The Guyliner: The Muse

The Muse

Some people really love talking about their job. And I should know – I have spent many a sunny evening sitting under a cloud of boredom at a smeared pub table across from a guy going through his company’s sales figures in mind-numbing detail. Curriculum Borae.

I don’t really like talking about mine; I never have, really. People always think it should be more impressive than it actually is, that I should be sipping champagne at celebrity events and photobombing Taylor Swift’s selfies.

The sad fact is, however that most of the time I am in my living room, slamming my fingers on my laptop’s much-maligned keyboard, limbering up for a lifetime of back and shoulder pain thanks to my terrible posture. Either that or I’m doing the same but in a local café, while demonic children on microscooters encircle me.

But when a date asks, you have to tell – and Luke, my handsome, but slightly vanilla, date for the evening, is about to do just that.

“So you’re a writer?” he says.

“Yes.” I’m hoping my blank face will stop him from enquiring any further. It never works.

“What do you write about?”

I resist the temptation to roll my eyes and instead begin to tell him about my job, leaving out the key detail that sometimes I write about men I go on dates with, too. Describing what you do for a living to a date is one of the least fun parts of the whole process. Like I say, they’re almost always disappointed that I don’t get to meet any celebrities or break any big political stories.

My date listens intently, or at least pretends to, and then takes a swig of his drink. “I’ve been on a date with a writer before,” he says.

“Oh, really?” I reply. “And how was that?” Although from his tone, I can guess it went badly.

“Fine,” he shrugs, “except that he told me he was in the middle of writing a book about going on loads of dates with different men. Can you imagine that?”

Well, I kind of can. I gulp. After a silence lasting infinite millennia, I lean forward in my chair. “And what did you say to that?”

“I was really annoyed,” he retorts with a furrowed brow. “He didn’t want to be on a date with me because he was interested in me; he just wanted to put me in a book.”

While I sympathise, I can’t help but think it would be highly unlikely for my date to have been interesting enough to make it into the final draft of any book about dating. We have been sitting here for about an hour and this is the first time he has asked me a question, yet I know everything about his firm’s redundancy procedure, which in the main seemed devoted to getting rid of him and him only. What a shame someone so beautiful has turned out be such a dullard.

“So what happened?” I ask.

“Well, nothing. Once he told me that, the date was over.”

I consider revealing all, just so I can get the exit I’ve been waiting for. Instead:

“Would it really have annoyed you to see yourself in print?”

He looks at me quizzically. “Well, of course it would. What a stupid thing to ask. Jesus.”

“…”

I drain my drink and stare at the glass, my throat tight with awkwardness. I resolve not to ask him anything else, stupid or otherwise.

Luckily, my date seems to have tired of me considerably, as he gives a very stagey yawn and stretches his hands above his head. “I’m pretty beat,” he whimpers. “Shall we call it a night?”

‘Beat’, yuk. I check my watch. 8.30 pm. Hardly “a night”, but fair enough.

“Sure,” I smile. “It was nice to meet you.”

“Yeah,” replies my date with not even a hint of sincerity. “You too.”

“Ooh, by the way,” I say as we part. “Do you read Gay Times magazine?”

He scratches his head. “No, I can’t say I do. Why?”

“Oh, no reason. Goodnight.”

Stats: 31, 5’9″, black/blue, Hertfordshire
Pre-date rating: 8/10
Post-date rating: 5.5/10
Date in one sentence: Write about me, like one of your French girls.

Image: Flickr

This post originally featured in truncated form in Gay Times (funnily enough – sorry Luke) in a monthly dating column. I still write for them, answering readers’ dilemmas and looking at some of the types of men it might be best to avoid. You can get the latest issue now at gtdigi.co.uk

Coming out day after day

Coming out isn’t a one-off event – you’ll do it day after day for ever

Did you come out on National Coming Out Day? And how was it for you?

What people never seem to tell you about coming out is that it’s not restricted to one day – it’s a never-ending event. See those closet doors? They’re revolving. Day after day, you will find yourself – directly and indirectly – coming out to a host of people, even total strangers. The coming out never stops.

