Perspective

Andew says he’s not a nice person – but is it true?

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I lied and said I love salsa – he invited me to the class and my heart pitter-pattered

The following afternoon an email reply arrived from Andrew, thanking me for the info about the French house friends of mine were selling. He might go window-shopping in France on his laptop as a work-avoidance strategy, he said. He was in the cafe, he added, and having trouble concentrating. I dropped everything and ran down the street, before slowing to a casual stroll as I drew closer. Andrew was standing in the queue for another coffee. “I just got your message as I was coming here,” I lied, holding my phone up illustratively. “I didn’t see you here at all till recently and now I see you all the time!” That was because he was finding the freelance life lonely, he said.

I sat at a nearby table to him, reading a paper. It was the only table that was free. My phone buzzed with an email from Roger, saying he was sorry that it hadn’t worked out. He’d realised he wasn’t ready to enter into a one-to-one relationship that would lead naturally into a partnership. He needed to see lots of people first, make friends, have fun, take his time.

Once Andrew had finished his coffee, he packed up his things and came over, saying he hadn’t realised how late it was. He was going to the gym. “Core strength, weights – they’re the thing at our age,” he said.

I expressed absolutely invented enthusiasm for the prospect of using machinery to improve my fitness and he said I should join, and I said I would. (I had absolutely no intention of joining.) I began to realise that he’s a fitness-oriented person. He asked me what exercise I did and I said swimming and cycling (most days it’s limited to walking an old dog round the park). He asked what kind of bike I had and I said it was a silver and red one. He asked which pool I went to and I named the one I’ve been to twice. The conversation was disappointingly pedestrian after the life-ambition-disappointment one, in which I’d felt we were making strong headway.

I told him – truthfully – that what I wanted was a dance-exercise class, and he told me about Zumba at his gym, and added that he went to salsa classes. I said that I love salsa – which is true, though I’ve never done it – and he asked if I danced, and I said I did, but not very well, and he asked what kind of salsa I did. I had no idea what he meant (there are different kinds?), so I said “just the standard kind” hoping there was a standard kind, and apparently there was, so that was fine.

“You must come along to the class,” he said and my heart pitter-pattered. I said I’d love to. He said I should join the beginners, probably; he was an intermediate and loved it. There was no need to take a partner, either; people paired up at the classes. It was obvious that I needed to become an intermediate dancer of salsa as fast as possible. I went home and spent the rest of the evening following online tutorials on YouTube.

After that, I gave myself a pep talk. He’d had the opportunity to follow up on our friendship and hadn’t. He was lonely and liked to talk, and that might be all this was going to be. I needed to slow down. So I stayed away from the cafe until Saturday. On Saturday morning, we had a long conversation about being middle-aged, and what it might be like to live in a non-English speaking country at 60. Then, quite unexpectedly, we began to talk about love. He said that he’d been alone for most of his life and had never married, but he thought it was time to change.

I asked him why he hadn’t married, and he said the answer was that he isn’t a very nice person. What makes you say that? I asked him. I thought it was a sort of joke. He said “Because it’s demonstrably true.”

“But why, what have you done? You say ‘demonstrably’: is it other people who’ve made this judgment?”

“No, no. They don’t need to make the judgment,” he said. “It’s my own.”

“Have you behaved badly and made mistakes?” I asked. “We’ve all done that. That’s normal life stuff.”

He smiled, shaking his head. There was something, but he wouldn’t say what. theguardian