MARIANNE POWER spent a year living by the rules of self-help books, here she asks… Can you REALLY help yourself to love?
- At 36, Marianne decided to follow a new self-help book each month for a year
- She said she’d never been in love before because she’d never let her guard down
- Here she shares her experience of dating as she followed another self-help book
In Saturday’s Mail, Marianne Power revealed how she attempted to find happiness through self-help books. Here, in the second part of our serialisation of her delightful memoir, she decides to see if the gurus can find her a man . . .
We were in the local pub when my friend, Paul, three pints down, said: ‘All this smelling the roses stuff is fine, but where’s the action?’
I raised a questioning eyebrow.
‘You know . . . where’s the sex?’
I blushed. I’d been a bit preoccupied with the challenge I’d set myself. Aged 36, epically single, horrifically in debt and without a house or a pension, I’d decided to follow the rules of a different self-help book each month for a year, to see if it would help me.
Marianne Power (pictured) revealed how she attempted to find love through a self-help book
Admittedly, with all the crashing lows, as well as the odd vertiginous high, it was taking longer than a year. It was now the following January and I was on my ninth book.
But I felt I exuded a serenity that all around me would sense. So why was nobody picking up on the fact that they were drinking with a red-headed Buddha?
‘I thought you were going to do a dating book?’ agreed my flatmate, Rachel.
‘I was,’ I replied, ‘but I wanted to be happy and now I’m happy — so job done.’
After everything I’d done in the past 12 months — jumped out of a plane, performed stand-up comedy to strangers, walked over hot coals — all anyone wanted to know was when was I going to find a man.
I stomped off to the bar. ‘What can I get you?’ I looked up at the barman’s big, brown eyes and felt a hot jolt of excitement. Oh!
Marianne Power, pictured, followed the rules of a different self-help book for each month for a year
And just like that, I was back in the dating game — if, indeed, I had ever been in it.
I’d never been in love before because I’d never let my guard down long enough. My last relationship ended six months before my challenge started and I’d only had a handful of relationships prior to that.
Although I had not yet tackled a dating book per se, many of the year’s self-help books had touched on my fear of men — and love — if not exactly dealt with it.
My very first book in January, Susan Jeffers’s Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, had inspired me to chat up a random bloke on the Tube. Normally, I couldn’t even smile at a guy I liked. I would imagine all the reasons he wouldn’t be interested in me: too fat, too ginger, too badly-dressed.
But this was Fear-Fighting Me. So I moved over to a good-looking, but not too good-looking, man by the doors. ‘Is the train always this crowded?’ I blurted.
He looked up at me, confused: ‘Er, yes.’
‘I don’t usually travel at this time,’ I continued.
More confusion. I kept going, asking where he lived.
‘Have you lived there long?’
‘Yes, we’ve lived there a couple of years.’ He had a girlfriend. The guy opposite let out a snort.
March’s book, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, told me meeting a husband was a matter of dreaming, visualising, believing I was going to meet him, then creating a vision board with pictures depicting our life together.
It should have been fun. In fact, it felt scary even thinking about what kind of man I would like, because he wouldn’t like me back — why would he? He could do better, I’d be rejected and hurt, and what was the point? Better not to want it at all.
Clearly I had an issue with rejection. So, in April, I took on Jason Comely’s masochistic Rejection Therapy, the idea being to force yourself to be rejected by someone every day. The ultimate challenge presented itself as I was writing in a coffee shop in Soho.
A good-looking man walked in: beardy and intellectual-looking. He’d been at the same coffee shop a couple of months earlier.
She said that she realised that she ‘clearly had an issue with rejection’ (file photo)
Could I muster the strength to say: ‘Hello’? Even though I knew that crashing and burning would be a success — and that we had exchanged smiles previously — I stayed stuck to my seat. Comely says when you see someone you like, you must approach within three seconds. Any longer and fear starts to creep in.
Doesn’t it just. It took me four-and-a-half hours to work up the courage to walk to his table. He looked up. ‘Hello,’ I croaked.
He held out his hand to introduce himself. His name sounded Greek, so I asked him if he was Greek. He said: ‘Yes.’
‘Do you have plans for the evening?’ he asked.
‘No, not really . . . ’
‘Would you like to get a glass of wine?’
‘That would be nice,’ I said.
He led the way to a wine bar. Our glasses clinked. He looked into my eyes and I felt shy.
‘Well, this is an unexpected surprise,’ he said. We both laughed. Nervously. Before I knew it, he was leaning over to kiss me. At the end of our date, he told me his father was ill, so he had to return to Athens, but he’d like to meet again. Wow!
The Greek certainly hadn’t rejected me but, over the next few weeks, I found myself rejecting him. First, he messaged about coming over to see me in July, but I told him I was probably going to be away for most of the summer.
Then he invited me to join him at a friend’s wedding on a Greek island in August. ‘Just get enough for the airfare — everything else will be covered,’ he said.
So I did the only thing that a girl being asked on a date to a Greek island could do. I said: ‘No.’ I couldn’t afford the flight.
I must admit, I was also thinking about a man called Geoff I’d met at a F**k It! seminar in Italy some weeks before. (In June, I’d taken on F**k It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way by John C. Parkin — basically learning to chill out by saying . . . you guessed it . . . )
She said: ‘I’d never been in love before because I’d never let my guard down long enough’ (file photo)
Not that Geoff was thinking about me. Every time I went on Facebook, he was posting photos with random girls.
