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Beautiful stranger on a train

It’s been more than a week since I switched off my dating profiles, but this morning I switched them on, thinking they’re like drift-nets out at sea; maybe one day someone interesting will swim into them. Well tonight something interesting did indeed happen, but not anything like what I was expecting.

The Wanderer was visiting London and I went to meet her. We had a fun, friendly evening catching up and I went back to a major train station to get a train home.

As I walk along the platform I spot a pretty blonde sitting on a scarce seat along the wall and we make eye-contact. I like the look of her but I keep walking to the far end of the platform.

A minute later she walks over and stands next to me. We’re the only two people standing so far from the growing crowd.

Gulp.

We make eye contact a few times, then smile suggestively to each other.

I can’t help but conclude that she deliberately came to stand next to me. There was no reason for her to do so.

People start to shuffle forward to claim a spot where they think a door will be on the train as it stops.

She moves forward and I think, sod it, I shall too.

I stand next to her.

She feels my presence and turns to me. Our eyes meet and she smiles coyly before quickly looking away.

The train arrives and we all pile on. It’s a fast train, so the next stop is half an hour away. She gets the aisle seat of a two-seater while I decide to stand near the doors as I normally do.

Everyone has their seat and the train is about to depart. She looks around, our eyes meet again…and she moves over to the window seat, cramming herself into the two-seater unnecessarily.

No, fuck it, I’m going to go sit next to her and I’ll wait for an excuse to talk to her.

I go sit next to her.

We don’t look at each other.

I keep peering out the corner of my eye for an excuse to talk to her. Nothing presents itself.

After a while she sneezes.

Here’s my chance to say, “bless you” as an ice-breaker.

After that I’ll launch into my prepared cheesy, “I know this is totally random and you’re going to laugh, but I don’t suppose you’re single?”

I can’t say it.

I can’t say a word.

Something inside me has locked up tight.

I chicken out.

I’m angry and ashamed at my cowardice.

Then I realize that that is my problem.

I’m ashamed.

I’m ashamed of everything.

I’m ashamed of me. Ashamed of my life. Ashamed of my possessions. Ashamed of being unemployed.

My brain starts racing and projecting what could happen if I strike up a conversation with this cutie that might lead to a date.

I wouldn’t want her asking what I do because I have got to the point where I now fear that question.

I wouldn’t want to invite her to my home, because I’m ashamed of it.

The idea of taking her out on dates fills me with a sense of dread because I just can’t afford it.

This realization is an epiphany to me.

Not only am I not ready for love, I am also not even capable of dating at the moment.

The train gets to the first station and she stands up. God, she’s nice. Perfect-looking, in fact.

I turn my legs aside to the aisle so that she can get past. She takes her time passing me and I look up.

She’s looking down at me and she gives me a lovely smile. I watch through the misty window as she disappears into the oblivion outside.

An earlier version of me would never have let this play out like it has.

I feel like dying.

I’ve switched off all my dating profiles again.

I’m continuing to give dating a break.

This experience just reinforces my belief that the man in the mirror needs to make some changes.

Michael Jackson – Man in the mirror

Maybe tomorrow

I have The Wanderer sleeping in my bed but my heart yearns for The One whom I am yet to find. At the beginning of the year I bought tickets to two pop concerts as acts of unbridled optimism. I believed that by the end of the year I would have found Her and treating Her to artists we both liked would be a nice way to end the year and share our first Winter together. I love the build-up to Christmas in England. There’s a muted buzz in the air as the winds from Siberia arrive, darkness descends earlier each day and Christmas decorations appear everywhere. It’s the perfect time to be in love.

Alas, my plans have not worked out and I have these tickets. Cat Lady and I have sporadically swapped messages via Facebook and WhatsApp, but I think we both know that we’re not meant for each other. She’s still stinging from her last relationship and I’ve realized that I am too, but for different reasons. My trust issues run deep and I’ve recently discovered that I was played by a psychopath. I have little confidence in my ability to assess a woman correctly, hence my little tests and games that I’ve played on some of my dates. They were a crutch for my hobbled ability to trust and a patch for my bruised ego, hiding what was really going on inside me.

Cat Lady and I meet on a rainy week-night to see Chris Rea at the Royal Albert Hall. She’s unfashionably late and Chris is into his routine as we squeeze into our seats. I hate being late because it seems rude to me, but sometimes it can’t be helped. People around us make it known that they don’t appreciate our disruption. Cat Lady whips her phone out and starts taking photos of everything around us; she even photographs the ceiling. A steward comes over to ask her to desist because of the flash. She apologizes, but no sooner is he gone than she continues photographing. If I was thinking this to be a date then I would be very unimpressed. However, I know that this venue and outing is new to her and she’s seeing it all through tourist eyes.

