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 …
I’ve invited the Thai for lunch with my friends. I don’t often introduce the people I’m seeing to my friends. It’s not that I’m sniffy or pompous about these things. It’s that I rarely date anyone where I can see a possible future and so don’t want to insinuate a closeness I don’t feel. When I eventually introduced Blue Eyes to my friends it felt like more obligatory than celebratory – the grudging culmination of 6 months of rocky dating. I’m also protective of my friendship group. I’ve worked hard to cultivate it, collecting my friends over the years like beloved bric-a-brac. Some I found myself, others I borrowed and others I stole, stuffing them in my pocket and legging it before anyone noticed. Ha! They’re mine now, suckers!
How are you getting on with your resolutions? Have you collapsed headfirst into a tiramisu yet? Lost all feeling in your thighs? Have you had a breakdown in the supermarket, entering with a shopping list of quinoa, beetroot and kale and leaving in tears with 12 tubs of butter? I can’t stand new years resolutions, aka, the annual flogging and gruel parade. I personally think it’s a miracle there aren’t more kale-related attacks at this time of year. I keep expecting to walk into my local grocer’s and see people lobbing mushrooms at one another, giggling uncontrollably and shouting FATTY BOOM BOOM.
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 …
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.
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.