Think you have everybody covered? Relatives, friends, key people at work – check. However, you’re not out of the woods yet. We live in a world where there may be equality in law, but socially, we’ve still a long way to go.

Even a simple trip to the doctor, or a casual chat with a colleague, and having to say that dreariest, laborious word “partner”, like you’re in love with a law firm, is an act of coming out. It still feels strange on the tongue, let alone in the head, having to explain yourself.

You never know whether the news you’re gay will get you a shrug, a hug or a punch in the mouth. You wonder whether sitting next to that straight guy on the bus will make him think you fancy him, because he can tell, right? He knows you’re gay.

Will that drunk woman who caught you steal a glance at her boyfriend laugh it off or get in your face and throw a drink over you, calling you a “poof” and warning you to keep your eyes to yourself.? Welcome to the worst lottery ever.

Perhaps one day it will be no big deal and there’ll be no need for a lurching stomach or a mild stutter as you get the words out, wondering what the reaction will be. Here’s hoping. But despite all that, coming out is worth it. It really is.

I have already documented how I broke the news to my parents 14 years ago, and while I thought my work was done, about a month ago I realised there were two other people who’d remained blissfully ignorant over the years – my siblings.

I have a 17-year-old brother who I don’t see very often. He’s never really asked me about relationships or anything like that – teenagers tend to have their own stuff going on – but it niggled at me that he was in the dark.

I never had to tell my 18-year-old sister, to whom I’m very close. I suggested to Mum I should reveal all, but she said there was no need. Looking back, she was right. While it took her a few years to work it out, the fact she had her very own gay best friend at school helped her realise that I wouldn’t one day be bringing home a blushing bride.

Despite it never being explicitly said, she never questioned it,  instead accepted it without so much as a shrug – how disappointing for my inner dramatist – and my sexuality has become just another drab fact of life.

She may have had her suspicions about where my ‘flatmate’ and I slept in our one-bedroom flat but she never voiced them. We have settled into our relationship as grown-ups brilliantly. In her own words: “I didn’t really notice.” Perfect.

My brother was a different proposition. How do you tell a sporty 17-year-old just discovering girls that his big brother, who for some bizarre reason he looks up to, can never really join in on the whole lady appreciation thing? How do you prepare yourself to be a disappointment?

Well, the way I did it is spend the entire weekend with him and not say anything about it, before going home and telling him in a language he would understand – on Facebook Messenger.

In the middle of a conversation about a gig I was going to – Kylie! Of course – I decided now was the time to drop the bombshell, or gayshell, if you like. I decided not to make it too emotive – the slightest hint of sentiment can send even the most sensitive of teenagers reeling and heading under the nearest Xbox. I kept it matter-of-fact:

“It’s just occurred to me that you may not be aware – my partner is a bloke. I’m gay. Hope you’re cool with that. I should’ve mentioned it before, I guess. It’s a difficult one to drop into conversation. If you need a bit of time to think that one over, I understand. I should’ve said at the weekend really. Anyway, now you know.”

So now he knew. I awaited his reply with the kind of feeling you get when you know your electricity bill is due – crippled by inevitability. I was also kind of excited. Something was about to change. Finally, some drama.

Hours dragged. Then: a tick appeared by his message. He’d seen it. I closed Facebook and went into another room and pretended to tidy up. Any distraction welcome. Finally, I scraped myself off the ceiling and opened Facebook again. And like a beam of light, his reply shone:

“I can imagine you would’ve found it very hard to put that into conversation!
But yeah.
As long as you’re happy bro I’m really happy for you!
I have the utmost respect for you, it must be really difficult sometimes.”

Whether it’s a blatant acceptance like my brother’s, or a  marvellously unspoken one like my sister’s, never underestimate its power. And even though I have come out a thousand times to a million faces, the feeling of being accepted, that good reaction, never, ever gets old.

If you have come out to friends or family this weekend, I hope they reacted as brilliantly as my most excellent siblings.

National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day is all yours – make it count

It’s National Coming Out Day, the day when the collective force of a zillion closet doors being thrust open is enough to knock you off your feet.

