On what some might call the most romantic day of the year, Mr. Brownsuit got down on one knee and proposed to Natalie in a barely lit Chinese restaurant on Baker Street back in 2002. The evening was filled with budget talk and b*tching from Mr. Brownsuit. Romance had gone out the window, and Natalie was about to go too.
She couldn’t say no to a public proposal on Valentine’s Day, could she?
No, she couldn’t. So Natalie said yes, only to break off the engagement 14 months later. “I was very naïve about relationships,” Natalie says. “I felt you should say yes even when you want to say no. I’d somehow gotten the lesson that if someone asks you to marry them, you should say yes.”
Since the time of her not so fairytale proposal, she’s discovered that she’s not the only one to get that lesson.
Now, Natalie Lue is 33 and she’s gone through more dodgy dates than anyone would care to imagine. She’s something of a relationship expert for anyone who has ever been emotionally unavailable or had low self-esteem.
By sharing her dating woes turned into wisdom, she hopes to empower women with her blog, Baggage Reclaim. Her plan looks like it’s working. Readers leave hundreds of comments on her blog posts and Facebook page, thanking Natalie for giving practical dating advice and sharing stories of their own.
Caroline Worthington, from Leyland, Lancashire, England, comments on her Facebook page, “If I’ve learned anything from this site, it’s never to compromise who you are for anyone. Be authentic, keep your boundaries and values intact and walk away if anyone stomps all over them.”
All the “assclowns” and “Mr. Unavailables,” as Natalie calls them, wouldn’t seem to stand a chance against her now.
Naïve Natalie is no more.
Looking back, she calls the big V-Day event of 2002 her “Mickey Mouse engagement” to Mr. Brownsuit (a name given to him by her readers for wearing brown from head to toe, which is “something black folk really should not do if they don’t want to look like a big piece of poo,” Natalie wrote in her original blog, When a Woman’s Fed Up.)
Last year, on Valentine’s Day, she reflected back to the dreadful date six years before in a blog post called “V-Day Memories: The One Where I Got Engaged & Then Contemplated Climbing Out the Window.”
Take it from Natalie, being single isn’t the worst thing that could happen on Valentine’s Day.
Of late, holidays have been better for her. On Christmas Day, she was surprised with a special gift from her boyfriend of five years – he proposed while their two daughters were opening their gifts.
This was a huge step up from the time when she was 22 and her then boyfriend gave her clear-heeled stripper shoes for Christmas…and then insisted that she wear them out to the pub.
That was her worst gift ever. What about her worst date?
“That’s easy,” she says. “I was set up with a friend of a friend. He took me out to eat somewhere in a shady part of London and started being rude at the dinner table, saying how he likes the ‘three-B’s’ – black, big boobs, and a booty – and two out of three isn’t bad.”
Like any woman with an ounce of dignity would do, Natalie told him to take her home. In the car, she watched him pull out a joint and realized he’d been stoned the whole time. Welcome to Natalie’s worst date ever.
After going through a series of bad dates and relationships, Natalie slowly started to realize that maybe it wasn’t the men that were her problem. Maybe it was her.
That’s something no one ever wants to think, let alone admit. But she’s admitting it now: “I spent my teens and twenties looking for love in all the wrong places. I was almost always in a relationship or looking to be in one.”
Sound familiar to anyone?
Natalie says, “No matter where I travelled in the world, no matter what relationship I was in, no matter who or what I blamed for how I felt or for the things that happened, I was the only common denominator.”
The guy who brought Natalie to her moment of breakthrough wasn’t Mr. Brownsuit, worst gift ever guy, or Mr. Booty. It was a “nice guy” that Natalie wasn’t interested in.
“There were many times that should have been turning points including the time I was left by an ex to take the tube home on my own after having a panic attack, but actually, it was one very calm, ambiguous relationship that was the turning point,” Natalie says.
