I was waiting in the bakery a couple of mornings ago, and admiring the rather cute young man in the queue ahead of me. As Bindi will attest this we what we women of a certain age will do – a little bit of speculative looking now and again, nothing overt and certainly never with any intentions attached. Just a little bit of looking and a little bit of admiring. What attracted me was his height, his slender physique and his attire – jeans, Converse sneakers, a jacket with the hood of sweatshirt hanging out of the top of it. What kept my attention was the large art block he was carrying along with his satchel. “Hmmm, the artistic type,” I thought, “I bet the girls like him.”
Long ago, as a schoolgirl, I tended to nurse crushes on the artistic types, but only ever managed to go out with the butch macho ones. I seemed to believe in the equation blonde hair + button nose = boring, sporty boyfriend. My friends all went out with the artists and the actors and the ones with interesting gay brothers, but not me, never. So anyway, from the back, this boy in the bakery looked just like the type I might have had a crush on twenty years ago, but not actually manage to go out with. I was convincing myself that he was very, very popular with the girls.
Then, he turned around. Face full of acne, poor soul. Just covered in huge, aching pustles. “Okay,” I thought, “he’s not popular with the girls now, but he will be soon when all that acne’s cleared up. They are going to be chasing him and offering to pose for his art studies.”
He walked past me to leave the bakery. I flicked my glance away, and as I did so, I heard a resounding crash. He’d walked straight into the one of the closed glass doors of the bakery. No-one in the bakery said a word. He made a wounded kind of “oof” sound. I was reaching out to ask if he was okay, but he ducked quickly through the open section of the door as fast as he could, flung himself on his bike and rode off, putting distance between himself and the scene of humiliation.
“Hmm,” I thought, “I don’t think any girls will be chasing him until he’s got rid of his embarrassing habit of walking into glass doors.”
Do you remember the shame? The acute embarrassment of being 13 or 14 or 17? How you could sometimes imitate a grown-up, but how the image was exhausting to maintain and eventually you’d slam a door or dissolve in tears or phone a friend and rubbish someone just to feel better?
I remember acute and unspecific wants and needs that never seemed to ever be fulfilled no matter how many hours I spent on the phone, or how long I danced, or read books, or ate biscuits, or chatted up boys, or lay in the sun, or swam in pools. I never knew what it was I actually wanted, just something, and usually the something my immediate situation was manifestly not providing. When I was with my friends, I wanted to be with my boring, sporty boyfriend; when I was with him, I missed my friends. When I was at home with my family, I desperately wanted to be somewhere else; when I managed to be somewhere else, I missed my home and my family. I felt stuck, trapped, bored, frustrated. I yearned for something to happen, and when it did, I yearned for something different.
When I was 17, I broke up with my boring, sporty boyfriend because I had fallen in love. I convinced myself that this was the real thing, a grown-up emotion. The object of my love was, get this, a character in a play called Crystal Clear – not the actor playing the part, who was a beefy Bible-thumper, but the actual character. I felt very literary. It lasted a few months, but when the boring one came back to town, I took up with him again, out of sheer ennui. Clearly, having a relationship with a literary figure was not very satisfying.
One of the comforts of getting older is better getting to know one’s own wants and needs. I’m much better at reading myself and knowing whether it’s a little nap or a brisk walk or an energising coffee or a luxurious bath I need right now. I seldom yearn to be somewhere else, but enjoy being in the moment of wherever I am at the time. One of the pleasures of being a grown-up is that if I am ever in a situation that is truly uncomfortable I have the means and the sense to get myself out of it. I still fall in love with characters in books, but luckily for my family, I don’t feel the need to break up with them in order to nurse my passion. I no longer have a boring, macho boyfriend because, dear readers, I married one of the arty ones.
And he’s very good about not walking into doors.