Heaven on Earth for me, AKA a piece of bread, a beer, and a sausage in Prague. Wait… I mean a real sausage. Not related to the title of this post.
This post will make a lot more sense if you read Part One here!
January 8th, 2018
So… psych. I ended the last instalment of this series by saying I was opening up Bumble for one last hurrah, but that was totally a ploy to keep up the suspense (as if any of you thought that was even remotely suspenseful). I did indeed open it up, but only to make my profile private, meaning I won’t show up in searches anymore. I would delete it all together but my willpower is not quite that strong… give me time.
And that’s the thing: it is a sad, sorry state these days to think that, when I’m bored, I’ll reach for my phone and look through profiles of the (apparently) single men within a 15 kilometre radius. Four years of online dating have conditioned me to halfheartedly browse Bumble or Tinder like I’m scrolling through Instagram. It’s not like I get any enjoyment out of it – the same can be said for how I feel about Instagram in many cases, too – and all I’ve really learned is that there appears to be a law in Manitoba that you must pose with a fish you caught at the lake.
When I tell my friends and family I’m just looking to go out for a few drinks with someone, it’s the truth. I make no qualms that I love hanging out with men, getting drunk with men, and making out with men. I freaking love men and I can be a big old flirt when I want to be. But the more I look at my life in the past few years – the freedom and flexibility of it, the (mostly) happiness of it, and the independence of it – the more I feel that I am destined to remain single for a while.
It’s taken a lot of years and lot of tears to get to this place, but goddamn it, it feels good. It feels good to know that I am a capable woman. It feels good to know that I can drop everything and go backpack solo around the Balkans for six weeks if I want to (this may or may not be happening in spring… *spoiler*). It feels good knowing that I don’t have to go through any of the shit I’ve gone through in the past: the emotional and physical abuse, the game-playing, the waiting around for a text, none of it. It feels great sitting in this office of mine, typing these words, knowing that I’m creating a really fulfilling, interesting life for myself.
Does all of that sound arrogant as hell? Probably. But after decades (yes, decades… shiiit) of people telling me how great my life will be when I meet a man, and after decades of telling myself how great my life will be when I meet a man… I’m over it. I’m over it, and I’m ready – ready to work harder, play better, and be the best fucking person I can be, single or not. If I meet someone fantastic… great, that will be amazing, but I’m not going to dwell on when it will or won’t happen. Life’s too short for that. Going out for drinks with someone doesn’t even interest me anymore, because even that can get complicated and messy; I notice that when I’m feeling sad or unhealthy or lonely, like I was for a lot of 2017, that’s when I let all those insecurities about being single creep in again and crave a bit of male attention. I don’t know if it’s the 3km I rowed on the rowing machine, all the fish oil I’ve been consuming, or that these really are winds of change, but I’m feeling stronger in this resolve than I ever have before.
To celebrate this renewed sense of independence and confidence – I have DEFINITELY said this multiple times in the past, including on this here blog, but it’s an ongoing process – I eat a bowl of Greek yogurt and blackberries and binge-watch The Good Place all night. Because that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
Never thought my nightcap would consist of a probiotic drink instead of a whisky, but there you go
January 9th, 2018
I go to the mall today – again – because I saw a sequinned top on sale the last time I was there and I obviously need to buy it for Vegas, as I’ll be there in a couple of weeks. It looks slightly like Freddy Krueger’s shirt, but sparkly, so I buy it before I give the fact that it’s marked down so severely a second thought.
After completing my freelance work and returning a few emails from the never-ending inbox of doom, I write this post, An Open Letter to the Men Who Tell Me, “There’s a Reason You Travel Solo”. It still amazes me that, in 2018, there are some people who are just so ANGRY and BOTHERED that I am single. That I travel alone. That I’m… happy? I never do understand the trolls of the internet, but writing that open letter addressed to them was really not to them at all, but to everyone else who is considering travelling solo and is worried about the naysayers. Hint: fuck the naysayers. But not literally, because, yuck, they’re probably not very nice people.
But if this was a solo trip to Thailand… who took the photo?!
