Practical tip #20: if you feel uncomfortable in a situation, get out of it

Everyone makes mistakes. So, you thought you were conclusively friends with someone and he’s the only person in the department, except the 60 year-old professor. He makes a big fuss about seeing Trainspotting, acts like he’s inviting other people from uni. You say, well there’s the cinema room downstairs to watch the first one. On the day, he turns up, just him. You feel as uncomfortable as hell.

I invited other people. One person came after 10 minutes at the point where I was going to turn off the film. Instead I got up and left the room to carry on packing. Then afterwards said I didn’t want to go to the cinema and that I thought it was a bit weird to just go the two of us. I felt very assertive.

And then bumped into the person I went on a date with asking people to play games. He invited me to play, in a bit of an odd dismissive way. I had a go at him. He said he didn’t see the problem. We played a round of chess. It was fun. I went and told him what had happened and said I was sorry I’d freaked out and I didn’t want him to somehow think I’d been doing something I wasn’t. He said it was ok.

I feel like such an idiot. After all the fuss I made about going on a date, when we finally do, I’ve somehow managed to not be graceful and dignified and easy-going at all.

Practical tip #19: admit you have no idea what to do

Had the date. He came and picked me up. We went for a walk through the forest to a cafe, and then back and around. It was a nice date. I’m leaving in two days. He’s leaving in the summer, but now maybe earlier. I started crying on the way back and stayed silent until it went away so he didn’t see. I feel calm.

Practical tip #18: work out what assertiveness is

What is assertiveness? I’ve been to assertiveness workshops. I’ve read ‘A woman in your own right’. I’ve been to workshops where I’m a railway track and you’re a railway track and we have to engage without crossing rails.

I know what non-assertiveness is. Non-assertiveness is being a doormat. I think she was called Doris in the book.

But what the glitter is assertiveness? I always just get called aggressive or non-communicative. So, tip number 18, who gives a glitter what assertiveness is? Seriously, all the women I’ve ever met who have self-described or been described as assertive have either been bullying bitches or passive-aggressive bullying bitches.

I do remember two or three women I’ve met though, who I’ve never heard described as assertive, but I have heard described as ‘so and so can take care of themselves’. And that’s what I’ve thought too. I still don’t get the whole assertiveness thing. But I think when I’m thinking, maybe being more assertive would help communication, what I’m really thinking is, how can I take better care of myself so that situations don’t arise where people insult me, or shout at me, or hit me or push me around?

And I think, for this, there are two rules:

  1. Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it
    1. Some people are going to try to stop you from getting what you want, try to take what you have from you or try to bully you. Who knows why. Who cares.
    2. HOWEVER a lot of people actually want you to succeed. They want other people around them to be happy, achieve what they’re trying to achieve, have what they want to have. And the very important thing:
    3. THEY THINK THEY ARE HELPING YOU. Yes, they think they ARE being helpful or kind or friendly. They want you to succeed and they’re trying to help you succeed. Just sometimes, they don’t know what you want, exactly. So: maybe you’ve met someone you like, but you don’t like the way they just come and knock on your door all the time to do things. But you do like the fact that they don’t want to spend every minute of every day with you, and you do like that they want to spend time with you. If you go and ask them to do something, then they might interpret this as you wanting to see them more, which neither of you want, rather than that the form in which they’re approaching you isn’t one you are happy with. This is why you need to ask for what you actually want as specifically as possible, i.e. say ‘I like the amount of time we spend together, but you need to suggest a time and date. Knocking on my door all the time isn’t ok.’ Rather than saying ‘can’t we just go on dates?’ or something. Because then they might think you think that what you’re doing with them isn’t enough. When really, it’s not that you don’t think what you’re doing is enough of a date, it’s that the way they are setting up the date makes you feel unhappy and stressed.
  2. Protect yourself by:
    1. Being careful. You don’t know what other people’s situations are. You don’t know everything about a situation.
    2. Asking questions to clarify a situation, even if it seems like the information might be private, e.g. if you ask him at the last minute to your leaving party and he comes but turns up after midnight and then leaves early saying he needs to sleep, then ask him what he was doing that he arrived so late. It’s private information but frankly he shouldn’t have arrived late, and it’s fair for you to want to know what the situation is. It might just be that he’d been on holiday and still wanted to make an appearance even though he had just that moment got back. That’s ok. After all, you only gave him 4 hours’ notice and you hadn’t spoken for five weeks and you’re not involved. In that situation, it was pretty good of him to come at all really.
    3. Not making assumptions
    4. Being specific. If you’re doing something with a friend, then use the word friend or some other way to make sure it’s clear that you haven’t just walked by with your boyfriend. Aim for accuracy. You can’t avoid all misunderstandings, after all other people have their own minds that do weird stuff. But you can avoid a lot of them, and the more specific and accurate you are, the more misunderstandings you will avoid. And those that do arise, you can examine, work out whether they’re avoidable and if so, avoid them in the future.
    5. Stopping things in their tracks. Some things aren’t just misunderstandings, some things are people crossing your boundaries, and you need to not just enforce boundaries, you need to signpost them. You may have very very strong, clear and consistent boundaries. But it’s not really that fair to make them like some kind of impenetrable but see-through force field, so that the other person runs straight into them at full force and just ends up hurt and stunned. You want your boundaries more like the wall of China, i.e. visible from Space. The best reason I can think of for this is that you want your boundaries to hold with everyone including friends, parents and siblings, but at the same time you also want to have people in your life who you love. You can’t have everyone in the world feeling hurt and stunned and slightly betrayed with you. And nor is it fair to expect everyone else to have the same boundaries as you and therefore know exactly where yours stand. Most people like you having boundaries, even if they’re unusually strict boundaries where you only accept very very above board behaviour. They just need to know where they are, so that everyone can get on and be happy. And to avoid this, you need to both signpost boundaries and have staggered boundaries. It’s not zero to 100 in 2 seconds. It’s about saying, you’re coming towards the wall, you’re coming towards the WALL, YOU’RE COMING TOWARDS THE WALL. As the signs are saying that they’re coming towards the wall, there should also be a really steep hill that’s difficult to get up, and then a ditch before the unscalable wall. You can signal boundaries and stagger the boundary by:
      1. Varying your voice and tone.
      2. Smiling less.
      3. Giving people a long, careful look.
      4. Explicitly stating where you’re boundaries are, i.e. saying ‘I thinks it’s really bad form for academics to proposition visiting scholars. I think this is basically sexual harrassment.’ or ‘I don’t date people from work.’ This makes it clear that people from work shouldn’t ask you out. Or saying, to take the example from before: ‘I like spending time with you, but you need to suggest a time and date to meet at, you can’t just keep knocking on my door/calling me up out of the blue/etc.’


