Wednesday, 23 January 2008

How NOT to Fall in Love

The moment I met Simon, I felt a connection.
But don't worry, this isn't some flowery love story. It's not a love story at all.

We met in Bath, England's hotspot of history and Jane Austen tourism. I was on a minibreak before starting a new job. He was having a weekend reunion with his old Bath University flatmates. When his rowdy friends invited me to dinner, I warily accepted. But down at the pub (for a pre-dinner pint, naturally), it was Simon, the quietest one in the group, who sat beside me on the crowded wooden bench. Instantly, we were chatting away.

Simon was Australian, handsome, easygoing. At 24, he was already working a plush 9-5 high-tech job in London. But the suit-and-tie lifestyle, as he explained to me, left him both bemused and uncomfortable with himself.
"Sometimes I look around on the tube," he said, "at all the other guys dressed in suits like me, going to jobs like mine. It makes you feel faceless, you know? I can't let work take over my whole life."
Instead, he filled his downtime with all things dear to him; good friends, cricket and rugby, and travel whenever he had the chance. In my mind, he was a model for us quarter-lifers; successful but still fun.

And as the group trekked through tiny Bath, to a Spanish restaurant, to another pub, to another pub, Simon kept me laughing. While his friends reminisced about wild uni parties, Simon spoke modestly. He asked me questions. He told witty, insightful travel stories, about monks in Burma and protesters in Paris. He made me laugh. A lot. And when the flatmates wandered into the crowd to find pretty girls and televised football, Simon and I sat at the bar, observing.

"I love coming back to Bath," he said to me. "It's not like this in London. It’s not as friendly. I don't really have conversations like this," he motioned to the air between us, "with you."

I couldn’t help but laugh. "Come on. I bet women go mad for your Aussie accent."

But he didn't laugh back. He said women in London were so serious. That they were so interested in his job, in their jobs, in other people's jobs. He said they would rather dine in posh cafes than picnic in the park.

"But of course, all women aren't like that," I said. "Maybe you're going to the wrong pubs."

He took a long, steady gulp of beer. Finally, he spoke. Rather, he yelled. "I'm so sick of trying to fall in love in bars!"

I could feel myself flinching. Behind us, the bartenders exchanged nervous glances. Simon raised his beer to his mouth again, draining the glass in one determined chug. Neither of us spoke. What was there to say? That I was sick of it too? That if funny, handsome Simon had no luck in the single game, what hope was there for the rest of us? That if we weren't parting ways the next morning, I'd be planning our honeymoon destinations in my head? Instead, I just smiled. That patient, shoulder-to-cry on smile that friends give.

Because that’s what we were, really, fleeting bar-friends. But for all the singles who want to scream out like Simon, there’s some comfort in the fact that you’re in good company. Smart, witty, handsome company. Let the search continue…