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.
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.
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.
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.
How do you know when you’ve hit your romantic rock bottom? Is it losing your date and then finding her tongue in someone else’s mouth? Or blushing in the doctor’s room as they confirm you’ve contracted your third STD? Maybe it’s taking someone home who looks and smells and tastes like vomit and not realising until you catch their soiled scent the following morning?
Insecurities are horrible things, aren’t they? Giggling, pointing, snide, gossipy, cruel things. They’re the mean girl in your head, sniggering that you’re weird or unwanted or unattractive. They weave themselves into your thoughts, slowly thickening like a room filling with smoke. They start small and bloom on your brain, an ugly rash speckling every brunch or date or dinner with this feeling that you’re not quite right.
I often forget how lucky I am to live in a city like London, surrounded by people who are open-minded. Other people talk sometimes about the pressure from friends and families to settle down and I find it all a bit bemusing: But, why do they care? It strikes me that it must be hard not to internalise that pressure, to suck it all up like a mouthful of slime. Worry. Fear – it’s catching. Quick! Everyone shack up before the music stops! (Tip: the music doesn’t stop until you die, kids.)