For a good while there, I had a dilemma. A dilemma that was fully occupying the angel and the devil that sit on my shoulder, and it concerned the Phantom Texter.
We had become close. Perhaps closer than is advisable with someone who is, on paper at the very least, married.
Of course, he never quite managed to explain the doubtless complicated nature of his marriage. (Of course.) But we’d been corresponding for more than six months – with the occasional, 100% platonic get-together for coffee – and, as a consequence, we had become close.
Which is fine and not fine, because it’s hard to know at what point a friendship crosses the line and becomes an inappropriate friendship, even without physical contact.
When the angel was in charge, the simple answer was: when the conversation includes something your partner wouldn’t be happy with. But the devil reckoned that all’s fair in love and war and besides, since when was it my job to be someone else’s Thought Police?
Now, it’s true that since we’re both grown adults, he should be responsible for his own actions. But it’s also true that 50% of the conversation was mine – so 50% of the culpability surely rested at my feet, too?
I can’t help feeling that things would be far more cut and dried had I not been single for so bloody long and he were not the first man in many, many moons who was so appealing. Which I know is no excuse, but the little devil was leaning in and wheedling, “This is your time! Here – finally – is a dashing man who’s into you! You deserve him. Take him! Go on – reach out and grab him!”
Then, of course, the angel would push a hand into the devil’s face, shove him out of the way and says, “But he’s not YOURS!” … and round we’d go again … and again … until I had no idea which way was up and which was down and what the heck was right or wrong.
After a while, these shenanigans made me realise that my so-called morals were rather more elastic that I thought; they were being gradually eroded by familiarity and conversations that were once the very definition of chaste became markedly less so.
Of course, I knew it was morally wrong, but I can’t deny it – my day was brighter when I heard from him and gloomier when I didn’t. And somewhere in my head an alarm bell began to sound: that way danger lies.
But you know what? There were always innumerable obstacles to our get-togethers: extensive work trips, meetings here and there and recurrent bouts of debilitating illness … all genuine events, to be sure, but this guy was so rarely available he made Halley’s Comet look like a regular visitor.
Then, one day, something changed. The dashing gentleman was, as usual, beset by “issues” that required sympathy from me … but, this time, I had an issue of my own.
Was he concerned? Worried for me? Keen to help? Ummm. Not really. He seemed rather keen to get back to talking about his problems. And, actually, he seemed to have very little time for corresponding with me in general.
At first, I wondered if he was OK. I gave him space; tried not to care when he ignored my news or didn’t reply for three days because he really did have a lot on his plate. (He truly did – and still does.)
But suddenly it occurred to me that if he really cared about me, I wouldn’t have to be wondering about his state of mind; he’d let me know for himself. And he wouldn’t feel the need to push me out when things got hectic because I’d be central to his wellbeing.
And then a powerful – but admittedly quite belated – bolt of lightning flashed in my mind: he’s just not that into you. And I realised that it’s a lesson I’ve learned before, but obviously not that well.
You can’t care about someone who doesn’t care about you: it’s not that he can’t call because he’s really busy, it’s that you’re not an important enough part of his day. And if he hasn’t got ten seconds free to send you a text, well … you can work that one out for yourself.
And then all at once, the angel and the devil stopped their clamour; everything fell silent and I realised that there was no dilemma to speak of; no dilemma at all.