Coming out is a milestone that every gay person feels obliged to pass – it’s the ritual that all of us have to go through on the ridiculously long path to being ‘the real you’.

The main issue I had with coming out is that I really didn’t want to – I was convinced my sexuality wasn’t anyone’s business but my own.

I was a late starter, getting to the grand old age of 24 before I was ready to admit to even myself that I was actually gay, and so to announce my sexuality felt unnatural and odd.

It was such a small part of who I was, I told myself. It didn’t define me at all; it was no more relevant to my life than the colour of my hair or my eyes, right?

These are the ridiculous things you say in your head when you’re on the cusp of changing everything for ever. You don’t realise how relevant it is to your life until you don’t have to keep it a secret any more.

Coming out to friends was interesting. Some had badgered me about it for years, only to be met by strenuous denials. I almost didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of being right all along, and dreaded the conspiratorial “I knew it!” I didn’t want to be a bright, shiny gay bauble for people to marvel over.

Something you should be prepared for when coming out is not just a bad reaction from parents or relatives, but that you may even find friends’ positive reactions distasteful. I found horrifying the idea that my newfound self-acceptance could become the most interesting and important thing about me.

Don’t make this mistake: be pleased that people are happy for you. “Oh we always knew” might leave a nasty taste in your mouth (not for the first time ho ho ho) but remember they are just trying to make you feel comfortable. Don’t resent them for it.

For a while I played down my homosexuality, not allowing myself to celebrate it. It was no big deal. Next question. I realise now that coming out doesn’t mean an end to the awkwardness – revealing all is just the first step to accepting who you are.

Once I was out to friends, the inevitable next step was to tell my parents. They’re divorced, so I did this separately – in very different ways.

I told my father when I was drunk and in a terrible mood, my secret bursting out of me during a heated debate. Oh, and it was also his birthday. I know, I know. What a model son.

I spat it out angrily, but his reaction was far from furious; after momentary shock, he was understanding, gracious and happy I had confided in him. Despite this, I continued to do it all wrong, saying once again it was no big deal and that I didn’t want to talk about it, when all my dad wanted to do was be supportive. It takes a really long time to be comfortable in your own skin, but open up if you can.

Coming out can be an utterly selfish act – as you deal with your own emotions, you forget that the people you tell have feelings too. Learn from me: don’t come out in anger.

I told my mother soon after, one breakfast just after Christmas, after remarking that in the upcoming Absolutely Fabulous special, Edina would find out her son was gay.

I found myself blurting out: “What would you do if I were gay, Mum?”

My mother did not look up from the pan of boiling eggs she was hovering over.

“Why? Are you?”

“Um, yes.”

There followed a brief discussion about the gay men Mum had known when she was younger – sadly, all drug addicts and emotional wrecks, so not the best poster boys for my cause – and once she’d had a think about it, she too was supportive, just like my dad.

My mother admitted she’d idly wondered if I was gay, so wasn’t entirely shocked, but as I hadn’t said anything, she didn’t want to risk upsetting me by asking outright.

One of my mum’s friends when I was growing up was a militant lesbian who was obsessed with outing me when I was about 13, before I’d ever even imagined a man’s body pressed against mine. I’m sure she meant well, but those who try to out others before they ready only serve to push them so far back in, branches of trees of Narnia scratch them.

Coming out can help set others’ minds at rest. My parents were, of course, concerned, but it was my responsibility to show them they had nothing to worry about. Now my sexuality is the thing I wanted it to be all along, just another part of my life. I was lucky. Not everyone is.

Did I need to come out to finally be at peace with myself? I think so. Coming out is difficult for many reasons; the fear of people’s reactions; the conflict with religious beliefs; the knowledge that there is still a huge amount of intolerance and hate out there to name just a few.

What coming out does do for you as a gay person is allows you to be at peace with yourself. The turmoil doesn’t vanish, but the internal struggles you’ve had for as long as you can remember can suddenly become less painful. Your friends’ and family’s reaction may surprise you – in a good way.

