Thursday, 28 March 2013

Misadventures in internet dating

Ah, internet dating.  Where would we be without it?  Over the past ten years I have repeatedly dipped my toe into the murky pools that are Match, Guardian Soulmates, Ok Cupid and Free Dating, with varying* levels of success. 

I first tried online dating when it was still in its infancy, around 2004.  Things did not begin well.  The first guy I met seemed fantastic; we talked on the phone and seemed to get on, so he came to Leicester for a drink.  A great night followed.  Lots of chatting, a few kisses (I was much bolder in those days), and when he missed the last train home and I offered him a bed for the night, I was ever so proud of myself for not having sex with him and ruining a promising thing.  Second date... he told me he was gay.

I took a break for a year or so before giving Match a go.  This established a pattern for the next eight years: sign up with a service, go on a few terrible dates, have a year-long break - just long enough to forget how horrendous the experience is - before being tempted back to begin the whole cycle over again.  Over the years I...

... met up with a charmer who hadn't even bothered to take off his wedding ring.

... went on a first date with a guy who told me that he admired Hitler's powers of organisation.  There was no second date.

... listened to someone talk about his ex-girlfriend for a good two hours before I could escape.

... got to the snogging stage with one guy who, on the first (and last) night we kissed, declared, "I can locate the clitoris with my tongue in under ten seconds".  Erm, thanks but no thanks (and also, this is what passes for a boast nowadays?!).

To be entirely fair, I wasn't always the innocent party on these bad dates.  On one occassion the guy drove all the way from Peterborough for lunch, only to find me horrendously hungover and trying very hard not to vomit into my falafel.  I dated another person for longer than I should have, just because we made a shit hot team at the local pub music quiz.  Once we hit the jackpot and won the cash prize, it was bye bye to him.

By 2010 I was thoroughly fed up with the whole shebang.  My best friend, Cara, had struck online dating gold; meeting her now-fiancee just as she was about to give up on it all.  I figured she'd used up the internet dating luck in our group and that I should just retire gracefully to live out my days alone.  Deleting all my profiles, I took a longer-than-usual break.

Two years passed, and after doing some thinking about what I wanted from life (ok, after one too many Saturday nights home alone), I decided to give it one more try.  I'd heard good things about OK Cupid, so I set up a profile and waited for the usual mixture of x-rated missives that made me want to vomit, vaguely promising overtures from guys who always seemed to work in IT, and the occasional message that actually got my heart racing.  To begin with, it was really the same old same old.  A few fleeting meet-ups with guys who were clearly not for me.   A few email flirtations that never seemed to go anywhere; that I wasn't convinced I wanted to go anywhere.  And then, as I was just about to give it all up once again, he came along.

Because yes, I am now that rare beast: an internet dating success story.  What made it work, at last, when all other attempts had gone so badly?  I think it was a combination of things.  After years of being very happily single, I was finally ready to commit.  The pleasure I took in my own company - the joy of doing things like travelling alone - had started to pall, and I had reached a point where I definitely wanted to be with someone.  OK Cupid was the best of the dating websites, too, with a system of seemingly endless questions which led to surprisingly accurate matches (The Boy and I are a 99% match, according to their algorithms).  Last, but by no means least, is the fact that I met him.  That 99% match thing is no joke: we really are perfect for each other.

Never mind that it took us six long weeks (and at least twelve dates) to get round to admitting we liked each other**.  Never mind that I spent a lot of those six weeks wailing to my friends (and on Twitter - overshare much, Janet?) "Why won't he kiss me?!"  Never mind that, by the end of those six weeks, I had firmly placed him back into the friendzone, so convinced was I that he didn't fancy me.  We got there in the end. 

Do you want to hear something really annoying though?  I'm the first person that The Boy ever met through internet dating; so as far as he is concerned, the whole thing is EASY.

* and by 'varying', I mean 'no' levels of success (with one glaring and obvious exception).
** this is what happens when you put two shy and socially awkward people together: our 'moves' consisted of sitting on a slightly closer sofa cushion and then wondering why the other one hadn't picked up on our overtures!  He ended up having to send me a message telling me he liked me, because apparently we are both still in middle school.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

March reads

1. If I ever want to read something completely undemanding but entertaining, I reach for the Sookie Stackhouse series.  Dead To The World is my favourite for a myriad of reasons, most of which, admittedly, related to the fact that the character of Eric (the hot, blonde vampire played by Alexander Skarsgard in True Blood, the TV series based on these novels) has a central role in the storyline.  I read it from cover-to-cover, curled up in front of the fire, on a cold Sunday recently.  Bliss!

