In a minute you might take out your Christmas list and think about how crazy it is that you have to come up with ideas about what your relatives need because you have to give them a gift. Which, in fact, they probably don’t need at all. Most people in today’s welfare state already have everything they could possibly use, and more. Perhaps you’ve just read an article about how the self-storage industry has exploded over the past few years because people simply have too many possessions – so many they have to rent storage space to keep all the things they’ll never use anyway. Maybe you’ll wonder why politicians are still telling us that we should be spending more to ‘grease the wheels’, and as you sit there with your list you’ll ask yourself whether maybe people can grow in ways other than those to do with money and consumption. Like growing the collection of people they’re close to, for instance.
Or maybe in a minute you’ll start thinking about your weight and decide that now – NOW! – you’ll stop snacking too much, which you do because somewhere murky deep down inside you you’re afraid of hunger, so you’re constantly running around, hamster-like, with a supply of food you keep for proper, red-lights-flashing-and-sirens-blaring-type emergencies. Inside your stomach. And maybe you should also empty that little secret stash of wine gums and caramels – it will make you less popular with other people, but at least you’ll be lighter. Then in another minute you might also consider how you can be healthier all round, because health is our new religion and changing our diet a kind of exorcism. And maybe the best gift would in reality be getting ten sessions with a personal trainer, so that you can finally outwit that sausagey roll of fat that’s always squeezing itself over your waistband and making you feel like an overstuffed hotdog. You don’t seriously mean, of course, that you’re going to do it right now, starting this new life as a skinny health nut, because it’s only a week before the big Christmas blow-out and that would be a total own goal in terms of your self-esteem. But yes, of course, as soon as 2 January rolls around you’ll head off to the gym and get to work, wondering why the machines and treadmills have been invaded by Moomins.
In a minute you might buy tickets for Dumb and Dumber 3. The Hobbit 4. Or The Hunger Games 5. And you’ll enjoy eating your last ever bag of cinema popcorn. Maybe. The last you’ll have this year, anyway.
In a minute you might think that New Year’s Eve will be the perfect moment to propose to your partner, because now you’re finally sure that you’re meant to be together. Until death do you part. Or nearly. Almost half of all marriages now end in divorce, and isn’t it a hopeless ideal to pursue, staying together until death, when these days we live so much longer and expect to constantly change and develop? It’s a rare and lucky couple that develops in the same direction, and at the same time. Or maybe in a minute you’ll sit and think that now – NOW – it’s over at last. You – both of you – have done everything you can and it simply isn’t working. Now it’s just a matter of deciding how long to draw it out. Some time in January you’ll experience the profound grief of having to split up a family, see your children’s pain in their eyes and know that when you reach the other side of the break-up life will be better. After all, that’s why you wanted the divorce in the first place. And maybe you’ll already be on the lookout for an estate agent to sell your house. Everybody knows that most divorces happen after New Year, and it’s good to stay one step ahead of these things.
But before you get that far, it might occur to you that the holidays are coming up and you might finally have the time and energy to focus on having more sex. Better sex, frankly.
In a minute you might decide that in the New Year you’ll be more present. Less stressed. Perhaps your colleague crosses your mind, the one who’s been off work with stress for a month and still hasn’t come back. And you think that life is too short to be so busy you end up losing yourself. That it’s really worrying that over twenty-five percent of the workforce say they often feel stressed. Maybe you’ll remember the time a hospice nurse told you that most dying people ask the same question: will I be missed? And that only a few (very lazy!) people ever regret not working enough. Many, however, regret not being caring, sympathetic and involved enough in their loved-ones’ lives. That no matter how much you work or how many lists you draw up, how much you cross off and how much you achieve, the list will never be finished. You’ll remember that you love writing things on the list that you’ve already done, just for the satisfaction of crossing it out! But also that you’d like to be missed on the day you die.
In a minute you can make up your mind about everything that lies in store for you.
But right now? Right now you can be happy that you’re not a Syrian refugee. That you’re not lying in hospital as a vegetable after a traffic accident. That you’re not in jail for thinking something different from your government. That you’re not living on the street with all your belongings in plastic bags piled onto a squeaky shopping trolley next to the bench you’re sitting on. That you’re not a young girl about to be married off to a stranger, risking having acid chucked in your face because your dowry isn’t big enough. Or that you’re not a young man two seconds away from detonating a suicide vest on a bus because you never had a chance to say no thanks to religious brainwashing.
Right now you can be happy that you’re alive, that you are free to choose, that you can decide who and what to fill your life with. And I think you should do exactly that. Be happy. After all, it’s Christmas!
When I was thirteen years old I was absolutely certain that by the time I turned fifteen I would have a boyfriend. What this meant in concrete terms I wasn’t entirely sure, but I did know it had something to do with us belonging together. And something to do with being hopelessly in love, which at that point I was with an English boy called Johnny, who had an awkwardly triangular, slightly-too-large head and gorgeous dark hair. He made my heart throb and my stomach freeze every time I saw him in the hallways at school. I began to take badminton just because he did, then one day I hid his schoolbag just to be near something that was his, though I felt massively guilty afterwards when I saw him running around looking for it when the bell rang. Later, ashamed, I sneaked out in the middle of class and put it back, lying and saying I had to go to the toilet.
I turned fifteen without even the tiniest flicker of a boyfriend. Instead I was hopelessly in love with Kim, a boy in my year. I knew for a fact that we’d never end up going out. Ever! He was tall, blonde, mature for his age, the coolest kid in school, with a metal comb in his back pocket and I … well, I had joined school a year early, giggled at all the wrong moments and and was entirely without attractive, appropriately placed bulges, so I started high school a few months later as a singleton.
Over the following few years I tested the waters. My mental image of what he should look like (tall, muscular), be like (really smart and together) and what his life would be like (much more exciting than mine!) was very clear. I met various potential candidates, and gradually becoming less giggly and longer-legged helped widen the pool a bit. But I still kept falling for good-looking blokes who just weren’t screwed together in a way that could make me happy. I was searching for objective criteria that seemed to fit the definition of success, but which actually just made me feel like there was something wrong with me. All told I was pretty amazingly good at bad choices.
Luckily things got better with time. Much better! I realised that the man who’ll make me happy isn’t going to be one I compete with. Or who’ll save me. Or make me socially acceptable. Or take away my loneliness.
The man who’ll make me happy will simply make me laugh. And he’ll make me come.
A man who can make me laugh is making me happy. And frankly, that’s what I want – to be happy and cheerful most of the time. It’s so banal it’s enough to make you cry! Yet over the years I’ve managed to focus on almost everything else. A man who’ll make me happy will make me feel important and loved, because it actually matters to him that I’m happy. That’s why he’ll make an effort to see that I am. Because he shares so much of himself, he’ll be a partner with whom I want to share life’s lights and darks.
And a man who makes me come is a man who knows how to turn me on. Not just in bed (or in the kitchen or the car or…) but in my heart and mind as well. A man who makes me come makes me want to give myself to him – in every way – because it means he also knows how to create closeness and intimacy between us.
A man used to be a woman’s social and economic insurance policy. Today he’s an equal partner, and we’re free to give ourselves to a person who makes us feel loved, vibrant and valued. So I’m saying yes please to laughter and a lust for my body, my heart and my life. And the more of it the merrier!