Tag Archives: Facebook

Christmas for one and the John Lewis penguin illusion

Every Christmas I wonder if cases of suicide go up during the festive season. Because every year it reminds me of how inadequate I am/my life is in comparison with others’. The crux of the matter is exactly this: the comparison.

Shopping for Christmassy meals for one at Marks & Spencers’ on Christmas Eve, alongside couples pushing trolleys brimming with festive food and Christmas crackers, instantly turns me into a self-pitying Bridget Jones. It makes me wish M&S sold at their tills, alongside their mints and chewing gums, one-way tickets straight into Dignitas in Switzerland so I can be put out of my misery once and for all.

Was that a look of pity I saw on the cashier’s eyes, as she scanned my single dessert, my single breakfast bread roll and my single nut roast without any accompanying side dishes? Maybe it was out of compassion she didn’t wish me merry Christmas, but I was relieved she didn’t, as my Christmas was about to be anything but merry.

At home I scroll down Facebook, and predictably feel nauseated at everyone else’s sugar-coated photos: Christmas trees laden with decorations (it was my childhood dream to have a large Christmas tree, as I never had one), families posing together, kids being cute, husband being cute, cat being cute, couples saying “darling I love you, thank you for a wonderful year” followed by a few hundred “likes”. Can people not love each other in private any more?!

Of course not all you see on social media is true. People only post what they want others to see and believe. Couples on the brink of divorce may well have been making an effort “for the sake of the kids”, as says this Huffington Post article on the reasons why people stay in unhappy marriages.

This reminds me of my favourite scene in Love Actually, where Emma Thompson realises on Christmas Day that the expensive necklace under the tree she thought her husband (Alan Rickman) had bought for her was in reality for another woman. She cries in private with Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now playing in the background, yet she regains composure and keeps a happy façade in front of the children. Conclusion: not all blissful-looking families are what they seem.

The enforced joviality of Christmas can push any existing tensions to breaking point. If there already was any friction in the relationship with your partner, parents, in-laws, or friends, the social pressure of behaving as if you are having fun can be the last straw that makes that taut string snap.

Out of curiosity I googled to check if the Samaritans received more calls during the festive season and found out last year 244,000 people called in the UK and the Republic of Ireland during the Christmas period, many of whom were men, who felt their families would be better off without them. In other words, men who felt lonely and excluded even when they had wives and children.

Boy, did that make me feel better about spending a solo Christmas! I may be alone, but I am not lonely. Loneliness within a relationship is utterly soul-destroying.

This year’s was the second Christmas I spent on my own since my separation. The friends I had intended to hang out with turned out to be all away, and I wasn’t organised enough to have a plan B so I got stuck with myself.

Being a bit of a sociophobe  – I didn’t even attend the company’s Christmas party – I am perfectly comfortable not having company. But Christmas is simply not meant to be spent alone. As Michelle Hanson says in this Guardian article, “there is such a thing as society, and it doesn’t seem to like people being alone at Christmas.”

Facebook in particular can be a poisoned chalice: when the entire world seems to be posting photos of themselves being jolly with their loved ones, including your own family abroad, it is hard not to feel like a total failure in life. What is wrong with me that I do not have friends, a partner, nor kids for that matter?

I also have a massive Christmas hangup from childhood. I grew up in a Catholic country in South America, where Christmas was celebrated in a big way, whereas my family, being Asian immigrants, did not even bother with a tree, nor presents. If we were lucky, mum would cook us a big meal, and that was it. As a little girl, I used to spy through the door’s peephole as guests arrived next door laden with presents, and hear the excited voices of small children with a pang of envy. Once school re-started, I had to suffer my classmates bragging about the many presents they had got for Christmas, when I’d received one, or none.

I always resented my parents for denying me the experience of Christmas. I used to think it was every child’s basic right to have a ridiculously fun day, to believe in Santa Claus and presents being delivered through chimneys. I always looked forward to the day I’d leave home behind to start my own life, live it the way I thought was right. I’d have my own family, and we’d have many presents under a beautiful shimmering Christmas tree.

This never happened of course. And now, I realise, it may never do.

Tibetan Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön says in her book When Things Fall Apart that in order to stop suffering you must give up hope. Again and again I have sat with that thought, trying to understand how that can be possible. In theory I can see what she’s saying: unattainable dreams only make you feel more miserable. But without dreams, what joy is there to live for?

