Why is dating so complicated?!

We are already a month into 2018.  January can sometimes feel like a bleak month; after the sparkle and excitement of Christmas and the new year celebrations, it’s usually cold and grey with not much happening.  However, February is just around the corner which valentines-day-2012274means Valentine’s Day is almost upon us!  This may be music to your ears or perhaps you suddenly feel quite different about the month of January which now seems a little less bleak and a much more appealing month that we’d rather not move on from!

However, that sense of dread isn’t necessarily simply about whether you have a Valentine or not.  It’s because it throws in another layer of complexity to an already very confusing dating culture…

I’m not sure when things became so complicated because at one time, dating was definitely simpler. However, there now seems to be a lot of stages that many people adopt and quite a bit of second-guessing goes on too.  If you’re in your teens or early twenties, you’ll probably be aware of the social protocol, but, if this has somehow passed you by (or you happen to be reading this and not in that age bracket), I thought I’d do some explaining!  Before a relationship becomes anything close to a ‘relationship’, there are a couple of stages that have to take place first:

Stage 1: ‘Talking’ Stage

During the ‘talking’ stage, you show a particular interest toward someone, but it is at awoman-3083376 friendship level and on this basis, you may be ‘talking’ to a few people at the same time.  These ‘conversations’ typically take place through texts and direct messaging.  However, ‘talking’ can also take place when hanging out in a large friendship group.  ‘Talking’ relationships can end as quickly as they have begun if the ‘talking’ doesn’t seem to be sparking anything.  At this stage, those engaging would absolutely describe themselves as single.

Stage 2: ‘Seeing’ Stage

This has been described as the pre-dating stage but it’s still not a ‘relationship’.  When love-673300.jpgyou begin to ‘see’ someone, you ‘stop talking’ to anyone else and focus your attention on that one person.  Whilst you still don’t have the relationship status, you aren’t quite single either. ‘Seeing’ continues the ‘conversation’ through text messages, DMs and chatting on the phone but has the addition of them going out together on a few occasions.  The number of times you might see someone varies, for some it might be as little as three and for others as many as ten before conversations take place about making the current stage into a definite relationship or not as the case maybe!

Stage 3: ‘Relationship’ Stage

At this point, the inverted commas aren’t actually required for the title of this stage because what began as a ‘talking’ relationship, grew into a ‘seeing’ relationship and has now become a proper relationship.  You are no longer single.  Everyone in your friendship group will know that the two of you are together.

heart-1124801.jpgRather than simply exploring these stages with you, I decided to get the views of seventeen-year-old Ryan (not his real name) on his experiences and thoughts on this topic.

When, Ryan and I chatted about this, it was he that made the comment that it was complicated and confusing.  He said, “one of the main issues for lots of his friends is that blank-2970215.jpgpeople get stressed with the idea of being given a label”.  In this instance, the label that stresses them is the relationship label.  Ryan, along with many of his friends, have seen their parents break-up and/or get divorced and Ryan believes that this has made people scared of committing too readily.  According to Ryan, “they have a fear of rushing into something that is definite” and feel that despite the complexity of the layered process, it’s worth going through because “their backs are covered if it looks like things won’t work out”.

When I asked Ryan if he would like this process to be simpler, his answer was yes.  However, although he would like to remove the stages which make it complicated, the flip side is, commitment is avoided/put off which is the main goal of the stages.

I asked Ryan if anything can go wrong and he explained that at the ‘talking’ stage, although this is meant to offer freedom to get to know more than one person without being judged, there are instances when girls he’s been ‘talking’ to can get jealous of Ryan ‘talking’ to other girls because they want the focus to just be on them.  Equally, Ryan has texting-1490691.jpgbeen at the ‘seeing’ stage with a girl and whilst they weren’t officially in a relationship, there is an understanding that they will only see each other but he was cheated on.

This obviously wasn’t good from Ryan’s point of view and he felt hurt, however, he did avoid what he would describe as ‘aggressive banter’.  If you get to the third stage and your status changes from ‘seeing’ to ‘relationship’, no matter what the reason for breaking-up, your friends give you a hard time.  Although they think it’s a laugh, it doesn’t feel that way for the people who have ended their relationship. Ryan said that there is a lot of pressure from friends and they can make you feel humiliated.  This comes back to his earlier comment about having your back covered – if it does all go wrong, as long as you’re not at that final dating stage, you won’t have to put up with unwelcome reactions that include making fun and verbally picking the relationship apart.

Ryan can see all of the pitfalls but like many, feels caught up in the dating culture.  He doesn’t want it to be so complicated but as far as he’s concerned “it has to be accepted – it’s just the way it is”.  He loves using his social media apps and loves the communicationtwitter-292994 (1) it brings but sometimes, he wishes he didn’t have them all because of the way they add a further layer of complication.  He’s decided to challenge himself and go without his apps, even if it’s just a few days!

Ryan’s comments have caused me to reflect quite a lot about the challenges of meeting someone and what motivates people to seek a relationship in this way. Ultimately, I believe the majority of us want to have a real and genuine relationship.  Your age will typically be a factor in how serious that relationship might become and inevitably there will be a few relationships before you find someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with.  However, the dating stages seem to be fuelled by a fear of committing and how others might perceive you at the different stages.  In addition, there’s a great deal of ambiguity and second guessing.

With these fears and concerns, I do understand that it’s difficult to go against the system, but if you prioritise making friends and building trust (see my blog To trust or not to trust: That is THE question.), I believe you can have successful friendships and relationships without the current complicated levels.  Meeting people and getting to couple-1210023know them can still be a bit awkward but a willingness to be open can encourage others to do the same.  In a world where so many people give out a ‘fake’ social media version of themselves which can trickle into their real world, genuine people stand out a mile and that makes them worth getting to know.  The challenge therefore is, are you willing to seek out other genuine people and avoid the pressures of this complicated system?  This may seem like a brave move but if you do challenge the status quo, you might find that a good friendship built on honesty and trust could grow quite naturally and what began as just good friends becomes something more!

I began talking about Valentine’s Day and so it seems appropriate to end with a comment on it too.  I hope that this blog will help you re-think dating and that this Valentine’s day you enjoy your relationship in an authentic and genuine way, one that’s not clouded by the dating culture.  If, however, you don’t have a ‘date’, use the 14th February as an excuse to celebrate friendship with some of your BFFs!

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Happy New Year and Happy New You!

New Years ResolutionsIt’s almost the end of 2017 and as the new year approaches, lots of people begin to think about making a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ (NYR).  It’s not everyone’s thing and of course, there are plenty of people that make them and within just a couple of weeks (sometimes a couple of days!) the willpower required to stick to the resolution has somehow dissolved!

Whether you’re someone who likes to make them or not, this time of the year does seem to focus our attention on what we like about our life and what we might like to change.resolution plan  That’s because the new year feels like a fresh start, a moving on from the past and in to the future.  As human beings, much of life is punctuated by milestones (birthdays, school/college years, relationship anniversaries etc.) and a NYR is another milestone that causes us to stop and reflect.  I haven’t made one every year but when I have, the underlying intention of the goal is to improve my life and/or the enjoyment/fulfilment of my life.  This won’t magically happen; simply deciding on the goal isn’t enough.  In order for us to be successful with our ‘resolve’, we have to alter our behaviour in some way.

resolutions-1143319Changing how we do things isn’t easy (otherwise there’d be no need for any kind of resolve, either at the beginning of the new year or any other time!) but there is something appealing about taking on a new challenge.  I’ve been looking on the internet to find some of the most common NRSs (particularly among teenagers and twenty something’s) and below is the list that I’ve come up with:

  • Eat a healthier diet
  • Improve fitness
  • Stop smoking
  • Learn something new
  • Save more, spend less
  • Purge some social media or use it less
  • Get organised
  • Work harder at school/college/Uni
  • Read more
  • Be a better person – volunteer.
  • Become more environmentally friendly
  • Be a better friend
  • Spend more time with your family

Young Women Travel Together ConceptThere are plenty from the list that are a good idea but because ‘Explore more!’ is all about relationships, the ‘Be a better friend’ suggestion stood out.  So in this blog, I’d like us to think about this topic, how we can improve, strengthen and enjoy our friendships and relationships more for a truly fulfilling 2018 and beyond…

Any kind of meaningful relationship will have its ups and downs. It’s inevitable because it’s simply not possible to be perfect; we all make mistakes and let people down.  Part of the challenge we face in relationships is that we have an expectation on how our friends should behave based on how we feel we deserved to be treated.  However, a NYR has an emphasis on looking inwardly at how we do things – we can’t make a NYR for someone else!

