My friend is a jelly-fisher

One of my best friends came to stay this weekend. I’ve realised she’s a jelly-fisher!

The ‘jelly-fisher’ concept was introduced in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

In the film, they say talking to a jellyfisher is like swimming in the sea, and being stung repeatedly by enormous jellyfish.

But actually, in the book, that’s not quite what ‘jelly-fisher’ meant. It’s actually much more subtle than that.

“Evening with Rebecca is like swimming in sea with jellyfish in: all going along perfectly pleasantly then suddenly get painful lashing, destroying confidence at stroke. Trouble is, Rebecca’s stings are aimed so subtly at one’s Achilles’ heels.”

It’s not just a vicious onslaught, like they describe it in the film. In a way, that would be less of a problem, because you’d just avoid someone like that, and brace yourself during brief interactions. It’s much worse – a friend with whom it’s generally fine and nice, but then, hidden underneath the surface, every so often there’s an unexpected sting that catches you by surprise.

This is a friend, Faith, I’ve had since secondary school, when we were about 14. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that, every so often, she says the odd, surprisingly mean thing. I thought at first that it was just a tact-blindspot, but now I’m starting to wonder if it’s less of an accident.

A while ago, I wrote about how I went on holiday with Faith, her husband and son, and a big group of other people. Her brother and his friends went mountain biking in the Alps, and we just went along to enjoy the summer mountains.

One of the people in the group was a 20-year-old lad, and there ended up being a bit of chemistry between him and me, although nothing happened.

A few months later, when Faith came to see me, several hours into the visit I asked if she knew how the 20-year-old was.

Faith said, “I was talking to my sister-in-law about that actually. She said you sound really desperate and should get with someone you’re own age.”

I was stunned.

“Oh!” I replied. “I don’t like to think of your family thinking I’m desperate!” I added, giving her an invitation to backtrack.

She sort of shrugged, and said, “well, I suppose at least you didn’t get off with him in the end.”

Which would have been fine, as we’re both single, consenting adults.

When I discussed this with another friend, she said, “and what does her sister-in-law think about the fact that Faith had sex with someone up a fire escape, on your birthday? Despite being married with a kid?”

I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s true. A couple of years ago, I went clubbing with some friends on my birthday. At the end of the night, Faith disappeared with one of my other friends, who she’d just met, and it transpired they’d been having sex on a fire escape.

We had an Uber waiting at the time, which was annoying.

We’ve been friends since secondary school. Towards the end, we had a friendship group of about 6 of us, and Faith and were the only girls – the rest were lads. I think at first, there was a bit of rivalry between us. We both went out with two guys in our group who were identical twins, but she went out of my twin first, before moving on to the other twin. At first, I felt closer to the guys in the group, but then when my twin broke up with me, she was really supportive and we became genuine friends.

When we were 16, she was definitely the top dog. She was much cooler than me. We worked quite a lot, waitressing, babysitting and things, but she worked more regular hours than me, so she had more money. We’d go out clubbing and she’d pay for the taxi home.

She went to the local college, whereas I stayed in the 6th form of my school, which was less cool. She took drugs, whereas I was quite pious back then, and I think boys probably fancied her more.

When we were at University, we were in different parts of England, and wrote handwritten letters to each other (until we discovered MSN.) We would go and stay with each other, every so often. I think we’ve always had a lot of fun when we’re together.

She’s always been there for me when I’ve needed her, as well. Breakups, deaths, problems at work – I can’t think of a time I’ve ever needed her and she wasn’t there.

On my darkest day, about 6 months after Balthazar died, I reached the very edge and almost felt like I couldn’t go on anymore, and I called her, in floods of tears.

“I can’t understand what you’re saying,” she said, and then drove for an hour and a half to check I was OK.

And it’s a two-way thing – I’ve been there for her too. More recently, it’s probably been a bit more in that direction, as her marriage has ended and it’s been messy. She’s been overwhelmingly relieved, as she had been talking about divorcing him for years, whereas I think he’s been heartbroken. (There are some absolutely astonishing stories about things that have gone on, but I don’t want to be a massive gossip. OK, let’s just say she had two affairs. With guys she met on a dating app for married people who want to have affairs. And her husband read some of the sex messages she sent her other men, over her shoulder. When they were at a wedding together.)

(OK. One more thing, because I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days, after she told me. I knew she and her husband had some sexual difficulties, but shortly before they split up, we were talking about it and she said, “and of course, he has trouble ejaculating, because he has another man’s ball.”

“Sorry, what was the last bit?” I asked.

