Posts Tagged ‘Cirencester’

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my gay online adolescence.

January 28, 2013

Just the other week, Harry Hitchens (from BBC’s Young Apprentice) posted a video on Youtube coming out to the world.

He states that his main motivation for doing this was so that other young people who were learning to accept themselves and their sexuality did not feel so alone. I wish that there had been more of these videos when I’d been growing up, because my gay adolescence was quite lonely; and although I knew I wasn’t the only one, it was a long time before any of my peers were willing to expose themselves so publically and so deeply.

In my youth, we had no Youtube or Twitter. Facebook didn’t arrive until the end of my first year of university. As a teenager, all I had was Faceparty and MSN (and AIM for a brief period, but few in the UK used it), and Myspace (which I used primarily for my music, but I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of people via that medium who have ultimately become good friends). Otherwise, to talk to other people, there were online forums and bulletin boards; awkwardly enough, for a year and a half I navigated my adolescence writing cathartic and experimental poetry on a largely Christian bulletin board. Eventually, for a range of reasons, we drifted apart (although amicably so).

My father took a long time to cave in to broadband; over dialup, I used WinMX to download music one song at a time; occasionally I would download brief gay porn videos that would take HOURS for just a couple of minutes’ worth of footage, that I would then delete upon logging off the net for fear of my dad seeing them. A couple of times late at night once my parents were long asleep, I also cybered with randoms I found in chatrooms on WinMX. The screens of these chatrooms were black, and the writing for different people would be in different colours; it looked much more aggressive and raw than the internet looks now, but there was no permanence to the interactions; the words spiralled into an abyss, into nothing. In the present, every single thing you do online has ramifications; thankfully, I didn’t have to navigate my sexuality and my youth online with the fear of my words being screenshot, paraphrased, used against me at any opportunity being a realistic one. (I know it could still have been done, especially with my father’s IT expertise, but it wasn’t prevalent the way that it seems to be today.)

During the year I spent living in Spain, I used to spend a hell of a lot of time chatting to Hannah on MSN, and a site we explored for a little while was called MeetYourMessenger, which was a combination of Faceparty and MSN. It was not very fruitful however; I remember having one conversation where a guy spoke to me exclusively through ostentatious, glittering animations and smileys. He was blocked after that conversation. I also used to read gay fanfic on Nifty, and I actually got talking to a guy on there; we even met up a couple of times! We also used to cam, and all of these memories remind me of how when flirting on all of these different sites, people were desperate for pictures, for videoed conversations. Separate USB webcams are now a thing of the past, but back then they were an indispensable part of the online experience for some, threatening symbols of sexual predators for others, and a laugh for the lucky rest of us in between.

A lot of people don’t know this, but I originally found Toby through Fitlads, a gay dating site that intimidated me far less than Gaydar. I didn’t have an iPhone at that point so I have never used Grindr, and I think I’d probably find that too intimidating too. Anyways, after a couple of successful conversations on MSN where we both proved to one another that we actually had thoughts in our brains, once we found out that we both were attending UWE for our postgrads, we decided to cut the online stuff and just meet in person. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I had forgotten a lot of these things until I started looking back over my teenage years in detail, and thinking about all of the websites I used to visit. They sound almost quaint compared to what sites are around now, and at the same time as the internet became faster, sleeker and more commonplace, I thankfully became older, wiser and more prudent with my actions. At the age of 11, 12 or 13, I don’t know if I would have been savvy enough to evade every pitfall Facebook (let alone more adult sites) has to offer. From my time at Cirencester College, teaching young people about how to be intelligent about what they share on the internet is important – especially in a culture of digital natives where there is a lot of pressure to share everything (from peers and otherwise). In this same way, just as I discovered the internet as I grew older, is the right to privacy something young people of today will only really discover and understand in their twenties – once it’s, perhaps, a little too late?

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fortissimo.

July 15, 2012

This week has not been the kindest. I’ve been scared, depressed, challenged and exhausted. Scared that in September, I might no longer have a job; depressed that if I didn’t find a source of income within the next two days, that I might have to move back to Bristol (which isn’t terrible in itself, but would feel like a massive step backwards and super-frustrating when I am due to move in with Toby in a couple of months); challenged to step outside of my boundaries and comfort zone, and apply for jobs once again; exhausted by the emotional rollercoaster of all the above! Toby was away in Manchester for two days, so I didn’t have as many cuddles to keep me going as I normally would; although I feel that perhaps his absence was a good thing because otherwise I might have vented to him a little too much!

