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102. To the manor bonked

“Welcome,” the woman says. “We’re delighted you’ve decided to join us. How was your journey?”

“Fine,” I say, “a bit tiring.”

“I can imagine, London’s a world away from us!  Let me show you to your room.”

She leads me upstairs and into a loft room that’s a melange of old beams, antiques and tapestries. Sunlight streams through stained glass windows, forming painterly puddles on the bedspread. In the corner is a carved oak desk, simply adorned with a jug of bluebells and a decanter of red wine.

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Woman floating in a clear blue sea

101. Take a break

We need to talk.

Now now, don’t panic. It’s all going to be okay. Just take a seat. Can I get you a tea? No? Okay. I’ll crack on then. *Exhales*. Shit, this is hard. But I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and…well, the thing is…I need to stop dating.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt the urge to take a break from love. Back when I was using dating apps, there were times when I’d lose my patience and delete the whole lot in a flare of frustration. Yeah well, fuck you too, I’d think grumpily, NO CLAM JAM FOR YOU. Then I’d sit and sulk for a few days like a spanked bottom before invariably crawling back, lured by the promise of a sweeter tomorrow.   

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100. Hostile environment

A year ago I fell out with a friend. She was a good friend. An old friend. Someone I’d known since I was a gawky 11 year-old with a mono brow and scuffed shoes. We met for lunch and she told me some wonderful news – she was pregnant. Then she said something odd.

“I’m really worried, what if she’s not normal?”

“What do you mean?” I said, bemused.

“What if she’s…like, a goth?”

I spluttered into my water.

“I think you’ll live!”

“But what if she’s not a good girl?

And then the penny dropped. Because the truth spiking her words that she didn’t have the courage to say was, what if she’s gay? For her budding blue blood family, some people being gay was okay – just not her daughter. I calmly finished my drink and walked out of her life, leaving 20 years of friendship with the tip on the table.

Looking back, I wish I’d tried to talk to her. Not just for the sake of our friendship – but for her little girl. I wish I’d told her what can happen when you raise a rainbow girl straight.

Because maybe she’ll be fine, but maybe she won’t. Maybe she’ll drink or smoke or take drugs. Maybe she’ll get a reputation as a party girl, a bad egg, a bad influence. Maybe she’ll have sex with men. Bad sex. Empty sex. Sex that’s meaningful but feelingless. Maybe she’ll eat, just chomp chomp chomp through her feelings. Maybe she’ll starve. Maybe she’ll suffer from anxiety or depression, her insides pickling in pain. Maybe she’ll work, hide in good grades and praise. Clever girl. Good girl. Lonely girl.

Rainbow children who don’t understand their sexuality adopt straight identities. They take the images and words they see around them and build romantic identities as if they could mould their hearts from clay. But one day that heart will splinter. At 13 or 16 or 18 or 25 or 33 or 47 or 61 or 92 the social anaesthetic will wear off and she’ll feel shockingly unmoored, freefalling into an abyss of the self. She won’t know who she is anymore. She’ll feel lumpy in her skin. Ill fitting – because she no longer fits in. And the longer she’s taken from herself, the harder the journey back will be.

These days, young people are blessedly open-minded about their sexuality. The problem is when their parents keep them tethered to heterosexual and gender norms. But it’s time for some honesty. As a parent, you love your child unconditionally. You want to protect them. But when you raise a child straight you put them in harm’s way.

It’s not just about teaching them that being gay is okay. They have to know that being gay is okay for them. And if it isn’t? Well, you can wrap them in cotton wool all you like. You can buy baby monitors and car seats and put 1000 locks on the door. You can vow that no harm will ever come to them. But nothing you do will protect them from their greatest threat. Because the beast in the shadows, the menace in their midst, the stranger lurking just outside their door – is you.

Photo by Jordy Meow on Unsplash






99. The lady vanishes

I have to break up with the Thai.

It’s not that I don’t care. I do. She’s everything I remembered and more. She’s still generous and loyal to the people she loves. She still makes me laugh even when I’m not in the mood. She still finds solace in music, trip-hopping across London is search of the most sublime beats. She still asks for coffee in the mornings and pisses me off by not drinking it. She still gets horny in the evenings. And in the mornings. And sometimes in the middle of the night. She still has the most beautiful lips I’ve ever kissed. She’s still got skin so soft it’s like sleeping in clouds of silk. My gossamer girl.

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98. Mum’s the word

Recently, my life has filled with babies. Everyone I know seems to be popping one out or thinking about popping one out or worrying about whether they can pop one out or not. My friendship group gets 1 then 2 then 6 in a flurry of bonking. Dinner becomes drinks. Drinks becomes brunch. Brunch becomes can you just hold him for a sec whilst I run to the loo and the next thing you know he’s smeared egg in your hair and shoved your phone down his trousers.

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97. The language of love

I have a friend who’s been seeing someone for a long time. They’re a fantastic match: epicurean, cultured and refined, but not at all pretentious. If they were a night out they’d be an evening at the opera followed by a deep fried Mars bar. They work hard, travel and enjoy a luxurious, instagrammable lifestyle. Life’s a beach – or, in their case, a museum, a spa or a secluded treehouse in the heart of the Lake District.

And yet, a couple of months ago he told her he loved her and she didn’t reciprocate. “I just don’t know,” she said, “sometimes I’m so happy but then…I have doubts. How do you know?” When I asked her about it recently she replied, “we don’t talk about it,” which I took as my cue to stick a Mars bar in it.

Our conversation made me reflect on how you know you really love someone. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff, the yays from the nays, the ‘One’ from the still wondering? The Oxford English Dictionary defines love thus:

Love, n. an intense feeling of romantic attachment based on an attraction felt by one person for another; intense liking and concern for another person, typically combined with sexual passion

That’s all very well, but I’ve had a lot of those feelings in my life and I haven’t expressed them all in loving terms. Frankly, I find it a bit odd we’ve even attempted a definition for something so slippery and nebulous. How can anyone objectively know what love is when we all experience it differently? I’m sorry to say, Whitney, that my love isn’t your love.

Nevertheless, we strive to find a common thread in infinite permutations of admiration, respect, connection, attraction and lust. We expose emotion to the clumsy inarticulacy of language. Every pang, throb and palpitation is thrust under a microscope for dissection; all the shifting colours of the human heart slapped into buckets like shades of Dulux paint. Maybe some things should be private, intimate, beyond the grasping intellects of the verbal bean counters. Maybe some things should be beyond compare.

Sometimes I think I have an “intense feeling of romantic attachment based on attraction” for the Thai. Once I came close to saying it. It was on the tip of my tongue, it just wouldn’t take the plunge: come on you bastard, jump. Other times, I’m not so sure. Saying “I love you” at our age feels more serious, more final somehow. You’re no longer saying it for teenage kicks or for kindness or as a fleeting fancy from which you can rapidly back peddle. This could really be it. Marriage. Kids. They’re just a slip of the tongue away.

Is this love? Do I love? Perhaps some more research is needed. I’ve yet to see what the bean counters make of: Adoration, n.

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96. Female pattern baldness

One of the dating rituals I find most irritating is the trend for a shaved muff. As a working woman, I resent how expensive, sore, fiddly, cold and time-consuming it is. Sure, I’ve been working all week, studying for a diploma, going to the gym, making a curry, calling my mother, doing the food shopping, planning my weekend, doing my tax return, dismantling the Christmas tree, renewing some library books, vacuuming my bedroom, trying to work out where to recycle lightbulbs and sniffing the air vent to make sure the old lady next door’s not accidentally gassing herself – BUT PLEASE, LET ME SHAVE MY PUSSY FOR YOU.

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