Last night, getting off the tube, I was accused by a group of drunk, loud-mouthed, relatively posh boys of being a 'yummy mummy'.
I had heard them shout, "Welcome to middle England!" as the train pulled into the station, followed by, "I bet she's married to an advertising executive!" (wtf?) Then they shouted, "She's a yummy mummy wearing jogging bottoms!"
It took all my strength not to say, "Actually, I'm a single, childfree, publishing executive who eats boys like you for breakfast."
In reality, I was on my way back from a day-long hike, wearing leggings and cross-trainers. The boys had confused me with the mums' yoga tribe that is part of the rich fabric of my north-west London community. They're everywhere - usually in their late thirties or forties, skinny, wearing drapy jersey items, holding a juice or a green tea from a local cafe and either looking zenned-out from yoga or looking a bit fraught. The only bit of that list I tick is the age one, and maybe the odd drapy jersey item. And yeah, ok, I was looking a bit frazzled after the hike.
The YM is the predominant fortysomething-female tribe in my area and I'm not part of it. I moved there three years ago after my divorce, and thought a lot about how to infiltrate its ranks, wanting to make new friendships with women of my own age. I joined a local group that has events for women but the tribal subsets were already set in stone. You see I'm not at the school gates, in the morning yoga class or at the coffee meet-up at our local deli so to them, I'm pretty much invisible.
After a while I stopped trying to infiltrate. In the main, the friendships I've forged there are with younger people. At first I was acutely conscious of the age gap but they're extremely accepting of me. There is a societal stigma about middle-aged people who hang out with younger ones, like they've never matured enough to keep up with their peer group or they're trying to hard to hang on to their youth.
But what if you've done the whole mature couply thing for quite a long time, decided it wasn't for you, re-entered non-couply society and found that most of the people at your age are still at the mature couply party? It is one party I'm happy not to be attending right now, but I've had to accept that I've left the cosy weekend dinners for six round at someone's house, for spontaneous meet-ups at the pub with whomever happens to be around, followed by dancing or a party back at someone's flat.
Long live spontaneity, in my view.
One thing I've grown to loathe in life is the way some people try to box you up, in a category that is age-appropriate. I cringe when I hear people say, "But he's 18, so of course he's just going to want to hang out with his mates, get drunk, have lots of sex and go wild at music festivals." What if he's 18, wants to concentrate hard on his studying, hang out in a coffee shop on his own, have a little bit of sex, or no sex, and camp with one good friend in a remote village in Wales?
Why do we pressure people to tick all the age-related boxes?
Similarly, one might hear someone say, "But she's 35, she's going to want to find a man quickly, marry him, have a child, buy a house and enjoy weekends at B&Q." Aaagh! What if she wants to take a gap year to travel, concentrate on her career, date several men without marrying them, and rent in a really cool place that doesn't require DIY?
You can see where I'm going with this.
People assume stuff about me. I know they do. They see me on a train, running in my local park or walking down the road and think, "Married, just been to yoga class while the kids are at school, off to have lunch at an artisanal cafe that sells vintage furniture on the side, before picking up Tarquin and Oberon from school and making them eat quinoa for supper."
Sometimes I feel like wearing a 'Baby On Board'-style badge that says "Single, childfree, not doing what you think I'm doing."
I assume stuff about people too - I wish I didn't. I assumed younger people wouldn't be interested in getting to know me, I assumed other fortysomething women would want to welcome me into their tribe even though I wasn't wearing the right headdress, I've assumed fortysomething men would want to date me.
Wrong, wrong and wrong.
But there is something so right, right, right about not being in a tribe.
Or building one of your own.
Originally published: http://becauseicanblog.com/2014/08/17/the-one-where-im-absolutely-not-a-yummy-mummy/