One of the nice things about getting past the initial sex and booze phase is you can begin to open up about some of the more serious things in your life. In the first few months, there can be a tendency to paint a portrait of yourself that’s rose-tinted. The stresses of work, family and finances are put discretely to one side as you jazz hands your way through the early dates. Problems get downplayed. Conversations are purged of hard subjects, like you’re talking to one another through mouthfuls of candyfloss.
One thing I love about living in London is how many brilliant options there are for dates. Forget Odeons packed full of sweaty, shrieking teenagers and flabby, flat-packed pizza chains. Forget googling ‘great date ideas Trull’ before giving up and taking your date to the same Indian you went to every Friday with your ex. Forget having to schlep out to the nearest town to be able to have a snog without half the village seeing and having a middle-class meltdown. In London, the world is your oyster and oysters are the food of love. This is the place where young lovers gorge.
Life has a funny sense of irony. After having been in London and available for dates for nigh on seven months, I of course meet the speed date just before I’m due to go on holiday for three weeks. Why is it that love never pitches up at a time convenient to you? No, it always rocks up when you’re rushing out the door or looking for your keys or having a wee. I imagine Cupid out there somewhere, giggling, loosing an arrow into the left buttock of a man newly diagnosed with genital warts. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. We arrange a date for the night before I’m due to fly. Not ideal but I’m worried if we wait we’ll lose one another in the clamour of airports and baggage and hotels. Dates are like lobsters. Once you’ve got them you need to do something with them quickly or they begin to spoil.
I meet her at a speed dating event. After a 3 month dating hiatus, I’m finally ready to throw my knickers back into the ring. Well, maybe not throw. Place gently and then linger awkwardly on the sidelines in case I change my mind and need to whip them back out again. Once bitten, twice shy. Or in my case, thrice bitten, I’ve contracted rabies and need to be quarantined. It turns out, I’m a little rusty. Before the event starts she sits down at my table. She’s so pretty I do that thing where I keep having to look away otherwise I know I’ll end up staring.
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.
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 …
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.
I’ve invited the Thai for lunch with my friends. I don’t often introduce the people I’m seeing to my friends. It’s not that I’m sniffy or pompous about these things. It’s that I rarely date anyone where I can see a possible future and so don’t want to insinuate a closeness I don’t feel. When I eventually introduced Blue Eyes to my friends it felt like more obligatory than celebratory – the grudging culmination of 6 months of rocky dating. I’m also protective of my friendship group. I’ve worked hard to cultivate it, collecting my friends over the years like beloved bric-a-brac. Some I found myself, others I borrowed and others I stole, stuffing them in my pocket and legging it before anyone noticed. Ha! They’re mine now, suckers!
The Thai and I are seeing each other again. I first bumped into her at a fancy dress party looking cute in a unicorn horn. Three weeks later I bumped into her in my bed looking cute in nothing at all. I had assumed she’d want nothing to do with me after the whole fiasco with the Friend, but when she drunk texts me at 5am I know she’s still a tiny bit interested. Still, it’s not easy. Gradually it becomes clear there’s a wall between us, but no matter how much I scrabble and claw at it, the only place I can get a leg over is in the bedroom. I peel off her clothes trying to get closer but she’s miles away. “Do you trust me?” I ask her. “No,” she replies simply.
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.