Style Counsel

As a 40th birthday present a good friend bought me a shopping spree with a stylist which has turned out to be one of the best birthday presents ever!

It is something I have thought about since my weight loss, knowing that although I had got more adventurous with colour I was still stuck in my style of baggy clothes to cover up all imperfections.

When I’ve looked into it I have always been drawn to the free stylists you can get from department stores, imagining myself sitting in the waiting room sipping tea while they bring me a wealth of clothes to try on. What put me off was the thought of feeling obliged to buy and the limitations of a department store. My friend sought out someone who came at a cost but was much more appealing in her way of working with a real emphasis on helping to show you how to wear clothes and learn what styles suited you, she had no allegiance to the stores and wasn’t worried about whether you made a purchase other than if you were looking to buy.

The first task was to complete a pre-shop questionnaire so that Clare the stylist could learn about what I already had in my wardrobe, what shops I liked, what styles I leaned towards and how much budget I had for the day itself. I also sent her a picture of myself so that she could start to get an idea of what I looked like. Clare then phoned to have a further discussion and explain her plan for the day. This was an opportunity to think about if there was anything specific I was looking for and discuss any styles I really objected to. Already I felt that she had a grasp of me and what I was looking for.

The day itself arrived and I was nervous about meeting a stylist, worried that I would feel drab and old next to her. Clare did indeed look fab but she was disarming in her manner and I took an immediate liking to her, feeling relaxed in her company and eager to begin the shop. In the first shop she picked up an array of clothes in different styles and colours. I felt a little concerned as I knew there were things in the pile I wouldn’t dream of putting on. However, her mission soon became clear. The first task was to find out what styles suited me and what didn’t, the best way to help me see this was to show me by looking at what suited my figure best, emphasising my good points, and what made me look like a box! This was incredibly helpful and I couldn’t believe how much I learnt in this first shop. One of the first things she did was take me down a size and show me how I needed to wear shorter tops or tuck them in to show off my legs and that baggy tops far from hiding my imperfections just made me look bigger than I am.

For the next 3 hours we went round a variety of different shops and Clare picked out clothes for me to try on. I’m usually spent after an hour but my enthusiasm didn’t wane as the chore of looking was taken away and the excitement of seeing myself looking good in clothes I wouldn’t normally consider grew. I learned I could wear stripes if they were thin and close together, that a straight leg trouser suits me better than my usual boot leg and the importance of elongating my neckline. As my budget had been set we didn’t go into shops out of my price range, where I would be lucky if I could buy a pair of tights! Instead we went into a few shops I hadn’t thought of trying and lots that I often go into, but this time with a new pair of eyes. I found being with a stylist was inspirational, I knew I was going to find it good but I had no idea just how much I would appreciate the help, advice and support she gave me, the encouragement to wear new styles and just how much I learned. I did find myself buying a lot of the clothes that I tried and liked, but Clare was good about keeping track of costs, mindful of my budget, and made sure everything could be worn together so that I had a variety of different outfits through mixing and matching. I was amazed that just by changing an accessory an outfit can go from day wear to evening wear, or by adding a different jacket you change a look entirely.

The session finished and I immediately began wearing my new clothes and also wearing my old clothes differently. I felt a little self conscious at first, wondering how people would react, but I have been pleasantly surprised. On numerous occasions I have had people telling me that I was looking good, asking if I’ve lost weight, wondering what I’m doing differently. I have had so many positive comments that my ego has been boosted and I find myself singing the praises of a stylist and recommending to everyone that they have a session. Brilliant birthday present!

I love children but I couldn’t eat a whole one!

This week I have been in Dubai, visiting my best friend and her two boistrous boys, the older of whom is my godson (GS).

I love running around with my GS, shouting loudly, squirting water at each other, pretending to fart on each other and making each other laugh hysterically at our own ridiculousness. At six years old, he is a whiz on the computer and from the moment I came into the house he comandeered my iPad and showed me how to get to the next level of angry birds. When I eventually got my iPad back, I found hundreds of new games that he had downloaded on it!

Growing up, I always assumed I would meet someone, fall in love, have children with them and create a family of my own. Yet this is not how it turned out! I have spent my working life protecting children and have always found kids to be good company, but having turned 40, I am coming to accept that having children of my own is increasingly unlikely. And, actually, the older I get, the less appealing I find the idea!

