Back to the drawing board

Is it possible that I’ve finally learned my lesson with Uni Boy? I think the answer might be a tentative yes.

You may be surprised to know that, exactly as per the book, I didn’t call him. Actually, I didn’t need to. We both turned up at a mutual friend’s party … and that, of course, was that. As sure as night follows day, we went home together.

Naturally, he was ready to dash off before breakfast, the cad. But after a faint moue of protest, we eventually spent a gloriously relaxing Sunday together, watching films and scoffing popcorn as the rain poured down outside.

But the very next day, things turned sour … and what’s most perplexing is that I’m still not exactly sure how it happened. I’d said or done something that annoyed him – of course – and soon we were giving it a posthumous dissection in a pointless text debate that went round and round and round without solving anything.

Now, I don’t lay all the blame at his door. I know I can sometimes seem tiresomely obtuse in “discussions”, when I keep asking for more and more clarification because I just don’t get it.

I know that I can get caught on one point, and keep hammering away at it if I don’t get a satisfactory explanation, simply because I really want to know. And I know I can view myself in an utterly tragic light, with all the self-pitying comments that such a harsh self-assessment implies.

Arguing by instant message is possibly the most stupid way to fall out, but the upshot of the whole debate was that I make him feel bad for a variety of vague and not strictly specified reasons, and he makes me feel bad by thinking all those vague and unspecified (but definitely not complimentary) things about me.

We’re typing furiously, without really resolving anything, when he pulls the mother of all phrases to use in an argument with your (not so) beloved:

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

He’s right, of course: the discussion is pointless. But if someone doesn’t want to talk about it anymore when you’re instant messaging them, what can you do?

Well, all you really can do is sit there on your own and feel completely wretched. So I do.

As I sit, I ponder the couple of months we’ve spent together. Although even the word ‘together’ seems like a bit of an exaggeration; ‘intermittently conjoined’ might be more to the point. Depending on your point of view, there’s an earth-shattering chemistry that repeatedly binds us together, or we’re both completely bored with nothing better to do.

Whichever it is, I’m not feeling good about it. And if hanging out with someone isn’t making you feel good, then what’s the point?

I know I’ve said it before, I know. But this time I sit down and write him an email that says, more or less, thanks for everything and goodbye.

Because although the good bits were really good, stepping on eggshells has never been a talent of mine … and what’s the point in getting upset about someone who only cares about you part-time?

Now, I may not be the prettiest or the smartest or the sexiest woman in the world, but I’m pretty sure I’m good enough to be loved full-time. And he may be funny and charming and sexy and all the rest, but if Uni Boy doesn’t want me, he’d better move out of the way for the one who does.

It’s hard to pull the plug on someone you’re attached to, however tenuously. But as fond as I am of Uni Boy, when push comes to shove, there’s no denying that I’m a whole lot fonder of me.

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A lesson learned

“This is for you,” smiles one of my dearest girlfriends, as she slaps a book onto the table, narrowly missing my espresso, which dances in its little cup. I peer curiously at the slim volume before me.

He’s Just Not That Into You.

“Read it,” she says. And refuses to say any more.

So later, basking in the early evening sunshine, I dutifully flip open the well-thumbed pages and start to read…

It’s a little bit slick, and a little bit American in style. And to be honest, there are no real bombshells here: he’s just not that into you if he’s not asking you out; if he doesn’t call; if he’s not sleeping with you; if he’s sleeping with someone else…

This is the sort of stuff that we ladies instinctively know, and are only too quick to point out to other ladies who find themselves in any one of the variously tragic scenarios. And yet, and yet…

It’s the sort of thing that somehow slips clean out of our minds when we’re talking about our particular man. Mostly because we ladies like to project our own complicated thought processes onto our menfolk.

“He’s not calling because he’s really busy/his family is visiting/he’s been abducted by aliens.”

“He doesn’t want to sleep with me because he really respects me.”

(Sorry, almost snorted coffee out of my nose there.)

“He’s not asking me out because he doesn’t have much money/is really busy right now/has to stay at home and shampoo the carpet.”

