In the third instalment of our real-time love column, our narrator uncovers the subject of this series to S and rediscovers what its like to know him as a friend
I get off the bus stepping sideways because of my two enormous shoulder bags. S is there waiting, on time, just as he said he would be. He looks just as I remember him. We hug.
The nerves instantaneously fall away Im just happy to see him. He has a place in mind for lunch so we stroll straight there; he takes the chair, leaving me with the padded kiosk, and we order. He fidgets and I probably do too. That act of catching up is always a bit strange strange when its someone you speak to often but rarely find we alternate between trivial things we havent ever discussed and bigger topics we have.
On our way back to his, we go to three stores two supermarkets and the post office create plans to stimulate no schemes that night and intermittently bickering about my purse( Just let me hold it for Gods sakes its so heavy; No no Im fine S, honestly Im altogether fine ).
We walk through the door of his small and welcoming apartment and S scoops the mail off the floor. While looking through the envelopes, he tells me that he received a letter from one of his exes two weeks ago but still hasnt opened it. I ask about their relationship, how he feels, how it objective he tells me that living so far apart proved too hard but doesnt tell much more.
He attains us each a vodka and soda and we sit down and do work for a while before dinner. As usual, I puncture all the silences with questions. Now that were still, face to face, I realise how hard its going to be to tell him how I feel. I contemplate merely sending him the draft of the first column instead.
He says Im going to read her letter and I fall silent. I stop typing the audio of the keyboard feels too rude, like Im interrupting his emotions. Although I try to read, my belly hurts too much. When we lived in the same city, when S had a girlfriend waiting over here, I would never have told him how I felt. Now Im here, hes still reading the words of someone else instead of hearing mine. I know I have no one to blamed but myself.
Finally, he folds the letter and says that was nice. I believe him as ever, his composure about the situation feelings good. I suggest another drink while we start to make dinner. He stands slicing pumpkin on the countertop and I watch, thinking of the exact same clip Ive thought of so many times: how I want to stand behind him and hug him. He cuts his finger on the knife and I have to turn away; knowing I cant touch him is even worse where reference is winces. Subsequently I think its me , not the knife, that makes him wince.
We start to get ready for bed. S is subletting, which was obvious to me when I arrived: the wooden floors, the innumerable plants and the orange carpeting are not his. But it was only when he mumbled something about sorting out the sheets later on that I noticed the bed. The narrow( just about) doubled in the corner was clearly the only thing available for comfy sitting or sleeping the only other rooms in the apartment were a small bathroom and even smaller kitchen. After we rinsed the dinner dishes, he walked into the living room, picked up a corner of the beds mattress and dragged it to the floor, revealing another thicker mattress beneath it.
That ones for you, he told, pointing at the original bed.
Oh dont sleep on the floor its penalty, we are capable of merely share.
No, the beds too small.
His voice was as depres as his words.
After dinner, we lay sideways on the bed to watch a cinema, eating candy from a paper bag. Ten minutes in, I appeared over at S. His arms were folded and his upper body somewhat turned towards me while his legs hung off the bed, outstretched and crossed. He was sleeping heavily. As I looked at him, though, he woke up, smiled, took another candy from the container and seemed back to the film.
Later, when he was in his own bed, under his own duvet and I under mine, I thought about how there is no loneliness as lonely as the loneliness you can feel around others. The room was cold and, after managing to sleep for a few hours, I lay awake for many more feeling awful. Believing about how severely I needed to say something, frightened it would discolour the rest of our time together and frustrated that I had let this first day slip away. I knew I would tell him the next day on that, at least, I wasnt wrong.
When I opened my eyes he was still in his bed, looking at his telephone. I told good morning and climbed in alongside him and started to look at mine. We talked about what we might do that day my only full one there with him. Not long after I had got into his bed, he got out and sat on the mattress where I had slept looking at his computer. Again, I felt that my body had repelled his. I bided where I was until we left to go buy bread. The whole way there I thought about saying it. Then the whole way back. Then while we were having breakfast and while we were get rinsed and changed to go out.
S sat looking at his telephone, await us to leave the apartment. Laying down behind him I believed again about how badly I wanted to touch his back. I held my hand up, but couldnt bringing myself to let it rest on him so I lowered it. Angered with myself, I created it again and this time let it fall to his sweatshirt.
What? he said.
Lets go, I said.
As we strolled in silence to the train station, I thought about the words I would say to start. Then eventually, I did. The conversation didnt last long.
I called him by his name.
You know that column I was telling you about? The one that Im writing anonymously?
Its sort of about you.
About me? What do you entail?
Well, I suppose I came here because I wanted to clear things up between us. Do you remember a few weeks ago, we were talking and you said that you didnt email me after you left because you felt like I didnt want to hear from you?
Why did you think I didnt want to talk to you?
You told me why you didnt want to talk. You told me emails made you feel guilty and that the latter are stressful to reply to.
Did I? I dont remember saying that. I lied. Thats not what it was.
So what was it then?
I paused for maybe a full minute. S doesnt interrupt you when youre thinking.
It hurt too much to write I was really upset you had gone.
