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.