Irritated patrons around us tut-tut and I ask Cat Lady to put her phone away. She fiddles with it, disables the flash and continues photographing the architecture of this historic building. Her pig-headedness is breath-taking and it just reinforces my belief that we would not get along in the long-term. She’s just too stubborn with a bit of selfishness and inconsideration thrown in to make it extra annoying for any man involved with her. This might be a reason why she’s still single in her early forties, never really having had a long-term relationship.

After the show I walk Cat Lady to her Tube station and we make polite small-talk. I do find her easy to talk to and having a common additional language gives us another sense of humour that we can share. At the Tube station I try to kiss her good-night on a cheek, but she moves her head quickly and kisses me on my lips. I’m surprised and give off a laugh. We look at each other, blink and then kiss again, this time deliberately we go for each other’s lips. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing for me and felt like harmless fun.

“Damn, you’re a good kisser,” she says with big eyes as I pull away from her.

I say nothing, she smiles at me and then spins around and disappears into the station. I laugh to myself, wondering what that was about. She is just a friend who likes how I kiss, that’s how I perceive her. Could there be more between us? I don’t think so.

A few nights later and it’s Saturday. I take The Wanderer to go see The Simple Minds at the old Millennium Dome. She’s been a little depressed, she’s tried to hide it, but I can see it. I’m hoping that a night out will lift her spirits. The Wanderer is impressed by the spectacle of shops and restaurants that are inside the dome, so it’s off to a good start. The warm-up act is Ultravox and seeing as we’re both fans of 80s music it comes as a pleasant surprise. The Simple Minds take to the stage and kick the show off with a spectacular lighting display and deafening rendition of one of their famous hits. As is the norm at such events, everyone is standing, which is fine by me because I’m over six foot tall, but The Wanderer is petite and it isn’t long before she is sitting.

She makes for a sad figure and I feel very sorry for her. Life hasn’t been kind to her and I was part of her recent disappointments, something that I feel bad about. I don’t like letting people down. I’ve realized that I should have been even more choosy about my dates earlier in the year, but I told myself that profiles rarely capture what a person is about. If I had been pickier and stuck to my stipulation that single mothers were a no-no for me, then I wouldn’t have met The Wanderer and I wouldn’t have ended up hurting her. I am to blame.

I can’t just leave her sitting there like that, so I sit down too and give her the best smile that I can. The Wanderer feigns a smile. We’re both feeling low. It’s the strangest thing, feeling alone in a crowd. She complains of back-pain, which I believe to be psycho-somatic; her mind is poisoning her body. She’s in a negative spiral that I can’t help reverse.

If she felt about me that the way I felt about Baltic Babe and Krazy Girl, then it can’t be easy sleeping in the same bed as me. To her credit she has behaved herself, whereas I don’t think I could have with the two aforementioned young ladies. Being with me has probably been a mixed blessing for her in that she has a place to stay for a while, but she has had to watch me sit at my computer and swap emails with women on dating sites. If I’ve had to speak to a prospective date on the phone I have always gone to another room. I wouldn’t be surprised if she can’t wait to get the hell away from me.

We’re amongst the first to leave the concert. Once on the train The Wanderer snuggles up to my shoulder and falls asleep until we get to my town. I know that I can only be friends with her and I want it to stay that way. A younger, less-experienced me would have made love to her by now for very silly reasons that I would have regretted the next day. I am growing up after all.

My thoughts turn to the women I’ll be meeting in the next weeks. It’s going to be a busy time for me, which is exciting, but I find myself doubting my being ready for a serious relationship. If I do find Her, then that question is likely to evaporate.

My next date will be number forty. Forty! The common denominator with all these dates is me. There must be something wrong with me. What is it? I need to figure it out quickly because I’m running out of enthusiasm for this dating scene. How much longer do I need to walk on this lonely highway? I’m starting to feel like a desperate hitch-hiker under a desolate sky, hoping that the lights slowing down for me will be someone friendly, interesting and safe.