It’s a funny thing, running a blog. I know that a lot of people think or assume that I’m a full-time blogger, but that is not the case. I work about 30-40 hours a week on things unrelated to this blog, which is how I make my living. I’m not ashamed to admit that, because I have no ads, have never taken a sponsored post, and only recently started adding affiliate links, I only make a bit of passive income, which is not nothing, but with all these freaking avocados and chia seeds I’m buying, it doesn’t go very far, either. I do make some money from collaborations and paid press trips, too, but not as often as I’d like… I’m assuming it doesn’t help that potential clients come to my blog and see things like HAR HAR NO BOOZIN’ OR DATIN’ THIS MONTH… hire me?
All to say, I work about 40 hours a week minimum on this blog and its social media not for the monetary rewards, but because I love it so very much (and if you’re doing the math, yes I spend an insane amount of my life looking at a screen). But once in a while, after spending ten hours writing a blog post, editing a blog post, finding the right photos, editing said photos, doing all the weird tech shit I still don’t understand (alt tag, meta tag, WTF tag), posting to Facebook, posting to Twitter, posting to Instagram, answering comments on Facebook, answering comments on Twitter, answering comments on Instagram, answering comments on the blog, replying to as many emails as I can, and reading up on a bunch of other articles about blogging to try to stay on top of it all – all of which I’m very grateful for, by the way, and as mentioned, I love doing – when a mean or hurtful or creepy comment comes through, it still has the ability to fucking nail me in the chest. I just can’t help it. I know, I know, we’re supposed to delete and block, but sometimes I can get a hundred beautiful, supportive, amazing comments in a day but go to bed not being able to sleep because one person told me I was “too fat to be on Instagram” or “trying so hard to be groundbreaking when really you just come across as pathetic”, or “there’s a reason you travel solo, sweetheart… you should take a good long look in the mirror,” and so on, and so on.
It is totally cool and totally expected that not everyone is going to agree with me, like my style of writing, or like me as a person (but how dare you, honestly). But I still cannot wrap my head around the people who take time out of their day to write something cruel. The interesting thing is, most of the people who write these things to me appear to have read a lot of my stuff. They don’t just glance at my profile or blog and write U SUCK. They know details about my life, try to attack me where they think I’m most sensitive (hint: I’m sensitive to everything, so WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?!), and try to prove me wrong, whether that’s about my choices in life (a woman who chooses to be single and chooses to not have children), the way that I travel, or about my stance on societal issues (I’m a left-leaning feminist who believes in diversity, immigration, and equal rights for all people regardless of gender, sexuality, nationality, skin colour, or religion OH and I hate guns… so yeah, as a woman with these opinions on the internet, I’m fucked).
Over the years, I’ve definitely toughened up, and my fingers reach for the block button a lot quicker than they used to. In the past, I tried to rationalise with people who so strongly disagreed with something I said, but it’s clear to me now that, 99% of the time, there is no use trying to have a civil conversation with somebody who just wants to fight or be cruel. When someone responds to this kind of article with the comment, “You don’t get to tell me whether or not I think your rape is funny,” – yes, that really happened – you kinda break a little bit inside, you know?
So writing that post was very cathartic, and it helped me deal with how I’ll process the Negative
Nancys Normans that will inevitably pop up on my blog and social media like Whac-a-Mole from time to time. I’m still learning how to deal with it, and as the blog’s numbers grow, I’m sure I’ll have to deal with it even more in the future, but writing that felt pretty good.
For dinner, I have zucchini noodles (I refuse to call them by their adopted name, which is ZOODLES) with slices of zucchini. I really need to branch out with my vegetable choices.
The meal I’m often trying to recreate at home, sans bread (from my favourite café in London, The Hive Wellbeing in Bethnal Green)
January 10th, 2018
Probably the biggest takeaway from these past ten days is a revelation I honestly never thought I’d have. If there was a time machine and Brenna from any other year of my life were to look at me right now, they’d be like, “OK, this isn’t funny, what have you done to the real Brenna?!” That revelation is: I love going to the gym.
Going to the gym is a luxury I never really thought I could a) afford or b) fit into my lifestyle, since I travelled so often and never wanted to sign up for lengthy contracts. I briefly joined a local gym in London but the space was so creepy – it had no windows whatsoever, and the women’s section had a measly four or five machines – so I was never motivated to go.
