We are fixated on the idea that we have to be in a couple; nobody is interested in the beauty of being alone
My Friend was acting peculiar. Not as attentive as usual, mildly moody, and seemingly not as keen to share his every breathing second with me. I turned to the girls at once.
"He's in his cave," one said. "It's the rubber band effect," another added. "Don't let your wave crash too low," warned a third.
Mystifying mumbo-jumbo. Unless, that is, you are one of the ten million people who have bought Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Since its publication in 1993, this pop psychology guide to the gender game has been a fixture on the international bestseller list and a reference point in a society obsessed with "relationships". This week its American author, John Gray, is over here to promote his latest catchy title, How to Get What You Want and Want What You Have.
Already his tour has sold out, as devotees of Men Are from Mars throng bookshops from London to Liverpool, clutching his tome for the twosome, shoving strangers aside to get close to their guru.
What's the secret of this success? How can Men Are From Mars - a portfolio of platitudes and generalities ("a woman is particularly vulnerable to the negative belief that she doesn't deserve to be loved") - generate such interest? How can a graduate of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi centre, whose "doctorate" in psychology was acquired from the unaccredited Columbia Pacific University in California, become the global guide to the lovelorn?
Blame it on our fixation with coupledom. In a world where "you're OK - if you're with someone", any man or manual with a claim to help us build, heal and deepen relationships wields enormous power. Nobody would be interested if Dr Gray had written the vade mecum for the solitary (as opposed to the singleton, which is most definitely not the same thing) and urged us, as Anthony Storr did so brilliantly years back, to find beauty in being alone. There would be no hordes of fans in bookshops, no appearances with Oprah or Vanessa, no monopoly of the bestseller list. Who gives a toss about how to go solo? We all want to be in tandem. Greta Garbo could repeat "I want to be alone" all she wanted, but today no one would buy it. Nicole and Tom, Beckham and Posh, Tony and Cherie - the duo sells, the solitary is a loser.
The perfectly synchronised duet is at the top of our wish list. So we're looking for tips for two, clues to coupledom, and help in healing a broken bond.
Dr Gray promises it all: the subtitle on Men Are From Mars pledges that this is a "practical guide for improving communication and getting what you want in your relationship". Gray boasts a patina of professional psychology (he is a couples' counsellor) to reassure the millions for whom life is one long game of musical chairs that, when the music stops, they won't get caught out alone. For his kind of assistance, we're ready to buy his books (and videos and board games and calendars), to learn his interplanetary lexicon - Martian warriors, Venus beauties, et al - and use primitive images that range from wave to cave.
Worse, we women are so desperate for the doctor's helping hand that we are prepared to accept his well-worn nostrums: when men sulk, women should stand by patiently; when women set the agenda, men will feel controlled and resentful. Gray does not add to our understanding of the gender divide; he just confirms a traditional view of it. His Mars and Venus revolve in a man-centred universe, female satellites spinning round male suns in a galaxy you'd thought lost a long, long time ago.
By the end of the guide, the message is clear: we need female understanding in the face of male emotional autism, female flexibility to accommodate male needs, female humour to calm male tantrums. Dr Gray didn't need to fly from Mars to tell us this. So, please, could he go back there?