Endings are inevitable and they seldom surprise. Even the most twisty and turny horror movie will stagger toward its eventual, obvious conclusion. So here I am sitting alone on a crisp spring day at the South Bank, waiting to be told it's over - even though I don't know it for sure yet.
Is over the right word? Was it ever a thing? There's never really been a sense of us being 'together' but for a short few months, I haven't been seeing anybody else. I have had offers, which I have politely refused, because of some sense of loyalty to this guy. If that is a relationship, I guess I'm in one.
Our polite, relatively chaste courting has been fairly uneventful. We have sat next to each other in an array of theatres, enthused over shared dinners in a slew of restaurants and kissed drunkenly in a roomful of strangers, but the whole thing has lacked any depth. In searching for that connection, I feel I have forced it somewhat. I have shapeshifted and tried to be accommodating in an effort to make it feel more natural. It has had quite the opposite effect.
We have slept together only twice, the last time such an amazing display of sexual incompatibility it should have been sketched for a textbook on how not to do it. I was left with merely an aching arm and a throb I had to alleviate alone.
Since that Earth-shattering event three weeks previously, a civil dinner in a sparse chain restaurant has been our only contact, save for the odd breezy text. He's been busy working, and then 'away'. Somewhere just out of shot, a priest waits with all the paraphernalia necessary to administer the last rites. This looks terminal.
I wonder if I'll care. I have been turning down offers, yes, but maybe I don't want to any more. I'm quite the traditionalist and don't like stirring more than one pot of porridge at a time, so infidelity is out. But is my faithfulness misplaced?
I am usually the dumper when it comes to my short-term affairs of the heart, although I have experienced the fist-clenching agony of being ditched too. My stomach lurches. Today is the day I find out where this is going.
He arrives - a vision in last season's colours - with an air of bogus cheeriness. His chapped lips graze my cheek and he looks me square in the eye and says he's pleased to see me. This may well be true, but those are not the eyes which burned into me while he unbuttoned my shirt for the first time. A light has gone out.
We talk lightly of this and that and all the way through I steel myself for him to open a sentence with "Look, I've been thinking..." but it doesn't come. We sip wine and sit side-by-side, staring out at the river like two old dears on a day trip from the nursing home. Everything feels like a neat and tidy room, to be kept 'for best', which is nice enough, I suppose, but it can't continue - sometimes the urge to tip an ashtray onto the floor is too strong.
After two drinks, I reach into my bag and say I have a present for him. It's the book of a film we saw recently; at the time I lied and said I'd be interested in reading it. I thought it would be a nice gesture. As he takes it appreciatively, I scan his face for a sign that this makes things awkward for him. Is he wondering whether it's appropriate to euthanise the relationship if I have just given him a gift? I see his grin falter for a moment, but there's nothing else. He suggests we go for a late lunch. I accept.
We order cocktails and peruse the menu - everything very courteous, but about as romantic as receiving a bank statement. I look him over. He's handsome all right, and cultured and bright and witty, but there is a sheen of efficiency rather than sexiness. I fear I am too random for him. I can pretend for so long, but what happens when all the crazy can no longer be contained and it comes spilling out? I think he's sensing this too. I drink my drink too fast and so does he; it all feels a bit like we're dangling from a cliff in a Winnebago. After we've eaten he insists on paying the bill and I thank him.
We step out into the warm sunshine and I think once again about the other guy who has asked me out for a drink later and to whom I said no. The no will remain a no on this occasion, but I need to identify whether there'll be scope to say yes to someone else someday.
Suddenly bolstered by the martini, I spin round to him in the middle of the street and take his arm. Rome is burning, but I shall fiddle no more.
"Look, can I ask...?"
His mouth opens and then closes again without any sound coming out. I continue. "What is happening with us exactly? Is this..." I pause and weigh up the right thing to say. "Is it 'friends only' or likely to be more?" He looks at me, with an expression I can't place. Pity? Maybe he feels bad for making me ask the question. Finally, after what seems like a lifetime, he speaks.
"Yes, I think. Well. I think we get on really well and I enjoy being with you, but I think, I just..."
I nod. No water comes to my eyes, but my throat feels thick and I gulp. I'm grateful, I think.
"Er, yes, friends would be good," he concludes.
I don't ask why; it doesn't matter. What will I learn from this? I wasn't being myself throughout anyway. The next minute or two is something of a blur; I just know I have to get out of there. We make tacit plans for dinner 'soon' and when the fog clears, I am hopping on a bus, phone in hand, lightly tapping away on the keypad and lining up my next disappointment. Forward. Always.
Stats: 33, 5'11", black/blue, Hampshire
Where: South bank, London
Pre-date rating: 8/10
Post-date rating: 5/10 (well he did dump me!)
Date in one sentence: I put myself out of my misery by asking the question nobody really wants to ask.
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