But here? I go to a huge, bright women’s gym, and since as a freelancer I can go during the day, I often have the place almost to myself. I actually signed up about a month ago but only started going with frequency in the past two weeks, and already I’ve seen two major improvements in my life: I have way more energy and my back doesn’t hurt. As someone who has suffered from back pain and sciatica since I was about 14, I am shook by this turn of events, and that it is happening so quickly.
You might be like, um… are you that physically unfit that you never did any activity? And the answer, sadly, is YES. Although I go for a walk most days, that is pretty much the end of my “exercise” for the day. I’ve always been surprisingly strong – I can lift really heavy things – but I have never willingly done anything very active unless I’m travelling, which is when I do a lot of hikes and bike rides and swimming.
A HUGE part of why I love the gym so much these days is that I have a gym buddy: one of my best friends in the world, Sarah. We’ve been friends for 20 years, and the fact that we are both in Winnipeg right now after moving around a lot is so much fun. Two nights a week we head to the gym together, and it’s amazing that I’ll do an hour of cardio and weights but it’ll feel like five minutes, because we chat and encourage each other. I’m not going to lie: buying lots of cute workout clothes also motivates me to go to the gym, because OF COURSE I want to show off my new Ivy Park tank top.
The only pouring I’m doing these days is pouring liquified spinach out of my blender into a glass, which is really not as fun as pouring smoking whisky cocktails
January 11th, 2018
OK, you didn’t think that just because I’m apparently getting jacked at the gym with a dead cold look in my eyes listening to “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child (I don’t know why I’m saying apparently, that actually does sound like an average Thursday right now) that I wouldn’t still talk about men, did you? Oh no. I always have more to say on the subject (“and she wonders why she’s still single,” from all the way in the back). I think it’s story time, don’t you?
I tell a lot of romantic stories on this blog. There’s this one, about the guy I was crazy for on holiday only to realise we were worlds apart once we got home. And this one, about someone I thought I was in love with. And then there’s this one, about someone I know I was in love with. But what I rarely write about is all the stuff that happens in between. Because of the aforementioned four years of online dating, you know I’ve had some questionable dates.
Listen, I like to say that I’ve never had a bad date because I’ve been able to meet some really lovely, interesting people. Just because they’re not the one for me doesn’t mean they’re terrible people; we just didn’t click, and I always stayed and had some pleasant conversation and a drink or two. I’m sure that I would definitely make a few former dates’ lists like this myself. That being said, since it’s not like 40,000 people read this blog a month and this will just stay between us girls *cough*, let’s do this. Here are some of the worst dates I’ve ever had, and yes, enough has been changed so that their identities are safe (and for the last time, this post is not about you, Adam):
-Nicky was a 36-year-old book publisher who I met in a trendy bar in East London. I am going to sound like a judgemental bitch for what I’m about to say but… there is no but, I can be a judgemental bitch. I was already not feeling Nicky because he went by the name Nicky, and all I could think of was Little Nicky AKA Adam Sandler dressed in a puffy pastel blue coat. I love the name Nick, but Nicky just wasn’t rolling off the tongue.
This is also pretty terrible to say, but I often know within the initial five minutes of a first date whether or not we’re going to make out at the end of the night. There’s just a vibe. In those four years of first dates – I’d say about twenty first dates in total – I have been right every single time. I’d even go so far as to boldly say that I’ve known before the date depending on the kind of messages we’ve sent. I once was so hot and bothered before even meeting a guy that it only took us 45 minutes and half a cocktail before we made out like crazy in the corner of some dark bar. Go on, go on, judge me all you want, but that dude was insanely hot.
Not that cocktail and not that bar, but one like it
ANYWAY, so Nicky is sitting there with his suspenders and bowtie and his white wine and I just know pretty instantly that I am not going to make out with him. I’m not very attracted to him, and right away he makes a few condescending cracks about the university I went to, which… OK. We can’t all go to freaking Oxford and start our own publishing companies, NICKY. But hey, at least I can have a fairly entertaining conversation – we both love books, after all – and the bartender makes a pretty good Manhattan, so I’m doing all right. That is, of course, until I notice it. THE SCAB.
