My romantic attachments were all unrequited and for inaccessible girls. At primary school, my best friend was Eloise. Her parents were exotic bohemian artists. A bright, creative, wayward kid, I adored her. She liked me, but I suspect the friendship was lopsided.
At secondary I became besotted with a girl two years above me. Jennifer McLean was destined to become a professional dancer. She was attractive and graceful and I used to hang around outside the lunch room, waiting for her to come out, just so I could look at her and sigh. I thought she was completely unaware of me, until she sent me a secret message via the older brother of a friend of mine. I was so beneath his notice that he forgot to give it to me for weeks. The message was, “Fuck Off”.
Next, I fell for Alice, the most brilliant of my friends. She was the child of English university professors, and was vivacious, effortlessly academic, musically talented, politically engaged, adventurous. She was the first of my friends to have sex, smoke weed, run away on tour with a famous band. She went on to study music and theatre at university, a course she was massively overqualified for, and gave her little prospect of secure work. Alice, of course, didn’t let that stop her. She is now a highly sought-after production designer on Broadway, and lectures in the Drama department of perhaps the most prestigious university in the USA.
I was increasingly comfortable with unfulfilled yearning, and I was happy to play the part of the love-struck swain, the stalwart but disapproving friend who helped to pick up the pieces after the theatrics were finished, a sort of Mr Knightley to her Emma, but without the good sense or the condescension. Although I didn’t realise I was happy.
Surprisingly, Alice and I did have a sort of fling-thing, a flingette, a dalliance. We were (how can I put this?) … briefly smoochy. Significantly, though, I wasn’t sure what to do with her, once I’d got her (or she me, I think). What should we have done, alone together, that we couldn’t do in our gang, other than sex, or after it? What opportunity was missed, lying together in a summer wheat field, above my house, in the Wicklow hills? Because something was missed…
Alice moved on very soon, solving the problem with typical decisiveness and genial drama, by dumping me for a hard-drinking, celebrated classical musician with mad hair. I think I was relieved.
And that brings me to university, and the awful dawning, the smoking red dawn, of the era of Lulu.
I never understood what they saw in me, these few women who gave me a chance. I’m not (just) being self-pitying or humble. As a teenager, I didn’t have such a low opinion of myself, (although I was vulnerable to it), but I lacked the empathy to imagine what it might be like being someone else seeing me. So, while I was horribly solipsistic, and thus emotionally selfish, I barely had an opinion of myself at all. And I think, I think, this possibly might stem from having an under-powered or under-developed sense of self or identity.
That would also account for a lifetime spent pretending to be what I felt I was not, years and years of masquerading, of making outrageous claims about myself.
Some of which may have been true.
 Piano, flute, guitar, etc…
 Only now, as a father myself, do I realise how dismayed her poor parents must have been.