I believe it is still customary to mutually acknowledge the commencement of a relationship. Known variously as 'The Talk' or 'The Chat' (depending on your class and location) this is the moment you sit down with someone and confirm your status as a couple. If you drink, then this chat is always conducted over a drink - perhaps at the pub or during one of those fabled nights 'curled up on the sofa with a bottle of wine, and a DVD'.
The Talk is useful, it serves to clarify what you already suspect: you have a partner. Despite this, men find it impossible to treat the situation with the seriousness it deserves. We tend to broach the subject in a light-hearted manner, as if it's a mere afterthought. The difference between being single, and not being single, is pretty significant. And yet, many men treat this conversation as an administrative task - something to be covered before getting on with the business of being in a relationship.
I once failed to initiate The Talk - a gross error of judgement. However, in its place, an incident occurred that amounted to the same thing. I remember it well - it was the day I first did a boyfriend type favour. Harriet, a girl I had been seeing, had recently moved from the wilds of North London to aspirational East Dulwich. She had a few things in her former residence and asked me to give her a lift to pick everything up. We had been on five dates, including one sleep-over. This was to be our first non-leisure activity together.
We had arranged to meet on Lordship Lane. I saw Harriet by the bus-stop and pulled over, in my Ford Fiesta.
I kept the music loud, and wound down the window.
"Hey," I said over the Beastie Boys, "fancy seeing you here. Waiting for anyone special?"
The quip seemed much funnier (not to mention more original) in my head. It was raining - Harriet ran over covering her hair. She smiled and tried the door, it was locked, the additional seconds I spent releasing it seemed to diminish her good cheer. She got in and checked herself in the mirror.
"Sorry, the central locking is busted, I need to get that looked at."
"That's ok, thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it, you know."
"So, this is your car, eh? Funny, I expected something..."
My iPhone was plugged into the stereo, I started my specially prepared playlist.
"Well, it gets me from A to B," I said.
"Really? I didn't take you for an A to B kind of guy."
We started off towards Haringey. As the Black Keys launched into a raucous chorus, Harriet nodded along and mouthed a few words. I reached across and grasped her knee: the international driver's gesture of approval. She laid her hand on mine then, glancing up, yelled, "look, cyclist!"
Fifty metres ahead, an elderly man puffed away on a mountain bike. He had momentarily strayed into the middle of the road.
"Don't worry," I said, "I've got it."
We fell into silence. Harriet continued to bob her head along. She pulled down the shade and checked herself in the mirror. Twice. She went on to warn me of a further three hazards en-route, by the time we reached her old flat I was fatigued.
A surly Australian man let us in. I immediately began shifting furniture. In, total I crammed a cabinet and two chairs into the Fiesta.
"Careful," Harriet said, as I slid the second chair into place, "that was my grandmother's."
"Sorry, it's just the way you did it. You might think it's a piece of old tat, but it means something to me."
"Sure," I said, "that it?"
The Australian man came out to the car, I noticed he was barefoot.
He said, "You got everything?"
Harriet put her arms around me:
"Oh definitely, Chris has been great. It's so good to have a boyfriend at a time like this."
The man eyed the contents of the car.
"Well, take care, H," he said, "I hope it all works out for you."
"Oh, I'm sure it will."
"Just let me know if you need anything."
The man stuck out his hand, and I shook it.
He said, "Look after her, mate."
We got into the car. As we set off, I said:
"So, you said he was your housemate, right?"
"Him? He's nobody."
As we headed back to South London the sky darkened.
"Looks like a storm," I said.
Harriet was looking out the window. She didn't answer.