Istanbul mon amour

Istanbul has been good for my soul.

Arriving at dawn and watching the morning light spread gold across the water, I can’t help but feel … soothed.

Later, I’ll be assaulted by the sights and sounds of the Spice Market in full swing: stallholders offering a morsel of rose-scented lokum or sticky, nutty kadayif; simit sellers plying their wares, the sesame-coated rings piled high upon their heads; eager trinket sellers insistently offering the best, the cheapest, the finest quality baubles…

… but for now, I’m enjoying the cool peace of the morning, punctuated only by the greedy screech of the fish-hungry gulls that swoop and wheel around the half-empty ferry.

For once, I’m not travelling alone, and my (male) travel buddy provides easy-going company, as well as welcome protection from the unwelcome attentions a solo blonde tourist typically attracts.

We spend a couple of days eagerly pacing the length and breadth of Istanbul. But as the week wears on, the temperature rises steadily and soon we’re content to laze in a shady corner with our noses in our respective books or drinking endless glasses of sweet, black tea in our favourite hangout – a leafy outdoor café overlooking the Bosphorus.

With tea in hand, and a light breeze gently ruffling my hair, I feel truly content.

Although it’s blazing hot and I’ve spent most of my time looking pink, sweaty and unappealing, the change of scene has done me good. I can’t say I’ve forgotten all about Uni Boy and my sudden demotion from the position of part-time squeeze, but I’m certainly able to view things in a more positive light.

Travelling always helps me to put things in perspective. With my mind occupied by new sights, sounds and smells, there’s no space for unhappy thoughts or mournful musings. And I can’t help but wonder if contentment breeds contentment, because when I check my email, I’ve got several affectionate messages from Uni Boy.

Puzzling, but not unpleasant.

On the last night, my travel buddy sits on the terrace with a glass of wine while I go scouting for food. It’s my first solo venture, and I soon get a taste of the luxurious protection I’ve been enjoying simply by being in male company: I’ve barely walked 500 metres, but I’ve been approached, petted and flattered by three separate gentlemen, all eager to show me their carpets, their plates, their various assorted trinkets.

Finally, I make it to my destination. As I wait for my food, the cashier flashes me his most winning smile.

“How many people are in Istanbul?”

At first, I think he’s quizzing me on my local knowledge, but then I realise he’s asking me if I’m travelling alone.

“Two,” I reply, holding two fingers aloft, for clarity.

“Where is my friend?” he asks, looking momentarily downcast.

“My friend is at home, waiting for me,” I say.

He beams.

“When my friend is sleep, you come here!” he says, triumphantly.

I smile politely as I decline his kind offer, and again as he attempts to snare my affections with a free orange juice. Insistently waving away his suggestions of a midnight tryst, I finally make it onto the street, where I fix my gaze on the pavement as I navigate the various hawkers and traders vying for my attention.

Back on the terrace, the food is soon devoured and I decide to check my email. Before I know it, I’m chatting to Uni Boy, and we’re flirting outrageously.

“When are you back?” he writes.

“Tomorrow evening, late,” I reply.

“See you then?” he says.

I hesitate. I know I should say no. But the devil on my shoulder is shouting louder than the angel, and my tragic addiction to hugs and kisses needs feeding. In truth, my internal struggle lasts … ooh, about five seconds.

“Sure,” I reply, berating myself only slightly. “See you then.”

And I smile.

Eeyore stole my mojo

I feel terrible.

Actually, to be more accurate, I’m feeling tragically sorry for myself. And it’s all because of Uni Boy.

Normally, I’m pretty good at pulling myself out of the black hole of despair, but today I’m in full-on Eeyore mode. I just can’t stop sniffling. My eyes are pink and big, fat tears roll sporadically down my cheeks and onto my lap. Yep, it’s that bad.

We’ve spent the afternoon messaging each other. He’s still telling me how gorgeous and wonderful I am … he just doesn’t want to see me anymore.

Yes, I know that it was only ever going to be a fling, but somehow it didn’t feel too bad when the end was predestined by circumstance. But now that I’ve been officially dumped – AGAIN – I just feel awful and unlovable and … thoroughly sorry for myself.

Actually, it’s unfair to say that I’m feeling sorry for myself because of Uni Boy. I’m clearly feeling sorry for myself because of ME. The top and bottom of it is that I just don’t like being dumped; the identity of the perpetrator is almost immaterial.

I can’t help wondering why no-one ever wants me. What’s wrong with me?! I know a it’s ridiculously negative way of thinking and I should squash the thoughts at source, but my life is littered with men telling me how charming and attractive I am, and what a great friend I make … it’s just that none of them, for whatever reason, actually wants to be with me.

