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If You Ask Me…

Offering unsolicited advice, 5 days a week or fewer

Babies, Babies.

I streamed an online video yesterday morning and the targeted ad that popped up before it played spoke in a soft, low, American-accented female voice. ‘Last year an Indian woman made headlines around the world after she gave birth aged 72,’ it said. ‘You may have heard how, with advances in egg freezing technologies, we’re no longer bound by nature’s patterns of time. Without the impending ring of the biological alarm clock women could gain ten years in deciding whether they want to have kids or not — time to further their education, find stable relationships and homes, build their finances. Not since the birth control pill have we been able to intervene so readily in family planning.* Studies of parents in Germany and the UK have shown that people who have kids after the age of 35 are the happiest.’ Then it paused for dramatic effect. ‘So, what next?’ It asked me.

The overall effect — as I sat alone in bed with a cup of tea and a half-eaten overripe banana — was quite menacing.

I have long since known that corporations are monitoring our every move: listening to our conversations through the mics in our smartphones, perusing the files we store in virtual clouds, watching us masturbate via our computers’ built-in cameras and possibly tracking our fertility with microscopic monitors they clandestinely insert in our cervixes during routine smear tests. Whatever, I’m not that bothered usually — not when they only want to sell me a handbag, £150 face cream or promote a digital subscription offer to The New York Times, complete with iPad. This is the price we pay for consumerism and twelve hours watching sponsored skin-care blogs. Yes, of course, being monitored by corporations 24/7 is pretty frightening when you think about it with any sense of the global political situation — the worldwide swing to the right indicates, to anyone with a grasp of history, that progressive, liberal ideologies and sporadic wanton sexual practices, documented as encrypted code, might one day be leveraged as an excuse to shoot us all up against a wall. But mostly I don’t think about that.

What I do think about, a lot, is having a baby. And it is most unsettling to me that the internet knows this, and is trying to offer me advice. Listen Zuckerberg or whoever the fuck is masterminding this surveillance project (and also my friend Michael who keeps telling me to ‘FYE’ (freeze your eggs), every time I lose my shit about the terribleness of men, and the ever-speeding passage of time): I am very confused about motherhood and don’t want to be pressured right now. Helpful advice about how I should deal with my rapidly declining fertility will only spin me off into unending panic.

I am already behaving very erratically. I am not going to freeze my eggs but I do keep having not-that-careful sex with men I don’t know very well, or like, as people, and then freaking out that they might have got me pregnant. I do have a nervous breakdown the week before my period is due and poke at my breasts wondering whether they are more or less tender than usual. I do keep having waves of nausea that might be fear, period or pregnancy related. I do daydream about the baby I might be carrying, and how his (or, preferably, her) little fat baby hands might grab idly at my long, beaded necklace while I’m breastfeeding. I do wonder whether a chemical or surgical abortion would be preferable if I do actually ever get pregnant by one of these losers. I do drink too much and cry at animal memes.

‘What if I never have a baby? Or sex again?’ I think, in the cold, witching hours of a Sunday night when PMS hormonal surges are prickling under my skin and raising my basal body temperature to a level where it is actually impossible to sleep.

And I don’t even like children that much. They can be all right company for an hour or so, I’ll admit. And some of them are quite endearing, with personalities that will definitely solidify, aged 20, into something I could work with on a regular basis. But it isn’t as if I think, in general, their inane yabbering, neediness and capacity to utterly derail your life from any routine that might be considered enjoyable is a good thing.

So what the fuck next?

I’ve decided that I am giving myself a year off from men and thoughts about babies. A dog is moving in with me next week and I’m going to focus on that lifestyle change and the many academic and creative projects I’ve had simmering on the back burner while baby and men/sex worries have boiled over on the front hobs. Her name is Edna and I am very excited.

*My friends, sex partners and long-term readers will know that I am very anti the birth control pill, and really, if I’m honest all hormonal contraceptives in general. So you would think, if they were listening properly, the targeted advertising algorithms would find a better way to sell me unnecessary medical interventions.

Bad Advice

Last week, I told you about some brilliant advice my friend gave me while we were pissed on whisky and seven different types of craft beer. I want to be absolutely clear though: People rarely to never give good advice. It isn’t their fault. We are programmed to offer advice that validates our own life choices*. (This is because, when other people do what we have done, it makes us feel better about ourselves. It makes us feel we are brilliant and correct and on the path to happiness, despite internal evidence to the contrary). Or else, if we’re really self aware and altruistic (and let’s face it we rarely to never are) we tell people what we would have done differently, with the benefit of hindsight. We do not have the requisite information and emotional distance to offer helpful advice to other people in almost all circumstances. Unless of course we are a doctor advising on medical treatments.