Really, the whole book could have been reduced to a very small, one-sided pamphlet:

IMAGINE HOW HE’D BEHAVE IF HE WAS REALLY INTO YOU…

IS HE BEHAVING THAT WAY?

YES? Great, keep him!
NO? Walk away, girlfriend. Walk away.

If he’s really into you, he’ll call when his family are visiting – even if it’s just to say that he doesn’t have a moment to talk.

If he’s really into you, there’ll be no abstaining from rumpypumpy on the grounds of false respect: you’ll be peeling him off your leg because people are starting to stare.

If he’s really into you, even if he’s completely broke, he’ll take you for a walk in the park in the rain as long as he gets to spend time with you.

I suppose it really is as simple as that.

(However, it’s my hunch that there may be a caveat to this simple rule of thumb: I suspect that many men can display all the signs of being really into you when, as another wise friend once said, he doesn’t want a relationship, he just wants to have no-strings sex with you. But let’s not go there right now.)

Anyway, drawing absolutely no comparisons at all, Uni Boy has, somewhat predictably, disappeared from the scene. He’s taken to either ignoring my texts, or replying hours later. And the last time I saw him, he was fawning over a young lady he was clearly besotted with, so I guess that tells me loud and clear that I’m last week’s news.

(And yes, even I noticed that I said “texts” (plural) there. Which means it’s happened more than once. And yes, that means I should be getting the message: he’s just not that into me.)

I’m a bit sad about it, but if that’s the way things are, then it’s the way things are. Normally, I would do all I can to keep things on good terms and maintain the friendship … but he knows where I am. If he wants to get in touch, in whatever capacity, he will. And if he doesn’t, I won’t.

Because (thank you, dear girlfriend) whether we’re talking about ‘friends with benefits’ or full-blown love affairs, you shouldn’t have to fight to be in someone’s company. Or their heart. And if you do, it clearly means they don’t respect your feelings, and they’re just not that into you.

Under a cloud

This weekend, I’ve been having what can only be described as a meltdown. And the lucky recipient of my wailing and teeth-gnashing is none other than poor old Uni Boy.

Every now and then, I’m held hostage by my capricious hormones (ladies, I’m sure you know what I mean) and everything looks as dark as squid ink: I’m 35, single, living in shared accommodation and working alone and for myself – possibly the worst career move ever for someone who’s highly sociable and neurotic about financial instability.

Now, most days, although I may not be filled with joy about my circumstances, I can at least sweep aside my concerns and look on the bright side, burying my head in the warm and welcoming sand of coffees, dinner dates and parties with a vast – if slightly motley – array of friends, colleagues and associates.

But when the hormonal maelstrom strikes, all optimism goes firmly and swiftly out of the window.

The worst of it is, I never see it coming: since my own little set of hormones is as erratic as a frog in a jar of jellybeans, I get sideswiped – and dumped upon the dark sands of despair – each and every time.

Of course Uni Boy, being, by his very nature, a boy, is somewhat perturbed by the sudden downturn in my demeanour and is convinced that it’s all due to the nature of our rather unorthodox liaison.

Whilst it’s true that our “come here and let me kiss/hug/ravish you but don’t forget we’re JUST FRIENDS” arrangement isn’t exactly what I’m looking for long-term, it usually provides me with comfort and solace, not to mention a bit of fun and excitement.

But today, despite the gorgeous sunshine outside, everything I survey is cast in shades of grey: love, life, the universe … everything.

To give him his credit, even though emotional meltdowns are definitely not what he signed up for, Uni Boy rises to the occasion – cooking me lunch, hugging me, kissing me and smoothing my hair patiently, even though he’s probably looking for the nearest exit and the fastest road out of town.

I’m infinitely grateful for his soothing company but, despite his patience, I can’t help thinking that this may be the last I see of Uni Boy for a while. Sigh.

Anyway, it seems that the day is fertile ground for crises.

Once I’ve done sniffling on Uni Boy’s shoulder, I make my way home and find a message from the Darkly Intriguing. He’s having a crisis all of his own, and is calling into question everything about his existence – from his job and his health to his life in the UK and the wide world that awaits him. And in his case, it’s definitely not the hormones. Poor guy.