Despite Uni Boy’s many flaws (not wanting me being the most prominent), being with him really did make me happy: his hugs had a way of banishing negative thoughts and his kisses took me where little angels play sweet melodies on tiny golden harps. Still, we have the same stupid sense of humour and I’m sure he’ll make a very good friend, once I’ve got over the mortification.

And this is the main point: I’m sick of being The Friend.

I’ve remained friends with almost all of my exes, except The Only I Almost Married, and we were never friends before. I’m everybody’s bloody friend … but still I’ve got no-one to call my own; no-one to curl up to on cold nights and no-one to give me a squeeze just because they feel like it.

The worst of it is that I’m one of the world’s most affectionate creatures. I like nothing more than human contact in any of its forms: when I’m sad, just stroke my hair and I’m soothed; when I’m happy I’ll celebrate with kisses and hugs; when it’s cold, full-body spooning is just what I need; and when it’s too hot for contact, I’ll link little fingers and be happy.

Which is why it feels so unfair that I’m always alone: no hugs, no kisses, no spoons. Nothing. And with every failed fling I see a life of solitude laid out ever more clearly before me.

Enough!

I need to get out of this way of thinking; I need a change of air. So it’s pure fortune that tonight I’ll be boarding a plane for Istanbul, a trip booked when I was still reeling from the news that my ex was to be a daddy. Booked, in fact, on the fateful day that I got it together with Uni Boy.

And I know I should count my blessings: I’ve got no ties, nothing to stop me zipping off to foreign climes whenever I feel like it. And let’s face it, who can remain glum when they’re off to see the Blue Mosque and eat köfte while watching the sun set over the Bosphorus?

I think about it for a moment. I’m healthy, I’m happy(ish) and the unexpectedly independent configuration of my life lets me do whatever I want. What is there to complain about? I pull out a guidebook and start reading about the highlights of Istanbul.

Ladies and gentlemen, Eeyore has left the building.

Gloom … and the return of the Peruvian Puma

It’s a beautiful sunny day (if you ignore the wind and the clouds) and I’m meeting some friends in the park. It’s the closest we’ve had to barbeque weather for a while and we’re determined to make the most of it.

I’m in a buoyant mood as I cycle along and, once I’ve locked my bike up, I decide to send a quick text to Uni Boy.

“Hey you!” I write. “How’s things?”

Surprisingly, I get an almost instant response.

“Interesting!” he replies. “Boss has quit. Looks like I’m in for a promotion!”

Wow. This is an interesting development. He’d had a sneaking suspicion that his boss was about to resign, and that he might be asked to replace him. Not only would it mean a big step up the ladder, it would also mean he’d be staying in the UK as head of about a gazillion offices.

“Wow!” I write, “Congratulations! You must be celebrating. Does that mean the move is off?”

“Yup,” he replies. “The world can wait. The UK needs me 🙂 What are you up to today?”

“Finally some sunshine,” I write, “BBQ in the park today. Missing you!”

“Sunshine?” comes the reply. “Wow! Missing you too … though maybe we should quit while we’re ahead. Don’t want to get used to this.”

I stare at the screen. Somewhere in the back of my mind an alarm bell starts ringing. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but…

“Hang on a minute,” I write. “Does that mean you’re dumping me?”

Again, a near instant response.

“Gorgeous girl,” he says, “I would never dump you. But maybe it’s time to move on to pastures new.”

Bloody hell! He is dumping me! He’s staying in the UK and now he’s dumping me. I feel as though I’m in a lift on the 13th floor and the cable just broke.

“So you are dumping me …” I write.

“Gorgeous, funny, clever, sexy lady,” he replies, “I honestly think you’re the best. If I were five years older, I’d ask you to marry me. But I’m young and stupid … and it had to end sooner or later, didn’t it?”

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I was never likely to become Mrs Uni Boy, but I thought we’d been having fun. Lots of fun. Enough fun to keep on having fun for a little while longer.

From the first evening that we got together, I’d felt comfortable in his company. There was no initial awkwardness, no uncomfortable silences … we were like hand and glove right from the start. Sure, he’s a few years younger than me – he wasn’t in my year at uni, nor even the year below – but since I wasn’t looking to him for marriage and babies, I didn’t think it mattered.

I’m about to reason with him, telling him why he’s wrong and why there’s so much more fun to be had, when I suddenly realise it’s pointless. His mind is made up. Discussing it won’t help. So for once in my life, I do the smart thing: I give up, and shut up.

“OK,” I write, with superhuman restraint. “Sorry to hear that. It’s been fun. I’ll miss you. Best of luck with the new job xx”

Everything’s always alright.

But I’m beginning to make a habit of getting dumped. And for being too old, as well. Does this mean I’m not even good enough to be a fling now? Depressing.

Although my heart’s not really in it, I join my friends for the barbeque. And of course, after a while, everything really is alright – or at least, swept under the carpet to be dealt with another day.

