Authors: Monica Porter
RAVEN: MY YEAR OF DATING DANGEROUSLY
By Monica Porter
First published in the UK in 2014 by Thistle Publishing
This eBook edition first published in the UK in 2014 by Head of Zeus Ltd
Copyright Â© Monica Porter, 2014
The moral right of Monica Porter to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN (E) 9781784081508
Head of Zeus Ltd
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For Sara, of course
I have been a journalist all my life and on many occasions written about my personal experiences in the field of human relationships. Perhaps it is what I do best. âThe man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and all time,' was how George Bernard Shaw put it and I believe that to be trueâ¦and to apply equally to women.
Having said that, I didn't set out on the adventures described in this book with the primary intention of writing about them. Even if I hadn't had a book in mind â even if I weren't a journalist at all but a pharmacist, say, or a shoe designer â I would have done exactly the same things in the same way. Because in the 21
century, a woman in my situation is almost bound to open the Pandora's box of online dating. It's just that some of us do it with a bit more gusto. And take notes.
As well as the names of all the men included in the book, I have changed some surface details about them (such as their jobs or geographical locations) so that they would be identifiable to no one other than themselves. If I accidently hit upon anyone's actual user-name on a dating site somewhere, my apologies. In two or three cases I created composites of different individuals for, as they say, dramatic purposes. But I didn't invent anything; I didn't need to.
âNo animals were harmed in the making of this film,' you will often read as the credits roll at the end of a movie. And I am glad to say that, bruised egos aside, no people were hurt in the making of this book. Not even me, although risks there were aplenty. And ultimately that is what I should like the more starchy and censorious of my critics to bear in mind, so that they can direct their opprobrium at more appropriate targets.
It was July, 2012. I woke up that morning to the realisation that it was my sixtieth birthday. It sounded so much older and scarier than fifty â and I had thought
was bad enough. I still felt young (well, pretty young) and forward-looking. There was much I had yet to see and do. But sixty. That was a depressing concept. Would I even still be considered middle-aged or was sixty the irrefutable herald of something a lot worse: the realm of old age, the pension and the bus pass? The whole thing made me shudder and want to pull the duvet over my head. But I stretched, got up and made the coffee.
Three months earlier my partner and I had split up. We had been together for thirteen years. It had become a rickety relationship, for sure, but nevertheless there is something reassuring about having an âother half', especially if you're an older woman who fears loneliness. I'd never lived entirely alone before. And those past three months had not been easy as sole occupant of the house that once was our shared space, surrounded by memories of happier times as a couple, eating my solitary dinner on a tray in front of the telly. Mine was a home now infused with a sense of loss and failure, it felt hollow and much too quiet.
So there I was, single and sixty and feeling on the scrap heap. It seemed as if it was all over for me â the love and passion, the sex and sensuality. I wondered whether I should just relegate those excitements to my past. After all, I'd had my share. Perhaps from now on I would focus on my relationships with my children and grandchildren. Move into a granny annex, perhaps? Yes, that's it. We can be like the Waltons. Love all round. I'll be the beloved matriarch, sitting by the fire and counting my blessingsâ¦
Another morning, four months later. I wake up with a fuzzy head and I'm exhausted. Every muscle aches. But on the inside I'm smiling. I've just spent virtually the whole night indulging in carnal delights with my good-looking new friend, aged twenty-six. Yes (shocking, I admit), he is younger than both my sons but in some miraculous way the yawning age gap made no difference. We had a great time. And best of all, there was nothing sleazy about it. We didn't meet in some pick-up joint or through a kinky advert. We were properly introduced by a mutual friend at a social gathering, started chatting, hit it off, discovered a shared love of classic films and took it from there. And to think I assumed he was only interested in my DVD collection.
Scrap heap? Hardly. As it turned out, I was just cranking up again. Because the truth is that in the great game of intimate human relationships, it ain't over until you stop breathing.
The theme of being an older single woman on the so-called dating scene is of special pertinence to me, as I have found myself occupying this demographic space twice in my lifetime â first in the 1990s, following the breakdown of my marriage, and again now, two decades later. I regard myself as a staunch individualist but have to admit that in this respect I have landed smack in the middle of the social statistics.
