As I write this I am watching Walking on Sunshine on Netflix. It is, so far, a relatively cheesy but totally lovable musical featuring Hannah Arterton and Leona Lewis. It has a catchy soundtrack, a stunning setting, and a lot of advice about love.
Having spent the past two days in bed with a rotten cold and cough combination, I have watched a lot of television and read a lot (of mostly nonsense) on the internet, both of which have involved being given more than enough advice on love.
Between that, and various people in my life with the desire to advise me on the language of love, I am drowning in relationship tips.
I'm not sure whether it's because I am in my mid-twenties and so anyone and everyone above the age of fifty thinks that I need it; or whether it's specifically because I'm the only one of my close friends that isn't yet married. Either way, every man and his dog likes to provide me with advice- from the cashier in Sainsbury's as I'm paying for my milk, to the Grandmother dropping off her Granddaughter at the children's centre I work in. Everyone has something to say that they think I need to hear.
The thing about love advice though is that it's not hugely clear what you're supposed to believe, is it?
There's a little picture flying about on social media at the moment that will pop up as being shared by somebody I know at least once a month.
It's invariably attached to a photo of an old couple who know nothing of this quote and have just been found on Google images. Chances are that they were one another's third spouse but fit the message perfectly because they are old.
"We were born in a time where if something was broken, we would fix it, not throw it away."
Of course, this is great advice if you're just going through a bit of a tricky patch. You've got to that stage where the magic has gone slightly and the sound of her chewing is driving you crazy, and if he puts his plate on top of the dishwasher instead of inside it one more time you swear to the heavens you will murder him.
Yes, okay, you try to fix it. You discuss the annoying things. You book a special holiday. You try to find the magic again.
But not every broken relationship can be fixed. And as far as I am concerned it's far braver to walk away from a broken relationship, and to have the strength to acknowledge that you deserve better, than it is to stick out misery for the rest of your life because you're worried about what people will think.
What I'm trying to say is, I think this advice is absolute nonsense.
This film is telling me that 'when you know you know.'
The Granny I mentioned that passed on her wisdom to me at work the other day? She told me that your wedding is like your funeral except you can smell your own flowers.
Friends is telling me to find my lobster. Once I've found him it doesn't matter how much he messes me around, if he's my lobster then that's it. I've no choice but to be with him.
Sex and the City is telling me I should stay single forever. (I'm just on season 4.)
About Time is telling me that I must marry someone kind.
He's Just Not That Into You insinuates that I should wait until I am somebody's 'exception', rather than the rule.
A Cinderella Story is telling me that I must marry someone who loves me for the real me.
(I can actually hear you judging me for the list of films I have watched this weekend. I'm not well!)
I read an article the other day that said that society is so hell bent on making us choose our life partner- the most important decision you can make- solely on 'listening to your heart', and that if a person wanted to start a business in the same way that we make this all important decision, the world would stop running altogether.
All of these people can't be right, when they are saying such different things.
And who are all these people, to dish out advice on love? Surely what works for one, doesn't work for another?
There's always the story of the guy who started out as a prat and then learnt his lesson and became a hero husband. That girl then tells her story like she's an expert, and then girls all over are sticking it out with their prat boyfriends hoping that their prat will become a hero.
There's the story of the girl who didn't even like the guy at first, but then they spent more time together and she somehow fell for him. That guy is the reason that that annoying lad who you have told, painstakingly, that you're just not interested, keeps suggesting various 'activities' for you to do together 'just as friends', in the hope that you'll suddenly fall hopelessly in love with him.
So, I say, I shall be listening to only one piece of advice when it comes to relationships, and that was from my oh-so-wise friend Pumbaa, who chose not to listen to the disapproval of her friends and family when she first met her husband, because her friends and family weren't 'in this relationship, just watching from the outside. They didn't have a clue.'
Now, of course, four years later, everybody absolutely loves him.
And Minnie Mouse, my equally wise friend, often tells the tale of the moment that she realised that actually, Pumbaa's new boyfriend was the man that she, Pumbaa, would go on to marry. "It was when she stopped talking about her relationship. She had nothing to say anymore. She was just happy. And nobody ever talks about that."
Nobody ever talks about that.
People provide you with all this nonsense advice when you're unhappy. You think anyone in a happy relationship cares about whether or not bad relationships should be fixed or given up on? You think they need reminding to follow their heart? To find their lobster? To check that their partner is kind? To make sure they love the real them? Do you think that Gran from work the other day has been happily married for fifty years?
Of course not.
Nobody ever talks about the fact that they are happy.
I have decided to remedy this.
This all started last week when I realised that I wanted to record every single thing that my boyfriend says and play it to the rest of the world.
I, obviously, think he's the funniest, most brilliant person on the planet and think that everyone should have the pleasure of witnessing how great he is.
That's when I realised that, actually, the rest of the world would probably find that weird. We don't shout about things like that. It is, as my dad's girlfriend would say, uncouth.
But I've decided to go for it anyway.
I started off by asking all of my nearest and dearest what their favourite things about being in a relationship are. How their lives would be different for the worst if they hadn't met their other halves.
I got some cracking replies...
- "I wouldn't have someone to get up to get me a drink in the middle of the night."
- "We're so close to each other's families. Without each other, there's a huge group of wonderful people we wouldn't know."
- "I wouldn't have been able to try out so many career options without his support."
- "She provides me with moral support during my hangovers."
- "He made me try baked beans. It turns out I like them."