Instead, I’m lucky enough to be an aunt to five fantastic neices and nephews and a ‘godmother’ to four equally amazing children of friends.  I have the very lucky role of being able to come in, wind them up to the full and then leave, while their parents have to cope with the aftermath!  Whilst this may sound horrifying, I have it on good authority that it is ok because during these times the parents get to have a breather as I become the focus of their children’s attention.

I am well aware that there are many wonderful aspects of parenting and that for all the moans, groans and difficulties my friends have, none of them would be without their children. I have to say, however, that sometimes I look round at them and wonder how they manage because it is exhausting and neverending! Having a child may be the most selfish thing a person can do, but once that child arrives then that same person is required to be utterly selfless, putting their child first at all times. This is by no means an easy feat, and I know from my work with children and families that not all parents manage it!

As for me, I have found that the older I get, the more set in my ways and selfish I have become and the less I’m prepared to compromise for the sake of children! I can’t imagine not being able to do what I want when I want and wonder how on earth parents manage when all they want to do is shut the world out but there are little people around who won’t let them do that.

It’s not just about age and lifestyle, though – there’s also the fact I’m not in a relationship (I think it would be too much responsibility to have children alone – respect to all those that manage it). Plus, I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which means concieving would not be easy. I have also had a full lower body lift following weight-loss surgery and the last thing I want now is to put on weight (even if a baby was the end result!).

But, as I said, I love seeing my nephews, nieces and godchildren. This week in Dubai, the reward for spending quality time with my GS are the small gestures that mean so much!  The first was when GS came up to me looking all sweet and innocent, puckered his lips up and went to plant a kiss on my cheek, or so I thought – what I actually got was a huge raspberry blown on my face. Then when we were in the swimming pool he insisted on holding on to me so that I could drag him along when he was too tired to swim himself. This was ok until I heard the words ‘giddy up’ coming from him and I realised he was treating me like his personal pack horse!  As I was getting out the pool, he took the opportunity to pull down my tankini bottoms and expose my big fat white arse to the world, which he of course found terribly amusing! Then there was the song he sang in the car on the way home about how I smelt, how he wanted to put me in the toilet and finally how he was going to wee on my head!  This was of course followed by raucous laughter about how funny he was, which in fact he is!

All that said, I love GS and find his company excellent. I particularly enjoy the little moments that shine through and let me know that he loves me too!  This is not the endless shouting of my name to come and help him, or being used as a human climbing frame or even the face that appears over mine at 6am to enquire if I’m ready to play yet.  It is things like today on the beach, when we were playing in the sand and got to a bit where if you weren’t careful you could fall in the water.  I felt a small hand grasp mine as I was close to the edge and a little voice that said “I’ll stop you falling if you get too close”!  He is of course far too little to manage that but it was the sentiment that counted.

I don’t know what the future holds and there is of course the possibility that I may get the opportunity to be a parent if I choose to, just not through conventional means; but for now, well……I love children but I couldn’t eat a whole one!

40 and dating at last!

2011 – the year I turned 40.  At the start of the year I was all too aware that I was approaching a landmark and determined that before I got to my 40th I would have been out on some dates and made serious my intention to be in a relationship.

Most people conquer this during their teenage years and early twenties, and I watched as my peers did this and began to settle down with partners and have children.  I was an overweight teenager with low self-esteem, in my eyes no one would ever want to be with me, unless they wanted to abuse me and this is not what I was looking for.  I did have teenage encounters with my peers but they all felt secretive and unsatisfying, putting me further off getting into the dating game!  In my early 20’s I had a short relationship with a guy I met at work who pursued me relentlessly until I eventually agreed to go out with him.  I never really fancied him but I enjoyed the attention and feeling like I was ‘being normal’, he also had his own place which was very appealing given I was back living at home and desperate for some independence.  The relationship ended when I moved away and unfortunately all it did was reinforce in me that I was not the ‘relationship type’.

Oh to find a soul mate!

I got caught in a vicious cycle; I felt fat and ugly and didn’t think anyone would ever be able to love me, this made me miserable and eat my pain away, causing me to remain overweight and trapping me in one of the most difficult cycles to break.  I desperately wanted to connect intimately with someone but couldn’t imagine who would want me.  I told myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t want a relationship, I didn’t need anyone and I set about becoming self sufficient.  Over the years I had a couple of connections with people but nothing significant and all somehow reinforcing my negative feelings about myself.

