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Monday, 29 May 2017

#32 On Solitude With Children, and How Trying to End Solitude is Hard

I worry I might dirty them if I get too close 

So my relationship with my husband predates Tinder. We’re both very glad about this. When we see references to Tinder culture on TV, or hear about it from our unmarried friends, we think how much harder it must be - how much thicker skin you’d need as a person - to embark on a romance in this way. As if starting to date someone wasn’t hard enough on the old nerves and insecurities, here is a world where you can be swiped into oblivion on a screen, where your written messages, your profile and photographs of your face can all be passed around and laughed at without you even knowing. It’s a tough gig, this modern dating business.

The thing is, I don’t think I’ve fully avoided it, actually. And no - **ANTI-SCANDAL**  - I’m not remotely single again, it’s actually something more simple. I’m trying to make local friends. Mum friends. And I tells ya, on your less-perfect days it can make you feel like a Tinder loser, a left-swipe-ee, as it were.

I’ll explain. Moving to a new area and still currently out of work as there is no work (yawn), I decide I’d better make some buddies to fill the conversational void left by, you know, my fifteen-month old daughter. So one thing it is customary for a mum to do in this situation is to go to a local playgroup. It’s quite an easy set-up: toys and facilities all set out, loads of parents hanging about that you can talk to, though handily - and this is one great thing about kids - the conversation can be very non-committal since you can always use your kid as an excuse to duck out and run off if needs be. Easy, hey. Except if you’re actually trying to make lasting contacts, you begin to worry that if someone does duck off from a conversation with you, it’s because you’re boring them, or coming on a bit strong, or desp. You might perceive a connection and want to hang out again, but feel pushy or pesky if you ask. Is this too soon? Should I wait until I get chatting to them next time? Are they just humouring me until I go away?

What’s more, there’s a statuesque woman at my new playgroup and she always looks so ridiculously well turned-out I swear she must be in those ‘passers-by in the street looking amazing’ pages of magazines. Honestly, she  wears red lipstick and heels and a Grace Kelly backcombed ponytail. To playgroup. Probably on her way to somewhere fabulous afterwards. And the more I look at her the more I’m suddenly aware of my own grubbying around, pre-shower with no-makeup-wax-face. I feel bad that I might somehow dirty her if I go near her. I grubby off somewhere else.

See what I mean about the dating thing?

And the likeness to Tinder is here: it gets worse once mobile phones start getting involved. Even if someone you talk to suggests switching numbers, if you suggest a date and they keep turning you down, are they beginning to regret giving their number to you? Have you become a left-swipee? Is this treat-em-mean-keep-em-keen?

These are all very paranoid thoughts, I realise, and when you’ve never found it that hard to make friends before, you realise why you take all this so personally; you’re low in confidence at the times when you feel a bit lonely, and it makes you feel needy. Because being a mum can be a bit lonely, and it doesn’t matter who you are. You will experience it if you have kids.

Realising this, although not fixing the problem, paradoxically made me feel closer to all mums, in a way. It made me realise that all those confident stereotypes: the celebrity mum, the prettiest or most popular girl at school, those flawless women, if they’d had children then at some point they would have been alone. Even if surrounded by friends and/or adoring yes-people all day and a partner who loved them, at night when the baby woke they’d have left a warm bed and gone to rock a sad baby in darkness, until silence fell again.

And it’s a weird thing, this connection with your baby at these times. When you feel low or rejected, you draw them closer to you as if they’re your protection against the world: they need you, unconditionally, when it might seem that nobody else does. And when you see beautiful, famous mums or walk past airbrushed-looking ones on the street, pushing their designer prams, you know deep down that sometimes they get low too, and sometimes their baby is all they feel they have. It can stop them seeming so shiny and intimidating, or you less scummy, perhaps.

Realising this made me look at Perfect Woman at playgroup differently today. She seemed an ice queen in the same way that Betty Draper is an ice queen: a veneer of perfection with a lonely soul hiding behind it. Or perhaps she’s actually completely fine, always indeed on her way to somewhere fabulous and I’m just an annoying scruff. Who knows.

The real irony is this: just like with dating, often when you’re fretting about being pesky, it’s because the other person is holding back for fear of exactly the same thing. And we should all know this far along the track: that’s not behaviour borne of confidence but the complete opposite. The holy grail, of course, is not to give a crap about what other people think of you then it doesn’t matter either way. There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.

Those are words easy to believe when we’re not sleep deprived, cash deprived or adult-conversation-deprived, of course. Bugger. Best get back on the mum-Tinder, then. Wish me luck.  


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