Hedonists have a rather problematic relationship with monogamy. Barring Coronation Street, which enjoys some sort of quasi-mystical exception, repetition has a deadening impact on that which it touches.
It is not an easy path to tread, and having recently embarked down its shadowy passage I have armed myself with three distinct rules to make things a little easier. They may or may not help you, if you are in a similar situation. I make no claims whatsoever, except that anything that works for someone with such pitifully low levels of self-control will surely have at least a minor impact on others.
1) The rule of boyfriends
Hardly anyone is single. This is a very important thing to remember. Many men spend years with their girlfriend, lusting after these nubile beauties on the street, then, too late, realise they all have boyfriends. The world of singledom is always a bountiful place in the minds of couples. The reality is different. Every beautiful woman in the world has a boyfriend. The ones who are also interesting were practically born with one.
There is a tiny space of time, like a flashing light, in which to secure such women in-between boyfriends. These periods usually last for a month or two – often much less if they take the fairly common route of establishing the next relationship while managing the decline of the last one.
It’s brutal to discover this fact of human relations just as the euphoria of singledom begins. As you talk to girls at parties, the word is slipped in there, subtly, almost irrelevantly, in the first five minutes of conversation. “Yeah, my boyfriend always says that about me,” the girl says. Or: “Really? I thought my boyfriend was the only person who thought Die Hard 2 was better than the original.” I made that example up, by the way. If I ever did meet someone who believed that Die Hard 2 is better than the original I would probably kill them.
It’s a tried and tested technique. It communicates the necessary information – ‘this is private property’ – without actually humiliating you in public. Sometimes people break this rule, as if they are so progressive and liberal they don’t even need to mention the existence of a significant other when speaking alone with a member of the opposite sex. The boyfriend emerges from conversation out of nowhere, hours into the chat, like an iceberg before a cruise liner. “Sweet fuck,” you think. “Where did that come from? What does it mean?”
As a singleton, I had convinced myself that boyfriends mentioned after the first 15 minutes of the conversation didn’t matter. They existed, but were plainly not relevant. If the girl’s faithful, I thought, she would have brought them up ages ago. This was my thinking when I ignored a single mention of a boyfriend, made at least two hours into the conversation, from a pretty Chinese girl at a party in South London. We arranged to meet up later that week. Some point during the second meeting I stepped closer and stopped, invading her personal space. “What are you doing?” she asked. “I am closing in for the kill,” I said, with the kind of mock-honesty which deceptive people use to mask their true character. “What are you talking about?” she replied, angry and shrill. “I told you I have a boyfriend.”
That was the day I realised I may have been thinking about this stuff too much. Maybe people actually mean what they say, irrespective of timing. Perhaps there are humans in the world, in London even, who do not conduct human interaction like some kind of overcomplicated game of political espionage.
Couples, trapped as they are in their cosy living rooms and candlelit restaurant trips, don’t realise that they have taken over the world. Being single is isolating, especially later in life, and there are surprisingly few people in the club. Remember that. It’s not all expensive lingerie and eyes meeting across a room. There’s lots of half-hearted wanking and re-runs of QI as well.
2) The rule of short-termism
The trick is to bar your mind from thinking any sexual thoughts in a long-term context. Once you realise that you will only ever have sex with one person for the rest of your life you will simply lose your shit. It’s too much for the human mind to accept. Instead, concentrate on now. Ask yourself: Am I happy? Am I looking forward to tonight? Does this person holding hands with me smell right? These are sensible questions and, more importantly, the human mind can sustain them. They are all that really matters. If the answer to them is no, you have a problem.
Some might object that this is a form of denial, that the reality is indeed that you are now planning to only have sex with one person for the rest of your life, and that this fact must be accepted. I would counter that the fact that something is true does not necessarily make it worth your time. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, you and the man you walked past on the way to work this morning would kill each other using your teeth in order to secure a loaf of bread, but there’s no reason to dwell on it.
Anyway, very few aspects of human life survive a proper zoom-out. Your job, for instance, is clearly pitiful. Day after day; the same god-awful drudgery; the brutalising morning rush hour, your aching face becoming increasingly wrinkled by the various stresses and strains of professional life, none of which have any meaning really, but all of which are given extraordinary weight by the twisted and venal concerns of our broken, valueless society; your whole life reduced to series of repetitions, nothing really accomplished but the fragile creation of a home and clothes to protect you from the cold; your freedom laughably reduced to a choice of Pepsi or Coke; your pointless, barren life gradually pissing itself away in a manner that has no resonance with history, or art, or the supreme potential of the human spirit. But I digress.
3) The rule of diminished conversation
You have to listen to a lot of dog shit when you’re single. Very few people are interesting but many of them are confident. This appalling confluence has terrible repercussions, which any casual observer can appreciate after overhearing conversations in bars and trains. As you go through life, the tendency is to surround yourself with friends who share, if not your worldview, then at least your approach to the world. In my case, I have a weakness for eccentrics and people who possess curiosity. This little cocoon we have developed is torn asunder when you become single. Suddenly, you must partake in all sorts of demented conversations with people whose interests are either trivial or trivially expressed just to have sex. That’s a high price to pay. It’s worth it, of course. But only just.
There are occasional one-night stands in which sexy banter dominates the time between meeting and conquest, but these are a rarity. Most one-nighters involve speaking drunken nonsense while your bodies do all the real talking, edging closer and prolonging eye contact until you’ve got enough evidence of interest to make a move.
Even those times are a charm. The real damage comes when you’re forced, as is traditional, to do a proper date, including dinner, cab and the trimmings. It’s here that your quality of life takes a hammering as a variety of subjects you never deemed worthy of your attention are presented for you, like a diamond wrapped in a dog turd.
The worst offenders are people who spend the entire time talking about their ‘friends’, a host of characters you will never meet, but whose madcap misadventures you are forced to endure. Others take you on a tour of a mainstream culture you’ve probably done everything in your power to avoid. X-Factor, Top Gear, Strictly: these constitute the face of modern Britain, and a great many of us studiously ignore them for reasons that involve integrity and self-image. To have them brought before our eyes in such a presumptuous manner simply because we’re horny is disarming at best and ruinous at worst.
The endless adventures in search of sex put us in situations we simply wouldn’t countenance when in a relationship – bad clubs, questionable decisions, foolish behaviour. It makes life more exciting, but it also fills it with more shit conversation. For those of us pompous enough to consider the latter more important than the former, a relationship can add another layer to the barriers which protect us from the banality of the world.
Illustration: ER Books archives.