“Oh, haven’t I said? When he was little, his testicles got twisted and he had to have one removed, and now he has another man’s ball. And when we have sex, he thinks about that and has trouble coming.”

“Another man’s ball? Are you sure that’s a thing? I don’t think that’s a thing.”

“Well, his Mum told him they had to take him to hospital when he was little because his testicles got twisted, and they gave him another man’s ball.”

I googled it, and it only took about one minute to confirm that THAT’S NOT A THING.

What I think must have happened, is his testicles really did get twisted when he was little, and he really did go to hospital, but they must’ve not needed to remove the injured testicle after all, as he still seemed to have two.

I think his mother must’ve been told what happened and not properly listened, (which would be absolutely on-brand behaviour for her) and she must’ve got her wires crossed and wrongly told him he had been given another man’s testicle.

So, all this time, he’s completely unnecessarily had all these sexual hang-ups about his rogue testicle.

That day, I had urged Faith to go home and share the good news with him, but gently and carefully, as it could be a shock. But they ended up splitting up instead.)

Anyway, back to Faith.

The thing is, I think she gets on better with me when I’m going through a difficult time.

I think when things are going well for me, and things are more difficult for her, that’s when I get jelly-fished.

When we were in France on holiday, I was footloose and fancy-free, and things were going badly with her husband, maybe that’s why she felt the need to feed back that I was ‘desperate’.

This time, she asked if she and her 5-year-old son could come to stay with me in London.

I was kind of worried about it, partly because her son was a bit of shitbag when we were in France (one night he had such a major tantrum, some neighbours called the police. Another day, in a restaurant, he got mad and threw and smashed a glass because of something about colouring pencils.)

My flat is probably not that child-friendly, as I have quite a lot of weird furniture, some of which I’ve made. I was a bit worried it would get trashed.

A couple of hours after they arrived, I thought he seemed a lot better than when we were in France. I thought it was sweet that he was fascinated by looking out the window and watching London buses go past, down on the street below.

I was pissed off though, that he kept picking the varnish of the edge of my table (I bought a cheap table from Ikea, about 10 years ago, and covered it with pictures and articles from some 1950s magazines, which Balthazar found in his grandmother’s loft, and then I varnished it with several layers of varnish. It’s quite battered now, and the varnish has started coming off the edges. And now they’re a lot worse.)

I also have a purple leather chair which I love, which did have a tiny hole in the leather. And how that hole is about 10 times bigger.

Andrew came around, after they’d been here for an hour or so. It was his first time meeting Faith. We had just been talking about the fact Andrew is a policeman.

When he came through the front door, Faith’s boy, R, run up to him and said, “You’re a fire-fighter! Or… a policeman!” which I thought was quite cute.

There was a while when we were all earnestly reading Mr Men books, then we played some games. Faith’s son had a bit of a meltdown when he was putting the jenga bricks away.

When Faith was putting him to bed, I turned to Andrew and was about to say, “he actually isn’t that badly behaved this time, is he!”

But Andrew spoke before me, and said, “I am NOT feeling broody. Maybe I don’t want children, actually.”

Andrew stayed for a while, and the three of us chatted more, but then he went home.

Faith and I stayed up and shared a bottle of wine, and I was eager to hear her opinion about Andrew.

“Yeah, he seems nice,” she said.

“Yeah, but what did you THINK?!” I reiterated.

“Yeah!”

I realised afterwards, that all of my other friends had been really enthusiastic about Andrew. Because of my bad luck with loving people who were dead, married or abusive, then being single and hoping to meet someone for ages, everyone has seemed pretty pleased for me, about Andrew. Even (especially) wonderful strangers on the internet.

Then, when they’ve met him, people have been even more enthusiastic.

Several of my friends have said, “I love him!” after meeting him.

He is quite quiet and unassuming, and I know it’s impossible to be everyone’s cup of tea, but he has seemed to be a bit of a crowd-pleaser so far.

As the evening went on, and then the following evening, I realised that whenever I said anything nice or positive about Andrew, I got a bit of a lukewarm reaction. However, when I talked about minor things that annoy me about him, or problems we’d resolved, Faith’s reactions were a lot more enthusiastic and emphatic.

“He doesn’t like olives! He kind of has the tastes of an 8-year-old,” I said, as we were eating dinner.

“Oh, that is so annoying! I hate it when people won’t try new things!” She said heartily.

“I’m really happy with him, though,” I said, later on.

“Cool.”

I realised the same thing happened with work. When I was talking about a new job I was applying for, or things that had gone well at work, I felt like the reaction was muted. But when she asked about my novel, and I said I had sent it to a few agents but not had any luck, I felt like she enjoyed that conversation a lot more.

