“You own everything that happens to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Anne Lamott
You know when there’s that crazy chemistry with someone and its like your body goes off-line for a bit. You can hear your brain shouting but it’s like it’s miles away, or underwater: ‘No! No! This one is not right. This one is NOT RIGHT.’
It’s like you knew from the first moment you set eyes on him but you pretended you didn’t. And for a bit there you nearly believed yourself.
It doesn’t happen often. It’s rare. Thank God.
I can hear my brain shouting out a list of exactly what the problems are: talks about how much money he earns incessantly; brags about his Porsche and his BMW motorbike and his flooring company incessantly; when he’s not talking about money he’s talking about himself; patronising; never asks questions; has to be right (even when he’s wrong); refers to anyone unvaccinated as ‘a conspiracy theorist’. All valid things – nobody’s perfect – but all things that don’t vibe with me at all.
But the body is not listening. Like, not even pretending to listen. It’s just full steam ahead with Captain Inappropriate, Mr Walking Red Flag, Count Vronsky of Streatham. Handsome, tall, black jeans white t-shirt, Joe 90 spectacles. Because he’s hot and he’s got a big motorbike* and that’s all we care about, right?
At one point I even manage to persuade myself that I’ve known him in a past life, that we met on a star millions of years ago, that that’s what this powerful connection is. It’s God! It’s the divine!! I tell him this. He understands. Says he re-incarnated on our first date. A literal re-incarnation, right there in The Prince Albert, Battersea!
Seriously. Hormones have a lot to answer for.
Then I realise – thanks to a quick Google search, because there’s nothing Google doesn’t know – that he’s lied to me about his age. He’s told me he’s 54 when Companies House tells me he’s 62. I doubt he lied to Companies House because let’s face it, he’s not trying to get Companies House’ pants off, is he?
If he’s lied to me about his age what else has he lied to me about? Blissful ignorance becomes harder to sustain but the body’s not giving up yet. It wants what it wants.
After 8 weeks of ‘dating’ this Joe 90 I notice I’ve only actually seen him IRL – as they say – three times. OK so he works outside of London but even so, this is odd. He messages every day though, like every.single.day. It’s not me initiating. Almost always he texts first. So that’s good, right?
Eventually, despite my very best efforts, I can no longer ignore the fact that his texts are consistent but unsatisfactory. Like, highly unsatisfactory. There’s no dialogue, no creating of a shared space. It’s a YouTube video, or it’s a photograph of himself, or it’s a photograph of wherever he’s just been on his motorbike. One day its an entire 37 snap photo dump of a job he’s just done in Warwick! 37 snaps of commercial rubber flooring essentially. One day it’s a snap every three hours: Tooting Bec Lido, a duck, a cocktail, a dandelion, a completely and utterly random photograph of a cuckoo clock that he clearly hasn’t even taken himself, some Morrissey lyrics. I mean, what?
One time it was: Hello x
Often it’s just: How are you? x
How are you? X How are you? X How are you? X…. My head starts to spin a bit. Soon I don’t even know how I am. Going crazy actually. How are you?
I feel like Taylor Swift when I say it’s been a month and I haven’t seen you.
Then it’s a YouTube video of Wings, Silly Little Love Songs: ‘I loooove you!’
Roxy Music, Love is the Drug.
What? We’ve been on three dates!
I leave London to visit friends in Czech Republic. Whilst I’m there he texts.
’Would you like to meet up tomorrow?’
I haven’t seen him in a month. I’m cross.
‘No,’ I reply grumpily, ‘I’m away now.’
‘Oh,’ he says, ‘anywhere nice?’
I ignore him.
The next day I soften and send him a photo of the pretty square in Pribor and Sigmund Freud’s birth place. Me lying on Freud’s couch with a grin. No irony lost! He doesn’t open my message and twelve hours later I delete it. My reasoning: if you can’t be arsed looking at my message mate then you don’t deserve to receive it.
‘Deleted message?’ He asks.
‘I don’t want to do this any more,’ I text back, furious now.
Who does he think he is?
‘I can’t date someone like you. I’ve barely seen you in 8 weeks and your communication style is off the chart. Sorry. It was nice to know you and good luck.’
It’s not exactly a MasterClass in elegant disengagement, but never mind. Job done.
If only I’d left it there things would have been just about OK. But no. Addiction is addiction after all. Intermittent attention – it’s like a slot machine. You can’t stop pulling the lever until you get a win. And after that you need another win. It’s a dopamine hit. Nothing sexier or more mysteries than that. Certainly no choirs of angels.
A few days pass and I regret my hasty decision to end things. The body wants what the body wants.
‘I panicked,’ I say, ‘I’m sorry. Can we meet up?’
It’s not twelve hours this time. It’s seconds. Funny that.
‘Sure’ he says, ‘but you guessed it, I’m away until Sunday.’
‘Can I call you?’ I say.
‘Well, yes, but not until Sunday when we’re back.’
