Category Archives: Single survival

‘Tis the season to be maudlin – why I hugged my Christmas tree

I have never followed the rules when it comes to Christmas, and certainly not when it comes to my Christmas tree. Unlike most children, I spent a long time resisting Christmas, as it coincides with my birthday and I always considered it to be a showy, crowd-pleasing attention-seeker at the side of my always very subdued, dreary even, birthday two days before it. My birthday was Bradford, the city I was born in, while Christmas was the huge, brash Leeds, forever casting a shadow. Oh, sure, I got excited and enjoyed the presents just like everyone else, but as I got older, I started to see Christmas as a rival.

But the thing about Christmas is it’s not going anywhere, and neither was my birthday, so we were kind of stuck with each other in our “special relationship”. So when I finally grew up emotionally as well as physically, I threw myself into it, especially when I got a place of my own. Helped by the fact I now had a little sister 20 years my junior, I banished my latent Ebeneezer Scrooge tendencies and transformed into a slimmer, less beardy – and hopefully slightly more attractive, I have to say – Santa Claus. 

I remember scandalising my entire social circle when I bought my first ever Christmas tree and put it up and decorated it on 31 October – but that’s not the weirdest Christmas tree-related story in my oeuvre. There’s more. One Christmas, feeling a little lost and searching for comfort, I took my relationship with my tree to the next level.

The run-up to Christmas 2010 was a strange time for me. It was my first Christmas as a single man in a very long time, eight years, and my very first living alone. I was going on a lot of dates at the time – that was my thing, then, you see – and meeting all kinds of men, with varying degrees of suitability.

There was the one who was very handsome but slightly too boring, who I knew that, once he saw what I was really like beyond the wry politeness and shy smiles of our dinner dates, would feel like Maxim de Winter on his honeymoon, listening to Rebecca tell him all about herself. There was the other guy who tried to get me into radio comedies and thought it charming to take me on over eight dates without trying to kiss me even once. There was the younger guy who was worried about growing old alone – he was 24, FFS; it was like an early demo version of that Adele album – and used to get really drunk because I “made him nervous”. And there was the one guy I could never go home without, who followed me everywhere. That would be me.

As I’d only been single a few months, I didn’t really know how to be on my own, so when I was alone in my flat, I pretty much carried on as normal, like my boyfriend was in the other room or on his way home from work. I had always made a great performance of decorating the Christmas tree every year, once even putting it up on Halloween – I have no regrets, so whatever – and so I decided this year would be no different.

I dragged it into my now much smaller lounge-kitchen, grappled with it for ten minutes or so spreading out all the branches, cursed myself for not detangling the lights properly before putting them away last year, and unpacked all the baubles and ribbons and garlands. I am not known for my subtlety when it comes to decorations; every branch must have something happening. I like my tree to look like it was decorated by 10 drunk Alexis Carrington Colbys; tasteful is for the other 10 months of the year.

It took me well over an hour to get everything just right, zhuzhing the branches and fiddling with the star on top for an additional 15 minutes, and then standing back to take it all in. And I turned, as I would have done every other year, to get the reaction of my boyfriend, who would usually be sitting on the sofa waiting for me to get out of the way of the TV, but, of course, he wasn’t there. And the tree knew it.

The tree didn’t feel the same in my new flat. It was shoved between two pieces of furniture, its full glory muted by an armchair that I mainly used as a surface for folded laundry. It looked sad and gaudy in the midst of such depravity. Friends came round occasionally and congratulated me on it, and a few dates came back to mine and exclaim “Bloody hell, you’ve got a Christmas tree! I didn’t think single people bothered!” but the rest of the time it was just me and the tree. I felt sorry for it.

In December something strange happens to single men on dating sites. They become more romantic, more hopeful – but also less inclined to be nice to you if you feel you’re not right for them. I would arrive home from dates feeling either totally disillusioned after two hours of sitting buried in cheap pub tinsel with a Givenchy-scented sociopath or cautiously hopeful following six rounds of drinks, slammed back trying to make myself seem interesting. The tree would always be there, waiting for me, shimmering peacefully, at odds with the rest of the room, which would earned me a lecture on tidiness from a Tasmanian devil. On seeing its shimmering garlands, emotions would run high.

One bitterly cold night in particular, I came home after a sweet date with a guy who I knew wouldn’t be right for me, but had seemed very keen. I’d watched his eyes dance all over me the entire night and it was both exciting and frightening. I knew I’d see him again, but I knew, ultimately, it could never go anywhere. I walked into the flat in the dark and, without taking off my coat and scarf, flicked all the necessary switches to make the tree glow into life. It sat in silent judgement, determined to bring some festive cheer to my laminate-floored cell. I felt a rush of loneliness, hopelessness and affection that I can only imagine I’d ever experience again if I watched a deer be born, and went over and hugged my Christmas tree. Yes, I hugged it. Briefly, but tightly. I can see it now, my death grip around its overly baubled frame, no doubt eyes moist with festive cheer and longing. I felt a connection – my being had never seemed so Christmassy. The euphoria, however, was fleeting.

