Last weekend I went for a roast dinner (my first one in Dubai!) with three women I met via a meetup group (more on making friends in a new town another time). We had all met at least one of the group a couple of times before, but this was the first time we’d spent any time together as this combination of four.

Conversation was ticking along pleasantly, and about an hour in, someone asked “so, who out of us is single?” It turned out, three of us were. I was really surprised – a 75% single rate is probably the highest I’ve found in any social situation I’ve been in in nine months. It feels like everyone in Dubai is married, or at least well on their way to be. In my late twenties in London, I was always aware that I was in the minority as a single person, but as a 30 year old woman in Dubai, I feel very much like the odd one out. Women my age don’t move here on their own. They move with their husbands – either following him a few months after he’s set up here or embarking on the adventure together. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me who I’m out here with (I’m old enough not to need parental supervision), who I live with (just myself, and it is WONDERFUL), or even just as blunt as where my husband is (you tell me love, you tell me).

The relationship status question opened the floodgates. The usual topics of ‘why is Tinder so awful’, ‘why is Bumble such hard work’, ‘why are men so terrified of commitment’ (the constant million dollar question of anyone unlucky enough to fling themselves into the dating fire pit) filled the conversation. Turns out there are single men here, they just all sound they should be gracing the pages of Take a Break magazine. I kicked off proceedings with my most recent dating story, but it turns out ‘he was perfectly lovely for two months, then ran for the hills at the slightest whiff of a relationship’ pales into actually being quite pleasant when compared to:

The story of the guy who rescued the woman he was dating from a not-insignificant adventure sport accident, stayed with her in hospital, provided for her in the 2+ months she wasn’t working, persuaded her to visit him in Oman, then the day before her flight, ghosted her. Communication severed – calls unanswered, texts not replied to, just like that. Only to be spotted on Instagram a few weeks later enjoying a helicopter ride with his new beau.

The story of the guy who lied about his nationality, lied about his job… and even lied about the fact that he was going to pay half the rent of the apartment he was sharing with his girlfriend, effectively leaving her homeless at twenty minutes notice.

The story of the guy who entered a UK-UAE long distance relationship with a woman who was living here, introducing her to all his extended family via Skype (including his nephews), eventually leading (after a couple of years) to her being persuaded to quit her job and return home from the Middle East to be with him, only to discover that said nephews were in fact sons, and there was also a wife in the picture.

Wish me luck everyone, dating in 2018 is going to (continue to) be a bumpy ride!

 

Even when it was only fleeting, even when it never got a label, there’s still the little reminders that you were starting to open your heart to someone, that you were starting to let them in.

The ice cream in your freezer than he bought for you to share.

The extra towel hanging on the back of the bathroom door.

The address of his apartment in your Careem ‘saved places’.

The toothbrush head you gave him, sitting next to yours.

The Skyscanner search for the trip you were going to take together.

The bigger-than-normal bottle of milk in your fridge, now going to waste, so you could both have tea at the weekend.

The reservation reminder in your inbox for the dinner-with-a-view.

The abruptly ended WhatsApp conversation that’s rapidly descending down your Chats list.

Image in this post from the Abandoned Love series by Peyton Fulford, see more on her Instagram.

There is no happy ending to this little trilogy, as much as I fought for there to be. But there’s no battle to be had if the other side doesn’t want what’s at stake.

Three years after my big break-up and out of nowhere in the Soho night, I found someone that made me want to give up being single. Because that’s how I look at it now – it’s not just about finding someone I want to be with, it’s needing to find someone that I’d give up being with myself for.

Three months of hanging out in London, before I hopped on a plane to the desert. Then three and a bit more months of near constant texting, hours and hours of Skyping, way too much sharing of my most inane thoughts, and a few weeks of planning an awesome adventure followed, and we then met in neither of our new homes to spent a week in each other’s company in the incredible Sri Lanka. I fell head over heels in love with that country, and quite a lot with him too. In a whole seven days, we spent only an hour or two apart, and I desperately held onto every second. Maybe too desperately.

He didn’t, doesn’t and won’t feel the same. I was willing to throw my energy into making a (admittedly, quite ridiculous) long distance thing work. He was not. I initially thought it was because I was being too romantic and he was being too practical. That this was meant to be, that it was just damn logistics getting in our way.

The real kicker came when I realised it was nothing to do with the time difference or the annual leave or the cost of flights or any of the other hundreds of reasons why a really, really long distance relationship is a terrible idea. He didn’t want me. And that’s how it ends.

A month today, I turn thirty.

So far, I’ve sort-of prided myself on being one of those people that didn’t freak out about this. I’m still not freaking out – I don’t think – I’m still really excited. It’s more that it is just… creeping into my consciousness a bit more than I’d like.

Maybe it’s because I’m now actually next in line of my friends, so it’s less abstract-thing-that’s-happening-to-someone-else and more real-thing-that’s-about-to-happen-to-me.

Maybe it’s because an ex told me he’s met someone new, the first new person since me. Always odd to hear, no matter how good friends you are now (which we are) and no matter how happy you are for them (which I am).

Or maybe it’s because I’m coming out the other side of a heartbreak. The first proper, painful one I’ve experienced in a while. The kind where I forgot to eat for a week and the most exercise I got was opening my MacBook to Skype-cry to my Mum. I knew it was coming yet it still knocked me sideways.

It’s annoying me that this should have any significance now. Would it hurt any more or any less if it was six months earlier or six months later? Probably not. But there’s nothing like being cleanly, totally, back-at-square-one single to make you feel vulnerable, scared and these days, also a little bit older.

Oh, but hang on, what better time to be celebrating my birthday by flying to Ibiza? Turning thirty in the happiest place on earth with my favourite people on earth? Maybe it’s not so bad after all. Put me in a bikini, hand me a beer, play me some house music. I’ll be in heaven. The countdown to the big 3-0 is on…

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The problem with feelings is that they don’t go away just because you do.

And thanks to the invention of WhatsApp (and to my shock AND embarrassment, Snapchat), aided by Dubai’s near constant provision of WiFi, to begin with it felt like I hadn’t gone anywhere at all.

I’m well versed in long distance relationships. Not recently, but I’ve covered off nearly four years of not residing in the same city as boyfriends in my dating past. It doesn’t bother me. In fact, I think it suits me: a week or two to be as reclusive or as wild as I please (because it’s usually one or the other – or more often – one as a result of the other), followed by heart-hurting longing but ultimately the sweet satisfaction of a reconnection. 

This time, connections are severed. I’m clinging onto already fading memories of jokes shared and conversations spoken, of sleep lost and chemistry felt. Memories that are unlikely to be repeated soon, if at all. It wasn’t even a boyfriend this time, but somehow I’m missing him more than anyone else I left behind.

He’s the only one I feel I’ve flown away from forever. Friends are part of my being, I just won’t be able to go on without them. I might not see them this month, or even next – but I will, and it will be again and again.

But he feels gone – or going, at least. The excitement of possibility dwindles, still leaving only ‘what if’ behind. A question that was never destined to have an answer, but one I still can’t stop asking myself.