THE SUNDAY PAPERS

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As my month of love continues to grow, I thought I would stick to all things relationships and sex for this week’s Sunday Papers post. Here’s my round up of romance from the last 7 days.

Sex Myths Decoded

Single and Proud

Going the Distance

Dating at 30

Sober

For When Cupid Doesn’t Strike

A Love Story

Bag a Bargain

Addicted to Love

Ridin’ Solo

Couples Living With Couples

When Divorce is a Good Thing

Women Enjoy It Too

I can’t get no…

Have a great week.

THE SINGLE LIFE

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After a year and a half of being betrothed to a beard, I have found myself in the single seat.

And I have no idea what I am doing.

There’s just way too much to think about.

All of a sudden I have to make sure I don’t get too drunk on a Friday because there is no one there to throw a jacket over my shoulders and chaperone me to my bed whilst singing songs from Frozen en route – except for my girls of course – but they’re normally ten gins down with me. I now have no excuses for putting on a few extra pounds because there is nobody overfeeding me Maltesers on the sofa anymore. I have to think about how I am dancing at parties, make sure that I look decent enough for public consumption more than just 50% of the time and I have to re-learn how to make sexy (but never starey) eye-contact with strangers because one wrong move apparently and you can end up giving your number to someone who – let’s face it – isn’t even halfway up your street.

It’s safe to say I am out of my depth. It’s also safe to say I am not alone in this.

I was talking to a guy at a house party on Saturday about the fact that he has found himself newly single for the first time in ten years. It has been 18 months for me and I’ve lost all control of my hands and – apparently – tongue, so imagine how he feels? He said a hot girl asked his name the other night and he shouted back, “I have a girlfriend!” and ran away. I could tell he was struggling with being a suave single male addicted to retail when he began performing show tunes (solo) all the way until 6am with a deranged look in his eye. Luckily for him he’s very good looking and I’m fairly certain he’ll grow out of it, otherwise I’d have told him to give up and find a cave to reside in with Lloyd-Webber for the rest of his life.

But back to me and my own incompetencies.

Adjusting to being single isn’t solely about struggling with being back in the dating game. It’s about watching a lot more Netflix and eating fewer takeaways. It’s about having a lack of warm jumpers to wear around the house, turning down plus ones to weddings and not having to compromise, which, I guess, is what your twenties were made for. But it is hard, no matter what Queen B says.

Although this newfound single status has been thrust upon me unwillingly, there is nothing to do except for enjoy it for what it is: a whole lot of me time. Of course, realising that the break up is a good thing will have to be scheduled between tears and regretful emails (no I’m not overly formal, I’ve just deleted his number), but it will happen. I just need to keep reminding myself that being able to put on a face mask of an evening trumps a spoon and some cake in bed. And let’s be honest, nothing beats a cuddle and some chocolate gateau, so this might take a while.

Basically, I’m single. And it’s a bit weird. And a bit sad. On the plus side however, it will probably make for some excellent writing material.

I will inevitably keep you posted on what I’ve been up to.

Wish me luck!

THE PERFECT DATE

large (23)You know the one I’m talking about.

That guy your mum fell in love with before you did. The one who fits every bill known to womankind. The perfect date. The gentleman. The textbook boyfriend, if you will.

With them, doors will be opened, flowers will be delivered and your anniversary will never be forgotten. He’s quite simply, perfect.

For someone else, that is.

Despite all of his positive perks, he no longer makes you want to drop your pants, he doesn’t force your brain to function on higher planes and he doesn’t make you feel alive anymore. Fairy tales are telling you yes, but your gut is telling you no.

So what do you do?

Naturally, you carry on the stale relationship for a while longer because, well, half of your stuff is at his and it would be a huge effort to lug it back again. He knows that you take it with milk, no sugar and he doesn’t need to ask what you need when you’re hungover: happy meal complete with toy please, ta very much.

He’s like the job you’ve had for years, the dish you always order in Nando’s and that jumper you’ve had since 2006. He’s tried, he’s tested, he’s trustworthy. But is that enough?

I’m not saying that the only attractive men are those who don’t hold doors open, give you flowers and make you want to break into a rendition of God Only Knows. Far from it; these are prerequisites for any boyfriend I take on. I’m simply saying that if you’re with someone who does all of these things and you’re still not weak at the knees, then something’s up and it might be time to move on.