The tree’s exact thoughts on the matter have sadly gone unrecorded, but its actions have certainly left their mark. In retaliation at this violation, the tree evicted two glass baubles, dashing them to the floor, extinguished three or four of its lights and wilfully listed to one side. I released it, crushing the fragments of bauble between my feet, and looked back at the tree. A bachelor pad like this is no place for a tree like you, I thought. After it saw out that miserable Christmas, I packed it back in its box and left it there for the rest of the time I lived alone. Every tree needs an audience, and a loyal one at that.

The tree didn’t reappear until I moved in with my current boyfriend last year. It still lolled to one side and helpfully shed more “needles” on being brought out of the box than a real tree would manage in its entire Christmas run. We did our best with it, even titivating it with new baubles and a dinkier star, but it looked tired now, like it belonged to a different era. The last pensioner sipping a pint of bitter and doing his pools forms in a newly renovated gastropub.

I got a new tree this year, with some more new decorations and a new set of lights. It’s bigger, more realistic and much grander. I am in awe of it, and can’t stop staring into the very centre of it, but I do feel bad for my old tree. It’s still stored under the eaves, waiting for one more Christmas Day that will never come, not under my roof at least – and all because I couldn’t keep my hands to myself and ruined it.

The moral of the story: do *not* hug your Christmas tree. However blissful you may temporarily feel, the tree really doesn’t like it.

Also, maybe cut down on the drinking. It’s a tree. What the hell are you doing?

More like this:
– The Christmas Fling
– My Christmas birthday bitterness
– The over-analytical, relationship-destroying Christmas Gift Guide

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14 reasons Valentine’s Day is actually a good thing

Here we are again, then. 14th February. Hearts, flowers, huge ecologically destructive helium balloons, cheap chocolates, even cheaper sentiment and lager and lime-flavoured condoms as far as the eye can see.

It has been tradition for most of us – who don’t have a vested interest in peddling romantic tat, at least – to slag off Valentine’s Day as a huge sickly con and its devotees as slobbering morons tricked into buying off-the-peg romance. Cynicism is the thing. And I have more than enough of that to go round. For years now, I’ve dismissed it, rubbished it and assured anyone who buys into it that they’ll be first against the (pink, heart-encrusted) wall should the revolution come.

But the only thing I like more than being horrible about everything is a carefully timed backlash against a backlash against a backlash so here it is and here we are. 14 reasons “V Day” (remove yourself from society if you ever say that seriously) is actually a good thing.

1. Whenever do you get the chance to insult your other half in the name of love?

Most of us, I’m sure, have lost count of how many times we’ve longed to tell our  other half just how insignificant they are and how we have in fact ‘settled’, that they are a permanent irritation. Valentine’s Day now gives you the chance.

To come home from work on a Tuesday in September and hand over a card like the above would probably result in a full-scale row and bowls of pasta being emptied over your head. Dole out the disses on Valentine’s Day, however, and the sentiment HAS to be accepted not only as a joke, but an affectionate one. They CANNOT get mad at you. It’s liberating.

2.  You can judge how much a piece of shit someone is by the flowers they get delivered to them at work

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Continue reading 14 reasons Valentine’s Day is actually a good thing

How to be single in autumn

I love autumn. It may be a cliché to harp on about its colours and the smell of bonfires and the transition from wearing the same old pair of shorts to digging out your favourite cable-knit, but it is my second-favourite season. Spring is first; I’m immune to blue eyes but a sucker for a blue sky.

But autumn is beautiful; there’s no getting away from that.

Winter lashes at you with freezing rain and skies greyer than George Clooney’s hair, summer either burns you half to death or disappoints you by not turning up at all, but autumn dazzles you with its good looks, charm and invitations to social events. Trouble is, you can’t date autumn. The leaves would get everywhere.

In spring and summer, it’s fine to be single. People spend most of their time outside, showing acres of flesh, which naturally facilitates flirtation. There are summer flings, and holiday romances. Parties and get-togethers, sure, but the hotter seasons seem to have a much more relaxed air about them.

It’s the time to hang around in a large group of friends, formal occasions are barely a consideration and, a few bank holidays aside, summer likes to keep it unofficial.

“Turn up when you like”, it says, “we’ll be there all day.”

No milestones, no red letter days, just sunshine, cheap prosecco and a spring in your step. Autumn, however, much like Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, works best as a duet. Here’s why:

Loads of birthday parties

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Thanks to the preceding generation (and, of course, endless generations before it) enjoying drunken, Christmas, New Year and January sex, there are piles of birthday parties to attend in September.

Attending these alone is no big deal unless you’re cripplingly shy, but the conversation inevitably steers itself toward your search for a significant other, even if you’re not looking that hard.

