Monday, 15 December 2014

Middle of the bed

I've spent a lot of time over the last few years getting used to being ok by myself.

And by this, I don't mean tolerating singledom until the next bloke comes along - I mean actually, genuinely thinking "if it ended up being just me, that would be ok".

Some people get a bit weird hearing that; you can tell because nearly all of them see it as a cue to reassure me that this won't be the case, as if the single alternative to life would be a bad thing, or breakups never happen.

But if becoming ok on my own was difficult and took time, then blimey, learning to be with someone else again is another task entirely.

Over the last almost-four-years, I've honed the art of being self-sufficient, relying on myself and a brilliant group of friends for most things.

And now, little by little, I'm having to adjust to trusting someone else.

When will this end? I think to myself on a near weekly basis, when the text reply is a little late in coming and my mind jumps to the worst case scenario: he's lost interest, he's found someone else, he would rather not see me, he's going to cancel, he's going to let me down.

At times like that, there's no reassurance you can give me, because this is how it goes.

Or rather: it's how it's gone before. It's happened. And it's happened after one month, two, six, 18, it's happened after years with someone, it's happened after five dates or eight.

That's my experience, and as much as you always have to take people at face value, not let the past make you paranoid about what's coming up, and definitely not trot out that tired "I've been hurt before" line (everyone has by now, we're not 20 any more) - experience is what you tend to go on.

I expect to be let down by him in the same way that I expect phone calls or texts saying "Call me when you can" from my mother to bring bad, sometimes devestating news: because at one point, it seemed like they always did.

(The fact that she usually just wants someone to look after the dogs at the weekend is neither here nor there. I'm still like. "So, just the dogs? No one's died?" while relief settles across my chest.)

And I reassure myself with "whatever happens, you'll be alright anyway, you idiot", then he's at my door, or there at the station, or the reply comes and it's asking when he can see me again - and then all the panic goes away and I tell myself not to be a dick next time - and besides, I sort of knew all along that he would be there; there's a little hope I can't let myself assume to be fact quite yet, but I just need to see it for myself.

I'm having to get used to the fact that even something as simple as a bad night's sleep at my house doesn't mean he won't want to come back.

"I didn't sleep too well last time I was at yours" he said, "you like to get in the middle of the bed."

"That's because I'm not used to sharing it," I reply, "I'm sure I'll adapt..."

Like everything else, it'll probably just take a bit of time.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

A small little shift

The covers move beside me.

My eyes are shut - I'm only half awake but I'm listening. Unused to sharing my sleeping space, I wake up at every slight turn (although I pretend not to).

I'm facing the other way, identifying the sounds as they happen: he gets up, t-shirt goes on, picks something up. The door clicks. He walks out.

He pads to the kitchen, there's the faint sound of water running, then he's back.

There's a couple of gulps, then a gentle tap; glass on wood. He settles back, and I go to sleep.

It's a couple of hours later when I wake up, thirsty, squinting at my bedside table.

Then I'm so surprised that I sit up, and stare at the glass for what seems like a minute, but is probably less. I look at the sleeping form next to me, the half full glass on his side, then back to the previously empty glass on mine.

Huh.

It's a few hours later when we're both awake, and I'm wondering if, perhaps, I'd imagined it.

"Did you fill up my glass of water?" I say.
"Yep." he replies.
"Oh." I marvel, like he's just written a book and dedicated it to me, "Thank you."

And he won't know it, but in doing this small, unremarkable thing, there's just been a tiny shift in my brain.

I look at him differently now; this person who woke up thirsty, got himself a drink, and thought I might want one, too.

Some people might remember the day they got given flowers, or a piece of jewellery, received some grand gesture, or a kiss - but as that small, tiny, considerate act sticks with me even weeks later, I think, I will remember this.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Learning to date

For a while, it seemed like everyone in the world was going on dates except me.

My mates always seemed to have a bloke on the go. When one dropped off the radar, another would take their place, and all the while I'd sit there listening, watching their phones light up with interest and wondering: how the hell do they do that?

The truth is, I've never been as comfortable with dating as I have with being single.

I tried to be a few times; for the stories, because I thought I should, because people kept asking if there was anyone on the scene, because more embarrassing than saying "no" were the cocked heads and reassurances that well, you'll find someone soon, and because sometimes nice boys asked me out and it felt more awkward to turn them down.

But in doing so, I realised that if you try and date when you're not entirely comfortable with the idea, you don't really enjoy it. You just spend an inordinate amount of time dreading the details, worrying about the consequences.

So I waited.

Then eventually, I met someone I liked - and after feeling nothing for anyone for so long, even when it fizzled out, it still brought back a little spark.

Things seemed to happen the old fashioned way after that; eye contact, flirting, a drunken kiss leading to a few lovely dates.

When things didn't go to plan (what plan?), there was the enjoyment of being single - and for nights when you just want to know that someone, anyone fancies you - there was Tinder.

The latter was used sporadically, more out of curiosity than anything else, and on one occasion resulted in a perfectly pleasant (read: boring) evening in a London cocktail bar.