When I got divorced at the age of forty after a 17-year marriage which produced two sons, I emerged blinking into the glare of a dating scene radically different to that of my pre-marriage youth. In my new life as a single working mother I had a variety of misadventures with the opposite sex.
As my second long-term relationship ended exactly twenty years later, at sixty (I find this symmetry pleasing in a rather perverse way), I found that the scene had spectacularly moved on yet again, to the internet and array of new technologies and procedures. A bewildering landscape, but I was glad to see how thoroughly accepted, how free of embarrassment and stigma online dating had become by the end of the first decade of the 21
century. It seemed as if pretty much everyone was doing it. So, despite my lingering sense that there was something inherently tawdry about it, I decided to leap off the diving board into that murky water below.
Well-meaning friends offered advice on the requirements for attracting a man, online or otherwise. Maya, my 35-year-old, half-Asian, racy chum (the raciness stemming from the non-Asian half, obviously), told me I should start wearing a push-up bra and red lipstick. âIt works for me,' she said. And my gay friend Tim suggested I colour my hair blonde and get a boob job because âstraight guys go for a big cleavage'. Needless to say, I didn't do any of those things.
To find out what I
do, at the coal face of today's daring digital dating scene, read onâ¦
â¦but forgive me if I digress briefly in order to trace the route which brought me to my present state of mature singledom, something I neither wanted nor expected. In some ways it's a classic tale, emblematic of my post-war generation. But in other respects my back story is unconventional.
Although born in Budapest, I spent most of my childhood and adolescence in New York. My Hungarian mother was very strict, so as well as feeling set apart from my peers for cultural reasons, I had to battle against her quasi-Victorian values which kept me from the free-and-easy, all-American lifestyle I longed to embrace. My writer father was somewhat less strict, but focused chiefly on earning a living to support his young immigrant family, so he left the child-rearing to my mother. Unfortunately for me.
As a teenager I had to do a lot of sneaking around in order to spend time with boys. I didn't actually get up to anything beyond smooching and a little light petting, so my mother needn't have worried. But worried she was, the reins were kept tight, and I didn't âgo all the way' (as we used to say in high school) until I was pushing twenty. Then for the next year it was a patchy affair with a small handful of ill-chosen men â and still clandestine, as I was living at home, by now in London.
Small wonder then, that when at the age of twenty-one I met the first âproper' and respectable prospect â a lawyer, no less â and we hit it off and my parents approved, and the opportunity to slip my reins presented itself, I married him. Within the year.
My husband was seven years older, which made for a paternalistic relationship, but in the heady early days of the marriage this didn't seem to pose a problem. In fact it felt sort of natural to go from my parental home to a household run by a paternalistic husband who was more established than me, earned more money than me, knew more than me. Having had no previous experience of a serious relationship, I had to feel my way around. I was used to kicking against my parents' authority. Could I â should I â kick against his too? I was at the tail end of the generation that still felt, back in the seventies, that it was okay for the man of the house to âwear the trousers'. So we weren't a partnership of equals. Although if I'd been, like him, in my late twenties when we married, and not twenty-two, this dynamic might not have existed for us even then. The truth was that I was just very green.
There was a telling episode, very early in the marriage, which I sometimes later reflected on, as it foreshadowed the eventual demise of our union. We were giving a party and I was in the bathroom applying mascara and eye-liner. My husband came in, gave me a disapproving glance and told me I didn't need make-up, I looked âpretty enough' without it. (His mother had never worn eye make-up, and men often look to their mums for the ideal.) Well, I loved my husband, so with a shrug I obligingly removed the make-up.
But a little later, as the party got into full swing and I saw that most of our young women friends â the more attractive ones, at least â were wearing mascara and eye-liner and maybe even the pale blue eye shadow so fashionable at the time, I snuck back to the bathroom and got dolled up again. Defiantly I returned to the shindig in full war paint and when my husband glanced my way I merely grinned at him.
There were some good things about that marriage, not least the production of two fine sons, but the inequality in our relationship, its composition of a âsenior partner' and âjunior partner' became more, not less, pronounced over the years. Not surprisingly, as I developed into my own person, gathering strength and self-assurance along the way, the more that tidy arrangement failed to wash. And of course I eventually escaped my restraints â again! â this time into the embrace of someone who took it as read that we were on a par and knew how to really
. But the marriage later recovered (one doesn't ditch this commitment lightly when young children are involved) and it was many more years before it broke down for good.