2. I loved John Green's most recent novel, The Fault In Our Stars, so when a friend from my craft & book groups recommended Looking For Alaska I was keen to read it.  I have to admit, it didn't capture my heart.  Telling the story of Miles Halter's first year at boarding school, I found that the main characters - particularly the Alaska of the title - were not hugely sympathetic.  I never felt like I really knew them or was rooting for them.

3. A bit of a cheat, putting this book in, as I've only just started reading it.  But I'm alread hooked and, judging by how quickly I read all of McDermid's edge-of-the-seat thrillers, I will have devoured The Vanishing Point well before the end of the month.

4. Our latest book group choice was Before I Go To Sleep; very much the kind of novel I read in large quantities and then feel mildly guilty about. A thrilling page turner about a woman who has such severe amnesia that she forgets everything as she sleeps each night, the plot hinges upon the question: who - if anyone - can she trust?  Ironically, it's an ultimately forgetable but nevertheless compelling novel:  I read it in one sitting but can now barely remember whether I even liked it all that much. 

5. Both volumes of Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries are as lovely to read at as a 'real' book. Beautiful production values combined with wonderful photography, reliably delicious recipes and enjoyable anecdotes makes this a fantastic read.  I've been working my way through the January & February recipes in this second volume, trying to cook something new every week; I especially loved the chickpea and tomato stew, to which I added some chunks of chorizo.

6. What Matters In Jane Austen? was an utter pleasure.  A collection of essays on questions ranging from 'Is there any sex in Jane Austen?' to 'Why is it risky to go to the seaside?'  If, like me, you are an Austen geek, then this book will definitely be one to savour.  It made me want to go back and reread my favourite of her novels, Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Seen & heard: March


The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
Oh, I so desperately wanted to love this film as much as I love the book.  I figured it was a good sign that the author, Stephen Chbosky, had taken on writing and directing duties.  But... but... I just didn't adore it, which makes me sad.  The best thing about it is Ezra Miller's candescent portrayal of Patrick; whenever he's on screen, it's hard to take your eyes off him.  But as tends to happen with movie adaptations of novels, it felt rushed and not fully realised.  I think I am going to try and forget that the film ever existed and just read the book again.

The Five Year Engagement
I'd variously heard that this was brilliant and terrible.  Actually, it's neither.  Slightly over-long, slightly worrisome from a feminist perspective (it's the classic 'look at this poor man, his girlfriend mistakingly thinks her career is more important than him or his career' tale*), but nevertheless quite amusing, and a decent enough way to pass an evening.
* see also The Devil Wears Prada

21 Jump Street
I was pleasantly surprised by this reboot of the 80s TV series. Witty (I laughed out loud, in a most unbecoming fashion, a number of times) and satisfyingly full of explosions, it's a great popcorn movie. Highly recommended.


I'm utterly obsessed with James Blake's new single Retrogade.  You may remember his dubstep/R&B reworking of Feist's Limit To Your Love from a few years ago (which was also fabulous). His music reminds me of my days as a dissolute clubkid, when staying up all night was par for the course and most evenings out ended in a tangle of limbs as we all cuddled up together listening to chill-out music until the sun rose.  He says his new album - out next week - is influenced by a recent meeting with Joni Mitchell, which can only be a good sign.

Monday, 25 March 2013

What makes me happy

Two of my favourite bloggers, Sarah and Laura, both did 'What makes me happy' lists recently and so, as I often do, I am copying them taking inspiration from them!

