Not the daughter she wanted, not the mother I needed

Right from the start of my life, I was far from the daughter my mother wanted. Her first born child, I was an alien creature with an independent spirit and overwhelming needs. As a toddler this is to be expected, but as I grew into my teen and young adult years, every decision I made went against the plan she had for me. I found my voice, and proceeded to spend every waking moment contradicting my mother’s every plan. Oh yes, I was far from what she expected of motherhood.

“I don’t know where you get it from,” she would often remark. “You must be adopted or dropped off on the wrong doorstep.” When I was a child I would imagine that this family I was given was actually my temporary family, and my real family were adventurers in deepest, darkest Africa or some other far off place. I fell in love with books like Anne of Green Gables, because I identified with orphans and adopted children. As a teenager I was sullen and moody, more so than most. I listened to sad, poetic music and in my young adult years I made decisions based on what my mother would hate the most.

She was far from what I needed as a mother. Where I needed support and nurturing, instead I wore the brunt of her anger and regret. I felt I symbolised every bad decision she ever made for herself. She was quite the rebel in her own time, until she met my father and started a family. I wanted acceptance, but whatever I chose, whichever path I followed it was always the wrong one for my mother. All my life I wanted to please my mother, to hear her tell me she loved me. I wanted her to say that she was proud of what I’d achieved.

Today, two years after her death, I have been thinking of all the ways in which I have noted how similar we actually are. In her early twenties, her flirtatious behaviour with men. In her later years her strength and independence. Her smile and glittering eyes, hers deep chocolate and mine green but both sparkling with life. Her love of good food, and better wine. Her insatiable sweet tooth. Her determination. Her fierce independence. Her warmth and wit. Her stubbornness and inability to admit when she was wrong. Her complete faith in her beliefs, especially when challenged.

After her death I searched her belongings for an explanation. A letter, a diary – anything. I was desperate to know her as someone other than my mother. I wanted to know her thoughts about me and my life, not just the ones she had to voice as a mother but the innermost opinions. Was she proud? Excited? Disappointed? I can guess, based on the last few months of her life and the conversations we had right at the end when she was too sick to speak anything but the truth. But I wanted that story of her life, I wanted to read it, I wanted her to come back to life through her words. I wanted to know her as a young girl, to know if she was ever any different to how I knew her. I wanted to know what she was like before she met my father and before he tore apart her confidence. I wanted to know how she built herself back up. I wanted to know how she managed to wade through the grief of losing her own mother, with three young children to care for and worry about.

My mother was far too practical to do such a thing. She would tell me to stop being such a romantic fool. With all the ways I have noticed we are similar, the fact remains we were very different people. In the time since her death, I have grown to accept that I will never know the things I so badly wanted to know immediately after she died. I have come to accept that I might never know for certain her exact thoughts on my life.

And I have come to learn that it actually doesn’t matter, because I know without a doubt that she loved me.

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To my friends who still have their mothers…

Darlings,

Like a thief in the night, cancer stole my mother from me. Before she physically died, her spirit and soul were stolen from me by a force bigger and more powerful than me. I could do nothing to slow its course, I could only sit back and let it come. I never imagined I’d lose my mum this way or so soon. I couldn’t have planned or prepared for it. We never believed that it would happen, we just accepted that she was sick and would get better. Fate had other ideas and swooped in and took her away before I ever had the chance to fully realize what was happening.

This Mother’s Day, I am without a mother. I will watch my Facebook feed fill with outcries of love for mothers I know, but I cannot give them. I cannot express my gratitude, despite her imperfections, with lavish love. I cannot thank her for all she taught me about being a a good person, a strong woman, an independent being. I cannot share how much she’s impacted my life. The feelings of loss get easier with time, but I will never be without them. For the rest of my life I will have a hole in my heart, a physical pain that I cannot get rid of.

So, my darling friends who still have their mothers, do me a favour.

Whether you are extremely close or there’s a valley of difference between you, reach out to your mother this week.

Whether you see eye to eye or you can’t agree on much of anything, look your mother in the eyes if you can and tell her how special she is.

Whether she’s loved you well or lacked in affection, tell her how much you appreciate her and and love her.

Whether she’s been your role model or she’s shown you what not to do, tell her how much you’ve learned from her.

Whether she’s been a near perfect mother or a much less than perfect one, she’s still here and that fact alone leaves so much potential for you both.

Call her, embrace her, surround her with your love whether it comes easy or along with tons of baggage.

Reach out for reconciliation if you are estranged.

Reach out in compromise if you are indifferent.

Reach out with time and attention if you are busy.

Reach out with affection if you are reserved.

Reach out with generous love even if you already do it regularly.

I never dreamed I’d spend Mother’s Day without my mum. Please, don’t let another day slip by without connecting with yours.

 

Happy Mother’s Day, friends.

Things That Girls With Male Best Friends Know To Be True

All through high school and for most of my 20s I was the girl with lots of male friends. I had very few girlfriends, but not in the girls-just-don’t-like-me-for-some-reason-probs-because-I’m-waaayyyyyyy-sexy way. It’s just worked out that for whatever reason I have always been the girl with more male friends than female friends.

Now, when you’re a woman and your best friend is a guy, people automatically think you’re up to something. I used to HATE people’s assumptions of me based on me friendships, but now I find it endlessly humorous to watch them try to figure me out. Am I up to something? Is it a ploy to get laid? Am I trying to inflate my ego by being the “cool girl”, the girl who is one of the boys?

