Past present future

Not surprisingly, the recent release of GCSE and A-level results has made me reminisce slightly about my teenage years.  Even though at the time I’m sure there was angst, stress, drama and worry, one can’t help but look back at those years now through a jaded haze.  How young we were, how few responsibilities we had!  The prospect of Real Life seemed far away, the university years acting as a drunken debauched buffer in between school and moving permanently out of the parental home.  Having been privately educated in a school where failure simply wasn’t an option, I completely bought into the idea that I’d cruise through the next stages of life.  The possibilities were endless, and we were all destined to achieve great things.  We’d had the best education possible, nothing was beyond our reach, and there was an unspoken guarantee that we’d all be wildly wealthy and successful within a few short years.

Oh, how naïve we were.

Looking back on it now, I can’t help but feel more than a bit frustrated by the fact that those of us who weren’t going to be doctors or lawyers were given minimal advice on how to go about choosing a career path.  Anyone who did a Morrisby Test will know that while they’re entertaining to do (how many backwards S’s can you write in thirty seconds etc.) and the results certainly make for good reading, there was practically no follow-up afterwards.  I remember that according to Morrisby my strongest career paths were television presenting, interior design and music production.  ‘No no no’, said the school, ‘you’ll stick with languages.  After all, you wouldn’t want to waste the last however many years of your education, would you?’

It seems ridiculous that these days you need to decide on what you wanted to do before you even know who you are.  In all of my applications for writing-orientated jobs and internships, the minute they found out that I’d only started the journalism and blogging thing in my final year of university, DECLINED was swiftly stamped on my application.  Apparently I should have been writing for the school magazine from the age of 15, and spent every summer making tea and coffee at the offices of my local newspaper.  Why did no one tell me this at the time?  BECAUSE I WAS FIFTEEN AND HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WANTED TO DO WITH MY LIFE!!!  Actually, that’s a lie; I wanted to be a fashion designer.  Yet another career choice that was quickly snuffed out by the establishment.  But my point is, what teenager really does know what the life plan is?  They’ve got far more pressing concerns to deal with: puberty, teenage romance, discovering alcohol and worrying about what to wear for the end-of-term dance.

And even now, nearly a decade later, I still haven’t really figured it out, although I do draw some comfort from the knowledge that I’m not the only one.  A few university friends are nearly halfway through the 3-year slog at a Big 4 practice.  They know they don’t want to be accountants until retirement age, and they know that upon qualification in 18 months’ time, they’ll leave and do something else.  They just don’t quite know what that will be.  I certainly don’t see myself being a PA forever, but it will do quite nicely for now.  In the last two years I’ve met countless people who have studied law at university and are now in jobs that have nothing to do with their degree.  I know of at least one person from my school that started out studying medicine at Oxford, and is now a surf instructor in Australia.

??????????

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging any of these people.  That would firstly be grossly hypocritical, and secondly just plain bigoted.  I’m merely trying to illustrate the fact that even though you can have a plan of what your life might look like when you start university, there’s a huge likelihood that the reality will be quite different.

Maybe we won’t figure it out until we’re in our thirties, maybe I’ll never figure it out.  Perhaps I should concentrate on what I do have: a job that pays enough to cover rent, travel and an enjoyment of London life; somewhere to live with people I care about; and my family and friends.  The lack of a larger purpose in life doesn’t really seem so bad when you think about it.  I do sometimes get the feeling that we’re all in a great big hurry to conquer life and achieve something.  If you look at the continental Europeans, they have a far more laissez faire attitude towards the whole thing.  Many of them study until at least the age of 25, by which time they will have had enough experience and time to grow up to make a more informed decision on what their career will be.  Maybe all that cheese and wine makes them sluggish, but then maybe they’re on to something as well…

If I were to give my 16-year-old self some advice, it would be this: go through the next few years with a completely open mind.  If you fail in what you set out to achieve, then find a new goal.  If you achieve that goal but find that it’s not everything you hoped for, there will always be something else you enjoy.

I realise this may sound a bit touchy-feely and not really in line with the more cynical views that I’ve been known to hold, but let’s face it: life is hard enough without beating yourself up over exaggerated failings and downfalls.  We’re still young, we still have energy, we still have the mental capacity to learn new things and adapt to new environments.  After all, everyone needs a bit of variety in their lives.  The last few years have seen me go from wannabe fashion designer to drugs-and-alcohol-loving waste of space to language student to wannabe stylist to wannabe fashion journalist to ski bum to recruiter to PA.  Did I plan all of this?  Don’t be stupid.

My best friend put it very succinctly a couple of months ago: people always say that your teens are the troubled years, but it’s actually your early twenties.  Great.

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Light me up

So… Tinder.  The free app that lets you anonymously ‘like’ people based purely on their photos, and then ‘matches’ you if you both like each other.  Online dating made incredibly simple.  No cringe-worthy Match.com profiles here, no description of personality, no ‘this is what I’m looking for’.  The only question that needs to be asked is ‘do I think this person is hot?’

I’ll admit, when I first heard of the thing, I was very sceptical.  Surely it’s just a different version of Facebook stalking?  Or just allows guys to flick through literally thousands of girls’ photos and make snap-shot decisions on whether they’re fit or not?  Well, both of these aspects are true (for both sexes), but what I hadn’t banked on was the ego boost or entertainment factor that Tinder can provide.