Poor Nicky has some sort of dime-sized scab on the side of his head, right where his hairline meets his face, and poor Nicky – nervous, perhaps – has a habit of lightly scratching that scab whenever he’s talking. The conversation goes kind of like this:
Nicky: So what was the last book that you read? *scratch scratch OMG was that a flake of skin scratch scratch*
Me: *subtly covering up my Manhattan with my hand* I’m sorry, what did you say?
Yep. And it gets worse.
Despite absolutely zero physical or verbal cues on my part, Nicky starts trying to kiss me about an hour into the date. “Can I kiss you right now?” he asks, white wine flecking his lips, and all I can do is stare at that goddamned scab.
“No,” I respond, “I’m don’t kiss on a first date, sorry.” Well you, dear reader, know that that information is simply not true (see above) but there was no way in hell I was kissing a guy I was not only not emotionally attracted to but a guy that I was starting to be physically repulsed by. Honestly, every 15 minutes or so, he would ask if he could kiss me. Thinking back on it, I don’t know why I didn’t just get up and leave, but that probably speaks to the centuries of conditioning that us women have had so that we don’t make men feel bad (but don’t get me started on that). For real, how messed up is it that I didn’t leave just so that a guy I knew I’d never see again wouldn’t think I was rude?!
Anyway, by about 10:30pm I’ve had enough, and I start to insinuate that he should head toward the train station so that he doesn’t miss his train. Standing outside on the pavement, he tries to kiss me one more time, his scab glinting in the moonlight. Like, get it together, Nicky. If a girl tells you she doesn’t want to kiss you, fucking listen to her.
I send Nicky on his way, head to a bar where my friends are, do a bunch of shots of tequila, and end up making out with some super cute, totally scabless 22-year-old I knew for all of an hour. Sorry Little Nicky!
-OK, wow. I didn’t realise I had so much to say about Nicky. Do we have time for one more? WE DO!
This is totally unrelated to what I’m talking about right now but I have never in my life seen a cocktail so catered for me as The Italian Night Walker from Panda & Sons in Edinburgh
-Ted had one of those profiles that I should have found interesting, but something about it just rubbed me the wrong way. He had travelled all over the world and had the photos to prove it: there he was, riding a camel in front of the pyramids at Giza; and there, scuba diving in Australia; and another photo, of him in a tweed jacket, presenting something or other at what looked like a university. His profile proved he was obviously intelligent and articulate. This was still solidly in my, “Hey, let’s give this a chance even if I’m not totally sold,” phase (I legitimately called March 2014 “March Madness” because I went on so many first dates in that one month alone), so when he messaged me and eventually asked me out on a date, I said yes.
I’d just like to pause this train of thought to point out that I met BOTH of these men on Guardian Soulmates, which is perhaps the most important variable. For those who don’t know, The Guardian is a newspaper in the UK that is often associated with left-leaning politics and, to put it bluntly, sometimes said to cater to pretentious/pedantic/pompous academics (I’m a subscriber and read it every day, so make of that as you wish). Just something to keep in mind while reading these stories.
So the day of the date, Ted asks to meet me at, strangely, the very same Shoreditch cocktail bar Nicky took me to (if ever I find a Guardian article that lists this particular bar as a great place to take your feminist date for drinks, I will die laughing). He also warns me that he has had a tennis accident the day before, but that it wasn’t that bad.
Remember what I said about being a judgemental bitch? There are some things I am just vehemently turned off by, and I can’t help it. They aren’t dealbreakers, but I’m just not attracted to these particular characteristics in someone. These are, but are not limited to:
-playing any sort of bougie sport. Does that make sense? I have no idea where I got this idea from, but if a guy is really into tennis, squash, polo or any other traditionally WASPy sport – even skiing sometimes makes the list! – I’m just like, “Oh, OK.” I’ve never watched the show before, but I picture people from Made in Chelsea when I think of a guy who plays these sports, and I’ve seen just enough clips to know that any man on that show is exactly the opposite of who I’m attracted to. Again, not in any way a dealbreaker, but if I were to sketch my perfect man, he wouldn’t spend his Saturday afternoons playing polo. Just sayin’.