Tinder dates, I concluded on the way home, merely meant three hours of wondering where on earth to begin with a complete stranger you didn't really fancy, and were best limited to an occasional confidence boost from the comfort of my sofa.

Which is why even when I walked down the steps of Waterloo Bridge early in October, taking a deep breath before scanning the crowds for a vaguely recognisable face - the one I'd been texting for the past two weeks - I wasn't quite sure how I'd ended up there.

My expectations were low even after we'd spent the evening together; when the time of his last train approached and we tried to find a way around it, but couldn't, and so I walked him to the station instead.

"Well, we'll have a less sensible night out next time then," I said of our early finish. And he replied, "Next time eh?" and I said "Only if you want to."
"Are you kidding? Definitely. That'd be amazing." and with that, an arm curled around my waist.

I walked away from the tube station that night grinning, because the kiss had lingered a little longer than it normally would between two strangers.

And I realised that this is how dating, like being single, was meant to be: comfortable, unpredictable, and always with a bit of excitement still to come.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The internet is playing a trick on us

Lots of us, my generation, are guilty of falling for it. 

We're constantly, unknowingly seduced by numbers (over a thousand followers? Must be a big deal) and faces (the featureless, flattering photos of Instagram) and other people's life events (the party where everyone's having the time of their lives).

And no matter how well we think we're negotiating this life stuff, these little tricks - and deep down we know they're tricks - end up making us feel bad about ourselves anyway.

So a while back I decided to cut down my online life a bit, and make sure I was doing alright without it.

A few weeks before my 30th birthday, I decided that Facebook could be where I got event invitations, or involved in group inbox conversations, or tagged in photos - but I would no longer browse what I had begun to term The Timeline of Doom.

Despite never being a particularly active user, not having it on my phone, and never big on sharing my innermost thoughts, I hadn't realised how much I subconsciously flicked onto the website in between tasks at work throughout the day, and the effect that was having on how I felt about myself.

At first, it felt a bit alien not to be entertained by the constant slew of missives from friends and acquaintances. I felt a bit of a pull towards it, and that surprised me too.

But after a few days, then a week, then a month and more, the habit dropped completely.

Now I manage quite nicely without the constant drip-feed of other people's lives - which almost never made me feel good, but did give me a lot of oh my god, why aren't I doing that - and instead, if you'll excuse my French, began to give a shit about the stuff that actually, you know, matters.

And low and behold - when you're not comparing yourself to others, or locked down to life on a laptop, or updating the world on your every move for a Retweet - it's like...bloody hell, I'm doing alright.

In fact, I'm doing good: I'm working hard, earning enough money to live the way I want to in one of the world's best cities. I can travel and see friends abroad, live in a good houseshare, occasionally date people, occasionally not, have busy weekends and quiet week nights. And all of that is ok. 

Being online a lot can warp your priorities, and change what you think you want. 

It's fine if other people aim for marriage, babies or a house, writing a book, or getting fame and popularity in a corner of the internet - but at the moment, I'm working on a different kind of future: where I work hard and earn money, not "likes", having fun and, well, a pension; because when I'm old and rickety after all the adventures, I'm going to need some cash.

A timely reminder of the digital microcosm we live in now came the other night, when I sat opposite a man I'd just met for the first time - through an app, ironically - laughing, flirting, getting along fine, and seeing a blank look on his face when I mentioned the word "Buzzfeed".

That someone my age had never heard of this huge website that dominated so much of my online feeds seemed odd - but it was also hugely reassuring.

Because most of the websites, numbers, influential people, followers, likes and carefully posed profile pictures are all part of the internet's big trick.

What matters is when you're sat in front of someone, just getting on, having a laugh. Mates, dates, your face, their face, chatting in the real world: knowing that if they like you, that's cool, and if they don't, you'll still be alright. 

And no amount of Instagram filters can help you with that.

Monday, 22 September 2014

All the little places

I was 16 when I fell in an approximation of love for the first time.

At that age, I had no idea that there would be others after him. It was just all completely new, that rush of lovely reciprocated feelings, and because I didn't yet realise that boys who said they loved you might one day just... not, there were only good things ahead.

You fell in love once, and he had huge brown eyes, and we were going to be together forever, and that was that.

He was two years older than me - a frightening age gap in my mother's opinion - and she was suspicious, she later told me, because those huge brown eyes never met hers. But she had the good sense to let me find out for myself.

And then three weeks later when he ended it, my mum perched on the bed where I'd been laying in the dark silently crying for the past couple of hours, and comforted me. Then she said, "You didn't sleep with him, did you?" and quietly "Thank god." when I shook my head no.

This wasn't just my first initiaition into heartbreak, but the first time I realised it wasn't just people you had to get over, but places too. My bedroom used to be my bedroom, but now it was where me and him first stood there hugging and then slowly, tentatively, kissed.

The bench in the park where we'd walked my dog - the one with my initials and his scratched into the wood - no longer belonged to a London Borough Council, it was ours. And then, because it hurt to look at it, it was to be avoided at all costs.

