Pressure can induce headaches, sinus pain, foggy tension behind the eyes. A glass of water and a painkiller can sweep that away, but there's another type of pressure which is utterly relentless: the pressure to get a boyfriend.
Upon hearing that you're single, well-meaning women cock their heads and pat your arm. I shrug and laugh and say I'm fine on my own, then furiously hum I Am A Rock under my breath. I go home and read biographies of gutsy, tough women, of Martha Gellhorn and Rebecca West. I don't need these smug females patting me. I can ignore the pressure.
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But then, why am I on a dating site if I am not feeling it? Why do I dread Hogmanay?
Even when I was a child there was pressure to have a boyfriend. I remember a skinny, rabbit-toothed boy called Lee bullying his way round all the desks in my first year English class to ask the girls if they were a VL.
'Urr ye a VL? Urr ye but? Bet ye pure urr.' He'd smirk and elbow his pals. 'Bet she is!'
Apparently, this meant Virgin Lips and if you hadn't been kissed then you were a freak and you were a weirdo and you were ugly. You were a pure VL, by the way.
The only way to get rid of the hideous taint of being a pure VL was to arrange - through a complex series of whispers and negotiations - to meet a boy in the lane at lunchtime. Then you'd be free of the stigma.
(I'm only 11, I wanted to shout, but thought it best not to draw attention to oneself, knowing that one was a pure VL.)
But I never wanted to bump chins with these acne-smeared boys. The idea of skulking behind a tree, ten minutes before the bell goes, keeking out to see him dawdle down the lane, finishing his pickled onion Monster Munch, crumpling the packet, seeing him wipe his hands on his anorak and then lean in...
Oh yuck! I never wanted it. I went through school having crushes on my teachers, not the horrible boys who push and shove and hook anoraks over their heads to pretend they're aeroplanes.
So, time went past and I never kissed a boy. At first, I was proud that I had my mind on higher things and never had to embarrass myself behind a tree, but when I got to 14 I began to feel a bit self-conscious. Why has no-one kissed me? When I reached 16 I was embarrassed. People get married at 16 and I've not even been kissed! I got to 17 and was stricken with humiliation. Never been kissed. I felt all my confidence wilt and curl up inside my chest. When I was 18 - and still a pure VL - I decided there had to be something wrong with me and I gave up. I resigned myself to being weird. I must be hideous and just so damn used to the sight of my face that I can't see the ugliness. I used to search my features for it, to find the thing that was wrong with me. I'd stare hard into the mirror, look away casually, and then glance back quickly to catch myself out. Where is the ugliness? What is wrong with me?
There was nothing wrong with me. I just hadn't met anyone I liked. There was no-one I particularly wanted to kiss and yet I felt like a deformed and disgusting freak just because no daft boy had pressed his mouth against mine.
I couldn't cope with the pressure. Instead of shrugging it off and making a joke, I died of shame. I went quiet. I stayed in.
And where does this terrible pressure come from? Why can't we leave our young girls alone, to find their way and develop at their own pace?
It comes from well-meaning but smug women who want everyone paired off and settled down. Get yourself a man, hen. And it comes from the media who only present a certain type of female: the fake-tanned, stencil-browed slapper. And it springs from social media, too. There are no Facebook updates showing your friends quietly thinking - or quietly crying. Instead we're exposed, like the sickest radiation, to bimbos and airheads, to the whistling emptiness of the spray-tanned, Heat-reading moron. They're the ubiquitous ones. They're the ones who litter your Facebook and Twitter with 'omg babes!!! Hey hun howz u? I was like SOOOOOO drunk.' They saturate social media where the photo-shopped philistine Kim Kardashian has 9m followers. The blind are leading the blind.
This pressure on girls will build and swell until we finally see the emperor has no clothes.
The reason I snarl and rage and feel such dripping contempt for these people is that I bowed down to them. I went through my teenage years feeling sick and ugly just because I'd never been kissed. I dreaded the chat in work on a Sunday about what we all did last night. I wasn't strong enough to admit I had stayed in and read Jane Eyre so I had answers prepared. If anyone ever asked me, I'd grin and say 'oh we went to this Irish pub.' I don't know why that was my rehearsed answer. Maybe because it strikes the right tone: I'm not claiming to be hardcore, dancing till 3am in a club, I'm just enjoying the easy banter in a cheery Irish pub.
If I ever have a daughter I hope she has some steel in her blood so she can do what I never managed to do and laugh in the face of our philistine culture and just - say it - just be herself. If she wants to hang around the Bronte Parsonage on a Saturday instead of in a thumping nightclub then I hope she does it, and that she tells the chattering females exactly what she did with her weekend. She doesn't exist and maybe she never will but, daughter, please be braver than me because life is terrifyingly short.
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