The Other Option

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CC Image courtesy of nic snell on FlickrWhen you’ve been single for as long as I have, the idea of walking into a room full of friends and acquaintances hand-in-hand with a guy, of kissing someone in front of them – it all feels like a big deal.  It’s as if, with that interlacing of fingers, that meeting of lips, you’re taking yourself off some kind of shelf, ruling out a whole host of other options.

Tuesday is a case in point.  I’m hovering at the bar, awaiting a glass of white.  Stephen arrives first.

‘I’m not getting you a drink!’ I say, with a laugh.

It’s a long story.

He looks mock-offended.  ‘I was going to ask if I could get you one.’

‘Oh!  Thanks, but not to worry – I’ve got one coming.’

There’s a bit of small talk, then he says,

‘So, what about you and boys? Anything going on?’

‘Errrr… umm…’

Experience tells me guys like Stephen don’t ask this question out of polite curiosity, which is confusing.  I’ve known him for getting on for a year.  We met at a dance and continued to see each other quite often, usually fleetingly, whilst moving at speed to music.  Recently I’d found myself seated next to him at a dinner party and had a ball.  Then, at an actual ball, I discovered his fun side and together we danced the night away.  But not once in that time has he shown any interest in me other than as a dance partner, so this is disconcerting.

But even more disconcerting, and the real reason I’m now doing fish out of water – where is my wine?! I need something to do whilst I figure out what to say! – is that, for the first time in a long time, there isn’t a straightforward answer to this question.  If I didn’t fancy Stephen, I would just say ‘yes’, think of FFS, smile goofily, and go on my way.  But I don’t do this.

‘…errr…’ I scratch my head. ‘Umm…’

Time for the good old-fashioned turnaround.

‘… I don’t know.  What about you?’

He too ums and ahs for a moment before concluding, ‘It’s complicated, and no.’

‘Yeah, same, sort of, no, I don’t know.  I don’t know!’

Articulate or what?  Evidently I don’t want to rule out an option, not until I know what the deal is.

‘I’m sorry, is this a difficult question?  Would you rather I asked you about books?  Have you read anything good recently?’

No, I wouldn’t rather he asked about books, because books make me think of FFS which in turn makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.

He looks past me to the sofas.  ‘Would you like to sit down?’

That’s an easy one.  ‘Yes!’

So we do.  Now he begins in earnest, with the body language and the subtle flirting and the compliments etc.  More disconcerting by the minute.  And it doesn’t help that Sam, Rachel, Freddie… oh loads of people I know have a ringside seat.

*

‘Shall we get the tube?’

What’s strangest about the way events are unfolding is that this is exactly how I’d like things to have played out with so many people in the past, but now that it’s happening with Stephen….

 

The next train isn’t due for five minutes.

‘What’s the most fun thing you can think of doing for five minutes?’

I’d say that, had this line come from FFS or Matthew or Tristan, I would have loved it; but that’s not true – or rather, it’s not their style.

‘Dancing!’ I say, feeling a bit sorry for the guy.  I’m not making it easy for him, but then I don’t think I want to.

He takes me into hold.  The train comes; we board.  I don’t know if you’ve ever tried waltzing on the Circle line, but that evening, for the first time, I did.  It should have felt like all my Christmases had come at once, but something about it doesn’t feel right.  I’m not relaxed, I’m definitely not drunk enough, and when he suggests going for a drink sometime, I’m faking it, kind of.

‘Yes!’

Because I’m too much of a coward to say what I feel.

 

We’re approaching his stop.

‘So, how about that drink?’

‘Yes,’ I say again, though with less conviction than before.

The train pulls into the platform; the doors open.

‘This is you, right?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, goodnight.’  I lean in to kiss him on the cheek.

‘You’re not coming for that drink?’

It’s gone midnight on a weekday, so no, Cinderella is not ‘coming for that drink’.

I glance at my watch. ‘I have to go home.’

We say goodnight in the doorway, then he’s off.  I settle back into a seat, thinking and probably saying aloud, ‘WTF?!’.  Part of me wonders what FFS would say if I told him about the events of the evening.  I can’t know for sure, but it would almost certainly make me laugh.

CC Image courtesy of Toni Blay on Flickr

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Fuckin’ Perfect

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The lid is barely off my Tupperware (not a euphemism).  He looks over.CC Image courtesy of renielet on Flickr

‘Are those Ottolenghi’s courgette fritters?’

I try not to look surprised.  ‘Err…’

I made them on the weekend for Sunday lunch.  It’s a bit of a ritual we have, Beatrice and I.  She listens to me whine on about how Man of The Moment and I belong together; I feed her Ottolenghi’s Green Pancakes.  But it’s not Beatrice asking the question.

‘… yes,’ I say, ‘well, they’re Ottolenghi, but they’re err spinach.  There are some good courgette ones I’ve made – but they’re not his.  He probably does do courgette ones though.’

