My last first kiss occurred nine months ago, mid-conversation, unexpected but direct. He leaned over as he stood to go to the bar, and our mouths met briefly. It was a polite kiss, assuming nothing but suggesting everything. It lasted forever but was over as soon as it began, asking a question to which the answer was yes: more, please. First kisses can be messy and awkward, the touching of teeth or the push of a tongue in a clumsy way evidencing the infantile excitement of the vulnerability that happens when you put your feelings into the hands of another. Ours was a soundless secret between two bodies, a sweet mix of warm air and the chips I stopped to buy that made me a few minutes late. I didn’t feel the earth move beneath me but there was a small shift in the gravity between us, setting our paths toward each other on a course for collision. At the end of the evening goodbyes were said with lips that smiled an unspoken promise that they would touch again, as they did upon each occasion until they met for the last time.
Since then, intimate acts have had to adapt. Over the last six months I’ve experienced something subtle, like the touch of two palms or the tucking of hair behind my ear, turn into a grasping of hands around the body of a phone, a desperate willing to merge into the surroundings at the other end of the video that remained intangible until travel permitted. What was once the softness of a lover’s whisper against my skin became an interruption of jarring Internet lag and background noise. The delicacy of lifting a stray eyelash from a face was a mouth frozen, mid-word, on screen, or a pixelated kiss shared across webcam.
Fantasy underpinned my waking hours, loneliness precluded by the dream of a reunion, memories preserved by a mind that rethought them endlessly. Lost in the illusion, the relationship disintegrated before it found space to grow; fruits picked before they had ripened, flowers pulled up mistaken for weeds. I tended to the produce in my garden and with each handful of sugared blackberries I picked, another soured the landscape that stretched between us. We were separated by 400 miles of miscommunication with the excess time to overthink the magnetism to which we were once tied so strongly. I still see his face in my head as I turn corners, remembering what it was like to walk down city streets hand in hand.
Now, it’s September and as my date stands to go to the bathroom, he puts on his mask obligingly and turns away from our table. Harrison does not lean over to kiss me; our skin does not touch all evening. We sit across from each other in a dimly lit pub in Waterloo, along a side street by the railway bridge, and I imagine reaching across the table to hold his hand. I look into his eyes and allow myself to float in the temporary distraction of his smile. We talk about our lives and find comforting similarity in the discovery that neither of us felt like they were where they should be. Our preoccupation with the world intersected at so many points I could have sat with him all night, if it wasn’t for the claw of feelings from the past that threatened to drown me as I tread water.
A few hours earlier I stood on the landing of the fourth floor of the Imperial War Museum, overlooking the landscape of flying machines below, wondering if he had actually gone to the bathroom or if he was instead making his escape to the front door. I peered over the edge, sifting through the drift of people below to see if his red shirt was amongst them. Deciding it wouldn’t be the worst outcome if he didn’t come back, I turned my attention away from the distant figures, neatly assembled on the floor like pieces in a board-game. I imagined myself jumping from the side of the balcony, landing in one of the planes which hung from the ceiling, starting the engine and piloting myself away from the unexploded confusion I felt inside. The vision was cut short as he tapped me on the shoulder, brows raised in anticipation, and we continued through the remainder of the exhibition as we had before.
I feel Harrison’s fingers in my hair as he carefully extracts a leaf that has blown there in the wind, and my body shivers for the kinds of closeness I’ve longed for but haven’t felt. He borders six feet; I stand at five foot three. His slender frame bends towards me like the branches of a tree, craning to hear my voice from behind a mask. He puts a hand on my back as we steer away from the other bodies in the narrow passageways of the museum. I recoil slightly, navigating around the tanks and aeroplanes as our individual trajectories continued to cross. How do we create and maintain acts of intimacy without physical touch? I didn’t feel myself drawn to him in the hypnotic way I itched to be pulled by; attraction disfigured by the shadow of social distancing that followed behind us like a chaperone.
I started to forget his face the moment we said goodbye. My memory filled in the gaps so that as I thought about him when I got home it was through the hazy lens of alcohol; remembering shared looks and small moments of conversation, the warmth of his arms as they wrapped around me in a masked farewell. It would have been easy to suggest we meet again, to learn his last name and the complexities that made up his person. To allow passing time to blur the uncertainty, imagining a connection invented with the same insistence as my lockdown fantasies. But so much has changed since that last first kiss.
I send the text as the changing leaves of Autumn fall to the ground. A dull panic sets in as I feel the potential seeping away; he was kind, attractive, interesting, but… It’s a hungover Sunday and a grey sky drifts outside my bedroom window, a reminder that I’m not ready to follow the seasons. I want to pick the leaves up, glue them back onto their branches. I think I’m mourning the loss of familiarity that comes with learning the depths of a new body. Although I look over moments of the past with fondness, I miss the intoxication, the feeling of spaces merging, the comfort of physical presence and belonging to someone with complete ease. I long for something new but moving forward with these interruptions to intimacy has dampened the hunger. I struggle to feel satiated without it, but my taste for it has turned stale.
Endings and beginnings overlap the present and past with the fantasy of future, and I’m confused by the complexity of crossing threads. My phone screen lights up as Harrison responds to the message; he feels the same way but is glad we met up for a date in a return to some semblance of normality. The dating dilemma is a puzzle that as of yet I haven’t managed to solve, but maybe right now I don’t need to.
When out walking the dog, what happens if a stranger says hello? Do you greet them in return, smile politely and keep walking? What if they try to push the conversation, follow you during your walk and won’t stop?
To the man down the road
Walking the dog, On the dirt road, Strangers I meet, Passing me swiftly.
Repeated head nods, And smiles alike, These known strangers, With bound’ries I like.
Small talking is key, Never amiss, I know your dog, But you, not so much.
One man I pass by, Known face only, He asks a lot, As I smile along.
I must be polite, Wanting to leave, Hoping my dog, Moves me on subtly.
I often leave fast, Poor excuse used, Hope no offence, But have a nice day.
One day I came home, Dog by my side, He calls out “hey,” I’m cringing inside.
He tries to talk more, I refuse to come closer, He asks what I do, I try to leave faster.
I say I must go, And he’s looking dismayed, I walk home quickly, Whilst glancing back swiftly.
A week goes passing, No more problems afoot, Until one night Dom Interrupts my ev’ning.
He rides his bike near, Unwelcomed in my space, I try to walk on, But the chit-chat persists.
He follows a bit, Until I make distance, I’m feeling bad now, Why am I such a bitch?
I finish the walk, Making mum collect me, So I don’t pass by, Where Dom last left me.
I know he’s no harm, But I don’t feel safety, I beat myself up, Why do I feel so guilty?
Content warning: this post contains eating disorder references.
Positive body image is always something that I’ve struggled with, ever since I was a kid, and it is definitely something that has always fed my eating disorder. As a child I would make all of the dolls and Barbies I played with look as skinny as possible, wrapping their dresses tight around their waists and stuffing their tops with toilet roll. I remember I would get frustrated if the Velcro on their clothes was a looser fit. To me, this was how I thought women should look. Once I hit my teenage years I would purposefully wear shoes with practically no sole in the bottom as I didn’t want to feel ‘big’ or take up more space than I already did. If I could go back to my younger self, I would tell her repeatedly; “take up space, take up space!”
My whole life I had known that I wanted to be an actor and once I finished school, at 18, I knew that I now had the opportunity to finally pursue it. Because of the way women are presented in the media I consumed, I always had this idea that to be successful I had to look a certain way. Since I was a child I had watched TV shows such as Friends. Because of the female representation in this program in particular I was convinced that successful actresses had to be as slim as Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox. Now I am in recovery I know that this is not the case; appearance does not equal talent. These women were put under such scrutiny about the way the look, Jennifer Aniston having to lose 25 pounds to play the role of ‘Rachel Green’ is a prime example of this, all because of diet culture and the male gaze.
