You enter the coffee shop. The theme is both high femme pink and ‘late capitalism’. You immediately take a selfie against a row of plastic flowers. Damn, you do look good there. Maybe this whole grossly uneven distribution of wealth thing is gonna be okay? At least your blush and lippy are on point. You know that Bourdieu is feeling it from the grave.
You glimpse her and cringe as you realise not only that she’s wearing that ‘Live/Laugh/Love’ yoga crop unironically, but that you have definitely seen it at Sweaty Betty. The bag she is carrying has some name, kind of like a Birkin but more effortlessly boho. It definitely costs multiples of your rent.
She comes closer and smiles the poreless smile that seems to come with an Equinox membership. She got into girls at her girls’ school; you realise you should really stop fetishising girls who read Latin. She tells you about her family skiing holiday in St Moritz; you pray that she does not also like horses. Her hair is long and dyed; smooth like a mink. You nod vaguely. Later, you will spend £20 on a bulk pack of Korean face masks and a hair straightener on Amazon at 3 AM. They will sit unused under a battered copy of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish for three years.
The latte, though, does have glitter in it. You photograph it forlornly for your Instagram after she leaves. Her Instagram is perfect. She likes ‘the Arts’. You may or may not have scrolled through it afterwards, muttering things about the 1871 Paris Commune, but also wondering wistfully if you should learn to apply highlighter. When you posed with that Yayoi Kusama, your cheekbones definitely didn’t look that good. You hate-follow her to this day, though you would never admit this even to your best friend.
Her bio reads ‘I love book & reading!!!’ so you propose meeting here, in a spate of hopeful messaging that lasted from approximately 11:05 to 11:35 pm a few nights ago. These are growing more infrequent, but still. Clearly you haven’t noticed that hope is futile and you live in a bleak, loveless wasteland. Never mind. You have your nails done in a radiant, pinkish glitter.
The coffee shop is packed, and at least one tourist couple and one innocent pre-theatre browser are going to hear every word of your date. You mindlessly stroke a table succulent, hoping that everyone else doesn’t do this, given that they’re actually alive. You idly consider writing a novella from the perspective of the succulents that live on the Foyles Café tabletops. She arrives in a blur of coat layers. She tells you five minutes in that she identifies as a Hufflepuff. You identify as having read Ursula Le Guin first.
You contemplate committing lesbian dating seppuku in the Ladies, but manage to emerge and, through gritted teeth, ask what else she likes to read. In the poetry section she leads you proudly to a copy of Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey. To your despair, Foyles CCR does not serve drinks. You helpfully share the random fact that Verlaine once shot Rimbaud in the left wrist when they were lovers. She looks at you like you’ve killed her adorably besweatered pug, of whom you have already seen 17 photos. Most of them are actually quite endearing, but you have a cat.
You slink off and end up buying yet another copy of Sebald’s After Nature, in German, which you grimace through that night under five kantha quilted objects. Not even Radio 3 Baroque can soothe you. Grünewald would get it. Life is suffering, and so is online lesbian dating in London. Natürlich.
Store St Espresso 40 STORE STREET WC1E 7DB
You met through a colleague and she is in London for research, so this seems promising. You talk about the things you share in academia: perilously low bank balances, precarious jobs, the fact that everything you have ever written now somehow feels passé and horrible.
Around you, postgraduate hipsters far too uncomfortably close to your own variety lean into their laptops and flat whites. The one with a SOAS sticker has just made a typo in his dissertation on Persian ethnomusicology. The girl with a helix piercing and tall black boots across from you fruitlessly tries to centre a Mapplethorpe photo on a PowerPoint slide. You successively greet a few of your mutual colleagues, who also know your date, somehow. You both begin to eye each other suspiciously, and then drop caveats about how little time you have lately.
You discover that you will see each other at a conference in January, and that your ex is dating her doctoral thesis adviser in secret. Six degrees of separation? More like one, when it comes to queer girls in transatlantic academia. You slowly edge away from each other and promise to remain friends. You never text each other again, ready to spend the next 20 years nodding at each other, badges pinned, in convention centre hallways. She leaves apologetically. You stay to finish the polenta cake, which is really too good to abandon. In the brick-lined basement with the de rigeur minimalist tables, eating a surprisingly moist morsel of sweet polenta, you contemplate your own impermanence, and also if you remembered to email off that thing.
You probably did not. The glitter on your nails still looks good though.