Even though all these perceptions of me no longer affect me like they used to, I still have to put up with the bullshit that comes with it. The weird hangups from family and friends, the questions about when “he’s going to start treating you properly and get married”, complete strangers telling you that y’all make such a cute couple… because boys and girls cannot simply be friends. OK, sometimes, male/female BFFs do end up becoming something more. But more often they don’t. And no matter what happens, women with male best friends aren’t pulling some kind of sexual long con.

Here are some things I know to be true about having a male best friend. Because he’s the fucking bomb.

WE ARE BOTH VERY HAPPY IN OUR SINGLE-NESS

No we are not in a relationship. We never were and never will be in a relationship. No we have never even kissed, not even by accident. We have never even thought about it, except for that low point where I asked him to be my back up in case I got old and was still alone. We are both very aware that we are only friends, and nothing more. There is mutual respect and there is love, but there are zero romantic feelings.

COMPLIMENTS ARE THIN ON THE GROUND

While my lady loves are always willing to tell me my ass looks slammin’ in my new jeans, Dude BFF doesn’t give a shit. He’s not checking out my ass, and he doesn’t even give it a single thought. I caught up with an ex for a drink and needed a confidence boost just as I was walking in, and I had to BEG for a compliment from Dude BFF. Conversation went like this:

Me: Tell me I look hot.
Dude BFF: You’re pretty.
Me: Obvs. I don’t mean pretty, I need to know I look hot so I can rub it in his face!
Dude BFF: Girls are weird.

NETFLIX AND CHILL MEANS NETFLIX AND ACTUALLY CHILL

Face mask, check. Old, gross PJs with the hole in the crotch, check. Chocolate and other treats, check. Netflix with Dude BFF means I can actually enjoy an entire movie without wondering if he has noticed if I shaved me legs, or wondering when he is going to make a move.

ITS GETS VERY WEIRD WHEN ONE OF US GETS A SIGNIFICANT OTHER

He will spend hours explaining that he looks at me like I’m a lamp, I find myself going to absurd lengths to show that I am not a sexual threat, like talking in her presence about my thrush and/or UTI, or making sure to wear my least-flattering, most coffee-stained clothes when all three of us go out together.  In the reverse though, he seems to get off lightly. I spend hours explaining to new love interests that when we hang out we’re far too interested in running each other off the road in Mario Kart than heeding the call of each other’s booty. It’s an issue that needs to be sorted and fast, because if you wanna get with me, you gotta get with my friends.

PEOPLE ASSUME WE SHOULD BE DATING

Because apparently just liking someone’s personality and having them in close proximity to your residence is enough to start a relationship. Well you know, that and genitals.

WORSE, PEOPLE ASSUME I TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HIM

We all know that the key to long lasting friendships is mutual respect and love. Neither of us takes advantage of the other, we both constantly do shit for each other. He isn’t killing my spiders because he’s secretly in love with me, he’s doing it because he knows I’m scared of them and he’s my friend and wants to help me out. Remember kids, the friend zone doesn’t exist.

INSIGHT INTO THE MALE PSYCHE IS SCARY

He’s a guy, so he know what guys talk about when they’re alone. He’s had to be brutally honest with me when guys have been obvious dicks, and he’s given away a few team secrets in the process.

ZERO MINCING OF WORDS

There is no threat of insult, because we insult each other for laughs all the time. By this point, is it even love if it’s not dished out with a dose of tough? We both know exactly where the line is, and how far we can push it. We can say exactly what is on our minds without worrying about how bad it sounds.

I HAVE SUPER THICK SKIN NOW

Once upon a time I was a lot more sensitive than I am now. Thanks to the tough love mentioned above, I now have a much thicker skin. Dude BFF keeps it real 100% of the time, especially when I don’t want to hear it. He tells me when I am being crazy, when I am being an idiot, when I look fat, when I have spinach caught in my teeth, when I am drunk and go home. Girl BFFs put love hearts on your Insta, Dude BFFs are definitely not as considerate. Thanks to him, I could take a bullet with this skin.

MATCHMAKER, MATCHMAKER, MAKE ME A MATCH

I dream of the day I get to introduce Dude BFF to his future wife. She will be this amazingly intelligent and hilarious person, who plays bass in an all female band and is just the coolest person ever. She and I will be besties and she will have a hot brother who is equally awesome that she can set me up with. Because that’s how life works, right?

I GET TO BE HIS TRINNY AND SUSANNAH

Dude BFF may not notice when I get my haircut, but I remember every terrible fashion choice he ever made. When you call your Dude BFF on his useless fashion sense, you get to be an unquestioned fashion expert, because girl power.

YOU GOT THIS?

We used to split bills, but by this point we’ve bailed each other out and bought dinner or drinks so often we’ve forgotten who’s turn it is. And it doesn’t matter. Everything evens out in the end anyway, provided neither person feels ripped off.

BULLSHIT DETECTOR

Dude BFF is the best bullshit detector. I can always tell if a relationship of mine is going to last based on Dude BFF’s opinion of New Guy, and it is essential they get along. If you wanna get with me, you gotta get with my friends – and especially him.

