Nick was never supposed to be The One, for God's sake. Even I knew that. And yes, I know those that are happily married often say you can't know, not immediately, but of course I knew. Not that he sounded wrong-Nick spoke the Queen's English slightly better than myself, but nothing else was right, nothing else fitted.
There was the money thing, for a start. My job as a PR might not be the highest-paying job in the universe, but it pays the bills, pays the mortgage and leaves me just enough for the odd bit of retail therapy. Nick, on the other hand, didn't earn a penny. Well, perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but he wasn't like all the other boyfriends I'd had, wasn't rolling in it, and , although that's not my main motivation, what I always say is II don't mind if he can't pay for me, but I do bloody well mind if he can't pay for himself.
And though Nick occasionally offered to go dutch, it was such bad grace and I used to feel so guilty, I'd just push his hand away, tell him not to be so silly and drag out my credit card.
And then there was politics. Or lack thereof, in my case, might be more appropriate. Nick was never happier than when he was with his left-wing cronies, arguing the toss about the pros and cons of New Labour, while I sat there bored out of my mind, not contributing just in case anyone asked me what I voted and I had to grudgingly admit I voted Conservative because, well, my parents had.
Speaking of pros and cons, it might be easier if I showed you the list I drew up soon after I met Nick. I mean, if I sit here telling you about all the reasons why he wasn't right for me, it would take all day, and I've still got the list, so you may as well read it. It might help you to see why I was so adamant that he was just a fling.
- I fancy the pants off him.
- He's got the biggest, softest, bluest eyes I've ever seen.
- He's very affectionate.
- He's fantastically selfless in bed. (Make that just fantastic)
- He makes me laugh.
- He's got no money.
- He lives in a grotty bedsit in Highgate.
- He's left-wing/political.
- He likes pubs and pints of beer.
- I hate his friends.
- He's a complete womanizer.
- He's allergic to commitment.
- He says he's not ready for a relationship. (Although neither am I.)
So there you have it-far more cons than pros, and, if I'm completely honest, the cons are much more important, I mean, how could I have even thought of getting involved with someone whose friends I hated? I have always, always thought you could judge a person by their friends, and I really should have known better.
But then again, I suppose you can't help who you fancy, can you? And that was the bottom line. I fancied Nick. Fancied him more than anyone in years, and somehow, when someone gives you that tingly feeling in the pit of you stomach, you stop thinking about the rights and wrongs, the shoulds and should nots, and you just go with it.
You're probably wondering how I met Nick, because, let's face it, our paths were hardly destined to cross. I'd known him for a while, actually. He was one of those people I used to see at the odd party when I went out with my friend Sally, Sal, and I never took much notice of him, I didn't see him enough to take much notice of him because I didn't see Sal at all that much.
I used to work with Sal, indirectly. Years ago, when I first started a lowly PR assistant, Sal was a journalist on one of the magazines, and she was about the only person who didn't treat me like shit, so we formed a friendship on the basis of that.
Not that I dislike her. She's a great girl. She's just different. To me, that is. She's more like Nick, and I vaguely remember her having a crush on him. That's probably the only reason I did remember him, she'd ask me to watch him to see if he stared at her, all that sort of stuff, and I did, because she was my friend and it gave me something to do, which was better than standing around bored, wishing I were somewhere else.
She used to drag me along to these parties, student parties I'd think snootily, except no one had been a student for years, but they were always in dilapidated houses, held by the four, or six, people who lived there, and they were never my scene.
Not that I could have afforded the lifestyle I wanted. Not then. Champagne tastes and beer pockets, my mother always used to sniff, if I made the fatal mistake of wearing a new outfit when I went round to see my parents.
"What's that?" she's say, in a disapproving tone of voice.
"What? This old thing?" I'd learn to say, dismissing my fabulous designer outfit that I loved so much I was wearing it for about the sixth day on the trot. " I've had this for ages." Or, "It was lying around the fashion cupboard at work, so they gave it to me. Do you like it?" It took me a while, but eventually I learned that, as long as I didn't admit to it being new, my mother would like it. If I ever told her I had actually bought something, she'd raise her eyebrows and say, "How much was that?" And I'd mumble a price, usually knocking off around a hundred pounds, and she's roll her eyes again and shake her head, making me feel like an errant child.
I used to have these dreams about being a career woman. I wanted shoulder pads, briefcases and mobile phones. I wanted designer clothes and fuck-off flat which had wooden floors and white sofas and enormous bowls of lilies on every polished fruitwood table. I wanted a Mercedes sports car and chunky gold jewelry.
