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.
“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.
I think I’d like a girlfriend for Christmas. I know, I know I should be a fabulous, independent woman: shakes tits aggressively. The thing is, I’d love to have someone to shake my tits at. And not just temporarily for a few nights or months but in a long-term, soft, loving sort of way; more like a very gentle tit wagging in front of the telly. I’d like a partner for all the usual reasons – the kisses and head stroking and lazy late night cuddles – but also for the less usual reasons, the practical reasons, that tend to be forgotten in an age where everyone’s googly-eyed with romance. Sure, it’s nice to have someone to hold hands with in the cinema but what about someone who can write a really superb angry complaint letter? And yes, I like surprise flowers as much as the next person but what about surprise home insurance renewal? Or surprise fixing of the boiler? “Surprise! I checked land registry records and you do own the extra 3 feet …
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.
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.
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.
The other night I saw two women having a drink. They were sat outside at a picnic table, with fairy lights hanging from the trees above them. One of them – the one I could see – had a smile so broad I thought her cheeks would crack. Later they shared a kiss – one, two, five, a dozen – before slipping out hand in hand. I saw this and I was so envious. Not about the kiss – kisses are easy. It’s the love. I miss loving someone. I’m so full of love it leaks out of my toes and my ears. What a waste, to see it swilling down the drain like dirty bathwater. Seeing women together makes me ache and yearn and pine so hard I have to look away, like I’ve seen something terrible.