(Because I’ve reached the point in life when impending birthdays mean beware the annual unwanted text from That One) …
It was a couple of years ago, a couple of days into the new year. We went for lunch; the first time we’d met near my home turf. Your body language as you talked about her and your future plans reminded me of the engaged Prince Charles talking about Diana, in that sad interview clip where they’re asked whether they’re in love and he responds: “Whatever love means”. Later on, as you stopped for petrol and dropped me home, you got disproportionately annoyed at me over a trivial misunderstanding, almost as if you were latching onto my flaws to remind yourself you’d made the right choice. This after nearly a year-and-a-half of evasiveness: getting in touch sporadically, trying it on, then shutting down when I mentioned the unmentionable (and on one occasion, having the front to say I was being evasive…). I watched and listened as the man I used to think was one of the kindest and most insightful people I knew displayed probably the most unkind, uninsightful behaviour I’ve ever seen. There was no sense of a renewed love or affection in the way you spoke about her, just an obligation, as though you felt it was somehow your duty to make this work. To quote a line from one of my favourite plays: “Love is not a duty. Duty is for prison warders and torturers.”
Though I don’t know her, I know enough to build up something of a picture of how you first got together: it sounds like the relationship everyone has when they’re young and shy; basically a wholesome friendship with the occasional tentative fiddle you both pretend to be enjoying a bit more than you are. You’d only had one other very difficult relationship before you met her; no-one could blame you for wanting something seemingly safer after that. But I’ve seen what happens when people string one of these situations out for years and it only ever ends one way. You seem to have alternated between ignoring or escaping from the problem and throwing everything at it, and neither seems to have worked. Committing yourself deeper doesn’t strengthen a relationship that was never very strong in the first place – I know at least three people with the divorce papers to prove it.
You once told me you thought that if you were single now, no-one would want you. I fast realised – albeit not quite as fast as I’d have liked – that, despite your encouragement, nothing I said or did was going to make you believe otherwise, so I stopped trying. For what it’s worth, I’m sure plenty of women who haven’t been witness to your aforementioned twattery would be interested in you. But carry on behaving the way you have and indeed, no-one will want you. In fact, no-one with a grain of sense will even like you – especially not your girlfriend when she finds out. I do hope no woman who discovered that her partner’s words about the prospect of spending the next fifty-odd years with her were a resigned: “If I don’t settle down now, I never will” would want to touch that person with a pole ever again.
I don’t know what you’re up to these days – whether you’re engaged, or trying to dodge the subject for as long as possible – but I feel genuinely sorry for her. Whether it’s a mutual relationship of convenience, or she thinks you’re the love of her life, it is not a life I’d wish upon anyone – or upon your children, if you get that far (it’s one thing when mummy and daddy fall out of love, it’s another when they were never in it…). What’s more, I know I’m part of the fallback circle you’re going to call upon whenever it goes wrong, and I don’t want to be. You’ve deleted your social media profiles, but whether you’ve deleted phone numbers, or stopped searching for people online is another matter (it’s generally considered bad form to actually disclose it to those concerned when you’re systematically googling exes – not to you, apparently). I used to think we could stay friends and do the civil annual catchup, but the more time has passed, the less I feel like it. You are the embodiment of the saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I’ve written this a reminder to you and to myself of why I want as little to do with you as possible…. Aaaand cue Aretha, Fiona etc