You have to ask yourself whether or not it would matter if their looks faded to that of our beloved Bruce Forsyth, whether his conversation would remain as interesting to you fifty long-haul flights later and whether you would be happy to hold his hand in a room full of hotties. Now, it’s highly likely that you will answer, “yes” to all of these questions, and that’s okay, you’ve been together for what feels like forever. But don’t be fooled. Here’s the real test…

Picture the perfect woman for him.

Match his likes and dislikes, think about how she’d look, smell and even sound. Would she enjoy sailing as much as him? Find his eating habits endearing as opposed to enraging? Would she be anything like… you?

If the person you’re picturing doesn’t have your name on them, then do him a favour and let him go and find her. You’re the only thing standing between him and his dream girl. And you and your dream fella.

It will be an ugly break up. You’ll be confused and will feel mostly guilty. It will be one of the hardest splits of your life and you’ll question yourself daily because – bizarrely – you’re tearing yourself away from something that is, on the surface, perfect. But stay strong dear friend; you’re doing the right thing.

I can promise you that once the tears have dried and you’re both finally free, you’ll feel like the luckiest girl in the world. You’ll see him with his new girlfriend and feel nothing but happiness and, most importantly, you’ll have the highest of standards because of what he’s taught you.

And for that, regardless of who you end up with, he will always be The Perfect Date.

THE EX

large (9)I will never be friends with any of my exes, ever again.

Not because they are monsters, in fact quite the opposite, but really- what would be the point in it?

In the past, I used to think that it was a good idea to meet for a coffee every now and then, or check in with how their mums were getting on, but as the years go by I realise that they rarely check in with me and my parents and the only reason we actually ever had an interest in each other’s lives is because we were sharing the same bed.

You’ll probably think that I’m being a bit harsh here and that all of the people who touch our lives should remain in our lives.

But here’s the thing: I get far too attached to the past.

I hold my hands up to indulging too long in nostalgic moments. Lengthy glances out of the window happen on an almost weekly basis, as I remember how good things were, as opposed to the greatness of now, so it really is no option for me but to let things go quickly (and without much thought) before it’s too late. But even if I weren’t the type to relish in reminiscing, I think I’d still adhere to the same lack of contact post-break up.

I do understand that when you date somebody in your friendship group, it becomes a little more difficult to do this. You bump into them at brunch and nights out end in discussions about what happened in a corner of the bar whilst everyone else  works out how they’ll pick up the pieces in the morning. But if you have the option to never see or speak to them again, then do it; it’s great to know that they exist, but you don’t need them in your face- sort of a bit like sharks, or Katie Hopkins.

An important thing to remember is that from the moment you break up, what they do is no reflection, whatsoever, of you – or what you had together. Even if that means that they sleep with someone two days later, which might be a little hard to swallow, but frankly, it’s none of your business anymore. Just as much as it’s none of their business that you’ve just downloaded Happn whilst you wait for your ready meal to heat up.

Although it’s idealistic to assume that every break up will be amicable, particularly as they pretty much never are, just make a pact to be at the very least, respectful. Even if the remnants of your relationship seem like they are strewn across the bathroom floor, don’t plaster your new lease of life all over Facebook or shove photos of your new fling into the public forum; be discrete. After all, you did love – or even just like them – once upon a time, so there’s no need to rub salt into the wounds of what is probably an already traumatic break up. Because, let’s face it, they’re all crap.

And that’s another things about exes- you aren’t the only one to have them. Be mindful that your boyfriend might have left a trail of destruction in his path and be patient with previous partners. Harsh words about you, or endless messages declaring their love for your chosen one come from a place that you should sympathise with, instead of show anger towards. Just think about how long it took you to get over that ex and remain calm, however tempting it might be to throw warnings her way.

Lastly, don’t try to convince each other that you can be friends because you think it’ll be less painful. It won’t be, so instead, look through your recent calls or texts and you’ll see a list of people just waiting for you to get in touch with them. And keep reminding yourself that you were never friends, you were in a relationship, and that those are two very different things.

Fingers crossed I have found “The One” and won’t have to add another ex to the list ever again. But if I do, then I assure you, I will be adhering to all of the above.

