what you can hope to achieve

Stuff in this next post or two is backdated from, like, ages ago, so if any of it was remotely true it wouldn’t  even slightly chafe anymore.

The score was level at two all, one minute into stoppage time at the end of the match.  Manchester City’s hapless centre-back lost the ball in midfield and Gareth Bale was released to attack down the left wing.  Spurs had men over on them.  We could win it here.  As Bale collected the ball and ran, you edged forward on your armchair, alone in your flat.

Could we win it?!  It could change everything.  Turn us into real title contenders.  If we beat Manchester City there could be a great chance of winning the league.  This season Spurs looked so strong but it all felt so transient too; a team at their pinnacle, a good blend of experience and youth, a manager who might easily not be there next season if offered the England job, a sense of now or never about everything.

Bale galloped around the defender and whipped the ball across goal towards Jermain Defoe, who charged hungrily into the middle of the penalty area.

“FINISH!” you wailed at the television screen, sinking theatrically to your knees.  Defoe lunged towards the ball, only managing weak contact with the studs of his boot.  The ball drifted impotently wide of the goal.  Your hands covered your face.

In their next attack Manchester City won a penalty through a player who should have been sent from the pitch for kicking one of our men in the head, twice – for which he was retrospectively punished the following week.  He calmly slotted in the penalty kick.  Manchester City 3, Tottenham Hotspur 2.

Title aspirations all but over.

That afternoon in a crushed beery haze, you exchanged messages with her for the first time.  She looked stunning, well out of your league, as much of a fantasy as Tottenham winning the Premiership.  But the messages snowballed.

Over the course of the following week, correspondence turned to emails, a telephone call and text messages.  This was ridiculous.  She was exceptionally attractive, arrestingly smart, laugh-out-loud funny, beautifully written.  She ruled your thoughts.

She’d seen one image of your face but still continued chatting.  Why?  The attention on her words?  She MUST have had loads of better looking, more successful blokes vying for her attention.  Maybe there was a wealthy, unpleasant married businessman who gave her functional sex and nice shiny things and put her up in hotels but wasn’t all that interested in her.  Maybe she had loads of blokes she played off against each other.

Who knew?

– Stop thinking about her anyway.  Don’t do this again.  She’s just one female, remember.  Nothing to get all sappy over.. Just one female.

..who is, you know, actually a really fucking incredible female.

STOP IT, BRAIN!

[It always pales in hindsight, how besotted you become for a period: a few weeks, a few months.  You look back several months to a year or so down the line and ask: can I really have been that fussed? It feels sort of distant now, like I couldn’t have possibly been that headfucked.  Well know this, Future Self: said female properly dominated your brain for a good number of weeks.]

STOP THINKING ABOUT HER!  Think about football instead.

Yes.  Come on, don’t get ahead of yourself.  Rein it in.  Be cool and casual.  Even if you did meet she’d quickly notice that you’re ordinary looking, forgettable, that you have a gaping harrowing bald spot; you’d inevitably leak weird stuff about your perpetual lonerdom and dreary void of ambition; her interest would understandably dwindle.  Then you’d get all moody and depressive for allowing yourself to hope.  You know that’s what happens.  While there’s the mystique of not quite knowing, you’re little more than an idly amusing Tamagotchi.

Whatever you do, try not to hope and try not to care.  Caring is, like.. SO uncool dude.  Nowadays everyone is flippant and casual and frivolous and throws their hands in the air like they just don’t care.  Caring too quickly makes you look desperate and needy and like you’re not still the 26 or 27 year old you hope to appear and imagine you are in your head.  So no, you mustn’t care or be impatient or honest or want everything immediately.

You knew how this worked.  It had all happened before, sort of.  You were building yourself up to fall.  And yet still, STILL you audaciously dared to hope..   You gigantic anus.

Gareth Bale had galloped beyond the defender once more, his left foot primed to whip the ball across the penalty area, as tantalisingly close to exhilarating glory as to agonising defeat.  You were both on the edge of your armchair and Jermain Defoe, charging into the penalty area; about to lunge for the ball in a stadium full of fifty thousand people, ready to sink to your knees alone in your flat, dagger to the heart.