Having been unceremoniously dumped for no apparent reason, I was in need of a bit of cheering up, and friends (both male and female) recommended Tinder – not as a way of finding a new boyfriend, but just as a way of taking my mind off being miserable.  A little flirt, a little fun… where’s the harm.  So, moderately tipsy on a Tuesday night, I found myself downloading the app and scrolling through endless photos of guys to be found within a 5-mile radius.  This is London, and the app connects to Facebook, so it’s literally a bottomless pit of potential.  As a side note, I really wouldn’t recommend doing this after stumbling home after a night out.  It’s like a manifestation of beer goggles, and only results in having to do a lot of blocking the next day.

Anyway, after ten minutes of swiping through profiles, several things became immediately apparent:

  1. Men who post ‘mirror selfies’ are an absolute no
  2. Those who are wearing sunglasses in every photo: again an absolute no (there has to be a reason why they won’t show all of their face)
  3. The guys who only post photos where they’re in a large group so you can’t be 100% sure which one he is: same story
  4. In general, there seems to be a rotation of the same 15 or so male names across London.  Tom, James, Ben, Dave, Will, Rich etc. etc.  Where’s the variety?!
  5. A lot of guys are seriously lacking in  either creativity or common sense when it comes to profile pictures (men take note: most girls will not like your photo if you are (a) cuddling up to another girl – she’s probably your girlfriend (b) holding a baby – we don’t know if it’s yours or not (c) smoking and drinking whilst ogling someone’s breasts (d) throwing up into a bucket)

Not having ticked the ‘Interested In Girls’ box, I’m not sure what the female version of all of this is, but apparently the fairer sex is just as bad when it comes to awkward mirror selfies and the ‘less is more’ approach to clothing. (Ok so my profile picture is me in a bikini, somebody shoot me…)

Moving on to the next stage in the process, where ‘matches’ have begun to pop up, is where things begin to get a bit more interesting.  This is where the ego boost comes in.  Look, a hot guy finds me attractive too!  Maybe I’m not completely undesirable…  The range of opening lines is really quite impressive.  So far I’ve received messages along the lines of ‘Great rack’, ‘Come round my place this evening?’ and ‘Tip top tits’ (I think the aforementioned bikini shot might have something to do with this).  At the other end of the scale, there are the slightly more creative ones that ignore the bikini and focus on jokes, skiing banter or not sitting on chairs properly (all related to the non-bikini photos I have on my profile).  Needless to say, the latter category is what grabs my attention a little more.

Now I’m well aware of the fact that most people are on Tinder for some light-hearted fun and a few easy hookups – you only need to look at what Tinder’s marketing department uses to see what the target audience is.  For my part, I’m certainly not looking for anything serious (look how well that turned out last time…).  But there is a huge difference between looking for your soulmate and being prepared to show up to the house of someone you’ve never met for a night of no-strings-attached nakedness.  After all, I ain’t no ho.  Stories of girls who message guys with phrases such as ‘what’s your address I’ll come over in an hour’ and ‘want to give it to me now big boy?’ simply aren’t doing the rest of us who aren’t prepared to instantly drop our knickers any favours.  You can at least pretend to have an interest in what the other person does for work, what they do for fun etc, and shockingly enough you can actually have some fairly decent banter over instant messaging.  Now call me crazy, but surely this is a better way of piquing someone’s interest rather than unsolicited trouser shots via WhatsApp?

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Moving onto Stage Three: the Tinder Date.  Public area, generally daylight (no excuse really, it’s summer!), and ideally a back-up plan to leave early if it all goes really wrong.  Now so far I’ve been on four TDs, three of them good, one truly awful.  The three good ones were all normal attractive guys, not axe murderers, all with decent conversation.  It also helps that usually by this point you’ve exchanged enough messages to know what the other person does professionally, which friends you have in common on Facebook (Tinder helps you out there), and if they’ve done anything interesting recently, so more than enough conversation starters offered up on a plate!  However, there will be various factors that you can’t be sure of until the TD actually happens.  Someone might have great banter in written form, but be really quite dull in person.  The guy might have somehow managed to look better in pictures than in the flesh.  And then there’s the height issue, which for me is a total deal-breaker.  This is NOT something you can get away with lying about.  The aforementioned awful date was a culprit of all three crimes.  Cue a fake phone call to my ‘locked out housemate who is simply desperate to get inside as she’s diabetic and needs her insulin’.  RUN AWAY!!

Overall, as far as Tinder is concerned, I’d have to say I’m a surprised fan.  One bad date out of four really isn’t bad going, and it’s certainly dragged me out of my self-pitying post-dumped ditch.  There’s a certain liberating factor to it as well: so long as you don’t have any mutual friends and you never actually meet, how are they ever going to find out you’re not French/a quantitative analyst/Australian/really rich?  You can be as flirty/weird/boring/confident as you like.  There’s no pressure to go on a real date, and if they start getting pushy you can just block them.  Simples.  It also opens you up to a whole range of people you’d never otherwise encounter from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions.  Architects, engineers, management consultants, civil servants, traders, bartenders, the list goes on.  For someone like me who is genuinely rubbish when it comes to being chatted up in a bar, Tinder is a goldmine.

This is first time I’ve done what’s I call ‘proactive dating’, and so far I’m having a lot of fun (all with my clothes staying on, in case you were wondering).  Where will it all lead?  Who knows.  For now I’m happy to just roll with it, and avoid the men whose creativity is summed up by an opening gambit of ‘nice pair’.