What I Have Learnt about L.O.V.E
Not much, the end. Now…recipes!
OK, so seriously – I have genuinely discovered a hella’ lot about this subject in recent years, not only from my own hilarious experiences, but in hearing and witnessing countless tales from friends and loved ones. Tales that will melt your heart, make you pee your pants, make your blood run cold or, if you’re lucky, all three at the same time.
I was married and with the same man for almost 10 years. That’s from the age of 22 to 31…take a moment to think about that please. Think about all the things you learnt, got up to, explored, discovered about love and dating in that time – I did not. Until I left my marriage, I had never been on a date (with someone I didn’t know or had just met) in my life…ok once, I’d been on one date. All the other men I had “dated” or been in relationships with were friends of friends, work contacts, people I’d met at uni – in other words people I got to know organically and then over time the feels developed and before you know it they’ve left their toothbrush at your house and they’ve invited themselves round for Christmas. To be honest, maybe I’m old school but I still think this is the best way. I was / am pretty damn picky, possibly to my own detriment, and if I wasn’t in to someone I just wouldn’t engage.
After three very painful years of coming to the realization that our marriage wasn’t working, trying everything we could to fix it and then ultimately deciding to walk away – I was completely shell shocked. Once that had subsided I was left with a huge sense of relief that the painful decision had been made and I was genuinely excited about a new chapter and new opportunities in every aspect of my life. I felt like I’d been given a second bite of the apple at 31 and I was so fed up of feeling sad for such an extended period that I just refused outright to exist in that space for a moment longer. I threw myself into reinvigorating my freelance business, which had been put on ice to raise Charlie, and once I felt things were in order my friends encouraged me to turn my mind to dating…or at least the idea of dating. Ever the investigative journalist, I approached the whole thing with intrigue and a healthy dose of much needed humour. I had heard countless stories from girl and guy friends about their experiences of dating and relationships, and I was interested in how the old merry dance worked since I was last on the scene. In the spirit of trying new things - if a guy asked for my number, instead of smiling politely and doing the old change the last digit trick, I handed it out and went along for the ride (metaphorically speaking – behave).
Lesson #1: I was in fact right to be so guarded in handing my number over to random men...because no matter what the ole “d*ck pic trick” is a very real modern dating phenomenon that is living and breathing amongst us. I quickly learnt that if a guy asks for your number in a bar; regardless of whether he is a high flying banker, a musician or a teacher, chances are within the next 5 days you are going to receive a random 11pm Thursday evening snap of the old fella - in a whole range of positions. Just as you’re switching off the latest episode of “Killing Eve”, there it will be…maybe propped up against a household item, casually presented on a pillow like a museum artifact – “this particular exhibit dates back to the Jurassic period and can be categorized by its unusual characteristic markings..” or my personal favourite – the tip cheekily poking out of the top of the (usually faded) boxer short, “peekaboo”! Come on over Prince Charming – It. Is. ON. Delete & Block. Amazingly it was blended into a relatively normal conversation:
“Hey..how’s your night going..?
INSERT PENIS PICTURE
“Fancy getting together for a drink this week?”
Was it a slip up..? Are my eyes deceiving me or between the greeting and the question is there actually a picture of human male genitalia before me? What was the expected response here?
“Hi there, great thanks. Had a lovely evening with friends.”
“Congratulations on your penis, the maintenance on that thing must be expensive.”
“Sure, drinks would be great – King’s Road, Thursday at 8pm?”
I’m not that naïve that I didn’t realise the drink proposition was more than likely an invitation to the dungeon in which he resided, somewhere between Tooting and Clapham Junction, but still, come on!
I asked all my friends if they had the same happen to them (maybe I had a face that said “please, send me an awkward close up of your penis sometime this week”..?) and every single one said yes. Funnily enough, I then asked every male friend if they send out the pics and they all said no.. ummm. Needless to say the conclusion was thus – my original strategy of not dishing out the digits willy nilly was a sound one, unless you want to indeed collate a gallery of said willy. Moving on.
Lesson #2: Men can be utterly sweet, creative and thoughtful right from the start. Having come from a long term relationship that had lost its way...and its sparkle, I was genuinely blown away by how creative the fellas can be from the outset. I went on a date with one guy who soon after locked in a second meeting. The day before he text me to say where to meet, followed by “oh, and you might want to wear a pretty dress”. Slightly bossy, confident, assertive – friggin’ loved it. So I turned up at one of my favourite river front cocktail bars in London (which he had picked up on from a conversation in the first date) in said pretty dress to find out he had organized tickets to an exclusive roof top supper club on the Southbank. I couldn’t stop thanking him for his thoughtfulness – probably super uncool of me, but I was so grateful and impressed by the effort and he deserved to know. It was lovely and I’ll think of it with a smile always. He was the first man I went on more than one date with after my divorce, it didn’t go anywhere, it was never meant to be. But I genuinely enjoyed getting to know him as a friend more than anything, and I have him to thank for opening my eyes again to the sparkle, surprise, fun and magic of what “boy meets girl” can be. I had forgotten, and he brought that back to life.