*

Empty glumness is hard to shake off when hope fades, despite self-talking-tos. You told yourself not to do this and you’ve no right to miss something you never had. This is precisely why investing hope is so dangerous, you mug.  It’s possible to grieve for hope, although it feels considerably less respectable, more lame, this undignified permanent sense of embattled disappointment you haul around with you.

It’s involuntary though, which almost makes it excusable. Consciously choosing to invest hope is impossible.  “Yes, I will choose to hope about this thing”.  No.  Hope is more subtle, gradually sliding into you before you find you’re freakishly possessed.

It was worse after meeting and seeing that holy fucking shit yes, she IS that attractive.  Extremely attractive.  GOD you wanted to sleep with her so badly.  So what if you thought with your dick a bit.  What man in that position wouldn’t?  Your admiration extended further than that.

Pangs of bitter regret recurred long after you realised there was nothing doing, her interest had died, the frequency of messages had dwindled, her replies grown shorter, questions apparently outlawed – inquisitive ‘did you’s clipped to rhetorical ‘hope you’s.  After pinning your colours to the mast, brave and unambiguous and punchdrunk, her gently subverted response of I’m Not Really Into You So Leave Me Alone Now appeared clear enough.  Perhaps there was different, newer attention.  Perhaps not.

What had previously been a busy junction of two-way traffic – meaty email marathons, semi-regular texts, quickfire instant message chats – was no longer.  It was a transient confection rapidly scaled down to a one-way street; little returning besides token tumbleweed acknowledgements. With it came a slow dawning realisation that now she sincerely gave not even the faintest of shits.

It was fine.  You got over it then lapsed into gloom, then got over it again and then lapsed again.

You angrily reprimanded yourself: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING OF ANYWAY!?  Someone like her: sure, some layer of pretence but still ostensibly an intimidating preening glamour-puss with expensive tastes and talent and drive. And you, who usually goes to work wearing slippers, doing something just about tolerable, albeit unchallenging and boring?  To entertain the notion of any kind of ‘match’ was tantamount to self-harm.  Although it demonstrated a level of perverse ambition too.

At least you could take comfort in its brevity, the small mercy that it wasn’t a protracted period.  Usually it’s only ever a short matter of time between discovering that Yes, oh no, oh shit, you suddenly hope – Bale galloping; and learning that you are of course once again doomed to fail – Defoe missing.  Hope then slips away once more, like a tidal swell dictated by a sadistic god.

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way to blue

At the end of last year when another ill-fated relationship came to pass, one that had barely even grown serious, I predictably grew miserable then mildly cranky about it.  I checked her Twitterstream too often, beat myself up and generally thought too much about it and her, even while touring around an exciting new city thousands of miles away.

Then I met a new female in said city and the female before rapidly faded. I went home and we began the long distance cyber-relationship, will we / won’t we meet again thing.  Then that faded out too.

Over recent months a new affection developed, originally online.  Again, irritatingly long distance, but not quite as thousands-of-miles-away-unrealistic; merely a few hundred.  Telephone calls became regular, things seemed to be going well.  Reciprocal visits were promised (hers first) but nothing was cemented.  I pressed a little too hard, excited and keen to meet.  But several gently repeated questions about what the issue was, led to her cancelling everything.  Shocked and upset but still patient, I tried to argue against what I perceived to be a rash decision.  Nothing doing.

Perhaps she never really intended to visit. Perhaps she did.  Perhaps there was an element of her just bottling it, or generally getting cold feet.  Or maybe it was all my fault for pushing.  Whichever way, after three months of almost daily communication, the majority of it fun and pleasant, she called a halt to everything and I was crushed.

Another one down the drain then, you idiot.  All that hope invested, despite myself, despite telling myself it was dangerous, don’t do it, don’t hope too much.  And we never even met.   It felt ridiculously, embarrassingly ‘playground’, impossible to translate to less web-inclined friends in the pub.

“Ooh, I hope you used protection, mate!”
“Or at least antivirus.”

These are the times we live in, the straws clutched at by sad lonely guys who live and work alone; guys who don’t often get to the pub with their married or as good as married mates.  Guys who feel slightly too old to play and socialise with a football team of lads in their early to mid-20s.