And if you’re not gay, if someone you know stares intently at you today and clears their throat, there’s a good chance they’re about to tell you they’re gay – or they have a peanut stuck in their throat and are unable to speak, silently willing you to decode their desperate glaring. Before you put on your best understanding face, check their airways just in case.

I’d encourage anybody who finds themselves as a coming-out confidante to react calmly, positively and maybe save the celebratory air punches and that you “knew it all along” for later. Be prepared to fight their corner, as not everyone is going to react as well as you. Make sure the voice of acceptance shouts the loudest.

So why the big fuss about National Coming Out Day, when you can make the big announcement any day of the year? Well, if you do it today, you know you won’t be doing it alone. Most of us need motivation for a lot of things.

You may tell yourself you’ll do it tomorrow, or the next day, but they’re just like any other day, full of trivial things to help you put it off until later.

But if it’s not the right time for you to take the plunge, don’t. Coming out should be a personal thing; you’re doing it for you, not them.

But when you’re ready, do come on out – the water’s lovely.

To find out where it all began, read The Hogmanay Kiss.

Earlier versions of this post have appeared elsewhere.

The Charm Offensive

The Charm Offensive

I am 24 and at a friend’s flat. She is having a party. Well, I say party – the lounge is full of people, there are bottles of vodka and dubious mixers on the kitchen table and there is a queue for the toilet. It’s as close to a party as we’re going to get this evening.

I am a different animal as a 24-year-old. I’ve yet to endure all the various, turbulent life experiences that will teach me to be kinder, more humble, accommodating, friendly – all that shit.

Instead I am almost a quarter of a century of awkwardness, curiosity and sugar-topped vitriol masquerading as confidence. A familiar tale to many, I’m sure.

I’ve not been out of the closet long – I’m still working out what to do with my wonky wiring and feelings that I’m now allowed to have. And I get super-nervous around other gay men.

As I pour myself a really large gin and tonic, alone, my friend glides into the kitchen and says: “Claire’s friend Matt is here. He’s gay, but a bit weird. Watch out for him.”

I thank her for – well, warning me, I guess – and pour an extra shot of gin into my glass, sending the contents splashing all over the table. 38-year-old me would get a cloth and wipe it up, but time machines aren’t a thing yet and so 24-year-old me vaguely waggles some kitchen roll in the spillage’s direction and strides out to the lounge to witness this weirdo for myself.

I spy him immediately. He is kind of good-looking, despite being dressed in clothes you would describe unfortunate at best. He throws his head back in laughter at something the guy he’s with is saying.

I have met the other guy before and know for a fact his banter is up there with a night in a Bangkok prison in the LOL stakes, so I assume the hysterical laughter is for somebody else’s benefit. It then occurs to me that maybe he too has had a ‘warning’.

I play that desperately unoriginal game every young gay plays: faux-blindness. Oh, boys, you all think you’re being so clever, but coyness is the one trick every gay guy likes to pull out of the bag first. It’s never convincing and always ends in disaster. But I’m yet to learn that.

So it begins. I pretend I haven’t seen Matt at all and instead trundle over to a corner and start talking to someone much better looking.

It continues this way for around an hour or so. Whenever he walks into a room, I find the earliest opportunity to leave it and if finding myself trapped in a group conversation, smile politely before making my excuses and going to the loo. He does the same – he never addresses me directly and doesn’t cast his eye over me at all.

While our paths don’t cross and we haven’t said a word to each other, the air is thick with something – and it’s not cigarette smoke. Our fellow party guests eyeball us nervously, nudging each other, as if wondering who’s going to bite first.

Eventually, I take a pew in the kitchen and join another conversation. Matt enters soon after me and sits opposite. I am between the kitchen wall and the table and can’t possibly get out without appearing very rude. So the conversation continues.

Matt doesn’t say much, but looks across at me often. It is definitely not lust in his eyes – his hooded eyelids convey a dash of contempt, if anything. I decide I don’t have anybody to impress and let forth what I suppose at the time would’ve passed for bawdy humour but would now seem crass and attention-seeking. I’d do anything for a laugh.