1. Daffodils; nodding in the wind, in a vase in my kitchen... wherever they are, their sunny yellow cheeriness never fails to make me smile.
2. Curling up in my huge armchair with the fire lit and a good crime novel on my lap.
3. Arranging trips to visit friends.  London this weekend was fab, hopefully I'll make it to Manchester over the bank holiday, and Norfolk is on my list too.
4. Driving the last few miles on the M62 to see my mum.
5. Seeing my niece's eyes light up at the mention of anything Harry Potter-related.
6. Pupils who say "thank you" when I put a worksheet on their desk.
7. Custard donuts.  So bad, yet so very good.
8. The moment when I see The Boy across a crowded train station/airport.
9. Waking up on the first morning of a school holiday.
10. Secondhand bookshops.
11. Getting email notification of a new comment here; I read and appreciate every single one (and speaking of which, do read Louise's great post about blog commenting).
12. Speaking to my dad on the phone, or getting an email from my mum.
13. When a pupil wishes me a happy weekend or says thank you for a lesson (this happens more than you would think; I teach some absolute sweeties in amongst the horrors).
14. Hearing that song, the one I love above all other at that moment in time, on the radio.  What gets me squealing at the moment?  Still One Direction I'm afraid!
15. Receiving an unexpected letter from a friend. 
16. Finding an unexpectedly perfect dress.  My latest, a simple black number from H&M, makes me happy every time I put it on.
17. Fairy lights.
18. Having my back stroked (maybe I was a cat in a former life).
19. Feeling the warm sun on my face.
20. Getting into a bed made with freshly washed linen.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Image association week 16

So, it's only taken me two months to reply to Sarah's last photograph.  In my defence, it was a bloody hard one to respond to, and I'm still not completely satisfied with what I've come up with.  I also spent much of January and February with a hellacious creative block: I couldn't seem to write, photograph, make, sew, bake... everything was a struggle and I'm only just getting my groove back. 

Anyway, back in January Sarah posted this image of the ceiling at her workplace....

And I spent weeks and weeks trying to figure out how the hell to reply.  I tried playing around with lines; I looked for chances to photograph grids... but no luck.  I'd narrowed it down to the concept of either 'looking up' or 'looking down', but I couldn't seem to take a decent photograph (some would argue I still haven't managed it).  But while walking in Leicester on Sunday morning, I looked down at the rain-soaked pavement and this map - and the reflections in the wet surface - caught my eye.  So, finally, here is my response Sarah!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The language of love

Looking for a decent Valentines Day card last month, I came across greeting after greeting which ran along the lines of "I can't live without you," or, "You are the missing part of me."  Similar sentiments are also a stock in trade for pop lyrics.  Am I alone in finding this language extremely creepy rather than romantic?

I didn't always feel like this.  When I fell in love for the first time, at the age of sixteen, I did my fair share of, "you make my life complete"-type mooning around.  I seem to recall copying out the passage from Plato's Symposium concerning everyone having another 'half'.  I think part of what appealed (as I was on the cusp of coming out) was that he suggested that your other half could be same gendered.  But I also wholeheartedly subscribed to the notion of having a 'soulmate': and she was it. 

At twenty, and in love for the second time, I once again tended towards dramatic and sweeping statements about how I "couldn't live" without my boyfriend.  Now, I just think it's a shame it took me so long to realise that, not only could I live without him, but that I would be a damn sight happier trying to do so.

However, while making wildly exaggerated declarations as a teenager and young adult is kind of expected, as a grown woman - and, I think, as a feminist - the idea that I might need someone else to be 'complete' is anathema to me.  There is something uncomfortably stalker-ish about rhetoric like, "I can't live without you".  It reminds me too much of couples who have Every Breath You Take by The Police as 'their' song, not realising the sinister nature of the lyrics.

For the reasons outlined in my post on being a 'spinster', I had been single for a long time before meeting The Boy in October last year.  My life - as I had created it - was busy, happy, fulfilling, creative and generally awesome.  So much so that it had been a struggle to find anyone that I liked enough to give up my time for.  Then he came along, and I liked him so much that I quickly realised that spending time with him was even more fun than spending time on my own.  And interestingly, it was the very fact that my life was busy and creative that attracted him to me in the first place.  But is he 'my other half'?  My 'missing piece'?  'The one'?  Those concepts imply the existence of a fate I don't believe in.  They also do away with the element of choice and free will.  To me, it is a far greater thing that I have chosen him; that although I recognise there may be other options, he is the one I want to be with.  I love him passionately and completely but he is not my soulmate.  We are not fated to be together, and I could live without him very well (albeit, now that I have met him, unhappily).  But I choose not to.

