how hard being an adult is, they always join in. I’ve never felt so lucky to know so many amazing women.

I challenge you to message them all, tonight, and tell them how much they mean to you. I guarantee that you’ll get back a tirade of love and affection. Every woman that has helped you through something difficult, that has lifted you up when you felt that you couldn’t go on, that has told you that you have green in your teeth when no one else would. And you have done something for that woman in return that shows how generous and loving you are. If I wonder what kind of woman I am, I look to my friends. Would they be friends with someone that I couldn’t be proud of? Of course they wouldn’t, they would only ever be friends with someone that I could be proud of. Those strong, special, generous, loving women that I call my own would never let me be less than one of them. And that is a precious gift.

So, to all of you, to the girls whose lipstick I steal in the toilets, to the ones who bring me wine and sympathy when I can’t stop crying, to the ones that tell me I’m a sassy, beautiful queen when I feel anything but: I love you. I love you more than I’ve loved any boy. I love you when you are slaying in your best clothes, I love you when you’re crying in some dickhead’s old jumper. You are special, you are everything I dreamed of, you are strong and courageous. I’m proud to know you. I’m proud to call you my own.

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Bare Faced Prejudice, And Why It’s Not Brave To Go Without Makeup.

I can think of a lot of times in the last few months when I was brave to show my face. I was brave to show my face at work the day after my breakup. It was red and blotchy, not merely snotty but pouring with snot, and prone to crumple at the slightest setback. I was brave to show my face at work again, weeks later, when my medication had reacted badly with alcohol and I had spent two days puking after going out for drinks on the company account. It was shamefaced and pale, no matter that it wasn’t my fault, it knew it had done wrong. But I can also tell you when I wasn’t brave to show my face: every single day that I chose not to wear makeup.

In spite of the fact that, in a world where women are risking their lives for their right to be educated, for their right to freedom, for their right to have their voices heard, I would never dare to call myself brave, other women have been calling me just that.

“I love that you don’t wear makeup! It’s so brave!”

“I wish I was brave enough to go barefaced!”

When did we allow leaving the house in our natural state to become an act of absolute courage? It’s not just my friends that compliment me on the audacity to go without makeup, but also strangers, women I have never met come up to me in the supermarket and compliment me. Two drinks in on a Friday night, women sidle up to me at the bar: “You’re so brave! I love that!”

I’m hardly the first person to discover this phenomenon, in 2014 £8 million was raised for cancer research in just six days by women daring to put ‘No Makeup Selfies’ on the internet for all to see. The idea of letting your friends and loved ones see you without makeup was so stunning, so extreme, so brave, that people actually donated money to charity, so inspired were they by our acts of politicised facial nudity.

Makeup was once considered an expression of female emancipation. In the 1920s, women wore heavy eye makeup and lipstick to identify themselves as women liberated from the control of society. Painting our faces was a war cry against patriarchal oppression, women rejected the image of the angel of the hearth, embracing identities as her enemy: the seductress, the fallen woman, the whore. And yet, here we are, full circle, fully made up and living in a world where daring to show your natural face isn’t even ‘bad’ — it’s brave. 

My wonder at this bizarre attitude to going au naturel was heightened even further when two women I work with, both around my age, were discussing how unprofessional it looks to go to a meeting without makeup. Even in a business suit, with styled hair, they deemed that you couldn’t possibly expect anyone to take you seriously unless you were wearing a full face of makeup. As someone who rarely wears more than mascara during the week, and never applies a full face of makeup except for the most important of nights out, this means that I have look unprofessional at all times since the start of my graduate career. Every meeting I’ve ever had, every outstanding piece of content I have ever written, every time I’ve stood my ground over demanding to be paid the same as my male colleagues, I’ve appeared completely unprofessional without even knowing it. We ask why there aren’t more tenured female professors, more women in parliament, more women on boards, more women in charge of companies, and then we turn around and hold these women to ridiculous fabricated beauty standards as they try to do their jobs. Something needs to change.

