by Lu Smith
I’m sitting in a noisy Korean restaurant in London. It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I’ve just run like a madwoman from an interview to be here. I am sweaty, wearing a skirt too short for this much daylight, and having lunch with a boy who I’ve just met.
The boy (man would be too much of a compliment) who sits in front of me is talking as if I’m not here, as I slowly pick at the rubbery squid on my plate with chopsticks.
Dating online is a minefield. I have been single, or without a relationship lasting longer than three months, for the last six, nearly seven years.
I already know that this will end with a swift peck on the cheek and an apologetic ‘I just didn’t feel that connection’ text at about 8pm this evening. It gets to a point when you wonder why you put yourself through the ordeal.
Dating has become a series of dick pics and requests of ‘you up?’ at 2am on a Saturday night, from previous errors in judgment or too many tequilas in a sticky nightclub. We all make mistakes.
It’s not that this guy isn’t interesting. He’s an artist, actually quite a successful one. He’s to the point, creative, reasonably okay-looking and has a nice laugh. I’m sure I could be quite happy with him. I chase grains of rice around my plate and imagine our life together. Our house-come-studio, him painting in a blanket, drinking coffee, whilst I sit beside him writing on a Sunday morning. We run around galleries like small children and kiss on the steps of the Tate at 4am after stumbling around comedy clubs in Soho, after too much Vermouth. Yes, I watch too many romantic comedies.
‘Do you want some water?’ Shit, I’ve dropped off the grid.
I look up at him as he pours me a glass, saying, ‘God, we’ve been talking so much we forgot to order anything to drink!’ You have, I think, as I smile and cheers him with my water glass.
He has an exhibition coming up, he tells me. ‘But I think it’s going to be a sort of supper club,’ he adds with greedy excitement in his eyes. He’s never cooked for anyone other than his flatmates but he assures me he knows what he’s doing. Christ.
I would like to add that I am not a particularly picky person. I do not have a list of attributes or a check list that each man must compare to. My friends have stopped searching for men who are ‘my type’ when we are out in bars anymore. Instead, they just point to innocent victims in pub gardens, through clouds of cigarette smoke.
‘That one?’ they ask, ‘He’s got hair, a pulse, is tall and has all his teeth – you should go for it!’
I feel like trying to find a boyfriend is a bit like going out to buy a new item of clothing. You’ve imagined what it’s going to look like in your head, selected the piece you think will be the right fit. Then you reach the changing room; you wrestle with the zips and tags; arms and legs akimbo. You test out how well it holds you, if they make you feel comfortable or sexy – whether they are the right fit. And sometimes they are and that thrill of a new purchase is all consuming. They are new, shiny, exciting and you want to show them off to those closest to you.
You introduce them to your friends, and they gather round you, glasses of wine in hand, nodding in approval sat on your bed, saying how good it looks on you and how well you suit each other. What a good match to the rest of your wardrobe!
Alternatively, the changing room is where the dream ends. Things don’t quite fit how you thought; they make you look lumpy in all the wrong places, the fabric isn’t quite what you thought, it demands you to lose at least a stone to look right in it.
But perhaps the realisation doesn’t occur right then. Perhaps when you finally get it home you actually realise that it doesn’t go with any of the other pieces in your wardrobe. What you thought was a good fit at first is slightly too big or ill fitting and now you’re torn; do I take it back? Do I just hope that no one notices? Shall I just abandon it altogether?
You see my dilemma.
“When enough people say it you can’t help but wonder if you will, in fact, actually find someone”
My friends insist that it’s everyone else and that ‘I just haven’t met the right person yet.’
I’ve heard them all; from ‘have you tried speed dating?’ to ‘I think you just need to take some time out from men’ to ‘I stopped having sex for 3 months and now I’m so much more in touch with myself and I think if you did it you would become a vegan, meditating, solo goddess like me.’ Please.
‘Stop looking,’ one friend bemoans at me, for about the sixth time this month. She has just moved out of London and is smugly living in a cottage in the West Country, having stumbled across the man of her dreams at a pub quiz three weeks ago.
‘Annie, how can I stop looking?’ I whine. ‘Men make up half of the species! I’m not saying I’m looking at every man as a potential suitor, but it’s a little difficult to avoid them altogether.’
(This is also a lie – I can’t go out of my house without checking out the majority of men who are of a suitable age and who are relatively good-looking. It’s becoming a problem. Maybe the clouds of smoke in the pub garden were not so incorrect after all.)
Stop looking and you’ll be sure to find the one. This is the mantra that emanates from every text message sent to me from my counsel of girlfriends. The frequency of men in my life has recently increased to around two new men a fortnight. No, I am not running around with a harem of seventy men. I normally get a new sexual partner once a month. I like sex, and I don’t like being alone. Yet men seem to translate that solely to requests for naked pictures and for them to tell you how much they want to put a finger up your bum. I do not exaggerate.
The ‘date’ ends as expected, with an excuse that he has to get back to his studio assistant Grace, as I was late. I dutifully offer to pay: £6.99 for my uneaten squid and water. It’s windy but cloudy, and I decide to roll a cigarette outside of a Mexican restaurant I have visited with three different men on three different occasions for drinks – two-for-the-price-of-one jugs of cocktails after 6pm on Thursdays – can’t go wrong.
I wrap my coat around me as the wind whips up, thinking if he ever took Grace out to the same restaurant. Probably did. Perhaps he’s convincing himself he actually does fancy his assistant and that the quick fuck they had in the studio, late the other week, wasn’t just a one off. The number of excuses, justifying why this didn’t go well, rattle off from my brain. It’s painfully absurd.
I am aware that I am a walking oxymoron. Wanting the gentleman and the dominant all in one. The man who will creatively, emotionally and physically keep me stimulated for the rest of my life. Someone who I can imagine getting a house with and introducing to my parents, whilst going on all-naked holidays and having sex on the kitchen table. It is completely unrealistic.
I sit through lunches and dinners with the boyfriends, fiancees and husbands of my friends; each of them more painful than the last. They are either nights of alcohol and meeting single friends of their partners (always a more entertaining evening) or awkward dinners where the men have been dragged along to participate; politely making conversation with each other while counting down the seconds they can go home and be rewarded with mediocre sex for ‘making the effort to come out.’
I am regarded with apologetic looks and pats on the shoulder with choruses of ‘don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find someone soon.’
Will I though? When enough people say it you can’t help but wonder if you will, in fact, actually find someone.
Cigarette in hand, I stop just outside Waterloo station. It’s only been a short ten minutes since my date ran off and the cold wind whips around my legs. I knew it was a mistake to wear a short skirt for a lunch date. Perhaps that was it? Or the way I laughed, or chose the wrong thing for lunch, or didn’t compliment him enough?
After the grand total of an hour, I am now alone. I blow the last of my smoke forcefully from my lips, and stamp out my cigarette. I awkwardly retrieve the mess of headphones from my pocket. I hurriedly cross the street, narrowly avoiding the bus and Deliveroo moped as I’m plugging myself in; they clearly think I have a death wish. I can see the headline: ‘Young woman gets hit by food delivery. Single, 25, alone.’ I don’t even look at the song and press play. The chatter and chaos of the London underground surrounds me, and I slowly blend into the crowds. Not quite so alone now, and ready to fall in love again.
Louisa is an actress, writer, and producer of Un:Voiced podcast, coming in 2019. She has been single for 6 years and (regrettably) a lot of her work is based on her real-life experience.