“You’re being a snob!” she exclaimed to me - genuinely flummoxed, I suddenly understood. “You’re really telling me that any man without a university degree isn’t in the running to date you? That’s horrible.”
I hadn’t meant it horribly, but then maybe that makes it worse. I didn’t give my long list of criteria a second thought, because some stuff is just obvious, isn’t it? Education: preferably an M.A. Career prospects: makes more money than me. Relationship with mother: calls every Sunday. Without realising it my list also included the ability to dress well without supervision, lives preferably alone, capable of sitting through a four-course meal, would get on with my cousin Paul at a family wedding, speaks a second language if not two, understands wine, will give me the password to his Netflix account.
Is it any wonder my one eludes me when THE MAN WHO FITS THAT LIST DOES NOT EXIST. The person who fits that list does not exist. I DO NOT FIT THAT LIST.
My friend, the one who was taking me to task, she said, “I don’t have a university degree. Does that mean I’m not good enough to be your friend?” and suddenly I was two inches tall and blushing fiercely, as well I should. Because. Well – because when it comes to dating, when it comes to judging people full stop, I’ve been a dick.
(Also, not an hour after this discussion I had to divide eight stew dumplings by four people at the table, and ended up, somehow, with two leftover. “What degree do you have again?” they mocked.)
I complain about the bio of the guy on Tinder, the one with the exclamation points, and the lack of follow-through with the guy who used the wrong “their” on OK Cupid. I’ve openly mocked profile photographs of men with a) other women in the shot, b) a lack of a shirt, c) sunglasses, d) animals of any kind, e) children of any kind.
“SURELY THERE AREN’T REALLY THIS MANY SPANISH-SPEAKING MEN IN EAST LONDON?!” I’ve Tweeted, scathingly.
“Swipe left!” I’ve demanded of myself at brunch. “Any man with a photo of himself crossing a race finish line is an egotist!”
“PUPPIES DO NOT IMPRESS ME,” I’ve said, finding literally any excuse to dismiss yet another one.
I had a date last week, and before he’d even (kindly, thoughtfully) fetched me a glass of wine I’d written him off because what his photograph hadn’t revealed is a somewhat mullet-shape to his haircut. When friends asked me how it had gone, that is what I said: “He had really bad hair.” Some, on hearing this, nodded sagely, understanding my predicament. Others – closer friends, the ones unafraid to shout bullshit at eighty-per-cent of my assertions – pushed back. And it is in trying to justify myself, what I want, that it hit me.
What I want isn’t quantifiable qualification or aesthetic. What I want is a man who will sit at the back of a workshop and not take his eyes off me as I take to the stage, mesmerised by the courage his support gives me to work hard and take chances, just like I saw the husband of a new friend do last week. I actually said, about one date, “He was too impressed by me.” As if a man who thinks I am great is somehow defective because of it. Holy mother of balls does that say more about me than him. Oh, what I could learn from that man and his dancing eyes and kind questions! What possibility there could be if I allowed myself to be loved!
It’s fear, isn’t it. Fear of longing, fear of hoping, fear of disappointment. Fear is a robbing little fucker, taking things we didn’t even realise we had. I didn’t realise all I wanted – all I need – is a special one who will do his best. Who will do his best for me, because of me.
Remembering birthdays doesn’t photograph. Being the first up to make a brew and wrestle the papers from the letterbox doesn’t have a checkbox on the dating site. There’s no app for “partners who just want to tell you that you’re enough”. I marvel at the marriages of my friends and their parents, too, how accepting they are, how full of compromise and trying, and I think, I don’t know if I can do that. But the point is, surely, that with the gentle ones, the ones who will chat to your mum on the phone when she calls and buy the book you commented on at the weekend as a surprise and save the ripest avocado for you, tomorrow, because you like avocado for breakfast, it doesn’t much seem like compromise at all.
I have been humbled. And with that humility, I want to be kinder – to myself, and to them. I want to accept the potential loves of my life in the same way that I too, can only hope to be accepted, and the vulnerability of that – well. It takes my breath away, because true honesty, real openness... that's terrifying.