She had just turned 28, and for the first time ever, she ended things with a guy without any fanfare, avoidance or big drama. After five months with him, she noticed she was in a barely-there relationship that she describes as being unbelievably ambiguous, filled with infrequent contact and time spent together.
So after overhearing him play down their “relationship” to a waiter on her 28th birthday, Natalie knew she had to end it.
She called him up and said whatever they had clearly wasn’t going anywhere before asking, “What is it about me that makes you think I’m the type of woman that would be okay with an arrangement like this?”
Natalie didn’t need his answer. Suddenly, she realized, “I had been okay with it and had gone along with it just as ambiguously as he did, and that’s why he thought I was that type of woman.”
In June 2004, she describes going out on a “dodgy but very funny date with PC Plod.” He was a “nice guy.” And that was a problem. Natalie wasn’t interested. Fueled by her frustration, she decided to write about it. She started her first blog, When a Woman’s Fed Up, writing under the pseudonym NML, and she’s been blogging ever since.
“One of the best things I’ve ever done is write my original personal blog and then Baggage Reclaim – it forced me to look at myself and recognize the disconnect between my thoughts and actions,” Natalie says.
She launched Baggage Reclaim in September 2005 and stopped being anonymous in early 2006, but Natalie still signs her blog Natalie Lue/NML since she used her pen name for nearly two years.
Now, at least once a week, she takes her beaten up, but well-loved, 13-inch Macbook computer to an Italian café that’s within walking distance of her house and works from there, writing about dating and relationships. She’s an expert, a title she’s earned through years of pain and tears – and that’s exactly what she wants to save other women from doing.
Aside from the occasional trips into central London, where she’ll work from a Starbucks, and her minutes walk to the Italian café, most days Natalie works from home, a house in Surrey, England that she shares with her fiancé and their two daughters, Nia and Saria, ages 1 and 3. On the days Natalie has to get Saria ready for preschool, she can be found approving comments for Baggage Reclaim and sipping on a cuppa tea, most likely her favorite – English breakfast tea with medium milk and two sugars.
The guy drama is gone, but her life is still busy between planning a wedding, being a mum of two, and running a business. Plus, she has two eBooks out: The No Contact Rule and Mr. Unavailable and the Fallback Girl, which is planned to be in print soon.
Lately, Natalie has been taking her online presence and personality into public. Back in November she held her first workshops ever in London, where she expanded on the concepts found in her eBooks and blogs. Natalie says, “The sense of sisterhood was inspiring.” So inspiring that she recently held another workshop in New York City and more workshops in other locations are already in progress.
“The same wonderful thing that happens to people when they discover my site, happens when you’re together in a room,” Natalie says. “You get validation that it’s not your imagination. You’re not going crazy. It’s not ‘unique’ and you haven’t ‘made’ them [the guys] this way.”
Natalie says the workshops operate a lot like the online conversations that she and her readers have with each other on Facebook and on the Baggage Reclaim site. Back-and-forth comments like this are common:
Alison Ho: “Audrey, I know he would’ve kept everything a secret and would’ve kept me hanging on, whilst he decided which girl he ‘liked more.’ I just had a wee panic the other day and hopefully won’t have any more. Hopefully he’ll respect me enough not to flaunt this new girl in front of me…”
Audrey Mulcahy, a frequent commenter, replies: “Alison, I’ve had guys string me along in the past and it’s one of the worst feelings in the world. And while they were stringing me along, my life was on pause, despite my best tries not to do that. If he’s a total assclown, he’ll possibly flaunt her in front of you and if he does that, he is shining a light on who he is and it’s not a good light.”
Natalie tries to respond to as many comments and questions as she can, but sometimes the other newly empowered women need to step in.
So go ahead, feel free to visit Natalie’s blog or Facebook page. Sit down, grab a cuppa tea, and take a load off. Ditch those dodgy dating habits and rediscover what matters to you.
Collegiettes™, what was your worst date ever? How about the worst gift? How many bad date anecdotes do you have? How much relationship baggage do you need to get rid of?