Monday, 7 March 2011


A very quick post to reassure you that I am still alive, just insanely busy, and to ask a somewhat delicate question. Assuming that most who read this are fellow virgins, how many are aroused by, shall we say, mechanical substitutes for the real thing? A huge fuss is made about toys that supposedly give women immense pleasure, but it seems to me that without the actual experience to provide material for the mental element of arousal, the whole premise is flawed. Research shows that most women are sexually aroused by the emotional and mental side of sex just as much, if not more than, by the physical aspects. Without the experience of being desired, it is difficult to imagine the actions and words that lead to arousal in the verbal and emotional brain centres. Then too, is the female predisposition to aural and emotional stimulation inherent, or taught by a society that persists in the 'Happily ever after' mentality in representing love and sex to women?

I have more to say, not least about various friends' recent attempts to set me up, but I'm falling asleep as I write, so forgive me if I wander off to the great big field of fluffy sheep. More sooner rather than later, I promise

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Reason, and reasonable doubt.

Sometimes, more recently of late, I wonder if my untouched state at the advanced age of 28 is symptomatic of something else entirely. As I have no sapphic leanings of any sort, I am sure that sexuality is not the issue. Although I can appreciate the aesthetic of a beautiful woman, it is, and has always been, exclusively male beauty that stirs my interest. I say beauty, because beauty is not only the preserve of the feminine and gentle - there is an undoubted beauty in the clean lines and leonine grace, restrained power, of the male physique at its' best. 'Handsome' has pejorative overtones when applied to a female, unless by a person of a very specific age and class, and in its' true usage implies a certain generosity - in any case, it is a term I dislike when used as a descriptor of masculine beauty.

I digress... Although I respond quite viscerally to a well-crafted description or depiction of sexual desire, I cannot ever recall having that reaction to any man I have met. Certainly, I have been attracted to a face or figure, an intellect or a perceived emotional state, but put bluntly, I have never felt the animalistic desire to rip off clothing - his and mine - so that we might be skin to skin, to physically become two parts of one entity, or even the desperate urge to kiss furiously, as though, in kissing, one's oxygen supply was restored. Is this animalism, this desperation to connect, truly a part of desire, or merely a construct of literature, art and film - a device to excuse physical infidelity or incontinence? I do not know. Perhaps I have simply never met the right man to inspire these overweening feelings, needs, that seem to be a part of the lives of others (in a side note - do see the German film of the same name - spectacular, and, in an age of increasing governmental surveillance of our lives, containing an important message).

Or, to avoid being vulnerable, to avoid the possibility of being hurt, have I erected - no pun intended - walls to contain any physical expression of desire? It cannot help that I inhabit the physically-restrained spheres of upper- and upper-middle-class Britain - famously repressed, though often deeply sexually deviant beneath the layers of Victorian starch. Between social mores and personal insecurities, am I trapped forever as a victim of my own failure to develop past the pre-adolescent in terms of all things sexual? I read in the Sunday papers of the 'rise of the asexuals' and wonder if I fit that description by dint of circumstance, and how many others find themselves there, unwittingly. What is often ignored by a society that involves sex in everything, is that desire must be not only reciprocated, but matched by opportunity, openness and freedom from fear if it is to be consummated - that the fire must burn fiercely in both parties in order to create a bonfire of the self-doubt, self-protection and lack of opportunity that characterises so many lives, my own not least among them.

Finally, is it not me and my issues at all, or is it a product of a world where the old ways, the old orders have been so completely discarded? In previous eras, although virginity was prized, rather than disdained, venues existed, ways existed of meeting partners who might conceivably have the particular combination of features, both physical and non-physical, to excite desire. 'Suitable' sounds dull, but does at least imply some chance of agreement on fundamental issues, which enhances the likelihood of desire founded upon intellect and personality, and the old rituals of courtship might reasonably have been expected to provoke physical desire, not least by the manner in which it was repressed. I suspect that desire, true desire, like curiosity and art, flourishes in adversity. Without these avenues, how many of us - virginal or not - remain stranded in some sort of purgatory between innocence and truly adult relationships?