It should be brave to stand up for the injustice that you see.

It should be brave to speak up for another woman who does not have a voice.

It should be brave to push forward for that promotion, to apply for that job, to chair that meeting, to start that company.

But it should not, it should never be, brave to go out without makeup.

Emotional Labour, and Why I Felt Weirdly Relieved When He Left

I have been thinking a lot recently about emotional labour, and the disproportional amount of it that women do in relationships. At this point, you might wrinkle your nose and dismiss this blog post as more shit that feminists have made up to be angry about now they’ve got the vote thing sorted, but bear with me here. I was recently dumped by a man that I was desperately, insanely in love with and now that he’s left, along with the debilitating heartbreak, I’ve found that I have an odd sense relief. Considering that he told me he didn’t want to cook and clean the flat whilst he was unemployed because he “felt like a maid”, you can imagine that in terms of gender roles, he wasn’t the most modern in his ideas. But it isn’t this total inability to help around the house that I feel freed from, it’s the absolute exhaustion of the amount of emotional labour I did in our relationship.

As an example of this phenomenon, take the reasons that we said we loved each other. I would tell him that he was the most amazing man I’d ever met, intelligent, handsome, gentle, I felt unbelievably lucky to be allowed to be with him. He told me he loved me because I made him happy. Now you can immediately see the flaw in this sentiment. If you love someone because they make you happy, the minute you cease to be happy you also cease to be in love with that person. Of course, that is exactly what happened. When he left his job and was unemployed for a long period of time, his entire self-worth evaporated and I was left with a man that I had neither the strength nor the resources to make happy. I felt powerless to improve our relationship, and he, in turn, began to remove himself from it, spending more and more time drinking with the friends that could help to distract him from his situation. And eventually, I was unbearably lonely and he was unbearably unhappy, so he left. On his way out of the door he told me that the breakup wasn’t about me, because not everything is about me. At the time I was devastated that I was so inconsequential as to not even have caused by own dumping, but in hindsight, I realise that he was in fact right. Nothing that I could have done could have made him stay, because it is impossible for anyone, no matter how superhuman, to entirely support another person’s happiness. In our relationship I loved and he felt loved. The entire emotional burden of our relationship rested on my shoulders and I, like anyone, crumbled under the pressure.

Now, looking back, I can see that from the very beginning I entirely orchestrated and supported the emotion in our relationship. When I met him, he was in a relationship with a girl that he swore wasn’t his girlfriend, but that he had been with for too long for them not to be together. No, it doesn’t make sense to me either. Apparently she felt the same, but I am yet to distinguish exactly what the feeling is that she was being attributed with. Anyway, this allowed him to see both of us for an entire month, without either of us being aware of it. He told me that he had never been in a relationship that lasted longer than six months, and that had been when he was sixteen. He had never been in love. Taking this as a challenge, I set about to force our relationship into something that could be described as serious with extreme gusto. I soothed him about his emotional and physical issues, treating them with a patience and kindness that you would usually reserve for a man you had been married to for ten years. Like so many before me, I thought I could heal this broken man and he, in turn, would think I was as amazing as I thought him to be. As things advanced we talked about marriage and children, I told him he was worthy and worthwhile, he would make an amazing husband and father, that I had never met anyone like him. He told me that I had given him confidence he had never had before. We ran towards the imagining of our shared future far too fast, and I was delirious with happiness.

