friendship fades

Building and maintaining friendships is one of the many areas of life in which I have never excelled. I wonder if lots of people feel this, or if are there people with loads of friends, contented that they have aced that side of things.

Throughout pretty much all my twenties I considered myself quite a loner, I lived alone and did stuff alone, holiday, travel, meals, sex, endless cinema trips.

Friends come with success, I suppose. If you are enjoying a heap of it and you have followers and alliances by the bucketload, you are magnetic. You are never stuck for a drinking partner.

I have never considered myself successful. You might try to spin it nicely for me if you are my mum or my wife or someone who likes me, but the truth is I have never been all that successful in anything. In fact, my current bank balances indicate I have never been less successful than right now.

So, in large part due to having few friends, in some part due to feeling like a big fat loser (although I am not overweight, yet; there is at least that) I felt a little burned recently. Yes, poor me. Poor little hypersensitive me. Out with your mini violins, if you will. Thank you.

Friends and people come into and go out of your life over a lifetime. They fade in and out, intersect and drop away like an elaborate red arrows display, from nursery school to the retirement home. You might feel entirely secure that a friendship is made for life, but things can always change: circumstances, priorities, people themselves. Or a more dramatic thing might occur, a falling out. Either way, if you have even one that sticks for the duration, you have done well.

Even then though, that one will probably fade in and out of your life. There might be a spell when you might not see them for a year or two or three; perhaps longer, and you miss them from time to time. You wonder if they miss you, if you crop up on their friend landscape.

Social media today gives us an indication of whether we do crop up or not. If you see them regularly Liking your stuff, it’s like a friendly nod so you think you do. And that’s enough. If you don’t, you suspect you are not on their radar or they do not give a hoot.

It feels juvenile and silly, being aggrieved that someone you thought was once a firm friend does not Like or engage with any of your stuff, ever, over months and years, someone you know who follows you – although you are aware they follow hundreds or thousands of other people too, but they regularly likes all the inane shit your mutual friend posts. But they never like YOUR shit and frankly this feels unfair and you want to cry to the teacher about it.

Pathetically, this is a specific case for me. He originally reached out to me on social media several years ago when I was in a very different place in my life, largely alone and miserable in London. We met for pints with his work colleagues in Soho. It was kind of unorthodox so I was initially nervous but that quickly smoothed out with the beer. I was touched and sincerely grateful someone gave a shit about me. On top of which, this guy was electric company: witty and smart and unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He introduced me to other witty and smart people, some of whom I still have a connection with. I moved away from London but kept meeting him and his friends (he was almost always with other friends and colleagues) on business trips back, until those trips became less frequent and fizzled out completely.

We had a sort of double date in my city a few years ago, while he was with someone local to my area. I had great fun and think my now wife was appropriately charmed too.  Then I questionably attended one of his joint birthday parties in London, but it ultimately felt slightly weird of me to have made such effort.

I hadn’t seen him for around two years until last weekend. In the intervening time we’d both got married in similarly small scale functions. This was despite him and another friend trying to dissuade me from marrying the last time we’d met – due to a ranty post here about how much she was annoying me. (This place is an outlet for many frustrations, not all of them rational. I deleted that post). We hadn’t been to each other’s weddings and that was totally cool. We had drifted and in no way could you say we were close friends.

But I still genuinely valued the connection and really liked the guy. I wanted him to acknowledge me and like my stuff. So when I saw he was coming to my city for a mass cycling event I suggested we meet up. After a while I prepared for the idea he would not reply, that he could not really be bothered, I did not figure on his busy friendship radar, maybe I would get some excuse in a few days.

Before too long though, I did get a reply and we met in a pub. My wife dropped me off and I walked down to the pub, not knowing if he was going to be with a large group of beer-guzzling young things in their mid-20s. He has a decent Twitter following and strong seeming engagement. It didn’t seem wildly unlikely. Thankfully he was only with one other, a nice, comparatively mellow sort of guy I’d met once or twice in Soho.

This meeting was fine but with an inescapable whisp of awkward. I felt that I had imposed this meeting when he couldn’t really be bothered on a hot day after a long bike ride, and perhaps he couldn’t really be bothered regardless. Not having that social energy was totally understandable.  There was also the fact that I knew much more of his life than he knew (or maybe cared) of mine.
“When are you moving?!” he asked / demanded in his characteristically urgent manner, keen to show an interest, as he always is.
“Erm, I moved about a year ago and I’m a bit upset you clearly pay so little attention to my life,” I said, half joking but not really joking.