GREATEST WINGMAN/BIGGEST COCKBLOCK

Infuriatingly true. It’s usually an accidental cockblock, but it’s so.fucking.frustrating. When we go out, just the two of us, people assume we are a couple. I never get chatted up, it’s like I’m wearing a sign that says “Don’t talk to me” when in actual fact it’s probably worth me getting one made that says “I’m cute and funny and this idiot is just my friend. Come say hi.” There is literally no better way to make sure no guy ever speaks to me in a bar than to show up with Dude BFF in tow.

When he feels like it though, he likes to play a little game called “Haaaaave you met Emma?”

HE IS A VOICE OF REASON IN A WORLD OF DAYDREAMS

Girl BFFs are awesome at helping plan your future destination wedding in Thailand, or picking out the names of your future children with your new squeeze. Dude BFF doesn’t encourage any of that crap. He is guaranteed to be pretty quick at reminding me that there has only been one date, and it was just coffee.

OOPS ARE YOU A GUY?

I frequently forget he is a guy and make him do things that aren’t considered manly by general society. Like mani/pedi’s and listening to me whinge that the lining of my uterus is breaking down and shedding. He has even been known to come to the hairdresser with me. What makes him great is that he doesn’t care, it’s more important that we spend time together and if that’s the only time we can squeeze it in then that’s fine.

OOPS ARE YOU A GIRL?

Flip side. He frequently forgets I am a girl and forgets basic hygiene rules like flushing the toilet. True story.

I DON’T GET WHY PEOPLE INSIST THAT WE ARE WEIRD

People will constantly tell me that boys and girls cannot be friends. I’ve never understood it, it make no sense to me but then I am a woman with a lot of close male friends who I have never had so much as a twinkle of a romantic feeling for. It’s 2016, and you’re telling me that one half of the world’s population can’t be friends with the other? Yeah, ok. *confused*

NO TEXT NO WORRIES

Literally zero fucks about not getting a text back. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if I send him seven before he responds with a simple “OK”.

WE WOULD BE LOST WITHOUT EACH OTHER

Dude BFF isn’t just my BFF. He’s my other half, resident dating sounding board, honest critic, bodyguard and general awesome human. I would literally flounder through life without him.

 

 

 

Relying on Friendship in a World Made for Couples

Oh heyyyy I remember you guys. Firstly, let me apologise. It’s been a big few months of travels and I have barely opened my laptop since November. I know, I’ve abandoned you all, but I’m back baby. 🙂

Now, I’ve been pondering this post since Christmas, and then all of a sudden it was Valentines Day (or Galentines Day, which I am a BIG fan of!) That would have been the perfect timing for this post, but I just couldn’t get the words out. But here we are, and now I have the words.

I am 31 and single. And happy. Yep, h a p p y. I always feel this pressure to announce my happiness when I state that I am single. Like I need to reassure the person I am talking to that it’s ok. I am ok. I can change my own lightglobes and pay for my own dinner. Please don’t worry. But WHY do I feel this pressure? Because for a long time, there was a someone. And then there was no one. And then there was a short something with a someone best forgotten, and then there was a longer something with the first someone again. And there were brief dalliances with other persons I remember fondly. But now, there is no one. And that is ok.

I have this wonderful supportive network of friends that spans over five continents, but in a world made for couples are those relationships enough? Or am I simply taking the easy way out, because long term monogamy is hard work?

FUCK NO.

I am not ashamed to admit that my friends are my fucking world. The love I have for them and the history we share will NEVER be replaced by some guy, because when friendships are your primary relationships, friendship isn’t just important: It’s existential.

The stakes are higher. For people in pairs, a certain amount of socialization is automatic especially if you live together, but single people have to schedule frequent friend time in order to prevent what I call “the slide from solitude into loneliness,” which I start to feel after 2-3 days of zero friend time. And I don’t mean swapping a few text messages, I mean face-to-face interaction.

As single women we deal with our intense dependence on friendship in different ways. Some of us rely on a best friendship that’s as complicated as a love affair, or a few close friendships that are as familiar as a family, which is my preferred method. I’ve tried both, with mixed results: My passionate friendships have proven to be as combustible and doomed as any other kind of passion, and the blissful chosen-family lifestyle I am currently enjoying, is a soft-focus montage of weekly gin nights and impromptu picnics in the park, is becoming impossible to sustain as I edge into my 30s. These days my oldest friends and I live farther apart and spend more of our time on work and children. We fit each other in between deadlines and other demands, and often make do with Facebook and phone tag. Any serious fun requires child care and/or coordinated leave from work and must be scheduled two to six months in advance.

Because individual friendships are subject to distance and decay, friendship in my 30s has meant learning to roll deep. I can count on one hand the number of people I could call in the middle of the night who would drop anything to be there for me, and it took losing my mother to cancer to learn who those people are. But it takes a mountain of effort and a long period of time to build and maintain such strong friendships, and to open yourself up to reciprocal middle-of-the-night calls. I should know: In the past few years I’ve taken a few late-night calls, and I’ve made a lot.

At times I’ve felt overwhelmed by the demands of balancing my close friendships. It can be callously easy to fail to respond to a faraway friend’s email about her sick partner when consumed by caring for another friend close by. At its best, having many close friendships can feel like having an army of guardian angels ready to mobilize within minutes. At its worst, it can feel like the world’s most invisible form of emotional labor.