When I was 20 I moved to New York to study acting, I would eventually stay there to start working. The programme that I was on called for being on camera, in front of our class, nearly every day. When I was a child I had always been praised for how photogenic I was and how comfortable I was in front of the camera. Once my eating disorder had started to run my life, however, this changed dramatically. Although I still loved acting and loved being on camera I constantly had this voice in my head telling me I looked awful and that to be successful, in acting or any areas of life, I must lose weight.
Even though my weight was the lowest it has ever been in my teenage/adult life I still had exceptionally bad body image issues. But, because I had bought into the idea that being slim makes you happy and magics all of your insecurities away, it still wasn’t enough. I put my body through hell to achieve something that could only be reached by changing the way I think about how I look, not changing the way I look. Once I came to terms with having an eating disorder my body image issues went up and down like a yo-yo. One hour I could love everything about my body; the next I may not even want to exist because of how I looked.
It took me a myriad of ways to achieve even partial positive body image. One was taking clothed mirror selfies, and eventually taking part in Come Curious’ 30 day nude challenge, where I would take an un-posed naked picture of myself every day, with the aim to just accept the way I look naturally. Eventually I decided to start being open with the world about my struggles and journey, through posting about them on my instagram, @esmemichaela, and by having open and honest conversations with my friends and family. Even though at first I found this exceptionally scary, and still do sometimes, it has given me a body freedom that I have never felt before. I am able to look deeper into how the media doesn’t reflect reality and that social media, or fiction media is never an accurate representation of real people or real life. We are meant to have curves, fat and wobbly bits. People are beautiful because of who they are, not because of what they look like.
Learning to love myself and the way I look naturally, without restricting, dieting or over exercising, whilst still doing and eating the things I love and enjoy, is the best decision I ever made. Now I am a year into recovery I still have body image issues and I still have relapses, but I have to remind myself that, although it feels permanent, it is not. And I will feel better again, eventually.
by Esme Michaela
For ED resources and contacts, please visit Mind charity’s website here
Click here for Come Curious’ F**ks Given podcast to listen to a body confidence discussion that informed the launch of their #30DayNudeChallenge
Content warning: this post contains reference to sexual assault.
Over the past few months I have indulged in my anxiety. I have always found it difficult to leave the house on a ‘normal’ day, feeling cemented to the front doorstep for reasons I can’t explain. The introduction of lockdown brought with it the perfect excuse: I am not allowed to go outside. I usually feel uneasy on crowded train carriages, but now I don’t have to commute further than my living room. It’s become socially acceptable to cross the street if someone is approaching, keeping a distance from strangers is actively encouraged, and my bubble of personal space is now so protected it has merged with the walls surrounding me, encasing the small square of land where I know I will see nobody but my family; for the first month I did not leave the house, not even when we were allowed out once a day. I knew I was making life more difficult by refusing to confront my fears, but trying to understand how my brain decides what it’s scared of is exhausting and frustrating, so it was easier to stay indoors and not think about it.
Last weekend I saw a group of friends for the first time since lockdown began. We sat on garden chairs with cans of drink and baked goods, battling the inclemency of a wet Summer afternoon. I was apprehensive beforehand, wondering if I would remember how to socialise, what it would be like to venture further than a mile from my house, where I would go to the toilet. The feelings dissipated as soon as I arrived, melting in the warm company of friends I’ve known since I was 10 years old. But when I woke up the next day, an uneasiness had built in the pit of my stomach. Did I overshare? Was I weird? Did I drink too much? Was I too loud? Anxious thoughts offset a chain reaction of over-thinking, similar to The Fear experienced after a night out, when your brain tries to fill in the empty gaps of foggy memories, struck with the horror of imagining embarrassing past behaviour. As lockdown restrictions continue to ease over the coming weeks and months and we are allowed to see friends more often, I imagine these feelings will get more intense the more socially active I become.
The first month of lockdown was tough to navigate. I work freelance in the creative sector, taking on a mix of roles where I work from home and occasionally in London. My job, since before the WFH culture of the pandemic, means I don’t have a regular routine that takes me out of my parents’ house, or the income to move out of it yet. Usually, seeing friends and engaging in regular social activities integrates me within the outside world, preventing me from isolating myself which in turn keeps my anxiety at a manageable level. Not being able to do these things anymore was scarily comforting, and retreating into my own space during those weeks became a security blanket that has since proved difficult to shift.
I was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety in 2017, after I experienced sexual assault in the halls of residence I lived in at uni. I had begun to feel isolated from my flatmates and was incredibly lonely, situated on the edge of a group I no longer felt a part of, surrounded by voices with words barely exchanged. I didn’t know how to talk about the way I was feeling. Within Indian households like the one I grew up in, the subject of mental health is not openly discussed or even acknowledged. Mental illness is highly stigmatised, culturally laced with shame and shrouded in the idea that it meant weakness. At school, someone who suffered from panic attacks was branded an attention seeker. If a classmate had depression it raised questions that perpetuated the uninformed belief that you shouldn’t be unhappy if you had no reason to be.
Looking back on my teenage years, I wish I knew that it’s okay and actually a good thing to talk about the way we feel, to birth early on a culture where we are comfortable to open our emotions up to others without being whispered about as self obsessed. I started using the university counselling service as an outlet for the loneliness I was feeling. The PTSD meant I found it harder to do everyday things alone, like leaving my flat, doing the food shop or taking the bus without my friends. Through counselling I learned how to articulate the way I felt, and that speaking about what was happening inside my head and seeking help to understand it wasn’t shameful or embarrassing, but empowering and important to my wellbeing.
Today, the illusion of comfort lockdown created is tainted with frustration, knowing how much being indoors has regressed on all the progress I made before. Restless surges of energy are brought on by fleeting negative thoughts that stick to the insides of my head like glue, inflating into bigger ones before I can pull them down. I want to exercise more, but I am overwhelmed by the idea of the outside world; the fear is a quicksand that sucks me into a pit from which I struggle to climb out of. Frustration at the overwhelmingness fills my head to the point of bursting and I am unable to concentrate on anything else. The seeds of self-hate are planted, growing weeds in my brain that cast shade over positivity.
But it is possible to get through these feelings, however impossible it feels. I know that I function best when I have someone to do things with, so I’ve started to go for walks with my mum rather than trying to do it alone, which still feels daunting. Progress, however small, is still progress.
I signed up to Headspace Plus to try a new way of confronting my feelings. (Headspace is also offering a free year of plus membership to people who are unemployed or on furlough due to the pandemic in the UK and USA, details of which can be found at the bottom of this page.) Move Mode is like being with someone while out walking, who motivates you to keep going. A voice speaks in your ear as you move, grounding you to the moment, helping anxious thoughts not to spiral. It gives me something to focus on instead of worrying about being alone, or feeling the invisible eyes of strangers. Meditations for frustration and restlessness act in a similar way. In the times when I feel unable to help myself, there’s someone in my ear telling me what to do. I am finding a much needed balance to emotions in my brain, by learning how to regulate breathing when it becomes accelerated, and discovering how to allow negative thoughts to coexist with positive ones, rather than trying to drown them out (or being drowned by them.)
When I think about how much our lifestyles have upturned since lockdown began and the changes that have yet to come in our return to normality, I am fearful but hopeful. I remember the times when people in my life have helped me when I hadn’t wanted to help myself: my pharmacist father sharing medical notes on depression, my university mentor researching resources for me when I couldn’t do it for myself, a girl I met at work who shared a meditation to help with insomnia. These notes are folded away inside an old diary I keep in the drawer of my bedside table. I look at them on the occasions when I need the strength to remember how far I’ve come since those moments in 2017, that the kindness of people who have been in and out of my life has helped, and that however stuck I’m feeling in a particular moment, things can and will change.