He’s a difficult to pin down enigma with an infuriating email technique of only ever asking questions, never answering them, when he does actually reply. He discloses little about himself, to me at least, although there’s clearly a lot to him, a lot to know.  He builds an impenetrable wall of charming bravado and hides behind it.

After two leisurely pints with them, they wheeled their bikes through the pub and out onto the street. There was apparently no question of meeting up again later in the evening, after they had returned to their digs and freshened up. Me and him hugged and waved half-hearted see-yous, I warmly shook the other guy’s hand. We turned in opposite directions and I wasn’t sure we’d see ever each other again. What he really thought of me and our friendship was impossible to tell.

Our meeting left me saddened and contemplative of friendships and friendship as a thing; how firm they can seem in isolated moments or a series of isolated moments, how those shared experiences can bind you, how it can all easily unstick and unravel, how there are always two different sides and they can be extremely different, how transient and ephemeral they all are in the long run.

the strength to reproduce

Becoming puppy parents has brought a keener focus on the idea of being human parents.

Over recent weeks we’ve adapted and realised what it is to be a parent of sorts, to have responsibilities, to have a cute little dependant, to no longer be quite so free.

It’s hard not to apply this to thoughts about children. But still we waver indecisively.

Are we capable? Are we strong enough?  Both of us: physically, mentally, financially. Are we selfless enough?  Being child-free until your mid-thirties means you’re comfortable having time, hobbies, relative freedom, being selfish.

Time imposition

I resent the amount of time it takes to do laundry. The monotonous drudgery of sifting clothes, washing, hanging stuff up to dry and putting stuff away: it takes so long it makes me angry. I suspect more advanced civilisations exist where they push material through some kind of tube and it is done in seconds, like a car wash.

Time dedicated to laundry at this point in life would pale in comparison to the amount of time and gargantuan imposition a small human being would bring. (And the added laundry load doesn’t bear contemplating). Would we want our lives changed so drastically forever?

Puppies have immediate rewards in cuteness and plain undiluted joy. As well as a lack of major additional laundry. (Old towels is about it). For all the hard work of training and cleaning up piss and shit and vomit, there is obvious pleasure to be had from early on. They also sleep for a good amount of time, letting you do other things. It is not relentless.

Is this really the case with those alien baby things? No.

[Read: Sorry Sperm]

Health

Of course we might not be able to have children anyway. We’ve never tried. There could be all sorts of health complications. I might not be spunky enough after angrily frittering away my most potent stock over the course of my lonely twenties. She has a number of health complications meaning she takes regular medication. Neither of us are ‘young young’. There are no guarantees.

I also have concerns about her, for which I feel guilty but cannot escape. Is she physically and mentally strong enough for all that? She is easily drained on both counts, quickly fearful of any potential health issues. This is perhaps understandable given the early loss of both her parents. Would motherhood summon a total neurotic meltdown, a tsunami of postnatal depression? Do I deep down believe she is strong enough? A brutally hard and maybe impossible question to answer.

If we did it, would I feel greater financial pressure? Already I feel painfully inadequate about my puny earning power. I am impelled to constantly buy equipment in order to keep up and advance professionally. Whether I actually do or am is a moot point. But this doesn’t help. Even so, we get by ok month to month. We don’t really go without, except holidays and socialising. That doesn’t really happen, partly because we have few friends. But if she’s off work and I’m stumbling along with my few hundred quid here and there way of earning, would that be enough to comfortably support a family? Possibly possible, but not comfortable either financially or mentally.

Feeling even more inadequate and insecure about my earning will help nothing and nobody.  Could I do anything else?  Could I actually get a different job earning a more respectable wage? And if I did would I be totally miserable?

[Read: Pondering Parenthood]

If we don’t

It’s ok if we don’t, of course. That’s the liberated twenty-first century view. You can do what you want. You don’t have to make excuses to anyone and there are plenty of solid rational reasons not to. The biggest fear is probably what older versions of yourself will think. Will 40, 50 or 60 year-old versions of ourselves be wracked with painful regret about a life unlived, or unfair resentment of each other?