The thing that really stuck in my craw, which is probably me being oversensitive, happened on Monday morning, when I was getting ready for work.

I’m really not a morning person, so I was already unreasonably annoyed that it was Monday, and that R had burst into my bedroom when I was lying in bed in a towel, messing around on my phone and procrastinating from starting the day.

Then I came into the kitchen and Faith said, “R wanted some of your cereal, so I hope you don’t mind we opened a new packet.”

“It’s fine,” I said, through Monday morning gritted teeth, slightly annoyed as there was already another packet open in the cupboard, but knowing it wasn’t really important.

Faith then said, “R was so funny, he said, ‘Does Dater live here on her own? That is so sad. That is so, so sad.'”

I actually think it’s quite sweet that he’s thinking about something like that, but I also found this a bit of a kick in the teeth. I wouldn’t have minded so much if I’d just overheard him say it, but I found it unnecessary that Faith fed it back to me.

As someone who has been acutely aware of being alone in the world, when it’s seemed like all my peers are marrying off and having babies, I felt a bit pissed off to be reminded how sad it is that I’m living here on my own.

Most of the time, I enjoy my own company and being independent. I’m glad I can have things exactly as I like, in my flat, and I’m proud I’ve done it on my own. But sometimes, when I’m ill or need a hand with some DIY, on a really bad day, I’ll wonder what I did wrong to end up I’m struggling on my own.

And Faith totally knows this. Because she’s the person I often tell.

I felt a bit bruised by the time they left.

I know she’s going through a shit time, and I know there are times I’ve felt a bit jealous of other friends, when something wonderful happens for them and a horrible part of me thinks when will it be me?

But I just feel a bit disappointed she hasn’t been more happy for me about Andrew, or more encouraging about not giving up yet, with my novel.

(Image: Pexels)

10 thoughts on “My friend is a jelly-fisher

  1. OOh so much to say about this post. I agree with G, definitely someone who is insecure and feeds of your distress or the power imbalance, with you on the under side. This doesn’t mean she’s a bad person, but she is someone who you need to be wary of.
    First of all, pooh to her comment about being desperate by asking after someone you fancied. Yes sour grapes on behalf of the sister in law, but most definitely a venomous thing to repeat to you. Totally unnecessary.
    Secondly, her kid sounds like a brat. Absolutely vile. Don’t let that influence Andrew one bit. Easy to judge from afar I know, but I AM a parent of two boys and I do recognise poor or weak parenting when I see it – or at the very least, a troubled child. It was rude of him to do those things to your furniture, to burst into your room and his behaviour that you described in France sounds like brat unchecked. And how dare a 5 year old pass judgement n your life! Possibly he didn’t say it at all but it was your jellyfish friend trying to bring you down because she was feeling less confident or unhappy.
    As for the comment about agents – don’t ever base your self-esteem or judge your writing based on the publishing game. I hope you know what a talented writer you are, and while I want to see you excel in having a dream come true, ‘don’t let the turkeys get you down’ – as used to be a favourite greeting card from the 80s. Happy to brainstorm via email about agents and publishers and pitches and synopses and drafts etc etc. I have two books on the go and have lived with the woeful realities of the mainstream publishing world for a very long time.
    About your friendship with Jellyfish, go carefully and mindfully. I suggest small doses and protecting yourself. Personally I think life’s too short… but it’s your life not mine. Hugs x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Re my boys – not saying they are perfect in any way, but only that you get to parent your own child the way you want to, and you won’t be raising your friend’s child! I mentioned mine more in the sense of ‘I know what I’m talking about because I have been there’.
    As for agents – well… in Australia we only have about 12-15 genuine literary agents and they are a diminishing bunch. Most of them have closed books. If their books are open there is heaps of advice about targeting your pitch/synopsis and letter just right to reach someone who is likely to have a modicum of interest in your topic. The actual art of the synopsis/pitch and letter is highly contested and shrouded in mystery, since every agent likes it their way! I suggest joining (if you haven’t already) a writerly organisation near you and doing a workshop or course of two purely about those things. Don’t burn your bridges because if you haven’t pitched it right, or you end up doing a substantial re-write, you won’t be able to submit to them again. How many drafts have you done and have you had a manuscript assessment done? Happy to take this off the page to email if you like 🙂

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  3. Phrase of the week – “rogue testicle”!! I keep picturing a testicle running around with an eye patch & sword doing pirate things.
    And that friend Faith that seems to enjoy your struggles more than your successes – I have to wonder how good a friend she really is. Might be worth re-evaluating that relationship. Who needs friends that just want to bring you down?

    Liked by 1 person

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