Single women often put friendship at the centre of our lives; some of us rate those people as more important than family, so it can be hard for us to be friends with people who see friendship as peripheral, as many partnered people do. A close friend once told me that her priorities were her kid, her partner, her work, her friends, in that order, like suits in a deck of cards. In her life, a kid thing would always trump a partner thing; a work thing would always trump a friend thing. I was hurt to think that someone I valued so highly, didn’t hold me in the same regard. I now realise this was the best way she knew of trying to impose some order on life’s complexity, but to me it seemed like a terribly reductive way to think about human relationships — plus, it was no fun to know that I would always be the lowest priority in her life. Our friendship didn’t last much longer, which is inevitable in the case of one personal doing all the giving.

Even when both people make the relationship a priority, friendship across the lines of marital status or the having of children takes work. One of my closest girlfriends steadily ticked off all the socially sanctioned boxes of “adulthood” — getting married, having kids, getting a “real job,” buying a house – with a few hiccups along the way (including a divorce). The having of a new partner means she has less time for me than she used to, and now with baby number two on the way, I can only assume it will get harder still. In addition, I’ve done none of those “adult” things; where her priorities are for a family and all that comes with it, my priorities are different. At times our differences have stretched us both to our limit, but our friendship has lasted because of our refusal to project the stereotypes of smug married motherhood or carefree/pathetic single childlessness onto each other. We’re both allowed to complain about our lives; we’re both allowed to revel in them. Ten years in, our friendship is as stable and precious as anything in my life, but we’re both aware of the ways it could become fraught. It’s important to be aware of those issues, and be grown ups and talk about them when they arise.

I think it’s this layering of love that motivates me to celebrate my friendships with such fervor: because I know they are fragile as well as durable; because I know they can survive love and loss and remain Thelma-and-Louise strong right up to the edge of death, but they can also be shattered by work stress or political disagreements or a single text that should never have been sent. It is also one of many ways that the patriarchy hurts men as well as women; society tells boys from a young age that they aren’t allowed to share their feelings in the same way that girls do – and in a sense it deprives them of the same depth of friendship that women share with each other. Novelist Hanya Yanagihara once said, “Friendship is the most underrated relationship in our lives … It remains the one relation not bound by law, blood, or money — but an unspoken agreement of love.” She makes friendship sound awfully romantic, and it is, but the fact remains that it’s hard and scary to go through life knowing that your most important relationships are chronically underrated and legally nonexistent.

Which is why I rewatch old episodes of Sex and the City, Friends, Girls, Golden Girls et al; and invite my friends over for Galentine’s cake; and why I try not to leave my love unspoken. In a world where friendship is often difficult or invisible, I am trying to bake and write and speak and pray my friendships into the future.

To all my beautiful ladies out there – I love you all.

The Friend Zone Is Not A Thing

The idea of the Friend Zone has been floating around various media for years, I’ve been accused of it time and time again. If you’re unaware of the concept, you’ve been hiding under a rock – but let me quickly break it down for you. From my perspective, the Friend Zone appears to be a non-issue created by dudes who don’t understand basic mutual attraction. Like magnets, two people will either be attracted or repelled from each other. Unlike magnets, humans have an emotional field, and if you like someone but don’t want to bang their brains out then that’s ok. It’s called friendship. What some men seem to think though, is that if a woman likes you enough to be your friend then that equates to a Free Pass to your bangable future together. The Friend Zone is a common complaint from self appointed Nice Guys who assume that time spend with a woman is an investment, and in the event that you don’t get a Romantic Return on your investment then you are immediately sectioned to the Friend Zone and are in her eyes a completely non-sexual object. Like a table. Or a lamp.

The term has been bandied about the Interwebs for years, but it was really shoved into the limelight in the 2005 Ryan Reynolds film, Just Friends. This movie should have been more aptly named Zero Consent in my opinion but what do I know about movie titles. If you’ve not seen it, do. The film sums up the Friend Zone from the male perspective beautifully, but as several feminist bloggers have pointed out there is no greater scene than this:

Chris: What about Sheila? You making any headway?

Ray: We’ll see. I’m taking her to lunch today.

Chris: Oh, whoa, whoa whoa. Don’t – don’t do that. Okay? Don’t do lunch.

Ray: Why?

Chris: That’s like the express lane to the friend zone.

Ray: What the hell’s the friend zone?

Chris: See when a girl decides that you’re her friend, you’re no longer a dating option. You become this complete non-sexual entity in her eyes, like her brother, or a lamp.

Ray: I don’t want to be a lamp.

Chris: Yea well then don’t be her friend, okay? Take that guy for example…

[points to a clumsy guy and a gorgeous girl skating together]

Ray: You mean that couple?

Chris: No, I mean the guy that *wishes* they were a couple.

Ray: What is your point?

Chris: My point is – Call Sheila, Ray. Call her right now. Move your day date to tonight. Play the entire thing aloof and no matter what you do, kiss her at the end. ‘Cause friends don’t kiss.

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There are so many thoughts that are wrong about this, but mainly what men are assuming is that friendship is like an infection and once it sets in they will lose any possibility at a romantic future with us. Like losing a limb, it will be gone forever. Friendship is not a disease. Hope is not lost forever if she tells you she wants to be friends. There isn’t one window of opportunity with a woman. I know from repeated personal experience that love can grow from friendship, and attraction can smack you in the face at the most inopportune times. The Friend Zone paints a solid friendship between a man and a woman as this sad pathetic thing that leaves at least one party longing for the other, catering to [her] every whim. The Friend Zone – a male invention – paints the male half of that wonderful friendship as weak and unmanly. This, my friends, is just one of the many ways that the patriarchy harms ALL of us.