The park is still there, the bench is too. Reclaimed by the council, the love for that brown eyed boy long gone and replaced ten times over.

But if I'm passing, I'll sometimes sit there and run my fingers along the seat trying to find a trace of the letters I carved with my house keys 14 years ago, feeling nothing except glad that although it hurt, it happened, and I learnt from it, and occasionally I'll wonder what he's doing now.

And sometimes, all that seems to have changed is my age, the men, and the locations: the more people I meet and get attached to, the more invisible flags get planted and fade all over London - some quicker than others.

Some places have a sort of magnetism about them; your eyes are automatically drawn to a doorway or corner, or a flat, a bus stop, and the conversations you had there pop into your mind, word for word.

The other day I crossed over to the side of a road that took me past a front door.

Not because I hoped to see him come out of it (although I armed myself by inwardly rehearsing our conversation just in case) but more because I'd been unconsciously refusing to go near it.

I'd been avoiding an entire side of a busy road I used most days, and now, I decided, I wanted it back.

Doing so triggered a little memory, and made my chest hurt for a second or two. I glanced at the door and no one came out of it, and then I carried on walking home.

But everything fades, and nowadays I know that soon I'll walk past that door and feel nothing but a vague curiosity; wondering a little bit about what he's up to, and what little flags will get planted next.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Are we friends yet?

For the second time in as many weeks, my body reacted like it'd been given bad news.

My phone lit up on the desk at work, his name on the screen again, and my stomach dropped an inch or two. For gods sake, what now?

The rejection had dissipated slightly in the two weeks since his original message, the one that mowed down every cliché in the field: not looking for a relationship, would be amazing to still be friends, carry on hanging out more, etc, etc, etc. The next day, my reply had been calm and honest (fuelled only slightly by gin), explaining why friends couldn't happen: because I was hurt.

So now, knowing that my day was about to be disrupted by whatever he had to say, I carried on with what I was doing. Left it there unchecked for a while until I was ready: my day will not stop for you.

Eventually I looked at the message, and stared at it, all four words and a kiss.

Are we friends yet? X

It was just a thread, nothing more. And when you hang on to threads, you get dangled - and that wasn't about to happen again.

That didn't stop replies lining up in my mind for the best part of a week, covering every emotion from sarcastic, honest, angry, witty, to mildly humourous, none of which would ever be sent.

Then one week later at the tail end of a house party, the bit when you sit on the kitchen counter and chat about the world, a friend and I talked about me being single.

"I suspect it's the sort of bloke I'm attracted to", I said, "here's a good example."

Then I showed him the text messages, trying to explain this person I really liked and his sudden departure from my life, "...and then I got this."

My friend held my phone and looked at the final message, his eyebrows furrowed. "Who even does that?" he said, seemingly angry on my behalf.

Then, before I could do anything, he'd tapped twice on the keyboard and pressed send.

When I grabbed it back and looked down, there it was; the answer I'd never have sent.

The lines of communication officially closed and all threads cut with a simple word:

no


Monday, 14 July 2014

This is all I know at the moment

If there was ever a way to press pause on a moment and bottle it, now would be the perfect time.

This is what's going through my head as I lie there fully clothed, the thumping hangover slowly worsening or abating, I can't tell which.

Hip hop plays low in the background. An arm slips around me, the other hand finds mine, and I bury my head in his neck.

"Bloody hell, I'm dying" I say, because the night before ended at 6am when daylight crept into the party, and only then was it time to go home.

It was when I woke up later that morning that the text was there, asking if I wanted to come round that night.

"I can't do tonight, but do you fancy just being a hungover mess with me this afternoon?" I replied, because he'd had a big one too, and misery loves nothing more than company when it's only a short, slightly ropey, too-hot-for-this-hangover bus journey down the road.

I told no one where I was going; there was no one to tell anyway, but it felt nice to just disappear to his flat in the middle of the afternoon, pull down the blinds and forget about the outside world for a while.

In fact, I tell no one about any of it, save a few close people who know me well enough not to ask too much, and not to share the details they hear.

Because this is how dating seems to go; it's uncertain, it's fun, and it's mostly closing your eyes and storing this moment because you're not sure how it will turn out later. 

And all I know is what experience tells me: that this - whatever it is - isn't ready to be labelled yet, won't be for a while, and doesn't need to be prodded in the way my friends would if they knew. 

What would I say if the questions came? That it's not as terrifying as it was at the start, certainly; that he's 30% familiar, and 70% an unknown mystery, but we're working on that with every date.

Well, sort of.

"You're going to a desert island and can only have one soft drink and one alcoholic drink forever", he says, 'what you having?"
"Ribena. And a gin and tonic" I reply, "you?"
"Strawberry milkshake and a White Russian." he returns.
"Interesting. A milky choice there."
Then I turn around and he curls behind me, and all I know is that even with a hangover, this is a good place to be at the moment. 

So with the important questions covered, for now, we nap. 

 

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