I have no conclusion, only my observations, my worries, my fears and regrets, and the hope I attempt to nourish, even when my reason suggests that to hope is foolish. "Le coeur a ses raisons, que le raison ne connait point".

Monday, 26 July 2010

Deja vu

I just read a post by Ecrivain on her blog 'Another chapter in the same book', and this sentence made me cringe in recognition:

"Do you know how, when you’ve faced more disappointments than you can handle and the loneliness has just gotten so bad that you actually feel afraid to have any feelings for anybody because it’s like the Universe is out to get you and make you feel bad at every turn?"

Yes, I do know exactly what you mean, and precisely how that feels. There was a period in my life of about six years - mostly when I was studying for my undergraduate degrees - when I 'fell' pretty frequently for guys who never fell for me in their turn. To be fair, half of them probably had no idea how I felt, as I was far too shy/insecure to actually tell them - I think I expected, and probably still expect, the guys I like to be able to read my mind, and/or pick up from my behaviour/increased interest in talking to them, that I think they're wonderful. Not really a realistic expectation of most males in the first place, and as regular readers will know, my version of 'I'm interested body language/verbal signals' is pretty messed up anyway, so what hope did they, or I, possibly have?! At any rate, the number of times I sat by and watched those men 'light up' for someone else - often a colleague, sometimes a close friend - and felt that ghastly sinking feeling, when your teeth are on edge, your smile is so plastic and the lump in your throat so vast that you never know afterwards how you managed to speak, eventually got so hideous that I essentially refused to allow myself to find a guy attractive for years, because I couldn't see how I could possibly handle another round of that without breaking for good.

Maybe that's why I fell so hard when Mr Summer came along - another man I thought - still think, if I'm honest - was/is utterly wonderful. It had been, quite literally, years since I'd allowed myself to feel attraction. He has reappeared in the last few weeks, and in one easy swoop undone all the defences I rebuilt so painstakingly over the winter. He had good reason for disappearing and however detached I try to be, however hard I pinch myself and remind myself what it feels like and where I have been many times before, I cannot quite resist. The chances that he will ever respond as I wish he would are negligible - to the best of my knowledge he's back together with the girlfriend he broke up with just before we met. Nonetheless, every little detail makes my foolish, hopeful heart swoon, and reminds me of exactly why my defences didn't hold in the first place - the glorious, easy phone calls (that feel like we last saw each other yesterday, not a year ago) which he ends with "lots and lots of love", the thoughtful, helpful gesture in a tricky situation, the promise to come and support my professional life and "cheer and throw roses" - his words, not mine - telling his mother that he thinks I'm "a lovely person" - this is a genuinely wonderful man - caring, compassionate, eminently lovable - is it any wonder I can't conquer the hopeful delusion?

I know exactly how this ends - I've been there too many times before. Granted, in hindsight many of those men would have been abysmal matches anyway, but that didn't stop me from feeling what I felt at the time. In this case, in so many ways, he makes utter and complete sense, and because of this fact I have allowed the fear to be pushed back, and the hope to take over, through a stong sense of Deja vu that tells me this may be the worst one of all.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

What is this thing called Love?

Poets write about it, thousands of songs, plays, novels, films are made about it, but does it truly exist? So much a part of the human psyche - the moment when "you just know" - when you want to get as close as physically possible, as close as emotionally and intellectually possible, to another person and keep them always. The endless moment of recognition, of forever in a glance. The instant when your feet are lead and your soul soars.