And for those of you who have stumbled upon this at an appropriate time in your life, then I urge you to follow these simple instructions to start moving on: meet with your ex one last time and hug them – and when you do, squeeze them really, really tight – then tell them that you love them as though it might be the last time that you will ever see them, and then step away. For a really long time.

It’ll be painful and you’ll cry, but I assure you: if you are able to do that, then you’re already half way there.

EX O EX O

The Travel – A Guest Post

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Seeing The World: What Better Way To Spend Your Time?

Throughout my teenage years and early twenties, travelling was always something that I felt I probably should do, rather than actually wanted to. Being the painfully OCD freak that I am and so very attached to London’s home comforts, the grim logistics of backpacking oddly never appealed to me. Needless to say, not showering for days on end, scooping dinner out of a tin (if at all), and nursing foreign hair infestations was not on my list of things to do. Regretfully at the ripe old age of 27, I’ll happily say I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s the best thing I’ve ever chosen to do.

Obviously there were holidays over the years: family trips to Spain, boozy city breaks with mates, South Africa with Seany, jollies with the missus and music festivals, all of which I’m hugely fortunate to have enjoyed and loved. This trip, however, is something else entirely. The places, people and cultures have been so dramatically diverse, heart-meltingly humble and astoundingly helpful, to the extent I often believed these encounters were an elaborate scam or robbery. They never were.

Views so beautiful they have literally taken my breath away, surroundings that no iPhone, digital camera or even SLR can truly capture and I can’t even attempt to describe in words the sheer size and scale of these places. And the beer, let’s not forget the beer; at any time of day and more wallet-friendly than water on most occasions; smashing three course lunches for about £1.50 in Bolivia and frankly inhaling the dirt-cheap steaks and red wine of Argentina, as if someone were about to steal them from under our noses. The people we’ve met along the way have also been (for the most part, I’ll get to that) terrific human beings and I wouldn’t think twice about putting any of them up in the big smoke.

But despite those seemingly endless praises, travelling does carry its darker undertones. So’s not to put you off, I’ll try and keep this brief. Here’s what those Lonely Planet books don’t tell you:

The Comfort Zone

Travelling with my girlfriend has been hugely rewarding both on a personal level and in terms of our relationship. We’re now so close, it’s become common place to discuss the consistency, colour and volume of our shit, after EVERY trip to the toilet. Sometimes it’s even reported through the bathroom door, bellowing with sheer joy and relief that it’s a, ‘SOLID ONE!’, having beaten the diarrhoea roulette. Your partner’s face is also seriously important, you better really, really, like it, for the only time you don’t see it, is when you’re asleep or during those brief milliseconds of respite when you blink.

Tossers

I’ve made a point of mentioning how amazing the people we’ve met are, and on the whole, we’ve been very lucky. Of course, as a law of averages, there are going to be exceptions, or, ‘tossers’, as I like to call them. Company so intolerable, that it makes you think perhaps you’re being punished for something in a past life. Wankers so unfathomably annoying, that I frequently found myself pushing an imaginary sock into their mouths, in the hope of putting a plug into the know-it-all, anti-government, anti-commercialism, anti-job, anti-McDonald’s, anti-fucking-anything to be honest chat. One chap in particular spoke at length to us at how large household brands and corporate companies were destroying the world and killing people, as in actually murdering them for land. The same cock sat there telling us all of this in a pair of Nike tracksuit bottoms, guzzling a can of Coke with his Marlborough Lights, showing us ‘proof’, on his sodding iPHONE. We got some comic mileage out of this knob though, so not all bad.

Dormz

Even after nearly thee months, the concept of this still unnerves me. “Hi eight total strangers, so we’re all just going to sleep in this hotbox of a room together, stacked like free prisoners, pretending like this is all completely normal behaviour?”. It has to be done at times and there’ll be a good few more to come I imagine, but I don’t like it. Not one bit. The sound of incessant snoring, persistent crotch scratching, phlegm-hocking and and bilingual sleep talking will always hold a dear place in my heart. As will the Venezuelan girls puking solidly between 3-4am, then ignoring their 5:30am alarm call for what felt like an eternity, until they were literally shaken to consciousness by my main bitch – she can get scarily Belfast when she needs to. Thankfully we’ve not bore witness (that we know of) to any camel-feeding, sausage-eating, todger-pulling or finger blasting. Yet. We did however come across one harrowing account of a dorm experience, where a charming Aussie girl insisted her new love conquest refrained from, “Spitting in her fanny”, at which point the neighbouring bed occupier had enough and threw them both out. Bravo.

