44. So long to sweet 16

I remember when I first came out I was worried that I’d fall for someone too quickly. Take your time, I said to myself, play the field, get it all out of your system. I knew couples who’d paired off young and then, years down the line, felt a sharp pang of longing for the new. I didn’t want to be like that. When I met the one, I wanted to be ready to give myself to her and her alone.

Now those fears seem hilarious and hopelessly naïve. To think there was a risk of coming out and my dream woman just floating into my lap like a blossom in the breeze. Sorry!, I’d say, I’m not quite ready. If you wouldn’t mind just taking a seat in the waiting room, I’ll be with you in a moment.

I realised the other day that I’ve been on dates with 16 women – 16! 16 nights getting all dolled up and puffed up on hope and expectation. 16 let downs, coming home to lick my wounds. Next time, I’d think sadly. Instead of worrying that it would all happen too fast I’m beginning to worry it might never happen at all.

I meet E17 girl at a pub next to the canal. She’s bare faced in black jeans and trainers. It’s a confidence that I find wildly sexy and which I could never pull off in a million years. My make-up is my war paint – it only comes off when the gloves (and skirt and bra and pants) do.

We get to know each other and I can feel myself filling up with hope again, like a balloon. This is good. This is really good. We have lots in common: a soft spot for period dramas – for frothy dresses and silly, dreamy love stories of old; we both break out into song sometimes instead of speaking; we both yearn for adventure but feel the pull of home like a thread through the heart.

She speaks about her family with such joy and regales me with such hilarious and heart-warming tales of her childhood that it makes me want to meet them, which has never happened to me before.  She works with vulnerable children and seems to have an endless well of love for them. She’s so kind it radiates out of her, like sunshine.

I fancy the pants off her too, which is helpful. She has a tattoo on her wrist, which I love and want to kiss. I wonder if she has more, if I’ll peel back the layers and open her up like an art book. When she kisses me goodnight, pulling me in so our bodies smush together, I get a stonking great lady boner. For the week after I can’t stop imagining her naked in my bed as I shuck off my dress and dive into her like an oozy soufflé.

We have a second date where we go for dinner and end up being booted out of the restaurant at closing time, the lights pinging on and jolting us out of our laughter. This time we talk about what it takes to find enduring love. That it’s not just about sexual chemistry – although Lord knows that helps on the (at times) long slog – but about knowing yourself and what you truly need from your better half.

It all feels gorgeously grown-up, two adults talking about that they want and need from a partner. This is exactly how it should be and exactly what I’ve been waiting for. No teenage games or playing it cool. Just a woman, with battle scars yes, but who’s still not afraid to be vulnerable and to put herself out there. That takes guts – and I like guts.

I don’t waste any time asking for a third date. I’m not stupid, I can recognise when I’m onto a good thing. Sweet 17: could this be it? It’s too early to tell, but if I’m going to win her over, I’m going to need to bring my A game.

Looks like the gloves are off.

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