The reason why I chose the title “fortissimo” for this blog, is that it has a double meaning: normally, we think of the musical term, where it means to play very loudly, as if at the height of a crescendo. But it also means “very strong”, and this perhaps is the theme of the week I’ve had. In the blog I wrote last week, I wrote about wanting to feel more vibrant as a result of the summer weather, but I also want to feel super-strong. Vibrant and powerful in a range of ways. Fortissimo, if you will.

I had people yell at me over the phone at the start of the week; I knew I was not in the wrong in each siutation, but considering the circumstances they were in, I understood that they were distressed. However, the way I felt after they took their frustrations out on me was proof that I am still very much in the process of developing a thick skin.  Two years ago, coming out of the QCG at UWE, I felt somewhat invincible: I had a wonderful new boyfriend, a fantastic new best friend, I’d just landed my first proper full-time job and my body was still banging (I am hoping that my healthier summer focus will help me get back to this state). I also felt confident – that I could really go out and get anything I wanted, and do anything I put my mind to. I think that I have / one has always been able to do this, but not without a certain sense of self-doubt on the inside. That year, the sense of self-doubt turned into a sense of self-belief. As I look at myself this week, I realise that that sense of self-belief has disappeared somewhat – and I want it back. I have to be stronger, more confident and less deterred by what others may say or do or think.

It looks more certain now that my job is in fact not in jeopardy, but I also feel that (due to changes at work which I don’t really feel I can talk about in the public domain) my sense of security is far from unshakeable. I won’t be totally reassured until I’m holding my contract in my hand (which apparently should happen on Monday afternoon), but it’s an improvement on the uncertainty I’ve been going through recently. Part-time work during school and university excluded, the longest I’ve stayed at a job is one year; this position was the one where I initially hoped (even without realising it) that I would break that pattern. I wanted something on my CV that showed I had commitment to a role. In feeling forced to look elsewhere, I confronted a sense of fatigue at completing yet more job applications (most, if not all of which I won’t hear anything back from – nothing personal, just the way it works), but also some questions (raised also by the article I read in Glamour recently): by not constantly challenging myself to go for higher positions, promotions, jobs where I would (for example) have to travel abroad sometimes, am I really challenging myself? There is a lot to be said for being safe and being based in one city – it makes life easy, and it means that once the working day is done, my life is my own and I can spend it with my partner and my friends. It’s a lovely sense of security (there’s that word again!); but at 26, I should still be challenging myself and shooting for the moon, right? And what’s more important – something on a piece of paper that shows I’m loyal to an employer, or an attitude and confidence that shows I am loyal and committed to my own development and achievements?

It’s a change to my thinking that I’ve tried to get my head around before, but only partly succeeded: we feel a misplaced sense of loyalty to our employers, because they pay us for what we do and provide us with financial security. However, we are the ones earning the money, learning new skills constantly, and we should be less afraid to confidently negotiate positions and salaries as we see fit: if you don’t try, you don’t get! If employers don’t want to pay for our services, they don’t feel bad in saying goodbye; why should I feel guilty in looking around at what other options might be available to me, in case something better comes along? A professional relationship should work two ways.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel comforted by the fact that I probably won’t lose my job, because it makes things easier and more stable for me and Toby moving in together in the Autumn and being able to put a deposit down on a new flat, but I’ve been forced to think that while we are young, we should be confident and assertive in going for opportunities that present themselves, and in creating opportunities where none are immediately evident. Sometimes one is lucky, other times one must make his/her own luck. So contract or not, I’m going to keep an eye on what jobs come up (both internal and external), so that I’m ready to apply for something better that takes my fancy.

