Date: Valentine’s Day.
Event: A Singles Night
Location: A pub somewhere on the outskirts of a market town.
There’s no reason to feel nervous, I tell myself as I push open the door to a private room on the first floor of a newly spruced up gastro-pub. I’ll chat to a few people, get the material I need for my twelve-hundred-word article and head home. Simple. For, after all it’s just an assignment like any other isn’t it? Except that it’s not. It should be. But it’s not. Because there’s something about Valentine’s Day when you’re single that feels loaded. Loaded like a trap, like a snare that can trip you up when you least expect it and leave you winded, a little breathless, unsure of your ground and of your next move.
The first thing I notice is that there are more women than men in the room. A lot more. Great. Just great. It just goes to prove a theory that my mind had been reluctantly forming for some time: Take out the married, the gay, the commitment phobic and the criminally insane and what’s left of available men makes pretty slim pickings. Is it that there are simply more single women than single men between the ages of 30 to 55 in the UK? I’d have to check the statistics but at this rate my article was going to be seriously depressing. And Miranda, Editor–in–Chief, wanted something upbeat. The word perky had been used. I look about me. I straighten my shoulders, flick back my hair, and give my attitude a re-fresh. If Miranda wants perky she’s damn well going to get perky. I head for the bar.
8.20pm to 9.35pm:
Of the eight women I speak to, here’s the breakdown:
Four of them are successful, assured, attractive women in their forties, each of them carrying one those oversized designer handbags that cost a ridiculous amount of money. All four of them have expertly highlighted hair and trim flexible bodies beaten in to submission by a daily work out at the gym or with a personal trainer. All four of them have a bright confident engaging manner. All four of them have a look of quiet desperation about the eyes.
“I just can’t get a date” confides one of their number, Helen, a partner in a local firm of solicitors. “I go to as many events as I’m invited to, I join things, I volunteer, I even go to the occasional concert or gallery on my own… but nothing. Nothing ever seems to happen to me. Why is that do you think?” The look she turns on me is searching “What is it that I’m doing wrong? Why can’t I get a date?”
For a moment I toy with the idea of offering the usual platitudes “You’ll meet someone when you least expect it/there’s someone out there for everyone blah blah ” but as she continues to scan my face I find myself blurting out “Because maybe you try too hard?”
I can see the idea settle and take shape in her mind. She gives herself a little shake, offers me a brittle smile and turns back to her friends.
Two of the women are widows. One in her late thirties, the other in her mid-fifties. Their experiences of bereavement had been different in the details but exactly the same in the essentials. They have loved, and they have lost. Lost in the cruellest way. Lost their Loves to the ever-hungry, ever-predatory disease that kills, in this country, one in two of us.
“And starting again?” I ask, “Do you think finding such a love again is possible?”
“Yes” they both agree simultaneously. Then after a beat, the older woman admits “No, unlikely”. The younger woman looks down at her left hand where her wedding ring glimmers darkly “I know it can’t ever be the same or even get anywhere close but there’s something in me that keeps hoping that I will be lucky enough to feel wrapped in that safe, warm cocoon of love again. Because you see… the worst thing my husband did by dying… was leaving me still alive.”
A lovely gentle faced woman in her late forties called Ann, with greying hair and a sturdy figure, had had, until recently, only one sexual partner. Her husband. And when, two years ago, he’d left her for a thirty-one-year-old florist, she’d crumpled, then rallied, then despaired again and was now thoroughly enjoying the resurgence of a long dormant libido.
“I’d forgotten how much I used to enjoy sex. But I must say that it’s been an absolute revelation. Being with other partners. They come in so many different shapes and sizes”
“Don’t they just” I agree and then because I’m genuinely curious, ask “And are you having a lot of sex?”
“As much as I can get” her smile is radiant “That’s why I’m here. Trawling for fresh meat”
I had to love that.
The final woman I speak to, Simone, a striking red-head in her forties with a laser–like stare and a slight overbite, has been single for nearly four years.
“Divorce ruins you” she states matter-of-factly “It shatters your illusions, rips out your heart and leaves you broke and depressed.”
“You don’t seem particularly depressed now” I remark
“You should have seen me six months ago” She retorts. “I was two stone overweight, living on my nerves and a bottle of chardonnay a day, without the confidence or will to even think about meeting someone new”
“What happened to get you back on your feet?”
I was on the scent of a story here. Maybe this was the perky I was looking for.