As ever when you’ve taken an unexpected knock from a female, you try to brush yourself down and say it was their loss.  You must try to convince yourself this is true, for the sake of your ego.  Sigh, grimace, try not to be angry with yourself, breathe, open a beer.  Never mind.  Download another stupid social / dating app to your iPod.  Bound to work this time.

Remembering how a night with an American female helped to dull my aching bitter crankiness about the female before, I considered visiting a female with whom I’d been chatting on the newly downloaded social app thing.  She’d likely be mental too, I reasoned, but sometimes there were virtues in distance; convenience in her being a good few hours’ drive away.  At least she was meetable, without too much planning and strife.

I’m profoundly bored of the internet, instant messaging, telephone calls, the wide and various nodes of virtual reality.  How about plain old simple reality for a change?  That luxury of interpreting facial expressions which aren’t reduced to fucking smileys, the ability to more confidently use sarcasm and irony and say “I’m joking” with a smile; for it to be clear that you’re joking.  Simply having an in-person, physical discussion.  Radical 21st Century ideas.

Playing the long game, being patient and thoughtful and nice?  That doesn’t appear to reward as you might like to think.  Those Guinness ads about good things coming to those who wait?  BULLSHIT.

So fuck it.  Yeah ok, why not?  I’ll come visit you.  It’s a straightforward enough drive, a nice day, I like driving (I’m not doing anything else).  It’s only a few hours (don’t think of the extortionate petrol cost).

She was Hungarian, tired and unhappy.  You probably have to be quite bored and lonely to use those apps and engage with people.  She spoke excellent English but this didn’t mean conversation was always comfortable.  After watching the football in a generally light atmosphere, we ate dinner in a heavier one.  Facing each other, it became clear how miserable she was.  How she wouldn’t help herself.  How insular she was, how unengaged with the world.  All politicians corrupt, all news bad; better not to watch.  An unorthodox job meant she was practically nocturnal, always tired, a ruined bodyclock.  But it apparently paid a better than average wage, which helped to relieve pressures of sending money home to family.  She was the rich daughter living abroad.  She wobbled, momentarily on the edge of tears, I looked down and away.  (Fuck, she was in a worse place than me!)  I suggested things she could do to be active in finding a new job, how she could force herself to be decisive, if she wanted – ignoring my hypocrisy – how it didn’t have to be like this.

The mood recovered, we walked back across to the multi-storey car park in a huge shopping centre.  Mine was the only vehicle left on the roof level, dying rays of a pink sunset casting its warm hue over the city: a beautiful setting for a murder.  Probably a bad idea; too much CCTV.  Instead I kissed her.  She tasted and smelled different.  I noticed it when we first met.  A little like a smoker, although she wasn’t a smoker. So she said.  And it wasn’t that bad.. impossible to put my finger on.  Just… Hungarian?  I drove her home.  She invited me into her studenty terraced house, shared with housemates she barely knew and rarely spoke to.  We went straight to her room.  I stayed.  Nothing more was asked.

*

A thick layer of mist stuck to the terraced street the next morning, joined by a novel October chill, which felt abrupt due to the unseasonal weather.  My car was still where I’d left it, untouched but tightly hemmed in between two other vehicles.   I wriggled it out, navigated through the city’s rush hour traffic and out onto the long A-roads.  The sun punched a bright white, perfectly circular hole into the grey.  Driving through green hillsides, I listened to a new favourite album and watched the sky wash itself back to blue.

the perfect angle

You think you can make compromises for potential short-term gain.  It’ll be easy.  So what if there’s an age-gap of some kind or there’s another obvious cosmetic defect?

You think it’s true.  But your friend, or one good friend, he laughs, says ‘no you can’t,’ shakes his head like he knows you better than you know yourself.  All evidence points to him being right and you being wrong, which is annoying.

You thought you might be right this time.  She had years on you, a good decade in fact.  But so what?  This wasn’t marriage.  Just.. whatever it was.  She seemed smart and had other strong features, notwithstanding the baggage.  You can’t get to her age, be single and not have baggage though.  It’s to be expected and is extremely rare if that’s not the case.