The next day, everything looks brighter. At least for me.

I’m back to my standard perspective, and the looming shadows have shrunk back to their rightful size. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the clouds on my shoulder have rolled back out of sight.

I’ve surely cemented my lunatic status with Uni Boy, and thus have become more single than ever, but at least I’ve got some sunshine in my heart.

And, given the circumstances, that’s about all I can ask for right now.

Headlines and headcounts

Great news, girls! If you’re a single lady, you can take heart (or, perhaps, despair) at the latest news from the BBC…

The analysis of the 2011 census is finally in, and it seems that women outnumber men by almost a million: there are currently 28.5 million women pitched against just 27.6 million men. For those of us who are still single, it means that it’s definitely not our fault. The odds are against us. It’s as simple as that.

It does, of course, mean that there are a million of us who are destined to remain without a partner forever, simply because there aren’t enough men to go around.

Now, any fool knows that at least one of the key reasons for this discrepancy is life expectancy: it’s no secret that women live longer than men. Apparently, by the time we’ve got nine decades under our belt, women outnumber men by more than two to one.

However, these figures obviously include people like my gran – a sassy singleton who’s smart, stylish and more than in possession of all her faculties but who, at almost 90, is unlikely to be clamouring to bag herself a new fella.

(Not that she couldn’t. She’s a real catch. If I were a nonagenarian male, I’d resort to fisticuffs to win her attentions, if needs be.)

Anyway, ladies like her should be championed and fêted: they’re leaving more men for the rest of us. But some brainbox from the Centre for Population Change reckons that the other main factor in the male-female differential is somewhat more prosaic: namely, men are no good at filling in forms.

Really?

Can it really be true that a chunk of the male population aged between 20 and 30 (for they, apparently, are the main offenders) has slipped under the radar simply because they’re a bit slack at attending to their personal admin?

Apparently, gents in this demographic are less likely to be registered with a GP (having omitted to fill in the necessary forms to acquire one) and so are excluded from the census.

So it’s fair (if not exactly scientific) to suppose that, since they have no need of a GP, there are up to a million – and possibly more – young(ish) men, all in rude health, wandering aimlessly round our fair isle. The question is how to track them down.

Anyway, while I’m pondering this conundrum, an email arrives from the Darkly Intriguing.

“Got time for a coffee?” it says. “It’s been a while.”

It has indeed been a very long while. Weeks, in fact.

He’s been off travelling for work and, to be honest, I’ve been happy to let sleeping dogs lie. But since it’s almost lunchtime, and an hour in his company is usually entertaining, I’m happy to catch up over coffee and a slice of cake.

“Make mine the usual,” I write. “Be there in five minutes.”

The million young men – in fine health as they are – will have to wait. Single or not, when cake calls, it’s rude to ignore it.

So I close down my computer, say goodbye to the BBC, and head out the door.

A moment of calm

So, Uni Boy has been staying at mine for a few days and a relatively tranquil state of bliss has descended.

Clearly, I’m not resting on my laurels, since we all know that a dramatic retreat could be just around the corner, but he makes a good house guest (he’s clean and tidy and even puts my pointlessly decorative cushions back in their place) and an even better bedfellow (despite my incessant demands, I have yet to exhaust his supply of hugs).

I’m feeling quietly contented … so it’s only logical that I should check when this joyous state is likely to end. Not one to beat about the bush, of course I get straight to the point:

“So, when are you going to tell me that we shouldn’t see each other anymore?”

He looks at me for a moment, apparently pensive.

“I’m not going to do that.”

I raise an eyebrow. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sceptical, but I decide to take his reply at face value. And why not?

Lately I’ve started to realise that the only way to be happy is to stop my mind contemplating the future. Since most of my predictions turn out to be pretty wide of the mark anyway, I’ve decided that turning off the crystal ball and enjoying things as they happen is a far smarter strategy.

It means that I sometimes accept things I would normally rebel against, but it also means that I don’t waste time and energy worrying about situations that may never come to pass.