Headspace is offering a free year of its plus subscription for people in the UK and USA who are unemployed or on furlough because of the pandemic. You can sign up here.
If you are in need of support for sexual assault you can access resources here.
Some podcasts I listen to are All in the Mind by BBC Radio 4, The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos, Bryony Gordon’sMad World and Happy Place with Fearne Cotton.
Have you ever avoided a particular place, perhaps a bar or a venue, maybe at a specific time, because you consciously or subconsciously associate it to a particular person, one you’d rather not see? We’re definitely guilty of it. If you missed part 1 you can read it here.
Katie. Now to continue with the destruction of my character… Unfortunately the next few are much more recent and more cringe as I haven’t got the excuse of my 18-year-old naivety to hide behind. So regretfully I admit that THIS IS ALL ME, BABY!
4. All Suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa
I used to date a guy from Cape Town. We met over a summer when he was working in the UK, and by the time he made his return and I went to uni I felt like everything was set. I was in love, at least I thought I was. He was super affectionate and very very fit, and I misguidedly thought these qualities made him better than me, and that I was lucky to be dating him. Spoiler alert, this would turn out to probably be the other way around (not to be cocky.)
My student loan dropped and I immediately bought plane tickets to visit him in January. But one month into being apart, problems were beginning to show. I wouldn’t say he was controlling but he was very stroppy and pretty self-absorbed. If I chose to do something with my friends over talking to him on the phone for hours on end, he would first ignore me before sending cryptic messages. “I can’t believe you would do this,” “you want to hang out with your friends over me,” and his favourite, go-to line: “I see how little I mean to you now, I thought you loved me.” Consoling him was honestly exhausting, so I began to lie about whatever I was doing. I was being treated like I had cheated when all I did was go to the local pub with my four, mostly coupled up, housemates. A few months after the lying began I started looking into how to get a refund for my flight if I decided to cancel. The potential of a small return seemed pretty positive as I thought any kind of refund was off the cards; now I wasn’t wasting the £600 I spent on tickets, my future seemed a little less locked in.
Then the big argument came. I had avoided telling him my doubts, knowing it would end in a barrage of accusations about my lack of devotion towards him. I can’t even remember what it was about, which shows how painfully insignificant and ridiculous it all was. All I know is it ended with him crying his eyes out over FaceTime, repeating “so this is it? You want to leave me?” over and over. I couldn’t get a word in, and felt so bad I tried to make myself cry. I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t devastated, even though if anything I was overwhelmingly relieved. The argument couldn’t have come sooner as it gave me a way out. The call ended, followed by a stream of angry texts calling me a whore in increasingly creative ways. Luckily I have a great friend who is brilliant in the art of distraction so I didn’t fall into a hole of despair and ended the night with my gal signing me up for the next season of First Dates, providing a lot of much needed entertainment.
If I bumped into him now I don’t know how he would react which I think makes it slightly worse. He was never loud or aggressive but he could be very manipulative and bitchy and I just don’t want that in my life. To the untrained eye, my avoidance of every suburb of Cape Town probably seems a bit drastic but unfortunately because I don’t pay attention I can’t actually remember the exact name of the place I’m avoiding. So just to be safe, all suburban areas within the Cape Town vicinity are off limits.
5. EE Store, Maidstone
I need to preface this by saying this one is definitely my fault and not at all the man in question’s fault. I am just a moron.
I was buying a new phone and wanted to transfer my data over from my old phone. This was back when you could still do this in-store instead of all the weird app and cloud shit you have to do now that no one understands. You would basically leave your phone at the store for an hour or so and they’d move all your contacts, photos and other stuff over for you whilst you went for a wander in town. They showed me the beginning of the process before I left: you could see everything moving over to the new device as it previewed on the phone screen. I was happy it was all getting sorted and when I returned an hour later, I noticed a big grin on the faces of the three men in the store. They smirked as the one I spoke to before approached me to return my phone, saying to have a nice day.
I left feeling a little confused, like something had happened that I hadn’t realised. I checked to see if I’d split my pants or something, but nothing was amiss. After entering my car it hit me. There were a few, maybe a couple more than a few nudes on my phone, and every single one would have previewed fully on my phone screen as the transfer went through. Just to clarify for all of you who aren’t aware, I am a MORON.
I know none of you are going to believe me but they weren’t sex nudes and I wasn’t sending them to anyone. They were mainly for me to feel good about myself after the aforementioned break up. Luckily they weren’t crotch shots and actually they were pretty tasteful, only showing ass whilst covering all the explicit areas. Regardless I was hit with a severe dose of embarrassment and from that day forward I have avoided that specific EE Store in Maidstone. Even though the likelihood of seeing those exact staff members again and them recognising me is pretty low.
6. Big flat block in Nottingham (I don’t know what it’s called but could definitely point it out)
It was the Christmas break and I was home from uni enjoying the festive spirit. Newly single, I was excited for the freedom of not having a boy to look after and the potential for new romance. My phone buzzed and looked down to see a text from a friend of a friend I had met a couple times. We had got on very well and he was my type to a T, so it’s safe to say I was pretty excited for the texting to begin.
January came around and we were still messaging, and when I went back up to Loughborough we finally started meeting up. This would consist of going to each other’s houses, getting drunk and then falling asleep. After this happened a few times, I suggested we went out in town instead. He clearly wasn’t interested, and although I sensed something was up, I was so excited to be talking to someone new so I just brushed it off as him being in a bad mood. Unfortunately that seemed to become the trend of our “relationship.” He would often ghost me for a week at a time, only to return with an apology that he’d been feeling down. The little naive soul I was, I’d forgive and forget and carry on texting, despite being exhausted by his constant ups and downs. I never knew where I stood with him, but as we had mutual friends I felt like I needed to act like I was OK with his behaviour even though on the inside I wanted to cry.
Eventually we had our final meet up at his flat. I was wrecked already and ended up getting a taxi there even though it was hella expensive. In my mind I was going to sort it all out and clear up what was happening between us. Of course, the alcohol had really kicked in by the time I arrived, so the plan went out the window. I can’t remember much of that night other than there definitely being an awkward energy. After this “date” we exchanged a few texts but after he ghosted me this time, he returned with a message saying that it was over. Often I see my alcohol black-outs as a bad thing but in this case I think it was a God-send; if I had any memories of that night, I’d probably have analysed every second of it to try and figure out what went wrong. Eventually I was informed he got back with his ex about a month later, which answered all my questions regarding why we never went out, why he was ghosting me, why he was so awkward the last time I saw him.
In hindsight I can see that it was never going to work. Back then I would have been so happy to accidentally bump into him and go for spontaneous drinks, where we realised we still liked each other like they do in the movies – but now even the idea of being anywhere near his flat is enough to make myself cringe at the thought of how much I was infatuated with him. So for that reason that big flat block in Nottingham is out of bounds.
7. Oak Tavern and Tap House Pub, Sevenoaks
I was dating a guy one summer and I thought it was going pretty well. He was smart and such a gentleman and I was really starting to like him. 3 months in I got a text (a text!) out of the blue (when I was in the bath!) basically saying he didn’t see much point in us continuing because I was going back to uni and he didn’t want to do long distance. I was heart-broken, balling my eyes out to my friends over the phone. I felt like I was stuck in an unlucky loop, always starting to really like someone only for them to suddenly end it. I had always responded to these let-downs like it was fine, even trying to make them feel better for breaking up with me. But this time I was going to make a stand, and by stand I mean I ended up not responding to his break-up message for about a month.