When will I find Her? Maybe tomorrow? I have a date set up that I’m looking forward to. Maybe tomorrow…

Stereophonics – Maybe Tomorrow

Loneliness and The Wanderer returns

Late at night, not every night but only some nights, Loneliness takes me by the hand and drags me silently into a cold, dark, murky corner of my world. There he beats me up, brutalizes me with words that hurt my feelings. His intent is make me give up, to forget about finding love, but I don’t break. Instead I shout back that I shall find Her, that She does exist. I tell him that it’s just a sick game our mutual master called Life is playing and that, if I stay the course, I shall be rewarded. That belief grows in my chest and shines like a bright light from my heart out through my rib-cage. A light so bright that it dissolves that bully called Loneliness and the darkness releases me, falling like shackles around my feet. I defeat him every time. I do not fear Loneliness, because every time he comes to visit, I feel better for it.

I have no problem with being alone. Lately, however, I’ve begun to feel lonely. I’m starting to suspect that it’s more than that: I’m starting to feel unloved. I’m not one for day-dreaming or living in a fantasy; I deal in reality. My reality is that nobody loves me. It’s the focus of every day for me to find someone who loves me as much as I love her. I go about my days doing the things I need to, but that feeling is always with me.

All I want is a cute, pretty, younger blonde, non-smoker who doesn’t want children and is baggage free. All I seem to attract is chain-smoking, cat-hoarding, single mothers older than me of various shapes, sizes and colours. Finding someone that I share an incredible connection with seems like a far-off luxury right now.

Wherever I go, I see them, the women I like the look of. At train stations, on trains, in shopping centres, in the streets, everywhere I go, they’re there. It’s pretty much every second young blonde. I cant help it, attraction isn’t a choice. I see them, but they don’t notice me. Almost never do I catch one of them looking at me. I’m invisible to them. I’m like a ghost, moving about in lonely isolation, devoid of meaningful interaction, bereft of recognition. I’m amidst a whirlpool of women that I want to get to know better, but when I reach out to one of them, they recoil disdainfully with a feminine shrug of a shoulder and carry on spinning around me, teasing me, toying with me, hurting me.

I now have the conversational skills and confidence to talk to any woman, but I know that I’m almost certainly wasting my time. I’m fighting Nature in that I don’t want to have children, but almost all women do. A random stranger in the street is not a good use of my time and emotional capital. Online dating is my best avenue for love because it does all the filtering for me.

I’m starting to think that the woman of my dreams lives exactly there, in my dreams. Life for me revolves around working long days and then spending weekends meeting women who turn out to be just more hay in my haystack. That needle has to be in here somewhere.

The optimist in me has also been thinking about what a relationship will be like. I have some reservations borne out of my new-found view of women. I have questions that I would like answers to. 1) Do good looking women gravitate toward a man with money as a deep-seated seating way of dealing with the inevitable fear of what would happen once their looks fade? 2) Are all 9 and 10s stuck-up, snobbish little bitches? 3) As much as I want to share my life with someone special, I know that I value my sense of freedom that I’m enjoying at the moment. Do I have to trade one for the other? I’m in no hurry to want to live with some, but do want to spend a good amount of time with her. Do we have to live together? I think not. I hope She’s of a like mind.

I also have some new shifts in my paradigm that I’m coming to terms with. 1) I’m realising that a woman having the perfect body but defective personality will not work. A great personality and okay body will last longer with me. 2) I’ve realized that many of my dates were unnecessary. My inner-saboteur was at work. I went on some dates because I wanted something fun to do and, more importantly, it was providing a measure of positivity in my life at a time when I was unhappy at work. I need to be more selective in my dating. 3) I have noticed something else about myself. If I’m with a girl on a date and I catch myself checking out another woman, then the one in front of me is obviously not attractive enough for me. I know that if I’m with someone I do fancy, then other women become invisible to me. I literally only have eyes for her.

The problem is that it feels like I’m entering an emotional Winter. I just don’t feel ready for a relationship any more. I find myself contemplating another Xmas as a singleton, afraid of becoming a charity case again. I’m happily writing away, recounting my experiences. Perhaps the cumulative effect of doing so is the cause of that feeling. However, the experiences of the past year have drawn in to perspective how long my road has been so far and the end is nowhere in sight. It might take me several more such years and so be it. I think of it as a marathon, so it’s okay to take a breather surely?

My dating site subscriptions are starting to mature and I feel no desire to renew. One by one they feel like weighty doors closing to me, noisily and emphatically slamming closed, followed by resounding echoes that shout out my failure. Well, for the time being at least.

I know that in the new year that there will be a deluge of women who have made a New Years’ resolution to “get back out there”, some egged on by well-meaning friends, some fed up of having been the spare wheel at the Xmas dinner table. I know the feeling.

