It was only a few days before Christmas last year when I joined a dating website for the very first time. I was terrified but, I also felt it would be a good way of meeting someone; maybe even finding my first relationship… I’ve never been very outgoing, in the social sense and, like a lot of people, I’m just so very lonely at times. Especially in the winter, when it’s cold most days and we see very little daylight. Anyway, I joined this one site, looked around and realised that most of the profiles were probably ‘inactive’ – despite having payed for a subscription here, I wasn’t even getting a profile view after sending someone a message, let alone a reply. So, I moved on to another site…
This was Match.com; the one that many people are familiar with. It seems to have a better reputation than most, even though you still have to pay to use most of its services. I had a good look around at various profiles, receiving some views in return. After the shock of discovering my sister on there (almost enough to deter anyone – no disrespect to her personally!!), I also found one of her friends! But, there was someone else, who I only knew as Emily… She wasn’t ‘average’. There was no fake tan. She was quiet, creative, artistic and seemed to enjoy the outdoors. I felt as though she was everything I was looking for but, I felt overwhelmed by the natural beauty of her profile photos…
It took a few days but, I eventually plucked up the courage to spend £30 on a month’s membership and message her. After two weeks, I messaged again but, still, nothing. It wasn’t until the beginning of February that I did hear back from her; telling me how she wasn’t ignoring me and that she was taking a break from looking for a relationship at the moment with her life being ‘up in the air’. I sent her a reply, thanking her for the response and offering to be a friend but then, her photos vanished, right before her entire profile was removed, just as she said it would.
If there is such a thing as an ‘online romance’ then, I still believe to this day that this would’ve been it for me. One of the only reasons I’ve kept an active profile on this site since meeting May is because I hope to virtually meet Emily again. Maybe this winter? I also forked out for a six-month subscription only days before meeting May on one of the free sites but hey, I’m still single right now.
Back-tracking slightly and on New Year’s Day (this year), I received my very first wink on Match. It came from an unknown girl up in Gloucester, who didn’t even have a profile photo. From this moment, I’ll refer to her as ‘January‘ (‘Jan‘, for short). Actually, I think this was the reason I payed for my subscription; purely so that I could see who it was and reply. We got chatting and agreed to move over to e-mailing within a few messages (I still have those messages in a folder). After e-mails, we went on to texting, as it was easier for her (doing everything by phone, without a laptop). We seemed to have a lot of common interests (she was also from Bristol) and the communication was flowing rather well so, we agreed to meet in the middle of January. As she didn’t drive or have a job, I agreed to drive one-hour up to see her.
Now, I’d never been on a date before and I wouldn’t have known what to expect or ask of her… There were warning signs from the word go. She was unemployed and I hadn’t seen a photo but, I’m generally open-minded. My concern grew when I asked about why her daughter didn’t live with her (assuming it was a civil matter with the father) and she replied to say that it was because she “was bipolar“… Now, I knew even less about the condition than I do right now but, even I knew that there is no ‘cure’ for mental illness like that. It’s something you have to accept, work to understand and learn to live with.
We were texting a lot in the two weeks before meeting (after the agreement). She was bored and lonely; I was mostly at work. At one point, she told me to ‘eff off‘ although, I forget what this was for. One weekend prior to our ‘first date’, she told me that we shouldn’t meet as we had different views on marriage (she didn’t ‘believe’ in divorce – but, I know; marriage is crazy-talk at a time like this!). I can still remember the feeling; having to leave my mum’s house at 4 o’clock “to feed the dog“, with my tear ducts ready to burst. Within a couple of days, she got over that and we’re still set for Saturday.
Prior to this, I’d not driven any further north of Bristol than the south of Oxford and, even that was over three-years previous. So, the ‘day out’ and journey in itself was excitement for me. I did arrive at her flat a bit late after getting lost but, it didn’t seem to bother her. When I first saw her, I must be honest; I wanted to turn around and drive all the way home again. I was terrified. Not so much of her appearance but, the sudden reality of it all – meeting someone in a strange, new city and having to spend the day together. I could smell cigarettes as we walked up the steps and that disappointed me a little, as I knew she’d done well to stop recently. She opened the door and we stepped in to her flat.
It was small, of course; only a one-bedroom property for someone surviving on benefits. Her interests in music, reading and literature were clear to see, as were her obsessions with bands like The Beatles; plastered all over her bathroom door. I sat on the sofa while she made me a welcome cup of tea. We were watching endless episodes of Top Gear on Dave (if you’re in the UK, you’ll know what I mean!). It was a cold day but, despite her anxieties and regular inabilities to be able to sit still (often popping outside for a fag and some relief), she was very warm to me. As she invited me in, she gave me a hug (referred to as a ‘cutch‘) and, well, I can admit to getting a bit “excited” down below; the kind of feeling that didn’t want to go away all day… I was with her from 10am until 8pm so, it wasn’t all that comfortable! I guess I just wasn’t used to that kind of feeling, from someone who’d always seemed to care and appreciate me so much. I’ve had the same problem each time I’ve seen May. I hope she hasn’t noticed… But, as my confidence grows, I think I can control it a bit better. It’s only when we’ve said our long goodbyes that I’ve been unable to hold it….
