It wasn’t anything like conventional love stories. For one thing we already knew each other for ages. No, scrub that – we were acquainted for some while before anything started to happen. In fact, it took some considerable while for me to register on her radar as anything other than casual social chit-chat fodder.
Year 1: Friend of a friend of a friend, parties and social events attended with other partners, introduction and handshake, a second glance, offer of a drink declined, smile and polite word. Both copied on round robin emails – association to place name against mental image of a fresh smile. Ah yes. She was nice.
Maybe I met her three times in that year, enough to become a nodding acquaintance. The first time I appeared at a friend A’s party with straight laced accountant girlfriend: pencil skirt, sensible bob, permanent frown, always disapproved of everything I did, often in public. I have no idea why I dated straight laced girl. She was in jeans and a rainbow cardigan topped with a frizzy mop in strawberry blonde. Watching her every movement with a hawk eye was tall black possessive guy; he was attentive and jealous, so any contact was very restricted; but I did notice her warm hazel eyes.
Next time was a charity ball hosted by friend B. I was there in DJ and dicky bow with drunken floozie woman: dressed in but half hanging out of a ball gown in livid green, she spent the evening with hands all over every guy in the room that would stand still long enough. I abandoned her and chatted with anybody who would listen. She was there in a pretty black cocktail dress and hair straightened into a cool pageboy cut. On her arm was grinning boy-child. GBC seemed in awe of her but was noticeably lacking in any positive qualities such as charm, sense of humour or charisma that would justify his place as her escort for the night.
When our eyes met the look said one thing clearly: what the fuck are we doing here with these losers? Sadly circumstances did not permit excusing ourselves and meeting again in the bar, but all the way home I could only think of what might have been. Miss drunken floozie threw up in my car on the way home.
The final time was a dinner party and friend C’s house. Friends A and B were also there with their respective partners. I arrived there alone. So did she. Blind date? Friends A, B and C swore blind they didn’t know any of it, though there were no additional place settings to be seen.
We were seated opposite one another, allowing me to admire her red hair, somewhat longer than I remembered it, and smart designer top with pearls while pretending to examine the artistic monochrome photographs adorning the furthest wall.
She did try to engage me in conversation, but something strange happened to me that night. Gone was the confident, happy-go-lucky guy of old, and in his place had turned up a tongue-tied juvenile no better than GBC. That was before the food poisoning set in. I threw up in my car on the way home.
Did we meet that year? I can’t remember. May have seen his face. We have mutual friends, you know.
Year 2: I start work in the same office as her, so she remembers me and we establish a friendship of sorts. Not romance but the sort of relationship where we could meet over coffee and talk shop, or about her date or mine. Sometimes we are at the same social functions but definitely not “going out.”
Fresh vivid memories: Costa coffee shop round the corner from the office. I ask her if she remembers the charity ball but she denies all knowledge of GBC. Hmmm…. her memory might be selective, but she is definitely warming to me. You can always tell – the eye contact, the open body language, the habit of confiding, the occasional brush of skin against skin. I wonder if she fancies me at all?
All I know is that she still dates other guys, which I know because she tells me. Decide against risking all by asking her for a date, since fear of rejection is too great. You only fear rejection when you really care. Well I think so. So I meet her and drink in her beauty and curse the fact that she dates guys but apparently overlooks me. She does ask about me but what is there to tell?
This has never happened to me before. Never have I lost my nerve or worried about the consequences of asking a girl out. A terrible thought has crossed my mind: what if this might be love? No, no, no, no, no. Don’t go there. Don’t think such dark thoughts. Can’t be, never, not in a million years.
But I’ve been celibate all year. This can’t go on. It might fall off!
We work together, well different department but same company. We chat sometimes, you know – the water cooler moment. And he’s definitely a cool guy, a real mate. There’s me dating a stream of losers and he listens to me, doesn’t feed me cheesy chat-up lines or try to lure me into a fast shag. He listens, and empathises: female virtues.
How many times have I heard men try it on? It’s one of the trials of being female. But he caught me off-guard by not sticking to the stereotype. The irony is that by being less up front he is, paradoxically, much more attractive to me. But what do you do in these situations? Is he waiting for me to ask him out, and if I did would he immediately go off me? Or is he biding his time? Or is he really gay but still closeted?