So you met.  She entered the coffee shop and you saw her and immediately shrunk.  You wanted to recoil back into your shell and not come out until she’d gone.  This was all wrong..  just, no.  Would you have had this reaction if she was more attractive?  Because you are that shallow, without doubt.  How about if she didn’t have such a dominating brace stapled to her teeth?  Still, you had to be polite and nice and charming and play along for a good hour or more, asking questions, lightly filling in the edges of yourself without giving too much information away in case she was a lunatic.  You liked that she knew next to nothing about you, not even any of your many tragic internet identities.

Yet it still felt wrong and you weren’t at all proud of yourself.  You were embarrassed by yourself, tired and irritated.

You took an early day, went for a wander into town, into a grimy pub, and bought a beer which slid down incredibly well.  Then you texted a friend who was just leaving work and open to the idea of a beer in a sunny beer garden.  You met and went to a better bar where eventually you told him how you’d spent your day and he laughed.  ‘You’re pickier than you think!’  You shrugged, and laughed too.  It was ok now beer and a mate were here to rationalise.

After a couple of beers he was harried home for dinner and you parted.  On returning to your flat with beer you grazed social networks to see a female fancy had gone on a successful first date.  It made you sad because you liked her a lot, although you knew you couldn’t put your lives on hold for the memory of one night, when now a few thousand miles separated you.

You drunkenly pondered other opportunities in the last week or two, times when you could have gambled and risked embarrassment, but who knows?

Champagne-at-dawn girl who was surely too posh for you?  Or not.  Was she expecting a move you didn’t make because you were slightly intimidated and rather drunk?

The Italian postgraduate student in the gym jacuzzi who talked your ears off.  Boyfriend in New York but so what?  (As a terminal singleton, it’s possible to respect the relationships of others too much, particularly if signs point in the other direction.  You have responsibilities to yourself too).  You couldn’t help feeling that one of her own kind, an Italian or Frenchman would have made more of a smooth, cocksure play: coffee or something.

The blonde you mocked in a bar for being so cross that there were only three files in the S Drive.  It was irresistible after overhearing her conversation.  She burst into embarrassed giggles.  As much as you played with it in your head, you only had the nerve to use the line as they were leaving the pub; not while they were still sitting opposite you, firmly ensconced in girly conversation and a bottle of wine.

In real-world situations you should be more daring, not in the safe-haven of the multi-layered and often duplicitous sodding internet.  If you really are clinically unable to compromise on the short-term, learn to take a risk or two.  But that’s easier said than done.  Like watching a football team which plays a neat passing game but never takes a shot because they can’t find the perfect angle.

issues

“Mate, I’m going to go,” a friend told me in the late night suburban bar.  Our Royal Wedding party, which had begun in a beer garden and passed through an Indian restaurant before ending in the late bar, had dwindled to two.  But I’d just begun chatting with a young female who seemed strangely interested in me.

“Ok, no problem.  See you later.”  And with that he left me.

Not willing to engage with my challenge of the long walk back across town, or getting a cab, I stayed there speaking to the female, whose name I instantly forgot, and her friends.  They were all in their mid-twenties, a handful of years younger.  She told me how they were mourning the very recent loss of her best friend, a 36 year-old woman, through cancer.  She confessed that it probably hadn’t really sunk in yet and told me how close they were.  I sympathised, thinking that she was cute, without wearing much make-up.  Unlike my date the previous evening, who wasn’t cute without wearing much make-up.  Perhaps, I wondered, my entertainment of a not hugely attractive female might pay strategic dividends and make modestly cute-seeming females appear more attractive?

Whereas the poor date had frustrated me by being so comfortable in her self-admittedly disengaged bubble of Daily Mail and chick-lit, this female was initially interested and interesting.  We spoke about business, what I did, her own connections.  She asked for a card and gave it, together with a small briefing to a group of uninterested friends.

I went to the toilet and decided to go, still none the wiser on her name.  After seeking her out, she asked for a card for herself so she could give me a text.  I obliged, not sure whether or not she would, gave her a kiss on the cheek – despite suspecting that more might have been in the offing (had we not been in such close proximity to her friends, I might have), and left the bar.  The considerable alcohol in my system helped propel me back through the suburb, into town and out the other side.  It also exaggerated my regret at not having her number or even knowing her name.