I had no idea when I embarked on the life of the divorcee, having just turned forty, what a precipitous learning curve it would be with regard to the male of the species. Not just the startling discovery that 99% of married men â even the ostensibly âgood' ones â are inclined to dabble in extra-marital high-jinks sooner or later, but the full appreciation of how generally roguish men are, whether married or not.
Take Exhibit A: a successful composer, twenty-five years older than me, who became a neighbour when my sons and I moved into a west London flat after the marital split. He took me out on a couple of dates, we went to the cinema and out for dinner and told each other about our lives â the usual sort of thing. He was an interesting, affable fellow and we got on well but I didn't view him as a romantic prospect. You have to be physically attracted to a person for that â at least a little.
On our second date, while having a late-night coffee back at his flat, he took umbrage at my refusal to cuddle up. I asked whether we couldn't simply be friends. (Shades of
When Harry Met Sally
.) He said no, we couldn't; it was to be a sexual relationship or nothing. I was unceremoniously booted out and never heard from him again. Forget neighbourly. He cut me dead whenever we passed on the street.
Exhibit B is the hard-drinking, chain-smoking, cowboy-booted Liverpudlian disc jockey I went out with for nearly a year. He appealed to me mainly because of his novelty value: he was as different from a lawyer as it's humanly possible to be. He would dedicate golden oldies to me on the radio and take me along to broadcasting parties where I met other celebrated DJs. And he could be amusing to have around (that is, before consuming his habitual half-bottle of whisky and lumbering around like a Neanderthal, a fag hanging from his mouth).
But he had a dark side, possibly stemming from his impoverished wartime childhood in bombed-out Bootle. His seaman father deserted the family and it was tough going for him until he found his niche in pirate radio. There was certainly some grim history festering beneath the surface because every so often he would say something obnoxious or throw his weight around. One night he grabbed my nine-year-old son by the lapels and pushed him up against a wall for some perceived misdemeanour, so I told him to leave and knew that he wasn't long for my world.
Which leads us to Exhibit C, a colleague whose persistent advances finally won me over, whereupon I was pleasantly surprised to find I rather liked his company. Everything went well for a while until the evening we had arranged to meet at a pub near our office, popular with many of our workmates. We met up as planned and ordered our drinks, then chatted amiably to a few others around us. But within half an hour I realised he had honed in on a young blonde sitting at a table with a crowd of friends. He managed to squeeze in beside her and although he had his back to me, his body language was plain enough to read. Having arranged to be at the pub with me, he lost little time in trying to pull someone else. What could I do? I finished my drink and left. And that was the end of that little involvement. It hurt.
Exhibit D: a travel assignment once took me on an elephant trek through northern Thailand in the company of a dashing guide, an Englishman in his thirties. We got to know each other intimately as (on one memorable night) we shared a tent in the middle of the eerie jungle. He and his wife had separated; from what he told me she sounded like an absolute harridan and he said he was relieved to be out of it. But he missed his young daughter.
We began a relationship and when he returned to England a few weeks later, made plans for a romantic weekend break. I looked forward to our long-awaited reunion with my customary ardour â the things we would say, the things we would do. But the day before we were due to meet he rang me at the office to say he had gone back to his wife. He explained that he didn't want to do it but for his daughter's sake he had to give the marriage another go. So that was me dumped, again. I spent the rest of the day crying in the ladies' loo.
By now you doubtless get the drift. Single or hitched, young or long in the tooth, men are a slippery lot and you really ought not to depend on them. Don't get me wrong, I'm fond of the bastards â life would be so boring without them â but like feral animals, you pet them at your peril. Few of them actually mean to cause hurt, but again, like those feral beasts they can't help it because it's in their DNA.
I should have learnt that eternal truth long ago, perhaps back in 1992, when I'd just moved out of the marital home and into a place of my own. I spent the first three days unpacking and putting everything into its place, then decided to explore my new neighbourhood. It was a sunny summer's afternoon. After my walk I stopped in at a pleasant cafÃ©. No empty tables. But there was a table with a lone man sitting at it, and he was very handsome with his dark hair and moustache so I decided that that was the table for me. I asked him whether I could sit down, he said yes of course and I ordered a coffee. Then I asked if I might read a part of his newspaper, as I hadn't seen a paper for days.
