Waking up with the older woman, there’s a sourness in the air. I feel vaguely disgruntled that I’ve come all this way and paid all this money and given myself to someone for nothing. If I had a bed post, I’d carve her notch lightly – just a shadow in the wood, a whisper, something you could easily forget. All morning she irritates me. She makes bad coffee and sniffs constantly and it takes her so long to do her hair and make-up that we end up having breakfast at 12.30. Being hungry is a running theme for the weekend; the night before we had dinner after 10. That fact alone would be enough for me to never see her again. If I’m not going to come, I’d at least like a delicious breakfast.
I’ve come to the coast: to sea air and fish suppers and my third date with the older woman. She’s invited me to her holiday home, a flat with very high ceilings and a sliver of sea view. “It’s not quite finished,” she says self-consciously on arrival, “the bathrooms aren’t quite to my taste.” “It’s beautiful,” I reply. We have a quick drink before we head out, softening the evening in white wine. She’s wearing a low cut top and her cleavage winks at me from across the living room. “Come sit next to me,” she says, patting the sofa and I duly pad across the floor. Drinks finished, we head out for the evening. She’s made plans for us to watch a bonfire show: a mad, visceral thing where pissed villagers in frilly headdresses wave lit torches around and set off fireworks worryingly close to one another’s beards. The whole thing is hot and loud as hell and I get a brilliant flash of schadenfreude as, one by one, crying children have to be …
I like dating older people. Back when I dated men, my boyfriends were often older than me by 4, 5, 6, sometimes 7 years. It’s not that they were better, more that they knew themselves better. They had experience. They knew what they liked and what they didn’t and sometimes they could see things I couldn’t – a mental or intellectual spark hovering between us like a firefly. They also didn’t mess about. They were frank about their feelings: I like you, I love you, let’s live together. There was rarely any drama or bullshit or games with older men because mostly they had no time for it. Being with an older man was like stepping off a merry-go-round and feeling the world slowly right itself.
Two days after our third date I text the Francophile asking when she’s free. I’m planning to take her to the darkest, booziest, filthiest bar I know, where the seats are so tiny she’ll practically have to sit in my lap. It’s always rammed full of couples with hard liquor and hard ons. If we don’t kiss there we’re not kissing anywhere.
It’s funny how much scarier it feels to like someone when you’re older. When you’re young, liking someone is so easy. It’s a walk in the park or a sigh through the cherry blossoms. It’s not just keeping your heart open, ready and willing but actively thrusting it at people with glee – shoving it through letterboxes or chucking it at heads across a classroom. It’s scribbling someone’s name all over your textbook and dreams, not caring if you’ve accidentally grabbed the permanent marker. You’ve never been hurt, after all – what’s to say this isn’t permanent?
I like someone. I met her a few weeks ago on a dating app but I didn’t get excited then because I know how fickle these apps can be: here today, gone tomorrow – or tonight or this afternoon or sometimes even by mid-morning before you’ve had a chance to open the hobnobs. That’s the worst. Please, let me eat my hobnob before you reject me. But she persevered and I persevered and a few days later I’m having a glass of wine with her in the bar of a five star hotel. It’s her choice and a good one. The room is beautiful, all done up in grandeur like an old royal, but sexy too, like she’s got her stockings on show. There’s also something seductive about being in a hotel, as if at any moment we could finish our drinks and slip into a four-poster upstairs.
When do you know it’s time to go? When do you decide that this job or this partner or this home or this country or this version of life isn’t for you anymore? When do you say – enough? I have a low threshold for misery. I will walk away from a job or a relationship or a friendship that’s making me unhappy. No. Scrap that. I will run away. I won’t just throw in the towel, I’ll throw in the kettle and the 3-piece bathroom suite and the keys to the Ford Escort and the pension and I’ll leg it screaming blue bloody murder. But I’m not like most people. Most people are patient. Most people are triers. Most people work at things. They don’t give up or give in. They give it time. They give a shit. They cut their life some slack. Is that better? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe sometimes.