Unfortunately, life in PR is probably not the best way of going about it, because PR seems to be one of the worst-paid professions in the world. I know what I should have done, I should have gone into the City, because I graduated at the tail end of my eighties boom, and I could have made a mint, but I never had a very good brain for money, or numbers, and I would have been hopeless. And PR seemed like the easiest option. It sounded glamorous, exciting, and I wouldn't have to start as a secretary, which I was loath to do, because I have hated people asking me what I did for a living. In PR I was able to start as a Public Relations Assistant, which, at the ripe old age of twenty-one, made me feel like I'd won the lottery.
I answered an ad in the Guardian, and when I went along for the interview I decided that if I didn't get this job I would die. The offices of Joe Cooper PR were in backstreet in Kilburn, not the most salubrious of areas, I know, and from the outside it looked just like a big warehouse, but inside it was magnificent. A huge loft, wooden floors, brightly colored chairs and velvet cushions, and a constant buzz of phone conversations from some of the most beautiful people I'd ever seen in my life.
And I looked completely wrong. There they were, everyone in jeans, super-trendy T-shirts and big motorbike boots (which was the look at the time), and there I was in my little Jigsaw two-piece cream suit, with matching high heels and a briefcase clutched in my hand to look more professional.
Shit, I remember thinking when I walked in. Why, oh why didn't I research this before I came, but then Joe Cooper came to shake my hand. "You must be Libby," he said, and as soon as I met him I knew I liked him, and, more important, I knew he liked me. And he did. And I started the following week on a pittance, but I loved it. God, how I loved it.
Within a month all my friends were green with envy, because I was already on first-name terms with some of the hottest celebrities on TV, and I spent my days helping the actual executives, typing press releases, occasionally baby-sitting those celebrities on their excursions to radio and television shows where they plugged their latest book, or program, or film. And it was so exciting, and I met so many people, and my Jigsaw suit was placed firmly at the back of my wardrobe as I dressed like all the others and I fitted in.
My budding Champaign tastes were brought to full fruition at Joe Cooper PR Admittedly, not in quite the way I'd planned. Instead of Yves Saint Laurent, I wanted Rifat Ozbek. Instead of Annabel's I wanted Quiet Storm. Instead of Mortons I wanted the Atlantic Bar, or whatever the hell was in at the time, I can't actually remember. A lot of the time I was "entertaining" clients, so it was on expenses, but when you throw a girl into that sort of lifestyle at work, you can't expect her to be happy with takeaways in the evenings, can you?
And now, finally, I can just about afford to fund my lifestyle, with the help of a very understanding bank manager who agreed to give me and overdraft facility "just in case." Just in case of what? Just in case I should ever not need it? Because I fill me overdraft facility pretty much all the time, but hell, it's only money, and as far as I'm concerned we're only here for about eighty years if we're lucky, so in grand scheme of things nothing really matters very much, and certainly not money. Or even men, when it comes to it.
Friends are what matter, that's what I've decided. My social life is in swings and roundabouts. Sometimes I'm on a social whirl, out every night, grateful for the odd night in watching television and catching up on my sleep. But then everything will slow down for a while, and I'll be in every night, flicking through my address book, wondering why I can't really be bothered to talk to anyone.
Well, not quite anyone. I talk to Jules every day, and five times, even if we don't really have anything to say to each other, which we don't usually, because what news can you possibly tell someone you last spoke to an hour ago? We usually end up talking shit. She'll phone me up and say, "I've just eaten half a packet of biscuits and a cheese and pickle sandwich. I feel sick."
And I'll say, "I had a toasted bagel with smoked salmon, no butter, and one stick of Twix," and that will be it.
Or I'll phone her and say, "Hi. Any news?"
"Okay, talk to you later."
We never, ever, say goodbye, or talk to you at the weekend, or even tomorrow, because, unless we're speaking to each other late at night when we're in bed (which we do practically every night), we know we are going to talk to each other later, even when we've got nothing to say.
What's really surprising about this is not how close we are, but the fact that Jules is married. She married James, or Jamie as he's more commonly knows (good isn't it, Jules et Jim), last year, and I was terrified I'd never see her anymore, but if anything the reverse happened. It's almost as if she isn't married, because we hardly ever talk about Jamie. He never seems to be there, or if he is he's shut away in his study, working, and for awhile I was worried, concerned that perhaps she'd made a mistake, perhaps their marriage wasn't all it should be, but, on the rare occasion I see the two of them together, I can see that it works, that she's happy, that marriage has given her the security she never has, the security I long for.
And meanwhile, I've still got my friend, my touchstone, my sister. Not that she is, of course, she just feels like it, and Jules is the wisest woman I know. I'll sit and bore her with my latest adventure and she'll listen very quietly, wait for a few seconds when I've finished before speaking, which really used to bother me because I thought she was bored, but actually what she's doing is thinking about what I've said, formulating an opinion, and when she does give me advice it's always spot-on, even if it might not be exactly what I want to hear.