Four months in, he told me that he had still been seeing the first girl for the first month of our relationship, but it was okay because she was still his girlfriend at the time. I, suddenly the other woman, fell into a spiral of self-loathing, questioning what was wrong with me. I wept, blind with rage and self-hatred, sick with the thought of her. He told me my emotions were terrifying, that I was unhinged and should go back on the antidepressants that I hadn’t taken since I was fifteen years old. I swore to him that we had discussed exclusively seeing each other and he’d told me he didn’t want me to see anyone else. He told me I was insane and it had never happened. I found texts that attested to my version of things. He told me that I was a spiteful, mistrusting bitch for looking for evidence in months-old conversations. I curled in on myself with disgust and self-hatred. His friends told me he was a great guy, lovely, kind, he would never have meant to do this to me. He was distraught, I should forgive him. He told me that it was the worst thing he had ever done, but also we weren’t exclusive, you know. And so, crushed and desperately in love, I set about forgiving him. If I cried or brought it up, he would lash out in anger, saying that forgiveness means never speaking of it again. And so I pushed it down. The last thing I wanted was to hurt or upset him, so I never spoke to him about it. I looked at her pictures on Instagram obsessively, trying to work out what was better about her, what I needed to change.

I spent my entire savings on a holiday to Paris, a trip to a fancy hotel, nights out, a fancy watch to replace his plastic one. I came home from work and he told me he had a train booked in an hour. He was moving to London. He had done it like this so I wouldn’t make a scene. When I wept, he left. When I rang him up devastated, he called an ambulance so I “wouldn’t do anything stupid”. Then he blocked me on all forms of social media and asked me to “refrain from speaking to him”. Three months later, I’m still dealing with the emotional fallout of the most devastating break up of my life. I’m not so sure about him.

Now, obviously, this is all one sided, and without a doubt he would tell you that I was a psychobitch and he just couldn’t cope with me anymore. Perhaps I was. But I also did all of the emotional leg work in our relationship, desperately trying to make him happy, show him how I saw him, how handsome, how clever, how talented, how amazing and interesting he was. Months later, just the thought of him still brings me to tears.

But why is it that the labour of love always seems to rest with women? We tell him he’s amazing, we dull our light so that he doesn’t feel threatened, downplay the importance of our new job, buoy him up with compliments, text his mother so that he won’t have to deal with the difficulty of his parents not loving us. We remember birthdays, choose gifts, spend hours with his horrible friends. Then he leaves us, because ultimately we stopped making him happy. A new city, a new girl is all he needs to fill the gap of us, because we were excitement, we were a confidence boost. We can never look after him as well as his mother, because unlike his mother, we have needs that must be met in return. And when he leaves, we have to do the emotional labour of our break up as well. We are “crazy ex-girlfriends”, to be torn apart at the pub, to make the next woman feel satisfied about herself in comparison.

I’ve read several articles recently about how masculinity is in crisis, because the world has changed but men have not changed with it. It’s no longer enough to go to work, because two people can’t live on one person’s wage anymore. Our boyfriends are the result of the last generation of mothers who had the time to do all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the emotional labour. And whilst we can teach them to cook, pretend that emptying half a bottle of bleach into the toilet counts as cleaning, we can never do enough emotional labour to make them happy on our own. In a world where everyone is connected, where your phone holds a thousand possible girls who might do all this without you having to change, how can we ever convince men that we need more? How do we ever get our needs met? Stop ourselves from taking the whole burden of creating happiness in a relationship? I don’t want to feel relieved when he leaves. I don’t want him to leave.

New (Reluctant) Acitivities

Being new to the world of dating apps, what I have discovered is that I am, in fact, extremely picky. Now, in real life I have no such issues, look a bit sweet and vulnerable, tell a couple of midway decent jokes, and indulge in some armchair intellectualism and I’m yours. Online, however, I’m a completely different beast.

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Reasons I have rejected people this week include: not good looking enough (a given); extremely good looking, but in the wrong way; too intimidatingly good looking; having a girl in the picture (who is that?); having an elephant in the picture (do you know nothing about the ethics of captive elephants?); bad joke in bio; too serious in bio; having a shirtless picture; having too impressive abs; having a picture on a motorbike; looking “a bit douchy”; looking too posh; looking too scruffy; can’t work out if grungy or dirty…it goes on.

