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Authors: Gemma Burgess

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The Dating Detox

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The Dating Detox
Gemma Burgess

For Anika and Paul


Nine months ago

I knew the second I walked into this party that it wouldn’t be any fun. Every person here looked around when we walked in. Then they welcomed Rick and ignored me. That was two hours ago and now here I am, in my stupid librarian costume, sitting in the kitchen alone, trying to enjoy myself and failing. Very. Badly.

My friends aren’t here, which doesn’t help. They’re all having dinner together in a pub in Westbourne Grove. I wish I was with them. But I have to be here. My boyfriend Rick is here. He is friends with the guy who’s throwing this party. Or he knows a guy who knows him. Something like that.

Where the hell is he, anyway? I haven’t actually seen Rick in ages, but I don’t want to be one of those socially-needy girlfriends. Especially after last night. Hell, people at this party are unfriendly. Perhaps they don’t get that I’m dressed as an ironic geek.

The theme is ‘Come As Your Childhood Ambition’, and I’m surrounded by sexy nurses and Pink Ladies and ballerinas and air hostesses. (Aspiring to jobs that don’t come with a revealing/girly costume doesn’t seem to have occurred to these women as five-year-olds.) I should have come as Prime Minister or something. But I really did want to be a librarian. The men are dressed as Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker and knights and things like that.

For God’s sake, I’m 28 years old. I can handle an unfriendly party, can’t I?

We’re in a large flat just off Kensington Church Street, and it’s packed. It’s just the kind of party I usually love. Lots of people having loud conversations and being funny and silly. I don’t know anyone, so I ought to just flick the insta-banter switch, go forth and jazz-hands myself around the party, conquering friends. I tried to do that earlier, but they just seemed to not hear me, or look through me. Or something. So I don’t want to try again. If only my friends were here.

I wonder how much longer I can sit in this stupid kitchen, pretending to read and send non-existent texts. This is so not me.

I wish I didn’t look so dowdy. I’m wearing a tweed skirt and carrying a pince-nez and a stack of books. I felt terribly chic and witty when I was getting ready, now I just feel drab and lost. I could go home. But that might upset Rick. Plus, they’re his friends, and I would really like to get to know them better. I’ve never really met any of them before.

Seriously, where the sweet hell is Rick? He seems stressed tonight. I know his work is crazy at the moment. He was texting me about it the other night. Seeing him less is probably good for our relationship anyway. I just hang out with my best friends when he’s busy. Or hang out by myself in the kitchen at parties where everyone’s a bit weird and unfriendly. That’s good fun too. (Sigh.)

‘Are you a teacher?’ says a guy who just walked into the kitchen. He’s dressed as a cricketer. (How imaginative.)

‘Librarian,’ I say, and add, in my best librarian tone, ‘Shhhh!’

He frowns slightly, gets a beer out of the fridge and says ‘Freeeeeak…’ under his breath as he walks away.


I repeat my mantra (‘posture is confidence, silence is poise’) to myself and smoke another cigarette.

That’s it, I’m going to look for Rick. Kitchen, living room,
dining room, balcony, second balcony…no, no, no, no, no. Just people who look around at me, see that I’m not interesting enough to bother with, and turn back to each other to keep talking. Fuck me, I hate this party…Sheesh, this place is packed. So many doors. He wouldn’t have left without me, would he? Maybe he’s near the front—oh, here—

Oh my oh my oh my oh my God.

Rick, on a bed, with nothing on but his judge’s wig, straddled by a near-naked Pink Lady. It’s Frenchy. I can tell because she’s still wearing her Pink Lady jacket and it’s got ‘Frenchy’ embroidered on the back.

They’re having sex, holy shit, they’re having sex. It takes a few seconds before they even notice I’m standing in the doorway. Then they both look around at once. (People look so odd when they’re having sex. No wonder I’ve never understood the whole porn thing.)

‘Fuck!’ says Rick, and then lies back on the bed, pushing the girl off him. She giggles and nearly falls off the bed.

I need to get out of here. I need to get out of here now.

I back out of the doorway as quickly as I can, stack of books and pince-nez in my left hand and my dull little librarian’s bag over my right shoulder, and dash for the front door.

I feel sick. I can’t breathe. How could he? How could he do that to me? I’ve got to get out of here. As I open the front door, I hear people behind me whooping. They must have seen him with the Pink Lady too. They’re all laughing. I hate those people. I hate them.

How could he do that? Is he even going to follow me? Is he even going to say anything? How could he do that? When I’m here, I’m at the
same fucking party
? How could Frenchy do that? She was always my favourite Pink Lady.

That’s not a rational thing to think. Be rational, damn it. Pull yourself together.

How the hell do you get out of this mansion block shithole?
I feel sick. I feel like throwing up. I am definitely going to throw up. Where can I…ah, a plant pot. Lovely.