This makes me curious, but I can’t find ways to break down the door. I try on many occasions to steer the conversation around to him on one of the occasions we meet for a chat, but he isn’t very forthcoming. He isn’t dating, that I know for sure, but neither is he very open about his feelings. OK, so not all the male stereotypes have dissolved, but taking a polite interest in me is a bloody good start.
Perhaps he’s just shy? There are lots of shy men out there, self-conscious and unable to converse with, well, an attractive woman, the sort who end up marrying dragons or women with looks and personality surgically removed. I don’t flatter myself that I am in any way special, but clearly he likes to converse without broaching any taboo subject like me and him.
He just didn’t strike me as the shy type though. Our mutual friends told me he always used to be seen out with a girl, though some of them were apparently as dodgy as the blokes who used to moon around me but I was too soft to tell to piss off. He tells me he hasn’t been out with any girl in months, though I’d bet he has to fight them off in droves.
What is there in his psychological make-up that makes him reluctant to ask me out? Surely not that he’s afraid of rejection? That would be utterly absurd! A man like that? A player, a guy who eats women for breakfast – literally too!
My best course of action is to continue being a mate and – what’s the phrase? – keep my powder dry. Maybe I need romance more than sex, though both would be nice. I’d shag him so long as we had a good kiss and cuddle, and so long as he took me to the pictures and bought me fish and chips from the paper afterwards!
This year: I hit the jackpot… but it wasn’t plain sailing.
What a stupid mixed metaphor. Would I need a boat to hit the jackpot? I feel like a total klutz some of the time, increasingly self-conscious at a time in my life when I’m supposed to feel more self-assured and confident. Just as well I asked her out by accident then. Friends A, B and C joined forces for a New Year party, as they often do, and I was invited. I mentioned this to her on our last working day before we trooped off to our respective families, and of course she mentioned casually that she was also invited.
“Great!” I said, “So maybe we can go together.”
It was only a second or two later that it dawned on me.
“You mean, sort of like a date then?” she asked cautiously. There was no backing out at this point so I had to fess up. This is the work of the subconscious, the hidden nine tenths of my mental iceberg and the one that acts as my own private secret service, doing things it believes are in my interests even if it means public humiliation or worse.
“Well, yes, I guess so. That would be nice…”
Nice. How I hate that word, yet it sprang from nowhere on to my lips. It conveys to me everything that I disliked as a kid but had to endure and acted as a perfect euphemism for “that would be totally abhorrent and loathsome.” Worse still, the words I really wanted to9 say were, “That’s fantastic! I can’t wait. There’s nothing in the world I want more than to be your boyfriend!” but my subconscious edited out the wild over-enthusiasim and instead plumped for “nice.” It’s a wonder she didn’t walk out there and then, but maybe her subconscious chose to ignore the implied insult and chose to hear something completely different.
“That’s fantastic. Should we meet for a drink somewhere first? How about that nice new wine bar on the High Street – say 8 o’clock?”
“Er… nice. Fantastic. And maybe we could meet again, you know, just us two?”
Cut to the chase, we went for the drink and some light and frothy chat. It was like a weight had been lifted from both sets of shoulders and our drinks were spiked with happy juice. The party went with a swing, and friends A, B and C were all nodding and leering one another as she and I ignored everything and stared deep into one another’s eyes, chatted, danced and snogged. We caught a taxi to her place and spent the night in the throes of passion. It was blissful!
That was a night I’ll remember all my life for the occasion, not merely because I got what I wanted and he apparently got what he wanted too. The occasion was just perfect and the romance was special. I think we both felt like we were floating three inches above the floor. Love is the drug.
And then there we were, half-pissed and in my bed, clothes discarded wherever, and him inside me. For the first time in I can’t remember how long, that felt totally right, without any reservations. I fell asleep snuggled up to him and woke up feeling totally refreshed and absolutely elated.
“Want some breakfast, sexy?” I said to him as we finished making love yet again.
“Mmmmm that would be great.”
“How do you like your eggs?”
“I’m supposed to ask you that. You’re supposed to say ‘unfertilised’. Fried please!”
“Ha bloody ha mister. You’ll have what I give you.”
But I made him a fry-up anyway, and good coffee; and we ate, and kissed, and went back to bed. But eventually he had to go home and attend to domestic chores ready for his family visiting. Would he be telling them about me? Would he merely say he had met someone? Or would he keep me secret? After a year of talking and frustration I suddenly wanted to make up for lost time, to be a key part of his life, right at the centre of his universe, though of course I couldn’t tell him that.
