This column first appeared here in The Sunday Times on 13th December, 2020.
THE BOYFRIEND STACK – By Paige Nick
There’s a wall in our family home, filled by my father edge-to-edge with photos of us. My siblings, their spouses and children; playing sport, celebrating milestones, catching fish, growing up too fast.
Since I choose to have no spouse or kids (that I know of), my spot on the wall houses a selfie of myself and an ex on a trip to Liverpool.
When I visited about two years after we’d broken up, and a year into my current relationship, I noticed that picture had been quietly replaced with a new picture of me and my current guy. Similar pose, similar vibe, different location, different guy.
Noticing something sticking out, I discovered this new photo had simply been stuck on top of the picture of me and my previous guy. Which, in turn, had been stuck on top of a picture of me and the previous-previous guy before him, and so on, back till the dawn of boyfriends.
At this rate, by the time I’m done, my spot on the wall will protrude by a metre. We’ll have to move the bed and the bookshelf to make way for it.
See, if a person decides they don’t ever want to upgrade to the marriage and kids package, and rather upgrade to the just me doing whatever the hell I want package, then what’s the harm in building up a stack that protrudes a metre from the wall?
And plus, you don’t just buy the first pair of jeans you try on, do you? Although it’s probably not reasonable to compare finding a life partner to finding jeans. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find the perfect pair of jeans?
In the novel I’m reading, Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Random House, 2019), Toby lists the dates he’s had in the month since his marriage ended and his love affair with dating apps began.
I’m paraphrasing here, but there’s the 27-year-old occupational therapist who gives him a hand-job in a stairwell, the 38-year-old dentist who fires off 11 vicious texts when he has to cancel dinner at her place, due to a babysitting issue. Followed by selfies in fishnets, but otherwise naked under an apron. The PHD student who would like some light pressure around her neck while they’re kissing, please. (As a doctor, he worries that doing so would be a violation of his Hippocratic Oath). The lawyer, who cries throughout their date. Bette, who had once been in a porno, or maybe it was just a video an ex-boyfriend distributed. And Barbara, who he quickly realises he’s related to through a great uncle. And on and on, and on.
I’m not saying I’m the most competitive person in the world, but I’m working on it. So, I tried to write my own list. I also want to have as much fun as Fleishman.
But Toby is a 40-something doctor in New York City, who never lets a trans-fat or carb pass his lips. And I’m a 40-something writer in Cape Town who never doesn’t. So maybe it’s foolish to compete. Plus, doctors are far more desirable than writers; their salaries trump our royalties every day of the week, and you get what you pay for. Also, he’s fictional. And one should never compare one’s life with fiction, you’ll always come off less interesting. Truth is stranger than fiction, not sexier than it.
I tallied up regardless, with; Journo who lied about having an ex-wife and a kid. Ad exec who told me he’d broken up with his girlfriend to be with me, but hadn’t bothered to actually break up with her. ER doctor who wrote me scripts for the morning after pill. Lawyer who forgot to bring his wallet on the date, twice. Consecutively. Con artist who I later discovered regularly broke into my apartment while I was at work. Middle manager who cheated on me with his best friend. And on and on, and on.
That game wasn’t as much fun as I thought it was going to be, so I re-evaluated mid-list. Maybe it’s not what’s on your list, but how you’re portrayed on someone else’s list that counts. Here I get to work with fiction again, which instantly turns things back in my favour.
I put myself on one ex’s imaginary list as, ’35-year-old author, who was great in bed.’ (As opposed to ‘Moody ad copywriter, who white-lied about her body shape on her dating profile.) And onto another’s imaginary list as, ‘funniest writer I ever dated.’ (Funny ha-ha, not funny strange.)
Now this is a game I can get behind. And anyway, the other way of playing was getting too confusing. I can’t decide whether having more crazy people on my list than Toby’s would be winning or losing. It’s a sexual minefield out there.