This is why you shouldn’t listen to anything anyone tells you to do. They haven’t got a clue, babe. They really don’t know what’s best. We’re all just improvising our way through life here. And it’s mostly misunderstandings, unreturned correspondence, fractious phone calls with our mum and overdue electricity bills. We cannot be expected to sort other people’s shit out along with everything else we’re juggling. You are just going to have to listen to a variety of opinions and come to your own conclusions in the end, like everybody else. And everything might fall apart anyway.

I say all this because over at Dear Mariella, The Guardian’s weekly advice column, there’s a woman who is harbouring a grudge towards a friend who gave her bad fertility advice that subsequently ruined her life. Of course, I’m sure it isn’t easy to come to terms with the fact you’ll never have biological children (though my sympathy here is limited due to my own fertility staring right down the barrel of a gun and no men stepping in to, erm, fire the required shots and impregnate me with a tiny baby to love before my womb dries up and blows off in the wind like those fluffy dandelion seeds). But at a certain point you have to accept that life is going to do what it wants to do and there is no amount advice from other people that can fix that.

Advice, like anything else, is simply the human brain fooling itself into thinking we have any control whatsoever over our existence. Let me tell you this: We don’t. So while I am very much still advocating the giving of advice on the basis that it helps us to maintain sanity in an increasingly frightening and unjust world, I am also telling you that on almost no account whatsoever should you listen to what your friends and loved ones tell you to do. Although if you are a woman over the age of 25 who does not earn money from the quality of her looks and you are going to a wedding this summer I want to suggest in the strongest possible terms that you avoid floral garments. Nobody’s average looks were ever improved by chintz — I might return to this subject in future weeks. I feel very strongly about it, for reasons I don’t quite understand.

Path of Least Resistance

People keep offering me advice. That’s because I keep telling them about my problems*. Their advice is mostly shit, obviously, but that doesn’t mean it’s unwelcome (any time I’m getting advice it means we’re on my favourite subject — me — and thus the quality of the conversation is high). The other day though my friend Joe unexpectedly gave me some really great advice, after I complained to him that all the unavailable men I’ve been pursuing aren’t interested in any long-term commitments, such as getting me pregnant, or going on a third date, and I thought I’d better share it here (if only because I have no advice of my own to give right now, due to my personal life being an unmitigated disaster).

“You’re making it too hard for yourself.” Joe said, handing me another whisky in an ill-advised move to keep the night going despite the fact we were on the bleak and unrelenting subject of my romantic life. “If someone isn’t available you fuck off. Don’t hang about making yourself miserable. What’s the point? You don’t want to be with someone who needs persuading that you’re worth their time.”

A light bulb burst in my head and little sparks of warmth and certainty in his rightness exploded all over my body. Or it might have been the whisky.

“Take the path of least resistance,” he said. “Go for the low hanging fruit.”

And then we drank more whisky and wine and the last thing I remember is playing trivial pursuit with some discarded cards we found in a pub. I don’t know that I was speaking in full sentences by this point.

Anyway, even without the delicious 2am whisky glow I’m still very much feeling the rightness of my friend’s wisdom. I’m going to read Zen in the Art of Archery and meditate instead of over-analysing and projecting my hopes and dreams onto men with hand tattoos and wives and unresolved childhood traumas that really are not going to be remedied by my vagina. Seems sensible, in light of the past decade.

*In hindsight, I might not be the best person to write a blog based on giving advice. Even if loosely and tongue in cheek.

Teetotal

What did you do on Saturday? I spent it vomiting. I vomited in many places — my parents’ toilet, the gutter outside Barnfield estate, a patch of grass somewhere between Woolwich and Charlton, North Greenwich car park. In the toilets at North Greenwich station I held onto the silver toilet bowl to steady myself as I heaved and unidentified yellow liquid on the seat soaked into the sleeves of my jumper. I projectile vomited into a bin at Green Park, and another one at Pimlico.

I am 33 years old. This has to stop.

I’ve always had terrible hangovers. Evil, soul crushing, utterly physically and emotionally draining hangovers that involve hours of sickness, followed by cystitis, followed by anxiety. Once, aged sixteen, after a night drinking Lambrini on the 96 bus and kissing this really hot boy who I think was called Stuart, I spent 45 minutes puking into a bin at Edgware Road while my best friend stood protectively over me shouting ‘What?! Ain’t you never seen nobody be sick before?’ at gawking passers-by (we fell out a few years later and remembering this makes me miss her). I eventually recovered my composure enough to leave the station and lie in the wet mud at Hyde Park as Craig David sang ‘7 Days’ on a stage close by. I think maybe Suggs played some Madness hits at that event too but I was being given hydration fluids by the St Johns’ ambulance paramedics at that point so it’s all a bit hazy.