-complaining about an injury or illness. OK, if the person is legitimately injured and/or sick, obviously I’m not THAT much of an evil person that I will not show any sympathy. What I’m talking about is someone who exaggerates an injury or illness for exactly that: sympathy. My worst nightmare is dating someone who’s like, “Babe, I have man flu *sniff sniff*. Can you make me tea just the way I like it? And then can you rub my back?” in a baby voice that’s supposed to make me go, “Awwwww.” And yep, here’s where you think to yourself, “You deserve to be single.” But after growing up in a household where all parties – regardless of gender – were quite stoic and self-sufficient, I find it really tough to date someone who asks to be babied or who complains endlessly.
That’s all for now, because I need to keep at least some of my superficial judgements to myself. Needless to say, I was a bit wary of meeting up with Ted from the get-go.
Yes, you’ve seen this photo before. Turns out I don’t have as many photos of me holding booze or pasta as I thought
The first twenty minutes or so were going all right, but again, I knew I wasn’t very attracted to him; there was no physical spark, nor was there any of that fun banter you need. I mentioned something about language in Japan – a country I lived in for two and a half years, where I did indeed study Japanese – and Ted dropped the old, “Well, actually…” on me.
Do you know the joke?
Where do mansplainers get their water from?
From a well, actually.
So Ted goes off explaining something about Japanese (by the way, when I looked up what I had said at home, I was RIGHT) and then it dawns on me: THAT’S what was rubbing me the wrong way about Ted’s profile and messages. He just comes across as so patronising. The lengths of his condescension know no bounds: “Oh, you like whisky? Name three of your favourite malts, then” and “Oh really, you watch football? What’s the name of Arsenal’s coach?” and so on, and so on… endlessly QUIZZING me. And, just like Nicky, he obviously thinks this date is going really well, because he asks if he can come join me on my side of the table, opening up invitations to touch or kiss.
“No, I’m all right, thank you,” I smile back, and I honest-to-God see his eyes go dark. From that moment onwards, his condescension turns to cruelty, subtly knocking my job, my travels, and even my accent. I also notice that all of a sudden he’s limping heavily whenever he gets up from his seat, which he certainly hadn’t done when we first walked up to the bar; it’s like he’s putting on a show, grimacing and contorting and complaining about his ankle.
Well, dear reader, I can happily say that I did NOT stick around much longer; I had learned my lesson from Nicky. I make some excuse about having to work early (it was only 9pm or so) but because we both live in the same direction, I have to walk beside Ted on the pavement for about ten minutes as he’s nearly skipping at this point, exaggerating his apparent injury to the point of ridiculousness. He’s so salty to me that at the end we don’t even shake hands or hug, which I always do at the end of a date regardless of how it turned out – we still shared a bit of time together, so I don’t mind saying goodbye. He just says a really awkward, “Bye!” and skips away. Trust me, a few dates like that and you delete your Guardian Soulmates account. You also avoid that trendy Shoreditch bar for over a year.
Years later I was sitting on a bus when Ted got on – no tennis injury this time – and sat in the seat right in front of me. I briefly considered tapping him on the shoulder and asking him for his further thoughts on the Japanese language, but thought better of it.
All right, that’s it for the bad dates, because one day I’m going to meet the man of my dreams and he’ll be like, “A travel writer? Wow, that’s so cool and mysterious,” and then he’ll go to this blog, read a few of these posts, realise I am the least mysterious person alive, and either think, “Nope, I’m out,” or, just maybe, “You know, I find people who play squash kind of annoying, too” and then we’ll live happily ever after, or something. Just as long as he never says the words “man flu” in my presence.
Drinks on my birthday at my favourite East End pub
January 12th, 2018
I go out for a delicious sushi lunch with my sister. Despite sushi not being very healthy and the fact that the white rice counts as exactly the kind of carb I want to avoid this month, I figured I’ve eaten enough kale, mushrooms, zucchini, raspberries, spinach, almond milk, mango, carrots, chicken, salmon, avocado, pepper, eggs, cucumber, broccoli, tuna, celery, chickpeas, asparagus, blackberries, Greek yogurt, bananas, quinoa, and coconut to treat myself. Whoa. When I write out what my diet consists of these days it actually looks really awesome. And that’s the truth – I really love eating healthy food, so it hasn’t felt that difficult to implement. The biggest changes in my eating patterns are not focusing on white carbs (so I don’t eat toast for breakfast and pasta for dinner, for example) and for eliminating processed sugar (so no cookies as snacks).