There is also the issue of consent, and please allow me to be super clear on this, if a woman tells you she is not interested DO NOT ASSUME THAT MEANS YES. Consent is everything. If she said she wants to be friends, you have to be ok with that. “I really value our friendship” isn’t girl-code for “Not today but try again tomorrow” ok? Don’t be Creepy Guy. Tell her once, if she turns you down then think about it. Do you value her presence in your life? Maybe you were always meant to be just friends then. Just because you spent all this time with her during your Investment Phase does not automatically make her obligated to give you sex. The lack of a Romantic Return does not make her a bad person. It makes you a dick if you assumed she would just bow to your will simply because you changed her light globes a few times.

Lets come back a little and chat about basic chemistry. This is a real thing, the butterflies and the typical falling in love stuff. I’ve been on so many dates where the gentleman has been perfectly nice, attentive and even attractive – but they have all been missing that one crucial element. Chemistry. This is something that is either there or it isn’t, Boy Chemicals and Girl Chemicals are either compatible or they’re not. This isn’t rocket science, it isn’t that hard to understand. If you are a Friend Zone believer, then you probably have never once had someone crush on you and not feel the same way back.

I’ve been “guilty” of knowing that a guy is into me and not returning his feelings. I’ve felt obligated to return his feelings, even if I knew I felt the same way and guess what? The “relationship” didn’t last. When this has happened, I’ve not only lost respect for myself because I wasn’t honest from the start, I’ve also lost a perfectly great friendship. On the flip side, I’ve also been in the position of being Friend Zoned myself. A few years ago, I was crazy-ridiculous in love with my best friend. He was (and hopefully still is) completely oblivious to this. Although after I publish this piece I guess the secret is out. This went on and on for years, all through our time at uni, even when I had other dates and boyfriends. I knew he didn’t feel the same way, and it’s only now that I understand why. Thankfully my saying nothing only meant that our friendship is now stronger than ever. I get it though, unrequited love is a bitch. I have to tell you though, it never once occurred to me that the reason we never got it together romantically was any reflection on my ability to awesome. I never once complained to my other friends that I had invested all this time in him and therefore he “owed it to me”. I totally got it that the attraction I felt was one-sided, which is why I kept quiet about it. This person that I shared everything with, and I kept this massive secret from him. And now I guess we have no secrets.

Let’s come back to this assertion of obligation and entitlement. Entitlement is completely a male privilege thing. You feel entitled to her undying love and adoration because you sat up with her while she cried over her loser boyfriend who never treated her right, or because you kill all her spiders or because you paid for dinner those couple of times. You think that if you’re nice enough to her for long enough then you’re entitled to some kind of payment for that. Sorry, you’re not. Those are just things that friends do for each other. What you’re actually doing is removing the right for a woman to choose who she is attracted to and has relationships with and transforms it into the man’s right to be her boyfriend. In other words, a dude is entitled to a woman once he’s made a sufficient investment in her. If she disagrees, and heaven forbid if she’s interested in someone else, she’s a bitch who led you on–or worse, a slut.

obligation

By now I’m sure that there are a few of you that are fucking seething. You’re sitting there feeling all brave behind your keyboards and you’re going to send me an Angry Tweet or a Pissed Off Email. That’s cool, you’re allowed (except if you mention the word Nazi or Feminazi or threaten to kill/rape/harm in any way me or my family or friends. Be cool.)

I get it. Yes, there are women who take advantage of good men just like there are men who take advantage of good women. There should be some give and take in ALL relationships, and you’re not getting something out of your friendship with a woman then you need to consider why. Maybe she is taking advantage. Yeah, it’s shit and you’re not being very nice to yourself by letting the other person do that to you. But maybe you need to look at yourself, and consider why you allow someone to treat you like shit, not assume that there is some global phenomenon of women mistreating men. Because it really goes both ways. Be honest about it though, if your friend is having a hard time in life, then it makes sense they will be doing more of the taking than the giving in your relationship currently.

The Friend Zone as described by the dudes who whine about it doesn’t exist. In reality, it’s just about whether or not someone is as into you as you are into them. Sometimes they’re not, and you put yourself out there and they kick your heart to the curb and it HURTS. And broken hearts are a global phenomenon. They’re the reason poetry gets written and songs get sung–or one of the big ones anyway. If you’ve got a broken heart, I feel you. I really do. I really, really do. If you’ve got a broken heart, drop me a line and we can have a chat.

But the Friend Zone? It ain’t no thang. Quit trying to make it one.

What I wish I could tell people: Notes from an extroverted introvert

Everyone has a friend like me. The girl who is perpetually unreachable by phone, but will reply to a text in rapid response. We hang out, and we are good mates, but it’s usually one on one. I constantly make plans with people and then bail, but it’s not because I don’t want to hang out with you. I absolutely had every intention of attending that party with you, it’s just that I am an extroverted introvert. Or introverted extrovert. Either way, my extroverted side definitely wants to get down and party, but my introverted side had a complete anxiety attack right before I was supposed to leave the house and now I just want to stay in and watch Netflix alone.

