Until my current relationship, I had always believed there was a price to pay for going out with a beautiful man.
Every Adonis I met seemed to come with their very own set of hang-ups. While they would hide these shortcomings from you at first, only the very best of actors could keep up the pretence long enough to make a lasting relationship out of it. And let’s just say I’m yet to screw an Oscar winner.
Matthew was beautiful, there was no getting away from that. From that very first date, when he had charmed me into taking him home with a little boy lost routine that I now look back upon and feel slightly green around the gills, his confidence and good looks fooled me completely. His eyes were so huge and dark, they made him seem vulnerable. I didn’t realise then the depths of darkness within.
In fairness, he’d warned me that he had left endless broken hearts behind him, but I mistook it as an attempt to get sympathy, and also a challenge. While I knew in my heart he was only good for one night, I was lonely. Plus, heads turned whenever we went anywhere. I told myself that I was more than up to the task of keeping this lothario on the straight and narrow. My vanity nearly destroyed me.
When the first glitch in a courtship appears, it’s like that moment when you realise that to get that super fast, super cheap internet, you need to fork out for line rental.
Matthew’s ‘line rental’ was his need to have a say in absolutely everything we did together – even if it was a “you day”, a rare opportunity where I got to suggest what we did on a date. (I always said “the pub.”)
He would insist on a “you day” as he didn’t “like to do all the thinking”, yet beyond telling me how much he hated my date ideas, he didn’t think very much at all.
If I booked a restaurant, he would immediately say he’d heard it wasn’t good or that he thought it was inconvenient to get to. Getting served was a trial, because Matthew liked to be the one doing the ordering. If I hadn’t decided what I wanted and told Matthew my choices before the waiter came to the table, he sent him away again.
Any dates he’d suggest would be prefaced with a text, an hour or two in advance, asking what I was wearing and, on being told, a series of further texts, ‘advising’ me on what might be better.
I began to feel downtrodden, like all my spirit was draining from me. I would arrive home from our dates not exhilarated at the potential relationship, but exhausted, weak with the effort of treading on eggshells lest Matthew got into a mood, which he did more often than not.
Friends asked how the dating was going and I wouldn’t know what to say. I pretended I hadn’t met anyone interesting yet. I knew I didn’t want a relationship with Matthew, but going out on endless dates and meeting Mr Wrong was starting to take its toll. I didn’t want boozy nights out or awkward walks in the park with a series of strangers – I wanted to hear a familiar voice and have sex with a body I knew and hands that knew mine. And while it was very good, it wasn’t good enough to make me want to hold on to Matthew.
There has to be a last straw and it came, as I guess I always knew it would, in a restaurant. It was bank holiday Monday and we hadn’t made any reservations so couldn’t find a table at most places we tried. We ended up going to a place that was more of a bar, packed with people getting drunk on the second cheapest bottle off the wine list.
Matthew was in a bad mood because I’d worn shorts and he hadn’t thought to, so he was too warm. He hated the table we were seated at and thought the guy who’d shown us to it was rude. When I couldn’t decide what to have, he tutted loudly and kept reminding me how hungry he was. When another waiter came to take our order, he was astonishingly good-looking, and all of a sudden I became invisible, while Matthew lavished upon our delighted server the charm I hadn’t seen since our second date.
It was a grotesque show; I was embarrassed for them both. Matthew, clearly too chicken-shit to dump me, was letting me know there would always be someone else round the corner lapping up those looks and, on the surface, amiable patter.
If this were a movie, I’d have stood up and made a dramatic, empowering speech, before upending the table and striding out of the restaurant. But movies are movies and this was a bank holiday in central London, not LA, so I sat and ate in near silence while Matthew grumbled about everything – the food, the fact I hadn’t thought to remind him to book anywhere, how I was too casually dressed. Me me me, basically – and for all the wrong reasons.
I had forgotten how difficult it is to swallow food when you’re trying so hard not to cry.
When the bill came, he quibbled over something on it and called the waiter – a different one, thank God – over. He was embarrassing himself yet again, slurring from the two glasses of plonk he’d hoovered up in about 25 minutes.
As Matthew was doing such a bad job at explaining the issue, I interjected and clarified in the hope I could bring an end to it. As the waiter accepted what I said and went off to correct the bill, Matthew snarled: “Don’t do that.”
“When I’m talking to the waiter, don’t interrupt. It’s nothing to do with you.”
I swallowed hard. “I was only trying to help.”
He raised his voice. “I don’t need your help. Mind your own fucking business.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You were showing yourself up, Matthew, much like you are now. I just wanted to get it sorted so we could get out of here.”
It was then that Matthew tried his very own Hollywood move. He swilled the few remaining drops of wine round his glass before flicking the glass at me. The wine missed me – there wasn’t much of it – but I knew this would be just the beginning if I let it.
“Look,” I said in a calming voice. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. I’ll pay for this. Why don’t you go wait outside and get some air?”
Matthew shrugged and slumped out of the door. I saw him outside through the window, skulking with the blackest of looks on his face. The night of the long knives was ahead of me and I was in no hurry for it to start.
I paid the bill, leaving no tip, and, gently pushing my chair back, headed to the fire exit I’d noticed as we came in.
I quickly pushed the lever to open the door and, with the door’s alarm ringing in my ears, I ran and ran and ran until I could neither hear the siren nor breathe to run any faster. I turned my phone off, my music up and I never again saw Matthew’s cruel, beautiful face.
For a while afterward, I would arrive at dates and surreptitiously check to see where the nearest alternative way out was, just in case.
I can’t tell you how happy I am not to need those emergency exits any more.
Image: brookemackay on Flickr