A year passed and I was back home after graduating. We hadn’t spoken at all and I had even dated a few people since him; honestly he’d been forgotten. Guess who pops up again, out of the blue? He would message me, often in response to an Instagram story, and I would of course reply and he’d always ghost me. I was getting frustrated. Why was he talking to me after so long? One night he made the ill-fated decision to contact me whilst I was out drinking which meant my balls were heavily inflated, and I ended up calling him out. He responded with the most lame, bullshit response ever. “I’m not really texting you for any reason. Like I don’t want anything, sorry.” I saw red, Why the fuck would you message an ex for no reason? It’s not like we have mutual friends or bump into each other often. We don’t need to be amicable because we don’t know each other anymore so WHY ARE YOU MESSAGING ME?!?
Unfortunately for him I wasn’t just angry about his reply, I was also generally pissed off with the way boys treated me when I dated them. I was a door mat and they would come in with muddy boots and wipe their shit all over me and I would just always be cool with it. I had had enough. I ended up writing a long message saying how it’s not at all okay to message exes for no reason and how it’s just playing with peoples feelings and that if I dated someone for 3 months I would have the balls to break up with them in person. I’m not saying he deserved my full rage but it felt good to finally tell someone that it’s not okay to be a dick to me.
Anyways you’re probably wondering what this has to do with a pub. His favourite bar was the Oak Tavern and Tap House Pub in Sevenoaks and I avoid it with a wide radius as bumping into him will be super awkward after I gave him that much grief and I am not emotionally prepared for that now or ever.
Nikitah. There have been many places I’ve avoided because of boys, and gone to embarrassingly great lengths to do so. Crippled with the cringe of remembering the memories that turned sour, I’ve avoided blanket areas of square mileage where I know they work / their last known address / the locations of past failed dates / public areas where, out of all the layers of time, passing tubes and winding streets of London, we’ve found ourselves in the same place at the same time, no longer dating each other (this has happened multiple times) – they’ve laughed at me (once), they’ve awkwardly left (twice) or we’ve unwisely left the venue together (thankfully just once). Here are a few more of my spectacular avoidances.
4. Skiing / Kennington
Although I have never skied, I can appreciate that it is more of an activity than a place. I tend to avoid conversations about skiing, places where conversations about skiing are being held, as well as physical skiing. Since I live in south-east England (not a mountain range in sight) you’d think it would be easy to avoid skiing; trust me, it is not. A few months before I graduated, I (22) started dating a boy (24) met on Bumble. He suggested we meet on the Tamesis, a boat docked on the banks of the River Thames. I accepted the offer; it was a conveniently short walk from my university, but, as it turned out, an even shorter walk from his flat (probably why he suggested it.)
The first red flag was when, whilst holding my hands, he told me I should cut my nails because they were “too long.” I took personal offence to this, as I take great pride in my nail upkeep. The second red flag was when, during our third date, he soberly informed me that the third date meant sex (in my opinion, you can have sex on any date if and when both parties want to), and the third red flag was an actual flag hanging on his living room wall which said “Saturdays are for the Boys.” If you’re wondering why I agreed to a third date after the nail-gate of date one: I am a big fan of trains, and in all honesty I think I was more attracted to his special edition Oyster card, adorned with a celebration of the London bus, than I was to him.
To cut a long story short, he was obsessed with “getting out of the city” to ski, which would form basis of most of his conversation. Suffice to say we had little in common, which would have led to an amiable parting of ways, but alas, he ghosted me. I bumped into him a few months later, on a busy street in Central London. Not a single word was exchanged; he instead laughed in my face before walking away. Obviously this left me mortified and I now have to avoid Kennington, his last known address, and skiing – because a.) I don’t relate and b.) God forbid we bump into each other on the ‘slopes.’
5. The lift at work
We swiped right and engaged in average banter over the course of an evening. I was 23, I think he was 27. It transpired we were almost neighbours; I moved out of my south London flat three months before he moved into his, a few doors away. “Lucky we don’t live down the road from each other, you wouldn’t be able to keep away!” More messages were exchanged along this vein, but since forced innuendo was not my conversation category of choice, I had decided to ghost him – unfortunately instead I drunkenly gave out my number at 4am a few nights later.
I blocked him shortly after because I didn’t want to deal with a boy who misinterpreted my sense of humour for rudeness. I started an internship in London a week later, in a tall building on The Strand. In a lift one lunchtime, the doors opened on a lower floor and he walked straight inside… We shared uncomfortable eye contact, each aware of who the other person was, and I silently prayed that he wouldn’t say anything. When the doors opened on the ground floor I exited, putting it down to an awkward coincidence that would definitely never happen again. A quick search on LinkedIn confirmed his identity; he did indeed work in the same building as me and it was him in the lift.
The following week, I got the lift and he again stepped in a few floors down. It was crowded so he had to stand right next to me. There was a tension in the air and I thought the only way the situation could get any worse was if the lift broke down with just the two of us in it. I messaged a friend about the encounter on my way home. “You’re stuck in a Rom-Com! Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling you that he’s the one!” (It was not.)
This list of resources has been compiled to help those affected by rape and sexual assault, with additional educational resources for people supporting them. We will continue to update the sections of this list with new links as we find them.
Get help right now: phone numbers to call
If you need help yourself
If you want to help someone else*
*these sections contain links to personal accounts of sexual assault that might be triggering. Please visit this link for tips by RAINN for consuming media as a survivor.
0808 802 9999 – National Rape Crisis Helpline (England and Wales) 0808 800 5005 – National Male Survivor Helpline(England and Wales) 0808 801 0302– Rape Crisis Helpline (Scotland)
Find your nearest crisis centre here (England and Wales) and here (Scotland)
Find your nearest UK NHS sexual assault referral centre (SARC) here
1-800-656-4673– RAINN 1-888-843-4564 – LGBT National Hotline A list of USA national helplines here COVID-19 Resources in the USA – here A list of hotlines and chats by The Left Ear – here
What’s it like phoning a rape crisis helpline? read here
What to do
NHS information about specialist medical attention/forensics here
Coronavirus: current support for victims of sexual violence and abuse here.
You don’t have to report what happened, but if you’d like more information on how to report in the UK then click here
Spiking If you think you’ve been spiked and/or assaulted, someone you trust should take you to your nearest A&E department. Tell the medical staff that you think your drink’s been spiked. Most drugs leave the body within 72 hours (the date rape drug GHB leaves the body within 12 hours), so it’s important to be tested as soon as possible. More info here
What to do if you are abroad If you are a British national and have been affected by sexual assault abroad, click here for information and guidance on what to do and who to contact, including how to access medical treatment and legal advice in the UK. Visit Rape Crisis Network Europe here
Resources in the short-term
Read this if you’re confused or experiencing self-doubt: Was I raped? 17 situations to consider – here
Also read this: thinking about consent and unwanted sex – here
When Your Partner Was Sexually Abused as a Child, a guide – here
10 pieces of advice for helping a partner who has been sexually assaulted – here
Definitions and statistics are useful to understand if you’re supporting someone who’s shared their story with you. Here is a list of resources to help address common myths and answer any questions you might have. Some of these links contain personal accounts that might be triggering or upsetting.
What is the legal definition of rape? (England and Wales) here
Facts and legal definitions about sexual violence (Scotland) here
Sexual violence statistics (England and Wales) here
Understanding the effects of sexual violence – here
Realities of recovering from sexual assault that are not talked about – @niceforwhatmvmt here
Sometimes, reading articles and books can be an overwhelming source of information, and an inaccessible resource if you are unable to invest excess money or time. Following Instagram accounts can be a helpful and free means to bring information to you, rather than seeking it out.