Another surprising development where I’ve really had to draw on some strength is in my cigarette consumption; somehow I’ve found myself promising Toby and a few other people that I will quit smoking in 2013. I’ve joked that this might be December 31st, but really, it is one of next year’s New Year’s resolutions. I’ve prided myself on my stubbornness, and I know that I will be able to do it; when reading Diana Ross’ biography, one of the things that stuck with me is her saying “I’m going to quit smoking one day without any whining or fuss, not like other people.” And that’s exactly what she did! I admire that single-minded determination to change one’s life without wavering even in the slightest. But when I told a couple of colleagues this plan of mine (they’re not colleagues I usually work with, because I certainly don’t want any kind of scrutiny in my office), they said “well, do you really want to quit? If you do, why wait? Start now.” I must admit that that thinking makes total sense, but while I am getting to the point where I truly do want to stop smoking, I still enjoy it somewhat that I’m not ready right now. However, after a Wednesday night out with Nick where we made a new Icelandic friend called Sigga (who smoked a lot, and I smoked with her), I woke up the next morning hungover and with a very husky throat. I really didn’t want to smoke, and I didn’t have a cigarette until 1pm that afternoon. I had a total of 4 that day (normally, I smoke between 8 and 10 cigarettes a day), and from then on, my colleagues’ words were echoing in my head. I really could quit sooner rather than later, and I’ve focused on reducing my cigarette consumption with the hope that I could stop. I don’t know what I will do at work, as I will still want my breaks every couple of hours (particularly considering I rarely take a proper lunch break), and there are social and time-killing benefits to smoking. But rather than a physical sense of addiction, the hardest challenge will be conquering the voice in my head that yells “CIGARETTE CIGARETTE CIGARETTE” when I become conscious that I haven’t had one that day. I had 7 cigarettes the following day, and today I bought a pack of menthols (rather than my usual Marlboro Reds), of which I have had 6. Menthols have a different taste and less nicotine, and my idea is to wean myself off cigarettes, or at least permanently reduce my consumption. As anyone who has tried to quit smoking before knows (I did quit once in the past after I came home from my year abroad in Spain, but I had only smoked for a couple of months, so it wasn’t really the same thing) I don’t know if I’m ready to completely quit and declare myself an ex-smoker, because sometimes I really enjoy it and I’m quite attached to having a cigarette with alcohol, or before I go to sleep. Plus, I feel like I would be betraying (there’s that word again!) Mike, or Toby’s colleagues who like to smoke, if I no longer want to smoke with them. I also believe that truly conquering one’s addiction to smoking, alcohol or whatever truly means that we can still do those things when we genuinely want to without feeling any compulsion. If I gave up smoking completely, I would still feel subjugated by my addiction if I felt a constant sense of fear to have a cigarette for the rest of my life, in case it opened up the floodgates and I couldn’t stop again. True mastery to me means that I am in total control of every cigarette I have, knowing that I can trust myself not to have another one if I don’t want to. At this standpoint, I can say that I feel ready to cut down my smoking by about half (and recapture my full vocal power and some extra spending power each month to boot). So I have also been gathering my strength to do that.

Living life to the full, being loud and proud, and being strong and confident is a daily work in progress. It’s not always easy, and we can’t do it 100% of the time – I fully accept this. But when I go through a shitty week like this one, I’m thankful for the support offered by my partner, friends and family, but I’m also encouraged to recapture my own confidence and desire to reach the stars. I have so many goals in life that I not only am working slowly towards achieving, but that I am fully capable of – but it’s easy to get worn down and distracted by the daily grind that we learn to settle for a little less and choose safety over excitement. As long as I have financial security, the love of my partner, family and friends, I can do anything I set my mind to. But it’s also important not to forget to actually set my mind to new ventures and projects, rather than the same old ish! I believe that this is what I mean by living “fortissimo”.

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facebook – back from the brink

January 22, 2012

Last night I went out with Toby, Christina and Pete, and we were talking about (among other things) people’s use of Facebook, how it can be quite irritating and invasive, and a new thing that pops up when you add someone as a friend (which I rarely bother doing!) – apparently you choose the ‘level’ of friendship (e.g. close friend, or acquaintance, or colleague). There is some other system of creating a “life event” and of viewing a friendship between two particular people (which Christina labelled as “spooky”, as Facebook will find all of the pictures that both people were tagged in and create some sort of pictorial / event timeline out of it).

Now, when I rejoined Facebook, I did so mainly to keep in touch with my old colleagues from Cirencester, which has been nice. But after the first week or so of being in London, I didn’t really use it! I don’t update my profile (I have twitter for that), I don’t post up pictures (because I have this blog and my occasionally-used tumblr for that) and people communicate with me via other means. Last night, Toby also stated that he hasn’t really been using Facebook properly for the past year or so, and we both considered closing our accounts (for me, this would have been the second time). I don’t know if Toby still will, but I was set on it – returning to Facebook only proved to me how much I didn’t really need it. But this time around, it’s hardly been a burden having Facebook because my presence on there is very minimal and completely for the purposes of communicating with friends of mine who use that as their main outlet.

