I’ve only ever dated friends of friends or people I’ve been set up with. I don’t use dating apps because I hate small talk. Frankly, I was born in the wrong era and prefer a lust-filled limerick to a dirty DM. This aversion to strangers and digital dating does rather limit my pool of potential lovers, but it’s a rule I’ve stuck to since I was a teenager. A few bad experiences with men I had no connection to made me wary and mistrusting, so I stuck to being a serial friendship group snogger, safe in the knowledge that these men had already been vetted and approved by my trusted circle.
I’m now 32 and have been single for a few years. Nothing unusual there, however, the older I get the narrower my dating net has become, largely thanks to my self-imposed no strangers dating rule. As friends and friends of friends couple up, marry off or enter parenthood, I’ve found myself seeking coital comfort even closer to home. It began accidentally, but it’s developed into a sexual habit I’m finding hard to kick. Not only am I self-sabotaging my chance at forming real romantic connections, but the longer it goes on, the higher the chance of people finding out – something which can never happen.
When my last relationship broke down a few years ago, I was heartbroken. It had taken me completely by complete surprise and my self-esteem was crushed. After a few weeks of crying and drinking Oyster Bay through a straw, I rebuilt the barricades around my bruised heart and headed for the nearest sticky dance floor. On the lookout for nothing more than a few vodka tonics and a boogie to Beyoncé, I was happy to find my ego being stroked by a lovely looking lifeguard called Joe.
Joe* was sweet, complimentary and looked vaguely familiar. When he asked whether I recognised him, I was blank. He told me we’d gone to the same school. Still blank, I desperately tried to remember whether he was someone I’d ignored, been mean to or snogged. Laughing, he told me he was friends with Arthur*. As in my brother Arthur. My brother Arthur who is 10 years younger than me. And just like that, Joe became the first, of several, of my brother’s friends who I’ve slept with.
I thought that Joe was a one off. That it was just a story I’d laugh about with my friends: ‘Remember when I was heartbroken and shagged my brother’s 20-year-old mate? Ha ha ha.’ But then Ben* came along, then Jack*.
Growing up, I hadn’t really paid much attention to my brother, or his friends. Other than buying them the odd bottle of Glenn’s Vodka or driving them to football, our paths hadn’t really crossed. Why would they? I was a decade older. They were doing the Nativity while I was sneaking into clubs. But after Joe, I couldn’t stop thinking about the way he’d looked at me when we were in bed. Like I was a treasure he’d been searching for his whole life. Other than the fact I am obviously a total catch, it made sense, it’s the oldest rule in the book. If you got with someone older, particularly at school, then you got kudos for it, they were automatically cool.
In my ‘real-life’ relationships, I’ve always fallen for men harder than they fell for me. They were always better looking and more intelligent. (Put the violins away, it’s just a fact.) Which meant I’d always had a gnawing feeling that I wasn’t enough and that they’d leave me. Which they did. But here, with Joe, the power play was reversed. He’d probably fantasised about me as a kid – not in an arrogant way, but in a fancying you mate’s older sister kind of way. Now, his childhood sexual fantasy had come true and I’d made that happen.
I met Ben at my brother’s 21st birthday party. Instead of the gormless, soft skinned cherubs I’d expected, the room was filled with boys who had suddenly sprouted stubble, inches (in height, in height) and personalities. Sure, they were overzealous with the Dior Homme, but I was hooked. Over the course of the evening, it became apparent that Ben had always had a school boy crush on me. Jokes were coming from all angles, including from Arthur. I imagine he’d have stop abruptly if he knew that Ben had slept in my bed that night, and many nights since. I know that Ben adores me in a meeting-your-celebrity type way, rather than a I-want-to-marry-you obsession and I’m fine with that. He’s eager to please and can’t believe his luck. I feel validated and there’s no pressure to commit – it’s a win, win. Well, it was to begin with.
Things took a turn when I slept with my brother’s very best friend on holiday last summer. I bumped into him in a bar and knew it was 'on' from the first Margarita. He told me he’d wanted to have sex with me since he’d seen me at football game a few years earlier. We ditched our friends for the nearest hotel. The sex was hot. This was the naughtiest I’d felt about sleeping with someone so close to home, but I couldn’t help but panic I’d gone too far. If this ever got out, it could ruin my relationship with my brother. We’re incredibly close and he’s sensitive and temperamental. He would be mortified. He’d think I was pathetic for not finding a guy my own age and would be utterly ashamed. I’m ashamed. I would be a desperate embarrassment. So, I keep it to myself.
I told my close friends at the beginning, it was a joke that I had a thing for younger men. But the more it’s happened, the less I tell them. The majority of them are married, or living with partners and don’t understand no strings attached sex, let alone sex with what they describe ‘infants’. They think I should settle down. I think I should too. What started out as a bit of fun is now stopping me from forming actual relationships.
But I love the way these younger men make me feel adored, the way I hold the power. When I’m with them, I do and say things I’d never dare with a man my own age. I love the lack of responsibility they come with, there’s no agonising waiting for a follow up text or promise of drink dates. There is no threat. But this power trip can’t last forever. The boys are starting to form serious relationships with nice, girls their own age and where does that leave me? Alone and starting to think there’s no such thing as no strings attached. Maybe it’s time I relaxed my own dating rules. Even I know that being equals is more important than whether we’ve got mutual friends.
*Names have been changed
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