A Saturday afternoon. The kids are mooching about in the Hovel and I am pootling about in the kitchen. It is that null time in the late afternoon, when it is too early for wine but one has had more than enough tea for the day. In days gone by, this would have been when I called the Woman I Love for a chat, or she called me, but ever since I got dumped by her and then, just as it looked as though a reconciliation had been effected and we could return to the status quo ante, I had a moment of insanity and slept with someone else while the WIL's daughter was in the room next door, relations between us have been on the frosty side.
That is to say, the frost has emanated from one direction only and with good reason. My unpardonable (and, indeed, inexplicable) act has resulted in both the old and newfangled terms of rejection: not just complete silence but that modern refinement, the blocking on Facebook, which is so complete that, when the blockee asks Facebook if such a person as the blocker exists, he receives a negative answer.
So be it, I thought. As Snoopy remarks while walking down the railroad tracks, carrying a hobo's bundle over his shoulder after a moment of inattentiveness when he loses Lucy van Pelt's balloon: "You make one mistake and you pay for it the rest of your life."
And one does pay. If being dumped for no reason is bad enough, being dumped for a very good one is much, much worse. Unless one is a Don Juan (pre-Byron) or a de Maistre, scornful of the finer and gentler feelings, the agony of rejection is multiplied, on a logarithmic scale, by the constant awareness of one's own culpability and folly. Nor can one rely on the sympathy of one's friends, except in so far as they realise you are even more handicapped by stupidity than they already thought you were.
Anyway, there I am, getting on with my life, after a fashion, albeit feeling a little emotionally labile, as we have all just watched a double bill of Friends. (The kids have really got into this venerable sitcom and dragged me along with them; except now, having seen just about every episode from the pilot to the finale, I realise that the whole damn series is about the love affair between Ross and Rachel, and the faint similarities between Jennifer Aniston and the WIL don't make the experience of watching it any less agonising.
As for the folly of the phrase "We were on a break!" - that goes through me like a bloody knife.) Then the phone rings, and whose name should pop up on the screen but the WIL's?
So, after I've fumbled with the phone for a bit - it's funny how panic can make a familiar and normally tractable object feel as though it were both red hot and as ungraspable as a live eel - it turns out that she is in town and wonders if it would be OK to come round. This, mind you, after almost exactly six months of complete silence, bar the odd mordant comment on the noticeboard for this column on the NS website.
During the long conversation that ensues upon her arrival, she mentions the case of a Brighton man who, having been caught in flagrante by his girlfriend, agrees to walk through the town holding a sign saying, "I am a cheating c***." The town might not have been Brighton and I may not have the wording on the sign exactly right but that is not the point. I begin to see what she is driving at.
“A public mea culpa is all very well," I say, "but I don't think the readers of the New Statesman will be particularly interested in the intricacies and vagaries of my love life."
“Oh, I think they'll be very interested indeed," she replies. "How could they not be?" (At which point, she goes through the events summarised in the first paragraph of this piece.) "I'd be interested."
“But my mother reads this magazine," I whimper. (This is short for: "Not only does my saintly, grey-haired, outspoken mother read this magazine, but there is no way I can emerge from this without forfeiting the last scraps of compassion my readership may retain for me.")
“Well, then," she says.
And there is the dilemma. On the one hand, I am now going to make myself look very bad. And, unlike with Brighton Cheating Man, with no hope of return. (I presume that was why he agreed to his public parade: you don't walk around like that if you think, "Sod this for a game of soldiers.") No, that was made unambiguously clear, and fair enough. On the other hand, if I cannot salute the bravery, kindness, magnanimity and sheer decency of a woman prepared to make friends with me again after all this, what is the point of being alive, or claiming to be a member of the human race? l
Next week: Mark Watson