If so many people write about it, sing about it, paint about it, it must be real. But give me leave to doubt.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Movie Drama

Films are my escape and my refuge. My only major extravagance is a monthly subscription card that allows me to attend as many films in a month as I like at one particular chain. It’s rare for me not to see enough films in a month to make the cost entirely worth it. And I love the cinema – with the exception of horror films (which inevitably give me nightmares) I’ll watch almost anything. I see great films and awful films, juvenile trivia, animated extravaganzas and serious drama, in English, Italian, French, German, or any other language they care to make it in. One day in the distant future, once I’m finished with the main phase of my working life, I’d like to produce films – it’s been a quiet ambition since I was about 14. Today, with all the people I might otherwise have called for company out of town for the long weekend, with intermittent rain, grey skies, and not much to do, at the end of two very busy and difficult weeks filled with too many rejections on too many levels, I decided to make an afternoon of it at the cinema. Firstly, ‘The Blind Side’ – had to see Sandra Bullock’s Oscar-winning performance. It was impressive, like she’d finally grown out of being the ingĂ©nue she’s played at some level in so many films (some of which I love- ‘While you were sleeping’ is required Christmas viewing in my book) and graduated to full leading-lady status in a role requiring more than looking good, and arguing with the handsome, but exasperating, man she will eventually kiss as the credits roll. The film itself; moving, but slick, and a little too ‘shiny’. Very well done, but a bit too perfect. Then, as I thought, an antidote - ‘Remember Me’ – it’s been advertised in such a way as to appear a romantic comedy of sorts – perhaps a little more thoughtful than most – but still essentially light-hearted. And besides, I am female, and any film that has both Robert Pattinson and Pierce Brosnan in it has got to be easy on the eye and good for the feminine soul! It also stars Lena Olin, and she always chooses interesting films.

Sitting waiting for the film to start, I mused rather cynically on the cleverness of the audience-attraction technique. Pattinson and Brosnan for the girls – mother/daughter pairings, friends out for a ‘girly’ film, and the inevitable packs of Twilight fans; then Emilie de Ravin – the subject of many of my male friends’ ‘Lost’ (and occasionally ‘Roswell’) fantasies, to pull in the boyfriends who might otherwise be deeply reluctant to escort their girlfriends to drool over another man, albeit an entirely inaccessible film star; and Olin for the more mature and discerning male visitor, and those who appreciate consistently excellent acting and interesting choices. I could not have been more wrong in my expectations, except for the quality of the acting, which was uniformly superb, nothing was as I anticipated. I should, perhaps, have been tipped off by the title – the phrase is not exactly associated with light and happy things. Those who intend to see the film, and don’t want the experienced spoiled should now skip to the last paragraph of this post, but a word of warning – please take tissues with you when you go, and do not expect to walk out of the cinema indifferent in any way.

It is one of the most subtle films I’ve seen in a very long time. Even when being obvious it manages to be subtle. I didn’t clock the name of the director, but I will certainly be IMDb-ing later to find out. With stars as publicised and omni-present as Pattinson in particular (his face is on virtually every bus, phone box and tube station wall in London (and Paris) at the moment, which can’t be a comfortable way to live life) it’s difficult to achieve a sufficient suspension of reality to completely dissociate the star from the character being played. No matter how good the acting, a little piece of one’s brain keeps on saying “that’s Robert Pattinson, playing Tyler” or “Meryl Streep, playing Julia Childs” – there’s a level at which someone that famous will always be themselves in our conscious thoughts. In this film, somehow it doesn’t matter. Every tiny nuance – physical, verbal, or facial – is so acutely observed and immaculately timed, across the entire cast, that the names of the characters, and consequently, all that the audience consciously knows of the actors, becomes utterly irrelevant. Another person to IMDb – the girl who played the younger sister gave the most subtle and moving performance I’ve ever seen from a child actor, and she could very easily have been a false note in a production such as this, surrounded by actors of extraordinary talent.