This has lead to me having about four matches, which I have then proceeded to complain about because I feel like, four? Surely I’m better than four? – As you can tell, the trial period has been difficult.

All this got me to thinking, why are we so much more critical of each other online? I look at men that, if they talked to me in a bar, I’d dissolve into an awkward, flustered mess over, and think naaaah. I’ve seen it in other people as well, nice lads who’ll go on three dates in a week and not bother to speak to any of them again. Why? Because we constantly expect someone a bit better to be a couple of swipes away. Suddenly, everyone is disposable.

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Back in the day, you had to make do with what you had. Either you married Harry from school, or you moved to the city and married your coworker/friend/someone you met at a dance. You were probably going to meet less attractive people in your life than I can swipe past in less than a minute on my lunch break.

So, what does this mean for dating? Because, the thing is, even though we are all so incredibly picky online, and many of us get to go on dates with people who are much more attractive than we’d usually manage, I actually don’t know many people who have met this way. It’s hard to know if there’s a spark through a phone screen, and we’re all swiping past The One to go on an awkward downing-your-beer date with a solid ten who has no personality.

Is it time to ditch the dating apps? Or do you think online shopping for a date is essential for our super-speed lifestyles? Let me know in the comments.

Oyster. Onion. Shallot.

Well, it’s the New Year and the world is, as my mother has previously informed me, my onion (She added ‘And that’s Shallot!’ before breaking into peals of cackling laughter). And so, with title explained, and the whole onion before me, we can begin.

I had decided not to make a New Year’s resolution this year and snottily looked down my nose at everyone at work today, as they arranged gym buddies and discussed arid, fun free Januarys (Neither you, I, nor the gymnasium you are about to make very rich believes that you are going to swap beer for Body Pump, my rotund friend). That was until I was musing on the train about how I had started the year as I mean to go on, and so my resolution this year is just, frankly, to have much more fun.

On New Year’s Eve I went out with some friends from college that I don’t see very much, and the endless hilarity that ensued reminded me that sometimes what you need is a good night out. It started as all such activities do, with four girl awkwardly contorted around a full length mirror, politely apologising as they each attempt to get at least one eyelash enough in view to put some mascara on it. One girl always turns up fully dressed, greeting everyone with accidental dismay as she takes in their jean/jumper combos. For once this girl was not me, and fortunately for her we weren’t downplaying it so much that we were going out without any make up on. This level of cool I fear I will never achieve.

Many a gin and tonics later, and the clock struck midnight. Twenty boys and girls leapt up and down in the middle of the flat, the floor bowing and springing beneath them. Twenty boys and girls kissed, sticky elderflower cocktails spilling into hair and down pretty dresses. Twenty boys and girls cheered. Not one person turned into a pumpkin.

At 1am we ventured out into a damp manchester street, bottles of gin passed from hand to hand, white breath hung on night air. The bus off-loaded us into a cobbled street and we stumbled towards heaving bass, clutching at each other, wobbling in high heels. The rest is a blur of dancing and faces and awkwardly falling off a weird podium/only being able to dance with boys that weren’t shorter than me if they stood on the weird podium. Fun was had by all.

Eventually, they turned the lights on to get rid of us (“Come on let’s go!” “Dern DernDern DernDern Dern Dern DernDernDernDERN…You can’t leave in the middle of Nirvana!”). Outside, suddenly very sober, a charming gentleman introduced himself to me and Rosie:

Him: Good night, girls?

Us: Yeah, really good!

Him: Let me have a kiss! (Kisses Rosie on cheek. Goes in for fancy handshake.)

Rosie: (Fumbles fancy handshake)

Him: (Turns to me, goes in for kiss and fancy handshake)

Me: (Stone cold nails fancy handshake)

Him: You shake hands like a black man!

Me: (Laughing) Thanks!