Sitting alone in a silent living room, with candles lit in every corner and no other decorations, my flat looks more like a venue for a wake than for Christmas. That was the most festive I managed to get. I’ve given up on my dream Christmas. I am no happier as a result but I at least stopped feeling envy, that is, as long as I log off Facebook for a good few days.

It also occurred to me that a perfect Christmas Day may be an illusion itself. Over time Christmas grew larger and larger in my head like a mirage that looks alluring exactly because I can never own it, but I’d probably not appreciate if I had it every year.

Two years after my new departure as a single woman I am finally starting to feel like I could contemplate a new relationship. At the same time, I am steeling myself for the possibility it may never happen, like that Christmas tree of my dreams. I might die alone and forgotten in some old people’s home, without anyone to even hold my hand. Isn’t this giving up hope?

The idea terrifies me though, and to counteract it, I decided I can always choose to jump off a cliff and get it all over with, if it gets too much. It may sound morbid, but for me it is the only way I can face life these days: knowing I can put an end to the darkness by plunging into it.

Give up hope or give up life – does it really have to be this radical? There must be a solution, somewhere in between, which allows me to live with not having the things I wanted to have, and still attain some level of satisfaction.

It doesn’t help that this week I happened to see a couple of Christmas photo greetings from men I once loved, each with their wife and two beautiful kids, looking like they couldn’t be happier if they were in heaven surrounded by singing angels. It made me question what I have done wrong that they achieved what they now have, and I lost everything, including the chance to be happy with them.

This is what Christmas does to me: I was perfectly content until it arrived.

We are such idiots. We half believe the twee penguin tale of this year’s John Lewis’ Christmas commercial, and think the magic of the season should make everyone fall in love with everyone else, all rifts healed. This is the fairy tale we all buy into, the one we so desperately want to believe. I doubt the world looks that rosy past the Bank Holiday, once alcohol and sugar have been flushed out.

I don’t know which is worse: not having Christmas, not having a family or not having hope. But I decided 2015 will be the year I live as if it was my last. If I only had a year to live, what would I do, where would I go, what would I say and to whom? We are all slowly dying, we are mortals, in case you forgot. Living intensely is the only way I can think of to obliterate pain and death.

Everyday will then be Christmas.

The age of digital love: why we cheat, stalk, break up and make up online

Banksy's Mobile Lovers

Banksy’s Mobile Lovers

If you have a Facebook account, I bet you are familiar with the thrills of stalking an ex-lover or an old flame online. You may not like to admit it, but we’ve all done it at some point, let’s face it.

You don’t need to be “friends” with anyone on Facebook in order to stalk. They may be the type that post status updates as “public”, or, even if their account’s privacy setting is tighter than a gnat’s chuff (excuse the vulgarity), they are bound to leave comments on someone else’s public “wall”, giving you ample glimpses into the goings-on in their life… One of their friends may have tagged them in a photo with their current partner, so by checking their friend’s Facebook photos, you can see what they’ve been up to, and, most importantly, whether they seem happy or not (with someone else)… The camera never lies.

At least that’s my personal methodology.

Social media is a stalker’s paradise. Twitter is mostly public, although some people have stalker-proof accounts with “protected tweets”, and on LinkedIn you can check daily who everyone is connecting with on a professional level.  Many people like to upload their photos on Flickr, which may show you where they’ve been on holiday; their Pinterest pins will reveal topics they are currently interested in; Spotify and Last Fm can tell you what songs your “friend” has been listening to lately while GoodReads will give you a list of books they’ve been reading. And should they have a blog…my…you’re in for a treat, as you will also know what is going on in their minds.

I have often wondered whether I am a freakish creep to be so proficient at cyberstalking…but this Telegraph article made me realise that, when it comes to digital espionage, I am still, thankfully, an utter amateur.

The article lists at least four “stalking apps” that can be used to spy on your significant other’s digital activities: Mobile Spy, Mobile Stealth, StealthGenie and mCouple. For between £25 to £50 a month, these apps allow you to “view every text message sent or received by your partner’s device”, “get access to each other’s phone book” and “keep you informed about all Facebook chats”. Apparently even deleted messages can be checked and read by these apps, so once the spying software is trained on someone, there is no escaping.