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Having digested all that, I’m sure you’re busy clicking through Sky Scanner web pages with your calculator, and so you should be, it’ll be the best decision you’ll ever make. You won’t remember that car or designer handbag you bought on your deathbed in years to come, instead it’ll be some naked Slovakian boy on the opposite bunk, who in his sleep-induced state decided he was going to sit on the end of his bed and glare into your soul, while you pretend to be engrossed in the latest free download on your Kindle. Good times.

photoWritten by Alex O’Brien, my real life older brother. No we are not twins, yes I am the better looking one.

If you want to keep updated on his escapades, home or away, follow him on twitter here. He’s kind of funny.

The Visit

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It must seem to my regular readers that I spend most of my time getting medical practitioners to look at my lady bits. I can categorically tell you that this is not the case, however, if it makes you feel better about getting your own private parts checked out, then so be it.

I’ve heard that HIV is on the rise again in young, gay men and although I myself am clearly not a young, gay man, I’m well aware that we are all at risk and that I’m not immune just because I’m a heterosexual female. I also know that it isn’t just HIV that we should be protecting ourselves from either: there are 27 different types of STI that are waiting to latch onto our genitals, so it really is worth spending the time using protection and getting checked out, however old you are and however many sexual partners you’ve had.

If you’re under 18 and reading this, then I can understand that STIs might still be a little bit taboo for your age range. When I was at school, anyone who took a trip to the clinic was there primarily to collect a ton of condoms to throw around in class and if you were caught coming out of one, it was immediately assumed that your knob had fallen off. If, however, you’re old and ugly enough to take responsibility for your dental hygiene and general health, then there’s no excuse for neglecting yourself from the waist down; you should be leading the younger generation by example.

It dawned on me recently that I hadn’t had a test since 2009. Shameful. Four years, and a few sexual partners later, I could have caught something and have passed it onto a bedtime buddy already. A quick debrief of my sexual encounters would tell you that it was highly unlikely that I’d have contracted anything from a list of bright, well brought up, good looking and charming university graduates (not) but it’s not as clear cut as having chocolate on your chin: sometimes it’s too dark or I was too drunk and just because you’re called Harry doesn’t mean you don’t have Herpes. So I took the plunge and got myself booked in last week.

My clinic is the sexual health hub of West London and had been a haunt for most of my health conscious friends and boyfriends growing up, but I hadn’t visited the place in years. And you know what? Not much had changed. The same hushed waiting room was still there: rows of chairs filled with people avoiding eye contact at all costs, an old radio playing the same tracks from 2006 and as I was visiting so close to the festive season, a comforting array of washed out tinsel was strewn decadently about the room. Something that had changed however, was my attitude to getting this done. Instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed, I felt proud of myself and of the people around me; I’d had a bikini wax and was ready to take on the swab. I did still want to be invisible however, so when I sneezed and a guy said “Bless you”. I thought, “Dude, we’re not waiting for a bus here. I’m trying my very best to be as discrete as possible so could you please just not”.

This was all quickly forgotten when I was told by the nurse that swabs were a DIY job these days. I could’ve jumped on her I was so relieved – and I’m really not that shy about my vagina – so hopefully this will encourage those of you who are a little anxious, to take the leap. If, by some chance, some clinics do ask you to drop your pants, please don’t panic; it really isn’t that bad and it will be over really, really quickly. And to those guys who think they have it worse when it comes to sexual health screenings: woman up. It’s a cotton bud, not a machine gun.

My brother and his mates used to visit the clinic together for moral support. Afterwards, they’d treat themselves to a Nando’s for being so brave. I don’t care what it takes to get yourself checked out; whether you want to have sex with your girlfriend without a condom or if you need to justify getting your Peri-Peri fix that week, make like Nike and just do it. Remember that those who are there to assist you have seen a lot worse (confirmed when my gyno made a cameo appearance treating genital warts on Embarrassing Bodies a while back) while those who are waiting to be seen are only there to look after themselves, just like you.

