My mate Wilma went cycling once, met a bunch of Croatians on a hillside by a burger van where he stopped to eat. They crowded round him, interrogating this curious character on a bicycle. How many years? 28 he said. You have home? No, I rent a room. A few of them laughed. You have car? No license, he explained. Now they were all laughing. You have wife yes? No. No wife? I don’t even have a girlfriend. By now they were pissing themselves. No car. No home. No wife. 28?! They fell into hysterics.
A decade has passed. Wilma has the full house.
Me, I have an L-shaped sofa and a trainer collection.
How would you know if you were the last man on Earth?
I don’t guess you would know it. You’d just be it.
Cormac McCarthy, The Road
I woke up this year and came to a realisation. I was the last man on Earth. The last one of all my male friends to not be married, betrothed, or a dad. I mean there’s a couple left, but they have their reasons. Me? I have no good reasons. I just woke up one morning and this was the state of affairs. Picking my way through a life of no compromise, supermarket shop for one, Netflix n chill for one, bedtime story for one.
How do I feel.
Fine, replied his denial.
Put Columbo on the case and he’d sniff something out. Coming to the end of a period of getting over someone, I suppose. A necessary time for being alone, build yourself back up into a normal human. My problem is these periods tended to extend themselves. They’d go on for years. Which came down to being too okay on my jax I think.
Putting myself out there felt like something I ought to do, never something I went towards. I might meet someone randomly and wake up thinking about them then maybe I’d try and coax them into a date. But my brain didn’t work the other way round. I couldn’t decide to date, book some sweet joint, and try and lure someone into the back of a van.
Love, the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.
There are two ways to buy a jumper.
One. You wake up one morning and decide you need a jumper. You hit Oxford Street, initiate your jumper-crawl. Six shops later, with that horrible film of sweat only trying on clothes can pour out of you, you mull over your options in some high street sushi joint. You spring for the best of the six.
Two. You’re walking home after work, picking your way through those cobbled streets of Soho. You glance in at a shop window. A jumper. Staring back at you. You shrug, go in. Do you have that in XL? Last one in sale, your lucky day says the guy. You try it on. Boom. And yet making your way home that evening, you had no intention of buying anything. You might say the jumper came to you.
Am I too old for the jumper theory.
Closing in on 40. Not sure time is on my side. Can I afford to wait, do I go and buy the best one I can find. Maybe I’ll spend the next five years mulling it over. Because I’m a man, and I can? Does that sound fair.
And while I do I watch the furrowed brow of my mother, who’d love another grandchild or two, the barking of my old man who insists the only thing that can save me now is a kid. I think of mates who tell me quite seriously I’m missing out, I’d be a great dad. I’d like to be. Last time I checked I didn’t have a womb.
Only once in the last five years did I feel the unmistakable lifeforce to want to go and meet someone. And I walked into a pub on a winter’s evening and stumbled over my words but she was patient and it happened. If it hadn’t, I would’ve met someone in the coming months, I’m sure. That type of energy was pouring out of me.
I don’t feel that now.
How happy are my contemporaries. How hard are long-term relationships. How much do they let in existential angst, the longing to have done things differently. There I was complaining about some crap, and as Bobbie eluded her mother’s grasp and beelined for the dryer in the park loos for the fifth time in two minutes, Florence looked at me and said Mingo, don’t take for granted how much unknown there is in your life right now.
Jung warned that we are all living out a myth, yet we don’t know which one. Be mindful yours is not a tragedy, he said. What if I never meet anyone. What if I never have kids. The sweet empty life of no compromise. Would it be so bad.
In the depth of my solitude I admit I’d like to talk to someone about toothpaste. I’d like to show them something I read in a book. Ask them what they think. I’d like to go together and pick out some earthenware at Ikea. Try on a different brand of Y-fronts and watch them frown. Wake up knowing that what to do that day was a decision for two. I finally dig sleeping on my own, I tell myself. But sometimes the bed feels big. Sometimes the pillow I wake up holding could use a heartbeat.
The other day, on the side of a bus I see an ad. ‘Thursday’. A new anti-dating app dating thing, a whole night of single people. Rebound Week. It piques my interest. A night where you go into a room and know everyone else in there is after the same thing, walks by the canal and romcoms on a Sunday afternoon.
I set up a profile, go along to Nikki’s in Shoreditch, garms none too shabby, iPad in hand. It smells of bleach and broken promises. Seeing a few girls over by the bar I inhale the biting wind of destiny. Simone, she says. I’m with someone. I thought this was a single’s night. She scowls. I feel someone shine a flashlight in my face, could be the feds. About to do a runner I look again and see a mirror, the flashlight is a strobe bouncing off the top of my head.
I never made it to Thursday. Once it became clear I had to set up a profile to attend the night, I realised it was just like any other dating app I’d had the good fortune to avoid thus far. Plus who was gonna spring for a shiny domed 38 yr old with with an iPad sticking out of his pocket.
A Bangladeshi once explained to me from the front seat of his taxi how we have it wrong in the West. You think of love love love. Arranged marriage. It is the best way, he said. You have trust, respect, admiration. You build a partnership over time. Perhaps growing into love is a better way to do it after all. Join up with someone, work shit out. I heard someone say once that love is not a feeling, but an action. If you start with mad passion, at some point the comedown is gonna take you out.
What is left over when being in love has burned away.
The right place.
Something I’d stuck in my scrapbook years ago, the kind of thing you’d find on some cheesy Instagram story, had stayed with me. I liked it a lot. It seemed to be the kernel.
Expend your energy on you, doing good shit, read good stuff, send your mother messages at the right times, go for dawn runs, smile at the dude by M&S who had a longer night than you, estimable people do estimable things, go out and have fun now and again, don’t beat yourself up about it, be the guy in the mirror you high Five, trying on the new shirt that looks fresh because the person wearing it thinks he’s worth something.
Make a habit of it.
And then imperceptibly, along some distant day into the future, perhaps something or someone will come round a corner.
And you’ll be ready.
Or more likely, because coal without tremendous pressure remains coal, in five years time when you’re still single you can hit up Thursday because iPads will be smaller in 2028 and no-one will give a crap.