Getting to know you

This column first appeared in Sunday Times Lifestyle on 2 June 2019:

I recently had an interesting debate with this guy I once dated. Let’s call him ‘X’. We got together about a billion years ago for half a second, until he ghosted me. He then reappeared all apologetic six or seven years later and now we’re sort of friends, or just chatting, or it’s complicated, or something, I don’t know yet, stop pressuring me, why does everything need a label?

Truth is, when X reappeared, I’d kind of just started seeing someone else, but I carried on chatting to X anyway. The kids today call it ‘cushioning’. You keep someone onboard as a cushion, in case your other thing doesn’t take off. Yes, I know, I know, I’m a terrible person.

On discovering he was a cushion, ‘X’ said that he believes, wait, let me give it to you verbatim straight out of WhatsApp. He believes, ‘… if that guy is the right one, you would know and you wouldn’t talk to any other guys. At least that’s how I am and what I’m looking for.’

I don’t know, X, I feel differently about it. I can’t figure out if it’s because I’m old now, so I’ve been burnt a few times and have learnt to tread carefully. Or because I’m old now, and over the years I’ve discovered that I’m a terrible judge of character. Of course, I’m as judgmental as anything, but that’s a different kind of judgy.

These days, I’m so often surprised off my feet by people in my life, who decide to have sudden personality transplants and turn into strangers, douche-holes or liars. And if I can’t trust my judgement of people I’ve known intimately for five or ten years, how on earth am I supposed to trust ones I’ve only known for a second?  

So, that’s why it takes me a moment to figure out how I feel about someone. And by a moment I mean anything from two to four years.

At the end of last year, I got one of those Facebook notifications to mark my friend anniversary with my most recent long-term ex. Even though I’m terminally bad at maths, even I could tell that the numbers looked wrong. I counted the years out on my fingers and discovered I had only accepted my boyfriend’s Facebook friend request two years into our relationship. That’s some untrusting madness, even for me. It takes taking things slowly to a whole new level.

So obviously I disagree with my ghoster-date-cushion-guy-whatever-thingy. You can’t just know at a glance how you feel about someone. I believe it takes time to get to know them, and even longer to trust them.

To really know someone’s heart and assorted innards, you need to see them sick, meet their friends, snoop in their medicine cabinet, borrow (and like) their deodorant. You need to see how they manage a crisis, or a cockroach, how they deal with the end of a loo roll, or the end of a carton of milk, what your kitchen looks like when they’re done in it, and what toppings they like on their pizza. You also need them to have seen you naked/sick/moody/PMSing/hangry, and still get a WhatsApp from them the next day. That kind of traction doesn’t happen overnight.

Although my entire argument confirms that I’m really just as clueless now as when I started dating over two decades ago. Because sure, you can choose to go with your gut and dive in feet first, like my ghoster-cushioning-mate does. Or you can hold out, be cautious, take your time and grow trust like ivy, and still have the rug pulled out from under you five years into the relationship. That’s love for you, it laughs with a snort as soon as you think you’ve figured it out.

One response to “Getting to know you”

  1. Noelene says:

    Delicious as ever. I’ve missed you – now that I live in Aberdeen (EC not UK).

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