- "I love having one person to make lots of memories with that we can treasure forever."
- "If it wasn't for my husband, I would probably still think Egypt was in Europe."
- "I met my best girl friend through my husband. If I hadn't met him, I wouldn't have her."
- "She helps me decide what to have for dinner."
- "Just a cuddle from him can make all my worries go away."
- "I wouldn't have been able to quit the job that made me so miserable."
- "If we were ever to break up I would really miss his dogs. They would never understand why I stopped being around."
- "I would never have heard of my favourite band."
- "I would have to make my own cups of tea."
- "I wouldn't have a baby kicking inside me as we speak."
- "I love being able to just be myself and not be judged."
- "I wouldn't have somebody to get rid of spiders."
- "Without my husband I would have to stand on the toilet to open the bathroom window. I can't reach on my own."
- "I wouldn't be able to cope with my Dad's sickness if I didn't have my husband there with me."
- "If I wasn't married to my husband, my most embarrassing stories probably wouldn't be broadcast across Essex." (He works in radio. He's not just a loud mouth.)
- "When I poo and it doesn't flush he gets rid of it for me."
Before sending these great reasons to love love, most of my friends immediately replied that they had no idea what to say. Could I give them an example?
I realised as soon as I received these messages that it is a hard question to answer. We're not used to discussing the wonderful things about our relationship. But I've thought about it, and much to Dale's absolute horror, made my own list...
Having someone to point out that I'm about to make a huge mistake using my own words.
Whenever I suggest going somewhere cold he immediately reminds me of the time we were in New York for Christmas and I said, through gritted teeth, "if I ever suggest going to Lapland, Canada, or anywhere involving snow, remind me of this moment."
He has had so many opportunities to remind me of that moment. It's amazing how quickly you forget yourself.
Similarly, we regularly have conversations that sound like this...
"Hm, I'm thinking of getting my hair cut differently, what do you think?"
"Remember the fringe?"
Having someone to bring over the Home Alone Boxset, the ingredients for a roast dinner, and my favourite caramel cupcake when I'm suffering with a cold and a cough.
We didn't watch the Home Alone Boxset. We decided it wasn't close enough to Christmas and watched The Worst Week of My Life instead. Which leads me to...
Having someone to organise things I would not have considered.
We're a strange combination really. I don't think about day to day things in too much detail. If I want to stay in a hotel I'll book the first one I find. If I want to go to a show I'll buy the tickets and worry about travelling there when it gets to the day. I never consider parking until I arrive, and I am a nightmare for leaving directions until the last minute, and therefore spend at least half of my life lost. I worry about where we're going to live, what jobs we're going to be doing in ten years, and how we are ever going to afford a mortgage.
Dale thinks all that future stuff will work itself out. But I genuinely have never seen him so horrified as when I went on one hotel comparison site and was going to book the best one there and then. We didn't book it. He needs to do days of research before something like that. Then yesterday when I suggested watching the Home Alone Boxset, it was he that reminded me that it's only the 22nd November. That maybe we should leave those, along with The Santa Clause (my absolute favourite), Elf (close second), and A Muppet's Christmas Carol (his favourite) until closer to Christmas Day. He wanted to make a spread sheet. We settled with making a list in our heads.
Having said that, I am grateful for...
Having someone to do spreadsheets for me. Seriously. Dale is so good at organising holidays that friends and family, and even friends of friends and family ask him to organise their holidays for them.
I truly believe he should start a business.
Having someone to make my life magical.
A few weeks ago, he- for absolutely no reason at all- woke me up with pancakes and a bag of presents. He had got up and driven to Asda, bought ingredients, and made them, letting me sleep in until eleven.
Having someone to make me laugh. All.The.Time.
He makes me laugh about things I'm angry about. About things I'm sad about. When I'm stressed because we've been in Boots for forty-five minutes and I still haven't found anything for that one relative that I don't have a clue what to buy for, he comes round the corner holding Santa earrings up to his ears. "For Grandad Derek?"
He also likes to sing a lot. He woke me up the first morning of our Disneyland Paris trip this year by flinging open the curtains and singing Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. Okay, I don't like relationship advice and I don't like those nonsense meme things that fly about. But I do think that if someone can make me laugh waking me up at seven am, he probably is a keeper.
His mum once told me that he sings more when I'm around. I thought I might cry.
The number one thing that everybody replied when I asked them about this was that they didn't want to be cheesy, or provide a cliche for their answer.
None of them did.
Except maybe Mickey Mouse.
Mickey Mouse said "the best thing about my marriage is getting to spend every day with my best friend."
I honestly believe that Mickey Mouse said what every other person that I asked wanted to say.
Because that is the best thing about relationships surely? Even if you don't see each other every day. The knowledge that you will talk to your best friend every day without exception is wonderful. If Dale didn't organise wonderful holidays, keep a check on my Christmas spirit, and randomly make me pancakes, he would still be my best friend and would still be the biggest part of my life, and that's what makes it magical.
(If it makes it feel any less cheesy or cliche, he did follow it up with something very rude and un-Mickey-Mouse-like. I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to what that may have been.)
So please, lovely readers, continue to read, watch, listen, and learn from the relationships and love stories of those before you. Enjoy the catchy soundtracks, the funny anecdotes, and the beautiful scenery.
But make your own mistakes, find your own rules, write your own story and create your own advice.
And occasionally, just occasionally, allow yourself that rare and uncouth treat, of discussing what makes you happy :)