Or can you coach yourself into being philosophical about it all? Spend time with nieces and nephews, try and volunteer doing something with young people, without implicating yourself as a pervert.

Even then, will we have enough to keep ourselves occupied? Will there be a gaping hole that can’t be filled which ultimately separates us?  There are far too many unanswerable questions in all this. You can’t ever know, one way or the other. You can overthink it until your head hurts a lot.

Scary clocks are ticking, not yet with major serious urgency, but they are ticking nonetheless.

unwelcome guests

Nobody likes feeling comprehensively disparaged.

My wife and I, together with her sister and her sister’s husband visited extended family across the other side of the UK. We drove to her sister’s, roughly half way, and her husband drove us all on the next day.

Her sister, a slightly nervous, shy and inhibited character, has had something of a ‘Daddy complex’ when it comes to partners.This might sound cruel to say, but the facts bear it out. At around 38, she has never been single her whole adult life, and has always been with a man at least 10 to 15 years older than her, sometimes having affairs to get to the next one. Her husband of several years, with whom she appears utterly besotted, is in his early 50s, Scottish, a curious combination of laid back, mellow, yet militarily stiff and a bit boring. Let’s call him Gerald.

I cannot really comprehend the amount Gerald has seen and experienced in active service across countless countries. Equally, he has little sense of my work or myself. All told, we don’t have much in common at all. He didn’t attend our wedding a few months ago as he was working overseas. We were told that he was gutted to miss it, or words to that effect, but on viewing the photobooks of our wedding and honeymoon, Gerald passed no comments, asked no questions. My hunch is that he didn’t give a fig, or haggis.

I ask plenty of questions, particularly when I don’t know much about something. Partly because it’s polite to pay an interest, partly because I am genuinely curious. They have passed comment on that in my absence once or twice, according to my wife. ‘He asks a lot of questions, doesn’t he?’

In the world of grown-ups it often seems like there are people to whom a lack of knowledge is an affront or a threat, and there are those to whom it is a chance to learn. It could also be the case (and almost certainly was) that Gerald was entirely uninterested in us silly young people who can offer him nothing. But he asks no questions.

On arrival at their house we were not made to feel all that welcome, comfortable or even expected. Given that neither of them ask many questions, it was up to us to do the conversational running. They do not appear natural or regular hosts. We did nothing much from our arrival at around 2pm to going to bed after watching Sherlock at 10.30pm (our choice). We sat on the sofa and watched television. Granted, the weather was foul and did not encourage excursions, but even so, it was extremely boring.

One of his, and by proxy his wife’s, favourite sayings is “it is what it is”. It’s used to conclude and dismiss conversation of virtually everything; a lazy, slightly banal way of excusing yourself from discussing or analysing anything. We all have favourite expressions, and I guess I can see its utility in allowing you to let something go and move on, but when overused it gets quite exhausting. Oh, the holocaust? You know, it is what it is. Terrorism, the middle east? It is what it is. The meaning of life?

The following day we visited the aunts of my wife and her sister. He drove the few hours down the sodden motorways, clogged with surface water. Gerald appeared sullen and straight-backed at the wheel, casually aggressive towards other drivers at times, less inclined than ever to engage in conversation with us back seat children. Were we imposing on their trip? When we offered petrol money they said, more than once, that ‘they were going anyway’. Oh. So we weren’t then? This wasn’t a nice friendly group trip? We were seemingly just freeloading.

There was no indication of Gerald’s sudden transformation. This was what rocked and stunned us. In this company my big brother in law became some sort of cheeky, charming, jovial chat show host. His old charm guns were out and firing, and hitting the bullseye every time. By contrast, I felt wrong-footed and clunky.

The aunt whose beautiful home we visited for lunch and dinner lived with her husband, 25 years retired. (Think about that one, people who will probably never retire: 25 years retired). He was recovering after various serious, life-threatening surgeries (he had passed around an insightful colostomy publication). Back in the days when he had worked, he had worked making weapons. And he had also served his national service, thereby having a great many subjects to discuss with my brother in law.  Military travel tales were much discussed over a simple lunch of soup and posh bread. Some might say overdiscussed, at considerable length. I had none, and felt mildly subjugated in the covert war on inheritance.

