I met my first boyfriend when I was 17 years old. He was four years older than me, lived with his parents, and had a face like a smashed crab. I’m serious. Even for fin de siècle Coventry, this guy was a hound. But he was sweet, and I was happy.
Now fly south with me to Brighton, to a succession of boxy student bedrooms, in which I smoked like a French whore and groaned beneath the weight of a succession of boxy student boyfriends. They were a motley bunch, this lot, assembled from the edges of dance floors and the wild-eyed detritus of a hundred after-parties. One boy made me a Disney Princess birthday cake. Another made me wait in a needle exchange while he picked up fresh works for his illegal, internet-purchased steroids. Each time I told myself this was it, he was the one.
Brighton is a fickle town. People come, they hang around for a bit, then – no sooner have they lost their self respect, their septum, or their last fingertip on reality – they’re off again. I stayed on for four years after graduation and barely made it out alive. More dates, better looking boyfriends, but something was changing. When I met someone, I wouldn’t cling to him anymore; or rather, I wouldn’t cling to the idea of him. I was building a career path now; I had my own plans, my own motivations. London was winking at me over the horizon. If someone wanted to fit around me, I would make space for them. If not… there was no ‘if not’.
And then there was here, bright lights and guest lists and speeding through Piccadilly Circus in an Addison Lee while Jodie Harsh touched up her make-up in the front and I touched up a go-go boy in the back. The men in London were prime real estate, flawless, like nothing I’d seen before. One night I’d be sitting across from an actor, the next a politician. I was power dating, but it was strange; the more men I met, and the more eligible they were, the less invested I became in the whole thing. I gave a soldier his marching orders. I told Victoria Beckham’s PA it wasn’t him, it was me (truthfully, it was her). There was always something not right, some flaw to be picked at, imperceptible to anyone but me. I would unravel my dates like sweatshop jumpers, then complain bitterly about the cold.
There was one boy. Of course. There’s always one boy, isn’t there? Mine was a dancer, and he was good with kids and had the most amazing laugh. Let me tell you, that’s an important quality to someone who spends his life trying to be funny. It lasted six months. I tell people seven for some reason, but it was six. Six of the best.
Nowadays, my friends say I’m picky, flighty, impossible to please. It’s funny when I think back to my very first boyfriend, to how plain he was and how happy he made me. Today I stood in the shadow of Canary Wharf, in my £200 shoes, and broke things off with a boy who is handsome, kind, in fact perfect in every way except one. He’s ten years too late.