For years, people told me how weddings, for single guys, were one step removed from a university freshers party meat market. “Man, people always hook up at weddings,” they told me. “And they especially love the single ushers.”
I never believed them, mainly because I’d never seen it. At most weddings I’ve attended, everyone either already had dates or was married. There were never enough single people to go around. Plus, it would seem that members of the wedding party would just be too busy to have a fling at a wedding. I mean, ushers have duties to perform. There are pictures to pose for, and, um, er… alcohol to drink, and, um… you know, all the other stuff that ushers have responsibility for.
So when I was asked to serve as an usher at a mate’s wedding a few years ago, with the recent breakup still lingering, and the confusion and depression not having dissipated, the last thing I wanted was any excess female contact. It had been all I could do not to start any conversations with women by saying, “Hi. My name is David. I am a human. I respond to logic, reason, and external stimuli. My life view will be the same in five minutes as it is right now. Please, tell me about your species.”
But people told me to just sit tight. “They’ll find you, mate. You’re an usher,” they told me. “People always hook up. Always.”
And, would you believe it… they were right.
Setting: The reception at Gav’s wedding. I ended up sitting next to an attractive young woman at the front table. (She wasn’t in the wedding party, which I thought meant she couldn’t sit at the head table, but no matter.) After a cursory discussion, I learned that she loved playing tennis and was the best friend of the bride’s sister. We ended up talking a little about Wimbledon, which had just concluded, and had a nice enough time, though I thought little of it. I was just concerned the bar would run out of my favourite rum.
After dinner, I told her it was a pleasure to meet her and went downstairs for the first dance. I danced with the mother of the bride, coiling her round and round until she almost vomited, and then, out of nowhere, the tennis player pushes in. OK. So we dance for a bit — I am a decent enough dancer — and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, right there on the dance floor, in front of God and everybody, she starts to kiss me.
I would have protested, but I was already quite light-headed. Oh, and there was an attractive, athletic girl in front of me. This lasted about two songs. Then, after I socialised a bit, she asked if I “wanted to go for a walk.” I said, sure, air is good, walking stimulates circulation. So we went for a walk, and she started kissing me again. She then asked me what I was doing after the reception. Like everyone else in the wedding party, I said I was going back to our hotel. She smiled and looked me deeply in the eye. “I’m coming with you. Is that OK?”
I did the rest of my wedding stuff, with this woman trailing behind the whole time. (Talking to the guys the next day, I was told: “We were all watching the two of you, thinking, ‘Dave has no chance. It’s like she came here to attack someone, and she chose you. You were a Dead Man Walking.’”) At the end of the evening, we all piled into a large people carrier and headed back to the hotel, with just a brief stop at a bed-and-breakfast where the groom’s parents were staying. (They were next to us drunken kids in the cab, looking nervous while we passed around bottles.)
The tennis player sat next to me, giggling and whispering things in my ear while propping her lovely legs on my lap. The cab cruised on. Then, suddenly, she paused mid-sentence and pulled out her mobile. I heard her call:
“Hi, it’s me. Listen, I’m in a really awkward position right now, and I’m not sure how to get out of it. I need someone to come pick me up. Can you do it? No? Oh, shit. I dunno, I don’t know how this happened.”
Um… Everyone in the cab was staring at me. The guys were mouthing, “What the fuck?!” The girls were wide-eyed. The groom’s parents… well, the look they gave me made me want to jump out of the cab and start running like Gump.
I turned to her, quietly, and said, “Hey, listen, I certainly didn’t mean for you to be in an awkward position. I, um, kinda thought this was your idea. Seriously, you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. I’d be more than happy to tell the driver to go wherever you need to go. It’s really OK.” She looked down, then made another phone call. Exactly the same conversation. Exactly the same result.
I repeated to her that the driver could take her wherever she needed to go. She remained silent, staring out window, not meeting my eye.
We then arrived at the bed and breakfast. The groom’s parents hastily said their goodbyes and exited. Then, just as the door was about to shut, the tennis player jumped out. Just like that. The cab then took off. Match. Set. Game over.
(I can’t imagine what the groom’s parents thought of this. They leave a cab of drunken ushers and bridesmaids, and out hops a scared girl, no idea where she is or where she’s going. I must have seemed like Charlie Sheen to them.)
