He kissed my neck before he kissed anywhere else. Loitered – lingered – close, beside my ear, so that I could feel his breath warm my ear against January cold on the meander home. That takes confidence, lingering. Teasing. This was before I learned that the ones who get a bit tongue-tied, the ones who are a bit unsure, are actually the ones with the biggest hearts. The kindest thoughts. The most honourable intentions. But on this afternoon at half past six, I hadn’t learned that yet. I kissed him back, the part-time rapper.
We’d sat opposite each other for five hours, talking over red wine and pale ale from the bottle, and the Saturday afternoon passed. I’d almost cancelled. I almost cancel every date I eventually go on. Last week I had a horrendous break out across my chin, angry red boils in competition with each other for attention, PMS at its ugliest, and it made me want to cancel the 4 p.m. coffee with the twinkly-eyed actor. But I didn’t. It felt important not to. It felt important to meet somebody and not be embarrassed by something I simply couldn’t help. One coffee became a walk became another coffee became learning how to go out on a limb to say, the day after, “I had a lovely time yesterday. Would you like to hang out together again?”
I wouldn’t take it personally, whatever he replied, I knew. I knew because I didn’t take it personally when the Irish tailor with the bad hair said, after our second date, “Can we just be friends?” I appreciated his directness, I told him, and wished him all the best. It was ninety-nine percent true. My ego only smarted a little – I had, after all, persuaded myself to do date two in the first place. That’s a sort of rule I have for myself, to always do more than one date before deciding. Nobody is really themselves on a first date. That’s why I don’t take it personally – because these people, these blokes, they’re only seeing a part of me, and me them. I didn’t take it personally when the part-Sudanese, part-Italian lawyer went to painful lengths to tell me how much he valued manners and then was incredibly rude in a follow-up text in a way that didn’t demonstrate the values he’d so painstakingly articulated in Starbucks. I did think it was bit weird, though.
It’s a numbers game, I laugh with friends, friends who marvel and applaud at this Laura. The Laura who uses Bumble. The Laura who dates. (And, to clarify, I really do mean dating. Not, you know. Shagging around. I just don’t have the kind of energy anymore. All power to the ladies who do, though. ALL POWER.) Everyone does it differently. Last week, over prosecco, my three best and I sat in the lounge of a truly horrific west-end hotel and it was only me who thought so. Who thought the thing about the numbers.
“Nah,” one friend said. “If you’re dating numerous people, how can you figure out if you like any of them?”
“Yeah,” the other agreed, “If I knew my date was seeing a ton of other people I’d be like, yeah, not gonna compete, thanks anyway, and leave her to it.”
“I understand where you’re coming from,” said the third, “But isn’t it nice to go all in on a person, like you do with the rest of your life?”
But, I relax more when it’s not all about just the one. I don’t go crazy on why they haven’t text yet, what that silence when I came back from the loo meant, if his shirt would mean mama wouldn’t reckon much to him. The more I date, the more I’m meeting strings of incredible, curious men who teach me to chill the sweet baby Jesus out, because they are not finite in number. There has been something seductive and interesting about nearly every date I’ve had – only a handful, one or two a week, say, but enough to see how enjoyable it can be. Meeting people. Not taking it all so seriously. And, of course, not taking anything personally.
I’m not taking any of this personally because the numbers game? It makes one thing oh so very clear: it’s luck. Love and romance and sparks, it’s about being in the same physical space and the same mental space as this random other person, at the exact same time, and there’s no way to around the law-of-averages-of-that except to put ourselves in the way of it as purposely and often as possible. A numbers game.
If I want to win the lottery, I’ve got to keep buying a ticket, is what I’m saying. I just never realised until I stopped trying so hard how uncomplicated and fun that part can be.