Hold Your Head Up High

“I have to be careful … My character, you see, I’m never gonna marry. I’m never gonna marry, if I was gonna marry,

I wouldn’t have to be such a stickler.

But I’m never gonna marry and a girl who don’t marry

Has got to be much more pertickler.”

These are lines from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Carousel’. The wholesome Julie Jordan says this to roguish carousel barker Billy Bigelow when he first casts his roving eye her way.

No idea why the line remained in the forefront of my memory for decades, especially given that I did not entirely grasp the meaning all those years ago as a naive teenager when first I heard it, from the back row of the chorus. But now I get it. If you are single, you have to be careful that you don’t give people material for gossiping.

‘Carousel’ was written in 1945 and opened in the same year on Broadway. Post war, there was a shortage of men and many women remained single who would have certainly married had it not been for the catastrophe of a world war. So Miss Jordan’s prediction was a reference to a common theme for many women at that time. That said, ‘Carousel’ is based on Ferenc Molnar’s play ‘Liliom’, set in 1909 but strangely, there was a worrying shortage of men at this time also. Given the lack of reliable birth control for women, the expectation that women would remain virginal until marriage, was founded on practicality as much as any other factor, what with the disparity between the sexes on many levels. So for the single woman, compared with today, life was fairly predictable and Julie was probably right: ‘a girl who don’t marry has got to be much more pertickler’.

But this is 2016. Things are different, right?

Well, I thought so.

But I think that there may be some people out there who still hold these ‘values’ dear …

When ex-hubby left me, in November 2014, it was entirely unexpected. I was almost catatonic. He did not wish to discuss a way forward and he could not give me a reason why. I ensured that I had heard correctly and verified that he was actually leaving me and I removed myself from the situation to cry. I cried on and off for a couple of months and people were supportive. Not everyone – there were some surprises there – there are some people close to me who still haven’t broached the subject but life is a learning process and I have learnt much in the face of adversity. Conversely, there are people whom I did not consider to be close to me who have swept me off my feet with support.

In January 2015 I downloaded Tinder onto my iPad. It existed on my iPad for the grand total of two months. I dated many men through Tinder. The number almost reached double figures. But let us be specific here … I dated many men on Tinder. Tinder made me feel attractive. Unless you have been abandoned by a loved one, you will not understand the feeling of rejection and the need to feel desired. I made many people laugh regaling tales of disastrous Tinder dates, including myself. I began to enjoy the feeling of freedom and when I met a man randomly in a pub for whom I fell wholly and truly, I realised that Tinder had served its purpose for me. I had thought I might meet someone through Tinder but that night in the pub when I randomly met someone, I realised that firstly, I did not want to settle for someone I met online and secondly, I was not in a hurry to meet someone. Why would I want to? I pondered. What I’m actually enjoying doing, I thought, is going out and doing things I enjoy (like listening to live music in pubs) … far better to meet someone with whom I am likely to share common ground, than go on blind dates. I might not meet someone, I thought – but that’s fine – because what is the rush? I do not need to be defined by a partner, by a relationship. If I am meant to meet someone I will and at least meantime, I can be going out, making friends, taking part in something I enjoy. I never saw my random man again – I fear I unwittingly sabotaged our first meeting but the meeting was kismet; he woke me up to my wants and needs, rather than those of society.

I did meet someone though and it ended. Unlike the Tinder dates, it was a relationship. I poured forth my heartache via this very medium and it was cathartic for me and entertaining for others.

I continued to go out, sometimes on my own. I was aware that there was still a taboo surrounding women going into pubs alone but it was a taboo I was keen to kick. I failed to see why I should be deprived of listening to live music because of a sexist hangover from the last century. Friends made remarks such as ‘I think you’re brave’ and I felt supported. I explained that firstly, I did not always go out alone and it wasn’t always to pubs and secondly, when I did, I was not really going out alone, because I tended to frequent the same few establishments and I had made friends. I teamed up with a male friend with a view to playing at Open Mic nights and now I sometimes sing in pubs.

“Pearl’s a singer … she stands up when she plays the piano!”

One of my friends sang this and laughed when she found out. I laughed and she thought it was great that I was singing in pubs.