And then, this morning I woke up to find that Victoria – an old friend of mine from Oxford – had messaged me to find out how I was doing. We hadn’t written to each other in a couple of years, and I hadn’t seen her since I graduated from uni. We were very close in our first two years, living in the same corridor and spending a lot of time with one another. She is such a sweet person, so it was really nice to hear from her! I have written her back, and this experience said to me “if having Facebook now is so light on commitment, why bother deleting it? At least every blue moon, somebody will get in touch and revive a friendship.” This approach made sense, and I feel that I have struck the ideal balance – I’m not completely detached from Facebook, but it is something that I use only when I feel like it. There is no compulsion to check it or update it the way that there used to be at university. I feel unburdened by it, and every now and then a nice surprise like Victoria’s message makes me glad I joined it again.

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2012, here we come!

December 30, 2011

The time has rolled around, once again, for my two standard end of year / new year posts. The first one is my own personal review of 2011, evaluating how I did with my aims for the year, and looking forward to 2012 and what I hope to achieve within the next 12 months. So, to recap, my aims for 2011 were:

1. Buy a car.
Tick! I not only bought a car, but I crashed it and then sold it 6 months later!  Driving was a major achievement for me, as it was 6 years in the making, and represented a triumph over my nerves and my previous failure (I have been a lucky person who generally didn’t have to deal with failure too much in life, up until I started learning to drive). But I also learned the hard way that it’s a big responsibility, that it comes with a whole trapping of expenses, and that while being able to drive is an asset and a liberation, living in London and not having to drive anywhere is also a blessing. When the public transport system is good, life is good. (Let me tell you, having gone home to Bristol for 6 days over the Christmas period, I immediately starting missing my car and how easy it made travelling from place to place. Bristol, step your public transport game up please!)

2. Get a job in London.

Tick! Although I miss the warmth and camaraderie of my colleagues in Cirencester (I yo-yoed about how much I enjoyed the job, but I became much happier and carefree once a certain colleague left), my new job in Notting Hill is a whole new challenge – I’m always busy, I’m never bored, and I am learning many new things. Plus, I am earning more!

3. Move to London.

Tick! As you know, I am now living in my own little studio flat in Earl’s Court, which is pricey but very conveniently located for transport (bus stop and tube station outside my front door), and also only a 15 minute walk from Toby’s place.

4. Stay with Toby and make sure that our relationship grows even stronger!

Tick! I love my baby and I realised early on in 2011 that the 100+ miles gap between the two of us wasn’t going to be feasible. We missed each other all the time, and although I may have ended up in London anyway (I’m a city boy at heart), he was the driving force between the transformation in my life and career that has occurred this year.

5. Buy a new microphone and record a new album.

Nope. The microphone never happened. I have recorded some new material (and written even more), but I am hoping that the album will be complete next year.

6. Pay off my credit card and student overdraft.

Sort of. I am debt-free, apart from my student overdraft and my student loan. My car ended up being a big drain on my finances, and moving to London required every penny I had. Plus, I did have a wonderful holiday to Seville with Toby in July, which I wouldn’t have traded for anything but did further delay me paying off my student overdraft. But with my first couple of pay checks, I paid my parents and Nonna back for the money they lent me to settle myself in London, I paid off my credit card, and sorted myself out financially. The student overdraft is my primary financial focus for 2012.

So I guess 4.5 out of 6 is not bad at all! I seem to have more success when I write my yearly aims down, so here goes for 2012:

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Toby is a fantastic cook, but I want to learn to make healthy, interesting meals so that I can return the favour from time to time, and enrich my own skill-set and repertoire. Tonight, Toby’s housemates Michael and Naomi have made some very yummy sushi, so that is one thing I shall aim to make; I also enjoyed watching the British Bake-Off and am tempted by the idea of whipping up my own lemon tart!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

I’m not quite as svelte as I was this time last year. I have got into the habit of having desserts, of snacking unnecessarily from time to time, and from cooking quite simple dishes (similar to how I was at university). This is all fine, but I am going to moderate myself a bit and cut down on takeaways from Dominos, Pizza Hut and Jasmine Garden.

3. Move in with Toby.

I would like the two of us to move in together; it feels like the logical next step for our relationship, but we both need to be at ease with it and it also needs to be an affordable and convenient location. Moving in will happen when it happens, but I’m just putting this wish out there in the universe and perhaps in 12 months’ time, I will be able to tick this one off the list! 🙂

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

See above. This year I have really improved at budgeting and restraining myself from impulsive / extravagant purchases; therefore, I am determined to pay off at least £200 a month. So even if I don’t pay the whole thing off by the end of the year, I will have made a sizeable dent in it! Fingers crossed!

