Today I am happy to share the Chouett stage with Rachel McIntyre, author of “Me & Mr J” and also of the soon to be released “The #1 Rule For Girls”.
The post that you’re about to read stroke a cord with me and I am really happy I get to share it. The great thing about this post is that most of us will recognise ourselves in it and that is true regardless of you being male or female. The sad thing about this post, is that again we will see ourselves in it, but hopefully we have and will still learn to recognise those signs and be brave enough to get ourselves out of toxic relationships.
Rachel McIntyre, in her own words.
The #1 Rule for Girls
“But I love him”
Those four little words give me a big, bad feeling because the first thing my mind catches on isn’t love, it’s but. And, more specifically, the huge scary iceberg hidden below those three letters.
He calls me names, he makes me feel small, he makes fun of me, he criticises my clothes, he checks up on me all the time, he hates my friends….But I love him.
I’ve heard it on innumerable occasions from friends, family and students when I was a teacher. I’ve even said it myself (thankfully not for a good few years) and it’s this sinister combination of words that partly inspired The #1 Rule for Girls.
Lots of things were going through my mind as I wrote the characters of Daisy and Toby, but it was a specific incident from a college canteen that triggered the storyline. A very self-confident, together girl that I knew had started seeing one of the rugby team (I know many lovely rugby players, this is not stereotyping!).
One day, I was walking through the canteen when he called her across the room, using a not-very-flattering term which had his cronies in hysterics. Totally without protest, this sorted, switched-on, bright girl did as she was told. Adult me was shocked, but I suspect teenage me would have done the same.
It set me thinking about what we put up with when we think we’re in love. I sincerely hope I’m an exception to the norm here, but I let myself be treated appallingly when I was younger. Sometimes because I didn’t have the courage or self-confidence to stand up for myself; sometimes because I was just desperate to keep someone happy, even if that someone was a no-good control freak.
Now I recognise it was because my early years were spent witnessing that cycle of abuse/forgiveness. I grew up with that as my version of normal. Well into my twenties, I genuinely did not know how equal relationships worked and if I met anyone nice, I panicked. Part of Daisy’s character was inspired by me re-examining that period in my life.
In The #1 Rule for Girls, Daisy has a happy background with soulmates for parents, but she’s emotionally vulnerable after splitting up with her forever boyfriend, on the rebound and in a state of turmoil. She’s started a new college, away from her friends and when she meets Toby, she gets swept up into a relationship she’s not ready for and that isn’t good for her.
In the book, I wanted to show how easy it is to get trapped into that cycle of forgiving bad behaviour. How you can be so desperate to make things work, that you ignore the controlling behaviour; you believe it’s because you did something wrong; you chalk the manipulation up to teething troubles. How, if you’re a nice person, you can be too ready to give a second chance.
From the outside, red flags are easy to spot but when you’re in the centre of a controlling relationship, other issues can cloud your view and it can be so, so hard to give up on an emotional investment without giving it one more chance. That’s why Daisy is quick to criticise her friend Beth’s bad boyfriend choices, but deaf to the bellowed warnings she gets in return about Toby.
I suppose that’s at the heart of The #1 Rule for Girls. The world and her dog can tell you you’re being manipulated, but if you refuse to see it, there’s nothing anyone can do. Friends can advise and support, but the decision to end a destructive relationship has to be one you make on your own. That’s Daisy’s journey in the book.
None of this makes the book sound like a comedy, but in many ways it is. Weird, I know. I’ve always been fanatical about comedy, not particularly in books or films but live or TV series. From school, university and onwards, I was entirely obsessed by TV and stage comedy: sitcoms, sketch shows, stand-up… I’ve always used humour as a coping strategy and I think that comes through in the characters I create.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to the couple in the canteen, she dumped him shortly afterwards. I’m sure he learned a valuable lesson.
Thank you Rachel for giving us a little insight in “The #1 Rule For Girls”.