The mystery of this iniquity we call love
Unsure why this blog is the forum to share this, I write on regardless. I guess it’s an experience universal to womankind that transcends race and place and time. Some of you may recognise my words.
I have met a man.
He is different to me in every way.
When I listen to him speak, (and I love for him to speak because he is knowledgeable and witty and so very excited by the times within which he lives and the opportunities it affords him) even his voice sounds unfamiliar. The rhythm of his speech and tone proves a strain on my far from delicate ears. He mumbles with vigour, adopting a distinctly public school tone of ‘poshness’, estranged from the languid, pounding assertive syllables of my working class world. ‘Err?’ ‘Pardon?’ ‘Sorry?’ I repeat vociferously, astounded that we share the same language, but are so alienated by dialect – the subtle dialect of class.
He is a kind and gentle and somewhat effeminate soul. He lacks the raw magnetism I once believed necessary to be attracted to a man – That ‘sex appeal’ and ‘hot body’ was a prerequisite of my youthful dalliances (both real and imagined). Now it’s a different type of mysticism I find alluring - It is intelligence, broad interests, humour, drive and honesty (oh no that sounds like a shopping list. Have I become that woman?). I expected him to talk at length on current affairs or subject matter of significance in a world as ruptured as ours (a precondition of a good education. Plus his age – he is 10 years older than me so has seen more of the world), but to date the conversation has inhabited two spheres, his social life, which is vast beyond comprehension and our respective jobs. It’s not that I don’t believe him capable of broad conversation, to the contrary, it’s just his social life, which is stimulating enough (for him alone it seems) has come to dominate our exchanges.
His life is so full, so free, so flamboyant, so without consequence or responsibility (odd for a man aged 41?). It is grounded in the possibility of more – more alcohol, more consumption, more parties, more to see, more to visit, more to do. There isn’t an underground show in town that he hasn’t seen, a quirky pop up restaurant in the depths of trendy east London that he does not know the chef, a band in a warehouse in Shoreditch that he is not going to see, a burlesque or bohemian club that he is not a member of or friends with the management; there is no social experience (of the ‘right’ kind) that he has not embraced. His work is secondary to his life; in fact the sole purpose of working is to fuel his excesses. On the contrary I work because I find it fulfilling; I am in the enviable position of having a job that is an extension of me, a role that I enjoy and take pride in defining myself by. I write for exactly the same reason. I take pleasure in the smaller things in life – jogging on a Sunday morning when the neighbourhood is still, the air is crisp and the sun is just rising - the only people on the street are those en route to church who ignore me when I fall on my face bloodying my knee (haha love the callousness of city living); I love discovering a new neighbourhood restaurant/market and thanking God that there is more on offer that the slew of hideous chicken and chips shops that mar my neighbourhood; I love listening to music in my room and dancing in front if the mirror like I’m Beyonce (just a fatter blacker version); I like going to concerts with my younger sister (it’s about the only thing she allows us to do to together - she’s the baby and thinks she’s far too interesting and busy for her older sister – so I take it where I can); I like reading out loud with him next to me on the sofa, I love to just be.
My life is rich and full and ultimately beyond the expectations of my youth, yet when I talk to him, I feel small and provincial. He evokes a hollowness of experience that I didn’t know existed, a sense of unfulfilled potential and a lost opportunity to live life to its fullest. In the simplest terms he unwittingly makes me feel like I’m dull and boring and out of touch with the opportunities in the here and now, which ultimately leaves me feeling loneliest when in his company.
It’s a symptom of the 21st century Londoner to talk in lists. The more you have on your list ergo the more interesting/ successful you are… What do you do? – You list where you work, why, your position and by virtue your salary, what you add to the company and where you see your future. Where do you live? – You list where it is, the proximity to public transport or to a better neighbourhood if you live in a bad place (E.g. I live in Ladywell – this is not a real place, it’s a few streets and a station – but it’s better than saying Lewisham), the benefits of the neighbourhood i.e. green space, good schools, Michelin star restaurants. The time you have lived there and whether there is something cool or exciting happening to keep you there. What did you do this weekend? – You list the visits you made, the restaurants you dined in (anything mainstream is a taboo) the parties you danced at (preferably a house party in a converted warehouse in Shoreditch where everyone is an artist – usually vegetarian, skinny and blond - and dressed in identical ripped skinny jeans, checked shirts and worn in trainers), the hours spent recuperating from your hangover in the newest café in town. All of which are frequented by a very specific demographic who are liberal in politics, but conservative in nature (preferring to stick to their own)... To say that you did nothing of a weekend (or more specifically something that can’t be defined by the basic list) is a fate worse than death; unless you can justify it as a quick respite from the several weekends of activity - a chance to refresh detox and rejuvenate before jumping back into the game.
I am no good with lists – other than to do lists which I regularly scribble down in my old school notepads on my way to and from work, or at intervals throughout the year when I seek to evaluate my life against my ambitions (falling in love was one - still to be achieved). I am thrown by the intrusiveness of the questions and the subtle undertones of judgement. Often I’ve had a wonderful fulfilling weekend, not always jam packed, but always including a dinner (I’m an eater) with my close friends; or going for a jog and reading, cooking and discovering a new film which I watch in my PJs in the living room; or a comedy show (featuring black comedians colleagues at work wouldn’t have heard of), a wedding/ christening/ naming ceremony (there are a lot of these when you hit 30) or going to a gallery exhibition… And yet when asked to produce a list of the weekend’s activity, my mind goes blank and I stutter something trite like, ‘I met up with some friends’. It means nothing and lacks the depth of what I really experienced, but it’s enough to show a semblance of ‘life’.
My new man, he can go for days with these lists. In fact sometimes people in the office ask him to email them the places to go, because he’s been or knows someone that can get them in. The best places are always described as ‘cool’. Who says cool after the age of 15? I tell him I hate the word and that what he really means is that he pompously approves of place where everyone talks and looks like him, and it is exclusive (because it keeps out people who don’t look and speak like him), so he can believe he belongs. He continues to use the word emphatically.
I don’t think he and I will amount to much. Our differences ultimately run too deep and divide us. Unlike the romantic polemics of Bronte and Austen, who once defined my understanding of love; the adult me, aware of real life beyond the great novels, believes our humanity is rooted in our differences - It is ultimately what defines us. So to see life though his eyes is to shut my eyes to myself.