*

The next morning my mobile chimed with a text from an unknown number.  It was her.  There followed a series of chatty text messages through Saturday and Sunday, when we were both planning to be out in town.  She was interested, still ended all her text messages with Xs, still seemed smart and articulate (no LOLs or bad spelling).  There was hope.

On Sunday evening I went to a barbecue of football team-mates: themselves too in the 24/25 age zone, good guys I’d got on well with during the season.  While not a huge gathering in total, a fun atmosphere was generated and I found myself warming to another female with a similar background, who looked like a younger version of a friend’s wife.

During that stage of the evening, Friday Female was intermittently texting.  She sent a picture I didn’t remember posing for.  It threw me because I didn’t initially remember it, or know where it was taken.  I also have a minor phobia about having my picture taken, believing myself to be one of the least photogenic people on earth.  Was it unorthodox behaviour to send me a picture of myself?  Creepy or fine?  It slowly dawned that it was taken on Friday and she’d cropped herself out.  There had been no Facebook espionage.

After a few hours at the Barbecue, taxis were booked and we made our way into town.  As Barbecue Brunette continued drinking in the bar, she grew distant and uncommunicative.  A friend said not to worry: she gets weird when she’s had a few drinks.   I wasn’t worrying because Friday Female was by then a few bars away and summoning me over in yet more texts.

So I detached myself from the Barbecue group and went.  It was a huge, loud warehouse of a bar with a massive dancefloor where she was dancing with a clutch of guys her age.  There might have been one or two other females, but all I saw were the guys.  Being allergic to most dancefloors and what happens on them, I did what any brave male would do: I took a drink, watched from the side, and tweeted about my situation.  She looked young and carefree and like she was having more fun than I could possibly add to.  She kept pulling up a low slung top, which wasn’t becoming, oblivious to my eyes above.  She looked young (25?), happy, was with friends.  I was now alone, old and wrong.  The situation felt weirdly unorthodox, something not quite right.  I bottled it and left.

My phone rang as I was walking the five minute walk back to my flat.  She’d just left, her friends had gone, where was I?  Could she see me?  I turned around and walked back.  She was wearing a large green hoody donated by one of her male friends who was just a really good friend, honest.  We went to a late bar, I bought drinks – a fizzy water each, we sat down and she told me.

Here’s what she told me.

She was due to be married in three weeks’ time to a 53 year old following a 7 year engagement which began after he’d started grooming her at school, or college.  (SHe might not have used those exact words).  They shared a flat already but lived separate lives.  She felt obliged to go through with the marriage, as if she owed it to him.  This couldn’t be challenged, it was a view cemented in her head.  She had to marry him.

I don’t know exactly what my face did at this news, but I imagine it fell a little.  Initially I was unsure if she was about to piss herself laughing and cry GOT YOU!  Several seconds without further speech suggested that wasn’t going to happen.  Did I believe her?  Was she a spooky fantasist of some kind?  This dramatic news, added to the opening dramatic news of her best friend just dying: how plausible was it?  Did she ‘play’ men like me for creepy twisted kicks?

She said she really liked me and had never done this sort of thing before.  It sounded sincere, but..  I naturally doubt people and when presented with this story, it’s hard not to question.  She curled into me wanting to be hugged and I hugged her.  Lights came on and burly barstaff started asking us to move downstairs or leave.  We walked to a bench in the street.  She kept talking, trying to explain her obligation, trying to convince me it was true, everything she had said was true and she did really like me.  She could have not told me, played me along further, pretended.  In a way that approach would have made more sense for her, if she’d wanted a final fling, a fantasy pretence.  Why tell me this now?

I was grateful that she had told me, presuming it was all true.  But of course she’d sensed my shock, disappointment and general retraction.  I hadn’t immediately run for the hills but I really wanted to.  And yet still she curled into my arms, looked hopeless, cute.  It was then that stupidly, regretfully, I kissed her.

What did you do that for? she asked afterwards.  I was asking myself the same thing.  No answers.  I mumbled something about a goodbye kiss.  She said she wanted to come back to mine.  I pretended not to hear.  Taking it any further could only make matters worse.  Why had I kissed her?  I asked a different recycled question about her friend.  She withdrew a phone to show me a Facebook profile.  Sacred fucking Facebook.  I was reminded of the film, Catfish.  Was she like…?      It was all fucked up and ridiculously complicated and something I wanted nothing to do with.  I’d barely known her 48 hours.  I wanted to be gone now, leave, draw a line under the episode, forget it.