5. Learn Italian

Ok, let’s get this done once and for all. I am half-Italian, therefore it will not only be easy (especially having studied French and Spanish) to learn Italian, but it will be culturally enriching and give me a new understanding of my own heritage. Work have offered to pay for / subsidise an Italian course for me, but my initial plan of attack will be to buy an Italian novel, an Italian dictionary (and possibly an Italian grammar book), and keep a pen and paper by me as I read – and just have at it.

6. Learn to sew

Because I feel somewhat babyish whenever I have holes or rips in my clothes, and I have to take them to Toby’s to fix. I presume that sewing is a relatively simple skill, and therefore I should learn to do it and allow myself to be self-sufficient when it comes to repairing my belongings.

7. Finish my new album

This year will be the year! I am over halfway. Keep your eyes and ears peeled!

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Having moved to London, I was unable to carry all of my DVDs and CDs with me. I would need a truck. Obviously, I have my computer, my iPod, and I was able to take quite a few of my DVDs here; but I have realised that I don’t really need most of the physical copies that I own. So I will sell them, give them away, and go digital. I will open myself up to buying things on iTunes much more (believe it or not, B.Slade’s album Diesel that I bought a couple of months ago was the very first album I bought on iTunes!), and perhaps I might need an extra external hard drive. But I am willing to embrace the digital age (only a few years late!), and also make it much easier for myself to move flats and houses as I go.

Wish me luck, and have a Happy New Year! x

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one week.

September 15, 2011

So I have been living in London for 7 whole days! I officially moved in on Sunday (at 9:15pm, because my landlord couldn’t be arsed to leave his weekend in Bournemouth on time. But hey!), started my new job on Monday, and have most of my stuff in my flat. I have also seen Nick and Adam this week, which has been lush – I feel kinda swanky being able to socialise in West London! I have arrived!

It’s a shame that Toby has been working in Bradford for my first week in London, as I can’t wait to see him – he’s back tomorrow and I am so excited! I have been pretty busy setting myself up this week, and I am pleased with the job I’ve done – I still miss things like my guitar, my pictures and posters, and my bed needs more soft furnishings. I also need to buy some practical and boring things like a bin, an iron and ironing board, and a mop and mop bucket – but I am pretty well set up in my first week.

I have been pleased that I have also been able to walk either to or from work each day this week! I seem to have done quite a lot of walking and I am hoping that in time, I will lose a few pounds 🙂 I just generally feel buzzed – I have finally moved out of home and to the big city to be with the one I love and to be in a reasonably well-paid job. Finally! I have also returned to facebook, which was a controversial move for me, but I will be able to keep in touch with my colleagues from Cirencester that way – and I deleted a lot of my old “friends” and embarrassing photos. So my profile is much more mature and restrained – and I barely check the thing anyway, so it’s hardly like I am attached to it! I am much more active on twitter, which I am more fond of anyway 🙂

I am kinda waiting for the comedown. The first couple of nights I felt a bit lonely and work felt a bit bland as I am learning the ropes and didn’t know how to do very much to start off with, but I seem to be finding my feet – after all, starting anew is bound to have its hiccups and insecurities. But thankfully, those hiccups have been quite minor and I am pleased with my progress. Hopefully I will be able to work on some new music in due course – as I don’t have to get up before 7:40 these days (ahh, the joy of not having to start at 8:30 and do an hour’s drive prior to that!) I have longer evenings. We’ll see. But I am mainly just writing to say that I’m alive, I am here and I am ready for the challenges of a new level of independence.

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liberation.

February 9, 2011

So in the last week, I have been to London, bought a car and car insurance, learned to drive halfway to work (as I’m part of a carshare at work, I won’t be driving all the way to Cirencester for another week and a half) and tonight I have driven on the motorway for the first time!

My car is lovely – a little blue Vauxhall Tigra which suits me down to the ground. It’s pretty, compact and sleek. My parents aren’t totally sure if it’s a convertible as it has odd arrow things near the roof, but I would have thought that if it were a convertible, it would have been advertised as such! We’ll see.