At the next gap in conversation, Matt takes a swig of his drink and leans over, saying loudly to me: “Do you know, I think you’re the most arrogant person I’ve ever met.”

The room goes deathly quiet – the only sound is the ice clinking in my glass as my hand trembles.

I laugh derisively and he gets up and walks out of the room.

About half an hour later, I decide it is time to go. I call a cab and wait for it outside the flat – the sky getting lighter and lighter as I smoke the bollocks off a Marlboro Light.

I hear the familiar diesel engine sound and my chariot pulls up. Suddenly by my side is Matt.

“Er, hi,” he says.
“It’s bye, actually,” I beam as I open the cab door.
“But…” he starts breathlessly. “Aren’t I coming with you?”
“What?!” I shriek. “Why would you be coming with me?”
“I thought I’d be coming home with you,” he says plainly.
I’m incredulous. “Why? I thought I was the most arrogant person you’d ever met.”
“You are. And I want to come home with you.”

I’ll never forget his look as I carefully close the cab door and tell the driver to go – his hopeful face getting smaller and smaller in the distance until it is just a dot.

I’m sure Matt wanted to teach me a lesson I’d never forget, and he did – just not the one he was hoping for. The only thing I learned from him was that I should stop being a dick at parties – and that men are depressingly impossible to read.

Image: cathydelmarnie on Flickr

672_scotland england blind date_header

Guardian Blind Date: Scottish Independence Special

Ever wondered what would happen if Scotland and England were to appear as romantic hopefuls in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine column Blind Date? Me neither. But, anyway, it might go something like this…

Fiercely independent Scotland, 1171, meets homely England, at least 1113.

Scotland on England

What were you hoping for?
The chance to meet somebody who’d let me be who I wanted to be.

First impressions?
A little domineering.

What did you talk about?
West Lothian, our health, cash. About how I was looking to travel but he’d rather stay at home. He seemed very interested in my skincare regime and which oils I used – and how much I had left.

Any awkward moments?
Every time I got up to go to the loo, he begged me to reconsider.

Good table manners?
Impeccable.

Best thing about England?
He seems keen to make a go of things.

Would you introduce England to your friends?
We already have a few mutual friends; I’m not sure I’d want him at all my social events.

Describe England in three words.
Flattering. Possessive. Deluded.

What do you think England made of you?
Hopefully he realised I was no pushover.

Did you go on somewhere?
Not together.

And… did you kiss?
I considered giving him a Glasgow one.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
That I’d left sooner.

Marks out of 10?
3. One for each century we spent together.

Would you meet again?
Maybe as allies.

England on Scotland

What were you hoping for?
Someone like me – in it for the long haul.

First impressions?
Rather flighty, with a lot of big ideas.

What did you talk about?
I talked money. I can’t really remember what she said – none of her arguments seemed to go anywhere.

Any awkward moments?
When I suddenly took an interest about 20 minutes before the end of the date. And she wouldn’t share pudding.

Good table manners?
Impeccable.

Best thing about Scotland?
She knows her own mind.

Would you introduce Scotland to your friends?
If we stay together, she has full access to my entire social circle. If not, well…

Describe Scotland in three words
Please. Don’t. Go.

What do you think Scotland made of you?
I think she might have found me a bit controlling. But hopefully she saw me as more than a friend.

Did you go on somewhere?
I wanted to talk some more – she wasn’t having any of it.

And… did you kiss?
Not even a Chelsea smile.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Now’s not a time to change. But I’d probably have listened to what she was saying more.

Marks out of 10?
We said we wouldn’t mark each other. But I say a lot of things. 7.

Would you meet again?
I’ll wait to see what she says first. (Probably not.)

  • Scotland and England ate at Café Ritazza, Southwaite motorway services on the M6.

See the real Guardian Blind Date column in all its glory/horror in the Weekend magazine every Saturday or read it online. I love it really.

Do you really need a six-pack to make an impact?

Do you really need a six-pack to make an impact?

The year is 2001.