By the time I found myself in therapy I was certain that I didn’t want to be with anyone, that I could manage on my own.  I was confused about my sexuality, unsure if I was attracted to men or women, feeling that I was wasn’t attracted to either but open-minded enough to wonder.  I still felt deep inside that I wanted to be in a relationship, but it seemed such an unreachable goal I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it.

Years in therapy looking at my patterns of behaviour, understanding how I was managing my emotions and finally processing some of the traumatic experiences I had, meant that approaching my 40th year I was in a very different place to where I was approaching 30 and I was determined to start living my life.

It’s difficult dating at 40 when most of your friends have found their life partner, but I have been fortunate enough to still have some single friends who were also looking to be in a relationship and of course there are those who have been there done that and are back on scene again.  Initially I had no idea where to start.  As a young person everything you do seems to involve meeting people and forming alliances.  At 40 it’s not quite as straightforward.  I have a good social life but it doesn’t really involve meeting new people let alone any potential partners.

The first start was internet dating.  “Everyone’s doing it, it’s the modern way” was all I kept hearing and sure enough a number of my peers had settled down with people they met this way.  The first hurdle to overcome was writing my profile.  How the hell do you sum yourself up in short witty paragraph that is going to attract someone’s attention!  I dutifully completed the registration process and stated that I was looking to meet new people and have a good time.  I thought I made it clear with my dialogue that I wasn’t a player, wasn’t interested in casual sex and whilst I wasn’t looking for marriage and children, I did want a level of commitment.  It was quite a shock, therefore, when my first message was from a guy outside of the age bracket I had stated I was interested in, stating that if I fancied some anal sex I should call the attached number!  What had I got myself into!

One of my more astute friends pointed out that the “good time” I was looking for could be misconstrued as casual sex and perhaps this was why I was being inundated with emails from totally unsuitable men all looking for a quick shag!  I soon amended the profile and at last I started to receive some emails from men who seemed more appropriate for me and I had fixed my first date!

Initially I was petrified; worried about my lack of experience, concerned I’d having nothing to talk about and still holding on to feelings of not being good enough.  Standing in Liverpool street station looking out for a guy whose picture I’ve seen, wondering if I’m going to recognise him, my heart starts beating fast and my hands start to sweat, great way to meet a potential new suitor!  Thankfully my date turned up on time, looked like his picture and promptly fell down the steps of the station to almost literally land in my arms.  It was the perfect ice breaker!  We went for a coffee and although it was pretty evident early on that we weren’t going to be a match, we had a good date.  Soon the pre-dating nerves disappeared as I started to feel like an old hat at the dating game.  In fact, it became quite disheartening,  “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you’ll find your prince” is a phrase I’ve heard a lot and I have to say, it’s true and bloody hard work!  Sometimes dating feels like a chore; after a hard day at work the last thing I feel like doing is spending another evening trying to make conversation with someone I don’t want to see again and I meet far more people I don’t want to meet again than the other way round!

A friend suggested we go out on an organised singles night to meet like-minded people.  It seemed like a grand idea; we could meet lots of people at once, we’d be together and the activity planned would give the evening some purpose. We chose a boat trip up the Thames and dressed up in our best togs excited at the prospect of meeting new people.  Initially everyone sat around the edges, tentatively talking to the person next to them.  As the evening went on and the drinks flowed, people started talking more.  It appeared to me that there was an awful lot of drinking going on and by 9pm I found myself surrounded by a lot of drunk people and none of them were people I wanted to spend time with! We went out and stood on the deck of the boat to get some fresh air and take in the sights.  The most interesting person we spoke to was a female teacher, not what either of us was looking for!  I told my friend I could take no more and that if the boat didn’t stop half way along its journey I was going to throw myself into the Thames and swim to the bank!  Luckily we were able to make our escape and vowed never to do that again!

I have since been out on more internet dates and luckily there have been a few where I have been interested in meeting up again.  I have learnt that alongside dating comes heartache.  Initially this has been about not meeting anyone I want to see again, worrying that I can’t make a connection with people or that there is no one out there of interest!  Then came the heartache of meeting someone I really liked and waiting for them to contact me again, to no avail.  This was followed by finding someone I really liked who appeared to like me to, it was great.  We went out, got on really well, enjoyed spending with each other and for a short while I got a taste of what it was like to be in a relationship.  However, as quickly as it started it was over and I was again in pain, trying to get over the heartache.

So here I am again, back on the dating scene trying to find someone to connect with.  It’s hard work and can feel quite disheartening at times.  However, I have hope that I will meet someone who connects with me and that eventually I will find what I’m looking for.