As you schlep your way through single life, you find yourself arriving at a lot of parties alone. At first, you try to avoid it, and make plans with friends to meet up at least 10 minutes beforehand at a nearby tube station or off-licence so you don’t have the awkwardness of standing on the doorstep by yourself, eagerly pressing the buzzer. After a while, though, you care less and less; you become more accustomed to your status as a solitary animal. Insecurities at no longer being one of two fade like old newsprint.
I am at a party full of people I don’t really know. Somebody I used to work with has invited me, and while there are former colleagues dotted about here and there and the odd face I recognise, I have never taken my lead from Ally McBeal when it comes to work relationships – I prefer to keep them strictly professional, save for the odd foray into disastrously going on a date with one. So I am alone for more than a few moments, hovering awkwardly in doorways like a vague scent, not quite brave enough to edge myself into strangers’ conversations, but not quite willing to give in and go home by myself. There is gin here, and champagne. And I am thirsty.
I slink over to the kitchen and scour the worktops for a tipple. I settle on a big bottle of Plymouth gin and glug as much as decency will allow into the nearest clean glass, before peeking around the kitchen, meerkat-like, on the search for tonic. I soon see a bottle of it; it is attached to the hand of God, or his nearest approximation on Earth. A man made from the 10 hottest Hollywood leading men melted down into one is sloshing tonic into two glasses. Seeing that I want the tonic too, he smiles and waves the bottle at me, holding out his hand for my glass. He takes it from me and holds it up in mock horror.
“Wow, I like your measures,” he says, with a wicked grin. “I wish you were coming to my house on Christmas Day – my mum usually controls the gin and she does so religiously!”
I am instantly at ease with this delectable deity and so move a little closer, shuffling along the worktop to stand next to him.
“If everyone can still see straight by the Queen’s speech, I obviously haven’t been doing my job right,” I chuckle, and we clink glasses. He looks over his shoulder but obviously doesn’t find what he’s looking for and so we talk a little more and fix another round of drinks with equally dangerous measures. His name is Rod (“short for Roderick, NOT Rodney, I swear”) and he designs T-shirts in between studying architecture. I’ve no idea how old he is, but on the surface of it he is an embryo to my fossil.
Just as we are laughing a bit too loudly over a really stupid, unfunny joke, a taller, slightly older guy comes along and snakes his arm between us. He’s not moving in for a bear hug, however; he’s come to retrieve his drink. The second G&T Rod was making – it feels like hours ago, and the gin now looks stagnant – was for him.
He doesn’t stop to chat, just gives me a cursory glance that could wilt lilies, snatches his drink and nods to Rod. “I’ll be through there, babe,” he spits, before turning on his heels and gliding away into the next room where something dangerously hip is booming out of the speakers.
“That’s my other half,” Rod explains, almost dolefully.
I nod and smile weakly.
“What about you? Who are you here with? Boyfriend? Uh, girlfriend?”
I reply with a hollow laugh. “Errr, no, I have no other half. I am, um, my whole.”
His eyes crinkle in confusion. “You’re a hole?” It really was a big gin.
“No, no, I’m two halves of the same whole. You see?” I’m floundering. “Shit. No. I mean I’m single. There is no boyfriend. Not yet. Not now.”
He grins. I see him consider me. “Ah, okay. Cool.”
We continue chatting for a while and are just finishing another round of lethal gins when I see Rod’s boyfriend coming into view. I ask good-naturedly if he too would like a drink and he says yes, his eyes slits. Rod then excuses himself to go to the loo. I hand the boyfriend his G&T and he sips it. I can tell it’s too strong for him, but he is desperately trying not to show it in his face. The eyes, as narrowed in distaste as they are, don’t lie, though.
He asks my name and when I tell him, he repeats it a couple of times, in sibilant monotone. He then asks where my boyfriend is, and when I reply that I don’t have one, he fixes me with a chilly “I see”, and looks me up and down, eyes suddenly widening in a failed attempt at breeziness. He leans in and touches my arm.
“It can be so hard to meet someone these days,” he smiles, sourly. “Everyone our age seems to be paired up, I suppose. Well, I say our age – how old are you?”
I laugh at the blatant barb and tell him.
“Well,” he gushes in faux-sincerity, “I don’t think you look it at all. And I’m sure the right guy is out there for you somewhere.” But not here, his eyes say. Not my guy. Subtle.
At that moment, Rod comes back. The boyfriend gives me one last withering look and turns to Rod. “Shall we go soon?”
Rod shrugs, disappointed. “Well, I suppose so, if you want.”
“I do,” says the boyfriend. “I’ll just go for one more quick boogie. You coming?”
“Yeah,” says Rod. “I’ll get us another drink for the road.”
“Fine,” replies his paramour, dismissively waving to me as he walks away. “Bye, then,” he says, giving my name one more swirl around his tongue like it’s a particularly nasty-tasting mouthwash. And he’s gone.
Rod turns to me. “Another?”
I nod. As he pours, he keeps looking furtively at me. Like he wants to say something, but obviously doesn’t feel he can. I’m not quite drunk enough to drag it out of him, so I just gaze back at him and smile like a simpleton. Until…
“It’s been great to talk to you,” he stutters. “We should exchange numbers or something. And, uh, meet up or something.”
I start to tremble a bit. My slight inebriation gifts me a brief frankness: “And will you be bringing your boyfriend along?”
Rod flushes red and breathes quickly. “No, I definitely won’t.”
I look back at him and then my eyes flick to the other room. I can just see Rod’s boyfriend in the distance, his back to me, talking to a girl who’s laughing uproariously at whatever he’s saying. I look back at Rod, who has his phone in his hand, primed to take those digits. I look back one final time to the boyfriend.
I should do this to you, I think. I should take his number and give him mine and meet him, just to spite you, you sour bastard. I should teach you a lesson for looking down your nose at me just for talking to your precious – and, yes, ridiculously handsome – boyfriend in the kitchen, you insecure dolt. I should meet him and meet him again and meet him yet again and eventually take him from you, and prove it isn’t really “hard to find someone” at all, and that even though “everyone is paired up at our age”, pairs can be halved. Relationships can be sliced right in two before your very eyes. I should ruin you. I sigh. But I won’t. I know I won’t.
It isn’t for me to serve him his own head on a plate. If Rod is to go a-wandering – and something tells me that eventuality isn’t too far off – I don’t want it to be with me. I don’t want that responsibility and have no desire to cause someone else that heartache. Not to mention, I don’t want to be the one creeping through to the kitchen at all subsequent parties just to check my beautiful boyfriend isn’t talking to yet another gin-pouring stranger with his eyes on my man.
I reel off my telephone number to Rod, switching out the last digit for another incorrect one so he won’t get through to me should he try, shake his hand and go in for a light hug. Then I drain the last of my gin and watch him walk off toward his boyfriend, who now has at least one more chance to keep Rod all to himself.
At the next party, he may not be so lucky.
Pre-date rating: N/A
Post-date rating: 8.5/10 – knocking off 0.5 for the adulterous potential and another 1 for terrible taste in men.
Date in one sentence: You will always find me in the kitchen at parties, probably talking to your boyfriend.