I’m spending some time in Spain catching up with family, using it as a great opportunity to get a tan, having some time to myself and catch up on some reading. It’s late afternoon and after a beach run and some serious breakfast (never a light occasion if my mother is involved) I am on a sun lounger by the pool with Joe Hill’s latest doorstop horror novel in hand.
My phone buzzes and I I am torn away from Christmasland for a moment to find a Whatsapp message. It’s a guy I chatted to during my short time on Grindr about a month ago, and then realised I didn’t really fancy the whole dating thing, so I blew him off by telling him I was going to Spain to see family and I would be back soon.
“Are you back from Spain yet?”, bless him.
I’m amused that anyone would think “a few days” would translate into over a month, and the fact I am actually in Spain again at the moment. I don’t remember him being quite this cute though. I text him back to tell him I’ll be back in a few days, and what the hell, I arrange a date for Friday evening.
We spend the next few days lazily chatting, and he asks to add me on Facebook. I don’t normally agree to this, but for some reason I relent. This is me, I think, the person who wants to write a dating column and get back in that saddle. Maybe I shouldn’t be so damn protective, maybe some of my barriers need to come down.
Friday comes and the day is fine and sunny. I have spent the past few days tanning and relaxed, I feel great. I buy some new shoes and enjoy the sunshine, stepping into work for an early shift and thinking a little about later. I don’t have many expectations, but it’s nice to go on a date again. 4pm rolls around and I fall right back into old behaviour. Maybe I should just go home and rest, I have work the next morning after all and would like to hit the gym.
I stop that train of thought. For the good of my writing, and to just get back out there and be sociable, I really have to go and not cancel. I’ve cancelled enough as it is. What’s the worst that could happen? I can meet him for a couple of hours and then make my excuses, same as all the other times.
I sit and wait in the coffee shop we agree on, and he texts me to tell me he’s there. He’s dressed immaculately in skinny Zara jeans and a nice t-shirt, beautiful suede shoes and a jacket. He seems a little shy at first but he soon gets flirting, and we laugh and smile our way past our first hour. He has shiny expressive eyes full of mischief, thick lips and the cutest smile.
From coffee we head into Soho for a couple of drinks, and Chinese food. We ease into intimacy, my feet around his under the table. It feels natural, not forced, pretty nice for the first time in a very long time. I joke and ask how old he is. He tells me he is nineteen. I am genuinely shocked, I was pushing for early twenties which even then still feels a little young for me. I am taken aback, at nine years my junior. Do I really want to go there? I always feel some massive sense of responsibility around younger guys. I’m not one of those twink worshippers. One more thing to add to the checklist of things to ask before a first date. (Are you a murderer? Do you shower? How old are you?)
My little voice tells me to just relax, it’s just a date I’m not exactly proposing marriage.
We finish the evening in a bar by Soho Square, and I can tell from the moment he walks in there are plenty of eyes on him. He mentions this and I laugh. He tells me he hasn’t really been to many gay bars and he’s not used to the attention. Little alarm bells go off in my head, maybe I’ve created a monster here.
We flirt, we get closer, we kiss. It’s nice, warm. No pressure or need for anything, just easy conversation laughs and kisses. I realise with a little shock it’s 1:30am and I really should get home. I don’t even know what night bus to get, I’ve never been out this late in London before.
We start walking towards Oxford Street and I can tell Mr. Zara has a little swagger. There’s a bit less intimacy now, no natural holding of hands. I tell him if I can’t catch a bus I can probably just get a hotel with all the points I’ve accumulated from business trips. He shrugs me off a little, and tells me I can go. I feel a bit taken aback. He says he’s had a good time, I tell him I’d like to see him again.
“Maybe”, he says. “I can’t make any promises”.
I laugh a little, until I realise he’s not laughing with me.
“Are you serious?” I ask.
He nods. “Don’t overthink things. I don’t like to give definites”.
There’s a moment of pride for me and my growth, because I’ve dealt with this type of man (boy, even) before, and they’ve always managed to leave me just that little bit broken.
All engines go until the end of the night when they start to feel a bit trapped, even by the promise of another date. Especially when they look around and see the go-go boys, all the other sweaty bodies. Things they never had to start with, but like to delude themselves into thinking they are missing out on.
So for the first time ever, I don’t beg. I don’t plead. I don’t pretend to be okay.
I look him straight in the eye and I say. “I don’t play games. Either you like someone or you don’t”.
He smiles at me. “Ignore me, it’s the alcohol talking”.
I tell him he’s not being very nice and there’s no need for it.
He shrugs. “My bus is here, you should go find your hotel”.
I walk away from Mr. Zara’s feigned indifference. “See you around”, I turn and say. No hug, no kiss. A coldness, where twenty minutes ago we had our arms wrapped around each other.
I try and find my night bus and fail miserably. I am cold and tired in my summer outfit, stumbling towards the hotel I want to stay in. I am fuming, I am upset, I probably look a wreck. The hotel try and turn me away, tell me to come back later.
I’m a little rude. A little drunk. I just need a room. I wave my hotel membership card at them. Suddenly the “system error” has gone away and they can get me a room. They even get me a phone charger, with apologies.
I stand there and think, what the hell do I need a man for? Not a boy to crawl around after, certainly. No matter how sweet his lips are, no matter how warm his drawl is or his arms feel around my waist. I don’t have to put up with any drama. Here I am, getting myself out of a crap situation completely on my own, with all the resources I have built upon on my own. Mr. Zara on the other hand, is going home on the night bus to his parents’ house and will spend his Saturday lazing about, as teenagers do. Light years away, absolute light years.
As clichéd as it sounds, I feel strong and independent. Surely a man should enhance my life, not get me into these situations in the first place. Clearly Mr. Zara is not that into me, and to be fair I’m suddenly not so hot on him.
He texts me the evening after. “I had a great night” he says. “Thanks”.
I can’t wrap my head around it. “What the hell happened at the bus stop?”
He texts back. “I got a little bit over my head. I’m too busy for all this”.
“I think” I reply “we both want very different things out of life. And you seem to have a few issues to sort out in yours”.
He doesn’t reply.
I’m thinking Mr. Zara doesn’t reach the soles of my cute new shoes.