Yes, it’s embarrassing when you’re about to show your foof to a complete stranger or when you’re asked a long list of questions about your sex life but it really is so important to make sure you’re clean as more serious diseases are found in young people today. Oh, and a little FYI: never respond with “erm… I tried it once but stopped because it hurt” when asked if you’ve had anal sex during your health questionnaire; the nurse is trying to figure out if you’ve been exposed to potential risks, not whether you’re an experimental lover. Just a little heads up, this definitely didn’t happen to me…

I received my “all-clear” text just this morning and I can tell you that the relief of that message far outweighs the 60 seconds of embarrassment in that nurse’s office or the scratch of the needle from a blood test.

Drop your trousers and get it checked.

All of you.

The Pornography

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Porn was first thrust upon me, much like anyone else who grew up in the noughties, in the charming form of Two Girls, One Cup. Suffice to say, I haven’t had a great relationship with the medium since.

The next thing I remember was a school trip to Wales, where boys who had only seen nudity in print, were passing a copy of Nuts Magazine around the coach. They shared their thoughts about a lack of pubic hair and different shades of areola, as us girls looked on with both intrigue and fright.

My boyfriend during these younger years was caught watching porn by his mum – an act as alien to me then as peeing standing up – and despite it being a moment of awkward humiliation for them both, she took it upon herself to stand there and give him a rollicking for objectifying girls: what a woman.

Following on from my teenage years, my male friends at university developed my fascination with porn by introducing me to the delights of ‘Sausage Pizza’. One of their favourite past times was to leave ‘Meat Spin’ running on my unattended laptop during dissertation time for me to return to as a treat after running off for a quick toilet break.(If you’re not sure what either of those food related porn titles are, take it from me, it’s better that way.)

Back in the day, and by this I’m only talking ten or so years ago, porn was taboo and the only way to get yourself off was to watch the 10 minute preview to an adult film on some obscure 900 Sky channel or switch over to TOTP where Rachel Stevens was doing her thing. Nowadays, we can access a whole world of sexual fantasy, in ultra high definition, from behind a computer screen, or even more conveniently, through our smart phones.

The majority of both my male and female counterparts watch porn on a regular basis and I’ve even known guys to share porn between friends. It has become so much a part of our daily lives that questioning the morality of it would be like questioning the morality of a roast potato. But aside from the fact that (some of) the stars of the small screen make a stack of money, how else is it enhancing the lives of these men and women who are having sex for cash? To me, there’s no difference between this occupation and that of a hooker on the streets of London, and any monetary transaction that exists when having sex, whether a punter or a production team is paying you, is just wrong in my opinion.

There’s obviously a darker side to the industry, and between the inappropriate videos out there and how easy they are to access, I can’t help but fear for future generations who are watching this stuff as children. Not only are they being educated in the art of bad sex, but these films are taking ideas of brutality and domination, and normalising them. In fact, these films are such a poor example of what sex is really like, that I’d probably give those sex education videos from my school days a little more credit. I also think more time should be given to educate those of an older generation who aren’t aware that these films are but a click away from their child’s reach, but I’ll save that for another day.

A guy I was seeing at the end of last year said that there was something he found shameful about masturbating and that he always felt a little self-deprecating afterwards, like he’d done something really wrong. I think it’s important to recognise that there’s nothing wrong with a little self love, but it’s the tools that are used to get you there that might be the problem.

Perhaps porn is a good way to vent mismatched sexual desires that you don’t share with you partner, or to tide you over until your next conquest, but we need to remember what it was like to be obsessed with what sex was going to be like before we had it. The whole world is obsessed with it because it’s amazing. And why is it amazing? Because you get to touch another person’s body, feel great and if you’re really lucky, connect on a higher level. Watching porn, albeit a fantastic form of contraception, just means more time spent staring at a screen as opposed to each other and I find that tapping at a keyboard to watch people have sex is much like staring through the window of a great restaurant to see people eating instead of heading inside and trying the menu for yourself.

