Saturday 3 February 2018

What I want

He's been gradually edging closer to my side for the last hour and a half. And now one hand is resting on my leg, and six empty glasses have collected by our feet. We are on a bench sitting against a wall, and when he kisses me, my hair catches in the wood behind my head.

We'd met an hour into the New Year, after he'd approached me while I ordered drinks at the bar. We kept chatting, and eventually kissed the way you tend to kiss a complete stranger when you're drunk on New Years Eve. Later, he left me charmed and intrigued enough to give him my number at the end of the night.

'My New Year's resolution is to go on one date this year', I'd said when the topic inevitably came up, 'It's been quite a long time'.

And so here we are, a week and a half later, in the corner of a basement bar.

It's been a long time since I've done this, longer than a year. And as the night goes on, I find myself getting reacquainted with all the ways attraction makes opinions and thoughts bend and shift, selecting stories to be told, and anecdotes to be left out, the way you subtly test the things you think the other person might like.

Ah, this is fancying someone, I remember. He kisses me again.

'So what are you looking for?' he asks as we separate, and the directness of the question catches me off guard.

'I don't know really,' I say after a moment of thought, 'If I met someone I really liked, then obviously I'd want a relationship with them. But I don't want a boyfriend indiscriminately. I'd like to do things, and meet people, and date. What about you?'

'So, I don't think I want a relationship at the moment,' he responds, confirming something that I'd pieced together from the stories he'd told me, a feeling I already knew.

But what I don't expect is the immediate sense of a pressure lifting, a calming sense of relief. That what I want isn't the promise of a relationship, or commitment. And nor is it an escape route, or way out.

What I want is something more straight forward, but harder to find in a world where dating can sometimes feel like you're only being told what someone thinks you want to hear. For the first time I consider an option I hadn't thought about, something rarely offered: for someone to be honest, to take away the anxiety over what this is, to have things laid out upfront.

We leave the bar hand in hand, and walk towards Oxford Circus tube. I walk down the steps after he's kissed me goodbye, and five minutes later my phone buzzes with the words 'all booked x'.

Because there was one more thing I realised I want, and that's a second date.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Times have changed, it doesn't matter at all, not these days

'Met anyone nice recently?'

Ah, there we go; the brief tug backwards, like a few strands of hair caught in a hand on the tube.

It's deceptive, too: a casual, diluted version of a hot topic. Part question, part appetite for news.

Well, I think, there’s a load of really nice new colleagues at my new job. There's the tall, interesting man who joined my old work as I was leaving, who I bonded with over skiing and music and travel, but not over the boredom and futility of dating apps, because that's how he'd just met his new girlfriend.

There’s the 50 year old woman I ate dinner with every night for three days while I was away. And the 32 year old stranger I sat next to on a beach and paddled in the water with for eight hours straight; through flashes of heavy rain followed by stretches of sun, talking non-stop about life, equality, work, and the stories we had from the places we’d been. We’re still in touch now, actually, she was great.

There’s the man the two of us talked to over instant noodles after too many glasses of sake, the one with the beautiful eyes, surprisingly good English and politely attractive way, who we both agreed was hot as we crept back into our dorm beds on the eve of my last day. 

There’s the people I shook hands with in the main room of the nightclub three floors beneath London on Friday night, introducing ourselves over the blast of house, but I don’t remember why we got talking, or their names.

I also liked the woman I exchanged a few words of solidarity with at the tube doors, when a man walked past us and took the space that should have been ours.

All these people flash through my mind on a grid labelled Nice People I’ve Met Recently, but I know that's not where this conversation is headed, that isn't what is meant.

So what I say out loud is

No, no one, I haven’t met anyone, not since February really, nothing since then, no dates, nothing, all this year.

And I'm not sure what I'm more tired of having: the question or the answer, or the inevitable discussion about why that follows, over and over again.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

No expectations

How did this happen, I think, not for the first time that morning. Because now, it is most certainly morning.

My eyes are closed and my feet are moving, my chest is rattling, my nose hairs are tickling from the rumbling bass. A few of us went for a quick drink and now here we are, 12 hours later, the group dispersed and my eyes settling on the man to my right.

We catch each other's eyes in mutual appreciation of the moment, the intro we recognise, the hour, the incoming drop. We grin at each other and he says "I can't believe they wanted to shut this place down" and I yell back "I know, it's nuts".

He places his finger over my ear when he leans down to talk to me - the nightclub equivalent of holding the door open - and although it's nearly 5am, some rituals are still in place: he offers to buy me a drink.

His friends are unreachable, the spot where mine were is empty now too. We move to the next room, a different sound, a different crowd. We dance next to each other and then, slowly, subtly, he moves behind me; puts his hands on my hips, and then he turns me around and we kiss.