I’ve put together a list of characteristics that I think are worth considering if we’re serious about being a better friend and improving our relationships:

  1. oscar wild - be yourselfBe yourself – Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not. That includes ‘showing off’ and ‘playing with the facts’.  The truth is, most of us know people like this and we can tell when they are making things up (even though they think they’ve been really subtle).  If you’re reading this and know that you sometimes stray into the territory of pretence – give it up now, good friends will usually see through these behaviours.  Once you begin to be the real you, I think that you’ll find that your relationships will deepen and you’ll feel happier too.
  2. Accept friends for who they are – I’ve already referred to the fact that none of us are perfect (and never will be) and even the closest friend will have annoying traits (we all have them!), however, this isn’t a reason to give up on them. If the trait isn’t a huge issue for you, where possible, it’s best to choose to ignore annoying characteristics and focus on all the good things about them.  There will be occasions when friends do things that upset us which we can’t ignore, but, if we communicate well with them, this shouldn’t be the end of the friendship.  Instead, both parties grow in understanding of each other and the friendship improves which increases acceptance on both sides.
  3. Non-judgmental – This characteristic continues on from the last but it is subtly different. We each have our own ideas of how things ought to be in life, from what to eat through to opinions on music and politics.  We can’t possibly all be in sync – and that would be pretty boring too – so avoid judging your friends for the choices they make that are different to your choices.  Sometimes, we can’t help thinking negatively and if that happens, choose not to act on the negativity by bad-mouthing them to another friend.  We would all hate that to happen to us, so don’t try and justify this response when it’s basically an unkind attitude.
  4. Loyal and dependable – A good friend will stand by you through the good times and the bad. That’s not the same as saying we will always agree with our friends, but it is about being a support to them no matter what.
  5. man-person-people-communication-friendship-together-922366-pxhere.comListen more – My blog post on communication explains why communication is a two-way street (click the link for more!). We are sometimes so busy with our news and what’s going on in our own lives that we don’t give enough time to listen to our friends, we only talk ‘at them’.  As part of being a better friend, try listening more and you may end up learning far more about your friends than you’d imagined.
  6. Caring – When our friends are upset, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to respond and we can be tempted to back-off because we don’t have a solution or we feel awkward. Whilst a solution is good (if you have one that is), it’s most likely that what your friend actually needs is for you to be a dependable friend that won’t walk away and one that is extra thoughtful when life feels tough.  How then can we show we care?  It could be as simple as doing something fun together, treating them to a hot chocolate, sending extra texts to your friend just to check in with them so that they know they aren’t forgotten and finally, be willing to listen (see above).
  7. thank-you-2490552Grateful – Everyone likes to feel appreciated. When your friend does something that is caring, thoughtful or you’ve simply had a great time hanging out together; thank them!  Being grateful not only has the benefit of making your friend feel valued, it encourages them to do the same back to you!  It’s a ‘win win’ scenario.
  8. Don’t be jealous – When we have close friends, we don’t always want to share them! If they seem to be spending a lot of time with someone else, it can potentially have the effect of making us jealous.  Time with other people, doesn’t lessen your friendship with them if they are a genuine friend.  However, if we become jealous and possessive over the friendship there’s a danger that you will push them away.  This also feeds into FOMO ‘Fear Of Missing Out’.  When we look at social media, we may end up looking at what our friend has been doing and feeling as though they should have included us.  Again, if they are a true friend, there won’t have been any malice behind what you’re seeing on social media.  There’s also a good chance that you’ve misunderstood and/or you’re reading too much into the status/post.
  9. typewriter-1138667Willing to say sorry – When we get it wrong, our pride can get in the way and we are reluctant to acknowledge that we have messed up. Saying sorry is a great strength and your friend will respect you for being honest and vulnerable with them which tends to encourage them to forgive you more readily too!
  10. Don’t hold grudges – Not only should we be willing to say sorry, we also need to be willing to forgive and let things go. This can be hard if we’ve been hurt and what we’d rather do is make our friend feel guilty or hurt them back. So, dig deep and once again, focus on the good in them and why you’re friends in the first place.  And as the famous Frozen song has taught us all so well – Let it go!!

Changing doesn’t mean weakness or allowing others to take advantage of you, it is a sign of strength.  Being honest, attentive, fun, supportive, trustworthy, dependable, caring, pexels-photo-210661and accepting are the qualities of a good friend. Start by picking one (or more – but be realistic about what is achievable in the short term) of the characteristic form the above list that you have the most trouble with and find ways to improve it. Don’t just think about it either, come up with some ideas on what you’ll do differently, write them down or note them on your phone, and then begin working through your list.

Relationships are a crucial part of our lives. Having good friendships/relationships can make everything in life sweeter and having bad relationships can drain all our energy.  So what are you waiting for?  This 2018, choose to invest into some of your closest relationships by resolving to be a better friend or family member to them.

Happy new year and happy new you!

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The Christmas Present Conundrum!

berlin-1268532‘Christmas’ is everywhere and has been making an appearance since the beginning of autumn!  As usual, we can now see signs of Christmas in high streets with their decorations festooned above pedestrian walkways and throughout shopping centres as well as discovering the myriad of Christmas gift ideas in almost every shop you walk into (although I still find it hard to find just the right thing!).  And of course, even if you haven’t heard manychristmas-decorations-879783 Christmas tunes yet, come the 1st December, all the Christmas classics will be playing as you walk around the shops, lest you forget that the number of Christmas shopping days is now less than a month away and if you haven’t done any Christmas shopping, ‘You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, better not pout I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town’!

christmas-2558906Whether you get excited about Christmas or not, most of us can get caught up in the annual deliberations over Christmas presents and who is on our list to receive a gift.  I appreciate that some of you may not be the present buying type (although you’ll have friends and family who are the present receiving type!), however I encourage you to read on so that you can gain an understanding of the anguish that others go through when choosing presents for their friends.  And this is where it does relate to you because you might be one of the friends receiving the much anguished over gift!

I know there are lots of you out there who feel stressed about buying Christmas presents for friends and how to tackle this year’s dilemmas.  In fact, I heard first-hand from a couple of people who feel that pain too.  This is what they said concerning Christmas presents for friends:

“Money is always an awkward topic, who to buy presents for, how much to spend…can you afford it?  Should your parents give you extra money to pay for friends’ presents, will people be offended if you don’t buy for them?” – 6th Form student

AND

“I feel the pressure to satisfy what we assume are people’s expectations when it comes to gift giving, it creates a lot of pressure and how we feel the strength of relationship is based on materialistic things”. – College student

I’m sure as you’re reading this, you will be able to relate to what they have said and have had similar questions and worries yourself about the ‘Christmas Present Conundrum’!sparrows-2900850

So why is it that we put ourselves through this; what should gift buying really be about?  In truth, we know the ‘right’ answer to these questions; that we should be able to freely buy presents for whomever we wish and as long as we have put some thought into the gift (you know that moment when you see something and you know a particular friend would absolutely love receiving it), it shouldn’t matter how much we’ve spent.  The value is in the thought and effort which shows that we care and as stated above ‘the strength of the relationship isn’t based on materialistic things’.

But it simply isn’t that simple for a few reasons:

  1. For some, ‘gift giving’ is a way that they instinctively show and therefore receive love and friendship. Others show and receive love and friendship, in other ways and ‘gift giving’ just isn’t that important to them.  Without trying to be too stereotypical, in my experience, girls tend to be more into gift giving/receiving than boys but this is by no means exclusive.  So this first point has nothing to do with pressures, it’s about character types.  The best approach here is to know your friends and respond to them based on their character type but be forgiving of those that you thought would buy for you but haven’t.  They may have not picked-up that for you, receiving a gift is in part how you feel appreciated.  If you want to know more about this, you can Google ‘Love Languages’, of which there are five in total.christmas-2947257
  2. Even with close friends, we may worry that they will be more generous than us and it won’t look good if we don’t spend as much. We aren’t always as good at receiving as we originally thought – it’s easier and less complicated to out-give others.
  3. …Worse still, being given a gift by someone we’ve not bought for! Again, we don’t receive gifts well if we’ve not also given.  It’s as though we feel in debt to that person!  This really takes away from the pleasure of the whole experience.
  4. The flip-side of points 2 and 3 is that you might begrudge spending more on someone, when you feel as though they’ve hardly bothered or thought about your gift. We don’t like to admit to these feelings, but they can be lurking.  This is especially true if we feel their choice and cost of the gift given to us reflects our friendship and we can end up reading so much more into the gift and the ‘apparent’ thoughts behind it.
  5. Feeling judged for what we’ve chosen is another concern, what if the gift is not appreciated or the receiver is moody with us because of what we’ve given to them?
  6. interior-2592983The ‘Relationship’ Christmas gift is very tricky! What to buy a boyfriend or girlfriend, especially if it’s early on in the relationship?  And we don’t want to seem too serious too soon, but we also don’t want them to think we haven’t bothered either!
  7. As mentioned above, we worry about missing people off our list, people that we ought to have remembered and the consequences of doing so.

christmas-2597790So what do we do about the ‘Christmas Present Conundrum’?

The first and most obvious response must go back to my earlier point that we need to reflect on what gift giving is all about.  It’s showing someone we care, that we value the friendship enough to want to buy them something at Christmas.  This will also involve us making a choice about the gifts we receive and believing the best in the giver and their choice of gift for us.