I’ve also adopted a strategy of selective ignorance: I’ve decided to ignore the fact that The One I Almost Married and his new partner now have beautiful twin boys, for example. I saw the pictures on Facebook. Both little boys are perfect in their newborn innocence, and mum looks utterly radiant…

Of course I wish them well, but they’re safely outside my sphere of existence: they’re just another couple blessed with two tiny human beings to look after and call their own. I don’t have to let it affect me, for better or worse.

Anyway, this morning I’m off to the hairdresser for a quick pre-work chop. My hairdresser is a kind-hearted Mexican lady who’s a hard-working mother of two, but since I have the first appointment of the day and she’s still on her way back from the school run, I’m greeted by the guy I secretly refer to as Mr Silky Smooth.

Mr Silky Smooth is young and cheeky, and looks like he could be in a boy band. Actually, he’s older than he seems and has been happily married for several years, but that doesn’t stop the silken words from tumbling from his mouth in the direction of any and every passing female.

This guy is charm personified: from schoolgirls to pensioners, he has them all simpering with delight at his fabulous flattery. And yet, since all his compliments are based on at least a grain of truth, he narrowly avoids being oily or obsequious. Of course, his customers are almost exclusively female, and he has them all eating out of his hand.

This morning, I’m the lucky recipient of his charm, and despite arriving windswept and rain-spattered, within seconds he’s complimented me on my tan, my coat and my hair. He’s long been a proponent of the “Why are you still single?” school of thought, and makes it his business to check on my relationship status every time he sees me.

He does it so often that he doesn’t even have to pose the question any more. He just raises his eyebrows quizzically.

“Still single,” I address the eyebrows, “though in possession of a part-time squeeze.”

“Only part-time?” he replies, indignant. “Well, it’s progress, I suppose. But really, what is wrong with these men?”

I laugh as I allow him to hang up my coat.

“Now if I knew that,” I say, smiling, “do you think for a moment that I’d be still bloody single?”

Turning somersaults

Oh. My. God.

I’ve just had THE most embarrassing bike accident EVER.

Even as I’m nursing the purple egg that’s blooming on my shin, just thinking about the ridiculousness of it all makes me break into a cold sweat. But also, I must admit, cackle with mortified laughter.

Picture the scene…

I’m on my bike, waiting to cross the road. (Yes, at the cycle crossing. I wasn’t infringing the rights of pedestrians.) Finally, I spot a gap in the traffic, so I zip across … only to find that, thanks to the incessant “summer” rain, the grip on my handlebars has water inside, and as I invest it with my full weight to get the bike moving, it slips clean off the handlebars, causing me first to wobble violently, then come crashing dramatically to the ground, leaving me spread-eagled on the asphalt in the middle of a blind bend.

Truly spectacular. And all my own work, too.

A bus comes whooshing past just as I’m disentangling myself from the bike and picking myself up, horn blaring at my apparent stupidity in taking a tea break in the middle of the road. The incredulous stares of bored commuters bore into me, and I can tell I’ve just become an amusing anecdote that will be related around the water cooler later this morning.

I drag my bike to the kerb, and I’m just dusting myself off when a passing cyclist comes over to offer me a kind word and a packet of tissues.

“Are you alright?” he says.

He’s clearly wondering how I managed to create my own spontaneous – and quite spectacular – mash-up, when my bike is showing no sign of breakdown and there’s not another cyclist in sight.

I reply in the affirmative, and since I can’t trust my shaking, shock-ridden body to form a coherent sentence, I wave the offending grip at him by way of explanation.

“Ooh, nasty!” he says. “It’s all this rain; they get water inside them. Then they just scoot off!”

I wish you’d shared that knowledge before I performed the perfect face-plant in the middle of the road, I think, but I nod sagely and continue picking stray bits of skin from my elbow.

“Still,” he continues, “I’ve gotta say you did it with style – that really was quite spectacular!”

And, giving me a broad wink, he pedals off.

Pulling a slightly sarcastic smile at his retreating form, I imagine how the whole thing must have looked from the outside and I can’t help laughing a bit. I get gingerly back on my bike, battle with the chain for a few moments, and eventually get on my way.

Finally sitting at my desk, I drop a text to Uni Boy.

“Ohmigod! Guess what just happened?”