“I couldn’t do that – you’re so brave!” some of my other friends have said. This is testament to how my friendship groups have changed. Once, most of my friends were theatre friends and this would barely have been comment-worthy. Now, the demographic has changed and the percentage of my friends in ‘showbiz’ these days is much smaller.

Many of my friends are married and have a soulmate with whom to socialise, whether that involves staying in or going out and that is beautiful. I am not married. My children are grown-up. I like to go out. I am not interested in picking up men. I see those women; they are dressed up and they sit at bars in pubs and they have an agenda. I wear jeans when I go out. I rarely sit at the bar if I am in a pub; I sit where I can listen to music. Sometimes there will be someone I know and I may sit with them. Sometimes I will get chatting to someone new which is good because I love making new friends. Company is mixed and age ranges are wide.

You may be wondering where this is going and so I will enlighten you …

When things were grey and I genuinely wondered if I would be happy again, I had support.

Things are not so grey now (well, they are currently bluey-grey if I’m honest) and things are different.

Here are some remarks I would like to challenge.

“You and your colourful love life!”

I have had one relationship in the two years since ex-hubby left me. Relationships are different from dates. I do not write this for voyeurs so I will not be more explicit than that but I think you understand to what I am referring. Hardly colourful, unless it is a racist remark directed at my one relationship. I was not expecting to become single two years ago but I did. My circumstances changed so I changed my life to accommodate that. I feel it would have been weirder to not change … my life was that of a married woman so to continue living the same life would have been a little strange? It would have been farcical. It would have been a half-life. I had to find a way to feel complete without my husband. ‘Je ne regrette rien!‘ to quote Edith Piaf. I had to find a new centre of gravity, so to speak and there have been tears along the way but I think that that was to be expected.

“You’re behaving like a teenager!”

Maybe I am, because I am going out more than I did when I was married. Why would I stay in on my own every night? I cannot relate to this current trend in TV shows and I have as much interest in them as Donald Trump has in paying for a decent haircut. I do not watch ‘bake-off’, ‘strictly’, anything with the word ‘celebrity’ or ‘brother’ in it or absolutely any other reality TV show whatsoever. I enjoy watching good comedies, box set TV shows, movies and documentaries if someone will watch them with me, but as that rarely happens, the TV literally gathers dust, although I will watch the last two to review. If you have someone with whom to stay in and snuggle in front of the TV, with a bottle of vino, that’s lovely.

“You and your shady pub life!”

What is shady about going to the pub? Is it not one of the great British institutions? Is it because I am a woman alone? Would you say that about a man going alone to the pub? Is it because I’ve started singing in pubs? The prejudice against female entertainers is VERY outdated!

“Look at you, going out mid-week!”

I rarely go out mid-week and if I do, I do not stay out late. Let it be known that if a picture appears on Facebook of me, out with friends, it does not necessarily follow that I was actually out that night.

“Oh – is that another one of your male friends?”

I have friends. I guess my friends have become more important to me since my marriage break-up. I have some single friends and we socialise together. I have many male friends and if there is a picture of me with one such friend on Facebook, it does not necessarily follow that there is anything other than friendship between us. And I have more friends now, because of my change in attitude towards going out.

“Tired? Up late drinking?”

I drink no more than anyone else and I have no idea where this notion that I drink every night has come from.

“You and your online dating websites!”

What – all two months of it? And on ONE site – Tinder? I had several dates. There were a few with whom I went on more than one date. The Italian, who is now my hairdresser; Wimbledon Man whom I threatened to block and now stays away and The Dude, about whom I no longer write because he is too good a friend. Online dating is not for me but I am glad I did it – briefly – for reasons mentioned and also because I value my friendship with the Dude.

I am fairly sure that you, reader, have not uttered any one of the remarks above. I am simply venting about the attitude from some people towards women such as myself who prefer to get out into the world rather than watch a scaled-down version of it on a screen. I did not envisage this situation two years ago but this is the outcome of my trying to view a negative thing as a change in direction. Soon, I will be redundant from my teaching job. Being made redundant is a negative thing but I am trying to view this as a change in direction too. Maybe I put too much faith in humanity to not judge me. I try not to judge others. I write my blog less these days and I am less personal. I am not sure what the future holds for my blog; I may have to adjust the content. Many people read it and I am becoming wary of motives.

Hmm.

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