He’s probably shagging the woman who works for him, my brain offers, helpfully.
Well probably, but let’s not think about that now.
Or servicing half the women of South West London, who are all under the impression they’re in an exclusive relationship with him… because… that is what he has given them to believe.
OK, well, whatever.
Standards are dropping at an unprecedented rate.
So he’s back in London and we meet up. We go out for dinner. I have in mind something sophisticated and chic, modern European and a cocktail at the Artist’s Residence. He has in mind a pint of cider and a curry at the Top Curry Centre. I kid you not. I hate curry houses, even at the best of times. But we go to the ghastly curry house for the simple and very transparent reason that he has absolutely no interest in what I would like to do. What concerns him is what he would like to do and nothing more.
There’s only so much longer I can ignore this complete and utter shit show for the sake of chemistry. I can feel the body starting to prevaricate. Starting to come back on-line.
I can hardly even remember what happens after that. I get brain fog. The whole thing drags on explosively and yet limply for a few more excruciating days or weeks before I completely and utterly lose my shit. I’m now a million miles away from any sort of a MasterClass and I don’t even care. I more or less tell him he’s an arsehole. He doesn’t reply.
Instagram starts flooding my feed with dating advice. God knows how it knows. Social media is the fucking Gestapo. I get the message though. Dump his skinny arse for the last time. Right now, girlfriend!
Block. Unblock. Block. Unblock. Block. Unblock. Block. Unblock.
It drives you around the bend actually, this kind of thing.
Block. Block. Block.
But a few days later I start to back peddle. Again!!! Should I have ended it? Again. Have I overreacted? Again. My libido is going bananas. Again!
What the hell is the matter with me?
So I text him. ‘Are you OK? I’m sorry I was mean. Can we meet up?’
This time he replies.
‘Actually,’ he says, ‘its clear to me that you’re dangerous and unhinged. This is not a criticism, just an observation,’ he says, cooly. ‘It’s not even the first time you’ve done this and frankly it leaves me cold.’
Or rather: game on!
Because if he’d meant no he wouldn’t have replied, right?
I laugh aloud.
One more spin of the wheel. The dopamine hit is in sight.
So I wheedle and I charm and eventually he gives in, gets his sense of humour back.
‘Curry?’ He says.
He’s got a thing for curry. Clearly.
‘Yay,’ I reply. Because I’ve not exactly got the negotiating upper hand in that moment, when it comes to eateries.
He replies with a link about Kanye West. Its water off a duck’s back at this point.
Fleetingly I wonder if he might be on the spectrum? Or suffering with ADHD?
But before we get chance to go for the suggested curry I get cold feet again. I tell him I don’t want to see him after all. What? Yes he’s slippery and evasive. But what the hell is the matter with me? Maybe it’s the thought of round two at that bloody curry house.
Instagram is now talking to me about emotional manipulation. This communication style of his is called ‘bread crumbing’ apparently, in the dating world. Its a manipulation technique to deliberately create the impression, in the other person’s mind, that they’re in a relationship, in order to get sex and attention with which to bolster the bread-crumbers own non-existent self-esteem.
Great. Why is my dating life like a PhD in psychology?
Even though I’ve made it clear that I don’t want to see him again and that I’ve found the whole thing entirely traumatising, still, he carries on sending through vapid memes on the intermittent. Which is annoying because every time he pops up again it drags me back in to the toxic push pull dynamic I’m trying to escape. Which of course is exactly what he wants.
Eventually I tell him to just bloody stop. I make it clear I’m not impressed with his lies and his manipulations. I tell him I know about bread-crumbing. That I know he lied to me to get sex without having any intention of forming a meaningful relationship. I make out that’s what’s sent me crazy. It probably is what’s sent me crazy. He doesn’t deny it. ‘If you want to categorise it,’ he says, ‘there’s always freedom of choice.’
Except there isn’t, is there? Because someone takes away your freedom of choice the minute they lie to you about themselves and about the situation you’re in together. It’s coercion, actually.
He responds trying to push it back on me, trying to laugh it off. Trying to say I’m overreacting to his latest meme, which was just a joke and a bit of fun. Keeping life light, because it can get heavy, he says. He fails to engage with the fact that I’m talking about the bigger picture. Fails to engage with the fact that he is currently what’s making my life heavy.
So now he’s gaslighting as well. I know about that. I’ve seen that before.
And just like that the bubble bursts. I don’t know when it happens exactly but I’m suddenly repulsed by the whole thing. Hormones vanish like spirits back into the night.
This, I believe, is what the internet calls ‘getting the ick!’ Also known as Sudden Repulsion Syndrome.
I can suddenly see him through a clear lens. An OK enough guy probably, doing his best to get through life, that sure enough can sometimes get heavy. And yes, handsome and kind of fun. But just in no way all the things I was wanting to project on to him.
Phew. Chemistry. Don’t be fooled, folks. A bit like Joe 90 – it’s persuasive, but it’s not what it seems.