@wecantconsentto – We Can’t Consent To This is a campaign to end the use of “rough sex” defences in the UK
@ourstreetsnow – Movement to end public sexual harassment in the UK
UK says no more, national campaign to raise awareness to end domestic abuse and sexual violence across the UK – here
When you’ve experienced something traumatic, it can be difficult to process emotions and understand or describe how you’re feeling. In the long-term, listening and reading to other people speak about experiences, autobiographical and fictional, can help you to understand that you aren’t alone in what you’re feeling, and hearing someone else articulate their emotions can often enable you to make sense of your own.
Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture – edited by Roxane Gay This is a collection of honest, personal essays that explore a range of topics connected to rape culture.
Know My Name: the survivor of the Stanford sexual assault case tells her story – Chanel Miller
I Have The Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story Of Sexual Assault, Justice And Hope – Chessy Prout
Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement – edited by Jennifer Patterson
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town – Jon Krakauer
History of Violence – Édouard Louis
Non fiction – educational
Asking for it: The alarming rise of rape culture and what we can do about it – Kate Harding
Rage Becomes Her – Soraya Chemaly
Why Women Are Blamed For Everything: Exploring the Victim Blaming of Women Subjected to Violence and Trauma – Dr Jessica Eaton
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape – Sohaila Abdulali
Everyday Sexism – Laura Bates
Pretending – Holly Bourne
Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
The Red Word – Sarah Henestra Related article: Understanding the banality of rape – here
What Red Was – Rosie Price
An Untamed State – Roxane Gay
Below Deck – Sophie Hardcastle (link to Sophie’s essay below)
The Round House – Louise Erdrich
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
The Way I Used to Be – Amber Smith
His Favorites – Kate Walbert
13 Reasons Why – Jay Asher
Reading list by the New York Times here Young Adult reading list here
Contains links to personal accounts of sexual assault that might be triggering.
A year ago I was raped. Here’s what I have learned – The Guardian here
Stanford rape case: Chanel Miller’s statement – here
Hideous Men | Donald Trump assaulted me in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room 23 years ago. But he’s not alone on the list of awful men in my life – E Jean Carroll here
Why my rape was anti-climactic – Laura Hunter-Thomas here
‘My Sexual Assault Wasn’t That Bad’—and Other Normalizations That Need to Stop – Nina Rubin here
Teen Vogue’s thread of articles called “Not Your Fault” – here
Information on how to report rape and sexual assault in the UK here
(UK) Rights of Women – www.rightsofwomen.org.uk A women’s charity working to provide women with legal advice Further legal advice and support can be found here
From Report to Court: A handbook for adult survivors of sexual violence here (A resource which explains the different stages of the legal process, from the point of deciding whether to report the incident to the police, through to the trial, the outcome of the trial and sentence.)
If you are thinking about reporting to the police and need some information or support you can call Rape Crisis South London’s Independent Sexual Violence Advocate on 0208 683 3311
How Two Girls Are Teaching Students Their Rights to Fight Campus Sexual Assault – Teen Vogue here – info on your Title IX rights as a student in the USA
*Scroll down for petitions and educational resources*
Afternoon Delight was created by two friends as a space to make noise about the uncomfortable, taboo subjects we tend to avoid in ‘polite’ conversations, in order to normalise their discussion and help others understand they aren’t alone in their thoughts or experiences. This is a platform intended to empower voices and learn from each other’s stories. In light of the reality of events happening right now in America and here in the UK, we’ve stopped posting unrelated content in order to keep attention focussed on what’s important; now more than ever is the time for uncomfortable conversations.
What we would like to do here is encourage everyone who can to have a look at the following links to see how you can aid the movement. Useful resources on how to start conversations about racism are also highlighted on our Instagram story.
NHS CHARITIES TOGETHER has launched a Covid-19 Urgent Appeal to support NHS staff, volunteers and patients, with a “particular focus on support for people who are disproportionately affected by the Covid crisis, such as patients and staff from the BAME communities and high-risk groups like those living with disabilities.”
If you don’t have the money to give but do have some time to spare: put this video on in the background without skipping any ads as the money from the ad revenue is given to Black Lives Matter charities.
As these are listed on the UK Gov’s website, all petitions that get more than 10,000 signatures will be responded to, and 100,000 signatures will consider the petition for debate in Parliament. A full list of open petitions on the gov site can be found here. Since there is no guarantee the government will debate these petitions, you can sign them on Change.orghere
As Gina Martin writes, “petitions are best used as a tool to agitate those in power, demonstrating public interest and keeping an issue on the agenda.”
Teach Britain’s colonial past as part of the UK’s compulsory curriculum “Currently, it is not compulsory for primary or secondary school students to be educated on Britain’s role in colonisation, or the transatlantic slave trade. We petition the government to make education on topics such as these compulsory, with the ultimate aim of a far more inclusive curriculum.”
Introduce Mandatory Ethnicity Pay Gap Reporting “Much like the existing mandatory requirement for employers with 250 or more employees must publish their gender pay gap. We call upon the government to introduce the ethnicity pay gap reporting. To shine a light on race / ethnicity based inequality in the workplace so that they can be addressed.”
Create an independent investigatory commission to help protect ethnic minorities “We need the UK government to create an independent investigation commission to investigate cases involving the death, maltreatment & discrimination of people of colour and ethnic minorities. To hold Anybody accountable for their action be that the police, government or members of the public.”
Add education on diversity and racism to all school curriculums “Racism is a problem that affects all members of society. It is important to deconstruct taught ideas of racism to children so they do not go on to become perpetuators or victims of racism. At the moment classes about racism and diversity are not mandatory and this should be changed.”
Making the UK education curriculum more inclusive of BAME history “Rewrite the education curriculum to be more inclusive of BAME history – making topics on the historical and current impacts of European colonisation, institutional racism and slavery on BAME societies compulsory for all UK students to learn. As well, as celebration of BAME history and cultures.”
Improve Maternal Mortality Rates and Health Care for Black Women in the UK “Black Women in the U.K. are 5 times more likely to die during pregnancy and after childbirth compared to White Women (MBRRACE, 2019). We need more research done into why this is happening and recommendations to improve health care for Black Women as urgent action is needed to address this disparity.”
Condemn the US government for the use of force against its citizens “The Government of the United Kingdom should issue a statement condemning the actions of the United States government for acts of force against their own people and that if these acts continue diplomatic actions should be taken.”
And a reminder to confirm your email address after you’ve signed!
In addition to this, you can write a letter, email or Tweet of support to your local MP. If you’re using an email template, make sure to edit the text so the email isn’t flagged as spam in their inbox, and include your full name and address as proof that you are a constituent.
Instagram is great means to spread educational resources. Here are some posts we’ve found useful. (If you are on your phone, view this page in Safari or other web browser app and these links will open in your Instagram app, where you can save them to read in your own time.)
Being an anti-racist ally – @officialmillennialblack here
3 Young Women On Dealing With Racism At British Universities – Refinery29 here
Put our colonial history on the curriculum – then we’ll understand who we really are – Maya Goodfellow, The Guardian here
Ignored, Attacked Or Fetishised: The Many Frustrations Of Dating Apps For Women Of Colour – Refinery29 here
Reading is a great way to commit to longer term self-education. If you cannot afford to buy a book, consider splitting the cost with a group of friends and sharing the books with each other, or borrow from a library (when they re-open.)