He just looked pleased when I asked him for another date, or rather, suggested that I was free the next Friday after work and why didn’t we go out for a bite to eat? No, not pleased – he beamed a beatific smile back and me and I felt totally wanted.
The next time was a different mood, subdued and downbeat. We had been at work all week after the break and maybe the gravitas of everyday living took over. It’s not that there was any less romance about the occasion, in fact we met in the foyer and walked out holding hands, not caring if our respective bosses or anyone else saw us.
We went back to the same Costa for a c0ffee and chat, but I noticed that it was a bit – what would you say? – “after the Lord Mayor’s party.” It was very slightly anti-climactic, the conversation and thrill of anticipation that had sustained us for well over a year seemed to have died and now we struggled to find things to say to one another.
Maybe we were just tired? At any rate I put my hand on hers and smiled at her, tried not to think too seriously about the “us” thing. We went on to an Indian and I asked her about her life, her family, her friends, where she had been, what music she liked, what movies we enjoyed, what things we had in common, her hairstyle, her clothes, everything I could think of. Then it occurred to me that in all the time we had been drinking coffee and chatting before few of these topics had ever been covered. What on earth had we talked about? I really can’t remember!
Anyway, that night she came to my place and I made her breakfast the following morning. Then she went shopping and I washed my clothes.
It was like he had had a brain transplant. Before he used to listen, now he couldn’t stop jabbering. He did make the effort to touch me, hold my hand, kiss me softly, but I wondered whether his heart was in it. Was this for real or was it simply that I was a good lay? Well he got his end away alright, but maybe he was feeling insecure as I was? He didn’t once ask what was wrong or show any signs of sensitivity. Maybe I was wrong about him, maybe he can’t read a woman like I thought he could?
The evening was OK but nothing like the blinding moment of our first date. Is there really no way to capture a moment and preserve it in amber like prehistoric insects?
I did some hard thinking over the next week. She couldn’t make any of my suggestions for date 3, so I wondered what I could do to please her. It wasn’t really difficult, tell the truth, so I rang her one evening. It was four rings before she answered with a bright and lively “hello!”
“Oh hi!” Was she trying to sound brighter than she felt though?
“Listen, do you have a weekend free in the near future? I thought it would be great to take you away. How does Paris sound?”
There was the very merest hint of a pause before she replied, but when she did the enthusiasm came flooding back into her voice.
“Oh wow! What a brilliant thought, thank you. I’d really love that. How about for Valentine’s Day?”
Valentine’s Day, of course! Should have remembered that was coming up, but then my liaisons had rarely been the true romantic type, such that I never really had an urge to get away and make plans with a girlfriend, make her feel truly special and wanted, like she was the one for me. Maybe she is the one for me? How do you know?
So I found a website and booked a flight and hotel, though of course it was expensive for Valentine’s weekend. Couldn’t let her hear me being stingy though, since that would prick the romantic bubble with one fell swoop.
I told her when we were going and to pack light, so we did. Removed from home and work all the feelings came flooding back. She was resolutely charming and lovely. We had champagne in our room, and we hit the town for two spectacular nights together. Truth be told, it would have been just as good in Cleethorpes, or nearly as good, but Paris put the cherry on the cake. It was undoubtedly the company that mattered most…. and I needed to let her know that.
On our final morning in Paris we made love and I collapsed into his arms. And then he said it, or rather whispered it in my ear:
“I love you.”
I propped myself up on one elbow so my breasts flopped down in front of me (not having double-sided sticky tape to attach the sheet to my bosom, as in the movies) and regarded him with mixed emotions.
“Are you just saying that because you shagged me or because you thought it was what you wanted me to hear?”
He looked puzzled: “Because I meant it?”
“You barely know me, we only just started dating!”
“I’ve known you not far off three years and we’ve been talking about this and that for ages.”
I paused to consider why I was looking a gift horse in the mouth. After all, he had paid for the Paris trip and we had had a beautiful time together, so what right had I to question his motives in saying something so momentous?
- I’ve been in that position before and if life experience has taught me anything it’s that when girls say “I love you” the typically mean it, heart and soul, whereas guys don’t. It simply doesn’t register on the Richter scale of male emotions.