Because I don't assume that I am somehow 'meant' to be with him, I can recognise that things won't always be flowers and hearts and that our relationship will require work at times; work I am prepared to put in.  I can't help but wonder if people who believe in the notion of 'the one' are also people who bail at the first sign of trouble.  After all - their thinking often seems to go - how can your partner be 'the one', be your perfect match, if you're not getting on terribly well?  Is that the point at which you'd want to leave to search for someone else to be your real soulmate?  Or have I just become cynical in my old age; am I being terribly unfair about what are really just romantic declarations? 

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Sound familiar?

Image by Kara Passey, via Guerilla Feminism

The Boy brought this to my attention yesterday because it utterly sums up the way in which we consume culture.  Many's a (brilliant) film we have seen together, only to rip it to shreds later in the pub.  I increasingly filter everything through my feminism; one of the only movies to escape this treatment lately was Les Miserables, which we instead subjected to an anarchist reading.  I have even been known to lie in bed pondering whether being the little spoon compromises my feminist beliefs! 

Sunday, 17 March 2013


You may have worked out the pattern by now: a few weeks with no Boy = plenty of new blog posts from me.  A visit to or from him = absolute silence for a week.  Sorry about that.  But The Boy has returned whence he came, and I'm back in my usual routine (until the beginning of April, at least).  So, what have I been up to? 
DREAMING about an end to this endless snow and rain. It doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon, with more freezing temperatures forecast for later this week. Remember this time last year, when we had an unseasonal heatwave? I would give anything for the same thing to happen again, and soon.

BUYING my dream boots. Seriously, for the the last three years I have been searching for the holy grail of ankle boots; the pair that would make me give up my ballet pump habit. I had a very clear picture in my head: the right shade of tan, not too high on the ankle, not too high a heel, not too round nor too pointy a toe. When I found the absolutely perfect pair in the Debenhams sale I actually did a little dance, right there on the shop floor. Finally, my feet can stay warm and dry in the rain!

WEARING my hair up, a lot. The messy topknot has been a lifesaver as I try to grow my bob out.

EATING stupid amounts of cake at work.  We seem to go from one charity bake sale to another and it just seems, y'know, polite to contribute. I was also planning on making some macarons this afternoon, but I don't have enough icing sugar and I can't be arsed to leave the house again. On balance, this is probably a good thing.

READING the brilliant chapter-by-chapter summaries of Fifty Shades Of Grey by Jenny Trout on her blog.  They're saving me from ever having to read the book itself, and judging by the recaps, anyone who has read them deserves a medal for putting up with such rubbish.

WATCHING Born To Be Different, the Channel 4 series which has followed children with disabilities for the past ten years.  I also love One Born Every Minute, which is guaranteed to move me to tears every episode.

MAKING more cushion covers for the grand makeover of my living room.

FEELING hopelessly, stupidly, ridiculously in love :)  It's making me a bad blogger, a bad friend, a bad daughter, a bad teacher... but I just cannot bring myself to care.  Instead, I'm trying to just enjoy this feeling, and this time.  I'm sure the 'falling in love, staring into each other's eyes and generally being cheesy losers' phase won't last, so I want to make the most of it while I can!

PLANNING visits to and from The Boy, of course! We have managed to work out a schedule that means we're never apart for longer than three weeks during his time abroad, which is brilliant.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Music Monday: Tame Impala

I know I've been banging on about them a lot recently, but I'm ridiculously obsessed with Tame Impala's album, Lonerism, at the moment.  It might still be cold, damp and grey outside (seriously - is this the longest winter ever or what?) but their music makes me think of sun-soaked days, summer dresses, sandals, picnics, and staying outside late into the long, light nights.  So, y'know, all the things we won't be able to do in this country because it is just going to rain for evermore. 

Waking up to snow this morning put me even more in need of some happy summery tunes to remind me that better times are (hopefully) ahead.  Tame Impala are from Australia, which explains a lot.  I can't imagine they could write similar music if they were from Prestatyn or Bridlington.  Here's Feels Like We Only Go Backwards, to put you in a summer frame of mind.  Perhaps if we all think about it hard enough, the seasons might show some inclination to change.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Bonne anniversaire

I was feeling all proud of myself that this week marks my second blogging anniversary, until Laura wrote about her fifth birthday!  Clearly I have a way to go...