And that was that. I went back to the hotel, dazed and confused, became even more drunk, and I ended up even more depressed. I never saw her again until, quite unexpectedly, I ran into her yesterday. She seemed to recognise me — she smiled and said a cheery ‘Hi’ — and I pretty much ran across the street, dodging traffic and looking over my shoulder to be sure she wasn’t following.
So let’s get this story straight: David meets girl, she’s really into him, she’s all about David; then, suddenly, for no apparent reason, with no warning, she just switches, decides she wants nothing to do with him, and vanishes.
Ha! What the fuck, indeed! Such strange creatures they are…
Here’s a question for you: How important is sex?
I don’t mean how important it is to a healthy relationship. Sex is a vital part of any relationship, and usually when a couple has a poor sex life, you can tell after hanging out with them for about 20 minutes. The air’s a little thicker, more dense, there’s a certain level of tension… and people keep accidentally crushing wine glasses in their hand. Here’s a tip for fellow people-watchers: When a woman walks across the room and punches her boyfriend in the face, their sex life is not working. Or, perhaps, it has reached a level that you and I just don’t want to think about.
I’m speaking more specifically of the amount of sex we individually need. How important is it to us? Is it all relative?
Let’s take two people, for example:
One is a female friend of mine. She lost her virginity when she was about 16. She is pretty, smart, sociable, and is a serial monogamist. No matter what, she always has a boyfriend — I’ve never known her to be single. Then, about six months ago, she had a long-term relationship end and, in a first for her, there was no one else waiting in the wings. She’s hardly the type of girl to sleep around or just pick up guys at clubs so, suddenly, something that was a regular part of her life just ended. She’s now gone six months without sex. According to her, the longest she’d gone without sex until this six-month hiatus was 32 days. Imagine that: something that had just been a part of your life… just gone. Emotional attachments aside, when something you’ve lived with on a reliable basis since you were 16 is taken away suddenly, that’s a definitive change. (Of course, I know the guy she was just dating quite well and… let’s just say that I doubt she’s missing too much.)
The other is a male friend. Whatever the opposite of a serial monogamist is, that’s what he is. Dates? Ha! He never dates. Ever. He went on a few dates with one girl and never even got her winter coat off. Other than that, zilch. Six months without sex? Try six years. At this point, he’s almost asexual. It’s not that he doesn’t want to have sex; it’s just that he’s got used to not getting any. He doesn’t even really think about it that much anymore (though when the 40 Days, 40 Nights movie first came out, he did bash his head against a wall repeatedly for about a week and a half). He doesn’t even try to go after girls anymore. What’s the point? Sex is something on the Internet or late-night telly, a spectator sport far more than a participatory one. Someday he’ll have sex again, I’m sure. But at this point, there’s no rush.
Which person would you rather be? Neither is having sex right now. Both are human beings, and both need it. But the girl is having a far more difficult time with it than the guy. He’s accepted his lot. To put this another way, paraphrasing: Is it better to have had some play and lost it, than to have never had any play at all?
Another friend is getting married later this year. From all accounts, he seems to have a happy, moderately healthy sex life. Nothing to complain about. But, like all relationships, sometimes circumstances dictate performance. Occasionally, he’ll go a week or two without having sex. No big deal when he was a single guy; essentially, his life was just a continuous string of a week or two without sex. But now, when that week or two takes place with a hot girl sleeping next to you, and you start to itch and squirm, suddenly a week seems a lot longer.
I spoke with him about this some months ago. Specifically, I spoke about a little, um, dry spell I was going through myself. He looked at me like I’d just peed in my pants: “Man, stop being a dickhead! No sex for how long? Seriously man, there was a point a few years ago I was tempted to screw the dog!” (Trust me, that’s not an image you want in your head at midnight!)
But he’s right. I suppose my major neuroticism about sex and relationships is that while I know some women might find me attractive, sexy even, I often can’t quite figure it out myself. (Well, other than the minor man-boobs!) Do I think about this more when I’m in a relationship, or when I’m not? I figure I’m probably the worst at the start of a new relationship. If I go without sex for a while, I can pretty much just convince myself that it’s only because I haven’t found the right woman yet. But put a woman in my bed every night for a week and, until I get used to it, I’m convinced she’s really dreaming of the guy in the kebab shop up the street, the one with the mole shaped like a penis on his cheek. She wishes she were in bed with him right now; I just know it!