We strolled in silence for a while.
Were you angry at me for leaving? he said as he climbed the stairs to the train platform.
No, thats crazy, why would I be angry at you? That would be so unfair.
Yeh but people can be irrational sometimes.
No. I wasnt angry.
A couple walked behind us, immaculately turned out in matching navy coats with a small, rinsed puppy alongside them. S leaned to me and whispered: Look how manicured the objective is. Then he told me a tale about something that happened a week or so before on that same platform. He had run into a family friend while standing there with a woman. Though nothing was said, the family friend had clearly assumed that S and the woman were a couple and it made S feel deeply uncomfortable.
I understood. S was telling me that he had no desire to be in a relationship and if he had understood at all what I had told him three minutes earlier( Im sure he did) he was also telling me to not take it personally. I had already felt this instinctively: its the reason why I didnt leave my toothbrush in his bathroom, why I strayed away from him when we were in stores and why I didnt loop my limb through his as we walked.
He nonchalantly looked at his telephone while I took a few steps up and down the platform thinking about what it was that I wanted. Had I come here hoping for a relationship, or only to have sex with a man that I loved? I teetered on the brink of tears but thought I could hold them back. And I did in fact, the whole period I was with him I didnt cry once.
That night, S had arranged dinner with his six of his friends. I half-dreaded it and thought it was the last thing I required. I was wrong about that too. It was good to be with warm and funny strangers. I felt more like myself talking to his friends than I did alone with him, feeling so irrational. We sat apart most of the night.
The conversation turned to relationships. N, a girlfriend of one of Ss friends, asked me about my exes: Were you ever crazy? she asked.
I shamelessly tell her about one man I dated and dumped on a weekly basis just to see whether he cared about me.
I know it sounds nuts but it probably just shows that there was something else that wasnt right about the way we were together and that I needed that kind of reassurance.
Yeh, probably. Have you ever been with a human who was really affectionate?
No, I say. If theyre really into me I presume theyre morons who are into everyone.
Oh I think the total opposite! N exclaims. I presume theyre only into me! So, does that mean that you go after men who arent truly interested in you?
I know it sounds strange, but her topic delighted me. She told me nothing knew, but its rare for someone youve just met to recur yourself back to you so clearly.
I dont deserve to be loved by someone as wonderful as S when I tell stupid things like I dont deserve to be loved by someone as wonderful as S. I merely need to work at that.
We got a cab home, feed toast and got into our beds.
Even though I merely managed to get around 3 hour of sleep, the next morning I woke up feeling good, unburdened. We listened to music, I hummed and danced and packed my suitcase as he made us coffee. I was just content to be with him.
Except for when he offered me the gift. S had already indicated me so many kindnesses in such a short space of time helping me with my suitcases, giving me his slippers to wear, taking me to consider a national monument he knew Id love, getting the alcohol for my favorite cocktail before I arrived, giving me the very best bed.
I want to give you a pair of these slippers – I bought some when I was in Moscow.
What do you mean no? Theyre in here somewhere.
He stands on tiptoes, looking at me while his hand roots around in a cupboard above the door.
Im sure theyre in here somewhere.
No , no dont be silly keep them and give them to someone else.
Shut up. Here the objective is, try them on.
Ive got my sneakers on now anyway.
OK, but youre taking them.
We went out for a walk in the timbers near his apartment. It felt remote and the snow, still lying on the ground since it fell the night before I arrived, built everything looking stronger, reinforced.
My phone vibrated.
S looks at me. What?
I show him the text message. My flight had been delayed by four hours. Rather than heading back now, we had the afternoon together.
Im sorry, I said.
Dont be silly. S contemplated what we should do this afternoon. In the end, those extra hours helped they reassured me about how I felt. And it entailed I could rediscover S as I first determined him: as a friend.
Walking back from the forest, I asked him if he was good at knowing when women liked him romantically. No, he said, Ive ended up in difficult situations with friends before who felt like they had been resulted on.
Its sad that I read so much into Ss behaviour acts of generosity and respect that I do for my friends unthinkingly all the time. Its just sad that I dont have more than one S in my life to better understand the difference between tenderness and passion.
Knowing that our love for one another is unequal doesnt anger me either. Even once I stop thinking of him romantically, Ill be OK with the fact that his relationship means more to me than mine does to him. All love is asymmetric, genuinely, in its totality if not in its parts.
We say goodbye and hug.
This time, strolling alone to the develop station, I thought about how much lighter my purses feel than they did on the way there, despite the fact that their contents havent changed. Then I cry freely and audibly. I cry for about five full minutes and then I simply stop. I had the same reaction walking away from his leaving party two years ago. At the time, I had I told myself I needed to move on. This time, I know I will.
On my style to the airport, S texts me.
I meant it the way he had once said it to me. I feel sad but its a stinging , not a sense of loss after all, Im going home with the same relationship I arrived with. Better, even.
I land in the early hours of New Years Eve, knowing what I knew as soon as I realised he didnt care as much as I do. Ill be fine.
Next week, S will write about his reaction to the column, and how he feels about the author .
Read more: www.theguardian.com