I’ll start with a short history of my heart. When I was 18 I fell for a fellow called Michael. He was 25 and my first love. After two years he moved to Amsterdam, met someone else and that was that.
I then spent many years meeting many people. Sometimes men fell in love with me but I didn’t feel the same about them, sometimes the other way round. Once in a rare while I liked someone who liked me but nothing stuck for more than a few months, nothing serious, nothing lasted.
When I was 38 I fell for an artist called Billy. He was a guerrilla of the heart. He would say one thing, do the opposite, then find another way to bring chaos into my life. He was certifiably insane. It lasted, in various versions, and on two continents, for two years and was a relief when it was over.
I closed the door. I grew grey and turned my imagination to work. I was quite successful in the very modest way a book designer can be successful. I never made any money but I did make some handsome books and loved doing so. For more than ten years I didn’t look for anyone, didn’t flirt, I put all of that out of my mind. I went to art galleries and the cinema alone. I taught myself how to cook. I grew plump. I wasn’t unhappy.
After my fiftieth birthday this changed. I wanted excitement again. I went to a club called XXL. Every gay club that I’d been to in my life – and there had been many – had an unspoken beauty apartheid system in operation. There were the young, the attractive, and the rest were invisible. But in the years I’d stayed away there’d been a revolution. It was now ok to like people with different shapes. You weren’t ignored if you didn’t look like Eddie Redmayne. Indeed, someone who looked like Eddie Redmayne might be interested in someone grey, plump, middle-aged. The centre of that in London was XXL. I liked XXL and it liked me.
I met a nice Italian. He liked computer games and bowling and me, not in that order. He sounded exactly like Warren Beatty in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, which is as sexy as an accent can be. I liked him but never felt that va va voom.
One night in XXL I saw a handsome man and I felt something flutter in my heart. Maybe it wasn’t my heart. He was 6′ 4″, a head taller than me. I don’t know what came over me but I winked at this fellow. Yes. I don’t think I’ve winked before or since but that warm Summer night I winked at a tall man whose looks I liked. He smiled and came to talk to me, which we did for an hour. His name was Neil. Our hands brushed together and I felt electricity. Have I gone too Mills and Boon? It gets worse.
The next morning I was woken up by his phone call. We met in that temple of style over everything, Princi, in Soho. We talked. We walked through London to Regent’s Park, talking. We lay on the grass, just touching, and talked. It was a warm day, the sky deep blue but for the fluffiest clouds dancing across it. We kissed. It was a glorious day.
Have you seen Before Sunrise? Ethan Hawke meets Julie Delphy on a train as it’s pulling into Vienna. They walk through the city all night talking and falling in love. It felt like that. We walked to Fitzrovia for coffee and talked, then back to Soho for a drink and talked more. I was dizzy with the day’s emotional earthquake. After so many years of drought I was flooded with feelings. I lied and said I had to meet my friend for dinner but really I needed to think about the previous six hours. He was going away for two days and we arranged to meet on Monday. I skipped on air all weekend, inches above the ground. I smiled at strangers and music played in my head. I was ill and there was only one cure.
I waited for him on Monday, outside my nearest tube, for an hour. Eventually he answered his phone. The tall man was short with me. He’d fallen asleep. We’d meet later in the week. I knew then as surely as you know now that we never would meet or even speak again. For some weeks I wondered why he’d changed his mind. I sent a text but he never answered. A year later I saw his face on Grindr, felt a tiny jolt, but it was fine. So, for a few days I’d been in love. Nothing came of it but I feel ok about that. Possibility and optimism are important. Maybe that beautiful afternoon walking and talking was as good as it ever would have been. And it was lovely. And who’s to say it’s the last time I’ll feel like that? And that’s why I love love.