I am in a bar, talking to a gay man. I used to do that. He might be trying to pick me up; I can’t tell. He takes another sip of his almost-drained drink and looks me up and down carefully. Here we go.

“How old are you?” he asks, with a mouthful of beery spittle.

“I’m 25,” I reply.

He surveys me again as if looking at a child’s finger painting. Finally, he speaks.

“If you want a body, you’re going to have to get on with it pretty quickly.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your body,” he sighs. “You don’t have one. You’ve no shape. By the time you get to 30, it’ll be too late. Start going to the gym as soon as you can.” He walks away.

If there’s one thing you’re going to need as a gay man, it’s a body.

If there’s one thing you’re going to need as a gay man, it’s a body. You can try telling me different, but nine times out of 10 you’re not going to get a great deal of initial interest from another gay man just because you look as if you read a lot of books. Looks count, even if they are only a beautiful lid on a simmering pot of ugliness, despair, bitterness and venom.

While I’m not bashing its usefulness, take good old Grindr, for example. You select your potential partner by browsing a gallery of tiny thumbnail pictures, lined up together like the world’s least appealing mosaic.

Users have less than a square centimetre to make an impression, and while most of us need a pretty face to experience the first stirrings of arousal – or at least a half decent face, depending on the time of day, how long it has been since ‘the last time’ and how many vodka and tonics you’ve had – many users decide to cut straight to business and get out their best weapon. No, not that, you’re not allowed to show that.

No, it’s the bod, the rack, the torso – buffed, shiny, preened and, usually, headless. Yes, these gods are so confident in the appeal of their sculpted trunks that they don’t even bother including their face.

“I have a body like this,” they drawl. “Why on earth would you care what I look like?”

“I have a body like this,” they drawl. “Why on earth would you care what I look like?”

Flicking through these prime cuts of flesh can be a humbling experience. A few brave or fetishised exceptions aside, everyone has everything in the right place.

An array of eye-popping guns, perfect pecs, killer abs and broad shoulders awaits you. It pays not to look down at your own torso while you’re surveying the merchandise, especially if you’re standing next to an open window at the top of a large building. The urge to jump may just be too strong.

All these muscles they’re honing, but for what? What are they lifting that’s going to need mass like that?

You wonder to yourself how they have the time to get bodies like this. Don’t they work? Do they exist in a parallel universe – a carb-free dystopia with no pubs?

And why do they want a body like this? All these muscles they’re honing, but for what? What are they lifting that’s going to need mass like that?

Unless they’re removal men who are forever navigating grand pianos up and down narrow spiral staircases, it all seems distressingly pointless.

I partially blame that Athena poster. You know the one: the oh-so-sensitive, muscle-bound babydaddy, emotionally cooing over the newborn in his arms, while a universe full of women (and gays) are far more emotionally swooning (at the very least) over his beach ball-sized biceps.

Until then, musclebound bodies were more or less restricted to wrestlers and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Why are a generation of bloggers and social media editors all walking round looking like they lift fridges all day?

Sure, there’d be weightlifters in the gym and selected movie stars who were ‘built’, but everybody else was either weedy or podgy, with only the odd natural Adonis scattered in between. And he’d usually be a manual labourer – so why are a generation of bloggers and social media editors all walking round looking like they lift fridges all day?

Watch some television from the 1970s or early 1980s. Glamour sagas like Dallas and Dynasty aside, everybody is fairly average. Potbellies, scrawny legs and funky teeth are the order of the day. Gradually, as Eighties’ aspirations began to be more body-focused than wallet-aligned, everyone started to look a little buffer, more toned. The war against podge had begun.

British soap operas used to be the last bastion of the ugly. Now everyone’s ripped and looks like they’ve just fallen from the underwear section of the catalogue.

Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer whipped off their vests in Top Gun for a slow-mo, trouser-bulging volleyball match and suddenly, every man wanted to be able to disrobe at a moment’s notice and not feel ashamed of their tummy.

Some corners of the media held out longer. British soap operas, for example, used to be the last bastion of the ugly. There’d be one token ‘phwoar’, sure, but everybody else was distinctly average – lumpy, bumpy and boring to know. Shirts would stay reassuringly on.