Taking all of the moral questions surrounding the industry such as how these people are being treated behind the scenes and how many of them have chosen this as a career choice away, I don’t actually have a massive problem with it being watched, even within the realms of a relationship. I’m safe in the knowledge that my boyfriend isn’t thinking about me as he watches Jenna Jameson’s puppies jump up and down onscreen, but I’m cool with that; after all, my boobs will never be as big as hers and I wouldn’t want him to miss out, being the boob man that he is. But when it comes to my turn, why am I expected to enjoy ‘female friendly’ films?  I feel a need to let all of you porn producers out there know that not all of us girls want to be caressed with scented oils or fed fresh strawberries and I find it simply hilarious how this new age porn industry can be so regressive at times.

As you can see, I’m not 100% sure where I stand on the whole porn debate, but as a little experiment, I think I’ll steer clear of it for a while.

Think that might take too much will power as the winter nights draw in? Film your own and be safe in the knowledge that both parties have consented, are being taken care of (in more ways than one) and I’m sure you’ll feel far more satisfied watching a demonstration by someone with a good working knowledge of the female anatomy, because FYI, what they do in porn films is not good sex and I can guarantee it will not get your girlfriend anywhere near where you want her to be.

I am, shamefully however, looking forward to Fifty Shades of Grey coming out at the cinema next year.

Does that count as porn?

Who even knows anymore.

The Tinder

10da350b6b975ba752a0692ad0106e3dThere’s nothing more entertaining than sitting on a tube, bleary eyed of a Monday morning, when you catch eyes with a handsome stranger. You both double take and wonder: “Where do I know him from?”

Then you realise: It’s Tinder. Fucking Tinder. And then you slowly sink behind your paper for the rest of the ride.

I was first introduced to this wonderful little app back in August. I sat in a pub in Brixton, “tindering”, for well over an hour with two of my best mates doing the exact same thing either side of me. We debated whether or not it was a superficial exercise, whether it was an effective means of meeting normal people in this city and whether we were sad for finding it so unbelievably satisfying. We came to no real conclusions except for the fact that it was probably in some way a win for feminism in order to make our day seem a little less of a waste of time.

Tinder, I believe, is what you make of it. Most of my single (and some not-so-single) friends are on it for an array of different reasons: to find love, lust, a lunch date, and, quite simply, an ego boost.

I, personally, took great pleasure in winding people up on it. I’ve claimed to be stuck in a burning building, have told innocent males that I work at the McDonald’s drive-thru in Wandsworth and that they should stop by for a cheeseburger, that I’m actually a man and that I hoped they’d be cool with my prosthetic leg. I have to say, the responses were marvellous. My favourite message to date was from a man who was looking for a third person to join him and his wife; I politely declined and told them I hoped they’d find what they were looking for. I’m sure they probably did; as I say, Tinder is what you make of it.

I’m pretty sure I’ve babbled on before about how I completely disagree with online dating and how nobody in this city talks any more, right? Well I am about to completely contradict myself and explain why this phenomenon is a little different: you don’t waste time labouring over a dating profile explaining why you are ‘The Ultimate Human’, you get cute prompts in your inbox to get chatty with your match, you can see your mutual friends prior to the date and act like you had “no idea they knew Kempie”.

The array of both love and horror stories that you hear will warm your heart and make any tinderer tap in just one. more. time.

If you need more persuading, look to your Tinder champion. Everybody knows one. Mine is free from inhibitions, in all aspects of her life, striding fearlessly into the arms of men she has met online. Some dates go well and end up with them writing songs about her, others, let’s just say, do not (although I think that has more to do with the fact that she’s been caught taking photographs of them like a perverted Tinder pap). She has, however, encouraged even the most unlikely of humans to download it.

And that’s how I ended up on a Tinder date.

I arrived an hour and a half late. He had already begun to head home as a result. I had two (surprisingly strong) gin and tonics prior to meeting him and was finding it hard to walk. I was wearing ballet flats; he turned out to be just as tall as he said he was. All in all it was a recipe for a complete disaster.

As I sat on the tube to London Bridge, I thought: “What on earth am I going to do if he thinks I’m less fit than I am in my pictures?” and “What if he thinks I’m boring?”, “What if it’s cringe, awkward, or I can’t escape if I want to?”, “What if I fall over, drop my drink or get spinach in my teeth?” (We weren’t even going for dinner. And I don’t like spinach).

Three months later and he’s left for work while I write in his kitchen.

I met my match and haven’t looked back since.

Give it a go. If it goes badly just say I told you to do it.

HAPPY SWIPING.