Later, at home, I’m contemplating the day’s events and feeling just a little bit glum. I really will miss Uni Boy; I liked his cuddles and his upbeat take on life. Just as my mood is turning morose, a message pings onto my computer screen.

“Hey, sexy! What’s cooking?”

It’s the Peruvian Puma. I can’t help but smile.

“Ready for another of my famous dances? ;)” he writes.

You know what? I really think that I am. Could there be a better way to bring a smile to a sad lady’s face? Laughing to myself, I type my response.

“Hit me with it, wild thing!”

And you know what? He does.

On my own again

Dinner with The Darkly Intriguing was … odd. He turned up in his sweaty gym kit, for starters. Now I know we were going for a fairly humble plate of dim sum, but who does that?

Maybe it’s just my suspicious mind, but it smacked of a cover-up: turning up an hour late in your smarts is probably harder to explain to your ex. Or not-so-ex, whichever she may be. Anyway, my lack of enthusiasm must have been palpable, because we’ve not been in touch since. Oh well.

Uni Boy is also out of the picture. Although he’s not departed definitively, he’s gone for a recce of his new turf. By the time he gets back, I’ll be away. So, depending on when he gets the nod from his superiors, we may – or may not – see each other again. Sniff.

I know I shouldn’t mind too much. After all, it was only ever a temporary arrangement. But when you’re snuggling up to someone several nights a week, it’s only natural that you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Of course, I expect no such sentimentality from him. Most guys have the ability to detach their emotions, taking the situation at face value. It’s an admirable trait, but one which I’ve never quite mastered. I have trouble throwing out an old toothbrush.

Go figure.

Anyway, I couldn’t help getting accustomed to kisses and cuddles and all the other benefits that come with sharing a bed. In intimate moments, he talks of a future with me in it, but I’m under no illusions. And rightly so: five minutes later he’s making plans for world domination and I’m not even a footnote.

But that’s fine. It’s all fine. Everything’s always fine.

I think that’s my new mantra: everything’s always fine. Love comes and love goes; attraction swirls around and fades away; promising trysts evaporate into thin air. I don’t like it, but it’s OK. The cut of each disappointment is keen at first, but there’s no loss that isn’t dulled by time. Even the times I thought my heart would break … well, here I am, heart (more or less) in one piece. Sometimes I think that if anyone ever decided to stick around, I’d be scared out of my wits.

I do feel sad, though, that I might never find someone to share my life with. Think of all that love and affection, just going to waste.

Maybe I should get a cat.

Anyway, there’s no point moping about it. Just as faint heart never won fair lady, so morose mug never charmed marvellous man. And that’s a fact.

Besides, I’ve got plenty of blessings just waiting to be counted: it’s a glorious day, the sun is shining and I’ve finished all my work … which can mean only one thing: a cycle ride by the river and iced coffee in the park. It’s Body Combat tonight, as well.

Sun, cycle, coffee and combat. I mean really, who could ask for more?

Getting up to speed

OK, so with Uni Boy about to disappear from the scene, I’ve decided I need to get proactive and find myself a new partner in crime, before I get an attack of affection withdrawal.

I just can’t bring myself to go back to the dating site, so I reluctantly conclude that speed dating might be a better bet: you can go with a girlfriend; there’s no excruciating preamble; you get to check people out first-hand, right from the off; and if you don’t like the look of them, you need never hear from them again. So far, so good.

Although I’m unsure how much you can tell about a person in three minutes and 45 seconds, I convince myself that it’s a good idea, so I get online and check out my options. Not many, it would seem. There’s just one local organiser of speed dating events, and their soirées cost £20 a pop.

Of course, if you meet the love of your life, twenty quid is a mere trifle. But if, as I suspect is more likely, you’re paying to spend the evening in the company of a herd of socially awkward gents with a penchant for Dungeons and Dragons, it’s less of a bargain.

Now, I know I shouldn’t judge, especially as I’m One of Them. (The hopelessly single, I mean. Not the lovers of Dungeons and Dragons.) But the last dating event that I attended didn’t fill me with hope. I have memories of some thoroughly awkward conversations. Some folks looked jumpy when faced with questions that probed delicate topics such as … ooh, the vague geographical location of their home, or what they did for a living.

I know that people are just nervous. I know, I know. But … hey, we’re all adults; we’re all here for the same reason. Surely the least we can do is make it easy on each other by putting our friendliest face forward? Anyway, I need to get a grip. My reluctance is causing me to foresee disaster and I haven’t even booked my place yet. To arrest my waning enthusiasm, I quickly turn back to the screen.