This first response is easier said than done and can be a process.  Therefore, I want to offer some practical ideas too that I hope will help alleviate the stress:

  1. Not having enough money to buy many gifts or expensive gifts can be resolved by you and your friends deciding to do a Secret Santa. As a group, you decide on how much you can all afford and then each person gets one gift rather than several.  (This avoids asking parents to step up with extra cash!).gift_exchange_l
  2. The first idea relies on being able to be open with your friends (and if they are genuine friends, this shouldn’t be too difficult) and so too does this idea: Decide on a cap (top amount you will spend) for present buying with your friends.  You have the option of doing this with one or more of your friends, depending on how free you feel to chat about the idea with each of them.
  3. Have a meal out with your friends and make that you’re Christmas present to each other. This way there’s no anguish over what to buy, the experience will be a great celebration of your friendship and you can’t make a wrong gift choice either.
  4. If you don’t have much money, tell your friends and explain that you’ll get them something small this Christmas. This way, there can be no misunderstanding or bad feeling.  Just being open, honest and vulnerable is all that’s needed.
  5. winter-2926825The problem, with ‘who to buy for and what if I miss someone out’, can be resolved by deciding who are the close friends you know you want to buy for and do so. For everyone else, you could pop a candy cane or a chocolate treat into a card for them.
  6. For a completely ‘out of the (Christmas) box’ idea, rather than buying presents for each other, you and your friends could put your money together and give it to a charity. There are all kinds of creative ideas like buying a goat for a remote village in Africa!goats-2684577

I hope that the above has been useful and will promote a season of good will to all.  What’s the worst that can happen if we buy someone a gift that they don’t like or they thought we’d have spent more on them etc. etc?  To give us the motivation to go for one of the above ideas, consider how much we would respect and value our friend if they approached us instead.  Sometimes, awkward conversations lead to a more honest and therefore deeper friendship and that’s got to be worth so much more than any material gift we give or are given.

I believe that our friendships and relationships should be our ultimate priority.  We will inevitably make mistakes and not always make the best choices. However, those relationships based on trust and openness will get through the challenges of the ‘Christmas Present Conundrum’!

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Are You Guilty of Phubbing?

To answer this question, you have to know what ‘Phubbing’ is!  Whilst the act of phubbing has been around for a number of years the ‘word’ wasn’t birthed until 2012 by an advertising campaign in Sydney in Australia.  However, I’ve only just discovered it myself when I came across the following title from an online article:

“Are you ‘phubbing’ right now? What it is and why science says it’s bad for your relationships”

This I thought was definitely worth a bit of an exploration on ‘Explore more!’ Let’s begin with the basics, what is meant by phubbing?

Definition of Phubbing: ‘The act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention’.  Elsewhere it’s been described as ‘texting while maintaining eye contact with someone in the real world.’

phubbingSo, it’s a simple but clever play on words; phone and snubbing combined.  As you’re reading this, you can probably all agree that you’ve either phubbed someone else or been with friends and been phubbed by them!  More than that, when you think about it, people of all ages – basically anyone with a smartphone will have phubbed or been phubbed to a lesser or greater extent.

Often, we can read about or hear others saying that smart phones are killing pokemon-1548194conversation, however, the perspective being looked at here is subtly different suggesting that it’s basically our attitude towards our smartphones and the hold that they have on us that is the problem.

I know that when I have been phubbed, I do find it quite frustrating.  If I’m talking to someone and telling them something that is important to me (or for them to know) and they are just looking at their phone, I do find it can devalue my conversation and therefore, it can have the potential to make me feel devalued too.  If this keeps happening, I can completely understand why science is saying it’s bad for relationships.  If someone doesn’t feel listened to (and listening is a very important part of communication – see my blog on communication) then they will be less inclined to talk to that person as much, especially about issues that are particularly personal to them. Over time, tension could increase because the person feels ignored and this could all lead to an inevitable diluting of the quality of the relationship.

texting-1490691Equally, I know that whilst I don’t think I’ve ever tried to maintain a conversation with someone for any length of time whilst using my phone (unless of course I’m using my phone for its original purpose!), I have asked for a conversation to be paused whilst I check something that I think is important.  Even as I write this, I’m feeling slightly guilty as I can see that this could have made someone feel that their immediate and real company is second to a text conversation or notification on my phone!  That said, I don’t want to be too hard on myself (or on you as you read this) because on occasions when I’m waiting to hear from a friend about some arrangements etc. I’ll explain to the person I’m with what I’m doing.  However, anything beyond this does seem at best unsociable and at worst a way of driving away relationships that mean a great deal.

Relationships are part of our social structure and we form relationships with people that we ‘connect with’.  For many people, their sense of belonging and connection is very much wrapped up in social media (social media is an entire whole blog topic in its own right, so I won’t go into too much detail here); which groups they are part of and the ‘need’ to maintain a seamless appearance in the virtual world.

 

Not surprisingly, this can lead to neglecting those that we connect with in the real world because our appearance with them is not being logged!  I don’t think anyone would want their place of belonging to only be through their smartphone so this is certainly something to think about right now; ask yourself, “do I have a place of belonging that isn’t simply dependent on the apps on my phone?”  If the answer is no, then perhaps phubbing has been happening more than you’ve realised and it’s time to reconnect with the people who are physically and not just ‘virtually’ in your world.

I’ve talked quite generically so far in terms of relationships but if we take it to a romantic people-2604702level, what can this phone snubbing do when you’re trying to build a relationship with someone that means a bit more to you than just friends or what about an existing boyfriend or girlfriend?

I’d suggest that phubbing could actually push away the potential for new relationships to grow because there’s little or no investment into that person if we can barely take our eyes off our phones.  Our time and attention is being given to the social media world of belonging rather than the actual one.  If this behaviour is part of people-2557444our normal behaviour within an existing relationship, your BAE may just feel that they obviously aren’t ‘Before Anyone Else’ because you’re forever on your phone – your actual BAE!

What to do now?  When I began looking into this, it certainly made me think about my own personal behaviours around phubbing.  Before completing the blog, I have been with friends and have become a lot more conscious about when I use my phone, even to the point of keeping it in my bag or in a pocket rather than having it on a table in front ofgirls-377661 me.  I want those around me to feel valued and important because that is how I want to be treated too.  I know that there are times when I may need to have my phone out but the difference is, I’ve become a lot more aware.

I think ultimately, that is the key – being aware of how often you use your phone whilst spending time with friends.  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying social media but decide if what you are considering doing on your phone is more important than the person in front of you who is trying to talk to you about real stuff or maybe just wanting to have a laugh about this and that.  Time spent in the physical presence of good friends can only make relationships stronger and more valuable and I for one don’t want to miss out on that!

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So if you’re reading this on your smartphone whilst you’re supposed to be spending time with someone that is important to you, you are currently guilty of phubbing!  Stop what you’re doing and come back to this later!  Maybe you can make an agreement with your friends or boyfriend/girlfriend that you will not fall into the potentially relationship-diluting habit of phubbing but if either of you slips up, you will message them there and then on their phone to stop phubbing!

New Beginnings – New Friendships

beautiful-girl-2003650I’ve always thought that Autumn can feel like the beginning of a new year because in terms of school, college and university it is a time of new beginnings.  For some it may be the start of an exam year – perhaps the final year of GCSEs or A’Levels which will, of course, feel pretty significant.  However, if you’ve received exam results this summer, it’s quite possible that you’ve started at a new 6th form, new college or university which presents a whole stack of changes that may or may not be welcome, especially when it comes to friendships and relationships.

people-2557396During September and October, there are plenty of blogs and online advice about settling in to your new place of education and they can often be very helpful and practical but I want to focus on the relationship side of things and leave you to research the practical things in those other blogs!

As I often do in my blogs, I will speak generically about friendships and relationships on the basis that we all want to be able to make friends and for a relationship that is anything more than this, friendship is still a good place to start.

pokemon-1553989So, what are the main fears and apprehensions when it comes to meeting new friends, what are the potential barriers to making friends and can we overcome these so that we feel as though we belong?! To help me write something that is hopefully going to be insightful and useful to you, I’ve asked a few people to give me their real-life experiences after starting a new school, university and college.  I’m going to give them different names for the sake of anonymity (and I’ve always wanted to do something like this too!).

 

Ellie:

Ellie has started 6th form at a new school and she was really looking forward to a fresh start away from what was familiar.  All of us can find change challenging but some, like Ellie, get a bit of a buzz from new situations.  She was excited to make new friends and said that she wanted to make a real effort.  climbing-756665Something that really helped to ease her in was an outdoor activity day that the school put on for the new 6th form students.  Although Ellie is a confident person, there was still a sacrifice on her part in choosing to go up to people and introduce herself.  Ellie said, “I wanted to be nice to everyone, be civil and chatty; there’s no point sitting moping because nothing will change”.  To balance this out, she also said “you don’t need to have everyone as your best friend but being friendly is just a good way to be”.

Listening to Ellie made me think how good it is to have someone like her at your school or college because they are willing to step out and make friends and so if you do find it really hard yourself, it’s quite likely that there’ll be an ‘Ellie’ where you are too.

friends-2347530When Ellie started at her new school, she did already have a very close friend there which is obviously an advantage and something that she was excited about, but she’d decided that she would also make other friends too so that she could establish her own identity and independence.