She didn’t.  Declining my offer to walk her to a cab, we parted in opposite directions.  I thought, and hoped, that would be that.  My phone rang on the five minute walk home.  It was her, she was in a cab, she felt sorry, had she hurt me?  It wasn’t hurt as such, just shock and a sense of disappointment.  I closed the conversation as quickly and sensitively as I could.  Two more text messages discovered on getting into bed.  Could we still see each other as friends?  I didn’t reply until morning: I don’t think that would be a good idea, look after yourself.  She tried calling me just as my parents arrived, she sent a text saying she just wanted to explain.  She sent another text gushing about more pictures of us from Friday.

Bunny Boiler?  Innocent fuck-up?  Very sad case?  All of the above?  Either way, every instinct is telling me to activate the ejector seat.  I’m pleased she doesn’t know where I live.

struggling with direction

With a move-in date a few weeks away and notice given on my current flat, now I’m unsure about the move.

I’ve been quite enjoying London in the summer – it feels bigger and more full of chance than in the winter months.  Things like this can happen (I never saw or heard from any of them again).  Added to which – and it could easily be nothing at all, something I’ll feel silly about in a month – but there are two thin shards of recently developed female hope.

One of these was a young lady with whom I reasserted my status as King Fuckwit.  Her bossy friend led us up the road to impatiently wait on the station steps, wanting them to hurry down onto the platform for the last train.   We walked slowly, pausing deliberately, in no stress about potentially missing her last train, talking nonsense about seasoning biscuits.  She clearly didn’t want to go, and was aware that I didn’t live far away.  It only needed a suggestion on my part that we could go… to mine, we could have childishly run away, around a block, out of sight of her friend.  She was drunk, but perhaps not THAT drunk, and totally persuadable.  That is, persuadable for any regular man with a grain of self-belief in matters of being direct.

She had at least served to quell the over-replayed memory of another female from twenty four hours earlier.  It may have even been memories from the previous evening which hamstrung me into fuckwittage.  They did flicker through my brain as we walked up towards the station.

But she was really nice last night … but then, she’s nice here too, but then..

Don’t be an idiot! You have no obligation towards the girl from last night AT ALL.  Just as she doesn’t to you, and probably instantly forgot you.  You’re simply using it as an excuse to be a gutless little twerp here and now, aren’t you?!

Fnerr!  Why is everything so HARD?! I whined in my head.

Because you make it hard, fool.

I sensed the inevitable: that I was about to screw this up and let her make her train without proposing that we run away.  I gave her a card and messages have since been exchanged, but still, the immediate opportunity is difficult not to rue.

The night before had been a blind(ish) date.  I didn’t figure myself to be her usual type (she seemed to be the kind of girl to have ‘types,’ often narrowing her eyes as if comparing me to an imagined other), and although I certainly warmed to her, I suspected she was out of my league.  The evening had ended with the discovery that my laptop and camera had been stolen from my case, irrecoverably denting an amiable, maybe faintly flirtatious atmosphere that had developed.  (She had briefly played with my hair.  Girls don’t usually do that if they’re repulsed by you, right?)   As well as the sickening violation and huge inconvenience of the theft, neither loss was without sentimental attachment: both devices had done some miles with me and contained a considerable amount of personal data.  It was as if somebody had suddenly punched me in the guts and pulled off my penis.

*

Even slender shards of female hope don’t appear too often.  And notwithstanding females, I’ve been newly unsure of the move: wondering if it’s a cowardly retreat to a smaller scale and a place of proportionately reduced opportunity, albeit an improvement in living space.  It’s possible I’ve had too much time to mull it over, what with the previous aborted move.

I could cancel or postpone the move, lose a hundred quid deposit, surprise and annoy a few people, retract my notice here.

A friend asked: if something were to be engineered on the female front, would a brief thing, or a six week to six month dalliance be worth it?  I replied yes.  I’m essentially a sad lonely fool and moving won’t change this.  But it’s most likely immaterial.  It would come as no surprise if both shards fizzled by Friday.