It’s so liberating that I can now come and go as I please – I’m no longer shackled by pathetic Bristol public transport! I can also return the favours from so many people who’ve given me lifts in the past. It may sound silly, but this week I have felt proud of myself every single day, just because I can finally drive! And although I was hella nervous on Sunday night driving on my own for the first time (and I learned that my car won’t do a hill start in 3rd gear – so I should make sure it’s in 1st!) I can already feel myself getting more confident 🙂 Driving has always been the one thing that has made me irrationally nervous, and now I am finally licensed, I just have to overcome all the challenges without any hesitation, otherwise my nerves might get the better of me.

Money’s gonna be tight for a couple of months while I start paying my dad (who has been a massive support through my whole car-buying endeavour) back for the insurance, I pay for a service, and start to save up to pay off my debts. But it’s worth it – I feel a sense of emancipation and pride because I am mastering the one thing that kept me down for so long.

Next goal: London, here we come!!! Love y’all xxx

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25.

October 24, 2010

In 2 hours, I will be 25 years old (and so will my twin Ciara – wish us both a happy birthday!). One year ago, I released my album Quiet Storm on this very blog! In the absence of new music (as I still haven’t bought my new microphone yet), you can stream my album on Soundcloud! Go and give it a listen if you haven’t already. 🙂

This is not the only accomplishment I have to be proud of. I am taking my driving test this coming week after finally making the decision to get back on the horse and get back in the car and get my licence. I hope that I pass; I wish I could visualise myself passing! I am a secret pessimist about it, but at the same time I also know that I am driving better now than I ever have, and that I really should pass. So hopefully I will be able to actualise this ambition and get a car. I also made a new best friend and I have a proper job, at last! Again, not too much that I can talk about with regards to that on here (in the interests of professionalism), but it feel good to have a decent salary and foot on the professional ladder. My other aim, apart from a car, is to move out and get my own little flat. So this year has been pretty sweet, and in 2 months when I do my roundup of 2010, there will be many, many positive things to it, and hopefully I can add even more to my current list. After all, in 60 days, who knows what will happen?

This is the first birthday that I have been in love with somebody who truly loves me back. Toby and I have been together for nearly 10 months now, and in the grand scheme of relationships, it’s been pretty plain sailing. I had a wobble early on, but this relationship has given me so much in terms of teaching me to overcome my own fears and insecurities about being loved, deserving love, and being able to love someone back. Toby is utterly amazing, and I really look forward to seeing him on Friday when it’s his birthday and he opens his gifts. Long distance hasn’t been that difficult, because I guess that somewhere along the line I grew up and discovered that this is what I want. No drama, no second guessing, no rulebook of dos and don’ts, no playing hard to get; when you truly love someone and someone truly loves you, you just be together and love is simple and straightforward and wonderful. Relationships take compromise and work, but at the end of the day if the love is there then the compromise and work is easy to do. Toby and I are both working towards the same goal, we both want the same thing, and therefore any obstacle in our path gets trampled over without much difficulty. The only thing that causes me heart pangs is how much I miss him. Originally, when the prospect of Toby going to London first appeared, I thought that the space would be good, that seeing each other every other weekend would be a good thing as it would mean that we both have our own lives and wouldn’t suffocate one another.

This theory makes sense, in theory. However, in practice it’s getting harder to say goodbye at the end of each weekend. I am ready to be closer to him, and I think that he feels the same. One thing is that I never take this love for granted. I always wanted someone to love me, I always wanted to have somebody to care for and to reciprocate that, and now I have it. I feel like I am on top of the world. I saw my friend Helen this weekend, whom I haven’t seen in two years, and she said two things upon seeing me: that I look so thin (in a good way!), and that I look so happy. And I am! Although there is still stress in my life, this is one thing that has fallen into place so naturally and has really brought me peace within myself. In the past, dating felt like such a gamble, such a procedure like walking on eggshells just in case somebody’s nose got put out of joint (either mine or the other person’s). With Toby, this just didn’t happen, really – okay, at first it was a little bumpy while we got to know each other, but I always felt that our courtship was relatively straightforward, and every hesitant thought I had was of my own making. Those are gone now; I know what I want, and while I know that nothing is guaranteed, I feel that I have relaxed into my relationship and I can appreciate how happy it makes me with no apparent downside! I don’t believe that you need love to be complete; I am still working on completing myself, and I have many more personal and professional goals that Toby cannot help me with. But Toby has shown me that I am capable of and deserving of so much, and I hope that I give him as much happiness and serenity as he has given me. That has been the greatest benefit of all this year.