I asked Ellie what her advice to others starting at a new place would be and this was her response:

american-teen-948079“Be yourself, be open but be guarded about how much you give away about yourself in the early days.  Deeper friendships are safer places to be more open because you know then that you can trust them more”.  Her third piece of advice: “Don’t get drawn into gossip”.

My last question to Ellie was how important was it for her to have good friendships at school and she answered, “Having friends is very important because life could be very lonely/miserable at school and the learning could drag you down without them.  Friendships also give a sense of belonging”.

Joe:

Joe started uni last year and one whole year on, he’s settled – that is good to know if you’re reading this at the beginning of your first year!  Initially, Joe was looking forward to the course but he was uncertain about living away from home and felt as though he wanted to retreat.  However, even though he got home reasonably often, he didn’t simply give into the homesickness and gradually adjusted and began to feel as though he fitted in.

rafting-444743As for making friends, Joe said that although it felt quite hard, very quickly he realised that everyone was in the same boat; “Everyone is trying to fit in and ultimately you have to bite the bullet and as difficult as it was for some, that’s the best way and it will work if you’re willing to try”.  In those first weeks, friendships arose for Joe because he simply began chatting to people on his course.  Inevitably, after a few more weeks, friendship groups formed quite naturally giving the opportunity for real friendships to grow.

When I asked Joe what he thought the main barriers were to making friends and friends-2553543building positive relationships, this was his response/advice: “If you’re coming to uni with a pre-set idea of what you’re looking for in a friendship, scrap the criteria!  None of the people I’m living with at uni are who I’d imagined I’d end up friends with.  So be open to being friends with different groups of friends”.  He went on to say “Don’t judge others, have an open mind but equally, don’t allow friendships to compromise what you fundamentally believe in.  It’s important to ‘throw yourself in’ but it’s only three years of your life.  Be open but still be true to who you are because you have to live with yourself!”

Finally, I asked Joe how important was it to have friends at uni and what advice he xbox picwould offer to someone starting out and this was his answer: “When you’re living there then yes, you need friends otherwise you’d be a hermit and I think at risk of being a bit ‘depressed’.  We all need interaction, it’s a basic human need so be as open as you can, don’t worry about not making friends, there are so many people there, the chances are you will make friends!”  And then one last bit of wisdom from Joe, “Bring a hobby with you if you can, I bought my Xbox and did lots of gaming”.  Joe and I agreed that boys tend to need a sport or activity to get to know each other and it definitely made a big difference to him.

Olivia:

Olivia left school to attend a 6th form college.  To begin with the unfamiliarity of the college itself felt daunting but once some of the practical elements were sorted out, Olivia told me that she was ultimately looking forward to a new part of her life where she could focus on what she really wanted to do.  However, she explained that she was apprehensive about meeting new people because: “They may not like me and it’s hard talking to new people”.  Olivia was pleased that someone spoke to her first and this initial ‘breaking the ice’ made things easier for her.  She was also concerned about meeting tutors and having positive relationships with them because her courses mean a great deal to her.

Despite these initial feelings of Olivia’s, concerning relationships, when I asked her what girls-1031538were the pros when it came to starting college this was what she said: “Getting to know new people is a pro, new people can bring out the best in you because they give you the opportunity to show yourself in a new light, without them having any preconceived ideas.  You get to decide what they focus on”.

Olivia has found that in reality, she has enjoyed meeting people, especially those that are different to herself, the interesting characters and those that stand out. Olivia also gradually realised that although she’d imagined that everyone would be ‘super-confident’, lots of them were in fact the same as her and therefore feeling the same way.

Olivia’s experience of tutors couldn’t have been better either… “They have all been very friendly and genuinely seem pleased to see students”.

Olivia’s college offers lots of opportunities to meet people through the various student clubs which provide a safe environment to meet those with similar interests to your own.  The canteen is also a great place for socialising because of the relaxed atmosphere.

couple-598315Similar to Ellie and Joe, when asked about the importance of good friendships at college, Olivia responded by saying “It’s very important; you need someone you can talk to when you’re finding things hard, someone who understands, a friendship that means you’re there for each other”.  Olivia added, “I feel more ‘in place’ and less anxious, I felt small to begin with but once I’d made a friend, everything felt more familiar, welcoming and ‘you don’t notice yourself’ (in terms of feeling small) anymore.  Being friends with someone brings back reality”.

The last question I put to Olivia was what would her advice/encouragement be and this was how she answered; “Remember that everyone is in the same position.  Friendships will happen naturally and those that see you in a good way are those you want to be friends with.  You don’t need to be friends with lots and lots of people!”.

Three different experiences but with similar themes. New environments of any kind can seem scary but being true to ourselves, being non-judgmental and being willing to be a little vulnerable to allow friendships to build all go a long way to making the new experience a good one!  I really hope that reading this blog will have helped you to enter whatever new situation you are facing with confidence and that it will enable you to see the importance of forming real relationships with new friends.freedom-2218616

 

The Truth Behind Our Emojis

The Emoji Movie was released in early August as a summer hols movie that the makers hoped would generate a surge of interest amongst the most dedicated of social media and app users.  However, whilst there are those who’ve commented favourably, it has instead generated a surge of unwanted responses in the form of negative reviews that will no doubt have had an impact on ticket sales.  On the whole, the film hasn’t scored gene and his parentstoo highly amongst the critics who feel it has missed the mark. I’d been curious to see it simply because typically, the vast majority of us have smart phones and we use emojis all of the time.  So I went along to my local cinema to see what all the commotion was about.

Although it is an animation with a U rating, I’d assumed it would be aimed at least age 10+ simply because anyone younger is unlikely to relate to the urban slang or be using apps and emojis in the way that we see Alex (the owner of the phone where all the action takes place) using them.   various emojisAfter a quick glance at the rest of the audience at my cinema, it was clear that the movie was attracting a much younger audience.  Alex and his friends were typical in their frequent use of their phones and how they used them to communicate, however, young kids simply wouldn’t be active in social media in this same way which is in part what was being conveyed in the critics’ reviews.

The main story is about an emoji in Alex’s phone that is seen as a ‘malfunction’ within the internal world of Textopolis Textopolisbecause he has multiple expressions rather than one like everyone else.  Alex uses the ‘meh’ emoji (his name is Gene) whilst messaging a girl he’s really keen on however, Gene is so excited about being selected for a text that he can’t perform the ‘meh’ expression and when Addie, the girl in question receives her message, Gene is a completely unrecognisable emoji. It is this ‘error’ in the phone’s functionality that becomes a threat to the existence of all the emojis within Textopolis.

If you simply take the film as a fun animation with cute characters then it works well enough as a family movie but it didn’t really need to be based on emojis for this story premise. Particularly as many of the apps that feature in the movie just aren’t relatable to most young children.

As the style of the movie quickly became clear, I decided not to focus too much on my emojiwhether it was reaching it’s ‘designed audience’ and instead found myself thinking about what emojis we all use and why – both on our phones and face to face in conversation (deep, huh?).  You know that I like blogging about how people communicate and so I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do a little digging into the world of messaging and our ‘virtual’ voice that speaks out through these Japanese inspired mini cartoons.

The character Gene can’t be just one thing, but that’s what he desperately wants to become – one emoji expression in order to fit in.  So he and his friend Hi-5 (who’s lost his place amongst the elite in Textopolis and therefore keen to regain his status), go in search of Jailbreak, a hacker that might just be able to help them both.  It’s an inevitable story of friendship, not giving up on each other, accepting ourselves for who we are and there’s a bit of love interest between Gene and Jailbreak too. emoji-movie- main charactersJailbreak is also struggling with her identity and is hiding behind her true ‘Princess emoji identity’ that she is desperate to quash.  Instead, she lives life through the alternative ‘hacker’ persona (in this movie, a hacker is essentially an emoji with a sense of adventure) without considering that these characteristics are actually both part of her true self.

Regardless of whether it’s a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘thumbs down’ for this film, the reality is we thumbs upall get the film at some level in our own lives. The truth is, we can be thumbs downtempted to pretend to be something we are not or give the impression we feel a certain way about something when that’s far from the truth.  We do this of course to try and blend in because everyone needs to belong and have a place where they ‘fit’.  Perhaps like the Hi-5 character, we may also have a sense of our own self-importance and want recognition.  However, this recognition can often be from the ‘friends’ that no longer want to know us once we’ve been publicly demoted and in the case of Hi-5 he was demoted to the ‘loser lounge’: a place in the film where forgotten emojis or those on the fringes of society hang out.

Forming strong and lasting relationships (the best kind and what we seek whether they be romantic relationships or simply great friendships) will only happen if we are true to ourselves.  I appreciate this statement sounds cliched and straight from a line in a film but this truth came before movies!  So based on my confident assumption, let’s explore the messages in The Emoji Movie further.