Following lunch we went to check in at a nearby hotel. It had been mooted that we might, all four of us, go on a small exploration of the area. The weather appeared to be clearing up, slivers of blue sky slowly expanding through the grey. We had each found our rooms and my wife and I were exchanging observations of lunch, largely revolving around Gerald’s transformation, when she received a text message from her sister remarking on the blue sky. I suspected she wanted to go out, stretch her legs and get some air, as I did. My wife seemed less fussed, but replied asking if they were going out for a walk. ‘They’ (but Gerald, clearly Gerald) said no, they were just going to chill out for a bit. Gerald clearly fucking hated us.

Dinner was a little better, the conversation more evenly spread. I was determined not to be quietened or cowed, or afraid of being myself. However, it still felt like Gerald held the reins of conversation. Whenever it veered outside his realm of interest or experience (anything not military related) and everyone was chewing over an interesting point for a second, he would seize the moment to realign conversation into a track which suited him better.

I like to think my inner child is sometimes not far from the surface, I like to mess about, occasionally be animated for attempted comic affect. This is unlike my brother in law, or indeed anyone on my wife’s side besides my wife, who can goof around with the best. Their family had a monstrously dominant father who had a good go at nipping that sort of thing in the bud.

The females assembled in the kitchen after dinner, leaving Gerald, the aunt’s husband and I in the lounge. Playing around with the aunt’s young cat, sitting on the floor, I felt mildly judged, a little foolish. But I tried not to care, and didn’t. The first time Gerald and I were left alone, we kept the conversation going. The second time neither of us could be bothered, and I went to the kitchen.

The Chimp Paradox – a widely lauded mind management book of Dr Steve Peters – returned to my consciousness of late. In very simplified summary, it’s based around the emotional element of our brains being ‘chimps’, which can overpower us in certain situations when we feel threatened, causing us to behave in unhelpful ways.

Several years ago I heard of it and him for the first time when he was a guest on Richard Bacon’s Radio Five Live show. I made a note and emailed a link to my Dad, who has suffered from various psychological issues including depression for much of his life. It didn’t really register with him and I said no more about it until several weeks ago. Now more receptive to the theories of others, he downloaded and read the book, and found it helpful. As has my wife, still working her way through the audiobook. I’m half way through the paperback I bought her for Christmas.
This was a weekend when many chimps felt extremely active on all sides. There were unconscious threats, fears, concerns, a great many inhibitions. On the surface we made our way through it all fine, legs kicking furiously underneath, chimps swinging loudly from tree to tree.

One of the most powerful ways to undermine someone is the suggestion that they are unusual, or not normal. This can be what breeds paranoia and neuroses. Maybe military training, or a whole military working life institutionalises you into a certain practical and disciplinarian way of being. It’s perhaps no surprise that Gerald and I entirely miss each other on a number of levels – while remaining civil. Such weekends or meetings are not a regular event, and are unlikely to become more common.

What insulted and left a light scar was his sturdy, casual indifference to us; that he couldn’t, wouldn’t and probably never will summon the basic, regular levels of polite civilian inquisitiveness towards us. But he could switch it on in a headspinning instant for his elders.

her name changed

I saw her last name had changed. I knew she was engaged but had unfollowed her Facebook updates, not wanting to know more. Then her name popped up when I discovered a new tab containing all the mostly annoying people I’d unfollowed on Facebook, but remained friends with. And it had changed. I couldn’t not look at her profile to see a few of the first smartphone images of the wedding. A castle, a beautiful long flowing dress, a proper looking wedding. She looked appropriately starry eyed. Her guy looked solid, sort of dreamery and distant, ‘easygoing’. They took regular, enviable looking hiking holidays to grand mountain ranges. I imagined they both enjoyed solid employment. Several weeks ahead of my own rather more understated affair, I had strange feelings.

This was a girl I took a ridiculously long amount of time to get over. She ruined me, even though our relationship wasn’t all that long, not quite a year at the very start of our twenties. The decision to separate had been mutual, but it appeared to me like I was the more devastated when we met for a polite coffee or something a few months afterwards – the last time we conversed in person. She ruined me for a while, or perhaps I ruined me.

My success with women during the course of my twenties has been likened (by me) to Emile Heskey’s goals per games ratio for England. (I don’t even know the exact figures but I think he scored something like 6 or 7 over about 10 years). And my strike rate probably wasn’t quite that good. Reflecting from now it seems flattering, because you can cluster a handful of different memories, places, nights and women and it seems respectable enough. If we’re talking ‘lad points’ it trumps guys who got together with a girl really young and have stuck faithfully with them ever since. But at the time, living it day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, it’s often boring, occasionally humiliating (with a brother like mine) and harrowingly lonely.