So perhaps it doesn’t come as a surprise that I was still single in February of the following year — when Paul and Rachel started badgering me about living by the rules of a dating book.
After scouring Amazon, I ordered Get The Guy, written by English dating expert Matthew Hussey. Conveniently, one of the best places to meet men, says Hussey, is coffee shops, where I spend half of my life (and money). ‘You could ask him to move away so that you could grab something off the shelf,’ suggests Hussey, ‘or ask him where he stands on the flat white versus cappuccino debate . . . ’
That got me thinking about The Greek. We’d been speaking every week and it felt wrong to go back into the dating world without telling him. By chance, I called him from the coffee shop in which we had met.
‘I wish I was there with you,’ he said. When I told him about the dating book, there was silence. Then he had to go.
Hussey says to meet more men, you need to, well, meet more men. He advises we start conversations everywhere: in parks, bookshops, at the gym. Ask people’s names. Compliment them. Smile.
Ask men about their books and gadgets — all men like to talk about their gadgets, he says.
Months of Rejection Therapy and fear-fighting had made me far less embarrassed. My problem was with men I fancied. Like the tall, black-haired cross between Heathcliff and Ryan Gosling walking on Hampstead Heath with a Labrador one morning.
Just look at him and smile, say hello! He got closer. Come on, do it. He got closer still. Smile, Marianne. Or look at him . . .
Instead, I diverted to a side path to avoid him. I was so scared, I practically threw myself into a bush. What progress had I made after a whole year? I was nearly 40, for God’s sake!
So I forced myself into the world of Tinder. By the end of my second day on the dating app, I had four dates lined up. First was the civil servant from Surrey. I’d spent three hours getting ready and was half a bottle of wine down (calms the nerves) when we met. But I knew the second I saw him that I did not want to put my lips anywhere near him. We had zero chemistry.
Wednesday night was coffee with a photographer just back from Iraq. He sounded interesting. He thought so, too. I spent two hours being run over by his voice. Thursday night was a guy who described himself as a ‘6 ft Scouser with a taste for the absurd’. Within 20 minutes of quite boring conversation, he said: ‘So are we going back to yours, then?’ Needless to say, I went home alone.
As for the fourth date with the charity worker on what happened to be Valentine’s Day? Well, he cancelled, then ‘unmatched’ me.
I began to question the whole thing. Do you really need to be with someone else to live a good, full life? I phoned Mum and, after a discussion of my disastrous dates, she announced: ‘I never thought you’d get married and have children.’
Marianne revealed how she talked to her mother during her dating struggles, and she said: ‘I never thought you’d get married and have children’ (file photo)
My first feeling was relief. The thought of marriage and kids did make me feel trapped. But then I felt a stab of hurt that even my mum didn’t think anyone would want to marry me.
It wasn’t until I attended an intense therapy week in March called the Hoffman Process that I recognised the root of the problem. First, I had to endure falling apart in front of 25 people in a country house in Sussex. ‘I’ve never been in love and nobody has ever been in love with me,’ I told them. ‘I’ve never had a proper relationship. Never got close . . . I don’t know what’s wrong with me . . .’ My voice and legs were shaking. ‘I–I–I don’t think anyone decent could ever love me.’
And there it was: the truth. I did not feel that anybody in their right mind would want me.
For eight days, we sat in circles and talked about our feelings. We bashed pillows with baseball bats while screaming to get rid of our anger. We cradled velvet cushions that were meant to represent our inner child. It was a weird week.
But I had a breakthrough. Turns out that it’s impossible to really love other people — or allow them to love you — if you’re busy hating yourself.
Not long after, I messaged The Greek. It was 11pm, so 1am in Athens. ‘Are you up?’
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Wanna chat?’ He Skyped me. Usually, I switched off the video when we talked, as I worried I looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy, but this time, I let my face pop up. ‘Oh, I can see you! Let me put my video on.’
And his face appeared, too. My heart flipped and I found it hard to look him in the eye. We chatted for a while, before I said, ‘I was just wondering . . . er, what do you think of me?’
He smiled. ‘When I met you, I could not believe it . . . the day before, I was talking to my friend about my ideal woman and then you came up to me and you were everything on my list,’ he said.
‘And that was just your appearance. Then we started talking and it got even better. I could not believe my luck.’
I ruined the moment by asking how many times he’d used that line. ‘Never. When you meet my friend, you can ask her,’ he said. ‘And what did you think of me?’
Silence. ‘That you were nice and clever and easy to talk to.’
‘I mean, I don’t know. I like you and I think about you,’ I added.
Silence. This was it. Vulnerability. Being so scared, I felt like I was going to vomit out of my heart. ‘I’m getting embarrassed,’ I said.
‘Don’t be embarrassed.’ He laughed. ‘I think about you, too. How did your dating go? Did you meet anyone?’
‘Not really. What about you — are you seeing anybody?
I was surprised by how happy I was at the news that the man I’d had one date with ten months earlier was not seeing anyone.
There was another silence, and it felt as if the silence between two people can be more intimate than anything we say with words. My heart hurt. I felt I could not catch my breath. It was too much.
So I used words again. ‘Where do you stand on the flat white versus cappuccino debate?’
‘Flat white,’ he replied.
Adapted from Help Me! One Woman’s Quest To Find Out If Self-Help Really Can Change Her Life by Marianne Power, published by Picador on September 6 at £14.99. © Marianne Power 2018. To order a copy for £11.99 (offer valid to August 25), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15.