I lean over the pot, bend the plant out of the way, and start dry-heaving. Up come my three vodkas and the peanut butter sandwich I ate before I left home. I can see my teeth marks in the bread. Gross. I must chew my food more.

I stand up and wipe my mouth. My hands are shaking and tears are running down my face. How could he, how could he? Why hasn’t he followed me? Has he even called me? I’ll check my phone…no, nothing. What happened between us arriving at the party together and him shagging someone else? Did I do something wrong? Who the hell shags at parties anyway? She must have seduced him. I hate her.

I’m going to call him. Maybe it’s a huge mistake and he’s hammered and thought she was me. That would be…no, that would not be good either. Please, please let this not be happening.

He doesn’t answer the first time I call, so I try again. On the seventh ring, he answers.


‘It’s me…I’m…How could you do that, Rick?’

‘Pretty easily,’ he says, and starts laughing. His voice is muffled. What is funny about this? What? Is he talking to someone else?

‘Who is she?’

‘No one you know.’

Is he even going to apologise? ‘I’m so upset…’ I say. He doesn’t say anything. ‘Did you plan this? Why did you even…’ (I start crying, but try to hide it) ‘…ask me to the party?’

‘I didn’t ask you to the party. Don’t give me that shit. You asked what I was doing and assumed you were coming too.’

I’m still crying silently, trying to quieten my shaky breathing. Typical lawyer, trying to point score even when completely in the wrong.

‘I…I…’ I can’t talk. ‘How could you d-d-do this to me? It’s so h-horrible of you…’

I hear him sigh impatiently. I don’t know what to say now and my stammering seems to have kicked in, so I don’t say anything. Please, please let him apologise. I want to go back in time and stop this from happening. Dear God, if it is even the tiniest bit possible, please send me back in time right now to stop this from happening.

Or just make him ask me to forgive him.

Or even say sorry. Once.

Instead he just says: ‘I can’t deal with this. I just…I don’t love you and I don’t want you anymore…I gotta go.’

You know when you jam your fingers in a drawer and you know a split second before the pain hits that it’s going to hit, and your chest has that weird icy seizure? That’s what I have right now. And then he hangs up, and the pain hits me, and I’m standing outside some mansion block on Kensington Church Street with a stack of books and my pince-nez and my handbag and I squat down—which isn’t easy in heels, you know—and bury my face in my hands. I can’t breathe. I want to vomit, but nothing is left in my tummy. I can’t bear this. I can’t bear to wake up tomorrow and have this as a memory.

Fucking, fucking, fucking bastardo. Never again. I will never let this happen again.

Chapter One

This morning

Well, I thought I’d discovered the secret to never getting dumped again. And then Posh Mark came over to see me last night. And now I’m back in the bearpit of the singles.

Yet again.

The whole thing is just horrific. Not as horrific as the Rick/Pink Lady night all those months ago, I grant you, but horrific for the fact that it is now my sixth—SIXTH!—break-up in a row, with me as the breakee, and now I have to go and do it all over again. No, not today, I know, but eventually.

Oh God, the idea is so exhausting.

These are not particularly positive thoughts to have before you’ve even opened your eyes on a Wednesday morning. I sit up in bed and survey the detritus of last night: used tissues strewn around my pillow in a halo, chocolate wrappers all over the bed, a fag pack spent and crushed on the floor. Mon dieu, quel cliché. I flop back down on the bed and close my eyes again. I want to cry, but I actually can’t be bothered.

OK, I’d better tell you the background so you can get up to speed.

Break-Up No.6:
Posh Mark. We met a few months ago in January, at a theme party (‘80s Movies’). He was wearing a girlish flowery dress, a frizzy wig and carried a watermelon around all night.
Wouldn’t you have given him your number? Exactly. (I was wearing khaki shorts, a white-fringed jacket and little white cowboy boots like Sloane Peterson. If you’re asking.)

So I made eye contact, he came over, I did my flirty thing, and then he asked me out.

Posh Mark was definitely not a bastardo. I realised that on our first date, at Eight Over Eight (sexy Far East vibe and delightful first date place, and my God do I know a lot of them). Posh Mark lived in Holland Park (expensive, leafy area of London, jam-packed with the sedate rich), was warm and affectionate (if a bit clingy with the hand-holding), liked to read (sports biographies, but whatever), didn’t work in any of the ‘arsehole’ industries (law, banking, medicine) and greeted everything I said with an open-mouthed, utterly delighted smile (rather like a Labrador, and I do love an appreciative audience).

Crucially, he seemed to fit the criteria. Which was, basically, no bastardos. You see, after the Rick-shagging-a-Pink-Lady fiasco (Break-Up No.5)—and the weeks of utter, utter misery interspersed with binge-drinking that followed—the criteria for men I’d even consider dating changed slightly: they had to be too nice to dump me. Which—if anyone is taking notes—is not a reason to go out with someone. Posh Mark was also the opposite of Rick in every way he could be. Polite, easy-going, tall and very, very nice.