We are this baffling conundrum of a person that refuses to be stuck into one personality box set by psychologists, and we are hard people to be friends with because we are constantly cancelling plans. Here are some things I wish I could tell my friends…

IT’S NOT THAT I’M FLAKY, IT’S THAT I’M ANXIOUS

 You know last week when we made plans to go to your friend’s party? I really did mean it. I wanted to come. I wanted to get down and throw some shapes. I wanted to hang out, and have a few drinks and talk shit for hours. I had every intention of coming. But typically, on the night of the event – doom. DOOOOOOOMMMMM. Anxiety to the nth degree, because right then a room full of strangers was my worst nightmare. I actually could not bear to leave the house, and Netflix was calling my name. If I did go, please realise the effort it took for me to get there.  A stern lecture before my shower, and then another during the getting dressed process. And another right before I walked out the door. Leaving the house might seem easy for you, and most days I manage it just fine, but sometimes my inner battle rages and my introverted side will win.

I AM NOT INGORING YOU, I PROMISE

I promise I’m not screening my calls, or ignoring your texts. Sometimes the thought of answering the phone and being bombarded with an unexpected invite to go somewhere when I don’t have a ready excuse is enough to fill me with social dread. It’s easier to just turn a blind eye to the phone until I am equipped to handle it.

SPEAKING OF EXCUSES…

I’ve never lied to you about why we can’t hang out – but I may have stretched the truth. In my world “I don’t have any clean clothes” is a legit reason for not leaving the house. So is “My head hurts” or “I’m tired” or even “My head hurts.” Sometimes I just can’t push past my introversion and actually make the effort to step out into the world. Go easy on me, and remember that leaving the house is sometimes harder for me than it seems.

KEEP TRYING – WHEN YOU DO MANAGE TO GET ME OUT, I’LL HAVE A GREAT NIGHT

My extroverted side loves going out, but my introverted side usually shuts it down before we get a chance to have fun. If I am able to win the battle against myself then I am pretty much guaranteed a great time, but getting me to the party is the struggle. Perservere. Push me. But above all – love me and understand that I’m not saying no, I’m saying no for tonight.

THE BEST WAY TO GET ME OUT IS TO START SLOW

If we just met, then you won’t realise this. My avoidance of social situations doesn’t make me happy – and most of the time it’s just really fucking lonely. My long time mates understand that there is hope though, and like you they had to start small and head off my excuses before I could think of them. Living inside my head can be a bit much at times, but all my time alone means I’ve had plenty of time to ponder my personality and I’ve got my issues well under control. To you, leaving the house might seem easy but for me this isn’t always the case.

Just start small. Take me on a few dates. Just coffee, and just us. Some place that is comfy and gives me a sense of ease. Or let me pick the place, so I can control how comfortable I am. Once we’ve been friends for a while you can pick more places, but initially make it easy for me to say yes. Head off my excuses before I have a chance to think of them. Common ones include money and time. If I’ve already been out that week, then I’ll claim tiredness. Alternatively, feel free to invite yourself over for wine and Netflix.

 

TRAVEL AND MY INTROVERSION

I find I struggle the most when I travel. I’ve been traveling on and off for nearly 15 years, and I have friends scattered far and wide. England in particular is a struggle since I usually have limited time to catch up with lots of different people. For pure extroverts, this probably sounds like heaven but for me it just creates stress and anxiety. There are several reasons I prefer to travel alone, and this is the biggest one.

Overseas friends (particularly my London girls!) should not think I don’t love seeing them. I do. I just find it all a bit much sometimes, and yes – I’ve been known to fake my excitement levels to match yours.

BEING AN INTROVERT IN AN EXTROVERTED WORK ENVIRONMENT

I work in sales. It’s a highly stressful, numbers driven, very extroverted position that I excel in. But I’ve had to learn to manage my introverted side and still be able to deal with my clients. Over the ten years I’ve been doing this job I definitely still have days when I would rather stay in bed. I feel like I live my life on a rollercoaster: bracing myself for the drop and when it comes it’s thrilling but then I need space and time out to recuperate. It takes an enourmous amount of energy to be “on” all the time, for 9hrs a day and obviosuly I’d rather stay home most days. Usually around 2pm I have had enough and desperately want everyone to go home so that I can also go home.

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Owning my introverted extroversion isn’t always about eliminating the introverted part of my personality. It’s about finding a balance, and finding that can be exhausting. But when I do need to be “on”, provided I have adequate advance notice then I will be “on” with full throttle effort.

Be patient with me. I promise I’ll make it worth it.

A year ago my mother died…

She wasn’t supposed to die. She was only 56, she had recently been listed as “in remission” which we thought was the end of her battle with pancreatic cancer. I started traveling again, ticking off my final 50 countries just in time for my 30th birthday. Mum had gone back to her pre-cancer life; she was dating again, going out for dinners with friends, catching up with people who were too scared or embarrassed to see her as a sick woman, shopping, going for coffee, taking herself to the movies, walking the dogs, pottering in the garden, kayaking on the river near our house, building her business back up again. She was living the life of a much more vibrant woman than she had been for the past four years.

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I arrived back home in Perth on a Sunday evening in mid-May, tired from 26 hours of flying from London. I called her from the airport, “I’ve landed, just waiting for bags to come out. Steve is coming to get me. Do we need milk or anything on my way home?”

Her answer was simple, “No, nothing. Just come home. No visitors, I’m not feeling well.”