(We are called to the bus and begin to walk away)

Him: (Shouting after us) You’re a beautiful woman Elsa, but you shake hands like a black man!

Me: Thank you!

Rosie: (Wets self with laughter)

The next morning I woke up sandwiched between two people. I got up to make all three of us a cup of tea and opened the door to a room full of prostrate bodies. Bodies in sleeping bags. Bodies fully clothed. Bodies using liquor bottles as pillows. And suddenly, grinning, I thought to myself, let’s make 2016 a little bit more like this. 

The Working Girl’s Guide to Exercise

I’ve started a new job. A proper, grown up job that is resolutely awful just as everyone warned me it would be. I listened to lots of indie ballads and convinced myself that the city lights were calling me, thus saddling myself with four hours of commuting a day. Needless to say, my biweekly plunges in the local pool have died a death and now the closest I get to a swim is turning up to work wet and bedraggled, with make up running down my face, having been caught in a deluge of biblical proportions on my walk from the train. Never fear though, dear reader (all one of you, hi), for my foray into exercise has not been abandoned! Every day I find myself red faced, sweating and panting in the throes of some new and unusual exertion. I give you, for your reading pleasure, The Working Girl’s Guide to Exercise:

The Stair Sprint

To be performed every morning without fail. Groggy with sleep, I stumble to the bus stop and nap fitfully, head lolling against the foggy window, all the way to town. Waking with a start, I leap off and walk to the train station. The orange light of the arrivals board floats eerily over platform one, barely perceptible in the mist of cold breath, puffed out from tired cheeks. The 8.02 service to Manchester Victoria is delayed by approximately 7 minutes. Damn it, that’s all the spare time I have to change trains. I open the National Rail app, which informs me that the train is in fact only 5 minutes late and intends to make the time up between stations. I sink into a seat and instantly regret it as the icy frame of the chair grips my body, chilling me to the bone. Once on the train (6 minutes late) there are no seats, forcing me to reach over the head of the man leaning against the full length of the handrail and prepare for 40 minutes of apologising for falling into him as he leers at me over his paper. I check the digital clock hanging from the roof of the carriage compulsively, like someone with a pronounced and rather alarming tick. If we pull into the station in exactly 20 minutes I’ll be okay. If we pull into the station in exactly 5 minutes I’ll be okay. We need to pull into the station right this minute. Get ready. I rise onto my tiptoes, heels tucked into invisible starting blocks, my finger cocked over the ‘open doors’ button like the keenest of starting guns. Ding, ding, and we’re off. I shoot out of the train doors, bag and scarf flying, knocking old ladies and young men in suits down like so many skittles. I head for the stairs, begin to sprint up, hearing the hem of my skirt split as I leap up, gazelle like, taking two at a time. I get stuck behind two boys chatting to each other and tut frantically, I have exactly 1 minute to make my train. I feint right, then left, eventually abandoning manners and pushing past, sprinting up the rest of the stairs. I’m going to make it!

On reaching the top I realise that the train is leaving from the platform I arrived on. Shamefaced, I slink back down the stairs and stand behind the old ladies I pushed past, frantically trying to stifle the panting gulps of air my lungs are insisting on sucking in. A boy behind me tuts, then giggles.