It was undignified when I was a teenager and it is undignified now. So, yesterday, I decided it was time I gave myself some sensible advice and quit drinking. I think we should all stop drinking babies. It would be so good for our health and wellbeing. I was going to go teetotal — like Natalie Portman, Abraham Lincoln and my brother. It felt such a relief to think I might stave off liver disease and pancreatic cancer and never again send an ill-advised 1am Friday night text message to a man who does not want me. I didn’t drink for the whole of January and I have never felt so amazing. I got loads done. Imagine what I could achieve if only I just never ever drank five beers, three whiskies, a bottle and a half of white wine and a brandy for the road ever ever again?

It was all going so well today, until my Dad opened a bottle of prosecco and served it to me very cold in a tall glass with an out of season strawberry dropped in as a decorative flourish. Now half the bottle is gone and I have failed at quitting alcohol less than 24 hours after deciding to do so. Do I have a problem or is everyone like this? Actually, don’t answer that. Just invite me to do wholesome things and never ever let me order whisky if I come out drinking with you. Thanks in advance.

Bitter, bitter

My friend sent me this poem on Valentine’s Day and it was the best valentine’s gift I’ve ever received – except for the time I had this boyfriend who gave me a bag filled with little things I like (cigars, whisky, underwear, candles etc.), but that was so long ago it might as well have happened to someone else.

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Unhappily Married

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I have discovered that loads of married couples are utterly miserable and that, perhaps even worse, most of them aren’t having sex – at least with each other – anymore. There is a whole ‘dead bedrooms‘ thread on reddit (the gift that keeps on giving) where sadly married people talk about how their partner rejects them. And all I can say is: lol.

I don’t even have any advice for you. If you are daft enough to marry someone you don’t even like because society told you that’s what grown ups do, I will happily delight in every downfall your poor judgement serves up. Especially because you are the people most likely to ask if I’m ‘seeing anyone’.

I always assumed that married couples were happy, more or less, otherwise they’d just get a divorce right? Also why would you have your wedding photo as a profile pic on all your social media accounts if the sight of your spouse makes your skin crawl? Makes no sense.

Crazy Old Nannas

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Someone has written to the Guardian because his nan is pretending she’s got a boyfriend when she hasn’t really. It seems like an odd thing to ask professional advice on. Nans notoriously exhibit baffling and eccentric behaviour — that’s one of the joys of becoming an old person. With advancing years, thinning hair and a sagging face full of wrinkles at long last you can do whatever the fuck you like and screw all the haters who want to dictate how you should live your life. Last week my own nan got blown over and pinned under a wooden fence in her garden during storm Doris, despite being warned not to leave the house, for example (no drama, she’s fine). And my other nan routinely tells us that she lost her virginity to a hot chip (no, me neither).

The other issue I take with this letter is that the writer accuses his nan of living a ‘fantasy life’, as if we’re not all doing that. I don’t know anyone in a relationship who isn’t living a fantasy, projecting what they want in a partner onto whoever it is they’re with and feeling perpetually disappointed when they have to stare down the gap between what they fantasise they’ve got and the reality. I include myself in this: I never cease in convincing myself that whatever guy I’m obsessed with is in love with me, even when his lack of contact and supreme indifference shape the entirety of our interactions.

Sex is the same. If your nan’s sex life is active, even in her mind, you’d do well to admire her for wringing all the pleasure she can out of these final decades. Don’t judge her just because the lies have become blatant. Instead remember that there is simply no way anything anyone tells you about their sex life correlates with the truth. They are either exaggerating or, less commonly, understating, to save face. Whether we’re currently fucking someone or not, our sex life is mostly in our heads. There are only so many things you can do in sex and only so much appetite one has for it; inevitably we turn to subversion and outright untruths to avoid confronting our carnal shortcomings.

In fact it’s the same with jobs, houses, friendships, family relations and leisure time — the things you tell yourself and other people are very very probably very far away from the objective reality of your life. And it’s no wonder, most of the time everything is either banal to the point of comatose or awful with fleeting moments of joy to punctate the sadness. No one escapes this truth. My friend used to work in a bar opposite where Adele lived when 21 came out, and she mainly remembers Adele, during this halcyon period of her career, miserably drinking one glass of wine and then going home alone to her flat, where she would hoover and smoke a fag with the curtains open. I don’t know why but this story always makes me really happy.