Useful reading list of fiction and non-fiction books – @badformreview here
A list of Black-owned bookstores in the USA – @subwaybookreview here
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but here are some useful things we wanted to share about particular books:
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Renni Eddo-Lodge Renni has Tweeted asking everyone who buys a copy to match their purchase (or what they would have spent if they borrowed the book) with a donation to Minnesota Freedom Fund (The MN Freedom Fund has since said they’re overwhelmed with donations, but you can donate to other organisations!)
The Good Immigrant – edited by Nikesh Shukla We’ve seen this book appear on many recommended reading lists circulating the Internet, it’s an important read in which 21 writers explore what it means to be Black, Asian and minority ethnic in Britain today, opening up a dialogue about race and racism. There is also a following publication, The Good Immigrant USA.
The publication of these books came about from funding by Unbound(here). This is a crowdfunded publisher where “authors share the ideas for the books they want to write directly with readers.” The ideas that get the most support are the ones that are published and distributed in stores and online. It is often difficult for the voices of Black writers to be published within mainstream circuits, so pledging financial support on platforms like Unbound is vital if you are able to.
Podcasts are a useful, free way to self-educate. Here is a playlist of anti-racism podcasts on Spotify.
As we have seen in the UK, we have a media and government complicit in upholding double standards when it comes to racism. A PM who tweets that racism has no place in the UK; yet has made openly racist remarks for which there has been no apology. Newspapers that condemn Black Lives Matter protestors for breaking social distancing; yet hail racist, far-right groups as heroes for protecting statues against empty streets whilst doing the same – statues which serve as nothing more than painful reminders of the UK’s role in the slave trade and its deep roots in racism, something which is still being denied by many in the UK as an American issue.
As non-Black people, we will never understand how it feels to experience the injustices and racism that Black people face on a life-threatening level, every day. But if we don’t make noise against censored narratives, we are complicit in allowing them to continue. It is not enough to “be better” without accompanying action; we must use the momentum to disseminate information, share resources, donate, protest, self-educate, and help others to do so. We need to take these conversations offline, away from social media and into our everyday lives. Not everything can be learned in a week; make a list, find the answers to your questions, put all that you have learned, and still have yet to learn, into practise. Only through committing to long-term action will we move towards change.
If you would like to raise your voice, Afternoon Delight is open to submission of your stories, contributions and suggestions.
Welcome to The Period Party, a series created to celebrate all things period, open to all menstruators. Party invites are also extended to people who don’t experience periods, because the more the merrier! It is important to share stories about our periods in order to normalise and de-stigmatise conversation surrounding them.
To kick-start the party, we discuss the first time we had our periods, how we felt at the time, how our thoughts surrounding our periods have changed over time as well as how our cycles have altered as we have gotten older. We love how people are celebrating their first period with their friends and family, so we dream up what our own celebrations would have been like if we had a party when we first started our periods (over 10 years ago!)
Katie: I got my first period when I was 12. I came back from horse riding (yes, I know, I literally couldn’t be more southern) and went to the toilet to find a little bit of blood in my knickers. I was so fucking excited. I finally felt like a real woman, which meant I could finally moan about adult things and drown my sorrows in ice cream like they do in the movies. I ran downstairs to show my mum, who looked at me like I was a freak, because let’s face it – that is a bit weird. She handed me a pad and that was it, I was a W-O-M-A-N at least in my 12 year-old brain. Unfortunately this would turn out to be a false start, much to my disappointment. The next day would come and there was no period and then the next month and there were still no signs of my womanhood reappearing. It would later come to my realisation that what had actually happened was that my hymen broke… not nearly as exciting. Supposedly activities like horse riding and gymnastics can cause the hymen membrane to tear or even bleed a little, in addition to its natural thinning over time. I don’t actually remember when my period started after that. Maybe I was fearful of another false start so ended up not making such a hoo-ha about it this time round.
Nikitah: I got my period three days after my 11th birthday. I was at home and my parents were having a Christmas party. They had invited many of our friends and family over, and after I saw the blood on the toilet paper when I went to the loo, I shut myself in my bedroom and refused to leave until the party was over like a total diva. I remember thinking no no no over and over, because none of my friends had started their periods and I thought there was something wrong with me. My mum gave me my first pad, she explained what was happening to my body and I felt empowered in the knowledge that actually, my period arriving was nothing to be ashamed of. The first thing I did was run to tell my younger brother what had happened (he was 7) and I remember being told off! Since then, getting my period meant a free pass to be excused from the dreaded school swimming lessons when none of my classmates were. It was a bit like being in an exclusive private members’ club (so exclusive that I was the only member and had to sit on the side of the pool, alone.)
Katie: My periods change ALL THE TIME. It’s a nightmare keeping up. One day I get cramps, then I don’t. One month I get cravings, then the next I don’t. Sometimes they are heavy for 5 days, sometimes they are literally non-existent. I skipped a whole period by accident last year just from stress. Keeping up with my uterus is like trying to explain the evolving drama of Tiger King to your mum when she hasn’t watched it; it just won’t make sense. Since I started using the Clue app I think I’ve got slightly better at understanding what’s happening. I was late to using the app as I have a bit of a sixth sense with my period and seem to have always been able to guess when my periods were going to start and catch them, but when I was experiencing these fluctuations in symptoms and mood I started to make a note. The app has been invaluable to me as I’ve realised my cycle doesn’t just involve bleeding, but also changes in my mood, skin, ability to concentrate and weight amongst other things. Seeing these patterns allows me to plan around when I’m feeling up or down and recognise when my hormones might be slightly to blame for certain emotional reactions…. sorry to all previous exes.
Nikitah: I asked my mum about her periods because I wanted to compare experiences. She once visited the doctor as she had terrible pain, and when asked if her blood flow was ‘normal’ she said yes; she had no experience other than her own to compare to, and as a young girl she believed that it was common to experience a heavy flow and extreme pain. When I was younger I remember changing my pads several times a day, soaking them through. Now, I change them less frequently, and they last for fewer days. I also use the Clue app to track my period, and have learned I have an average menstrual cycle length of 28 days (but occasionally have very early or very late periods.) At school I noted my periods down in my yearly planners, which have long since been thrown away. It would have been interesting to compare the data between now and then, but I know my periods have definitely got lighter and more regular as I’ve grown older.
Katie: I’d like to say I’m not at all embarrassed about my period as I near the age of 24 but it would be a lie. I have no issue talking about my period; I tell pretty much everyone I meet when I’m “on.” What I would say though is that I’m not at all comfortable with the blood. I’ll only wear black, I’ll only use my bedroom bin for my used pads, I don’t keep period-related items in shared bathrooms and if I use the toilet I will always check/clean it 3 to 4 times in case theres any inklings of blood. I always thought that I was just being considerate but after the amount of times I’ve seen people leave full shits in the toilet I think a little bit of blood is probably passable.
One time I did feel embarrassed was during school. A lot of girls were talking about how they thought pads were “so gross” and that tampons were much better. I felt like they were graduating into using tampons as we got older, and that I would have to make the change too, even though tampons really didn’t work with my body and I would often be in pain when wearing them. Let me just state here THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH USING EITHER A TAMPON OR A PAD OR ANY OTHER OPTION. This is a completely personal choice and you should use whatever works for you. Definitely try the other options but it’s your body and your vagina so do what feels comfortable and best for you. There is no “more mature” way of dealing with your period and once you leave school no one really gives a fuck anyways.