And wouldn’t you know it, today is also the first day that I look in the mirror and I’m like, huh. Something’s changed. I can see it in my face, my waist, my arms, and my back the most. I feel lighter and leaner. And while this entire journey has always been more about the emotional benefits, I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t looking forward to the physical benefits as well.
To celebrate, I head back to Winners where I buy even more workout clothes (I’m turning into THAT person) and some resistance bands, which I work out with for half an hour while following a YouTube tutorial. I then spend the evening trying on outfits in the mirror and going, “Damnnnnn all right, I’m into this,” which is both sad and empowering all at the same time.
“The coldest places breed the warmest people”… have they met me?
January 13th, 2018
My sister, her boyfriend, and I had planned on going showshoeing today, something I had been looking forward to all week. The weather, unfortunately, is not cooperating, and with a frostbite warning and temperatures plunging to -35 with the windchill, we NOPE that idea and head to a new brewery in town called One Great City. I am once again worthy of a medal because I go to a BREWERY and do not order beer. I drink water and eat a veggie burger, so while I did eat yet another white carb, I think I’m still counting this as a win.
After another resistance band workout at home, my best friend Rikki (who I went to the Ice Castles with last week) comes over. We eat salads from Freshii – I’m hoping they’re legitimately healthy and not those fake healthy salads, like the ones from McDonald’s that really have more calories than a Big Mac, or whatever – and then we plan to go bowling. I say plan, because somehow we start discussing Carrie’s outfits from Sex and the City (a show that has not aged well AT ALL, but one I still get some enjoyment out of) and before you know it, it’s 10pm and we ditch bowling to watch Naked Attraction. Have any of you non-Brits heard about this show? It is so supremely ridiculous and yet so incredibly entertaining that I can’t tear my eyes away. I don’t even want to explain it – just watch this trailer:
And yes, they show full nudity. While it’s incredibly superficial and perhaps what some may say is exactly wrong with society, I will give it props for being very inclusive; the episode we watch is about a pansexual person (but must the song “I Kissed A Girl” play on every show that even mentions a gay woman?!).
I also publish a post about all the countries that don’t deserve to be called shitholes, and 95% of the people who read it understand that I have simply listed every country of the world (though the other 5% make me chuckle). This post also prompts my very first death threat – or perhaps a death wish, as the comment simply reads, “I hope you die” – but thinking positively, I block and ignore. Well, not before writing down the IP address, of course.
January 14th, 2018
Two weeks in of this experiment – no alcohol, very few carbs, and no worrying about dates – and I feel great, physically and emotionally. I feel stronger, healthier, and more clear-headed. I feel productive and happy. I step on the scale and I realise I’ve lost five pounds. I take a look at this blog and realise I’ve written over 16,000 words. I’ve also taken more strides with this blog and this business – more on that to come soon – than I did for the entirety of last year.
OK, OK, I’m convinced: taking care of yourself really does work. Again, it sounds so silly to say – duh, you’re thinking – but I have spent so many years NOT taking care of myself, over-indulging, and never prioritising my health to the point where it has severely hindered both my physical and mental well-being. Am I changed woman?!
Come to me, delicious gnocchi covered in cheese
Well, not exactly, because after seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (a movie I liked but didn’t love as much I thought I might, and one that certainly came with problems) I go to Passero, a new restaurant in town, and stuff my face with pasta washed down with enough red wine to drown a small creature. Yep. It feels different this time, though; I knew I had been relatively healthy all week, had worked out five of seven days, and also knew this wouldn’t trigger any bad habits. It was a delicious meal eaten with people I love, and it tasted all the better because it felt special and different.
Emboldened by this realisation – or perhaps emboldened by the red wine – I lie in bed, happy and full, and I delete Bumble for good.
Stay tuned for what happens next week… especially as next week includes the start of a trip to Western Canada! Will I keep indulging? Will I be tempted to download Bumble again in new territory (I’m thinking BC and Alberta men don’t pose with as many fish?!)? Will my over-the-top newfound vanity and arrogance come back to bite me in the karmic ass? Will I ever risk drinking milk thistle tea directly before going to the gym again? All that and more, coming up next week…
p.s. for those in Vancouver!
And if you’d like to read last year’s attempt at a month without alcohol and men… start here!