As a study of grief, of people damaged by circumstances outwith their control, it’s outstanding. The first hints of healing that begin to show towards the end of the film make the utterly unexpected and shocking denouement even more tragic. I left the cinema in a state of shock. Although not ostensibly primarily a 9/11 film, to me, it’s probably the best of the films inspired by, or referencing, that hideous day – emphasising inescapably the normalcy of the victims on that day – not so much martyrs, with the faceless heroism that implies, but real people, damaged people, humans with their own histories, many very imperfect, and their own struggles with this often painful paradox we call the human condition – what we love most is often what hurts us most deeply. Fate, blind chance, the unpredictability, and fragility, of life – these things are explored more deeply than I’ve seen in a film for a long time, and even as I write this, many things that seemed trivial, or charming, or merely plot devices, are coming back to me in light of the conclusion as unbearably significant. I will have to see it again, probably several times, in order to fully appreciate the quiet extraordinariness of this film. Frankly, I can’t quite believe it got made – it’s far too real, too rough and too intelligent for the Hollywood production line that seems to control so much of what makes it into cinemas now – slick, polished, sometimes very good, but rarely so brutally honest. Sometimes ugly, sometimes tormented, sometimes charming, humorous, often shocking for a whole range of exactly the right reasons. I was stunned. It is not comfortable watching. I am sure many will hate it – because it’s not what they expect, because it forces them to examine the honest truth of misery, simply because it lacks the Hollywood sugar-coating we have come to expect from much mainstream cinema.

Enormous kudos to all involved, and to Pattinson in particular – this film, for which I note he was Executive Producer as well as star – must have presented an enormous challenge, but also an enormous risk. His teen fans, and not-so-teen fans, will not expect to see him like this. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed Twilight , and will undoubtedly go to see Eclipse and Breaking Dawn when they come out. I will probably enjoy them very much, especially if directors have been hired who can see past the ‘teen appeal’ to the core of the books’ emotional life and bring that to screen in the way that Catherine Hardwicke did (I did not admire the film of New Moon particularly – it treated an emotionally traumatic story in too juvenile and ‘surface’ a manner - Hollywood money and production values got in the way a bit too much – I preferred the book). Enjoyment or not, that level of fame, and the no-doubt flattering offers that must come along with it, would be hard to resist – many, many easy choices on offer. What impresses me is that the man in question has made, and continues to make, the difficult choices beyond being Edward Cullen – a flamboyant homosexual artist (very risky choice for a teen ‘heart-throb’), a young man sleeping his way through the society cougars of a literary classic, a lost boy, almost incapacitated by grief and anger – the boardroom showdown between Tyler and his estranged father is a scene that will stay with me for quite some time as one of the most emotionally powerful scenes I’ve seen on film.

Don’t go expecting hearts and flowers, or a cheap laugh – there are funny moments aplenty, but this is not the film to send you from the cinema with a spring in your step and a sappy smile on your face. But do go to see it, be patient with what seems like a slow burn, and a lot of less-than-crucial detail – I promise it will all matter in the end. I will remember ‘Remember Me’ for a very long time, and if you like this blog, I suspect you will too.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Valentine's Weltschmerz

Valentine’s Day is an annual torture specifically for the single and lonely that far surpasses anything MI5 or the CIA could come up with. For weeks now, every shop, and many other businesses have been displaying hearts, flowers, sex in their windows with frightening focus and intensity. It has become impossible to ignore, and the ache engendered gets worse every year. Even a visit to the supermarket for a mundane bottle of milk or loaf of bread becomes a psychological torture cell at this time of year, weaving between the couples loading up their trolleys with champagne and luscious meals for two, and the tempting displays of flowers, cards, chocolates and other romantic indulgences.

Many try to blow off Valentine’s Day as a cynical commercial exploitation of an old tradition that makes a fortune for chocolatiers, florists and greeting card manufacturers, and yes, it probably is. But that doesn’t comfort those of us who are without love year after year after year. It would be the highlight of my decade if someone sent me a Valentine’s card this year, or even just gave me a hug, wished me ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ and told me I was beautiful, or that they cared, in whatever sense. Hell, I’d be over the moon to have someone to do those things for - in fact, in many ways it would probably make me even happier than receiving one myself.