This had been a common enough request over the time I had cared for her. No visitors, please, I don’t want people to see me like this. Bald, vomiting and looking like death warmed up was a constant state of being for her during the chemo years. When she said it this time though, I just thought maybe she had a cold or something.

When I walked in the door, I could feel the tension. There were the remnants of an argument in the house, I was instantly anxious. I lived my life feeling this tension, walking on glass and waiting for the shatter. I sat down with Mum on the couch. “It’s back darling”, she said. I looked at her in confusion. “I’ve been feeling faint for days, I went to the doctor. I’m going in tomorrow to have the port put back in, and start chemo again on Tuesday. It’s in my brain.”

No. I shook my head at her. This wasn’t supposed to be the way I came home. I was supposed to come home to love and laughter, tea and telling of stories. Not cancer and chemo. She gave me more details, I couldn’t take them in. I felt like I was drifting again. All I could hear were the words “She’s going to die this time” over and over in my brain.

“It’s going to be ok. You fought it once, you can do it again. Right?” I pleaded with her, please make it ok mummy. Please.

The next morning my brother drove us all to the hospital again. I was so sick of hospitals. I’ve lost count of the number she went into, almost all the ones in Perth, and there are a lot for a small city. Day surgery to have her chemo port put back into her shoulder, just above her breast. It makes it easier for them to inject the chemo, since all her veins were collapsed from so many needles.

I went to work. I did my best to forget about it, focus on getting back into work and life at home. When I got home that night I cooked dinner, sat with her in the lounge and watched some TV together. Just like normal. No one would have thought she would be headed back for chemo the next day.

When it arrived, it was like an old routine. I went to work. My brother slept in. Mum went to the hospital and got plugged into the machine for chemo. After work, I met her there and chatted while she finished up. It’s a long and boring process, chemo. You’d think it would be more lively, and it certainly looks more glam on Sex and the City when Samantha has breast cancer.

Image via HBO

Image via HBO

The next morning, it was like a bomb dropped. Chaos reigned and would continue to rule until the end of May when it would give us the final kick in the pants. It all began so innocently. As per our previous routine with the chemo, I would take Mum breakfast in bed when I got up, then I would go feed the dogs and let them outside. She would push her food around on her plate in the meantime, and take a few bites but not actually eat much because chemo changes your taste buds and everything tastes like shite. I’d come back in with a cup of tea, and take her plates away. While I was at work, she would also attempt to work – or at least she would do as much as she could with the little energy she had. But not this morning.

Chemo doesn’t just change your tastes, it also rages on your moods. Now, I think my mother suffered from mood disorders for a lot longer than she had cancer, but I’m sure the chemo and the cocktail of meds they give you to balance the side effects didn’t help. Suddenly we were having an argument, about I don’t even know what now. It was probably something trivial but seemed important at the time. The next thing I know, she’s having a panic attack and she can’t breathe. We get her into an ambulance, and they take her to the hospital.

That morning, I sat in the waiting room of emergency, and I felt like the world’s worst daughter. If she dies now, it will be my fault. I shouldn’t have argued back with her. I will have killed my own mother.

When she’s finally ready for us to see her, the first thing she asks is to be moved to her normal hospital, which is already being arranged by her oncologist. The next thing is to tell me to go to work. Always work first with her, wonder where I get it from 😉

For the next few days, we don’t know much. A week or so later, I’m at work and my sister calls me from the hospital, “You need to get here. Like, now.”

When I arrive, I can feel the same tension again, but I don’t think there’s been an argument. I can sense there is something wrong, something important. The room is full of people, there is a lady doctor and her little intern, and a guy I’ve never seen before who doesn’t have the doctor look about him. He smiles at me in a way that makes me think he knows exactly who I am. I’m not sure why, but he makes me feel at peace. When I finally look at Mum, she’s been crying. She’s trying to hide it but I can see the puffiness around her eyes and the tired look of a woman who just doesn’t want to fight anymore.

And then she tells me. I don’t remember the words, but I do remember the feeling like my whole world had been ripped away from me. The bottom of my world fell out, and I’m still scrambling to find it a year later. This is what it felt like the moment my mother told me she was going to die. She didn’t tell me in those exact words, but she introduced the lady doctor and explained that she was an end of life specialist. That the cancer was more aggressive than they first thought, and that they were going to try and fight it, but that the treatment might be too much since she was still recovering from the last four years. She has a blood disorder that means that her body is fighting the chemo, and helping the cancer to grow. It’s a very long shot, and the chemo might not even work. That if the time came, the lady doctor would increase painkillers to suit, and that Mum would just slip away into sleep. Peaceful and calm and in control.

For the next ten days we all sleep at the hospital. I don’t go to work. I take turns with my sister to stay nights in mum’s room, keeping her comfortable and bringing her water and trying to get her to eat something. Making her laugh. Helping her to the bathroom because she can’t do it alone, but she can’t bear for the nurses to do it. My brother and my brother in law shuffle me and my sister between home and the hospital, we take loads of washing home, we bring back clean underwear and pjs, and food for us all. We migrate between Mum’s room, the family lounge at the end of the hall and my godmother’s room, two doors down. Yes, in the middle of all this – my godmother is in the same hospital, on the same ward, with the same oncologist and a different cancer. It’s like a family reunion over cancer and death.

