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.
“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.
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.
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!
There are few things more nebulous or slippery in this world than the truth. Two people might experience the exact same thing, yet somehow one can see a pond and the other an ocean. Whether the truth is a pond or an ocean doesn’t matter. When there’s no one to vouch for you, every truth is just a story you hope others will believe. Sometimes we misuse truth. We abuse it. We rip it to sheds and sew it up differently, then hide the needle and thread so no one knows what we’ve done: Look what you did we cry, pointing at this new thing whilst the other person stumbles and stalls and tries to remember.
After our night of passion, the genius and I part ways. No one’s hurt or angry. There are no bad feelings. But we both recognise that this isn’t and probably never will be love. There’s no point flogging a horse that, if not quite dead, is very unwell. She does leave me a parting gift though when she messages later to say: “I had fun last time so feel free to call me in an emergency 😉 x” I smile and slide the gift under the bed. Just in case. The truth is, there’s another reason this won’t work: Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Thai. At the time, I was so hung up on the Friend I never gave us a proper chance. Every time we kissed or laughed or got close I’d feel guilty and back off. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see it was the Thai who made me feel good, who treated me kindly, who left me in no doubt that I was the one she wanted.
Recently I was chatting to an old colleague, who’s in a long-term relationship but has started having feelings for women: “I don’t know whether to talk to my boyfriend or just, you know…go have fun,” she said, flushing. Maybe…try not to cheat?” I said gently.