Practical tip #16: write yourself a SUPER DUPER WHOO HOO YAY PLAN FOR TODAY

Because it’s Sunday and Sunday is the day of getting your glitter glue together so that you don’t live in a glitter gluing glitter hole.

It’s behaviour before feelings and guess what, emotionally healthy people don’t live in a glitter hole. So, get washing up, get in the cleaning products, and let’s clean the glitter out of the glitter hole you’re in.

So here’s the one big super duper golden rule:

  • Obsessively not cleaning and obsessively cleaning are two sides of the same glittering neurotic coin.

You’re aiming for ‘warm’, ‘comfy’, ‘cosy’, ‘aww’. Not sickly sweet. Not crafted the glitter out of every inch. Not all the books in glittering alphabetical order. And for glitter’s sake, if you have to read self-help books and you really want them on display, then go for ones with a bit of punch, not ones like ‘better communication so that love stays’. Love isn’t a glittering wild cat that you’re tempting in with your weird better communication shaped lumps of flesh.

So on that note:

  • Open all the windows. Get a breeze going. Clean out all that stagnant glittering air.
  • Take out all the stuff that doesn’t belong, e.g. washing up to the kitchen and washed up, headphones back in the headphone draw…
  • Now the next stumbling block is probably ‘but I don’t have a headphone draw’. Well, get one. Life’s not about discovering yourself, it’s about creating yourself. Become someone with a glittering headphone draw. If you think everyone else with a headphone draw is a glitterhole, then WHOO HOO YAY YIPPEE because this is a prime opportunity to crash stereotypes and start with your own ones. You’ll be the first person with a headphone draw who isn’t a glitterhole!
    • You’ll need draws and places for everything else too. Your things want to be cherished! Give them places they belong (even if it’s just the corner bit of the desk at the right distance of my hand and my computer so I can put my cup on it after I’ve taken a sip. YEP! THAT’S RIGHT! I’m talking about my coaster!)
    • You’ll probably find that you don’t have enough places in your lovely cosy living abode for all the glitter that’s in it. Well, it’s time to cull. Chuck out (or sell or giveaway or recycle, I mean, I’m not advocating waste) all the glitter that’s superfluous.
    • How do I know if it’s superfluous? Go and read Marie Kondo’s ‘Spark Joy’, or just a summary.
      • Fun fact: I gave this book to my ex-boyfriend for Valentine’s Day and he read it, smiled and said maybe I wanted to borrow it for a while. Turned out he’d been trimming down his belongings for years. I hadn’t. I never really bought anything either though, so just had stacks and stacks of old study notes. Do they spark joy? No, they’re like a glittering radioactive bomb under your bed. Get them OUT.
  • Put on some kitschy jolly music, like Madonna or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or whatever rocks your boat
  • Clean the tops of everything, the skirting boards, the window sill, clean the mirror (polish it up with scrunched up newspaper and it’ll be spanking new and sparkly clean again), clean the windows.
  • Put the washing in the washing machine
  • Wash the bed clothes
  • Hoover!
  • Close the windows

Then, more permanently, make sure you have:

  • Bright lights and lamps in all the corners! Orangey yellowy warm lightbulbs, no LED!
  • Colourful intricate bed linen. Pillows or not are optional. One or two bobbly mismatching ones are cute and cosy. More than that or too matching or starchy and you’re going down the neurotic road.
  • Plants!
  • GLITTER GLUING HEATING. Seriously. Air should be CLEAN and WARM. This means: air out your rooms three or four times a day for 20 minutes, i.e. open the GLITTERING window. Then make sure the glittering heating is on. Do not compromise on heating. Do not let your house get cold. If you’re cold, you’re miserable. Everyone else who comes in: they’re miserable. CLEAN and WARM. That is the one big breakthrough of the glitter gluing 20th century: CENTRAL GLITTER GLUING HEATING. Use it.
  • Candles, because candles are lovely.
  • Coasters, because tea is lovely (though um avoid black tea, replace it by: rooibos! chai! chai with milk! that’s basically black tea, kind of, basically basically)
  • Lots and lots of colours around. Colour stuff up on your wall, colourful clothes, colourful books, colourful sport clothes, colourful plants, colourful kitchen utensils, COLOUR, because we want to create a COLOURFUL BRIGHT LIFE.

Phew. I hate cleaning. Huh. No, you know what: I used to hate cleaning. But now, the job’s a game! It’s got rules! They’re achievable! And now the game is done and it’s time to find the next one.