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Lucy Mangan on The Curse of Lovely

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"There is a book that has just been published called The Curse Of Lovely (£12.99; Piatkus Books). Apparently it’s about how to stop being a well-meaning doormat. It’s by a woman called Jacqui Marson and I haven’t read it.

This is partly because it’s called The Curse Of Lovely, a title so appalling that I tried to gnaw my own head off from the inside out as I typed it, and partly because I know that reading it will only make me feel bad. Mainly about the fact that I don’t feel worse.

I’ve known for many years that I am not a lovely person. I don’t offer to drive people to airports at ungodly hours in the morning (I can’t drive, but I wouldn’t take them even if I could). I don’t take homemade anythings round to dinner parties, or tie jaunty ribbons on bottles of wine or add pretty labels to presents for anyone. This doesn’t make me a bad person. I am, after all, taking wine, giving presents – and I’ll gladly call you a cab. Crucially, I never ask anyone for aid of any kind unless I have first sustained serious mental or physical injury trying to accomplish a deed on my own.

Still, it does put me outside the realms of loveliness in the sense that Marson uses it – as a term to describe someone who consistently puts herself (and it is a tendency found most frequently in women) out for others; for family, friends, acquaintances and passing strangers. And it is a curse because, obviously, if you are currently expending all your energies on taking care of other people, you have none left for taking care of yourself and you either end up on tranquillizers or a murder spree.

Remember that other people are monstrously self-obsessed

Of course, if you are a Lovely Person, you won’t have time to read a whole book about what Lovely People should do to break free from being a martyr, because you’ll be too busy, so let me impart some of my unlovely knowledge.

First of all, remember that other people are monstrously self-obsessed. Anything you do for them will simply be vacuumed up by the ravening egos that make up 90-plus per cent of the average person’s soul and which root through life, turning up people full of willingness to please and scarfing them down like truffle-hunting pigs – with about as much grace. You probably won’t be thanked. If it’s noticed at all, your help will simply be accepted as if it were no more than their due, so secure are they in the knowledge that they are the centre of the known universe. Remember all of this and you will be pleasantly surprised at how much easier life becomes overnight.

I understand that if you are not used to thinking of people this way, you might need a softer introduction to the process. Try this. The next time someone asks you to do something, quietly ask yourself – “Is this person taking the piss?” They almost certainly are. But to make sure, perform a brief but effective cost-benefit analysis. Work out whether the effort you are going to put into fulfilling this person’s request is more than they will be saved by not doing it themselves. Then compare the opportunity costs for each of you. Unless every outcome is markedly stacked in the other person’s favour, tell them – you’ll probably do it politely at first, but you’ll learn – to naff off.

If they react unfavourably to this, resist the urge to lunge after them, alternating profuse apologies with claims of temporary, exculpatory insanity. Just let them go. They are not lost friends. They are burdens rolling off your back. Stand up straighter. Roll your shoulders. Feels good, doesn’t it? And if none of that helps, simply wait until you turn 30. If you don’t come into your kingdom of self-confidence and reprioritisation then wait again until you have your first child. Because all you really have to do if you truly want to break the curse of lovely is avoid being young, needy or time-rich. And not to be writing a column in the middle of a blizzard in north Norfolk on a holiday that has become indistinguishable from a gulag sentence. I used to be a lot nicer than this. I used to be one of you."

Email Lucy at lucy.mangan@stylist. co.uk or tweet her @LucyMangan

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