Dolly Alderton – Millennial Memoir
Written by Nancy Laws (edited by Joff Alexander-Frye)
Photos of Dolly Alderton supplied by Penguin Random House (copyrighted by Jo Bongard)
Any millennial worth their salt will be familiar with Dolly Alderton; whether it’s through her popular podcast The High Low, her columns in the Sunday Times, or her aptly named memoir Everything I Know About Love. Her musings on growing up, dating, love, but most importantly female friendship have resonated hugely with readers (it’s a Sunday Times bestseller and also won Autobiography of the Year at the National Book Awards) of all ages and genders.
Dolly Alderton, who cites John Lennon, Classic FM and Adam Buxton podcasts as personal influences, has become somewhat of a spokeswoman for her generation – yes, a voice for women in their twenties and thirties but, more broadly, a voice for those in need of encouragement (and a giggle) along the path of friendship, romance and the lifelong journey of relating to other humans.
After studying at Exeter University (where she discovered her love for journalism), Dolly moved to London to chase her career dreams and made her first significant breakthrough into the world of media when she landed a job in the writing rooms of Made in Chelsea. She then went on to write and direct her own short film, ‘Anna, Island’ about a directionless Londoner obsessed with Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs before embarking on more writing, podcasting and screenwriting projects.
Within minutes of reading anything she has written, it is clear that she has her finger on the pulse of her generation. She is candid, unashamedly frank and pretty colourful in both the themes of her content and the way that she talks about them. She has a clear ‘tone of voice’ in a sometimes bland and vanilla world of words and provides an honest, warts-and-all approach to her writing. A word to the wise, if you are easily offended, maybe Dolly isn’t for you.
However, she is not offensive or crude for the sake of it. Dolly is a woman on a journey and her creative process strikes me as simply being a chronicle of her travels through life. Perhaps she is just more honest than most of us…
When I went to see Alderton speak with her writing partner Lauren Bensted on the last show of her Everything tour at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre, I didn’t see a single empty seat. What I did see were rows and rows of young women with their friends, listening intently and sipping their white wines as Alderton and Benny (friends since childhood) chatted away. I’ll also admit to frantically checking her Instagram during the interval to see if she’d posted where she bought her beautiful floor length tea dress. Unfortunately, no such luck…
A University of Exeter alumni herself, Alderton had us all cackling within minutes when asked what her fondest memories of student life were, she replied, “well, I did quite a lot of drinking and sh*gging!”. Alderton’s mentions of her old Exonian haunts were also met with whoops of appreciation, including The Old Firehouse and The Lemon Grove.
As in the book, a good chunk of the evening was dedicated to the trials and tribulations of modern dating, specifically, the bad behaviour that dating apps seem to trigger. One story in particular provoked literal gasps from the audience, as Alderton recounted the tale of a friend who had a man she’d been dating for a few months passionately profess his love and beg her to meet his family. Delighted, the friend dropped him off at the train station where they embraced before he went home for a family Christmas. He didn’t return any of her texts over the ensuing weeks. She never heard from him again, and had to “contact his sister, because she thought he’d died”. Part of Alderton’s appeal is that everyone sitting in that audience either knew someone who has been through a similar ordeal or had unfortunately had it happen to them personally. It’s fair to say that if you were at the Northcott that evening and had ever even considered ghosting someone, you’d have been gripping your glass of Pinot just a little bit tightly.
The shared horror at stories like these throughout the evening just confirms one of Alderton’s most firmly held views: that your female friendships are the true loves of your life. They’ll be there for you after the painfully awkward Tinder date, or when the person you’re dating disappears off the face of the earth. But they’ll also be there for you at house parties, on holidays or supervising your dress at your wedding.
All the anxiety, cynicism and distrust that modern dating can provoke is balanced out in Everything I Know About Love through the much-needed tenderness of Alderton’s girlfriends:
“Nearly everything I know about love, I’ve learnt in my long-term friendships with women… I know that love can be loud and jubilant… And I also know that love is a pretty quiet thing. I know that love happens under the splendour of moon and stars and fireworks and sunsets but it also happens when you’re lying on blow-up air beds in a childhood bedroom, sitting in A&E or in the queue for a passport or in a traffic jam.”
What’s refreshing about Everything I Know About Love, though, is its frankness at how navigating these friendships isn’t always plain-sailing. Dolly takes down one of the most commonly waved around reassurances from friends who’ve just coupled up, who reassure their single friends that ‘Nothing will change’, by examining how peoples’ lives naturally evolve when they settle down with a partner.
It’s a pretty devastating look at the chronology of events that leads to friendships taking something of a back seat. As Alderton puts it:
“The love we have for each other stays the same, but the format, the tone the regularity and the intimacy of our friendship will change for ever.”
Although 2019’s dating landscape is proving more and more difficult to navigate, there’s definitely a certain camaraderie in exploring it with your single friends. All of the bad dates (like the time I went to meet a man whose bio proudly declared that he was 6 foot, when in reality he was 5’6 on a very good day) are great stories. The hilarity of having to hide in the loo from your lying goblin of a date and call your friend to give her the whole tragic rundown is almost worth the cringiness of feigning a sudden migraine to escape.
The problem is, as Dolly explains, that when your friend somehow finds herself a nice boy who is actually as tall as he says he is, everything does change. And it’s difficult to articulate without sounding like the bitter old crone in the corner, but the truth is that as the single friend, you can start to feel just a little bit resentful at third wheeling.
Your funny stories of terrible dates and rants about unsuitable men don’t go down quite as well at brunch anymore, and you start to worry that, as Dolly puts it, your friend will “run out of sight”. Ultimately, though, you have to suck it up because the alternative of losing your friends is, as Dolly says, “not an option”. It’s part of getting through your twenties that you hadn’t really anticipated as a teenager, but an important part nonetheless. It’s an area of development that I know I could certainly do with working on, even if I do have to go to “barbecues in bloody Balham” to still keep the most important women in my life.
If there’s a woman (or man, actually – I’m a full Dolly convert) in your life who hasn’t read this book, buy it for her immediately. Everything I Know About Love is now out in paperback.
EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT LOVE by Dolly Alderton
The wildly funny Sunday Times bestseller by Dolly Alderton about growing up and navigating all kinds of love along the way.
When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming a grown up, journalist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. In her memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, wrestling with self-sabotage, finding a job, throwing a socially disastrous Rod-Stewart themed house party, getting drunk, getting dumped, realising that Ivan from the corner shop is the only man you’ve ever been able to rely on, and finding that that your mates are always there at the end of every messy night out. Glittering, with wit and insight, heart and humour, this is a book about the struggles of early adulthood in all its grubby, hopeful uncertainty.
Dolly is an award-winning journalist, has a column in the Sunday Times and has written for publications including the Daily Telegraph, GQ, Marie Claire, Red and Grazia. She is the co-host of The High Low, a weekly pop culture and current affairs podcast, and also writes and directs for television. This is her first book, which has been received with critical acclaim and her live UK tour with Fane Productions began this Spring, at venues including the London Palladium, which sold out in under 24 hours.