Part of that was because of her, who I kept thinking and occasionally dreaming about. It was far and away the most serious relationship I’d had before or for about ten years afterwards. I loved her and she was pretty into me for a while.

I remember meeting her off a train once and feeling flattered to the point of dizzy that she’d missed me so much. When I visited her childhood home at her parents’ house in one of the prettiest little fishing towns in Cornwall, we had a moment that I remember thinking was near perfect. I remember thinking ‘wow, this is incredible, I’ll remember this’ and I have remembered it.  We’d gone for drinks at a traditional oaky old fishermen’s pub in the town and seen some live music, before walking back up a steep hill to her Mum and Dad’s place, which overlooked the ocean. We had to sleep in separate beds. Her mother spoke at a frightening pace, barely needing me to say anything to keep the conversation flowing. Her parents’ powerful love for her, their only child after some major medical struggles, was overwhelmingly apparent. Nearly at her front door, we turned and looked out across the town and harbour. The full moon reflected off the sea and I held her tight, articulated my pleasantly drunk affection, which I’m not sure was quite reciprocated. Something faltering.

I’ve glimpsed her in town once or twice since returning to this city five years ago, and just a few weeks back we found ourselves in the same room at a business event. About thirty of us watched a posh guy in a suit give a talk, after which I downed some orange juice and bolted away, missing the breakfast, half bottling a potential conversation. We’d glanced shyly across the room at each other but not fully acknowledged each other’s presence. Only an hour or so afterwards she casually posted to my Facebook wall that she was about to come and say hello, but I’d gone. Wall posting! She was always a little behind on social media, never discoverable on Twitter or LinkedIn, despite having roughly the same communications job at the same employer for well over ten years.

related to death

My experience of death remains mercifully slight up to now, the most profound being the death of a dog with whom I had grown up from the age of 6 weeks to 12 years.

My girlfriend’s experience of death is rather more profound. She had lost both her mother and her father before she was 29. They died a handful of years apart, her mother a few before her father, both after long illnesses.

A year ago the boyfriend of a good friend of hers died in a slightly mysterious car crash, aged 24. They were friends too, she says, outside of her girl friend. How close were they really? I’ll never know, but I would wager with some confidence that they weren’t that close. Perhaps they all went out and got drunk together a bunch of times, likely no more than a small bunch. And she visited the couple’s home from time to time.

Nonetheless, yesterday, on the anniversary of his death, she felt compelled to take the day off work and visit him at a crematorium with her friend. Not his former girlfriend – she didn’t want to go – but with another mutual friend.

My fear is that she involuntarily romanticises death, feels a duty towards death itself. She can be a whispy, drifty, daydreamy character: easily distracted, struggles to focus and self-discipline. This sort of thing doesn’t help.

Of course the first anniversary of a friend’s death deserves pause for thought, remembrance. But this week she confessed to being more distant because she is thinking about this guy, her memories of him and also the memories of her grief and shock, the drama associated with learning about his death. It was awful, yes.  But to ponder it to this extent seems to me theatrical, dramatised, romanticised, indulgent, difficult.

Why? I struggle to empathise, am left bewildered, confused, frustrated.

Why not concentrate instead on the living, on life?  Don’t get drawn off into this ethereal hinterland. Maybe instigate an interaction with me from time to time, instead of letting me do it all the time.

For various reasons we’ve been almost a week apart now – which is some time for us.  And we’re not great at communicating over distance.

The other night I dreamt about cheating on her – which felt great and good at the time (possibly because the fictional other girl was blonde and more attractive and seemed to *get* me more instinctively and naturally; and because I am a bad, shallow individual).  It felt good despite a concurrent fear and guilt; then I dreamt about confessing to her and it was emotional and terrible. When I woke i felt disgusted and sad.

Apart, I feel we always drift a little, which scares me.  Although she doesn’t feel it and says I overanalyse.  Perhaps we should both prioritise moving on together, finding that equidistant place halfway along the motorway between us.

competitive nature

Mum wasn’t home during the week when I called, so I spoke to Dad for a little longer than normal.  I told him how my lower back had spasmed, like it now does every 15 months or so, causing acute pain.  In a style more regularly adopted by Mum, he took this as a cue to talk about his back problems – which he does nothing to help by continuing to run what to me seem like still pretty long distances for a guy in his mid-sixties.