Let’s begin by considering the use of emojis.  close up of emojis.jpg 2I really like using emojis because they give a tone of voice to my messages, they can add a bit of humour, they’re cute, fun and ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ (that can certainly help when snapchatting, tweeting etc and words are limited!).  The question is, do we sometimes cover up what’s really going on like Smiler does from The Emoji Movie who regardless of how she feels (and she turns out to be pretty sinister – who knew?) can only smile?  When it comes down to it, we smilerdon’t want to let everyone know everything about us but when it concerns genuine relationships and friendships that we care about, hiding behind an emoji isn’t the way forward.  I believe the point here is, we should be cautious of course about what we communicate in social media especially when we are posting publicly but we shouldn’t let the habit of using symbols be a cover for the real us when communicating with the people in our lives that genuinely count.  For me personally, I feel more ‘complete’ as a person because in my closest relationships that are based on trust, I’m able to be real and I’m loved and accepted just as I am.  Do you know how liberating that can be?

Hi-5 was all about status and being seen as important and part of the ‘in-crowd’. sunglasses emoji To a lesser or greater extent, all of us at some point in our lives will know what that’s like.  The search for status feeds into the celebrity culture that breeds a need to be the best and hanging out with others that are the same.  Friendships that are built on status and popularity can be shallow and short lived and ultimately are unlikely to make us happy.  We don’t actually need to read a blog to discover this because most of us know this is the truth but we do need a reminder every now and then so that we don’t get drawn into a ‘fake reality’.

Whilst Hi-5 wanted to be accepted by the VIPs, Gene on the ‘other hand’ (see what I did there?!) wanted to be accepted by the other emojis.  lots of emojisHis method was to try and push away the true ‘Gene’ by putting on a face that didn’t reflect what was going on internally.  This is another reality check for each of us – if fitting in with others means ignoring our own personal blueprint, then something is seriously wrong!  I think that in our culture, there’s too much celebrating of a persona, image and/or a look that is pretty unattainable to most of us and not enough celebrating of the uniqueness that each of us hold and makes us ‘us’!

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Inevitably, we will be impacted by the culture that we live in and so we may share similar outlooks and ideas with friends but that doesn’t mean abandoning any sense of originality. I’m by no means perfect (as those close to me could confirm!) and I can fall into the trap of comparing myself to others from time to time but part of the journey of life, therefore part of my journey, is not simply settling with who I am as though that’s second place or accepting myself in a ‘meh’ or an ‘oh well, party-popperI’m not great but I’m stuck with myself’ kind of way.  No, it’s looking for the good in me, enjoying what makes me different to others and learning to appreciate what I uniquely ‘bring to the party’!

 

I mentioned the phrase ‘journey of life’ because life is ever evolving and changing and we have to navigate these changes and the challenges without allowing ourselves to be altered in a way that makes us unrecognisable.  Enjoy the person that you are, celebrate yourself and others for being different and unique, smile when you’re happy, when you’re sad, cry if you need to and let those you trust be part of your own personal world, where they see the truth matching up with the emoji.brain-2313782_960_720

“My spider sense is tingling…it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s my date?!”

Comic books and graphic novels have always been popular and for a good number of marvel-1641554decades too, with the earliest comics dating back to the 1930s.  Consequently, TV shows, films and computer games based on the superhuman characters have flooded the media and nearly everybody could name at least two or three in an online quiz or similar.  We just can’t seem to get enough of the fantasy lives of the Superheroes played out before our eyes.  Big, blockbuster movies are consistently drawing huge numbers of fans to the cinema and just as soon as the latest all-action film has been released, there’s another fast on its tail encouraging us all to come back for more.

So why does everyone seem to love a superhero?  What qualities do they have that makes them so special?  Well, that’s a ridiculous question really! Of course, they have super-strength, they can do things like fly, have x-ray vision, are ant-1350089.jpgable to morph into something else (like an ant – not the type of metamorphism I’d be after but don’t knock is until you’ve seen him in action!), turn green (hmm… a less compelling spider-web-with-water-beads-921039attribute to reference not to mention the frustration of ruined clothes), make webs (of the spider variety rather than an online presence – just to be clear!) from their wrists, and so the list goes on.

wonder-woman-2381272Both male and female superheroes are usually attractive, with plenty of muscles, and typically good to look at! They have cool gadgets, and outfits (though some are a bit dodgy if you ask me but I’m not going to challenge them on their dress sense).ironman-1043700

Ultimately, despite their often troubled personal lives and complex lifestyles, they seek to right the wrongs, stop the villains, rescue the vulnerable and save not just the town, country, continent and world but the entire universe. They’ll traverse the most hostile environments to bring about justice, peace and harmony where fear and terror reign.batman-499645

They aren’t perfect, they have their flaws, lose their temper, make errors of judgment (it makes them so much more relatable don’t you think, for us mere mortals?!) but good wins out no matter what sacrifice needs to be made.  In short, they have an unwavering moral compass when it comes to doing what is fundamentally ‘right’.

On paper and ‘in action’, they do seem like date-worthy superman-1803165kinds of people but in truth, we would probably feel awkward and intimidated.  Or perhaps you think otherwise?  There is that small detail too that even if a date with Thor, Wonder Woman or Superman were possible, they don’t actually exist.  I hope that I’ve not just spoilt your dreams with that fact!

So, if you’re thinking that this blog is going to be one of those blogs that says something about it being a waste of time aspiring after an out of reach fictional character that is based on the vivid imagination of comic book creators, that is simply fantasy in every respect, then you’d be correct.  However, I’m equally saying that we should aspire to having a solid relationship with someone who has ‘superhero’ qualities!  Is this getting confusing and do I sound as though I’m contradicting myself?zap-1601678

Ok, I have some explaining to do here.  Superheroes are usually known for their abilities and those abilities are what set them apart.  Even as you read this, you may be thinking of a superhero that has particular traits that you think are awesome.  For example, some of you may think being able to fly is amazing, however, others may think that’s the last thing you would like (especially if you have a fear of heights, speed and suffer from travel sickness!).

When thinking about starting a relationship with someone in the real world, whilst you hulk-578088won’t actually be thinking ‘I hope they turn green and become very strong when angry’ (again, the ‘green thing’ is not the best example I could have come up with as an aspiring superhero quality), you probably have some ideas about what you believe is important.  In my experience, finding someone who has certain characteristics that reflect values that are important to me is absolutely something that I believe should be encouraged and has made a difference to me in my relationship (and in my friendships too).  When we find someone with those aspirational (‘superhero’ type) qualities, we are drawn to that person which is what makes them special to us and potentially ‘out of this world’.

Before you think, this all sounds very idealistic and that I must be existing in some made-up planet in the far reaches of my brain, here me out.

What I’m not suggesting is that we go on a quest to find an individual that is ‘practically perfect in every way’ (hang-on, I might be slipping into another genre character-663356here, I’ll try and leave this one and ‘pop-in’ to Superheroes again…).  We won’t find someone who is perfect because they don’t exist and as amazing as you and I may also feel we are, you know that we’re not perfect either.  But what we can look for is someone who is able to demonstrate some of these qualities and is willing to put the time and effort into a relationship through some self-reflection.  This of course must go both ways.  In any relationship, I know that I need to ‘make an effort’ and try and consider the other person and not expect them to do all of the hard work.

I think that there are basic (though not always easy) qualities that can very much make someone a ‘superhero’.  Last month, the ‘Explore more!’ blog was on trust (To trust or not to trust: That is THE question.)Trust is immensely important and in my opinion, I think we should look for someone who is trustworthy.  Of course, we know from the blog that mutual trust builds over time but there needs to be something from the outset that indicates that this could be possible between you both.kapow-1601675

What other qualities should our aspirational, superhero have, do you think?

This a list of some of the qualities I think make a real ‘superhero’:

  1. Communication – see the April blog for more insight but I think this is an awesome quality. Talking is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to communication; listening and acting on what’s been said make a huge difference to us and we feel valued and worthwhile.
  2. Loyal – someone who will be there for you, a committed friend who will stick-up for you when it really counts.
  3. Kind – does this sound like an old-fashioned, weak word? I don’t think so.  When someone is kind to us, we don’t forget it. Kindness is definitely a strong quality that can set someone apart in true superhero style!
  4. Forgiving – if a friend is only a friend whilst we get everything right but as soon as we mess up they bail out, they aren’t really a friend. Being with someone who forgives me is massively important because I know I’m not going to get things right all of the time.
  5. Respectful – I’ve mentioned mutual trust but mutual respect is also important to me. How someone treats us, how they speak about us and to us I think needs to be underpinned with respect.  Lack of respect can lead to all sorts of challenges so let this be one of your superhero aspirations!
  6. Fun – this isn’t the last on this little list because it’s the least important thing – not at all! It’s last for this reason:  Often a relationship starts with having fun and if the fun continues after being together for some time, the chances are all of the above qualities are likely to be present too!pow-1601674

Now, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m not implying that our ‘superhero’ has to be perfect, but if the person of our dreams isn’t even interested in any of the above we should perhaps accept that they aren’t the person we should be with right now.  What we don’t want to do is to decide that for example, although they show no respect whatsoever towards us, they seem really ‘interested’ in us and so we will forget that particular aspiration and hope it doesn’t matter too much.  I believe these qualities are fundamental and whilst we all know that we are better at some than others, if the intention is to genuinely improve then that’s exhibiting real superhero determination and an unwillingness to give up.spiderman-1043735

So, I say aim high, aspire for the kind of relationship that is based on a good friendship where both parties share similar values and in amongst the laughs and having fun together, they are seeking a superhero – not one in a crazy costume trying to save the world but someone wanting each other’s ‘personal world’ to be the best it can be.