And what is it we really get out of sex anyway? Is it strictly orgasm? If so, there are some guys (and girls) who have the most functional relationship I know with their shower heads. Shit, the shower doesn’t even mind if they bring in pictures of other girls! Or do we just need the closeness? Or, lo, could it be, that we have sex because we’re actually in love? How much less is it when we’re not? And, after six years without sex, does it even matter?
I think we have the best sex when we’re in love, because we’ve got the other person more or less figured out, and because it’s a legitimate sharing process. But then this logic makes me think that a good wank can trump sex, and I don’t really believe that. Do I…? Whoa! Perhaps I should just get off this logic train!
Of course, ideally, someone is just single, without commitments, and still having sex on a regular basis, with no ebbs and flows — just something new all the time. I don’t think those people actually exist though. Well… maybe in the Premier League…
Did you know there are no single guys in London? I didn’t know this. It was quite a shock!
In the past, I’ve scoffed at women who say they can’t find a nice single guy. It doesn’t make any sense. There’s a reason the “Men Seeking Women” section of personal ads is five times larger than the “Women Seeking Men” section. To me, it always seemed that if a woman wanted to meet a guy, the process would be a simple one:
1. Walk into bar.
2. Announce, “I am looking for a man.”
3. Wait 5-10 seconds.
4. Repeat if necessary.
Apparently this isn’t the case. I was having a party some time ago, and I was talking to a female friend of mine about who was going to be there. She didn’t hesitate: “Are there going to be any cute single guys there?” This is an attractive, funny, successful woman. It would seem that if she had a desire to be with a guy — a desire I’ll never understand; I guess womankind still hasn’t figured out that we are, generally speaking, a worthless, dead-end gender — actually landing one would be the least of her worries.
But no. She is always claiming that there’s a shortage of single guys. She posed the question to me: “David, seriously, how many of your friends are both single and good-looking?” (I ignored the fact that she was talking to me, a single, good-looking guy; she was “just a friend” after all, although… well, let’s not go there…) I thought about it for a minute:
Hmmmm… Let’s see… he’s stupid-looking… he has Oedipal problems… he’s been seeing the same girl since uni… he wears dirty tracksuit bottoms to work… he doesn’t even work… he has a wart on his left eyeball… he’s gay… he’s gay too… Shit! Where IS everybody?
I think my misconceptions about all of this started at St Mary’s College — the boys-only institution I attended. Neither I nor many of my male friends were ever dating anyway, mainly because none of us were in the football team. The lovelies in the girls-only St Joseph’s Convent just across the street seemed only interested in dating the athletes, and the footballers in particular (yes, this is nothing new), and every one that wasn’t, was either ugly, aiming for sainthood, experimenting with lesbianism or shagging some older guy. On to university, which fosters the mindset that you have to go to the students bar to pick up a girl with some line or gimmick. But all the guys with gimmicks were the athletic guys. Many of my friends today talk about how “wild” they were in uni, how they had loads of sex and drank all the time, recklessly, out of control. Yeah, right… I should have gone to their university.
Since then, to me, the relationship power struggle has seemed to be impossibly balanced toward women. Guys were the ones staring at women’s chests; women were the ones deciding which guy staring at their chest they were going to select. This balance of power seemed so clearly logical that I couldn’t imagine the world being any other way. Guys: Doltish, expendable, interchangeable, dime-a-dozen. Women: Running the world.
But as we’ve got older, the dynamics have shifted, though I don’t think anyone would argue that women aren’t still running the world. I’m not sure if it’s some biological clock thing, or more guys realising that once they trick a woman into liking them, they should just hang onto them while they can, or whatever. But it’s true, in London at least: I know a lot more single women than I know single men.
After thinking about it, I told my friend that I only knew a couple single men who would be at the party and neither of them were really her type. Thinking aloud, I came up with a guy I know who could fit, but I wasn’t sure if he was seeing anyone or not. She was already off and running, peppering me with questions about him, what was he like, how tall was he, where was he from, what’s his family like, so on, so forth. After 20 minutes, she was telling another girl how excited she was to meet “this great guy” at the party. And all I’d really said about him was, “Um, he’s tall. And he might be seeing someone.” She was so excited; a real single male!
I always thought it would take a nuclear war with just one guy and 10 women living in a bomb shelter, but no, believe it or not, in this great city of ours, we have reached that threshold: There are more women looking for men than men looking for women. It’s astounding.
I could analyse this and try to figure out why. I could really attempt to figure it out, decipher what socioeconomic factors are at work. But I have a higher purpose.
(The next two paragraphs are to be read by men only. Thank you.)
Men of England: Guys! Check it out! If you come to London, women will be all over you! Our day has come! I never thought I’d see it either! I mean, they’re actually looking for us now! And they totally want it! I know! Amazing!
Get your arses out here! Everything must go! This can’t last forever! Hurry, before they figure out what’s going on!
I told her that I’m sure there’s a nice guy out there for her. Somewhere. She said she’d try to hold out hope.
My God… could it be true? Have we finally WON?
Earlier today, I got a phone call from my friend Nicola. Now here’s the thing about Nicola: There are times when it appears she is the most intelligent woman on the planet. At other times, she seems like some kind of alien, or saint, or mutant. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that she is all of these things.
Nicola, who lives in Brighton, does not date. She does not have one-night stands, meaningful fortnights or month-long affairs. It is not that she does not like men; it is not that she’s a lesbian, and it is not that she can’t find anyone. She simply chooses not to. She has weighed all the dating options, lifted them one way and the other, tested their density, volume and surface area, put on gloves and checked them for lice, asked them to cough. And she’s just decided that this dating world is not something she wants to be a part of, thank you very much, next caller.
Nicola has been through the wars. She’s been through all the blood and piss and shit and mud and pus and grime too many times, and enough is enough. She’s retired.
“But Nicola,” I ask her, “don’t you ever get lonely? Don’t you miss having someone who will listen to you talk about your day? Don’t you miss that close contact? Don’t you ever just want to throw somebody down and rip his clothes off?” (This last question was not a come-on, I swear.)
She manages a smirk. “Listen… I have my own life to live. It’s just too much trouble… and it usually ends up badly, anyway.”
The difference between Nicola and me is that she is honest, and she is smart.
Nicola sees what happens when you give yourself up, when someone gives himself or herself up for you, when the balance is tipped one way, when it’s tipped the other. You end up hurt, or you end up hurting someone else. Someone ends up sad, or bitter, or just changed. She’s been there before.
Alas, I agree with Nicola, but selfishly, foolishly, I choose the other path. I simply opt to ignore the logic and try anyway. I know it’s stupid, and I know I’m a danger to others and myself (and them to me)… and nevertheless I just keep forging blindly forward, like a Godzilla-sized baby, waddling around aimlessly, causing destruction.
My old friend Karen, whom I haven’t spoken to in about a year, once explained to me what she called the “cool quotient” of dating. According to Karen, no matter the relationship, no matter how healthy or happy it seems, each partner deep down knows the inherent inequality. One person is always “cooler” than the other — that is to say, one person always considers the other somehow in a different league, Premiership compared to Championship — in some social way. It doesn’t mean that they can’t get along or that such things are even all that important. Just that they’re there.
Karen always used this analogy to describe my relationship with ex-girlfriend Laura, who she felt was above me on this unscientific scale and therefore was destined to leave me (Karen never pulls her punches). Therefore, it was counterproductive to be involved in any relationship whatsoever because, regardless of the circumstances, one partner was either going to feel woefully inferior to the other or think that they were slumming. Hence everything was doomed. I believe Woody Allen’s line was, “It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Sooner or later everything turns to shit.”
You waltz into these relationships, and everything seems happy and fresh and new and clean. You’re flattered someone you admire will even talk to you, that they don’t dismiss you out of hand. You see problems, but you’re convinced this time such little things won’t matter. It’ll all be good this time, promise; the fact that you don’t really like pop music and she doesn’t get Woody Allen, that she’s too young or too old, that you don’t like her cat, that she’s your cousin, none of it will make a difference. Why should such silly matters get in the way of us?
Then you find yourself worrying. You find yourself thinking that she is right, and that you are wrong, and that you are stupid for not being more like her. A little pop music never hurt anybody. You think that she should be with someone better, someone not so cynical, and this thought invades you, and you sabotage everything, and you drive her away. Because she is better. They are all better. And she is sad… yet you’re convinced she’s better off without you. Thing is, you’re right.
And yet, and yet, and yet, we keep trying. It should go without saying that my friend Karen, inventor of this injurious theory, is now in a serious, allegedly happy relationship. And off we go.
I think about how my parents did this, how my grandparents did this, how their generations pulled it off. Was it that much simpler? You just got married, you started a family, and if you had problems, you just dealt with them. Stop your bloody whingeing. No self-loathing, no twisted sabotaging of your own happiness. You paid bills. You went to the store and got milk. You attended parent-teacher conferences and grounded the boys for getting into fights after school.
I think of the line from Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, in which an elder man tells his young wife, “The difference between our generations is that we got married young to prove we were adults, and you do the exact opposite for the very same reason.” I think the older guys might have had the right idea, though.
But whinge, whinge, whinge, bitch, bitch, bitch. Enough!
So I look at Nicola, and I see that she’s right, and I look at Karen, and I think she’s right, too. Yet I continue to search, sleepwalking into a mess, hoping the ground doesn’t turn to shit beneath my feet.
Oh, I almost forgot, I started this piece with that phone call from Nicola earlier today: “I just met this really cool guy,” she started excitedly. And off we go. Sigh.
Lately it seems that every time I run into old friends or acquaintances, particularly the married ones, the question is often the same, slightly smug one: “So… settled down yet? Wife? Kids?”
I usually resist the urge to throw a punch and respond, smiling with gritted teeth, with something along the lines of “Nah. No rush. I’m just enjoying my life as it is right now…”
The truth is, I really am. But that never seems good enough for some: “Yeah, but… what are you waiting on? You know… Go forth and multiply and all that. And a guy like you deserves someone nice.”
“Oh, thank you. (Bigger smile, teeth clenched) But you know – maybe, just maybe, it could be that I’m actually happier being single.”
Strange look from Married Person. “Or perhaps you need help!”
Thirty-something, single and not a girlfriend in sight. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I’m quite content with that so I haven’t even been seriously looking… Something must be wrong with me, right? Sigh! Forfucksake… Here we go again!
After chatting to some other single friends recently, all of whom have endured various configurations of the above, it seems to me there are two major mistakes married/attached people make regarding us poor-souls-who-don’t-know-what-we’re-missing. First, they presume that everyone should be married or attached, and if we’re not, there’s something wrong with us… you know – we’ve got “issues”. (Mine, apparently, is that I’m too picky) The other big mistake is to presume all singles are lonely. Wrong again! Although, to be fair, some are.
Years ago, I had the unpleasant experience of being aggressively hounded by an over-zealous pair of matchmakers who were convinced they’d found the right person for me. They were equally certain that my resistance to their efforts was based on nothing more than selfishness, obstinacy and an unwillingness to accept that their plans were a perfect opportunity for my life as a singleton to end. They were QUITE determined, so this went on for years. The pressure was so great that at one point I almost gave in. Except there were the small matters of me not having a shred of interest in the girl and of me having seen close up the ruins of others they’d hounded in the same way. To this day I still cringe when even well-meaning, trusted friends try to hook me up with anyone. They always get it wrong, anyway: “I know just the right person for you!” Ha, ha! No you fucking don’t!
Of course, some people find themselves unexpectedly, heartbreakingly alone through broken relationships, or the tragic death of a partner. Been there. But, also like me, there are others who haven’t yet met Ms or Mr Right (although there have been times when I thought I did) and have taken the wise advice: Better to be single than to be stuck with the wrong person or in a relationship for the wrong reasons. I’ve had the occasional tussle with the universe about its timing but, frankly, I don’t beat myself up about it – and I’m not going to allow others to do it for me.
However, apart from people trying to hook me up with increasingly unlikely candidates, or wanting to buy me a cat (A cat! See what I mean?) and a lifetime subscription to Weird Bachelor (which I’d probably enjoy!), there are obvious drawbacks to the single state: one can lack the emotional support and physical comfort that should be part of a good relationship, and being single means making all the decisions, paying all the bills, handling domestic crises alone… That’s why I often have to bite my tongue when married friends say, ‘You have all that free time…’
It’s also true that singles can sometimes feel like a spare part at some social events. But I’ve sorted that out by having a few good, close friends. I’ve found that many singles I know have a real gift for friendship. They can invest time and energy and be emotionally available to friends in a way that’s often difficult for couples. Friends are vital to the single life: to share life with – hanging out, travelling, hobbies, and so on.
So I’m single. Big deal. That could change tomorrow… or I could be single forever. I refuse to be defined by it. I don’t feel that I’m missing out on anything because, ultimately, my happiness comes from within, not from another person.