A neighbour who is also a doctor not long ago stopped him in the road and severely reprimanded him for his selfishness, how it will impose on my Mum in the long term, how he basically does not look healthy and upright when he runs.  He looks ill.  She didn’t even know him or us very well, but it was all true.  It was a wake-up call he accepted he needed, but still he runs – now just slightly shorter distances.  No more half marathons.

He has to weigh it up against his mental health, he says.  Because not being able to run would affect that.  A recent convert of cognitive behavioural therapy, he had a few sessions and now believes himself cured of irrationally intense mood-swings, more able to handle his depression – for which he has taken medication for many years.  Therefore he runs for his mental health, and because he enjoys the company and camaraderie of his running clubs.  And to hell with his slowly crumbling spine.

I didn’t speak much of my own acute pain and how I’m a little hacked off to know I’ll probably have to suffer it for several weeks a year, and I’m half a lifetime younger than him.  He didn’t seem all that interested.  But he never seems all that interested in me, which still hurts a little.

Later on in the week my girlfriend changed her profile picture on her Facebook account.  My Dad was quick to click a Like.  This irked me because my Dad never ‘Likes’ anything I do on Facebook, and I do a lot on Facebook – mostly to promote a business interest.  While I realise it’s a relatively banal thing to be annoyed about, the irritation hung about and I began unpacking and possibly over-thinking it.

Dad had a terrible relationship with his father.  His old man was a bit of a depressive lunatic so he left home as soon as possible, aged 15.  An only child, my Dad is not a natural with kids – although my brother, who has a couple, says he is improving.

Growing up, my older brother had what appeared to be in-built self-belief.  He knew he was great and smarter than the rest of the kids and would succeed.  My parents’ only other kid, a couple of years younger, I didn’t.  I never felt encouraged, particularly by my Dad – which I think is a key job of a dad, I never had much belief.

Seeing my Dad like my girlfriend’s photo, knowing he encourages and supports other people in his running club, remembering his utter disinterest about my back pain, I think: what about me, Dad?

Maybe it comes down to his early conditioning that the father-son relationship is built on one-upmanship and competition.  But I don’t want to compete with him. I’m not great at competition.  I want him to be on my side, dammit.  He’s my Dad.  I want us to be mates.  I want him to back me, recognise me, endorse me, be proud of me, or at the very least pay some genuine fucking interest.  Not fall into the introspective world of self-interest which marks many a depressive.  I know he doesn’t live exclusively in that place because he’s more than happy to support others.

Would I ever talk to him about it?  My girlfriend asked this when I expressed this frustration.  I don’t know if there would be any point.  Is he really able to change?  It’s probably an unconscious thing.  Maybe he does envy me in a quite basic way – although fuck knows what I really have to envy.  Would it more likely cause upset and unrest at this stage of life, when it’s something that, perhaps at 32, I should just accept?

glow in the dark

“If you don’t want to read that book, then don’t read it.”

She shrugs, ignores him.  He sees the glow of her smartphone screen out of the corner of his eye.  Beyond the foreground of his own book, the glow locks itself into his peripheral vision.

On her bedside sits a neglected book, the one on loan from his father which he suspects she is still courting through obligation – although she denies it.  It is a slim book about a special running technique, with a good number of diagrams.  Not a book you’d think would take you a long time to read, or browse, or skim through and draw out the main points.  And yet she is taking a long time with it, as she takes a painfully long time with almost everything.   With her there is always faffing and fluster.

Now she would rather swipe through infinite BBC News stories on her smartphone than pick up the book.  To him, this suggests she is not enjoying the book.  Why pick it up from her suitcase and put it there, on the bedside, to suggest she’ll read it, when she knows she won’t.  Why won’t she just give it up?  Why do so many people insist on reading books they are not enjoying?  Why is it a failing of the reader to give up on a book, rather than a failing of the writer?  To not see a book through is so ridiculously often considered criminal.  There are lots of books out there.

She flicks back and forth through news stories he is sure she has already looked at, perhaps more than once, that red and white BBC banner permanently at the top of the screen.  It’s annoying.  She’s annoying; how she appears wilfully absent, dreamy and whispy and happy to drift, brain disengaged.