I apologise if that’s TMI for any of you!!!
Eventually, we ventured out in the the cold and headed for the cathedral. For someone who sufferers from anxiety with fears of going out, she seemed very headstrong. She was direct, forward-moving and knew where we were headed. I was leaning on her and she was leading the way. Neither of us were religious but, we both admired the beauty of this building; part of which was used as a setting to the Harry Potter films (‘Jan’ loved both the books and the films). We had a walk around inside, not really knowing where to go or what to look at (parts of the cathedral were closed off for filming). There wasn’t much conversation between us either, until we passed the entrance to The Crypt. It looked as if the tour wasn’t available on this day but, as we both turned around, ready to walk off, we were approached by a guide who was ready to lead our way.
It was almost as if it was ‘meant to be‘; just for the two of us. 🙂
Seeing the crypt was incredible. If you ever visit Gloucester Cathedral yourself, you have to go down there and see it all for yourself! I had a camera in my coat pocket the whole day; I only wish that I was brave enough to get it out as I have no physical record of any of my time spent in Gloucester. That seemed to bring us closer with a hint of conversation as we headed to a nearby cafe for lunch. It was far too ‘cosy’ for us though, being sat sandwiched between the main door and the counter, on a table that was barely big enough for one person. We were both uncomfortable and, after a sight-seeing walk around Gloucester (apart from the cathedral and docks, there didn’t seem to be much else), we headed back to her flat.
Walking around the quay, she began questioning her weight and I tried to reassure her, saying, that she was “not that fat“. I meant well but, it’s not what she wanted to hear. She looked at me and went silent for a bit. She’s a size 12 and, although I couldn’t lie and call her ‘skinny’, I didn’t really know what else to say. Later, in the evening, she cited this ‘insult’ as an excuse to buy a new pack of fags. Walking back across the city, she did something else that I found strange at the time… Wind was blowing and making a mess of both of our hair! Jan turned around, facing away from the wind, holding her hair at both sides of her head… I think I joked that it wasn’t going to come off but, I’ve more recently wondered whether this wasn’t actually far from the truth… Before this day, she’d told me about how she used to have lots of hair but was now left with only a little ‘tuft’. I couldn’t understand this when we met but, I now question whether she secretly wore a wig… The poor girl. I’ve read about certain medications resulting in severe hair loss for the sufferer. Another theory might be that she had pulled it out through stress (I understand this is more common in cases of OCD though).
Even when, back at the flat, she would frequently have to pop outside to smoke; in those moments where we were sat next to each other, she was hardly afraid to express some of her feeling towards me. One of the first things she told me when we met was that she was “in to weird stuff like tying people up“. I didn’t take it too seriously but she wasn’t afraid to throw her legs across my lap, without even asking! Later, I’d find her holding on to my hands and inviting back down to her side for a cuddle while we watched whatever was on the TV. It was the first time I’d experienced anything like this and, it felt so good. So warm and so reassuring. I felt as though I was falling for her so quickly, even though I still had reservations at the back of my mind (one of which, was also the fifty-mile distance between us).
We were both getting hungry as the darkness went on and we decided to head off to the local Chinese to get something to eat. Jan knew that I did this regularly on a Saturday night and, even though she’s a vegetarian, she was happy to suggest it. I forget exactly what she had but I had one of my favourites – sweet and sour chicken balls with egg-friend rice. It wasn’t as nice (in my opinion) as what I’m used to eating locally but, it was a fraction cheaper and, the service was very fast. I remember up eating some of her chips as she couldn’t manage them all. We both struggled! 🙂
We were watching films all night and, by this time, she’d decided to put The Shining on. Apparently, it’s one of her favourites. Even though, it really seemed to freak her out. She couldn’t watch certain parts as it reminded her of her own past experiences – hallucinations, hearing voices, paranoia that she’s being watched or followed – so, I had to switch it off. We then talked a bit about some of her experiences (how she had seen Jack Skellington stood in her flat, only a year earlier) and she told me about her attempted suicide (overdose) in November, after her previous, year-long relationship ended. That really knocked me back. I remember not being able to breathe for a moment. She’d already shared so much with me in our e-mails but, she hadn’t told me this.
It was getting late and I was preparing myself for an hour-long drive home down the M5. She asked what I thought; looking for some reassurance over my intentions, I guess. I was quite shocked as we’d only know each other a few hours… I wasn’t ready for this; I was in too deep and didn’t know what I was doing. I said I only wanted to be friend but, she seemed quite desperate for more. Eventually, she admitted that she could use a friend more than a boyfriend at this time so, there was a great chance that I could come up and see her again. She leant me a couple of books, which I was grateful for. One was full of chords for learning to play Beatles songs on my acoustic guitar; the other was Stephen King’s The Green Mile, which has always been a favoured film of mine.
We said goodbye with another comforting hug and I headed home. This marks the story of how we came to meet and our first day together. I hope I’ve not forgotten anything so far but, there’s plenty more to come in following posts – this one’s already too long and I’m grateful even if you’ve skim-read up until this point! 🙂