âOh, have you been travelling?' he inquired.
âNo, just moved into the area. Been busy unpacking.'
And so it began. We talked and talked, ordered more coffees, then talked some more. Instant rapport. And a mounting mutual attraction which almost made the air crackle. He was a barrister, a bachelor aged 38 â two years younger than me. We sat together in the cafÃ© until the other customers had all left and the staff started closing up for the day. He escorted me home, came up to my flat to fix a plug onto my new iron because I am no good at that sort of thing, then as we were standing at the door saying good-bye he unexpectedly invited me out to dinner that evening.
Two hours later we were enjoying a candlelit meal over a bottle of wine at a quiet local restaurant, it was all getting deliciously romantic, and I began to feel as if I were in a dream. Not only good-looking and easy to talk to, he was also warm and thoughtful and sensitive. Had I really just left my marriage and walked straight into the love affair from heaven?
In three days
Things got even better afterwards back at my place. Suffice it to say that during a long and rapturous night he fulfilled all expectations, and then some. I was smitten.
We saw each other every weekend for a number of weeks and it was wonderful. He introduced me to his best friend and his best friend's girlfriend and the four of us double-dated. We chatted about all going sailing together down on the south coast, where the two men kept a boat. âYou know how to hoist a mainsail, don't you?' he asked me. â
? Then you can lie around in a bikini and be decorative!' Laughs all round.
Perhaps you can guess where I'm going with this, and it isn't heavenwards.
One night at his trendy bachelor pad I sensed a slight cooling, and after that he suddenly disappeared. He didn't call, or return my calls. Well, he did eventually, but it was only to tell me that we couldn't be together any more, which gave me that instant painful stab in the pit of the stomach familiar to every âdumpee'. I had to persuade him to meet me at a local pub in order to explain his motives.
This was his speech: âThis is really hard for me because I'm going to say something that I know will hurt you.' Pause. âThere's somebody else.' Another pause, as he stared down at his drink. âYou see, you've already been married and had your children, but I haven't done any of that yet and it's something I want to do. I need someone who wants to start a family with me. And I think I may have found herâ¦at last.'
That I'd been married, had children, was forty and therefore maybe not the ideal yummy-mummy candidate were all things he knew about me before we had finished our second cup of coffee on the day we met. So if it was kids he was after, what had been the whole point of our steamy relationship? At that moment, sitting in the pub, it seemed as if its sole purpose had been to land me in an ocean of pain.
The moral of the story is this: if someone so wonderful, so warm, thoughtful and sensitive â and he genuinely
all those things â could dump you in the shit, what about the lesser men, the unthinking and insensitive specimens? What in god's name were
By the time I met my partner, at the age of 46, I'd really had enough of being in the marketplace as a single woman. Having woven myself a gaudy tapestry out of the romantic mismatches, disappointments and fiascos, I was eager for something more edifying. I really believed that my partner was it. Intelligent, presentable, a good listener, sexy, apparently successful. He seemed equally taken with me. Clearly, this could work. I would
We met through a mutual friend who fixed us up on a blind date â an expression which in the event turned out to be highly apposite, in that for a long time I was blind (wilfully so, I admit) to the signs that this relationship would lead me into new and uncharted forms of grief.
Just as my fling with a rough-cut disc jockey had been welcome for its contrast to my previous life with my husband the âsuit', so this relationship promised a refreshing change, but in a more profound way. My friend described him to me as a New Man: âyou know, the type who can cook a three-course meal
does the washing-up'. This sounded idyllic. My husband (one might call him Trad Man) had stopped doing anything in the kitchen the moment we got married, just as he never changed a nappy or got up in the middle of the night to feed a crying babyâ¦but I realised he was merely following his own father's example.
Of course this New Man thing held an even greater promise than domestic chore-sharing. Namely, that we would enjoy a genuine partnership of equals â and not just because, having been born a mere two days apart, there was no possibility of an older man's paternalism. He really believed in gender equality as the ethos of the post-modern world.