What amazes me is that these apps are being used by couples in steady relationships. Obviously steady may not necessarily mean trusting, but why on earth have we grown so paranoid about what our significant others get up to when they go online that we need to bug their phones and eavesdrop on them 24/7?

Washing Post article I read this weekend partly explains why. According to the piece, we live in an age of increasing digital infidelity, where men and women in a committed relationship, will flirt online with a potential “back-up partner”, or a former lover, to make sure they have an alternative, or a plan B, in case their current relationship goes belly up.

I will not play innocent and say I have never flirted online with a married man or one with a girlfriend, but then I am currently single, and each time I did it, I was only teasing a little, not seriously trying to provoke or suggest they cheat with me on their partners.

Having grown up in a Latino culture, I find flirting tremendously fun. To me, it is nothing more than a form of compliment a man can pay a woman or vice-versa. Social media, SMS, WhatsApp, Snapchat and the like have made flirting even easier because we tend to be bolder when we don’t have to confront someone face to face.

But not having to look someone in the eye when we talk, have also made breaking up that much easier to do via text messages (remember the breakups by fax in the old days?), as well as having the follow-up conversation trying to make up, or not, afterwards.

While chatting to a colleague, well, messaging her on Facebook, she confided in me she had “talked” to her ex-boyfriend about their breakup. When I said, “Really? When did you two meet?”, her answer was “We didn’t, this was all on What’s App.”

When we say “talk” these days, most of the time we do not mean we called someone, and it is even less likely we actually met them in person. Our concept of “talking” has shifted from sitting opposite each other across a table over a cup of coffee to frantically typing with one finger on our phones and tablets. We text talk on trains, buses, and from our work desks, hitting ‘send’ as we go, even when the subject involves emotions that can be easily misunderstood because written text, even when accompanied by the now ubiquitous emoticons, lack the emotive messages only body language can convey.

Which one of us haven’t at least once said on an email or text message the exact opposite of what we really wanted to say, either because we were too proud to tell the truth or because we were too hurt, or too afraid to say we loved them or missed them, or that we were truly sorry we had hurt them.

We miss out on the opportunity of sensing the other person’s true essence because we rely too much on phones and apps to communicate feelings that may make or break a relationship.

Are we becoming so superficial and lazy in our communication that love’s fate, the beginning of love as well as the end of it, is now dictated by a handful of texting apps, and directed by what what we see or don’t see in each other’s Facebook ‘Wall’ rather than on their faces?

I am not above any of this myself. I ought to stop stalking the man I long to be with and go see him in person for a drink. We would be able to hug each other tightly in real life; I would probably shed a few tears because I’ve been missing him so badly for so long. I would be able to ask him directly whether he is happy, and listen for the answer, with my eyes on his eyes, as well as my ears.

But I don’t do it, and I do not know I ever will. Maybe I’m afraid of what I would then see, so I hide behind a Facebook ‘Wall’ and become Peeping Tom instead.

We are scared to death of vulnerability, of being hurt, making fools of ourselves, and yet, without vulnerability, relationships cannot flourish.

We are hopeless cyber-cowards in the age of digital love. We find dates online, indicating our interest by swiping right or left on our phones; we fall in and out of love with avatars, we sext to seduce, have arguments on messages fired off on the move; we send smileys suggesting friendliness but don’t smile as much when we meet.

I don’t know about you, but I feel nostalgic about the good old love letters of yore.

“Dearest You, How are you… I mean, how are you really?”

Why I don’t “like” the Facebook baby boom

facebook-baby The world’s population feels like it is exploding right now. At least six or seven of my Facebook friends have had babies this year or are about to have one, making my Facebook wall look like one continuous baby album.

Between my drafting this post and publishing it, even the Duchess of Cambridge, the most famous pregnant woman of 2013, managed to pop Royal Baby George out. Blame it on the full moon of the night before.

My timeline is a pregnancy diary I am forced to read every time I log in, complete with photos of foetal scans, recordings of babies’ heartbeats, reports on blood test results, baby kicking, baby turning, baby clothes shopping. Too. Much. Information.

I cannot help but feel sorry for the yet-to-be-born kids, who don’t even get a choice whether to be on Facebook or not: they’ve already been exposed to the world picking their noses inside a womb at 12 weeks. And I thought there was an age restriction on Facebook?