They have so much to do in striving towards permanent cohabitation, so much to get on with if they are to end this ‘one night here, two nights there,’ back and forth rigmarole.  He suspects she does little to progress the monster of clearing her family home, certainly not without persistent encouragement, support, direction, suggestions.  He doesn’t at all want to do gardening, clean stuff out, do heavy lifting.  (Burning stuff was fun though, he’ll concede that one).  He feels he has no choice but to do this stuff if they are to progress, move on.  It simply won’t get done otherwise.  Things will just drift on, as they have done, as they do.  She forgets.

She forgets a lot of things, or fails to remember.  It’s a subtle difference wrapped up in her frustrating, if forgivable dizziness.  He’d like her to pay a more studied interest, actively remember to look at his stuff without having to be reminded five, six, seven times; a number of things he writes because he wants to share them with her, as well as the internet where it’s much tougher to get any kind of response.  He wants her to remember things in his calendar as well as hers, form more opinions, have greater confidence, edit herself better when speaking, get to the fucking point quicker.

He’d like a lot.  Probably too much.

Instead she recedes into these hermit-like states, these BBC News story swiping comas, Big Bang Theory stupours, American sitcom dazes.  There she finds comfort and escapism from all the stuff.  There she forgets, and fails to remember.

Her tragic family history makes this entirely explicable.  He is overly critical of her, he scalds himself.  Too harsh.  She’s saved you from yourself too, he reminds himself, been supportive of your stuff.  She loves you, for some reason.  Give her a break.

Five more minutes elapse.

It almost wouldn’t be so bad if it she was browsing Twitter or Facebook or somewhere she was interacting with others – although her updates are largely bland and devoid of imagination or wit.  They would have never come together online.  He would have thought her boring.  But surely it’s preferable to get along with somebody in real life, rather than online?  And this they do, by and large.

He’s growing distant from those online platforms now, Facebook and Twitter – the latter a place he was particularly dependent on for social contact, when single and alone for so long.  This is in part due to her company, but also because he finds it harder than ever to be engaged by anyone or anything online.  So much chaff these days.  So much complete bullshit.  Such frustrating lack of any meritocracy.  Obvious idiots with billions of followers.  Virtual religions built out of pre-pubescent ‘icons’.  All the way down the scale: wildly successful and yet bafflingly stupid businessmen, privileged MPs, dim footballers, social media consultant drones with thousands of disciples.

He’d struggled to develop more than a few hundred on any platform, always battled to engage despite occasional mini victories.  She had saved him from caring too much about it all, from angsting about the lack of interactions, low connections with the outside world.  He does still stress about it in a business sense, but a lack of interaction doesn’t shape his self-esteem in quite the way it once did.

He glances back to her smartphone screen.

“Haven’t you read all the stories on there yet?”

“What?”

“I’m sure you’ve probably read some of them a few times over now.”

“God.  I can’t do anything right, can I?”

She puts her phone down on the book, slumps down into the bed and turns away from him.  He can’t remember what the other thing he’d recently said was.  It was about the book and how she shouldn’t carry on with it, but he can’t remember.  He knows there was something, and that he’s been too harsh on her lately, been poor at containing his frustrations.  Stop being a dick, he tells himself.  She’ll curl back into him soon enough, when he puts the light out.  They do fit together pretty snugly.

At least he can read for a while now, unbothered, that glow gone.

not pulling

Between the largely repressed ages of 18 to 30 I now realise that I did not believe girls really danced on public dancefloors with their girl friends for fun.  Fun?! Really?  Yeah, right.  Who would put themselves through that ordeal for fun, with no ulterior motive?  Dancing, blinding lights, sticky dancefloors, gurning DJ wankers, mostly shit, deafening music, having to shout exhaustingly loudly to have conversations.

No way.  Women were there for men.  To pull men.  Probably.  Not for me, of course, not ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

In the unlikely case this wasn’t true, then they probably either had a boyfriend and were playing wing-woman for their single friend, or they had a big crush on someone else to whom their naïve heart was utterly devoted.  Or, and I often thought this was the most reasonable explanation; they had been placed there by God with the sole purpose of taunting my pallid undersexed miserable self.

