Tuesday, 2 August 2011
I went on a date recently. And it was fantastic. We clicked immediately, there was a certain chemistry, we talked the whole evening away without noticing time passing and there was no game playing. He texted me at lunchtime the next day to say he'd like to see me again soon, was I free on Thursday? We met again and had another great evening over sherry and tapas. There was a enthusiastic goodnight kiss. Other commitments for both of us stopped us meeting the next week, but there were many texts and arrangement to meet again the first night we were both free. There were drinks and dinner, again not leaving the restaurant til the staff wearily told us to go home. We lingered on the way to the Tube and talked about meeting again, parting with giggles and jokes. It all seemed promising and delightfully grown up. And then he vanished into thin air and stopped contacting me completely...
More than a week after our last date and I hadn't heard a dickybird. While I'd like to tell you that I have laughed this off and simply moved on to arranging dinner and drinks with my next admirer, I hadn't. Instead I have been vacillating between dejection, frantic excuse making (Maybe he's lost his phone? Maybe he's in a fugue state? Maybe he's dead and someone else is updating his Twitter account?) and sheer seething annoyance. Few things piss me off more than unexplained disappearances from someone you're dating.
I have a long history with this tactic, starting with the very first boy I ever 'went out with' aged ten who favoured the unexplained absence followed by the outlandish excuse before he'd even hit puberty. Pretty much every single guy I've dallied with since has pulled a similar style stunt, but since many of them weren't serious relationships and often the kind of person I never wanted to speak to again after spending time alone with them, I didn't mind so much. It was the fact that each man I have had a serious relationship with embraced this method of indirect communication with gusto that really made me loathe it.
There was the boyfriend when I was about 17 who went out for a drink after work before meeting me and didn't re-appear for a week and a half. I never quite established what he'd been up to, but since it involved running away to Ballycastle in February, it didn't sound like a lot of fun. We struggled on for a while after his apparently Valentine's inspired flit, finally breaking up when he turned up to take me to my Lower Sixth formal in a borrowed suit with his head shaved with a Bic razor and being mistaken for the bouncer by everyone else there. The icing on the cake though was leaving me sitting alone at the table all dressed up and feeling like an idiot while he disappeared back to Belfast in a cab in search of a drink, never to be seen or spoken to ever again.
Or my hairdresser who I had been flirting and making eyes at for about a year (mainly at the expense of having my hair cut every three weeks) who vanished about a week after we finally got together, which in a pre-mobile phone era, neccesitated me having to write to him at his flat to enquire as to whether I needed to find a new hairdresser (let alone a new boyfriend)? Setting aside the agonising realisation that I didn't know his surname and had to address said missive with his name and 'hairdresser' in brackets to avoid confusion with his identically named flatmate, it didn't entirely put things to rest. Our erratic relationship dragged on a while longer before he took up with a woman who looked uncannily like me and had the same name and I refused to give up a decent coiffure in the wastelands of 90s Belfast in favour of self respect. I saw him a few years ago for a haircut and was horrified that 12 years later, he insisted on talking about what happened between us, thus making me cringe so hard I'm surprised my scalp didn't turn inside out.
And so that you don't lose all respect for me, we should probably skim over the five year long relationship I had in my early 20s with a man whose vanishing skills really should have been on the stage at a fairground. Even with the modern marvels of a mobile phone didn't help especially, but simply provided me more opportunities to sit round like a total sap waiting to see what new methods of dismissiveness and rejection might come my way. It also provided the area for some truly bizarre apologies to restore my hope, including one memorable exclaimation from him that having stood me up without warning to go to Sweden that he was 'a lunch-out fucker' and desperate to make it up to me. It may not surprise you that the eventual (and agonising) end to our relationship also involved total silence, desperation and disappearing tricks, but ratcheted up a notch that rubbed it in just that little bit more.
Once I'd come to terms with the end of that relationship and taken a good long look at myself, I swore that I wouldn't find myself hanging on like a sadsack and making far fetched excuses while some guy I liked had done a disappearing act again. I would not display my chronically low esteem so openly again by putting up with this behaviour. I wouldn't derive some kind of perverse enjoyment and importance from this uncertainty. I would not condone it by failing to mention it. And I'd be damned if I was going to keep playing bullshit games about seeing someone now I'm in my early 30s. I would be firm and assertive and not worry about seeming like a nag or coming across as crazy. So when every single guy I've dated in the past six or seven years has slunk off into the woodwork without so much as a 'it's not you, it's me' I've mainly shrugged, rolled my eyes and got on with it (allowing for some mild infuriation and a few slow to learn communications). And while no one positively revels in the equivalent of a Dear John letter, some feedback on why men seem prefer heading to the hills rather than date me would be good.
It's just not especially good for the soul when people suddenly bolt for the blue when faced with the option of spending time with you. It leads to enormous amounts of self absorbed questioning and in my case, helps to feed the barely suppressed crazy in my life. I suffer from not one, but three (count 'em) anxiety disorders. And nothing nutures anxiety like uncertainty, a feeling of loss of control and lack of communication. Firstly, I find it almost impossible not to imagine the worst when someone drops out of my life and I don't mean that've met someone else with better legs. More that they are dead in a ditch, being held captive and tortured or some such. It's called catastrophizing and it's a firm favourite of anxiety disorders. Once I've reassured myself there have been no shark attacks in central London, I like to move on to some obsessive compulsive thoughts, wild self recrimination and crippling guilt for my supposed short comings. I mix this up with feeling like men are cruel and hurtful and can't be trusted. (Calm down, MRA types. It's not a slur on you all. I though raw mushrooms were poisonous until recently too.) Then exhausted and bored by my own endless neuroses, I realise these guys just don't actually have any manners or balls or they'd be polite enough to send a text or email to say ' Hi, don't feel this is going anywhere. Good luck in the future.' and we could all move on without lingering worries and resentments.
However, the lack of contact in this case has brought my resolve and assertiveness to a grinding halt. Ultimately I didn't feel any great chemistry or inclination to develop a relationship with the other guys over the past six or seven years so when they did the Great Vamoose, it wasn't crippling and generally I'd clocked that they were shallow assholes already, so it wasn't unexpected. But having taken a break from relationships for a long long time, had a lot of therapy, trained myself out of taking a shine to shallow assholes and gone for the grown up dating route on this occasion, it has thrown me that things have disintegrated into avoidance. One of the things I liked when I met this guy was the feeling that he wasn't the game playing type...and yet here I was wondering what the fuck happened, jumping with anticipation everytime my phone tells me I have a text even though it's not the phone number I gave him and marvelling at just how stunted my intution about people really is.
But in a good approximation of being grown up and emotionally balanced, I sent him a text saying hi and asking that if he's not interested in seeing me again to do me the courtesy of letting me know that, rather than just driving myself crazy wondering what's happening and bending everyone else's ear about it. We ended up going for coffee on Sunday morning and I spent a good two hours listen to him explain in (minute) detail how his life is so stressful and wait for him to finish up this monologue with a 'can we be friends?'. Everytime I thought we'd got to that stage and I could go home to my hangover, he chickened out and changed the subject.
Three cups of coffee, a jug of water and countless attempts by me to get to the point, we still hadn't ended things. That came outside the Tube station for maximum awkwardness. He started another spiel about his tricky life. This one involving his sourdough starter needing daily feeding. Beginning to wish I was also a non sentient life form in a bowl, he finally managed to ask if we could 'go back' to being friends. My hangover and I agreed enthusiastically and left before he started to clarify what he meant. I'd gone from desperately wanting an answer to desperately wanting to get away. In future, I'll be more careful as to what I wish for...