The Speed Walk

To be performed hobbled/heeled. On a fair day, the stair sprint is to be followed by the speed walk. The station platform in the area I work has inexplicably been placed a good foot below the height of the train carriage, so on arriving I close my eyes and jump, hoping that today is not the day that it really is too far to jump without a parachute and I meet my untimely demise on the broken concrete below. Having landed safely, with all my bones intact, I begin the speed walk. Usually, I am wearing a pencil skirt, which acts as a hobble around my knees and causes any attempt at speed to be quite uniquely ungainly. I also haven’t yet been able to replace my boots with a pair of work appropriate shoes, meaning I am also wearing incredibly clumpy heels. Nonetheless, in order to make it to work on time I have to make the 13 minute journey (google maps’ approximation) in 9 minutes or less. This means the speed walk. To overcome the hobble I have a variety of options. Option 1: pull the skirt up so it resembles a sort of fabric belt. Stride out, propelling each leg forward until I reach a great speed. Stop paying attention to my skirt for one minute, as I run across the road. Find that my skirt has immediately slipped back down, instantly binding my knees together, causing me to take a suddenly shortened stride and trip over the edge of the pavement. Go red and look around to make sure no one saw. One attractive boy and three mean teenage girls definitely did. Option 2: Try to take shorter steps, but also increase speed. This is most effective if I swing my hips from side to side to create more speed. It also makes me look like a manic Miss America pageant winner ON speed and ensures that I arrive at work completely out of breath. Option 3: My preferred option. Leave the skirt where it is, but try to take long strides anyway. This means that means that I can move at a sensible speed and keep it up long enough to get to work without bursting a blood vessel in my eye with the effort. It also completely cuts off the circulation to my calf muscles, causing all the extra blood flowing to my speeding feet to get trapped in my calves on the way back up. They become alarmingly swollen and purplish. Everyone at work definitely fancies me.

The Oh-Gosh-It’s-Raining Half Jog

To be performed in inclement weather. See above, except it’s chucking it down with rain. Torrential. Stair rods. Please-let-me-on-the-ark-I’ll-be-good-promise. I turn my collar up and grimace. I discover that I’m actually getting quite wet. I break into a little trot, hoping that getting to work faster will make me less wet. The additional speed forces the rain more directly into my face, my coat, my skirt, my tights, my shoes. I arrive at work drenched right down to my underwear. I go into the toilets and try to dry myself with some toilet roll. I arrive at my desk completely soddened and covered in suspicious bits of bobbly white paper that don’t come off in the wash, spreading instead to all the clothes I own.

Print Room Aerobics

To be performed on boring afternoons. I spend all day sat at my desk and I have a theory that this causes all the blood to flow away from my brain, rendering me completely useless by 3pm. My solution to this is print room aerobics. First I print something off (that I need, of course). Then I got to the print room to collect it. I look aimlessly out of the window for a few seconds, wondering how this tedium can possibly be my life. I press the big green button on the printer. I check no one is passing the door, then do a few subtle star jumps, followed by a little jog on the spot to push the blood back up to my brain. Then I do a couple of deep squats, collecting my work from the printer at the bottom of the last one, stand up and wander back to my desk as though nothing happened.

Train Yoga (Bikram Edition)

To be performed every evening without fail. To avoid doing too much cardio and developing the gaunt, hungry look of greyhounds and CrossFit enthusiasts, I like to catch the busiest train home possible. Rammed into a rattling train carriage, I instantly begin to sweat, salty droplets beading down into the wool of my scarf, which is trapped between two people behind me and thus pulled noose-tight around my neck. My feet are firmly planted about ten inches forward of where I am standing, causing me to bend banana-like backwards, away from the brandished newspaper of the man in front of me. The position necessitates me thrusting my hips out towards his groin, causing me to have to place my handbag as a kind of shield between us to protect both of our modesty. I hold the handbag-shield-banana until my abs begin to shake, causing newspaper-man to look up alarmed at my sudden amorousness. Just as I am about to collapse, an inexperienced travelled at the far side of the carriage decides to make a bid for the door in preparation for the next stop. Everyone begins to change position. I bend my body sideways into strained-s-shape-supported-by-the-nose-pressed-against-the handrail, before being carried by the crowd into pressed-full-length-against-the-window-with-one-hand-trapped-behind-back. The train stops, the doors open and I am suddenly released into collapsed-against-a-chair-whilst-perfectly-made-up-girl-looks-at-me-in-alarm. I sink into full-length-of-the-train-seat-aka-Shavasana in relief, content to know that I have had as much exercise as any girl could wish for. Train hard, people. Train hard.