I must say that I find most contemporary dating advice completely mystifying. Dating is something Americans do, as far as I’m concerned. English people get drunk and have inappropriate sex. Ditto, engagement. What the hell is it? Are women public toilets that are either vacant or engaged? Clearly I have not a clue.
When I hear people say that their relationships are going nowhere, I do wonder what the final destination is. It’s probably having the sort of deranged problems that people write to Pamela Stephenson Connolly about in the Guardian: “I can’t orgasm with my husband, whom I have never found attractive in any way WHATSOEVER.”
Everyone should relax about “relationships” that don’t go anywhere – that are not goal-orientated. Yet even such casual arrangements can become fraught with unforeseen complications. I should know.
I had one such arrangement when I first lived in London, with an Irish fellow I’d see once a week. Let’s call him John, as that was his name. We met in a pub, of course. It was all very passionate, as he thought that sex was the ultimate sin, some sort of desecration that caused him paroxysms of guilt. I like that in a man.
The Sinn Fein paper An Phoblacht was lying round his flat. In those days, everyone was “Troops out”. He just seemed more “Troops out” than a lot of people.
Our casual affair became more serious when we went to meetings in a back room of a pub on Holloway Road.
“Keep your mouth shut,” he said. I sat there terrified, nursing a drink, while he went in a huddle. It was apparent that my English accent was never to be heard.
We continued seeing each other weekly and I would always get up before him and leave. Who knew what his job was? He had probably told me. I probably hadn’t listened.
One morning, he had to get up to go out very early. “Wake up. I can’t leave you here alone,” he said.
I pretended to be sleepy and refused to move. He was very annoyed.
As I heard the door slam, I leaped out of bed and searched the flat. Every bit of it. And there it all was. Several different passports. Other forms of ID and diaries, each written in different handwriting. Whole identities bundled away in plastic bags. Some of it had his picture on. Some didn’t.
I put everything back and left. As I pondered all of his other lives and what he did with them, I realised that it would not be wise to end it there.
So I met him the following week for a drink as usual.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve met someone else. We can’t go on like this any more, John.” I was telling the truth. For we both knew as I said it that John was not even his actual name.