The Right to Rage

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There’s a subreddit called ‘relationship advice’ and I am totally addicted to it. It’s amazing. You can go on there and post about any issues you might have in your interpersonal life (however big or small) and strangers will tell you what to do. I am one of those strangers. In fact, I am more than one of those strangers. I have three separate accounts with different usernames that I alternate between, sometimes posting three conflicting bits of advice on the same post. I’m not sure if this is against the rules and I really hope, if it is, that no one from the relationship advice subreddit clocks my behaviour, or reads this, and bans me — because, let me tell you now, if I am cut off from a regular supply of other people’s romantic problems, I will not be able to deal with the withdrawal symptoms. I will make that toilet scene from Trainspotting look like an urban wedding inspiration Pinterest board.

The best thing about reading other people’s romantic problems is that it reminds you how wise and relatively sane you are in comparison. Take, for example, this post that a woman wrote a few days ago, asking whether or not she had a decent reason to be angry with her boyfriend.

This is what we have come to in 2017, despite feminism, Freud and a publishing industry propped-up by books promoting emotional wellness: someone asking people she’s never met whether she is allowed to be angry. Of course, you’re allowed to be angry love. Of course you’re allowed to rage at your boyfriend about relatively trivial irritations. That is the whole point of having a boyfriend. I wish I had one right now just so that I could shout at him about the empty Indian takeaway cartons I’ve left on the living-room floor.

I was once an angry person. Explosively angry — I’d regularly fly into violent, hyper-articulate, apoplectic rages of which, I promise, you have never seen the like. (Unless you were there, which, who knows, you might have been.) For example, in 2006 when a uniformed soldier made a crude sexual comment to my friend on a train, I went so hard-core that he ended up cowering against a toilet cubicle while his mate apologised to me and my friend, explaining that they had just got back from Iraq and hadn’t seen women for a while — and that honestly, he swore, they weren’t like that usually and would never do it again.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you’ll do things you regret if you lose your temper. I never once regretted anything I did losing my temper. In fact, the only regrets I have are about those rare occasions on which I felt annoyed and held my tongue*.

Still, I’m not an angry person any more, and it’s something I miss about myself. It is quite difficult to be angry in public once you are over the age of about 30 because of the accumulated social pressure to mind everyone else’s feelings, and also because you get to a stage where the people you might want to rage at most often (waiting staff, the customer service personnel at high street banks, transport officials) are younger and lower in social-status than you are. Humiliating them in front of their colleagues comes to feel like cruelty, rather than levelling the playing field. Also, when anger is your emotional default there is a point at which you have to get professional help for that so it doesn’t turn inward and kill you.

We mustn’t deny our emotions though. That is a very important thing you learn if you engage in therapy and read wellness books sanctioned by Oprah. And we mustn’t let people we’re in love with act like cunts and not get called out on it. So if you’re reading, woman from the relationship advice subreddit, smash some plates and tell your boyfriend he’s an arsehole. And under no circumstances whatsoever should you feel guilty for it. Rage is just as valid an expression of your feelings as kindness, so long as you stop short of physical assault and resolve it over a cup of tea and make-up sex afterwards.

*Like this one time, circa 2009, when I ordered a Chinese takeaway, waited ages for it to arrive and eventually rang the restaurant. They had taken down the wrong number and had a man sitting outside in a Ford Fiesta with my now lukewarm dinner on his lap. ‘Why you not look out the window?!’ the restaurant owner shouted at me down the receiver and — I still can’t believe I did this — I calmly apologised and went and fetched my cold meal instead of screaming ‘WHY THE FUCK HASN’T YOUR MORONIC DELIVERY MAN RUNG MY FUCKING DOORBELL?!!” and demanding a refund. I think about this incident quite often, and every time I do I wish I could go back and play things differently.

Nightmare Girlfriend, Step Away

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‘What does it mean’, a grown man who really should know better asks over on reddit, ‘when my gf (26f) says she trusts me (36m) but not others?’

It means, my darling, that she’s a controlling nightmare who thinks you are going to drink, take drugs and have sex with other women. It means, my darling, that she believes you’ll be unable to resist the advances of hot groupies should they take their knickers off for you.

You are 36 years old. It is time to step away when romantic partners reveal manipulative, controlling behaviour. There are only a few short decades between you and eternal death — for my money she’s not worth sacrificing a good time.

You’re welcome.

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