But now most younger male stars are all ripped and look like they’ve just fallen from the pages of the underwear section of the catalogue. They pull off flimsy cotton Ts at any opportunity, or star in scenes conveniently set post-shower, so they can show off their mile-wide chests and xylophone abs. At home, millions of men gulp and resolve to renew that gym membership. Or at least to go more than once a month.

When it comes to the buffness revolution, personality and kindness are first up against the wall.

But is it realistic for all of us to acquire this body beautiful? Our 9-5 existences don’t usually lend themselves to rigorous, continual exercise, rounds of protein shakes and special eating regimes delivered to our door. Something’s got to give, right? There are a number of exceptions, but my experience is when it comes to the buffness revolution, personality and kindness are first up against the wall.

I don’t want a six-pack, which is handy, as I’m unlikely ever to get one. They look ugly, harsh, as if you don’t do anything else except slog at it in the gym to have this alien stomach, which, of course, you are required to show off at any given opportunity.

I go to the gym; I’ve got a ‘body’, but I’ve got a real one. There’s hardly any fat and a one or two T-shirt friendly muscles are in attendance, yes, but it’s real.

It’s a body that likes a few beers, has been known to eat badly but isn’t averse to going for a run. I can look in the mirror at it and know that it’s mine, that it’s living along with me and I’m not killing myself – or boring everybody else to death – to make it look impeccable. And, most importantly, it’s not for display. You only get to see it if I really want you to.

So if you’re Mr Average, don’t despair at those Grindr galleries – let them keep their bowling-ball guns and starving stomachs. And leave them to slog it out when it comes to those killer abs.

Because when suitors’ eager eyes tire of looking at faultlessness and uniformity, they’ll come looking somewhere else, for something real. And you’ll be waiting.

An early, different version of this piece originally appeared on Huffington Post. Take a look at other stuff I have done for them.

Image: Melanie M on Flickr

Everybody needs a broken heart

Why everybody needs a broken heart

You may think you don’t know what it’s like to have a broken heart if you’ve never had one, but, if you’ve ever been in love, that’s not true.

The beginnings of love and a broken heart are quite similar – cruelly so. The gut-wrenching feeling of not being able to eat or sleep or function without thinking of someone? Present and correct. The difference is that when you’re in love, you know it’s only going to get better. With a broken heart, you have no such guarantee.

Many people would think of being heartbroken as a negative thing and while it’s happening to you it certainly feels that way, but in fact having your heart destroyed is probably the best thing that can happen to you in the long run – it makes you more human. And once you’ve had a broken heart of your own, you feel much less keen to give one to somebody else.

I remember the first time I broke somebody’s heart. His face told of utter desolation and chaos; he drank a lot; there were tears. I felt devastated too, but strangely detached from it all because it had been my decision. And I’d never truly felt the pain of brokenheartedness, so while I acknowledged the sadness and wished I could make it all better, in no way could I fully understand what this man was going through. But I was about to learn.

The first thing I did when I moved out of the home I had shared with my boyfriend of eight years was make a huge mistake. I was definite the breakup was the best thing for both of us – and nothing has changed my mind about that – and I thought the best thing for me to do was throw myself straight into dating. So far, so cold. The real clanger was, after going on my second date ever in my life, hurling myself headlong into a turbo-charged relationship that was only ever going to end one way – and it came sooner than I thought.

Ignacio, late 20s and from Mexico, seemed exotic and interesting, which I suppose he was, but his main USP? He happened to be the first man I’d kissed since my breakup, and a spell was cast over me. I assumed it was a fairy godmother working her magic with an enchantment of love – I’d never imagined it would be the wicked queen granting me stupidity and short-sightedness.

Ignacio was young and laid-back and vague and not looking for anything serious. He had broken up with somebody mere days before we went on our date and did, in the early days, make a few comments about things moving very fast, but I ignored them because, as a huge control-freak, I reasoned I could turn things around because… well, that’s what I thought I wanted.

