When I separated from my children’s mother and left the family home in June 2011, several well-meaning friends suggested I could now live ‘the single life’ because I was now a ‘single man’. This phrase – single man – still has the ability to irritate me. I have always been a single man, I would tell them.
There has only ever been one of me.
I took a strange enjoyment from the look of confusion and mild-hurt which usually followed. The idea of rejecting a simple attempt at a kindness from a friend has, more than once, made me wonder whether I might be insane. Another occasion of this ‘kindness rejection’ happened recently.
I had been seeing a woman for some weeks when she (on March 20th, to be precise) cancelled our relationship for reasons which are still unclear to me. I was telling a friend about it at work, and the brief conversation ended like this:
‘Well, it’s her loss, Johnny,’ Yvonne said.
‘I think you’ll find it’s my loss, Yvonne. Not hers.’
‘Well, yeah – I know what you mean, like – but it’s her loss too.’
‘She hasn’t lost anything, she’s gained something. She’s gained the thing she wanted – a life without me in it.’
The look of confusion at my rejection of her kindness crept over Yvonne’s expression. In about two or three seconds, I guessed, confusion would be followed by mild hurt. It was then I realised I didn’t want her to feel that hurt because I have too much affection for her.
‘I’m just trying to…’
‘I know you are,’ I said, cutting in quickly, ‘and thank you. But logic wins every time.’
Indeed it does.
(I once was asked to read an account of a funeral procession, written by a person in the crowd. This account was said to be a ‘moving account’ and a ‘heartfelt piece’ and so on. I remember the first words of this account of the soldier’s funeral:
“Silence descended as a bell tolled…”
That was as far as I got.
If a bell is clanging, I wondered, what sort of bloody silence is that? Like I said, I have questioned my sanity more than once.)
And never more so than on the evening when I – and another ‘single man’ – walked into the sealed-off function room of a waterfront wine-bar in central Bristol, for a ‘singles night.’
I have been brought up to believe that cutting one’s own throat in despair is not to be done in public. So I knew I would have to endure several hours of utterly absurd, contrived, false conversation; where the best opening line – ‘hiya, what’s your name?’ – couldn’t be used because the women who had ‘organised’ this exercise in humiliation had given us all little white stickers with our names written on them. Adam – the fellow who had sold the idea to me the day before at work – seemed oblivious to my pain, and was looking to become (his words) ‘knee-deep in clunge.’
The problem with ‘singles nights’ is obvious – at least to me. There are actually two problems. First, there is nothing on offer at a ‘singles night’ that isn’t on offer on a normal night out (If that is not true, then why do persons have affairs?) and second, personal relationships could be described as an upside down pyramid. In other words, a relationship needs to start somewhere in order to branch-out and widen later on. What is that ‘singularity for singles’ which moves them from one state into a relationship?
It is sex. I mean to say, how many persons start a relationship because of a shared love of flower-arranging or a mutual respect for Nelson Mandela? When you build a house you don’t start with the roof.
Personal relationships start with sex, so it would be less contrived, and therefore more honest, if the organisers of these events lined all the men up in a smart row, lined all the women up opposite them, and collated who would be prepared to have sex with who, and then the conversations could start. The setting for this travesty didn’t help, either.
The wine bar was the epitome of the over-priced, city-centre social scene: neon and chrome along with bare-wood floors and leather sofas; with a cold, technical – almost laboratory-like feel to the place which did nothing to draw-out the correct mood, based on personal warmth and closeness, which is required for me to relax.
In short, just after arrival, I hated it. Could things get any worse, I wondered? I thought probably not, and that allows for a certain relaxation, actually. Then things got worse.
I was stood in a loose-group, just listening to conversations and dropping in the odd word here, the odd line there, though paying attention to the door which I could see out of the corner of my eye, wondering who might be coming in next. I noticed a group come in and walk over to us, on the way across the room to find a corner of their own. I turned to have a look and was face to face with my mother.
Now, what were the odds of that? She offered a quick ‘hello’ and told me the names of the two women she was with. (She needn’t have bothered, I could read their names on the white sticker-labels.)
That did it for me. I now had lots of question from my little group asking if it was true, was my mother really here as well? Yep, I confirmed, it was certainly true. Lots of jolly, cocktail party laughter ensued. Marvellous, darling.
Adam saved me and introduced me to a woman he’d met at the previous week’s ‘speed dating’ event – a French lady, multi-lingual, who worked as an interpreter and would have been extremely interesting to talk to, but she was monopolised by Adam (who probably wanted her sodomised, not monopolised) and decided to have a conversation with Tanya – a nurse, Jewish and half Greek – who was stimulating company and extremely pleasant. She began by telling me what my name in Greek was and how to pronounce it, and I got her a drink and we moved to a sofa for a conversation which involved the degree she holds, the degree I’m studying for, the compromise of relationships, the tranquillity of solitude, God, The Cosmological Argument, demons in fiction, Kant, how an atom’s volume means solid matter is mostly empty space, and then her mate, Debbie, asked to join our conversation because the one she just left was about ‘dogging’ and ‘fingers up arses.’ It was good to know there was a healthy mix of topics up for discussion if the philosophy and science ran dry.
I had to question why I had agreed to go to a function which every fizzing atom in my body told me to avoid; though it was, perhaps, worth it for the realisation that wanting to be wanted is a different proposition from wanting a relationship, though the difference doesn’t make the realisation any easier to cope with. The proposition affects one in the gut; it acts like a form of shock, solidifying the gut, causing tightness, tension. It’s the moment one realises there forever remains a part of us which needs that skin on skin cuddle which our mothers first gave us. Perhaps wanting to be wanted is rooted in a desire for safety and security? In any case, my mother was sat over in the corner so I should have gone and asked her for one.
As time progressed the numbers thinned out and it became obvious I could drag Adam away without too much complaint. It was arranged that I would sleep on his sofa so it would have been counter-productive to drown him in the harbour. We walked across the city and I have never wanted to be at home, in bed, tucked-up and warm quite so much.
I was once so utterly drunk, vomiting in a toilet cubicle in a bar in Brussels, my vision black and white as the cubicle rapidly span, that I would have given a million pounds to have been transported home at that moment. (That feels pretty awful at any time of the day, but it’s worse somehow at 8:30am.) But the singles night was worse even than that horror; and to spend the night shivering under a rizla-thin sleeping bag, in the coldest flat I’ve ever been in, was not the most agreeable end to an evening’s socialising.
I’ve vowed never to go to another of these events. Adam, however, swears by them and no doubt will be back again in the hope of meeting a lady with whom he can form a meaningful relationship. I’ll stay as I am, a single man. In fact, I’ve always been single.
There has only ever been one of me.