‘Yes, I’m sure there are a few variations floating around.’

‘Yes.  They’re good…’

Tristan nods.  ‘I’ve made them.’

‘Oh – right.’

So much for impressing the guy.  I’m obviously going to have to try harder: visions of spun sugar and choux buns fill my head.

CC Image courtesy of Istellainad on Flickr

Back at my desk, I tell Colleague.  She laughs, or rather, we laugh.

‘He’s not a normal guy,’ I say, keeping my voice low.  ‘As in, it’s not normal.  I mean, is there anything the guy doesn’t know?!  Is there anything he can’t do?!’

She smiles.  ‘It’s quite sweet though.’

*

‘Tristan thought it was probably OK–.’

My manager stops me there.  ‘If Tristan says it’s OK….’ She looks over at him. ‘You see, Tristan’s very careful.’

You’re telling me?!  The guy’s fucking perfect!  The other day I was reading one of those silly articles, ‘7 Habits of Very Happy People’, followed by ‘7 Things Very Giving People Do’.  At the bottom of which I saw a link to – you guessed it – ‘7 Things Very Likeable People Do’, and below that, ‘7 Things Very Successful People Do’.  I don’t bother with either of these.  I know what the answer is: be more like Tristan.  Very occasionally his tongue is too sharp for his own good and I fancy he gives offence, but mostly I just fancy him.

‘Yes,’ I say, following her gaze.

‘So,’ she turns back to me, ‘if he says it’s OK, I’m happy with that.’

I nod.  ‘Yup.’

CC Image courtesy of whitneyinchicago on Flickr



Saints & Sinners

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CC Image courtesy of thephotographymuse on Flickr‘But I don’t care, I really don’t care!’

Sam raises an eyebrow.

I laugh.  ‘OK, I get it!  It’s not convincing!  But I really don’t–.’

I fall silent.

‘Even if he was hoping for something that night,’ Sam says, ‘that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not interested in something more long-term.’

‘No, that’s true.  But, still, it didn’t feel great, as in, it felt like that was all he was interested in, and because I haven’t heard from him since… that kinda suggests–.’

I break off.  Three people have just come in: Pleasant And Stilted, his girlfriend, and the hostess who hasn’t heard of carrier pigeons.  It’s like a reunion of sorts, with one member noticeably absent.

***

Everyone’s pairing off for the last dance of the night.  I turn to Sam, who’s beside me, and has been for much of the evening.

‘Would you like to?’

‘I was going to suggest it, only,’ he nods discreetly in the direction of the only other man without a partner, ‘I always feel the paying punters should get a dance…’

He’s a saint, this guy.  I pull a face. ‘What if I’d rather dance with you?!’  A thought occurs to me.  ‘Does it make a difference if I’ve been dumped?!’

He laughs.  ‘Yes.’  And leads me to the floor.

I haven’t danced with Sam in months; I’d forgotten just how good he is.  How he places you like a china vase, spins you like a top, makes you feel like the only girl in the room – the world!

Walking off the floor, I put my arm around him, rest my head against his shoulder.

‘Thank you Sam, I so needed that dance.’  I give his arm a squeeze.  ‘Best one of the evening – thank you – and not just because…’

He smiles.  ‘My pleasure.’

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Sexy As Hell

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CC Image courtesy of Roadsidepictures on Flickr

Sexy.  That’s the overriding impression.  And one hell of a dancer, so let’s call him Patrick.

For the first three hours, we don’t have much to do with each other.  Someone tells me I should dance with him, because he’s really good, but it’s for exactly that reason that I don’t.  He’s intimidating, awesome, and he must have women falling over themselves to dance with him – and there are more approachable, more generous partners on the floor.

*

I’ve swapped my flimsy ballet pumps for boots and am looking around for the host.  It’s getting on for 2am and I have an epic bus journey ahead of me.  Patrick is passing, and stops and makes some remark about the speaker system, which is playing up.  We exchange basic information: name, job, how we know the host.

‘So,’ I say, ‘what’s your dance history?’

I don’t make a habit in social situations of asking questions which belong in a job interview, but then I don’t often find myself talking to the Patricks of this world.  When I do, speech itself is an achievement.

He doesn’t bat an eyelid, but gives an answer which covers both questions: the one I asked, and the one I meant, namely, how come you’ve got such incredible moves?

He winds up, ‘I want to learn salsa.’

‘Yeah, that’d be cool.’

I like to think if he’d said he wanted to learn, say, basket-weaving or book-binding, I’d have responded differently.

I go on, ‘I’m learning tango, but you can probably let your hair down a bit more doing salsa!’

‘What’s tango like?’

‘Err… well… you want me to show you?’

‘Yeah.’  So there, in the hallway, we do tango basic.