To say I made a fool of myself in this ‘relationship’ is an understatement. I still, all these years later, cringe with embarrassment at my neediness and stupidity. While my ex still reeled from our breakup, I insensitively ploughed on regardless, trying to make something out of nothing with a man who certainly liked me, but was never going to love me. What I really needed was to be single, but I didn’t know how, so I clung to the nearest rock as the ocean lapped at my chin.

I didn’t love Ignacio either, of course, but was carried away in the very idea – to a mortifying degree. Perhaps missing the familiarity I’d had with my ex, I talked to and about Ignacio as if we’d been a couple for ever, when we were barely three weeks in. Painful.

I sulked if I couldn’t see him, would gush about him to my friends (who rightly assumed I had lost my mind) and generally ignored every warning sign that this was a disastrous rebound that was going to destroy me. I was having tea on a level crossing. Rome was burning; I fiddled on and on and on.

Eventually, about two months in, Ignacio pulled the plug. He said he couldn’t be himself with me, which was quite telling as, if I really thought about it, I had felt the same. I didn’t know who I was; I was a bad photocopy, redrawn from memory.

He had been on his way over to mine for a bike ride – I mean, this is how far gone I was; I considered getting on a bike for him – when he’d had a flash of clarity and realised we weren’t meant to be together. He was right, of course, but I refused to admit it to myself, pretending this was a bolt out of blue and not what was going to happen all along.

And so an unfamiliar feeling set in. Panic. Disbelief. Anguish. I wanted answers, but he wouldn’t meet me or reply to texts or calls. I wandered from room to room in my depressing bachelor pad, biting my nails to the quick, wondering what I’d done or said. Was it because I didn’t like cycling? Had I taken things too fast? Was I no good in bed? Was he leaving me to get back with his ex? All but one of those questions remained answered for ever. All he would say was that I was a nice guy and was his “kind of Hugh grant” – God bless that pathetic RP of mine – but wanted to end it. And that was it. I realised, all too slowly, I’d never see him again.

That night, I went to a fancy-dress party, dressed as a pirate. Dreadful outfit aside, the photos from that night paint a desperate picture. My eyes are dead, my face ashen. My smile is Joker-wide but empty. A broken heart, then, I suppose. Broken only because I didn’t get what I thought I wanted.

But of course that’s not what really broke my heart – I’d known him two minutes. What actually ripped me in two was the realisation that if I had been feeling this way after a mere eight weeks of ridiculous infatuation, how must my ex have been feeling after eight years of actual love?

I felt like a louse, and the feeling wouldn’t go away. Even up to a couple of years later, I would remember that feeling and what I’d done and would have to go to the office loo and sit and cry it out. I didn’t want to go back, and my ex was now perfectly happy with someone else, but I’d never be able to undo the way I did what I’d done – and that, quite rightly, broke my heart.

I was glad to suffer; I’d definitely earned it. The burn of my tears felt appropriate and I endured them without complaint. And the eight weeks of rebound ridiculousness with Ignacio paid dividends. I never got so ahead of myself again, from then on approaching dating and relationships with a realism and possibly a coldness that has faded only fairly recently. And, perhaps best and worst of all, Ignacio’s rebuff was the catalyst for starting this very blog.

The end of this half-hearted affair, teamed with horrific guilt at how I’d ended my own relationship, brought my head back into balance. And I resolved not to lose it again and, crucially, not to be purposefully shitty to people.

I may have come close to breaking those resolutions a few times, and men may have shed a tear or two after receiving the “thanks but no thanks” text from me (though also very likely not), but I’ve never let it get so far that I’ve broken somebody’s heart.

So I’m glad my heartbreak happened when it did, early on enough for me to realise it wasn’t just my feelings that mattered.

If you’ve been heartbroken, you’ll know what I mean and if you haven’t? Well, just pray that when your time comes it’s swift and fixable – and that it comes before you break too many hearts yourself.

Postscript: My ex and I are still the best of friends and he’s very happily in a relationship with someone else. Ignacio and I became friends a few months after the breakup and we too are both very happy – with other people. Which is exactly as it should be.

Image: Thomas Hawk on Flickr

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