We fell into a complacent co-dependency pretty fast. He called every night, texted every morning, discussed weekend plans by Wednesday, and was generally a Boy Scout of a boyfriend. My cup runnethed over. No, I didn’t want to be with him forever, but I decided not to think about that right now, thank you very much. And after the soul-destroying storm of Rick, he was a wonderful protective harbour.

Brutal honesty: he was (whisper it) a tiny bit dull and, um, thick. But he’d worn the Nobody-Puts-Baby-In-The-Corner costume. He obviously had a funny, clever side somewhere. And hot damn, he was nice. As mentioned.

And so we come to last night. He came over to see me unexpectedly. He said that he needed to talk. (Cue familiar stomach curl.) He said that when he met me, he was bowled over by how ‘rahlly sahriously lovely, basically’ I seemed. He said that I was ‘so fun to be with, rahlly, rahlly so…yah, so fun’ and his friends loved me, which was, obviously, gratifying to hear. Then he said ‘I just feel like you’re, ahhh, rather reserved.’


‘I just…After this much time one should know, you know, whether it’s going to work or not and…I don’t feel like we have rahlly gotten to know each other, Sass, and maybe, uh, it’s because you were only recently, uh, single…’

Don’t you mean permanently single, I wanted to say. And it wasn’t that recent. The Rick thing ended almost six months before I met Posh Mark. Six ghastly months.

‘Annabel thinks perhaps, uh, you’re still in love with him. With your ex.’

Annabel can blow me, I thought. Slightly chubby Sloane-ista with a pashmina so permanently attached to her jowls that I’ve nicknamed her Pashmina Face to myself. She probably wears it at the beach. She’s also one of Posh Mark’s best friends and, naturally, comes complete with a blatant agenda. And I’m not in love with fuckfeatures Rick.

‘So perhaps we should just, you know, be mates.’

Mates? Oh God.

‘What do you think?’

I didn’t think anything very much, actually. And I’m not great at talking about feelings. Not lately. In fact, I never said anything to Posh Mark about how I feel (or don’t feel). I thought he’d like it that way.

‘I’m…I’m…’ I’m not able to finish a sentence? I felt helpless. I didn’t want Posh Mark to go, but I couldn’t think of a reason why. Because I don’t want to start again? I wondered if I could say that. Probably not.

Slumping down on the couch and burying my head in my hands seems a better option than speaking. Despite a tiny voice in my head saying ‘you’re not actually surprised, are you?’, a much louder voice told me he was a lovely non-bastardo who had made me feel happy(ish) post-Rick, when I thought nothing would, ever again. And now I have to start all over. So I cried.

‘I’ll miss you,’ I croaked through my hands. And I will. He stroked the inside of my arms for hours when we watched DVDs and had perfectly muscley arms just built for spooning on a Sunday morning. (Does that sound shallow?)

‘I’ll miss you too, Sass. Rahlly. I feel ah-paw-leng doing this to you. I’ve had such a bloody good time with you, sahriously.’

I smiled into my hands. I love the way he pronounces appalling. So posh. And he pronounces my name with the longest-drawn-out ‘a’ sound you’ve ever heard. Saaaaarrrrhs.

‘Since the night we met. That hilarious pahty…Hugo made me take him out for a big night at Da Bouj, you know, in return for the outfit that you loved.’

Pause. The way he abbreviates Boujis to Da Bouj is irritating, but—


‘The 80s costume, you know. With the watermelon. From
Girls Just Wanna Have Dancing
, or whatever it was, yah? It was all his idea. Well, he saw someone else wear it at a party up in St Andrews once, basicallah. And you were dressed as
The Breakfast Club.

Well, if I needed distracting from the idea that I’m being broken up with for the sixth time in a row, then voilà.

For the rest of the night, through him saying goodbye, and me calling Bloomie and Kate to announce that dating someone who isn’t a bastardo won’t prevent you from being dumped, falling asleep in a haze of nicotine and mild hysteria, and waking every two hours for a self-pitying-but-not-really-heartbroken little weep, I thought about that sentence.

Did I actually fall in love, no, sorry, in LIKE with someone
because he wore a funny costume that his friend saw someone else wear at some rah party in fucking Scotland? What the hell is wrong with me? And he didn’t even know that Sloane Peterson was in
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Enough thinking. I pull back the duvet, scattering tissues and wrappers across the bed, and shuffle to the mirror. I don’t look that great, but I’ve certainly looked a lot worse.

I will try to look as ace as possible today, so that the world rewards me by doing something really ace for me. That’s sartorial karma, you see. I’m a firm believer in it.

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