Perhaps I should be like other people and lie about my age on my profiles? I don’t look my age and often get told that I look 35. If I was a real bastard, I would say on my profiles that I am looking to have children. I could have my pick of women by comparison. Then when I grew tired of their nagging for children or their looks faded or any reason good enough for me, I would say goodbye to them and find a replacement. However, I’m not like that.

I am so not the person I was before I began online dating. Who or what am I these days? Am I a player? Am I hopeless romantic? Am I a modern-day Mr Darcy? Am I all of these things…or none? What am I becoming? I’m not sure. The pointers on my moral compass are bent; I’m not sure what is right or wrong any more. On top of that I feel like I’m perpetually in the shadows, observing, rarely seen and never acknowledged. It can’t carry on like this.

The Wanderer contacts me from the icy confines of left field. Her plans for a new life in London haven’t worked out and she finds herself on the brink of being homeless. I take pity on her and let her come stay with me for two weeks until she returns to her native Ireland. She’s wandering again. My kindness is also driven by a sense of guilt because of how things had turned out between us. She was taken with me, thinking me to be her ‘The One’. I wasn’t of a like mind and had to let her down as gently as I knew how. I know that I hurt her at a time when she couldn’t handle any more pain.

I fetch The Wanderer with my little car and load her worldly possessions into it before driving back to my little shag-pad where I unload it all into a now impracticably crowded apartment. She has a back condition and I’m too big to fit on my sofa, so we have to share my bed. I know that I can resist the temptation to have sex with her. I’m now big enough a person to realize just how much that would complicate matters between us. She makes no approach and nor do I. It’s cold and we feel asleep spooning, sharing body heat. I’m not at all tempted to rekindle a romance with her. My mother used to say, “You only know someone when you live with them,” and her words are proving true. I’m an early-bird while The Wanderer is a night-owl. We’re chalk and cheese in so many ways. A relationship between us would never have worked. I feel vindicated in my decision about her.

Unexpectedly some new faces appear on the radar screen that is my preferred online dating websites. It seems there might be some hope after all. A busy run-up to Christmas is in the offing and I’m excited again at the thought of finally finding Her. This Grey Knight is going to be stepping out of the shadows.

The Rasmus – In The Shadows

Date #30 – The Wanderer & friends

I’m not going to go into detail with this date, other than to tell you that I think of her as The Wanderer. Yes, we had a whirlwind romance that lasted two weeks before I decided that she wasn’t right for me. She withheld information that clashed badly with my trust issues and consequently it put the brakes on my feelings for her. I tried my best to let her down gently.

Some couples have a very limited future in the romance department, but have a great future as friends. That is it how it has turned out for me and The Wanderer. She has become like the wise sister I never had or knew that I needed. We’re in contact almost every day, sometimes several times a day. We know exactly what is going on in each other’s lives. We share in each others successes and setbacks.

She knows about my writing and has read many pieces before anyone else has; I value her opinion that much. Today we give each other an intellectual outlet that few other people can. She’s a special person to me. I know that we are going to be friends for a long time. I’ve decided to not write about her because I would not want to do anything that might jeopardise our friendship.

What I gained from this experience is knowing that men and women can be friends. Ever since I first saw ‘When Harry Met Sally’ the question that the movie posed about it being impossible for men and women to be friends has bothered me. It had that effect because I knew that I was being friendly towards women whom I’d have liked to have been more than just friends with, but they only saw me as a friend.

More than twenty years on I have a deeper understanding of this issue and, as it stands, many women will feel uncomfortable by what I’m going to share.

In my twenties there was someone who occupied a secret place in my heart. Her and I had got to know each other in high school, but I knew then that I didn’t have what it took to keep her. She was out of my league, but rather than losing her I tried to be ‘friends’ with her. Even today I don’t know if she was suspicious of my attention. She was mature for her age and sophisticated (things that attracted me) so she was probably just playing it cool, perhaps just basking in the attention that I gave her. Adulthood took us in different directions, but over the years we met up a few times, for drinks, for laughs, to reminisce. It always felt like we were continuing a conversation that we had never ended. My feelings for her had not changed at all since we were teenagers. Decades have passed and now I see her differently.

Given what I know now about how a woman can’t help but behave when she’s attracted to a man, I know that the last time we saw each other she felt attracted to me. Back then I was with my Exgf who was there that night, but my ‘special friend’ was married, albeit unhappily so, which she told me about but her religious beliefs forbade divorce. Under those circumstances there was no hope for there being an ‘us’. I don’t for an instant ever think there will be an ‘us’; I have moved on emotionally.