Host Café, St Mary Aldermary 69 Watling St EC4N 4SJ
You ask her to meet you here because duh, your Lesbian Dream Wedding™ is obviously in a Wren church. Your colleagues tried to convince you to take that off your dating profile, along with that fire joke about Pliny the Elder, but no way! The fan vaulting alone is super hot, and when your date walks in, with her pink-faded hair and just-so draped sweater, you think this just might be the one. The marker and paint specks on her clothes solidify her as the Art Girl of your dreams.
Then she starts talking. Do you mind terribly if she makes a call? Oh no no. It’s just one of her seven housemates. They’re ethically non-mongamous together and he’s also a shroom dealer, it’s a thing, you know how psilocybin helps you bond with your housemates. Will only be a minute etc. You think of prostrating yourself before the altar and wailing. She tells you about her 40,000 house plants and shows you a photo of her latest work, a mattress with rows of tampons stapled on it. You nod and politely reference Tracey Emin. She is insulted and glares at you for implying her work is somehow reductive. Then she shows you a 15-minute-long film of herself chained to the mattress, wailing, as she produces the piece. You want to hit her with the copy of Foucault you hid the face masks under, but instead you take a few deep breaths. She leaves to go smoke (rollies, of course), and you dodge behind a row of pews out the other entrance.
You mutually ghost each other. This is the best possible outcome, all things considered. You decide that at the Lesbian Dream Wedding™ a choir of boys will sing Tallis. Later, you end up hoovering your flat to Spem In Alium on repeat. Should you add this detail to the dating profile? Definitely.
The London Review Cake Shop 14–16 Bury Pl WC1A 2JL
You agree to meet here because you both hate the redesigned TLS so much that it doesn’t feel disloyal. A sans serif title page with thick, serifed small caps inside? Your design heart is shrivelled and Murdochified. Never mind though, you’ve got a date.
She’s cool, works in publishing and – $%^&! There’s two of your editors inside the damn café. You text her to reschedule, and then covertly sneak out of Bloomsbury via the British Museum, crouching like a shootout sequence in a spy-on-spy assassination film.
You run in front of an Elgin Marble, half crouching. You tell yourself firmly that now is not the time to stop and have a long conversation with members of the public about historical context and Greek reparations. You round the central gallery in such good time that no one watching would believe that you actually failed gym class in school once. You think you are Angelina Jolie in that movie you once saw when half-asleep on an airplane, and that if you were wearing all black it would be justifiably cooler. Also, obviously, top secret spy tools hidden in your mani.
By the time you make it to the Enlightenment Gallery, you are wondering if you should stop to breathe into a paper bag. A bust of Hans Sloane eyes your sweaty back. You fervently hope he is the only one looking. This is fine, totally fine and normal.
Roasting Plant Coffee 4 Borough High St SE1 9QQ
Your pick this coffee shop because it is the one you know near the Normal People Business Stuff. Your date is a corporate lawyer, meeting you on her break. But she has ‘passionate about reading and social justice’ on her profile, so it’ll be okay, right?
Wrong. She only reads on holiday and you have to have another bland conversation about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and whatever godawful thing Malcolm Gladwell is doing now. Malcolm Gladwell lights an incendiary core of hatred deep inside you, which blooms as you idly stir five more unnecessary sugar cubes into your freshly blended latte. She has just had such an interesting case you see, helping some tech company avoid EU monopoly liability. You talk aggressively about your German employer and your Italian passport. You discuss freedom of movement as though you regularly cross borders as part of your morning jog. You know, Monaco, Luxembourg, up an Alp or two. Actually, you don’t even jog really, just walk, sort of quickly, in your trainers around the park at night listening to old Grimes tracks. This was maybe why the British Museum cardio incident was such a disaster. You cannot, sadly, hum Ode toJoy on key.
Meanwhile, the main factor of the Roasting Plant whirs in the background: the Coffeebot. The Coffeebot is their selling point. It has eight tentacular appendages and delivers brewed coffee directly to the baristas, who are then free to tell you about ‘flavour profiles’. You look at the Coffeebot. The Coffeebot looks back at you. You forget about your date entirely. You hope the robot achieves sentience, strolls across London Bridge, and never comes back. You hope it takes you with it. You like coffee, and, after all, you don’t want to die alone.
Illustrations by OIga Prader.
This is a text featured in issue 3 of The Fence magazine
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