To trust or not to trust: That is THE question.

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Recently, when I was sitting reading, I overheard a conversation between two friends.  One friend said; “you can’t trust anyone these days”.  Apparently, it had something to do with a gift that had been left by the friend for the other but someone else had taken it when neither had been around.  Prior to this moment, I’d been thinking about the topic of trust for this blog and since hearing that phrase, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.  Is that phrase really true? How many people believe it?  animal-2178696 dogShould we be suspicious of everyone? Should we hold back in friendships and relationships?  Should we refuse to be open and honest as a form of self-preservation?  Is your dog really your only faithful and trustworthy friend?! Trust is a topic that often comes up when it comes to lasting relationships because it does seem to be very important to most people, but how do we achieve it?

The environment we live in doesn’t always set the best example and seems to be sending mixed messages about trust.britain-20433  In early June, we had an election and whether you were able to vote or not, you will probably have an opinion on the political parties.  In the lead-up to the elections, a woman phoned into a radio show that I was listening to and explained that she’d decided to vote Labour because she believed that Jeremy Corbyn lied the least out of all the party leaders!  The implication being (from her perspective), that they were all lying the majority of the time so she was giving her support to the one who did so less frequently!

The internet, twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook etc., all provide us with a constant streamtwitter-292994 of activity, posts and people’s ‘status’ but how much of what we see on social media do we actually trust?  Even the posts from our ‘friends’ may be questionable and their stories don’t necessarily quite add up.  We hear news of fraudulentfake-2355686 activity taking place on-line and hackers conning people out of lots of money because they’ve managed to convince someone to pass over their bank details.  So maybe we shouldn’t trust in a world of unreality, fake identities and lies? It’s just too risky.

However, I believe it’s inherent in each of us to want to trust.  And it’s because of this binding-1328348inherent value that we are disappointed when we have been let down and trust has been broken otherwise we wouldn’t care.  If this happens too frequently, we can potentially build up barriers to protect ourselves and although we may now feel in control we are also missing out on the benefits of mutual trust.  Where there is genuine and reciprocated trust there is security, safety and freedom.  When I spend time with the people in my life that I know I can trust, I’m able to be myself and I feel accepted regardless of mistakes I may have made or will make in the future.  So how do we get to that stage?

I believe that trust is something we must work at acrobats-1934558if we are looking adventure-1807524for that place of safety and connection in a friendship or in a romantic relationship.  Trust doesn’t happen in an instant it builds over time and needs to be looked after too.  When we begin a friendship, we start to find out about each other, what the person enjoys doing, what makes them laugh, hobbies, interests, and all of these things are the first steps in trusting because we are each revealing aspects of ourselves to the other person.  As the friendship builds and we become comfortable with each other, we then start to make choices, deciding if we are willing to reveal more personal details about our character.  This does need to be on both sides but someone has to make the first move.  In an ideal situation, over time, the friendship deepens and each person feels more and more able to open-up.  Both parties need to give (fairly equally), a little more of themselves and keep doing so if they want the trust (and therefore the friendship) to continue growing.

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In my experience, the most trustworthy of my friends demonstrate the following characteristics:

  1. Reliable – They keep their word. If they say that they will do something they really will.  The more often this happens, the greater the trust.
  2. Openness and honesty – They don’t have a facade in which they try to project an image that isn’t actually them.
  3. Caring – They make an effort when I’m sad or upset, giving me their time if I need it.
  4. Thoughtful – If they don’t hear from me in a while or if I have to cancel an arrangement, they want to know that I’m ok.
  5. Valuing my opinions – They listen to what I have to say and don’t try and monopolise conversations. Equally, it doesn’t matter to them if we don’t agree on everything, recognising that we are two different people with differing ideas.
  6. Vulnerable – Their vulnerability demonstrates that they trust me which encourages me to be vulnerable too.
  7. Integrity and loyalty – They show that they can be trusted with what they know about me and won’t gossip about me behind my back.
  8. Prepared to challenge me – They don’t just say things to please me. If I do something that hasn’t been very nice (to them or to someone else) they will kindly point this out for my sake as well as the ‘injured’ party.
  9. Dealing with conflict – If we disagree and get cross or upset with each other, it doesn’t mean the end of the friendship/relationship. They understand that we won’t get it right all of the time and so once we’ve had time to reflect, we talk about what went wrong so we can improve our communication for next time.
  10. Equality – They don’t treat me as someone less than them, we are of equal value in the friendship/relationship.
  11. Doesn’t expect perfection – They don’t expect me to be the perfect friend and will forgive me when I mess things up.

The above points (I’m sure you could add others to the list too) should not be one-sided and I need to try and behave in the same way towards my trusted friends.  However, the last point is particularly important to remember.  Whatever we may think, the truth is that none of us are perfect and it’s impossible to be so.  Therefore, we will occasionally be let down by people that we know love and care for us, those whom we trust deeply.  Inevitably, we will also be the ones to let others down, determined though we may be to not let these things happen.

Trust is almost too big a subject to do justice to in this blog and I know that it’s not necessarily very easy to adopt all of the right principles in an instant especially if we’ve been hurt ourselves.  Sometimes negative heartsickness-428103experiences mean we have to do more than go back to the beginning if we are trying to rebuild a relationship where trust has been broken or when entering a new one.  A whole lot of unpicking of the past experience may need to happen first in order to learn to trust again and be a trustworthy friend.  Trusting again is possible and in a particular friendship I had in the past where I was completely let down and my trust betrayed, I did go on to build new and better friendships.

So now, going back to that initial phrase ‘You can’t trust anyone these days’, I think it is just that; a phrase and nothing more because it is a friends-2347530natural part of human behaviour to trust.  More than that, I believe it is an essential part of what makes us fully human.   Of course we do need to exercise caution in the process of relationship building and without a doubt, there are some people we meet that we should not place our trust in and/or make ourselves vulnerable with.  The pointers above may be of help in deciding if they are to be trusted as will the advice and instinct of other trusted friends.

Trusting and being trustworthy shows a strength of character and rather than being a threat to our independence as some may perceive it to be, it can give us a greater confidence to be ourselves.  Trust is foundational, it absolutely makes a friendship/relationship deeper and more valuable.  It takes time but it’s worth every moment that is invested into a friendship/relationship to make trust possible.  Be patient and trust that ‘to trust’ is the answer to THE question.

-Relationships depend on....

Emma and Harry, aged 20 and engaged to be married!

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At just 20 years old, Harry Manning and Emma-Jane Girdlestone are engaged!  They haven’t set a date yet but are planning on saying ‘I do’ to each other in the Summer of 2018.   They are pretty young to be getting marriering 2.1d; according to the office of national statistics: ‘For those entering their first marriage in 2013, the average age was 32.5 years for men and 30.6 years for women, representing increases of almost 8 years since 1973.’

Of course, 50 years ago, they wouldn’t have been considered young to tie the knot and even today in certain parts of the world, getting married in your very early twenties is not so unusual.  So how ready are they for marriage?  How do they know if they are right for each other? These questions and more were put to Harry and Emma over coffee and waffles and here’s what they had to say…..

Tell me a little about yourselves, are you working, studying or both?
Harry (H): I’m a sports coach for primary schools in Havering, working for Stretch UK.
Emma (E): Deputy Youth and Children’s minister at The Church of the Good Shepherd (unpaid role) and doing a degree in theology, mission and ministry.  I also work a small amount of time as an assistant coach (alongside Harry) with Stretch UK for some extra cash.
H: (Laughing and smiling) At Stretch, Emma has to let me be the leader for once!

How long have you known each other?
H: We’ve known each other since February last year.
E: That’s a year and three months.

That’s not a huge amount of time, when did you get engaged?
E: Last month (April) and technically, we’ve only been together for 9 months.

Emma and Harry were introduced to each other in February 2016 by their friend David at a youth event:
E: I said to David “I’m begging you don’t do this, I don’t want a relationship!”.  A week before I’d written in my journal that I didn’t want to meet anyone until I was 25 – ‘no it’s not happening’.  I didn’t want this person to turn up, I didn’t want to like him. The pressure was on because we were being set up.  If David had not said that and we’d met, it would have been different. When we met though, we ended up chatting for hours, but that night, I knew I was going to marry him and I thought this is a disaster!

“….that night, I knew I was going to marry him and I thought this is a disaster!”

Why didn’t you want to meet anyone until you were 25?
E: Mainly because of the challenges of past relationships.  I’d had a really long-term relationship from when I was 14 to 16 and when we broke up, things were difficult at that time.  I then ended up getting into another relationship a year later.  I didn’t think I was fully ready but allowed the attention to feed my emotions.  As time went on, it became clear we weren’t right for one another.  We broke up in October 2015 and then it was an ‘on and off’ situation until the January.  Then in the February I met Harry!