Over the years some of my male friends have told me of their ‘special friend’, also a woman that they would liked to have been more than just friends with. I’m starting to think that every man has had someone like that in his life in his early adult years, but some still do even in later life. It’s an unrequited solitary romance that torments the man if he allows himself to think of ‘her’. The idea of a ‘special friend’ is strongest when a man is single and it reveals the true nature of why us men do this to ourselves: it gives us hope. A man without hope is a pathetic thing.

A man’s behaviour is a consequence of what he believes about himself. What he believes is driven by how he feels about his working life, his sexual prowess and his desirability to women. We are that simple. If one of the legs of that three-legged stool is short or missing, the stool doesn’t function properly. If a man feels that no woman finds him attractive, his confidence, attitude and behaviour show this. On the back of that perceived shortcoming, men seem to resort to tricking themselves into propping up their desirability by having a ‘special female friend’ whose existence in his life feeds into this need. Men easily confuse attention for attraction; this is where things get complicated.

A man labouring in this dysfunctional mindset will not dare escalate matters with his secret flame for fear of it burning out, which deep down will extinguish his primordial need to feel marketable to the opposite sex. For years, decades and a lifetime even in some cases, he will admire the object of his affection, deriving a twisted sense of satisfaction when interacting with her while essentially being deceitful and dishonest towards her. All the while she will innocently think of him as a friend and treat him as such. The surest way to spot such a man is when he’s in a group setting and his flame talks to him, then she looks away, while he keeps looking at her for a second or two afterwards as he savours the moment that she gave him some attention in public.

His self-inflicted suffering abates when a new woman enters his life and in so doing he will see his ‘special friend’ less often. Whether a man is in a relationship or not, he will always keep the idea of her safely locked away until he feels the need to stroke his treasure occasionally. All along he will watch her progress through one relationship after another, hurting a little when she’s happy with her man, hurting even more when she’s crying her eyes out, but being there for her every step of the way.

Eventually one day he realises that he can not continue like this and he will do one of two things. Sometimes he will come clean and tell her of his feelings, expecting to get shot down, prepared to never see her again, hoping against all odds that she feels the same, but knowing that this limbo is doing him no good. If he doesn’t do that, then without a word he will quietly leave her world, withdrawing from the carousel of faces that she smiles at, those of her true friends.

It is what makes a man do something like this.

Love Actually – To me you are perfect

I believe that in every woman’s circle of male friends, at least one of them is a secret admirer. They are not to be feared, but should be pitied. Their intentions are sound, their hearts are noble, their appreciation genuine, but it is still a little self-seeking on their part.

I indulged myself in this limbo for a while and because of it I was inclined to say that men and women can not be friends. It is with the advent of being ‘friends with benefits’ with Tech Titan, Krazy Girl and my Exgf that my notions of friendship towards women were softened up. The stage had been set for the arrival of The Wanderer. The younger me had always treated ex-girlfriends as history once the romantic relationship had ended, banished from my life but I guess maturity has finally caught up with me. Now I see women in various roles in my life; I am more open to the idea of being just friends with women.

I have tried a few times to become friends with my ex-wife. We were a major part of each other’s lives, essentially growing up together, but she has spurned my approaches. I think that we could be good friends but have now given up on that notion. I’m not surprised by her response (despite divorcing amicably) because it is in keeping with her all-or-nothing style of relationships, which plays out in her friendships and workplace too. It pains and disappoints me a little, but I understand and accept her choice.

Today I find myself wondering if men and women can only be friends if they have shared carnal knowledge. ‘When Harry Met Sally’ touches on this topic by saying that men will always wonder about what sex with his female friend will be like, that sex will be the barrier. I have female friends whom I have no sexual interest in, but I now also have several female friends whom I have slept with. I am inclined to say that it is easier for a man to be friends with a woman he has slept with.

That movie also made me think that men were the culprits in this conundrum and because I had my very own ‘special friend’ I accepted this to be the truth. I was wrong. I have come to learn that women can be friends with men too while secretly wanting more. In my circle of female friends there are a couple of women who I know would want to have a full-blown relationship with me. I don’t see them in that light and they are left in that painful limbo that I know so many men carry around with them. I deliberately avoid my secret admirers so as to not complicate their and my life. I wonder if every woman has a male friend whom she would want more with?

The Wanderer and I have transgressed all that and we are indeed friends, the best of friends. Online dating has delivered to me the unforeseen benefit of developing new friendships.

LESSONS LEARNED: 1) Men and woman can be true friends. It’s rare but it is possible. 2) It’s easier for me to be friends with a woman if I have slept with her.

Dion and the Belmonts – The Wanderer