Someone’s making merry hell with the music.  Patrick looks over at the perpetrator, puts his hand briefly on my waist, then walks off to see what’s happening.  I follow.  Minutes later, Cuban-style music comes on.  He takes my hand and we start to dance.  For someone who wants to learn salsa, he’s pretty damn good.

‘This music is actually merengue,’ he says, ‘but I don’t really know what the difference is!’

And anyway it’s not long before our salsa has morphed into something less PG, which is fine by me.

This is typically when things go to pot.  I mean, this guy is like, ripped (yes, this is MBE writing, and no, the blog has not been hijacked).  And, confusingly for someone so beautiful, he seems nice, which I really don’t know what to do with.  But going back to the whole ripped thing, I feel like I need to be less blatant about wanting to dance with him, and only him (see above, about women falling over themselves).  This would be easier if there were other people on the floor, but everyone else appears to have done a runner during the dodgy DJ-ing phase.  As a man, he can just grab someone and dance with them, create the impression of not putting all his eggs in one basket, but for me, it’s a bit more difficult.  Also, when I like someone and they’re a good dancer, I become really really bad at playing it cool.  And, well, I’m shit at it anyway!

So, when I see him out of the corner of my eye dancing with another girl, I decide it’s time to call it a night.  Not least because 2am has been and gone, and for all I know Patrick was dancing with me out of mere politeness (I don’t actually believe that), or as one dancer to another (more likely).  I find my jacket, pull it on.  A quick glance in the direction of the floor brings Patrick into view.  He’s coming over.

‘Are you leaving?’

‘Yes.  I’ve got a bit of an epic journey ahead of me.  Night buses…’

‘Oh, right, yeah.’

‘It was nice to see you again.  And, thank you for the dance!

I say that a lot, and it’s never what I mean.

We kiss on the cheeks.

‘Yes, it was nice to see you.’

‘I hope it goes well in China.’

He’s moving there for work shortly.  Another red flag, literally.

‘I’ll hopefully see you before then – I’ll come to the next one of these,’ he nods in the direction of the host, ‘if he has another.’

‘Yeah.’

It feels like now is the moment to kiss or hug or something, but we’ve done that.  He shakes my hand, then we bump fists, ironically I think, though it’s hard to be sure.

I laugh.  ‘That’s way too cool for me!’

What I mean is, you’re way too cool for me.  Which he is.

*

Seventeen minutes until the bus is due.  I pull out my phone, run the old Facebook search.  He really is beautiful.  The minutes fly by.  The bus arrives; I board, and find a seat at the top.   Out comes the phone again, flashing bright white with a notification.  It’s getting on for 3am so this surprises me.

Not half as much as what’s waiting for me.  It’s like one of those Twitter quotes: ‘how great it feels when the guy you’ve just been looking at on Facebook, adds you‘.  I grin, and hug my coat tighter around me.  Now to see if he bucks the trend.

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Forget Me Not

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CC Image courtesy of James F Clay on FlickrI’m watching a film on my computer, otherwise known as waiting for a Facebook message from the world’s slowest correspondent.  He’s called FFS for a reason.  I’ve twice given up on him and we’re yet to go on an actual date.

I know – and not just because Flatmate has told me as much – that so long as it’s evident I’m not at the forefront of the guy’s mind, I mustn’t let him anywhere near the forefront of mine.  Which is a lovely idea

So yeah, I’m watching a film, which it turns out is brilliant and wonderful and endorses all those dangerous myths about love and soul mates and relationships founded on a meeting of eyes and absolutely zero verbal communication.  They’re bad news, such films, because they make me nostalgic.

There’s a scene where the man and woman, who only met properly a couple of hours before, slow dance at a silent disco.

He’s walking her to a party when they have a blazing row, and she goes on alone.  He follows, and arrives to find a roomful of guests silently dancing, each lost in their own little world.  There, in the middle of the floor, is the woman, eyes closed, moving in time to music.  He goes over, puts a hand on her shoulder, and she turns.  They don’t speak.  She removes an earphone, offers it to him, makes a selection on her iPod.  A slow, sweet song comes on, and they dance, arms round one another.

I’d dreamt of just such a moment since the days of the dreaded school disco.  I remember one time, Angels came on and I grabbed a partner.  A minute of shuffling on the spot later, I realized it didn’t work with just anyone.  Ten years on, at an office party, I discover someone it does work with.  So, when the couple in the film starts to dance, it’s him I think of.

*

An hour in, I’m despairing.  Matthew’s not a patch on the male protagonist.  I’ll never have what the characters in the film have.  I bet they’re together in real life.  Hell, this isn’t a film at all, is it?!  It’s just two actors falling in love!  It’s probably not even scripted!  I want to cry!

Then, all of a sudden, the woman in the film is despairing.

Is there someone else – is that it?’

There isn’t someone else.  I won’t tell you what happens in case you watch it, which you should.  It’s beautiful, funny, and heart-breaking.  It’s the kind of film I hope to write one day; about the kind of love I hope to know.

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