But my girlfriend apparently did not go out with her girl friends to pull men.  Apparently not even when she was 18, with 18-year old boobs not requiring support, tanned, trim, single and on holiday with mates in Ibiza.  She went out to have a good time and a dance with her friends.  She was dumbly oblivious and uncaring about the hungry gaze of desperate men (like me).  This happened throughout her early 20s.  Finding men was simply not a priority.

It’s a truth I’m embarrassed to find hard to comprehend.  I now realise I did not sincerely believe in such a mentality.

She even balked accusingly at me when I casually used the word the other week, as if pulling was a crass, distasteful notion.  I did not think she was this posh.

(She is not this posh).

pondering parenthood

Long term goals and lifestyle pondering (as in the last post) have made me consider bigger, serious, scary life things. I’m talking.. I don’t know why but I am talking parenthood. And whether I ever want to be a father. Whether I would regret it if I never was, and how much.

It’s largely arisen as a result of growing more comfortable in a relationship. She has stacks of issues, her internet presence is far from compelling and she annoys the living crap out of me at fairly regular intervals (getting out of bed and leaving the building remain painfully slow processes and I generally do *a lot* of waiting around because everything takes her so long.  Sometimes I exercise superhuman levels of patience, particularly for a not very patient person, and still she moodily considers me impatient and unreasonable and I don’t know what to do other than dissolve into a puddle of hopelessness). But despite all this, yes, I love the girl. I want to live with her. I’ll be 33 this year. She’s only a couple of years younger, uncertain what she wants but pretty great with my niece and nephew, now 3 and 6 and less exclusively like vessels of human excrement.  More like actual small people with developing personalities.

On the one hand my brother’s nauseatingly soppy, overbearing, pandering parenthood style puts me off. But I know it doesn’t have to be like that; it’s just his way. There’s also the exhaustion and the sheer effort and the sleep deprivation and the massive imposition on every single aspect of your life. I like having time to do stuff I like doing. I’m not sure how I’d feel about having to give most of it up for some wailing little emperor who dribbles and snots and shits his pants every few minutes. Fuck the little bastard.  There’s also the whole conception, gestation, birth, early life stuff – all of which can have complications and be immensely difficult.

On the other hand though, I read books and see films (recently Ewan McGregor in tsunami emotion-fest The Impossible), and admire cute families in the street and can’t help wondering what that kind of love must be like, that type of kinship and bond and friendship and closeness. To be *that* important to someone, hopefully for the rest of your life, even afterwards.  To have someone be *that* important to you. It’s unfathomable. Would I be ok dying, likely an underachiever together with an underwhelming highlights reel, with it still being unfathomable? Or do I want one day to fathom it?

It’s commonly the only single thing people are proud of doing, their kids.  Often stupid people who appear on daytime television chat shows and genuinely haven’t done much with their lives, but then neither have I.  And another life is pretty undeniably something significant.

This guff also arises in the face of a current on-going malaise, a tide of futility (trying to pinpoint noteworthy achievements on CVs and job applications is gallingly difficult); a defence against yet more professional patronising and rejection; a lack of any progress in an area where I’d deeply love to make progress; indulgent, possibly immature bleating about unfairness; and  a lingering fog where nothing seems particularly meaningful or important.  Except feeling.

filed away

He returned to the bedroom to find that she’d lit a few candles. She’d also opened the window, introducing fresh air and the sound of soft rain which had fallen relentlessly all day. Beneath the duvet he could see her bare shoulders.

Everything had been sexified while he was brushing his teeth. That was fine, nice, good. They were, after all, consenting adults only several months into a relationship.

But he couldn’t stop that whispering thought from nagging at him.

“You’re naked!” he exclaimed, pushing the thought aside. She giggled. He got in bed and they kissed. Still it nagged away. He took off his pair of garments and tried to forget it.  But couldn’t.

Things intensified and grew. Rain fell outside, pittering and pattering in gentle wave after gentle wave. He had heard that this stubborn weather front had come all the way from the tropics. The candles flickered. It seemed she was lost in him, in this moment.

He couldn’t let it go on like this. It really was very annoying.

“Neat filing at the top of the stairs”, he said, breaking away from a kiss.

“What?”

“That folder and those papers. Just dumped at the top of the stairs like that.”

“That’s what you’re thinking about? Really?”

“Just seems quite lazy to leave it there.”

She put her t-shirt back on.

“Sorry but I,” he said, unsure how to finish the sentence.