One day I’m at home catching up on some sleep, and when I wake up again I’ve got a text from my sister. She says Mum wants a party. We organise a BBQ out on the terrace for all her friends to come and say a final goodbye. None of them realise how bad it is, and she won’t let anyone visit. The BBQ perks her up, and she looks better than she has in days. She sitting up in bed, directing orders to us all to not forget to invite this person, or to remember to tell them all no flowers. She’s dancing to the music playing in her room, and she singing. I have more hope on that day than I do on any of the days preceding it.

The day of the BBQ is one of those typical wintry days in Perth. Sunny, but fucking freezing. Her friends arrive, in small groups and pairs. Some desperately want to see her. We’ve decided that getting her out of bed is too much, she won’t be attending. She’s taken a turn down again, and she actually sleeps most of the day. She does wake up and look out the window and waves at everyone though. My sister and I take turns to sit with her, keeping her company and tell her who came, who wore what and what they’re all saying about each other. Mum loved a good gossip. I find real comfort in the crowd that has gathered, they’re like our extended family.

That night, the downturn becomes the beginning of the end. I sit with her through endless toilet trips, constant wailing from pain, I endlessly chase down useless casual pool nurses who can but won’t help me. By morning, she’s still alive, but barely. She hasn’t eaten anything for over 24 hours, and she’s sleeping all of the time. She doesn’t even wake up for the doctor in the morning. She sleeps through until my sister arrives. We trade places, and I go home for some sleep after calling my best friend to beg for food.

I’ve only just put my head down when I’m woken by my brother in law, “Em, we need to get going. Jen needs us back at the hospital.”

I stumble from the bed pulling on the clothes I wore yesterday, not caring that they just smell like hospital. When I get to the hospital, my sister is standing at Mum’s closed door, and she looks at me and just cries. And I know, she’s gone. She slipped away and I wasn’t even here for her. I was at home, in my comfy bed, in a dreamless sleep thinking about how I could get some vegetables into me.

I go into her room to find my bedridden godmother sitting in a wheelchair next to her bed. I have no idea how they managed to get Adrienne out of bed, and into Mum’s room two doors down, but there she is, still providing me with strength even while she’s grieving too. I sit holding Mum’s hand for a long time, just sitting there. She could be sleeping, except for the part where she’s not breathing. She’s cold, and her skin is so dry. I have no thoughts or emotions while I sit there, I think I was maybe too overcome to really process it.

My best friend is sitting in the family lounge waiting for me. She had expected to come and say her own goodbyes to my mother today, and instead she’s now rearranging her life so that I won’t have to be alone tonight. By the time we pack up Mum’s room, I’m still not crying. The funeral home come to take her body and I’m still not crying. My sister hasn’t stopped. I feel like I should be doing a lot more weeping, but a little part of me is happy. She’s finally free from all the pain and the sickness.

When I finally fall into bed that night, I’m too exhausted to cry. My bestie is asleep on a mattress at the end of my bed, she hasn’t let me out of her sight for hours. Over the next few days we make some small decisions about the funeral. We celebrate my 30th birthday and my brother’s 25th. We go through Mum’s closet. My sister and I fight over trivial things like who gets Mum’s favourite jacket. We plan the funeral. We meet with the funeral director and the celebrant. I go back to work, and start making apologies to my clients for my absence. We start the process of closing Mum’s business, and packing up the house.

Through all this, all these final things that need to be organised, I am numb. By making my list, and getting through all the things that need to be done I manage to keep my feelings turned off, at bay, far away where I don’t have to deal with them just yet. I wish someone had told me that this is what it would be like. Endless things that needed to be organised, and no time for letting my emotions flow. I am not a person who bottles up her emotions, I am a person who feels – loudly, passionately, and visibly. I decide I need help. I visit a psychologist for the first time in many years. I get nothing from it.

In the aftermath of all of this, I still find it difficult at times to find happiness in simple pleasures. A really good cup of tea and a biscuit. A great find at bookshop. A cloudless day laying in the grass. Going to see a film. I do all of these things in the months after my mother dies, and none of them bring me the joy they once did. I feel dead inside. I feel like I will never feel again, and this terrifies me.

What they don’t tell you when you lose a parent is that grief will consume you. Food will actually lose it’s taste. Wine will become your best friend. The smallest gestures will make you weep for hours, and then pass out from exhaustion and wake up with a headache. This actually happened to me, when a friend from high school dedicated a marathon run to both me and his mother, who has battled breast cancer for years. Other people’s lives matter less, because there is no room in your brain or your heart for anything other than your absolute emptiness. People will worry about leaving you alone, in case you do something stupid. You’ll stay in the same clothes for days and not even care. You will push away the people that love you the most, because how can they possibly understand? And then you’ll get angry at them for staying away. You’ll want to punch every single person that tells you that it gets better with time, or that apologises to you when you tell them that your mother has just passed away. You will never want to receive another sympathy card or bunch of flowers again in your life. Your dog really will be the only living thing that understands your pain. You’ll never wear the dress you wore to your mother’s funeral again, because it will always be THAT DRESS. Slowly though, you will appreciate certain things about certain people, how much time they give you and what they would be willing to do for you. People that you ordinarily wouldn’t expect to receive the gifts of time and patience from. People will risk their families and their own happiness to take away the pain you have. Life will slowly become less of a challenge. The sun might not ever shine quite as bright again, and certainly life will never be the same. But you will go on, because that is what mother’s teach us.

Memories well you up from inside. But they also tear you apart.

— Haroki Murakami