Today, having avoided all the magazine Valentine’s specials for weeks, I picked up an article, mostly by accident, that talked about ‘settling’ for Mr Alright, rather than waiting for the proverbial Prince. This article suggested that if one hadn’t married by 30, or found the right guy by then, then one ought to consider making the pragmatic, anti-romantic decision to take what you could get. It also pointed out that by the age of 30, a woman only retains 30% of her eggs, severely limiting her reproductive capacity, and gave the statistic that happiness peaks at 28 for a woman. All I could think was “God help me!”. I can’t convey on paper how much terror and desperation was in that thought. If this is as good as it gets, then I can’t face the next however many years, because frankly, I am more miserable now than I think I have ever been in my life. It physically hurts, and I can barely move for sadness and grief. Another article in the same magazine said that the average woman sleeps with 4 men in her lifetime, but wondered what was so great about being average. This evening, I am so lonely, and starved for physical contact and affection, that for the first time in my life, I seriously considered going out and getting drunk enough that I would fling myself on some poor unsuspecting male and hope, hope beyond all reason, that he was cad enough to take advantage of me. This is not normal. This is the product of weeks of build-up to an event from which I am utterly excluded, like so many other single people, an unsubtle drip, drip, drip – a Chinese water torture of the soul – of the importance of relationships, and the implication that those who are alone are in some way defective or unworthy. I really don’t need to be reminded of that – I already feel like a freak – twenty-seven, unkissed, virginal, never the object of any real flirtation or physical interest from any man. And so, so alone.

Our feminist forebears insisted that women should not feel the need for a male counterpart to feel complete. Logically, that’s fine, but physiologically, biologically, psychologically, the need exists at a deeper level than could ever be expunged or wholly suppressed. With the occasional exception of our lesbian sisters, women need men as much as men need women. We are equal, but we are not the same – we are designed to match up, two different parts of a whole. Love at first sight, love that starts as hate, love that grows and builds, pure, simple lust – these things are written, depicted, sung about time and time and time again. They are so much a part of the human conscious that it is not possible that they do not exist. Why then have I missed out so entirely? What is wrong with me that I have never experienced the moment of mutual want and/or attraction that seems to define the lives of so many? I only wish knew. Tomorrow, or rather, today, by the time I post this, publically, I will try to be magnanimous – I will wish my loved-up friends a Happy Valentine’s Day, and exhort my fellow singletons to keep the faith that next year will be different. Underneath, I will be screaming in pain. I am tired. I am stretched to the limits of my endurance, and I’m not sure I believe my own exhortations any more – the rantings of extremist hope against the torture of an impenetrable secret society.

None of this makes much sense, I’m afraid, and it’s not exactly erudite or overly articulate – the torture of terminal loneliness messes with the synapses pretty effectively. Valentine’s Day will soon be over until next year, but for today, I could give Werther a pretty good run for his money.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Grief and arrested development

Last week, I came to the sad conclusion that the man I have been pining for since the summer has absolutely no interest in me at all. He may have been willing, in passing, on the rebound, to sleep with me once, but that, however much I wish it otherwise, however much I fooled myself into thinking there was more, is/was the extent of his interest. In all honesty, I knew this some time ago, but knowing and accepting are two very different things. It is rare for me to meet a man I find appealing, and this man was more so than any other I’ve ever encountered. So much so, that I felt certain that he would play an important part in my life – perhaps the most important part of all. More fool me. No matter how many of my ideals he matched, no matter how much fun we had – the banter, the sly ‘in’-jokes, the silly dancing and the laughter – for him, I am no more than a passing acquaintance who insists on maintaining contact. I’m probably a nuisance. I hope I’m not a joke.

My reaction to the acceptance of this has not been fun. I feel like I am grieving for something that never happened, for the beautiful, joyous moments I had in my head with him, and for yet another episode of self-delusion. Grief seems like the right emotion, though somewhat overblown for a relationship that mostly existed in my head and heart. In truth, perhaps my grief is not just for this specific man, and what I hoped might be, but for a lifetime of loves that have never existed in reality. I am truly grieving the loss of all the experiences that should have been mine – the first, shy, tender explorations of adult emotion as a young girl, the angst and passionate emotion of a first serious love in later teen years, all the tumultuous, joy-filled happiness and freedom of youthful love affairs. I have missed so much, and I will not have those chances again. I cannot turn back the clock. And I am afraid – terrified of a life spent alone and longing for the reassurance, the intimacy, the sustenance of loving human contact and the comfort of being truly understood by another human being. I have lived that way for so long already, and I don’t think I can survive an entire lifetime like that. I feel cold and empty, and for all its’ promise, the future has a great void in the centre from this vantage point. I want a husband, a lover, a friend. I want a family and a home, and I cannot face the prospect of being alone like this forever.