Nikitah: One summer my mum picked my brother and I up from school and took us to the bike shop on the local high street. We had never had grown-up bicycles of our own before and had been looking forward to this day for weeks. I was wearing my summer uniform: a red cardigan and white/red striped dress, and was on my period but had an Always pad in my knickers. I tried on different bikes for what felt like hours before choosing the one I liked the most, white with a purple stripe (my favourite colour.) Sitting on the bikes must have moved my pad around, because I noticed something strange on one I’d tried, looked down at my dress and saw a light bloodstain on the back! It probably wasn’t that noticeable as it was a similar colour to the dress, but I was mortified. I experience anxiety about period leaks even as an adult, 13 years later, and I only wear larger night pads or even maxi pads to minimise the risk of leaking. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with my period. Some months, it comes and goes with little pain, and is so light I’m not worried if I’ve accidentally left the house without a spare pad in my bag. Other months, both my anxiety and hormones are heightened, and I sometimes decline attending social events because of it.
Katie: I can’t remember the exact date of when I first got my period so remembering my tastes during that time is tricky. I know at 12ish my main goal was to fit in so to I would probably have wanted to celebrate it in the most sheep-like way possible; listening to What’s it gonna be by H “Two” 0 or Heartbroken by T2 whilst wearing a Jane Norman top with Uggs and an Abercrombie and Fitch paper bag the size of my full torso (even though I only bought a scrunchie.) So, with hindsight being 20/20, I think if I could plan my “Period Party” now I would definitely take notes from this video.
Bert Kreischer’s daughter knows what’s up.
Nikitah: I got my period in December 2006, at the height of the noughties and in the middle of my obsession with S Club 7, which would be the soundtrack to both the Year 6 disco as well as my Period Party. I had amassed a sticker collection that would be the envy of any fellow sticker enthusiast (before playground trading was banned and we moved onto raising Tamagotchis.) As I’ve grown up I’ve learned that being the envy of your friends is not a #lifegoal, so at my party we would share both stickers and pads because everyone should have access to menstrual products, and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say their names out loud.
The more conversations I have about periods, the less afraid of them I feel, whether that’s the confidence not to hide my period product in my bag when I go to the toilet at work, or if it’s not being embarrassed to engage in period sex. But from having conversations, I’ve also learned that discussion surrounding perceived notions of womanhood can be painful. I have a cousin who was born without a uterus, which she only discovered after undertaking tests to determine why her period never arrived. It’s important to acknowledge that periods aren’t experienced by every woman, and that some people who have periods aren’t women. Growing up, as Katie mentions, getting your period was synonymous with ‘becoming a woman’. I’ve learned there to be many ways to be a woman – and whether or not you get periods doesn’t need to be a defining characteristic.
Katie: I’d like to add when I talk about “womanhood” my concept of what that meant has changed an awful lot since I was a kid. When I was young I knew little about how the definition of what I saw to be a woman could unintentionally define someone else. My definition of a woman and what womanhood is has changed and continues to change as I actively learn more about other people and how they deserve and should be seen.
Katie: Side note – during writing this the amount of times of times I’ve said “I got my period” is astounding. Why isn’t there a verb like “perioded” or “to period.” I don’t want to say bled because that isn’t specific enough so there should be a verb… right? I’m probably being stupid, there probably is a verb. -Nikitah you can delete that if you like I am a tad tipsy.
Nikitah: The word for ‘I got my period’ is menstruated.
Work situation: Artist, educator and socially engaged practitioner. Currently placed on furlough in 3 different work settings with one exhibition on hold and another indefinitely postponed.
Isolating with: Just my grandma, I usually live between her house and my parents but decided to move in for the period of the lockdown.
Saturday, 16th May 2020
Today’s thoughts have revolved around connection.
When I was 16 a note dropped out of a library book I was reading with the words: ‘nothing is as important as you think it is when you’re thinking about it,’ which was a welcome thought at the time and soothed my stressed, GCSE-focused mind. I kept the note from the stranger in my purse until years later when I put it in a card for a friend as I felt like she might need it.
Since lockdown began, or perhaps a bit before, I began searching my brain (and Google) for the different ways that I could connect and help people during this time. I knew that isolating with my grandma meant that I couldn’t leave the house. My heart hurt for those who, like her, might have to isolate but might not have family and friends close by to help. I helped set up my local mutual aid group, like thousands of others across the country, and each day I manage the requests of those in need, matching them with volunteers that are able to help out. One of the places I find solace during this crisis is in the kindness of strangers and the small things you can do each day to make a difference.
Connection thoughts like these inspired a series of artworks that I have been creating named Letters from Isolation. Each day since the beginning of lockdown, I write and post a letter to a random cosmically named address with a positive thought.
The text for today’s letter reads: ‘A Truth: There is power in collectivity’ and is sent to a house on Sunlight Avenue.
(And now have to avoid because the country is on lockdown.)
Nikitah. When you stop dating someone, a place you once visited together might develop an unfortunate association to their name. You’ve deleted their number; maybe it was an immediate cleanse, or maybe you stayed up late to re-read every exchange ever sent, deleting their contact info before you can write them another text you know you’ll regret within seconds of pressing send. The messages are now gone but the memories remain, filed away under “Yikes”. You might make an unavoidable return to one of these places, and a memory will float towards the surface. It can’t pass up an opportunity to remind you that it still exists, a bit like the boy who texts “hey, how are you?” when you haven’t spoken for two years. And so the LIST OF PLACES I’VE AVOIDED BECAUSE OF BOYS is born, because (of course) you won’t be returning to this place again.
The Central Line
I started dating when I went to uni, having grown up in a strict Indian household where “hanky panky” with boys was, and to an extent still is, not allowed. When I was 20, I met a boy (25) and after dating him for a few months I made my fateful journey down the Central Line. It was snowing when I reached Epping, an hour after I left my North London flat. I walked into the kitchen the following morning where he was stood at the sink, back facing me. His iPad was open on the table between us, and I couldn’t help but glance down at the bright screen. I frowned when I saw a girl’s face filling the display; I was looking at his Tinder account. He turned around and smiled as he stepped forward to cover the device, oblivious to what I’d just seen.
I left his house, confused. On the phone the next day I asked why he’d used Tinder when I was asleep in the room next door. He defensively clarified his single status, making it clear he didn’t wish to be tied down by commitment of any kind. This was my first experience of ‘breaking up’ which, even after turning 21, was devastating and so I avoided Epping at all costs. (Not that hard, it’s in Zone 6.)
Last year he texted to say he was at an art exhibition and it “reminded me of you.” I thought it very strange he’d returned to reminisce given that we hadn’t spoken for two years, he didn’t like art and was in a relationship with the girl in his WhatsApp profile picture. Millennial dating terminology informs me that this is ‘Zombieing;’ a return from the grave like something out of The Vampire Diaries, and should be treated as such. Stake to the heart of uninvited conversation, anyone?
2. London Victoria Station
When I was 21 I told a boy (24) that we should stop seeing each other, over text, while he was on holiday with his parents. The text was timed for maximum dramatic impact. We weren’t really ‘seeing’ each other as we hadn’t actually seen each other all summer (not for lack of trying) and in a last ditch attempt of reverse psychology I half hoped my text would result in the opposite of what it actually said. He texted me back the following day explaining he was “sorry but on hols, let me get back to you when I’m home xxx” It was not the reply I was looking for. He didn’t get back to me when he got home so obviously I got back to him, and after learning that his holiday was “good thanks,” I realised I was probably never going to see him again.
He worked in a tall building next to Victoria Station, where he caught the train to and from Kent each day. Although I was at uni one tube stop away, I still tried to avoid Victoria at the time because it’s fair to say I wasn’t over it. We met up once after matching on Tinder a year later. Our interaction was no more consequential than any other; texts exchanged, interest waning, plans cancelled, culminating in the termination of contact through mutual ghosting. The present had not quite lived up to the memory of the past, and in that lay a life lesson.
In reality, it is not advisable to eagerly collect breadcrumbed maybes from a boy who historically left you on read for weeks at a time before admitting he’d been sleeping with another girl – but still wants to meet up with you, maybenext week? It is instead advisable to take the L and enthusiastically sweep these crumbs into the bin, where they belong.
