It’s that time of life again – I’ve got the boot. Does this mean I finally have to change?

Nicholas Lezard’s Down and Out column. 

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Ah, well. Here we go again. Time to dust off the old dating site self-description skills.

Man, 51, teeth stained from years of wine and tobacco. No intention of changing.

Hmm, perhaps not. Although it has the virtue of truth, when was truth ever a virtue when it comes to selling anything, especially oneself? I think back to my copywriting days. Samuel Johnson said it was “large promise” that was the soul of an advertisement and I dimly recall he sold a share in a brewery by saying that the buyer, if he did so, would have the opportunity to become wealthy beyond dreams of avarice. So:

Man, 51, kind, supportive, likes nothing more than going to Ikea, looking after babies and distributing his enormous personal fortune to deserving individuals and charities.

Yes, it’s that time of life – the boot. Hasn’t happened for four years nearly, mind. For me, post-marriage, that’s the best run yet. And it has to be said that there is no rancour or bitterness, none of the howling outrage and humiliation that accompanied the last occasion. Boy, that was something else. I still shudder when I think of it. I suppose that’s one reason I’m not actually suicidal this time: the heart has built up a lot of scar tissue.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not awful. The ex-Beloved and I will, I think, always be good friends, or rather more than that. It was distance that killed the relationship, distance in years and miles. One or the other we could have managed, I suppose, but not both.

I had a visit from my old housemate Emmanuelle – remember her? – even though I’d said I was miserable and she was not to come round. It’s good that she didn’t take no for an answer, for even though she’s in her mid-twenties she is no fool and besides can offer insights into a woman’s thought processes that men can only see through a glass darkly, if at all. It appears there are many women out there who consider men as “projects”, raw material that is to be moulded into a desired shape, and that I had been proving resistant to such moulding.

Hearing this notion, I realised I had indeed come across it before, in life as well as in literature. And, as my joke about personal adverts in sentence seven above suggests, I yam even more what I yam than Popeye. I don’t like to be told to do things; hell, I don’t even like calling myself an anarchist, as I think the label is too restrictive.

It is, though, perhaps time to change. This would be something of a big deal. The parable of the frog and the scorpion springs to mind: the frog carries the scorpion across the river, saying anxiously, “You won’t sting me, will you? If you did, we’d both drown.” The scorpion stings the frog and as they’re both going under, the frog asks, “Why?” The scorpion shrugs and says, “That’s what I do.”

That said, I’m not all bad and the only person apart from myself who I know really hates me (we had a bruising encounter just last Sunday) is the Grumpy Oyster Man. He still refuses to serve me at the Marylebone Farmers’ Market after a year and a half, suggesting that maybe my initial assessment of his character wasn’t that far off the mark after all. (The snitch who passed on this magazine to him, an act that started this unpleasantness in the first place, is perfectly at liberty to do so again but should bear in mind that there will come a time when he or she may well have to submit to a higher authority.)

“If I knew then what I know now . . .” was how one wistful sentence began from an ex of mine that she did not need to complete. After a certain age, women, just like men, have no illusions any more, but before then they can fall victim to what I call New Kitchen Syndrome: that desire to rip out and replace the room in the house where food is prepared and eaten. Men, though, think, “What’s wrong with this one? The toaster works.”

So, here we go again. Why do I go through this? I have many friends who are alone. But that’s not for me. I love being with one woman I can cook for, whom I can make laugh, with whom we can arm each other against the world, who will scratch the back of my neck. The last one will be a hard act to follow. So sad are we both, I’m not sure it’s even worth looking for a while:

Man, 51, wants to be left alone, won’t find a better girlfriend, has stopped looking.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 30 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, ISIS vs The World

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