Harry and Emma had said technically they’d only been together 9 months and that’s because close friends and people of influence in Emma’s life didn’t think Harry was a good idea for her because of his previous ‘messy’ relationship:
E: I spoke with some friends and said “I’ve met Harry Manning”!  Their response was, “no, he’s not for you”, but I knew I was going to marry him.  I’m very ‘justice’ focused, he’s more ‘grace’ focused and my sense of justice was frustrated because I felt as though they’d made a judgement on him when some of them didn’t even know him.
H: ….And she also fancied me, it’s not all about justice!
E: (Speaking to Harry and laughing) “You were such a hassle at the beginning and I could have given up but I stood up for you!” This whole process took a while for everyone to come on board so we were together in secret until the end of last July.
E: We’d said that we’d be friends only.
H: But I didn’t want to be just friends.
E: That choice was so stupid though because we both knew the end result, we knew what was coming.  In the back of my head we knew we weren’t just friends but said let’s just honour the end result and not go public until then…. but there was a level in which we weren’t just friends, it was inevitable.

Tell me more about when you met and how your first date come about?
H: At the time of the youth event where we’d met, it’d been about 5-6 months since my last relationship had ended.  I was craving romance and I really liked Emma but it didn’t seem right to chase her and thought if she adds me on to Facebook I’ll go for it.
E: Irony is that I got home and had fully expected him to add me on to Facebook and he didn’t and I was like, ‘I’m not going there first’, so I sat there stubborn and went through the whole of the next day and he still didn’t add me and I’m like, ‘who is this kid?’ And I journaled, ‘what’s going on, why do I have these feelings?’  Then I thought, ‘I’m just going to add him and be that strong independent woman’ and eventually that night I added him and he obviously took that as a sign.photo at party 2
H: (Excited voice) When I looked at my phone and saw that she’d added me I was like so excited and I accepted it and I still have the message on my phone.
E: We met again at a party just a few days later and then I asked her out and our first date was to the Cinema and then to Nandos.

What do you enjoy doing together?at the zoo 2
H: When we have money, if we can, we’d usually go up to London and explore.
E: It’s really good fun, we are quite adventurous together, we want to explore new things so we rarely do the same thing twice.
H: We’ve been to museums, the zoo, the aquarium, ice-skating….
E: We both want to travel together in the future too.

Do you argue and if so, what happens when you argue?
E: At the beginning of our relationship, we argued quite a bit, just quite immature in it.  We are quite similar in how we handle things, we are quite ‘shouty’, if one of us starts shouting, the other one will rise-up louder and then we are in a match of volume, we are so stubborn, neither of us wanting to back down.  However, we both absolutely hate being shouted at and so we got to a point a few months in, (it wasn’t that we were having an argument every night but when we did, it wasn’t handled well), of realising we needed to grow up a bit more and consider ‘how are we going to handle this situation?’  But it was still a struggle for a few months.
H: The arguments we had after that conversation didn’t end up being as big.
E: We went through a process of learning and now we very rarely ‘blow’ and our communication has massively improved.  When a disagreement came, we’d get irritated but we’d recognise that we can’t shout and would cool it down.   We’ve grown to a place where we communicate, so a lot of the time, if Harry irritated me, I’d say “you’re irritating me”, we’d talk about it and then you’d give me a hug, I’d say, “there we go, we got there, we’re all done, it’s all finished”.

“At the beginning of our relationship, we argued quite a bit, just quite immature in it…..we needed to grow up a bit more and consider ‘how are we going to handle this situation?’  But it was still a struggle for a few months.”

Do you think forgiveness is important?
H: Yes, I’ve had to realise that some of the stuff we’ve argued about in the past I haven’t sincerely apologised for or we haven’t actually sorted it out.  Several times, passed issues came up and I’d ask Emma “why are we talking about this?” And it’s turned out that she’s still quite angry about it, and I’ve asked, “are you actually really angry about this?” Once we went back to loads of different arguments and I said “ok, what else are you still angry about, what else have you not got over?”  And honestly, I’ve had to explain to her and say “I’m really sorry for that” because I hadn’t actually apologised properly.  When I’ve said I’m really sorry and Emma’s forgiven me, the issues from the past were then dealt with.

What have you learnt about each other and how to communicate and how has that impacted your relationship?
E: I’m more of an extrovert and we are often really busy.  I love being busy and can go from one thing to the next, but this can be too much for Harry.  He has to have time out and I know that now.  So tonight after a busy day, we’ll put a movie on and I’ll play with his hair and it will be a completely chilled out evening. Recently when we were out in the car and we’d had a really busy time, Harry had become snappy but it was his introvert personality crying out for some space.  That sense of justice in me was wanting to say, “don’t talk to me like that”.  But I didn’t say anything, I just stayed silent.  His love language is touch and when we arrived at our destination and got out of the car, I just gave him a hug and immediately his attitude changed.  Understanding each other in this way has been a massive transformation in our relationship over the past 4-5 months.
E: Just recently, I’d really been struggling with an essay for my degree and Harry came over to mine and helped me through it, he knew exactly how to calm me down and support me.  We’ve both grown a lot and this wouldn’t have happened 8 months ago.
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H: At the start of our relationship, I thought that I was an amazing boyfriend, ‘she’s going to love me and all of my ways are perfect’ and I didn’t think I had to change, so I always thought that she was in the wrong at the start. This attitude was in part due to my reaction to the complications of my last relationship and that girlfriend’s constant ‘put-down’ of me.
E: He’d never had the experience of ‘learning someone else’ his ex-girlfriend had just told him off, told him what to do and how he should be. We are very affectionate with each other and Harry never had that before.  We have both now learnt to respond to each other in ways that we ourselves want to be treated.
H: When I was younger and my dad would lose his temper with me, my response was to lose my temper too.  Then as I grew up I learnt to listen to what was being said behind his temper.  So whenever Emma would get upset about something, instead of responding with my natural reaction, I had to stop.  I’d want to respond and say “you’re just being stupid”, but I’ve learned to listen to what is being said behind the emotion.
E: We had one of those crucial moments earlier on when we were arguing and I remember getting to a point of “RIGHT, sit down” and I explained, “if you do this action, this causes this emotion, this emotion causes this in me and then I’m left hurt afterwards”.  I felt so bad because speaking that way was so patronising and if it were said to me, I would receive it so badly, but he was saying, “that makes so much sense, I’ll do that in the future”.  We’ve had to learn how each other receives things.

When did you first say “I love you”?
selfie 2.1
E: (Speaking to Harry) “In the first month, you told me that you thought you were falling in love with me and I didn’t say it back, so that was fun!”  It was because of the initial negativity around Harry (which I’d wrestled with), that I decided I couldn’t tell him the truth about my feelings.  I knew what he’d be like if I told him I loved him; nothing would stop him and he’d say “we’ve got to get together” and then not wait until July before officially telling others we were boyfriend and girlfriend.  Once it was official I told him I loved him.  In the meantime, everyday he’d tell me that he loved me.
H: Yeah, I was a bit rubbish, a bit uncool, I couldn’t control myself, my mum would say, “just calm down Harry, be cool, slow down or you’ll scare her away”!

When did marriage first come up in the conversation?
E: Despite holding back from telling Harry that I loved him, within the first couple of months of our relationship we had chatted and asked ourselves “what is this, what are we actually saying about each other?”  We both agreed we’d be getting married.
E: The discussion had come up before Christmas and Harry would have married me straight away.  I said I’m not getting married before the end of the third year of my degree and others were saying this to me too but I wrestled with the idea.  Then others were saying to us “why are you waiting until the end of year three if you know you want to be married?”.   I then began giving the idea of getting married at the end of year two a lot of thought and once I’d made that decision that it was right for us, I stopped stressing and got really excited.
E: In the December, Harry, without telling me his plans, just came out with it at my parents that we wanted to get married and it didn’t go down well.

“….without telling me his plans, Harry just came out with it at my parents that we wanted to get married and it didn’t go down well.”

H: I hadn’t told Emma, I was really nervous and just thought, ‘I’ve got to do this’.  Emma was like, ‘what’s he doing?’, she was really angry and upset with me because I didn’t go through it with her first.
E: It was a really painful process and that day I cried with Harry.  The next day, I went to see my family and their issues with the marriage were our ages, that we don’t have any money, that my parents couldn’t help us out financially, Harry doesn’t have a full-time job and is on a low wage.  So it was mainly practical issues.  If Harry had a full-time job, that would have been a big shift in their minds and they may have actually considered that we might be mature enough.  I told them that they had to stop worrying and I said “I can promise you that in 20 years time, you’ll be sitting there looking after the grandkids”.  My parents said that they have no doubt that it will last, they just need to see that Harry can take care of me.
E: This was a reality check for us both, that tough stuff happens and that’s what marriage is about, the good times and the hard times, both now and in the future, even the reflection that we will see each other’s parents die and would walk with each other through this and everything.
H: In February, I texted Emma’s dad and then met with him in March to ask for his blessing.
E: I didn’t want Harry to ask for permission to marry me but wanted him to ask for my dad’s blessing because I knew it was important to my mum.
E: After the initial mention of marriage in the December and the fact that Harry had brought it up without discussing with me first, we talked about the importance of being a team, doing things together and this is something that has grown.

