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[1], politically engaged[2], 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[3]. 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…

I think…

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. 


[1] Piano, flute, guitar, etc…

[2] Socialist

[3] Only now, as a father myself, do I realise how dismayed her poor parents must have been. 

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