As I was reading Everything I know about
parties, dates, friends, jobs, love, a memoir by Dolly Alderton, I found myself wondering how on earth I could find a book about the love life or lack thereof of a twenty-something single woman to be so fascinating. Just because the author is several generations younger than me, lives in the U.K., has little in common with me, and represents a mindset entirely different from my own, there is still so much that is rich and relatable in her story. It is a deliciously fun, quick summer read.
I first came across the name of best-selling author Dolly Alderton while reading RED, a British magazine I subscribe to online. Alderton is a frequent contributor and her articles have always been well-written, funny, and insightful. She’s like a real-life Bridget Jones. When I learned that she had written a memoir, I thought it might be worth reading.
To say Alderton’s life so far has been colourful would be an understatement. Growing up in an ordinary family in the suburbs of London, that same ordinariness was the launching pad for a life of risk and rebellion. Attending a girls-only school where wearing uniforms and conforming were the order of the day, Alderton went on a tear when she left to attend university in Essex and later London for post-graduate studies in journalism.
Freed from parental and institutional controls, Alderton and her friends embraced an independent lifestyle free of conformity, responsibility or regard for consequences. They rented seedy flats together, partied constantly, and romanced anyone and everyone who looked their way. At least most of them did. Some friends managed to settle into serious relationships, get married and even have babies. Except for Dolly Alderton.
As she turns thirty, Alderton examines her life so far and what she sees is something we can all relate to and understand because her story is in fact not unlike our own, however different our partying and romancing history may have been. We eventually grow up. That means we take stock as we enter a new decade and reevaluate where we’re headed. We look at the mistakes we have made, the friends we have, the importance of jobs in our lives, and we consider the true definition of love in our lives.
One of the strongest relationships in Alderton’s life is her friendship with her school friend, Farly. Her friendships with her tight group of young women are strong and long-lasting. They have become her benchmark and her compass. This important realization will resonate with baby boomer women who now have decades of experience in the art of friendship. We get it. We understand that our relationships with our girlfriends have often lasted longer than some of our marriages, and survived divorces, job changes, children, heartbreak, and happiness.
As she mourns the end of her twenties and all its inherent crises, bad decisions, and turmoil, she struggles to understand that there is so much ahead that will be even better, that being young is not the last word in being happy and successful, whatever that may include. As a boomer, I wanted to scream at her, “You’re so young! It just gets better” but I know that at that age you do not understand that the best really is yet to come. Getting drunk and partying every night with abandon is not in fact the best time of life.
Despite her naivety and disillusionment, Alderton had accumulated a nice chunk of wisdom by the time she wrote this book. She mourns the changes brought on by friends getting married and having babies. “These gaps in each other’s lives slowly but surely form a gap in the middle of your friendship. . . I’ll get my buddy back for every sixth summer, unless she has a baby in which case I’ll get my road trip in eighteen years’ time. Everything will change.” Some of us have been there when friends are starting families when we’re not. But we do eventually come back together.
I clearly remember my friends having babies and our once gossipy telephone conversations being interrupted by whining children or get-togethers being dampened by having to watch our language. We adjust. We survive. Those of us who do not have children take a break from those who do until the kids are older or have finally left home and are off the payroll.
Her chapter on being invited to a baby shower is hilarious. The invitation to the event is several pages long and includes such cautions as “We will begin the embarrassing, time-consuming, and infantile games promptly at 14:00.” She warns about “pass the breast pump” and reassures that you do not have to be lactating to participate. “To the hippies, freelancers, unemployed, and those who work in media, the arts, or creative industries . . no one wants your homemade shit . . . there are cashmere hats for as little as £80, so there’s no excuse for your attempts at knitting. No one will find it cute.” Or, “There will be a trained PTSD therapist on site for the childless women as well as a manicurist for everyone else. We’re hoping to make all her friends without children feel alienated and all her friends with children feel inadequate.” How eloquent.
There’s a chapter titled “Everything I Knew About Love at Twenty-Five”. Naturally, she has learned a thing or two by that age, such as, “Casual sex is rarely good,” and in that same vein, “Fake orgasms will make you feel guilty and terrible and they’re unfair on the guy. Use them sparsely.” And she’s just getting started.
Boomers will appreciate her references to music as she is soothed by listening to Joni Mitchell, Rod Stewart and Marvin Gaye. That just proves that our boomer generation really did have the best music after all!
Alderton has an impressive repertoire of experiences under her belt and her reminiscences will remind all of us boomers how lucky we are that it’s all behind us now and the best time of life is being older. As she enters her thirties she questions whether this is “a demise in the relishing of life or an increase in simply tolerating it.” We certainly know the answer to that one but we’re keeping it a secret so we won’t spoil her fun.
Now that I am well into my seventies, I had fun comparing memories of my own life and attitudes when I was in my twenties during the swinging sixties and seventies with Dolly Alderton’s in the naughty aughts. We’re so different but so similar despite being born generations apart. I’ll be following her for as long as I can to see how she survives her thirties, forties, and thereafter. Her writing is brilliant, honest, and at times, hilarious. Her book confirmed so much of what I have already learned and she is still learning. If you liked Bridget Jones (and who didn’t?), you’ll enjoy reading Everything I know about love by Dolly Alderton.
To order a copy of her book on Kindle or delivered to your door from Amazon, click here. (Disclosure: You will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thank you.)