“It was when I decided that there was no way in hell that that bastard ex of mine was going to be happier than me. They say that the best revenge is living well and living well for me, means being secure” Simone’s eyes darken “Once you realise that it’s a bloody jungle out there and that if you want to land the big game then you’ve got get match-fit, it concentrates the mind. I’m not messing about here. I want what I want, and I aim to get it. Now let’s get serious. Do you know anyone over fifty, mortgage free, earning anything over seventy-five thousand a year? He has to be a non-smoker and preferably no kids and I don’t like…”
I sigh. Perky this definitely isn’t.
9.35pm to 10.10pm:
Of the five men I speak to, here are the salient points:
Two of them are divorced. The first, a tall slightly stooped man with close cropped hair, a nose too big for his face and an expression of aggrieved discontent starts to tell me of the financial settlement made in favour of his ex-wife but I soon stop listening. The other, in his forties, is an engineer by profession and, I quickly discover, a complete and utter bore by nature. He has a pronounced gap between his two front teeth through which bits of the dry–roasted peanuts he’s snaffling down, shoot out in my direction. I back away. Even in the interests of research, I do draw the line at being spat upon.
Geoff, I learn, is separated. A well-built man of about fifty, he has a good head of hair, blank lustreless eyes and a disconcerting habit of allowing a weighty silence to develop before speaking.
“Do you think you and your wife might get back together?” I ask. He looks thoughtful as if the question has never really occurred to him. I try again. “I mean… would you like to?” He continues to look thoughtful, but I don’t press for an answer. Time is money and all that.
Jim, in his forties and with the wiry physique of the habitual cyclist, has never been married. With attractive mobile features and lively green eyes, he’s a little overeager but no less pleasant for that. “Its not that I’ve avoided marriage” he says, “It’s just that I’ve never been lucky enough to meet the right person”
“What sort of woman are you looking for?” I ask. He looks directly at me and smiles “Well… Someone warm and intelligent and who likes the outdoors and is interested in keeping fit and…”
I cut him off “That counts me out then. I loathe any form of physical exercise. I’m practically allergic to it. But wait one moment, there’s someone I’d like to introduce you to”
I make my way over to Helen, the solicitor with the designer handbag. “Come and meet Jim” I say “He seems nice. Genuine, I think. One of those outdoorsy types”
“Well, I do ski” says Helen squinting over my shoulder to get a better look at him “But I’m not sure he’s really my type”
“His jacket” She shakes her head sadly “I don’t like his jacket”
Firmly I take her by the arm and lead her across the room towards Jim.
“Isn’t it a good idea to open up one’s mind and give a guy a chance?” I ask “And who knows? This might just be the night you get asked to go on a date”
As I walk back to the bar I’m stopped by Ann who’d been watching my match-making attempt with interest
“She could do worse” She says nodding in Jim’s direction. “His stamina’s good and he’s flatteringly enthusiastic but his testicles are oddly uneven in size. Probably from having them squashed up and in to his bike saddle for so many hours at a time. Can’t be good for the scrotum, now can it?”
Philip, a man in his fifties wearing glasses, a well-cut suit and an air of mild benevolence is the last of them.
“I’m looking for a serious relationship” he informs me right off the bat.
“Good for you” I reply, “And how’s that working out for you?”
“Actually not all that well” He admits, running a hand through thinning brown hair.
“I think I need to be more assertive. Women seem to like that”
“Not all of them” I reply then I’m struck by an idea “Perhaps what you need is a woman who’s assertive in her own right thereby taking the pressure off you to be? After all, why should you be anything other than yourself”
His look of benevolence intensifies “Why indeed?”
“Hold that thought” I say “I’ll be right back, there’s a woman called Simone that I think you should meet”
I let myself in to the car. Switching on the engine, I realise that whilst I hadn’t met anyone myself to share future Valentine’s days with, perhaps, through my efforts, Helen and Simone had. And as for that loaded trap of self-doubt I’d feared to find myself ensnared by, I’d successfully managed to side-step it by focusing on other people’s concerns and not just my own. I might not have planned this evening to give Cupid a helping hand, but it looked like I’d done just that. And whether or not his arrows strike home or prove to be a complete misfire I would probably never know. But as I drive along the winding road towards home through the shimmering darkness of a bright cold February night, I can only hope that for both Helen and Jim and for Simone and Philip, his aim will be straight and true.
Enjoyed the post? Do take a look at part 1 here.