Lesson #3: Don’t play games – it’s a two way street. This one literally makes my brain hurt. I have guys and girls that all have theories and approaches to this, and are full of advice and conflicting ideas. Basically, it’s a minefield. Who makes the first move..? How do you show you’re keen, but not too keen..? Who asks who out? Seriously WTF! I reentered the dating world in exactly the same way I left it aged 22 – do absolutely nothing. Never call, never text, never ask someone out, never even look in their general direction.. just emit a pheromone rich mind trail that they will undoubtedly follow all the way to your front door, armed with flowers and an invitation to dinner. Mature & evolved right? I am so friendly and social with everyone I meet, but historically if I liked a guy I went cold and stand offish – basically the complete opposite to my actual character. It took me meeting someone of significance to stop that bad habit because I learnt that genuine attraction is pretty rare; and so when you find it, you grab it with both hands, throw the rule book out of the window and just go for it without worry if you’re playing it cool or doing it right. You’ll figure it along the way and it will either work or it won’t, it’s that simple. But one thing’s for sure you’ll have some cracking adventures and a life rich with stories if nothing else. Strangely and rather wonderfully I have become a bit of an advice/life guru amongst my friends – hilarious seeing as my own life has taken a less than conventional path and I have no real clue what I’m doing. I am a good listener, however, and somehow other people’s problems seem so glaringly obvious to solve. I always say to approach it all with lightness, kindness, honestly and be upbeat. I don’t mean you shouldn’t take important things seriously, or be blasé, I mean try not to sweat the small stuff. With all things, especially matters of the heart, it should be wonderful and fun and enrich your life, there will always be hard times and rough patches, but the good should outweigh the bad and if it doesn’t – it’s simply not meant for you. Don’t walk around heavy, wearing your mistakes or bad experiences like a badge that defines you or a shield that prevents you from embarking on new opportunities. If it didn’t work out - don’t be sad that you lost it, be grateful that you had it. Things are different now, and chances are you’re going to have it again, better and in such a way you’ll wonder what there ever was to be sad about in the first place. Take risks, be vulnerable because being cold is not cool at all.
Lesson #4: Spooning, Farting & Other Adventures: So you’ve got past the first few dates and you find yourself in a “thing”, whatever that “thing” might be. Now this is where the good stuff comes in, where you really get to know a person and start to relax and have fun. Still in the blissful honeymoon phase where you don’t want them to see you with your face mask on, shaving your legs over the bath with their face razor (apparently people do this...according to a friend...ahem), but you are past the frustrating mind game phase. I have sooo many hilarious stories from friends about this stage I could write a book.
“The early stages of dating can be defined by one thing, the constant stomach cramps of holding in farts for extended periods of time until they finally leave and you can relax” – was the line of one particular friend, that I feel would make a fabulous alternative opening to a Bronte novel or similar. There is a truth to this though, you are never so aware of your own bodily functions then when you are in the company of the person you really like. I can’t even wee in the vicinity of a boy in the early stages. I will literally hold it in and then find a toilet at the farthest point humanly possible from said man, turn the taps on, sing, cough make all the noise for fear that he might hear me. Fast forward a year and you find yourself weeing freely while he is in the shower, talking about what groceries you need for dinner that night. There is definitely a sweet spot somewhere in the middle here and I urge you to remain there for as long as humanly possible. I’m not alone in this though, every chick I know has an excruciating story, many of which I have dined off for years because of the sheer palm sweating embarrassment of them. I have a friend whose first accidental fart happened to unfortunately coincide with the first time they…consummated the relationship. Know my skin is itching with cringe as I recount this. She had spent the evening at her (now husband’s) place where he cooked her a romantic meal and things were going swimmingly. After a bottle of wine and no doubt exhilarating sexy word play and a healthy dose of eye gazing and leg stroking, things migrated to the bedroom. My friend, at this point, was crippled with stomach ache, but ever the trooper she marched bravely on into the night and got on with the task at hand, undeterred by the uncomfortable distraction. During a particularly vigorous move, nature ran its course, and the trumpets sounded in the battle field. Not once, but twice. Loudly. Proceedings halted and they both laughed until they cried, at which point, so the story goes, she knew he was the one. Not the stuff of Shakespeare, but still one of my favourite tales of love all the same.
As for spooning, sleeping and bed sharing etiquette...where do I begin. To comfortably fall asleep next to someone, I think, is a major milestone. I have a friend, who for the first YEAR of their relationship woke before her fella every single day to re-apply her make up so that he never saw her unmade first-thing-in-the-morning face. She is a beautiful girl, I couldn’t believe it. This man is now her husband and adores every fibre of her being and every feature of her face, but this story amazes me. Generally speaking, if you can’t handle the many forms of my face – the freckles on my nose in summer, the way my eyes go red when I cry, the fact that I have giant rabbit teeth and bite my lip when I’m nervous or excited, the way on days where I don’t have a meeting or don’t have any plans - I don’t like to wear make-up at all – then sod right off. Interestingly, in my humble experience and conversations with friends (male and female) men like spooning as much, if not more, than women. This may be due to the alluring proximity of crotch to butt, and the hope that spooning will inevitably lead to forking…but still, I find this to be a universal truth. A friend of mine dated a really built bloke who loved a spoon, but the sheer weight of his arm around her made her feel like her rib cage was being crushed and “slowly perforating her internal organs one by one”. Cosy. She would wait for him to fall asleep and wriggle out of his clutch to avoid nightly asphyxiation, which I thought somewhat romantic and beat a swift jab of the elbow followed by “get on your own side you minotaur, I can’t breathe”. The things of self-sacrifice we do to save the feelings of the ones we love.
I could ramble on forever here, but life must go on. So to conclude, if I may, I will continue to listen to the stories of friends – of past and present experiences - with absolute delight. I will do this because it reminds me, with a smile, that this stuff is universal. No one has the faintest clue what they are doing, literally. Every person, every situation, every story of love or heartbreak is categorically and wholly different from the one before and the one that may or may not come after. For me there is a fundamental and oh so sweet freeing release in this; in that you can’t or couldn’t change what has happened to date, and in most cases you can’t particularly control what’s coming for you either. No matter how analytical (and I am) or cautious (yep) you might be, nothing can prepare you for the cards you are dealt. So jump. With a smile on that bad ass face of yours and some emergency pepper spray in your pocket if needs be, jump right in and enjoy the ride.
Have a gorgeous week you lot. Sending love xx