But why have I missed out? From an external perspective, it doesn’t make any sense. But I have no concept of how to be appealing to the men I find attractive on any level other than friendship. My development, as a sexual being, seems to be arrested at an almost pre-pubertal level. I don’t know how, but almost every other girl I know seems to have acquired some knowledge of how to attract romantic male attention at some stage. Was there a class I missed? I have no problem making male friends, but absolutely zero ability to inspire a less platonic approach.

I started school early, and was moved up a year when I was thirteen – in retrospect, I suspect I missed out on the crucial early-teen experiences and experiments where my peers learned how to interact boy-girl. I ended up graduating at sixteen – academically set for life, emotionally unready for anything at all. It does not help, socially, to be two years younger than your classmates. I didn’t get invited to the parties where I might have learned these things, and I never found a close group of female friends who might have rectified the omission. I just have no concept of the way to act. Case in point: on Tuesday, I went to a dance class – something I enjoy very much, though find utterly daunting, because of the partner aspect (in fact, I nearly left earlier in the evening, because I really wasn’t in the mood for what felt like another round of social rejection. No one asks me to dance, so I find myself doing the asking, and that can get dispiriting after a while). Nonetheless, I stayed, and enjoyed the last dance with someone I danced with last time – an experienced and very good dancer, which makes the whole undertaking so much more pleasurable. Afterwards, at the pub, we got talking. It was great fun, until I realised that I was sitting with a man who had bought me a drink, and I was talking to him about our respective jobs and about biotechnology - not exactly small talk. Next to us, another pair had moved past the small-talk stage, but they were definitely not talking science or work! And I have absolutely no idea how I could have engendered their conversation, and not mine. Whether or not I would have wanted the conversation I was having to go another way is a moot point, as I rather enjoyed it as it was. The point is, I don’t know how to have any other sort of conversation. I don’t have the first clue about how to appear femininely appealing and in need of protection, which seems to be what most men respond to. I haven’t the first idea how to make small talk beyond the weather, or how to talk of inconsequential things. Basically, I don’t know how to be anything other than my public self – confident, intellectual and apparently utterly aloof and unapproachable – and in one way, I shudder at the idea of trying. It seems so dishonest.

It’s really a self-fulfilling prophecy: If I don’t ‘speak’ the right language, I can hardly blame the men for any failure to understand. When I try, it seems that I miss the reciprocal language – why I didn’t understand when Mr Summer suggested that I was going home with him, for example. He’d replied to my clumsy attempts to communicate in syntax too sophisticated for my elementary understanding, and so I failed to translate, until I was halfway home in my own, separate taxi. And I’ve been kicking myself ever since. Logically, I ‘m pretty sure I would have had my heart broken fairly irreparably, and I’m not at all sure what I would have done if I had understood. On the other hand, I might have been brave, and I might have been introduced to physical intimacy by someone I genuinely liked, and who I suspect would have been a very, very good instructor.

It also doesn’t help that most of the time, and particularly if there’s an interesting conversation in the offing, I am inclined to forget that men can be seen in any way other than potential friends and sparring partners. Don’t get me wrong – I certainly notice attractive men – far more than I should. It’s just that, in social situations, I almost always forget the attractiveness quotient, or that I should be behaving in a prescribed fashion if I want romantic/sexual attention, and just get on with the conversation. Actually, I’m not one hundred percent sure whether I genuinely forget, or subconsciously repress it – that injunction that “boys are friends” certainly stuck with me.

My mother said to me the other day that I needed to “be myself”. The truly scary thing is that I’ve been putting on a show for so long, in so many different ways for so many people, that I don’t even know who “myself” is without one or other of the personas I’ve created to fit the situations and vastly differing worlds I find myself in. Whoever ‘me’ is, in none of my characters do I know how to be approachable, and as for flirtation, for gentle encouragement, for open-ness, I may as well still be ten years old. And for that, for all the lost loves and lost chances, I grieve.