Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Imaginary Girlfriends

*All girls featured in this blog may be pubescent fantasies. 

There’s been the odd occasion on this blog where, employing tremendous subtlety, I’ve hinted that I’m a tad unsuccessful with women. While this remains a source of great shame to me, I’ve learned to deal with it in a variety of constructive ways; whine incessantly on this blog; lurk outside late-night Pilates classes with a zoom-lens camera; hang myself by the neck from a light fitting while I masturbate. All-in-all, I’ve developed into a secure and balanced adult.

My approach while growing up was a little different. Friends would tell of the girls they’d kissed, show off saucy text messages, laugh at the voluptuousness of my man breasts while predicting how long I’d remain a virgin (none of them were correct – I outlasted even their most outlandish guess). My solution to this was mature and rational: I invented girlfriends.

Phoebe (invented at age 10)
Phoebe and I took long walks in the park and ate romantic picnics, which was one way to justify the armloads of junk food I bought myself at weekends. We had a secret bush within which we would kiss and press together our pre-pubescent flesh. When asked where she lived, I’d suffer sudden and acute amnesia or become distracted by a bird. The relationship lasted until my friends went to a different secondary school. It was an amicable break-up.

Jenny (invented age 13)
Ah, Jenny. My first kiss, hastily invented upon the realisation that each of my friends had kissed a girl and I had not. The details of the kiss were vivid: a duration of over a minute, tongues convulsing like electrified slugs, ending only (I insisted) when I ran out of breath. My presumption was that snogging required commendable breath control, like walking through the perfume section of a department store while being force-fed a plate of veal. Jenny dumped me after the kiss. I must have been no good, I joked. Even in my imagination I doubted myself.

You can read about my real and equally unsuccessful first kiss here.

Rebecca (also invented age 13)
The existence of Rebecca (or her very inexistence) is indicative of an inferiority complex dating back many years. Rather than invent myself a new beau, I conjured a girl I couldn’t have. Even before the tortures of real-life unrequited lust, I felt the need to make myself suffer. There was invented drama, and a cast of supporting characters too. The mother, often away on business. Rebecca’s boyfriend, my own good mate, who had won over the girl I so desired. Such a love triangle would become all too familiar in later life.

*     *     *

I should make clear that I wasn’t quite insane enough to believe in the actual existence of these girls. I didn’t whisper sweet nothings alone in my darkened bedroom while making awkward, arrhythmic love to my favourite Beanie Baby. They existed only in the presence of my friends. The veracity of these spectres was rarely questioned; I spent my weekends alone at home. Perhaps it was entirely plausible that I in fact spent this time cavorting with a harem of adolescent concubines.

My romantic mythology lasted into university, until Valentine’s Day arrived and I was compelled to confess to my best friend who had been with me throughout every imaginary relationship. I took to MSN chat, the pre-Facebook refuge of emotionally stunted narcissists, and poured out my virginal truth. I cried. I expected him to hate me, berate me, perhaps laugh afresh at my breasts.

All he did was laugh and insist that it didn’t matter. And he was right. Once it’s past, everything we think we know is an invention.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Introverted Extrovert

In primary school, I considered myself the class clown. I often tried to convince my teacher that I was gay, and go-go danced on a chair at the front of the room to cheer everyone up at the end of our final year. Before any of us knew what it was, I’d beckon my friends over to marvel at my erections underneath the table (perhaps giving a little too much credence to my assertions of homosexuality). I always thought that is how I would grow up; outgoing, extroverted, the sort of idiotic loudmouth that most people hate but it doesn’t matter because you’re too loud to notice. 

This confidence lasted for much of secondary school, even after my weight ballooned and I learned that erections in school should really be kept to one’s self. My best friend’s earliest memory of me is with my tie fashioned into a bandanna, headbanging topless on a bench in the gym changing room. Before I moved to university my sister said to me: “You’re the kind of person everyone wants to be friends with.”

I was basically the Fonze.

So it’s something of a shock when I look in the mirror today and see my confidence eroded to nothing. I have a dog-eared back catalogue of excuses for this. In fact, this blog exists as narcissistic testament to exactly that. But the reasons don’t really matter. What matters now is that the only strong emotion I can summon is a fierce self-loathing.

Whereas in childhood I tackled life with enthusiasm, today I feel merely indifferent. If I have something fun coming up, I don’t feel excitement. If I have something important coming up, I don’t feel nervous. The best I can manage is an antagonistic shrug.

There's no way I can write this without sounding like an angsty teenager.

At university I would fall head over heels in love after a few hours in a girl’s company; now I haven’t had even the slightest crush in years. When I have been with a girl, there’s the vague awareness that I should be swollen with testosterone, ignoring everything she says in favour of calculating when best to remove her bra. I don’t feel passion or desire. When this means they get bored of me, I don’t feel upset like I used to. Little by little, my edges have been smoothed down, and now I’m entirely flat.

There are a number of things I could try to rectify this. I could go out on what I believe, in the industry, is called ‘the lash’ in an attempt to fornicate drunkenly and hastily with women in an environment where it’s too loud for them to realise how dull I am until it’s too late. I could take up some kind of painfully affected hipster hobby, like wearing a scarf in August, listening to 1940s gospel music on London Fields, or making collages of Polaroids depicting used condoms discarded in the high street gutter on Saturday morning. I could develop a crack habit.  

By all accounts these should make me a more interesting person, an extrovert rippling with defiant confidence, the kind of person you worry about making a scene at your wedding.

Remember that time I made you look at my erection?

It’s an age-old question: what would the childhood you say to the adult you? Mine wouldn’t say a word. There’d be a short awkward silence before he moved off to talk to someone more interesting. And all I would do about it is shrug.