I initially started this blog because I'd become a more regular reader of other sites (Laura's amongst them) and - true English teacher - had thought, "I could do something like this".  My first post, on March 3rd 2011, said, "I've been reading so many great blogs lately, ones that inspire me in all sorts of ways: the music I listen to, the crafts I make, the outfits I wear, the books I read. So I thought maybe it was time to start writing again."

I didn't have any grand ideas to begin with, I just knew I wanted to write about the things that mattered to me: books, music, crafts, travel, family & friends, feminism.  And that is pretty much what has come to pass in the intervening two years.

I definitely go through phases in my blogging.  Sometimes I take - and post - lots of photographs (even if they are just crappy Instagram shots a lot of the time), sometimes my posts are very wordy and more diary-like.  Recently, as things have changed in my personal life, I am finding it harder to feel inspired or to find the time to write.  Ironically, this is coming at a time when my readership is larger and wider than ever before.  Ultimately, though, I'd be quite happy to blog even if I had no readers whatsoever.  Most of what I write here, I write for myself*, and I am not averse to spending a happy evening reading through old posts; being able to see what I was up to, what I was thinking and feeling, what I was reading or listening to, a year or two ago is one of my favourite things about this blog.  The past two years have been eventful ones, and I'm so glad to have a record to look back on.

Blogging has also made me a better English teacher.  Going through the same writing, editing and redrafting process as my pupils has given me more of an appreciation of how to advise them.  And it does me no harm to realise that even a grammar and syntax obsessive such as myself still regularly makes mistakes and typos.

I'm very grateful to all the readers who give me such great feedback; I really feel like I have got my own little blogging community around me.  My friends and family also regularly read and comment on what I post, and with family spread across four continents, this blog is an invaluable way to stay connected with them. 

So happy birthday to Words That Can Only Be Your Own: here's to another fabulous and fun two years of blogging!

* mostly: I will admit to ocassionally putting a post together with the thought of someone else - usually another blogger - in mind.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Literary lust list II

It's World Book Day tomorrow, which makes this an apposite time to post another literary lust list.  All of my friends and relations know that the quickest way to my heart is with bookish homewares or accessories (but not so much with actual books; I'm very difficult to buy for because I own so many already).  Here are just a few lovely things that have caught my eye lately.

Words cannot fully express how much I want this 'Reading is sexy' t-shirt, designed by Oregon artist Sarah Utter and available from Portland-based website Buy Olympia.  I bought a bumper sticker with this design when I was in Portland, and have regretted ever since that I didn't pick up the entire range.  Let it be known that this is what I want for my birthday (size L, ta).  I would also quite like everything else on the website.

I Capture The Castle tea towel from The Literary Gift Company.  This book is one of my all-time favourites, and I adore the opening chapter, with narrator Cassandra Mortmain sitting in her kitchen sink.  It introduces the tone of the whole novel beautifully.

Wuthering Heights Kindle case, also from The Literary Gift Company.  I still feel shame-faced about reading on a Kindle when I'm travelling, and this case might make me feel a little less guilty about it.
And finally, this "She has read too many books..." brooch from Bookity's Folksy shop to replace an identical brooch I had on my coat for years, which eventually fell apart after being caught in one too many British rainstorms.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A week of making

A few weeks ago, B & E over at Make, Do & Spend did a Week of Making.  Like them, one of the reasons I began to blog was to share my love of creative projects, but when work and life get busy, making things is often the first pastime of mine to go by the wayside.  So I decided to be inspired by B & E and try my own week of making.
Made... lemon cupcakes, purely to use up a single leftover lemon that had been lurking in my fridge for weeks. They went down very well at school on Monday.


Made... homemade arrabiata sauce (slightly cheating by using tinned tomatoes, but it was delicious nevertheless).


Made... plans for my upcoming trips with The Boy. Paris in April, Berlin in May... I am so excited, not least because I love planning things. Any hints or tips for either destination would be very gratefully received.


Made... yummy pancakes with raspberries and maple syrup. I love long, leisurely breakfasts on my day off. 


Made... blinds for my friend, Emma's, kitchen windows. As I got to work I thought, "I really miss sewing, I should do more." Half an hour in, and I was cursing as I untangled threads and battled with my sewing machine.


 Made... a ticket collage to fill the final gap in my hallway wall, which is lined with similar collages. 


Made... a coffee cake for my mum's 65th birthday on Sunday.