I was delighted when a friend had her first child at age 40, after being told by doctors she could not conceive, and I smiled at one or another baby announcement from ex-colleagues after that. But by the time newborn number 6 or 7’s photo was uploaded, followed by daily updates of their feeding and sleeping routines, I decided social media was harmful for my mental health and had to give Facebook a temporary wide berth (pun intended).

Don’t get me wrong: I love children, I do think babies are cute, but when every other female you know starts reproducing like rabbits on heat, the world becomes one big orgy scene from a Fellini movie, where you are the only non-participating voyeur. I feel like a freak.

God forbid I end up a self-pitying embittered spinster like the self-loathing Mail columnist Liz Jones, who, coincidentally has a book out this month called Girl Least Likely To. Even if I were the girl least likely to find true love or have a family, I still have enough scruples to find making money out of tales of self-fuckeduppedness abhorrent.

IVF anyone?
This month, 35 years ago, Louise Brown, another famous baby, came into the world and revolutionarised the lives of many infertile couples. Brown, now a mother of one herself, was the world’s first IVF or “test tube baby”. Since then, apparently, more than an amazing five million-plus IVF babies have been born.

A piece of trivia: did you know that whereas the cost for an in-vitro fertilised embryo could set you back as much as £3000 at the time, it is now possible to have one for as little as £170, or so this Guardian article says. Pregnancy for a bargain.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that if you have 200 quid spare in your back pocket, you can just go to a lab and order a baby. Having a child is a sum of many intricate parts that must come together at the right time and the right place. Often they don’t, even if you are fertile.

Fathers wanted
Many women I know are having children in their late 30s and 40s because the right man did not turn up when they were supposedly at the peak of their fertility.

Girlfriends of mine, in their mid to late 30s, who have come out of a relationship or not even in one, are in a state of mild panic, thinking they can hear their biological clock ticking loudly. Males that cross their path consciously or sub-consciously look like like potential fathers to their future offspring, just like every cactus you see must morph into a pond with shimmering water when you have been roaming in the desert for days.

The accidental baby
One of my team mates, a divorcee I am good friends with, is currently ten weeks pregnant after a holiday in South America with her new boyfriend of only a few months. The rest of the office still does not know. She told me personally by email while I was in Japan on business, suffering from severe insomnia, chronic stress stomachaches and a serious bout of the blues:

“You won’t believe this, but I’m three weeks pregnant! I’m in shock, don’t know what to do. I miss you so much. Come back soon.”

(Only a day or two before, in my insomniac fragility, I had broken down in tears in my hotel room upon finding out a man from my past I still deeply care about had had a second child, or his wife had (detestable Facebook again). The timing couldn’t have been worse. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at her news.)

I did what any decent friend would do in these circumstances: I sent my pregnant colleague a big virtual hug by email, told her not to make any hasty decisions she could regret later, as it was still early days, and whatever she decided I would support her and stand by her.

I was prepared to accompany her to an abortion clinic and hold her hand so she would not have to do it on her own, but  by the time I came back to the UK she had decided to keep the child. “I am 36 now; I may not have a chance again later,” she said.

Everyday now she gives me reports on how sick she has been, how every food she puts in her mouth makes her throw up, how no trousers fit her any more as she is so bloated. She receives email alerts from some pregnancy website telling her how many inches her baby is now, week by week, and shows them to me, proudly.

It almost makes me miss the days when she used to brag to me how good her new boyfriend was in bed, that they were having sex everyday, twice a day. I suppose it is the duty of a friend to be a good listener, in good and bad times…

She is planning a small ceremony to secretly marry her boyfriend in a few weeks’ time and has already bought a dress. Physically she feels miserable but I can see she is happy. I am happy for her too: a whirlwind romance two years after a divorce and a child on the way.

A happy ending. As always. For others.

She asks me if I can come to her wedding. I check my diary: the day of the ceremony is a day I am away on business. “Sorry,” I say, but I am relieved.

I am a bad friend.

Kodak moments
I have seen and admired more than a tolerable share of happy “Kodak moments”. I haven’t got a family right now; chances are I never will. Even at the risk of breaking politeness etiquette, I cannot bring myself to “like” any more baby photos and updates. I’ve had enough.

Doesn’t the world know I am hurting like hell?

Give my your gas and air and show me your pet hedgehog’s photos any day.