I don't have many friends. By some people's definition I don't have any friends. I don't go out for 'a drink with the lads'. I don't drink. There are no 'lads'. I didn't keep in touch with anyone from school, and never planned to. I didn't go to university. I keep in touch with a handful of past colleagues, but diminishingly so. I socialise with sporting acquaintances, but unlike most of them my focus is firmly on the sport. Aside from this blog, the concept of being sociable in a virtual environment is as alien to me as it is in real life. A search of my name on line results in little more than some golf and football results.
Some people think I'm shy. I daresay some people think I'm ignorant. It's probably an unhealthy mix of the two with some social awkwardness thrown in. Part of the trouble is that whilst I can certainly empathise with people, I rarely imagine that I can contribute in a meaningful way to their day/life, or for that matter they to mine. Conversations with me are punctuated with silences which, whilst not at all uncomfortable to me, I am conscious that others may feel uncomfortable with, or at least feel as though they are making me uncomfortable. In actuality, during the silences I am simply sifting out flippant, childish and sarcastic responses which I deem inappropriate for the weighty matters at hand like work, current affairs, football, and The X Factor. We all do this of course, but it seems comparatively rare for me feel familiar enough with someone to switch off the filter and expose them to the first thing that comes to my mind. Looking back at the early stages of some of my more successful relationships, I have been told that I can appear cold, disinterested and even unfriendly when, in fact, my intention is quite the opposite.
In fact, since this self-indulgent nonsense is leading nowhere fast, let's look at one such instance right now. I have never told this story to anyone. God knows why as it hardly lays my soul bare, but please treat it as confidential (in an available-to-the-whole-world type way) nonetheless:
To set the scene, it is early 2002. I am 25 years old, and have relatively recently abandoned a semi-conscious policy of emotional isolation. I am close to my family, but have never attempted anything approaching a romantic relationship. I genuinely haven't felt the need (what can I tell you? I'm a late developer). The turning point, looking back, was a serious ankle injury sustained in late 2000. I had been playing football four or five times per week prior to that, and suddenly had so much free time on my hands that it quickly became obvious I would need something else to do. I am only too well aware how ridiculous that sounds, but I swear it's true.
Hmm...this is sounding like a coming out story, which is odd, because I really don't have one to tell.
Fast forward through a mini flurry of meetings with potential suitors (a more candid blog might categorise these as 'hook-ups') in 2001. By the turn of that year I have pretty much made up my mind that some lucky individual deserves to be with me on a more permanent basis. And so fate brings me to a local toy shop one day in February 2002, where I am looking for a playful birthday present for a colleague. I don't find one, but decide to purchase a small moulded plastic polar bear merely as an excuse to talk more with the charming young gentleman behind the counter, who has already approached me whilst I am browsing to enquire as to whether I need any assistance, an enquiry I meet with a polite "no thanks, I'm fine". Idiot.
I purchase the polar bear, and glance at the receipt, which helpfully informs me "you were served by X". Embarrassingly, considering the incident has otherwise remained clear in my recollection for more than seven years, I cannot remember the chap's name, hence the X. I certainly can remember how he looked - tall, dark, angular, well-groomed.
After a couple of days of plucking up courage, I resolve to call the shop and ask to speak to X. I have pretty much scripted what I am going to say, in order to avoid awkwardness. I'm about 70% sure that X is gay, but only about 25% sure that he would be interested in me, so it's a phonecall I make with some level of trepidation. Here is the conversation (not quite word for word, but pretty close):
X: "Hello, Bath Toyshop"
Me: "Hi, is that X?"
X: "Yes...who's this?"
Me: "You may not remember me, but I bought a small polar bear from you at the weekend"
X: "Yes I do. What's wrong with it?"
Me: "Nothing's wrong with it. I'm not actually calling about the polar bear"
Me: "This may be completely misjudged and inappropriate, but I wondered if you might like to go out for a drink some time?"
X: (Clearly taken aback but I guess flattered) "Oh! Umm....you're the blond-haired guy, right?
Me: "Yes, dark blond"
This is the bit of the conversation I remember least, but involves me confirming I am who he thinks I am, and him jogging his memory of our brief interaction.
X: "When were you thinking?"
Me: "Well I can be back from work anytime from about 5pm"
X: "Okay, how about this evening, around 5.30?"
Me: (Now I'm taken aback) "Ummm...yes that's fine. Where should I meet you?"
X: "I'll be outside the shop."
Me: "Alright. See you then. Bye."
For a few reasons (chiefly that I've not been single very much in the intervening years), this remains the only time I have ever asked anyone out. One hundred per cent success rate! I remember feeling rather proud of myself back then, and even now it doesn't seem like something I would ever have done. But I still have the polar bear to prove it.
We met, as arranged, and got on well, though I guess not quite well enough, because although I would happily have gone further than a friendly drink there was little interaction after the first couple of meetings. I would wander past the shop on my way into town from time to time and make a point of not noticing X, though I know he would notice me. After about a year I allowed myself to return a smile, but he must have moved away soon after that, because I have never seen him since.
Anyway, returning to the point I was ham-fistedly making earlier. It turns out that when X initially approached me in the shop to ask if I needed help, he thought my response hostile when, in actual fact, I had only remained in the shop in an attempt to find out more about him. I hope I have become better at first impressions since then. It's one thing to retain a faintly disinterested air of mystery, but quite another to give someone you find highly attractive the impression that you would happily stab them in the eye with a rusty pair of scissors.