Walking through the city in the dark. It's past 6am, freezing, and his jacket went home with his friends. We flag down a black cab and I give the driver - his first fare of the day - my address.

And all I feel is a lightness, a relief that this sort of thing can still happen; a night can still tumble into something you didn't expect. I lean into the stranger on the backseat, he kisses the top of my head. We're laughing-tired, too stupidly wired for the hour; comparing the ringing sounds in our ears.

It's 8am when we finally call it a night, or a day, and get into bed with our clothes on, not bothering to change. We stay that way until the afternoon. He leaves later, and when he says "thank you", I know him just well enough to know he means it. It's not numbers we swap but names; a long hug, a quick kiss. 

"You're welcome," I say, letting him out. The night is over, there's still no expectations. And I'm still smiling to myself after shutting the door.

Monday 14 November 2016

How are you

When you're in your 20s, most friendship groups form because of some uniting cause. You're all single, you all like tequila and sequins (in that order), or you all memorised Roald Dahl poems as a kid.

Whatever it is, you're all in the same situation, you can relate to each other in some way. You rely on each other, talk about your tumultuous dating lives and relationships, your fears about the future, or absolutely nothing at all.

Out of that, a sort of day to day dialogue emerges. You have a casual, almost unremarkable routine of checking in with each other, and popping round, and it's a sort of barometer: you all seem to know how everyone is.

But at some indeterminate point in your 30s, slowly that begins to change.

And you know it's inevitable, natural even: but that doesn't stop it feeling strange when your good friends no longer come to you with their day-to-day stuff.

More often than not, they've got someone at home who can listen and take the load off their mind midweek, rather than nipping round to yours, or for a quick one in the pub.

For me, this year's heartbreak hasn't been a romantic relationship dwindling. It was realising that little by little, my friends no longer need me in the same way they did before. And in turn realising that I, being single, still need them in the same way I always have.

Which was the thought process running through my mind a couple of weeks ago, when winter was in the air, and my mood was dogged down one day mid week.

My next planned social event - because now, they are almost always planned - was still a couple of days away, an impossible work situation was feeling impossible, and family matters felt like they mattered a lot.

What I really fancied was a quick chat, something to perk me up: but my last failed attempts at rousing the gang on Whatsapp for a spontaneous drink were ebbing at the confidence to make the same suggestion again.

I knew, if I was to send a message, or an email, or make a call and say I could do with a chat, that responses would come and someone would be there.

But when your mind is telling you that everyone else has somewhere else they'd rather be, then the simple call or text that would fix things can be the hardest one to make.

So I didn't, and the day trundled on, along with my mood. Until just before the end of the day, when a text message arrived.

The name surprised me. It was a friend who had largely disappeared this year, leaving one of the biggest gaps of all. But there she was - as if she knew I needed her - with just two words:

Dinner soon?

And that was all it took. We chatted away, she asked how I was, and we arranged a Sunday afternoon out. Little by little as the inane back and forth continued, my brain lifted itself out of its slump.

It reminded me just how restorative a simple how are you can be. That friends are still there, but they need to know that you need them.

And single or not, I think that reminder works both ways.

Thursday 28 April 2016

It was a very good day

We are in his room, and outside it, the sun is setting on the weekend.

'I need to go home' I say, because it's Sunday, because we've got work tomorrow, because it's 9pm, because at some point all good days must come to an end.

'I need to go home' I say again, half an hour later, and this time I reach down and put on my shoes.

'We should do something proper. Go for dinner. Without hangovers.' he says, looking directly at me, smoothing down strands of my hair.

'Yes, we should. Let's do that.'

'Let me know when you get home,' he says, once, then twice, 'Check the number works' he adds with a smile.

And then we kiss for a long time at his front door, and then, finally, I leave.


At a friend's birthday the night before, it's late when he passes me his phone.

I read the words I'm going home soon. I was wondering if I can I have your number? he's written in the message field, and I nod, then we sneak off to the kitchen, and my stomach flips as we kiss.

Night rolls into morning, morning rolls into a walk to my house, my house turns into the park, Bloody Marys in a pub garden, and it's afternoon now: we sit on a park bench in the sun.

'Tell me things about yourself,' he says, 'Tell me things you like.'

The park bench in the sun turns into a slow, arms-round-eachother amble along a canal.

We stop for food; hands held across the corner of a square table for two. We walk, we walk, we walk back to his for a film, a nap. Full circle.

Back again, he said, like it wouldn't be the last time.


I wait for the bus, I let him know that I'm home.

A couple of messages from him is all it takes, and the light feeling in my chest is replaced by one that is more familiar to me.

The next day, confusion.

