To say I didn’t enjoy dating in my twenties and early thirties in London is an understatement. I was a perpetual singleton, heartbroken too easily and hung up on men who I knew didn’t treat me right. But, looking back I don’t think I could have ever imagined that I would feel even more stressed when it came to lying next to my ‘perfect man’.
I was a hopeless romantic in the seven years before I met K*. I’d cycled through every dating app you could imagine, hoping to find 'The One'. There was Jack, a ‘nice guy’ scientist who stroked my face. We had amazing sex for months and he always cooked me breakfast in the morning. I told him all my secrets because I thought he was my lobster. Then, one day he just completely ghosted me. When he eventually did get in touch it was with a picture of a dog, accompanied by a text saying, ‘It’s been fun getting to know you :)’.
Then there was Ed the ‘sorry-my-ex-girlfriend’s-back-on-the-scene’ architect and Chris who took me on loads of elaborate dates. We went to supper clubs and cocktail bars and to his favourite botanical garden where he held my hand and told me all about his complicated relationship with his dad. He too disappeared from the scene without warning one day. I only knew it was over because I saw him back on Hinge with a new profile photo.
Maybe I’d watched too many romcoms growing up and got the wrong impression about finding love straightaway. But, by my early thirties, the detached and cutthroat ways of the London dating scene were totally soul destroying.
I’m from South Asian heritage and although my family are pretty progressive, I’ve always felt a pressure to get married. Even though I’m a successful, financially independent lawyer, I had subconsciously mapped out a future of 2.4 children in my head. Every romantic car crash I stumbled out of felt like a failure that took me further away from my ‘plan’.
I am too much of a feminist to admit this openly, but last year, aged 34, I was starting to panic that my ‘plan’ was slipping further and further out of reach. My biggest fear was that I was going to end up alone, unable to have the family I’d always wanted; both the prospect of love and fertility dropping off the proverbial 35-year-old cliff.
That’s when I met K. We were both attending a three-day networking conference and ended up on a very awkward team building exercise together where we giggled uncontrollably at the guy leading it who we agreed was exactly like David Brent. At first romantic feelings didn’t really cross my mind, but we ended up spending more time together over the three days. On the second day we had a Continental breakfast together and I felt comfortable enough from the start to regale him with my dating stories and he recoiled in horror. ‘Guys can be really awful’ he said. He told me a tragicomic story about having his heart broken on Hinge and how cruel his friends were to women and, as he talked, I felt something fundamental shift inside me, a kind of rush of relief and gratitude.
He wasn’t my normal type. For a start he was a lot shorter than my height preferences on the apps and pretty much bald (previously a big 'no no' for me) but I liked the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled and I was drawn to his warmth. That night, after a day of pretending to be engaged with the conference, we had a lot of prosecco and he ended up coming back to my room in the hotel for a 'cup of tea'. I sort of knew sex was on his mind and I wasn’t closed to the idea. In the end the sex wasn’t mind blowing but I remember noting how tender and loving it was. K told me I was a goddess and it felt so reassuring. After so many years of rejection, I allowed my mind to race ahead and felt like, if I let them, things might finally be clicking into place.
After that night, the whole thing went 100 miles per hour and I didn’t want it to stop. He’s perfect. If I ring with a problem, he’ll drop everything to solve it. He’s smart, he’s engaged, he listens. I feel that same warm rush of gratitude when I watch him talking to kids or being helpful in the kitchen with my mum. We maintained a very solid sex life. The problem is, and I am so utterly ashamed to admit it, I was never attracted to him in a kind of raw, sexual way. The sex was OK, but nothing like it has been with men I’ve been obsessed with before.
After less than a year of being together and partly due to lockdown, I moved in with K. When he proposed, I said 'yes' without hesitation, probably because I had been expecting it. We’d already discussed that we both wanted marriage and big families so I said 'yes' because, well, why wouldn’t I? He will make the dream husband - everyone thinks so.
But over the past year the initial lack of raw, sexual attraction has started to become the loudest voice in my head. I’ve begun to look at pictures of exes and fantasise about sleeping with them. I even found myself imagining a DPD delivery driver while K went down on me the other night.
Obviously, I can’t tell anyone I don’t fancy my fiancée because it feels unsayable. I tried to tell my closest friend but she brushed it off, saying it happens in all relationships. What I didn’t tell her is that when we are having sex, sometimes I feel a little wave of revulsion. The other day when he was brushing his teeth I found myself zoning in on this big hairy raised mole on his shoulder. I thought ‘am I really going to spend the rest of my life with that mole?’
My therapist thinks that I am channelling my fear of true commitment into my relationship. She thinks that I am picking holes in my relationships because I have abandonment issues. My parents are still married but my father was very absent during my childhood as he worked abroad. She thinks I crave instability in relationships and purposefully, as I did on the dating scene, pick bad men who will abandon me because it is familiar.
But sexual attraction is sexual attraction and I honestly can’t see it growing stronger. The wedding is now nine months away and I am starting to panic. I can talk to K about everything, but obviously not this. Sometimes I watch him sleep and wonder what the hell I would say. I already know there’s nobody to tell who would support me calling the wedding off. I also know there are more important things than sex, but sex has always been a fundamental part of a romantic relationship for me.
My therapist might be right about my taste in bad men, but my mind’s constantly throwing up the question of how can I marry someone whose body I currently don’t want to touch? And then the background hum of the fact that I’m 35 sets in. I don’t exactly have years stretched ahead of me to find a man as perfect as K and have the family I’ve always dreamed of. Frankly, I can’t think of anything worse than facing the London dating scene again. My hope is that this is just a phase, but I feel strangely angry that I am under so much pressure and time might just be running out.
*Names have been changed
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