It’s not as simple as just picking a date and showing up, however. Oh no. Choosing my location is easy, but then I find I can choose between graduate professionals, and … um … the rest of the populace. I suppose this division is because we’re in a University town, but why does mingling with graduate professionals attract a £2 surcharge? Presumably it’s because I’ll be meeting a higher calibre of human being. Or perhaps it’s because graduates demand a higher class of biscuit at half-time. Who knows?

Anyway, next I have to choose my preferred age range. And here’s where it gets more taxing, not least because – like the Queen – I have two ages: my official age, and my real age. Which to choose? (Answer: never you mind.)

I find that there are several different groupings of age and status but, oddly, nothing for my demographic – that is, female graduate professionals over the age of 33. Is the assumption that as a female aged 33+, I should be grateful for whomsoever I can find, graduate or no? Or, more charitably, that beyond the golden age of 33 I’ll have mellowed to the point where educational status is no longer important?

Flummoxed by the lack of appropriate options I hesitate, mouse hovering indecisively. After several moments of umm-ing and aah-ing, I finally make up my mind with a decisive click.

Immediately, a box pops up on my screen.

“Sorry!” it says. “That option is no longer available.”

Gah! Is that “no longer available”, as in fully booked, or “no longer available” as in permanently off the menu? I’m sure if I were more into the idea, I’d find a way to surmount the problem and book my place. But as it is, I decide to take it as an omen: speed dating isn’t for me. I’m such a chicken, I know.

Just as I’m pondering my lack of grit and determination, an email arrives. It’s from The Darkly Intriguing… and he’s as succinct as ever.

“Dinner post-gym tomorrow?”

Wow. He’s never requested my company after 5pm before. So it’d be rude to refuse … right? With Uni Boy about to abandon me forever, I’ve got to take the chances as they arise. I know he’s not worthy of my attentions. I know he isn’t. But then show me someone who is. Go on.

So, with an inevitability that surprises no-one (least of all me), I type a nonchalant reply – “Sure.” – and accept the invitation. Dinner post-gym it is.

I’m not in love

So, after a wet, grey but mostly entertaining bank holiday spent partially in the company of Uni Boy, my worst fears have been confirmed: I am indeed missing out by having no-one to kiss and cuddle.

Over the long weekend, I’ve really appreciated having someone to snuggle up to, share things with and – yes – even cook things for.

Who knew I was a Desperate Housewife manquée?

To be honest, Uni Boy and I are quite different people and we know it, but since neither of us is taking the situation too seriously we can, on the whole, overlook things that might otherwise cause friction: I ignore his Jurassic reply times to my texts, and he turns a blind eye to my early morning freneticism.

(Yes, I know I have plenty of time, it’s just that fifth gear is my default setting, alright?)

We have a lot of fun in each other’s company, mostly because he’s as daft as I am. There are not many people who can snap awake at 7.45am on their day off, and be laughing by 7.46. Luckily, both Uni Boy and I can. And do.

Obviously, the fact that he’ll soon be leaving these shores means that all these lovely treats will soon be coming to an end. But I can’t complain too much – I feel lucky to have had a few weeks of fun and affection.

Naturally, I’d be happy with a few more, but my batteries have been recharged and I feel loveable again – which is a very positive development. Sure, I’m no closer to meeting Mr Right, but at least I’m back to thinking that this is due to a twist of fate, rather than some crushing defect on my part.

The only perplexing thing about the whole situation is that Uni Boy seems preternaturally worried that I’m about to fall head over heels in love with him.

I’m not completely sure, but I think his concern stems from my delight when he paid me a surprise visit at work. Of course, I was pleased to see him – especially as I was struggling with a rather difficult report and his arrival presented me with the perfect excuse to abandon it for a while.

But really, who doesn’t like surprises like that? And anyway, if someone’s gone to the trouble of surprising you, the very least you can do is look pleased about it. But if I’d known it was going to worry him so much, I’d have grunted my thanks and snatched my coffee grouchily from his hand.

I admit that I may not have helped matters by getting upset one day when his excessive need for ‘privacy’ in all things relationship-related meant that he barely acknowledged me in a group of friends. But I’d have been equally upset if any friend had done the same.

No, whilst I appreciate the fact that he’s kind enough to consider my feelings (even if there is a certain level of self-interest), I’m not really under any illusions. I know he’s not the love of my life; nor am I his. I know he’s going to leave, and I also know that he won’t look back. And that’s fine. It honestly is.

Anyway, amid all the fun and frolics with Uni Boy, I must admit that The Darkly Intriguing Man From The Gym has been somewhat eclipsed. But this morning, he’s back.

“Coffee?” says the message in my inbox.

Although the lack of movement in his relationship status tells me all I need to know about his merit as a potential partner, in the interests of variety (OK, and of giving Uni Boy a poke in the eye) I type a quick response in the affirmative and head out of the door.