“And how old are you next birthday? Oh, really? SevenTEEN, eh? Are you hoping to settle down soon?” Continue reading How to be single in autumn

The first-date shirt

I’ve never believed in “lucky” pants or socks. Underwear is underwear and I have almost never had someone peel off my jeans, running their tongue across their teeth in anticipation, and compliment me on my trunks – or what was inside them, now I come to think of it.

But there are few items of clothing that have ever made me feel as invincible or irresistible as my “first date shirt”, the long-sleeved legend I wore on the majority, well at least half, of my first dates.

I’d admired it in the shop for a while. I’m one of those people who either impulse-buys wildly and is forced to do the “return of shame” within a day or two, or I take hundreds of trips to the clothes rail to convince myself I should buy the object of my affection. The first date shirt took a lot of self-persuasion.

I don’t really know why; it wasn’t remotely expensive or particularly outré. Just a bog-standard Uniqlo cotton number, in burgundy and green (I think; for a gay I’m not very good with colours) in a check or plaid or tartan or whatever you want to call it.

But I had a million shirts just like it – or thought I did – and so would place it back on the hanger every single time, after a good quarter of an hour turning that way and this, looking in the mirror  with it held against my chest.

Then, one day, while I was waiting for a friend to squeeze into some jeans in the fitting room, I tried it on properly for the first time.

We fell in love. Continue reading The first-date shirt

The Fifth

I started my blog five years ago today.

It was hot outside – though not as hot as today – and I was sitting in my tiny, muggy top-floor flat, baking gently on Gas Mark Bored. I was probably wearing just my underwear, which would be a terrifying proposition now, but back then I was 34 and ran every day and hardly ever ate because I had forgotten how to cook for one.

I don’t know for sure, but, if I know me then, there will have been washing up in the sink.

I was feeling sad and a little bit lonely and like everything was possible and yet nothing was.

I remember a thing on Twitter a while ago where people would tweet about what they’d say to their 16-year-old selves. I wouldn’t say anything; 16-year-old me would not be interested in anything anyone my age had to say, but also, any words of encouragement I would have for this awkward teenager would feel false. I’d be too much of a coward to tell him how hard things were going to be, and that being himself probably wasn’t an option for quite a while. How to explain to someone enduring the 1990s in Yorkshire that things would one day be really great, but for a long time they’d be awful? He’d give up, he’d never try. He wouldn’t believe.

So instead of time-travelling to my badly decorated wankpit of my teenage years, I’d instead transport myself to 2010, the day I started the blog. Continue reading The Fifth

How to live alone

Some are scared to be by themselves, while others revel in solitude. And most of us nestle somewhere in between. Give us a roomful of people and we’ll crave a padded cell, yet watch us walk into an empty room and cry for company like a puppy spending its first night away from its mother.

I am moving in with my boyfriend next month. It will be the first time in five years I have had to live with anybody. I knew this time would come eventually – that day of reckoning when my arrivals back at home, pissed, clutching a McDonald’s and staggering into the furniture would have to end. Or at least happen only when he’s away.

When I first started to live on my own, I was in a state of shock, I think. On the first night, a friend who’d helped me move stayed with me, but as I closed the door on her the next day, I sat on the sofa for a while, listening to the wailing sirens and unfamiliar voices from the streets below – streets I didn’t know at all – and wondered what I would do with all this space. All this freedom. All that time. I had never felt so free. I had never felt so sad.

I was coming out an eight-year relationship when I moved house and my fragile state shows in unpacked boxes I have had to look in for the first time in five years. Books I must have known I would never read, old notepads filled with “just popped out” or “I love you” messages between me and my ex and, amid the valentines, birthday cards from dead relatives and pictures my little sister used to send me, an old Greggs bag.

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I wondered what had been in it to warrant its preservation. And then I remembered, it was the first thing I ate after the last box had moved in. My first pasty as a single man, a bachelor. Alone. Not realising its significance years later, I must have shoved the wrapper atop the nearest box and thought nothing more of it. Continue reading How to live alone

27 things that happen to single people at weddings

It’s the noise every singleton dreads in the summer – that gentle thud on the doormat. Yes, it’s a wedding invitation with your name on it.

Even if you’re given the opportunity to take a +1 with you, flying solo at a wedding can be a harrowing experience. And at least one of these things – at least – is totally guaranteed to happen to any single person at a wedding.

1. You are seated next to another single person.
This person is boring.

2. You may even be lucky enough to be at an entire table of single people.
The bride and groom had a little chuckle about this as they did the seating plan, but they’ll be laughing on the other side of their faces once you’re all drunk and heckling the speeches.

3. You are warned not to catch the bouquet.
“It’d be a waste,” they say. “You haven’t even met anyone yet.”

4. One half of every couple thinks you’re out to steal their man.

5. The other half of that couple wishes you would steal their man.

6. A married man confesses he’s always fancied you.
You’re the third person he’s said it to, so don’t get excited. Continue reading 27 things that happen to single people at weddings