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.
The linguist and I have been seeing each other for about six weeks. Over that time, I’ve grown to like her more and more. Our personalities complement one another beautifully. She’s organised, rational, practical, level-headed and kind. I’m chaotic, dizzy, effusive, sensitive and warm. She’s a steady hum in my slapdash existence and I’m an excitable gurgle in her well-oiled machine. There’s only one problem. Dating someone awesome invariably throws your own awesomeness – or lack thereof – into sharp relief. The linguist is far more intelligent than me. She sheds facts like skin and I have to lumber along after her scooping them all up and trying to make sense of them. Who was that philosopher she mentioned and what was his theory? Everything I know is just strings of loosely related words with no glue to hold them together: Napoleon, Alsace, Waterloo, Saint Helena. My head’s like a library with half the books missing.
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.
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 …