“…tough stuff happens and that’s what marriage is about, the good times and the hard times…”

The proposal!
H: I decided to propose on her birthday weekend and had bought three birthday cards as photo of cards 2part of the plan.  On the Thursday, we went out for something to eat and I gave her the first card that included a cute message about how much I loved her and then a question at the end, ‘how much do you love me?’  On the Friday, we went to troof top garden v2he zoo and I gave her the second card.  Inside I’d written ‘I love the adventure we’ve been on today and I’d like to carry on having adventures for the rest of my life with you, how far will you travel with me?’  On the Saturday, we went to London and I took her to the roof-top garden in Canary Wharf.  I gave her the third card which had another cute message about God’s promises and the promises I have for our relationship and that I have another promise I’d like to make to her.  Followed by ‘Ask me what the last question is?’ I said “have you read it?” And Emma said, “what’s the last question?” I got down on one knee and said “will you marry me?” (Emma said yes of course!)

What sort of wedding would you like?
E: Church wedding, White dress, rustic, vintage, fun, we don’t want a ‘sit-down’ because that’s not really us, informal, simple.
H: (Harry smiling) Not long ago Emma asked, “what suit are you wearing for the wedding?” I answered, “I don’t know yet”.  “Well you’re not allowed to wear blue”.
E: It’s got to match everything else!

How did you know you were right for each other and how did you know you were in love?
H: I get on so well with Emma from the beginning, we enjoy lots of the same things and although some parts haven’t been easy and we’ve had to work at it, when I look back, it’s been so easy to get on with Emma, we just connect, we’re best friends.selfie burlesque
H: How we knew we loved each other is different.  I don’t think you can ever just decide and say “you know what, I think I’m in love with her”.  It just happens over time and you begin to know that you want to be with them for the rest of your life.   I’ve never had before what I have with Emma; holding hands, her affection towards me, knowing each other well and responding positively to this and thinking that I want this for the rest of my life.  We are best friends and I’m attracted to her so all of these things together… yeah I just want to be with her for the rest of my life, you don’t really realise it’s coming – love, it just suddenly appears in your life.
E: When I met Harry, I had an immediate connection with him.  In past relationships, I was determined I didn’t want to lose my identity but was instead made to feel insecure and so I really lacked trust because of this which is something we’ve had to work on.  But, from the day I met him, I’ve not wanted another day without him – yes, I’m in love!  Last summer, we went to Southend and had so much fun together and had been laughing all day – yeah, we’re best friends.  We realised that we’d actually not kissed or held hands at all that day because we were just having such a laugh and had so much to say and so we hadn’t noticed.

“…we just connect, we’re best friends…you don’t really realise it’s coming – love, it just suddenly appears in your life”.

What do you think are the most important things needed to make a relationship work?
E: Trust, communication, love and friendship.
H: I don’t think you can be best friends without communicating well, or being able to laugh with each other so if I had to put it under one phrase I’d put it under ‘best friend’ because it covers everything.  I trust my best friend, I can communicate with my best friend, I get along with my best friend, my best friend cares about me, they want to do what I want to do and I want to do what they want to do.roof top selfie - cropped

It was amazing to spend time with Harry and Emma and hear their story.  They were an inspiration to listen to as they talked about overcoming the challenges of a relationship, valuing their relationship enough to tackle the tough questions, being willing to be open and vulnerable with each other in order to grow together, learning to say sorry and why that has been important to them and how all of these things have clearly enabled them to trust and love each other more.

They are so completely committed to each other and whilst they are excited about the big day, they were even more excited about the marriage that will come after!

Why all the fuss about communication?

When it comes to relationships, there seems to be a lot of fuss about the importance of communication – but why?  We can all do that, can’t we?

We often hear that communication is important to make a relationship successful but surely that’s stating the obvious; doesn’t everyone communicate all the time?  I say something and then the person I’m speaking to says something back and communication has taken place, it’s as simple as that, isn’t it?

But the truth is, it’s not that simple.  It certainly could be argued that we communicate a great deal of the time; verbally and non-verbally and this isn’t just to do with our facial expression or what our bodies might be communicating; our clothes, our choices in food, music, film all say something about us.  So we can be communicating a huge amount without necessarily saying much at all.

‘…..we can be saying a huge amount without saying much at all.’

one way

But one of the biggest mistakes we can probably make is thinking that communication is a one-way street that we take turns to walk down.  Communication must include listening too and not the type of listening that acts as a springboard for our next, own personal bit of news or opinions.  If we are not careful, we can end up ‘waiting’ (and not listening) until there’s a gap for us to speak again.

Some of us can find speaking more difficult than listening. Depending on character, some prefer to listen and process what has been communicated before being willing to give anything of themselves away.  This will often be down to a fear of making themselves vulnerable or it might be that thlisten to understandey don’t actually want to say much and that’s just their nature.  Our personalities are all very different but whatever our approach, good communication is one of the key elements to a good relationship and bad communication can potentially be the nail in the coffin of what may have been a very special or important relationship.  This may be a romantic relationship or it might be a friendship.  If we want to have happy, healthy and positive relationships we must know how to communicate well.dog and canm

How do we know if we are communicating well?  I’m the sort of person that can find films, books, TV drama’s etc. really frustrating when two people refuse to communicate properly and on occasion, I can find myself yelling at the screen “just tell them the truth” or “talk to them, they’ll listen if you give them a chance!”.  For example, everyone will have seen the animFionaation ‘Shrek’, Shrek is about to present Princess Fiona with a sunflower and tell her how he feels about her, but before he does, he overhears her speaking to Donkey and she says “Princess and ugly just don’t go together”.  Straight away, he assumes that she must be talking about him and doesn’t realise that she’s been cursed as an Ogre by night and this is what she’s ashamed of, not Shrek.  BUT annoyingly, rather than talking to her about it, he bottles up his feelings and thinks he’s no good.  Princess Fiona isn’t much better either because she’s trying to keep this curse from Shrek – they just aren’t communicating!  Now of course, with most films, there is always a certain amount of miscommunication to keep the story moving along but they could have saved themselves a lot of heartache if they’d both been honest with each other.

Being open and honest in relationships is difficult because we may have to admit we are wrong or make ourselves vulnerable but if we can’t be truthful then the relationship is doomed to fail!

‘Being open and honest in relationships is difficult because we may have to admit we are wrong…’

There are of course ways to tell people things that might be difficult for them to hear but brutal honesty isn’t always the way forward.  We need to be aware of how we communicate, particularly if the person we are in a relationship with is someone we truly value and don’t want to lose.

Speaking in a way that shows that we have understood their point of view is vital.  Relationships work when we are willing to give and not just take.  It can’t just be about us, how we feel, our needs, our opinions our general sense of self-importance, we need to consider their perspective, how they feel, their needs and opinions too.  This can make or break a relationship and if you feel as though you’re doing all the listening and
understanding of their perspective but are not receiving the same back despite asking them to do otherwise, you may have to question the future of that relationship.

The flip side of the coin however is if we think we have listened and understood thtwo way streete person but we choose not to open up ourselves, we are being unfair to them; remember that communication is not a one-way street.  In the same way that we can’t know all that is going on in someone else’s mind unless they communicate with us, neither can they know all that is going on in our mind unless we tell them.  It’s unfair to expect understanding if we’ve not said what’s going on in our head!

im-sorry-you-find-communicating-so-difficul

Communication is a powerful tool that used well can reap huge benefits resulting in strong, healthy relationships but there is a type of communication that can, at its very worst do the opposite.  Communication can be used to manipulate a person to get what we want.  A typical trait of this kind of behaviour involves telling someone part of the truth but not all of it which we justify by saying that we haven’t lied (just kept info back) so it’s ok.   We can also be adept at knowing what someone wants to hear which we use to our advantage.  For example, flattering someone, saying lots of nice things in order to soften them up so that when we ask them to do something for us, they don’t feel that they can say no.  Manipulation is a subject area in its own right and I don’t want to deviate off the main topic but just be aware how easy it is to fall into the trap of manipulating others for our own gain.

‘We can also be adept at knowing what someone wants to hear which we use to our advantage.’

Ok, so now a quote from a great writer; George Bernard-Shaw:

george bernard

This is probably the most dangerous place to be, thinking we’ve communicated but actually, we were nowhere close!  I don’t say this to frighten but rather to make sure we are aware that it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we do communicate when we still have work to do to maintain our relationships.  Rather than leaving us in a place of doubt and fear, I thought I might offer a checklist of things to look out for.  This is by no means a definitive list, search for other stuff too but these pointers might just help:

  1. Learn to listen to understand the perspective of the person you are speaking with.
  2. Be honest and this will encourage the listener to be the same with you.
  3. Don’t bottle up your feelings.
  4. Don’t try and always be the ‘winner’ in difficult conversations, show humility and say sorry when you’re wrong.
  5. Be kind in the way you speak.
  6. Stay connected; take an interest in their news and let them know what’s going on in your life.
  7. Don’t let frustrations fester, talk openly to avoid barriers being built.
  8. Give them your complete attention and don’t allow your focus to drift.
  9. Don’t assume that you know the whole story, check your facts.
  10. Be willing to forgive.