My maternal grandfather was an alcoholic for much of his life. All families have their skeletons and I suppose that he was ours. I remember being 13 years old at his funeral, sat on a stiff bench next to my elder brother in a half empty church in Sussex, looking at my mother, sat two rows ahead, as she sobbed gently, her slight shoulders rising and falling in the November gloom.
It was the first time that I became fully aware of my mother as more than a caregiver, an assumed unbreakable presence. I saw her then for the multi-faceted woman and person that she was; who possessed an entire back-story full of regular and irregular triumphs and disasters before I came along. It was to shape me, and my view of women quite profoundly.
Never the loudest voice in the room, my mum was the first person to show me strength in quiet restraint and self-possession. It can often be the most insecure who shout the loudest I find.
I wanted to write about dating a strong woman, but as a particularly nervous and self-aware man I break out into a cold sweat over the thought of writing about my love life, coupled with the fact my relationships thus far can essentially be summed up by a series of fleeting, nomadic exchanges, punctuated by occasional flickers of infatuation that inevitably burn out as quickly as they are lit...This isn't the best start, is it?
Typically I’m attracted to unavailable women - either the emotionally distant or in a relationship kind. Sometimes, if I’m on a really hot streak, it’ll be both. So I don’t exactly have the anecdotal experience of being in a relationship with someone strong.
But what I hope to contribute to the conversation - as a nervous, white middle class male - is a snapshot of a quietly strong woman, away from the deodorant adverts and flimsy corporate hashtags. I first glimpsed it with my mother, confronting her own tragedy with grace and resilience. A levelheaded stoicism that I find is one of the most appealing qualities in people in general, not just women.
It’s easy to become swept away with hyperbole and theatrics when discussing the subject of being strong. Brands advertise women kicking ass, staying out all night and climbing mountains as the de facto ‘strong’ model to aspire to, but I think what the strong women in my life have shown me over the years is that strength isn’t defined by grand gestures.
There is merit in subtlety and working through challenging times, not in silence, but without a flashing (hypothetical) neon sign that says ‘I am strong, look at me, look at how strong I am.’
Beyoncé sells out 100,000-seater arenas in nine seconds and Ronda Rousey does a particularly wonderful job at punching people in the face for a living, but I think there’s something equally impressive about the quiet girl in the corner with a backstory, who doesn’t really need your validation or approval, because she knows what she’s about and is content and confident enough to not have to constantly promote it.
The kind of strong woman that appeals to me is comfortable both in silence and in social situations. We could sit and read and be in each other’s company without words, while also being able to go to parties, family events and whatever else (edgy pop-ups in Peckham…probably); where she could chat and mingle, and feel secure enough to not have to dominate conversations.
She has close friends, but is happy to spend time with yours. You can go out individually and feel completely relaxed, there’s no need to check in or worry. Meet at the end of the night? Maybe, but it’s fine if you don’t.
When dating a strong woman you should expect someone who is brave enough to confront pitfalls with compassion and good humour, while still being communicative enough to not alienate you from their problems. You might not get a text every day, though.
And also expect someone who can go drink for drink with you and who doesn’t mind choosing where to go for dinner sometimes.
That’s always nice.
Follow Finlay on Twitter @finlayrenwick