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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …