All that she wants and needs

My friend Nicola, from Brighton, has started eating meat again. For the past five-odd years, she has been a staunch vegetarian. For a little while, I think she actually took it into all-out veganism, but she dropped that quickly when she realised the only things she could eat were blades of grass from her lawn.

Nicola has always been what I would call “crunchy.” She has long straight brown hair with stray blonde streaks, wears bracelet-type contraptions with lots of beads on them and, for a rather creepy stretch, was refusing to shave her armpit hair. (Last summer, a few of us got together in London on a repressively hot day, and Nicola was wearing a tank top. On one particular Tube journey, I noticed three teenage boys eyeing her up the way I eye up just about every woman who isn’t related to me. The train jerked, and Nicola lifted her arms to grab the bar above. Their faces dropped from lust to horror instantaneously.) I think some of Nicola’s habits/statements are silly, to say the least, but I respect her for them. She’s headstrong, wilful and takes no shit. Her beliefs are hers, she believes them and she sticks with them. Good for her.

But she has met this new guy. She seems to have jumped into this relationship a wee bit fast, and in no time at all, she’s been telling me how crazy she is about him. One night, they loaded up on wine at a fancy restaurant, and he, no vegetarian, jokingly suggested she have a steak. “Really?” she said. “You think I should?” She ordered one and tore through it with carnal abandon. She said she spent the next three days with him, just lying around, devouring dead animals. I wouldn’t be surprised if she just ate it raw; I imagine neighbourhood squirrels frantically texting relatives to steer clear from her place.

And now, well… Nicola eats meat now. She’s even shaved the armpits. Her friends and family, predictably, are ecstatic on both fronts. Me… I’m not so sure.

When I was younger, I had a tendency to willingly, gleefully, chuck any unique quirks of my personality if a woman I was interested in found them not to her liking. It’s not so much that I was trying to please her, though, of course, I was; it was more that I was so enamoured of her, so impressed that a creature of her calibre would deign to spend time with me, that I figured if she didn’t have the same peculiar peccadillo as I did, there must be something wrong with it, and with me, and therefore had to be changed.

The list of interests I don’t really hold but have pretended to for women — no, have convinced myself to — is endless. I’ve acted like I actually understand and enjoy all sorts of crap things. I’ve fooled myself into believing that a vodka cranberry is a perfectly acceptable beverage for a man to drink. I’ve even left an enthralling football match at half-time (I was playing!) because of a girl before. And let’s not even get into the ridiculous clothes I’ve worn because a woman suggested it. Nothing as silly as Beckham’s sarong but… shiver.

The lengths we will go to in order to sublimate ourselves and placate the people we care about is a simultaneously charming and pathetic aspect of human nature. A woman I knew back in the Caribbean had been dating a guy for more than a year and still hadn’t slept with him. She was attracted to him — why, I am still not quite sure — but staying a virgin until she was married was something that was important to her. Fair enough. I can respect that. But then they waited and waited and waited, and finally, he asked her to marry him. She said yes. They had sex a week later. I lived in the Caribbean over 12 years ago. They’re still not married.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I know that relationships are complex animals, and at a certain level, to make one work, you have to make sacrifices and compromises, and not just parade around like you’re alone in your room. But often we give up what made us unique and interesting in the first place. The entire relationship turns into a game of guess-my-mood, a relentless exercise in co-dependency. Eventually you just drive him/her crazy, and they wonder why they were with you in the first place and when, precisely, you became a lapdog just willing to please.

So I decided: fuck it, no more of that for me. I now try to play it cooler, sticking closer to what makes me me, no matter how stupid and pointless that may be. Sometimes I even veer too far in the other direction. Out with Nicola and her new man in Camden the other day, we stepped outside after a great show at the Roundhouse and she took a deep breath, exclaiming, “Ah, it’s great to get fresh air.” I grumbled that this was London she was talking about, that air was totally overrated, and that she really made too big a deal of such luxuries. She is a patient one, and dismissed me with a withering glance. Perhaps some moderation is in order.

I’ll probably fall back into my own patterns soon enough, though. Trying desperately to avoid acting a charade, for me, is in itself a type of charade, and who knows how long I’ll be able to keep it up.

But Lord help me if the next girl decides to become a vegetarian.

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