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.
“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 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.
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.
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 …