Perhaps I imagined it, I think.

A week passes of nothing, then two.

It's awkward, isn't it? It's not the ending you expect.

You want the love story, the follow up, the excitement, the dates, the things that are meant to happen after a good day.

As a love story, it's lacking. But as a good day, it's pretty much complete.

To look at good days in anything other than isolation is silly; I don't take them too personally any more.

Good days are like good dates; there'll be another.

He was another, after all.

Monday 4 April 2016

Travel when you can

When you're bored, and single, or you don't have anything pinning you to where you feel you should be: book some flights, and travel.

Get pushed back in your seat as the plane takes off, and leave everything that was worrying you or stressing you, or niggling at your heart, on the runway at Heathrow.

Resign it to lost property.

Do not ask for it back.

Stay in the sky for hours, a day and night, longer than most people will ever spend above the clouds. Then land, and wash your face, and get back on and do it again.

Arrive on the other side of the world, your concept of time gone topsy-turvy. The sun is shining and you're shedding layers outside the terminal; there goes your hoody, you're holding your coat.

Spend some time with friends.

Have decision-free days that revolve around brunch and booze, and beach, then gently excuse yourself from the slow moving group.

Split off from the comfortable, go-with-the-flow, someone-else-will-do-it mentality, and get on a different flight.

Hire a car, pay for a GPS.

Throw your backpack in the boot, start the engine, and feel the familiar what the fuck am I doing nerves you always get when you arrive somewhere on your own.

Pull over whenever you fancy it, watch the river for as long as you want. When you get going again, realise you've left your anxiety by the side of the road.

Do not turn back.

Drive to places you know, and places you don't. Book single rooms with communal living spaces, and sit where people can see you - on a sofa, in a kitchen, outside a library, in a cafe - and wait. Put down your phone. Smile at someone and say hello, how's your day been?

Talk to strangers. Do whatever they're doing the next day.

(Alone doesn't always mean being alone.)

Swap the conversations of home - relationships, and property, and careers - for stories about travel, and countries, and plans.

Sit on surf boards and count the waves that come in threes, sit on cliffs and point towards the next body of land.

At night after a few glasses of wine, sit on a wall, look down and talk about the size of the splashing, glittering fish.

Listen to lives that sound like the one you want now, instead of the one you left behind. Meet the sort of people you always look for in London, but never seem to find.

Spend time by yourself in the car, or in your room, or standing knee deep in the sea, and think about all the things you want to do.

Stop feeling too old to do them.

Eat fish and chips on a bench by the sea by yourself, with your sun-tinted face tilted upwards to sun, and your feet sticky with sand, and feel very much like you don't want to share any of it:

The experience, the photos, the chips.

Get back on the plane, curl up across two seats. Take your perspective home.

And make sure the next time you can, you travel, and even just once, or sometimes, or here and there, that you do it alone.

Tuesday 9 February 2016


I carry the letter inside, curious. I'm playing the guessing game usually reserved for Christmas and birthdays where you search the front for clues.

My name and address are handwritten, the stamp is first class, the envelope edges sealed shut with a protective layer of sellotape.

Inside there's a printed old style world map and two sheets of paper with the same design, writing covering each plain side.

Look, I say to my housemate, someone's sent me a proper letter
How cool, that's exciting, she replies, peering over, it's beautiful paper. Who's it from?

Details, details. The fact that there's a letter at all is enough.

For a while now I've been sending cards to my friends randomly throughout the year, just to say hello. Occasionally I get one back, but not very often.

And often, to be honest, that's not really the point.

Send all the emails, texts, and Whatsapp messages you like: there's nothing like a letter, not even close.

If you want to let someone know that you're thinking of them - really thinking, and you mean it - you should always write.

It doesn't even matter what you say.

Like when I wrote to someone on the other side of the world because I'd been feeling like an inadequate friend, but couldn't say as much or find the words.

I couldn't say "things are bad for me, so I'm struggling to be there for you" so I sent her two sheets of handwritten A4. Musings, random things, arbitrary stuff, and a bullet point list of things that are good.

But this letter is different, it does a better job of getting to the point than I could be brave enough to do.

It's the sort of letter you send when you won't see the person for a while, a level of honesty you might get to in the early hours of the morning, on a big night, but drifts into fuzzy memory the next day.

It's rare, the sort of letter you imagine yourself getting one day but don't ever think you will: a proper one, full of nice things: encouragement, observations, appreciation, advice.

I don't know where to put it, so I keep it in plain sight: on the table, next to my bed.

And in this time when so many messages are sent quickly, filed, pushed down by newer things and forgotten, I know that this one will be kept.

Aside from everything inside it, it's handwirtten, and designed to be re-read.

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