3. London Bridge Station
It was our meeting place for a string of dates that occurred in the summer of 2019; suggested by him (24) as he worked around the corner, accepted by me (23) as I could easily get a train there from my home in Kent. He greeted me with a canned gin and tonic from M&S, Fleabag-Priest-style, remembering it as my drink of choice from the texts we exchanged, pre-date.
As well-intentioned as things tend to begin, our differences emerged over a series of weeks and months, and thus it ended, on a Monday in October, over text. The emotionless act of cutting ties over a WhatsApp message offended me perhaps more than the actual being dumped part, and so London Bridge Station ascended the list to rank First Place Area To Avoid.
I was on my way to work a few weeks later, swapping trains and switching platforms, when I saw a beige fleece out of the corner of my eye. I silently cursed the 20/20 vision I gained after having eye surgery, not expecting to notice him in the crowd of commuters swarming the station floor. The first time I wasn’t sure if it was him I’d seen, the second time our eyes met but paths did not, the third time I was fed up of being ignored both over text and in real life, so I sent him another:
The next time we saw each other I wondered how many times it was possible to bump into the person you were trying to avoid (apparently, quite a lot), but we both stopped to talk and gain closure in a way which should have been done initially. Since that conversation, London Bridge Station is no longer somewhere I actively avoid because thoughts of the past have remained exactly that: in the past.
Katie. My list of places I avoid due to boys is fairly extensive. If I’m being honest not all of them will make this list as I don’t want to relive the cringe by writing them down. 18-year-old me had many questionable crushes and took the slightest interest from a member of the opposite sex as a near marriage proposal. Unlike Nikitah I went to uni in the midlands, so the areas of avoidance aren’t helpfully isolated to the South East of England but instead are scattered throughout the nation. So here is a slightly censored list of places I avoid because of boys.
When I was 18 I hadn’t gained much experience in the dating game. Puberty was rough and I spent most of secondary school looking like a chubby, greasy, acne-ridden, loner. Safe to say boys were not interested… not one bit. During the summer before I moved out for University I decided I was going to start trying a bit with the way I look, and more importantly start leaving my house and on occasion even leave my town and venture into the wonderful world of a suburban night out. Turns out when you leave your house with a considerable amount of alcohol on-board, boys aren’t so scary anymore.
One of my chosen locations to go out-out was Fusion. A nightclub about 40 mins away which was a favourite for all the local private school kids, plus a few creepy late 30’s men trying their luck. Being that I was 18 and really only had a very half-hearted attempt of a job at a local cricket club bar where I only picked up a couple shifts a month, money was a tad tight. The necessity for pre-drinks was a top priority so you can imagine the state of us when we did eventually arrive in town. Luckily due to the amount of alcohol in my system I don’t remember too much of my early attempts at flirting, which I think is probably a God-send. From what I do remember my attempts at being cute and “girly” was more just a babble of slurred words and staggered wobbling in attempt to dance seductively (something I am still yet to master.)
So for those reasons above I now avoid Fusion which has been made even easier by it closing down a few years ago. It’s probably been replaced with another shitty club but for now I can live safely in the knowledge that even if drunk me decided it was a good idea to try re-living the mid-2010’s, I cannot.
2. The Kingfisher Housing Estate at Uni
First few months of uni were tough, I was pretty awkward and had always struggled making new friends. Add Tinder into the mix and the awkwardness increased exponentially. I went on dates here and there but predominantly my encounters on Tinder consisted of a match, followed by the “You out tonight?” message. Which of course I read as an invite and would immediately run to Sainsbury’s to stock up on Glen’s Vodka, own-brand lemonade and 39p energy drinks with the hopes of potentially meeting my future boyfriend in the Union later that night.
There was one specific boy who would message weekly at Tuesday around lunchtime asking if I’d be attending “Stupid Tuesdays” at the Union later. I would ignore him for at most 30 mins and then respond nonchalantly saying “Maybe, you? x” to which he would not respond. This meant that I would spend the rest of the day trying to find a group of people to drink with so that if I did meet him, I could ditch them and see him and if he continued to ghost me, I could pretend that I was having a good time and that meeting him wasn’t the main objective of the night. This led to me having many shitty nights up until about 2am when he would finally reply saying “I’m by the bar come find me.” To which I would diligently obey, ditching my uni acquaintances immediately in the hope to get some validation from a member of the male gender. Which of course was always a flawed plan as British flirting is essentially insulting each other until you start making-out.
This would repeatedly happen over a few months with the same boy, to the point where I was starting to get frustrated at the lack of progress in gaining anything worthy of being Facebook official. One night we started the routine of finding each other in the Union, and by ‘finding’ each other I mean I looked for him after he sent me a half-hearted text revealing the general vicinity of his location. I bumped into his mates, two twins who were on my course and I smiled, saying “Hi”. They began to laugh at me, saying that I was too ugly for him, that he was better than me and basically implying he had been shitting on me behind my back. At which point my friend shoved them both pretty hard, GIRL POWER-style and we swiftly vacated the Union with me trying to hold back tears.
We did not message again.
The boy in question and his pals lived in an area called Kingfisher outside campus, or at least I think he did, he never really told me. It was enough for me to do anything to avoid that place as my cringe-o-meter goes off the charts when I think about them. Unfortunately I couldn’t actively avoid my own course so I would often have to be revisited by the memory of that night in class. Especially when we had to do presentations and they would snigger at the back of the room when I stood up.
3. The Hill Outside the Art Department at Uni
Continuing with the theme of Tinder dates was my first real date. I’d matched with a guy on Tinder and he seemed nice. 18, bearded, and from the local area – a massive turn on as I wasn’t really enjoying uni at the time and thought dating someone in the local area would help me meet new people. I assumed he was at the uni as pretty much everyone in the town aged 18 to 25 was.
The first date went well; he picked me up in a massive Land-Rover (which he borrowed from his mum) and drove me to a beautiful pub by the river where we had a couple drinks and chatted awkwardly. It was a good date but there wasn’t really any spark. Nevertheless we continued to chat as I was enjoying the distraction. The second date he asked if I wanted to hang out and eat lunch on the hill next to the building where I studied. During that date he divulged that he wasn’t actually at uni yet but was actually the year below me and still in college. This was a massive red flag for me… how could I, an 18-year-old university student, date someone who was still at school… I was just way too mature for him. I mean we were only about 4 months apart but still, the maturity you gain from a term at university really grows you as an adult and he would just not understand how mature I was, you know? (FYI this is sarcasm, please don’t think I’m this deluded now.)
I agreed to go on a third date even though by this point I had pretty much decided I wasn’t interested. He came to my room in halls as I thought the ‘dumping’ was best done in private. An hour went by and I was definitely pussy-ing out. As he left he went in for a kiss which I swiftly blocked with my cheek and about 20 mins later I sent a message saying how I didn’t think this would work. Stating that we were at two different points in our lives and some other bullshit like that. This was the first time I had ever been doing the rejecting and it did not feel good at all. I would take being the dump-ee any day over being the dump-er.
Thinking back to this I must have sounded painfully patronising but I’m blaming it on my younger version of myself in a hope to shift the guilt. From that day on, the dreaded hill was out of bounds as I would do anything to avoid having to be faced with him and my shitty reasons for rejecting him.
Through writing these we have realised the sheer amount of places we avoid so we think we are going to make a part two. If there’s one thing Katie’s degree in Graphic Design taught her it’s that our generation has an average attention span of about 8 seconds, so we are already pushing our luck. Look forward to hearing more about our appalling attempts of finding love and the places we avoid due to the many failed ventures.