- He didn’t appear to me the falling in love type. Maybe I would be a girlfriend to him but serious commitment? Not a chance, or not til he reached his mid 30s and his family were making noises about grandchildren.
- He had nothing to gain by saying that without being absolutely sure – like living with me for three years first. It wasn’t like I’d asked him to and he was trying to keep me quiet. If there were a motive it would be that he wanted something, since not even he in his best empathetic mode would have opened up and revealed true feelings of love and devotion.
And then he laughed and broke into an uneven baritone: “…and then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like ‘I love you’.”
“Listen mister, I don’t want to get hurt, OK? I’ve been hurt before.”
“And I haven’t? Give me a break! I didn’t say that for the benefit of my health.”
“So why did you say it?”
“I know you are the woman for me. I love you.”
If had whipped out a Magnum .38 from beneath the sheets and shot me through the heart I could not have been more surprised. What was even more incredible was that he looked me right in the eyes and said it without a flicker in his voice.
“Just what do you mean by that?”
He looked flabbergasted that I would attempt to deconstruct a sentence containing three words, spoken generally with admirable clarity.
“Well, what do you think I mean? I mean what I say. I mean I’d like to make a real effort at spending the rest of my life with you.”
“But you didn’t say that, you said ‘I love you’ – and the two can be mutually exclusive.”
“Well in this case they’re not. I want you in my life. I want to have your babies.”
Oh my! He is serious. He didn’t even laugh at his own joke.
“In that case… thank you. Would you mind if I had a few days to decide how to respond? You’ve taken me by surprise. I….”
Sometimes I hate being female, hormonal and/or emotional. And I hated most of all tears streaming down my cheeks. Then he did exactly the right thing – he said nothing but just held me close and let me blubber over his shoulder. Damn him!
Since Paris we’ve been much more like partners. I mean, everyone knows. Friends A, B and C are jealous but accepting. She spends weekends at mine and I at hers. We go away places as a couple and we get invited as a couple. We’ve even met her mother, which I was dreading but which turned out to be pleasant and charming to the extent that we were even allowed to sleep together – though we didn’t risk the thin walls with the sound of all-night humping.
The thing that now occurs to me is that having got over the hurdle that eluded me for so long, there is so much still to get to know about one another. We are both complex and multi-faceted people, neither to be taken for granted nor underestimated. She keeps me on my toes by virtue of a certain coy unpredictability that tells me I have much still to learn, but then if you do love someone, in the sense that you yearn for them and couldn’t bear to be apart from them, the thought of taking a lifetime to gain that learning curve is not off-putting but a source of endless fascination.
Whether she can predict me I have no idea, but that she can still surprise me is beyond question. Case in point: we were shopping, which as every guy knows is what happens when you are hooked up with a woman. They like shopping, we don’t, but we feel obliged to come along for moral support, just as we would expect them to come to a football match – or at least let us go with our mates.
Stereotypes are henceforth banned! She actually hates shopping, buys clothes and shoes not out of a lust for collecting them but because she likes to be noticed, and now she likes to be noticed proudly on my arm. Actually, I don’t mind shopping.
It was on one such trip in a department store in town that GBC appeared like an apparition straight in front of us. I recognised him immediately, down to the quiff, gawky specs and smarmy grin, but he wasn’t looking at me – or only to register than I was with her and holding her hand. I turned to her but it was as if she had developed a blind spot and had developed a sudden interest in a display of cameras.
GBC looked as if he were about to speak, but caught my warning glance. I looked him firmly in the eyes and shook my head slowly. He got the picture and moved swiftly on. When he had gone she turned to me and hugged me. For once the telepathy was spot on. I could feel her tears against my neck and realised without her having to say a word that she loved me every bit as much as I loved her. We were not only physically together but connected, bonded, as one.
OK, I admit it. I did meet him years ago. I just didn’t dare hope we would be together. We had some dodgy moments getting there but that was like a contract negotiation: understanding the unspoken terms and conditions so each of us knew precisely where we were. The aftermath was worth waiting for. We’re planning to move in together next year, and if things go well there is even the remote possibility of pleasing the families with an engagement ring, not that either of us thing marriage is essential. Joni Mitchell said it when talking about her old man:
“We don’t need a piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true.”
Fact is that I couldn’t leave him if I tried, and I don’t think he could leave me.