I hardly dare say it, but things with Uni Boy seem to have reached a state of equilibrium. Of course, he changes like the prevailing wind, so I’ve learned to sleep with one eye open. But at the moment, all is well. He does his thing; I do mine. Then, when we get together it’s hugs, kisses and laughter all the way.

But this temporary comfort doesn’t mean that I’m blind to other opportunities. Oh no.

As if to emphasise the point, my phone pings to announce the arrival of a text. It’s from a friend I bumped into last night. We hadn’t seen each other for ages, but I’d taken the trouble to enquire about a particularly fine specimen of manhood that was part of his group.

The message is succinct: “Hahaha!” it says. “Yes, he’s single.”

Good news! Of course, Hot Man may be a trainspotter or a raving lunatic, but after my disastrous commute I could do with cheering up, and that bit of gossip will just have to do.

Men are from Mars

You know that book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus?

No, me neither.

Well, what I mean is that I’ve not read it, so I have no idea of its validity as an intelligent document on the fundamental differences between the genders. But what I do know is that the basic concept isn’t far wrong: when it comes to relationships, at least, men and women are playing by entirely different rules.

Take the situation with Uni Boy, for example. I struggle to understand the circular nature of our non-relationship: we get together and have a great time. Then, the minute we start getting comfortable, he decides we shouldn’t see each other anymore. We abstain. He gets in touch. We get together. And round we go again.

I mean, I’m not looking for Happy Ever After here. But I am looking for a bit of consistency.

I mentioned this to a girlfriend over coffee. She smiles at me coquettishly.

“Are you sure he’s not just afraid?”

Of what? Of me?

“No,” she says, smiling coyly. “Maybe he’s afraid of falling in love with you.”

To be honest, even to my ears this sounds a bit fanciful.

Whilst we ladies like to put a rosy tint on our dabbling with persons of the male persuasion, on the whole we know that their emotional processes can be almost brutally utilitarian. What’s more, we also know that it’s nothing personal: that’s just the way the way it is.

Of course there are notable exceptions, but as one of my male friends once said (and I hope he won’t mind me quoting him on it),

“The questions women ask of men are often highly complex but the answers are usually very simple: ‘No, he doesn’t want a relationship, he just wants to have no-strings sex with you’ would work in most cases.”

Hmmm. Almost scarily simple, no?

Ladies, you know all the times you have coffee with a girlfriend and debate the possible motives for the seemingly senseless actions of your latest squeeze? Try the ‘No, he doesn’t want a relationship, he just wants to have no-strings sex with you’ test.

If there’s even the slightest hint that it could apply to your situation, then it probably does: he’s not scared of falling in love; he’s not been hurt too many times before; he’s just on the prowl.

So while my girlfriend envisages some complex mélange of tortured emotion swirling in the heart and head of Uni Boy, I’m not particularly surprised when I meet up with a pragmatic male friend who echoes the more sober perception of my (un)romantic tanglings with Uni Boy…

“It’s simple: he’s using you for fun when it suits him.”

Or, in other words, no, he doesn’t want a relationship, he just wants to have no-strings sex with you.

I can almost hear the fat little cupid conjured by my friend’s imagination falling from his perch on a nearby cloud and crashing unceremoniously to the floor.

“Men like to hunt,” continues the pragmatic male friend. “We respect women by the amount of effort we have to put into the hunt. No effort; no respect.”

“Why don’t you make it harder for him? Turn the tap off for a bit?”

While I can’t argue with the veracity of his assessment, I can’t help but find it a bit disheartening.
Because if I enjoy hanging out with someone, I can’t help telling them; I’m not good at throwing up walls of faux-mystique and playing hard to get. It just makes me feel faintly ridiculous.

And besides, Uni Boy is never going to be the love of my life. I’m not trying to trick him into a relationship, I just enjoy his company and I want to have some fun. But I want it to be consistent fun, and I want it to be at least partly on my terms.

Still, seeing the situation from male and female perspectives has been decidedly educational. It’s reaffirmed my idea that men and women have almost no idea of what goes on in each other’s heads.

Which in itself makes me wonder: if and when you do meet a guy who wants a bit more than a no-strings fling … how on earth would you know?