She's what my mother would call a true friend, and I know that no matter what happens we'll always be there for each other, so even on those nights when I'm cocooning, when I decide that I'm not quite ready to face the world, Jules is the one person I always phone. Always.
And at least my flat's comfortable for those solitary periods of takeouts and videos. Not quite the flat I've always dreamed of, but I've made it pretty damn nice considering most of my furniture has either been inherited from my parents or bought secondhand from junk shops.
But if it hadn't been for my parents, bless them, I'd never have been able to afford to buy somewhere. I'd probably be sharing some dilapidated house with four, or six, other girls and spending every evening arguing about the washing-up or just resenting them even breathing. I may not have ever had to do it, but I've got enough friends who have, and quite frankly I got sick of them ringing to ask if they could crash on my sofa because the needed some space.
My flat is tiny. Tiny. The tiniest flat you ever imagine that's actually a flat and not a studio. It's in a basement in Ladbroke Grove, and you walk in the front door straight into the living room. But, surprisingly, for a basement it's quite bright, and I've tried to emphasize this by keeping it as neutral as possible. Except I can't help the clutter, the shelves of books, and photographs, and cards, because I never throw anything away, you never know when you might need something.
There's an L-shaped kitchen off the living room, a galley kitchen, open plan, and opposite the large window there are French doors leading into a bedroom. It's so small there's a bed that folds up into the wall, except I never bother putting it up unless I have a party, and then off the bedroom is a minute bathroom, and that's it. Perfect for me, although I haven't lost sight of my dream of huge spaces and high ceilings - I've just about accepted the working in PR is most unlikely to buy me what I want, and I'll just have to marry a rich man for the lifestyle to which I want to become accustomed.
So. Men. Probably the one area of my life that's a complete disaster. Not that I don't meet them, God, it seems as if they're crawling out of the woodwork, except the ones who crawl out to me are always worms. Typical, isn't' it Jules can't understand it. I can't understand it. Every time I think that this time it might be different, this time they might treat me well, look after me, but ever time it ends in tears.
I thought Jon was the one. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I say that every time. But I really did. He was everything I'd ever been looking for. He was a property developer, which is a bit boring. He was handsome, well dressed, had a beautiful flat in Maida Vale, Mazda MX-5, knew brilliant people, was great in bed...Well, the list goes on and on, really. The only problem was he didn't like me, he didn't want to spend time with me, and I kept thinking that if I were perfect, if I acted like the perfect girlfriend, he'd fall in love with me. But he didn't. The more I tried to be the perfect girlfriend, the more awful he was to me.
In the beginning he used to call me, but the phone calls practically dwindled away to nothing, and then eventually people used to call me up and ask why I wasn't at the party last night that Jon went to. And he used to go away for weekends without telling me, he'd simply disappear, and I'd spend all weekend in floods of tears, ringing his answering machine and banging the phone down before the end of his message.
My parents met him. Big mistake. Huge. The loved him. The loved the fact that I had finally met someone who could take me off their hands, look after me, and, amazingly and unusually the more they loved him the more I did. But eventually I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't deal with the stress if being treated like shit, and, I'm quite proud of myself for this, I ended it.
The bastard didn't even seem to care, He sort of shrugged and said he was happy with the way things were, and, when I said I needed more, he just shrugged again and said he was sorry that he couldn't give me more. Bastard. BASTARD.
But no, that was a long time ago. I was apoplectic with grief for about a week. I kept bursting into tears at work, and everyone was massively sympathetic without actually saying anything. Every time I cried at my desk I'd feel a hand on my shoulder, and a cup of tea would be placed in front of me, wordlessly, which was so sweet. My colleagues' way of showing me they cared.
The after a week Jules said I have to get my act together and she knew from the beginning that he wasn't for me and that he was far too arrogant and I deserved better and that there were plenty more fish in the sea and blah blah blah. But I began to see her point.
I started putting myself "out there" again. Going to bars, partied, launches. And even though I felt like shit I pretended to have a good time, and after a couple of months I realized that I actually was having a good time, and that was when I decided that I'd had enough of men. At least for a while. Yup, I thought. No more bastards for me. But then about six months on I started getting withdrawal symptoms. Not from Jon, but from cuddles, affection and, all right, Ill admit it, from sex. Now I know there's a cut off point. I know that when you've been used to having regular sex with someone you miss it for six months, and that after that you don't really think about it anymore because it's just not a part of your life, and then when you finally do it again you're astounded that you went without it for so long because it's so damn nice. I know this because I've had two BIG dry periods in my life. One for ten months and one for....God, I don't know whether I want to tell you. Okay. One for two years.
I know. Twenty-seven bloody years old and I went without sex for two years. Sad, isn't it?
I was probably just about to reach the cutoff point where sex stopped being important, when, instead of waiting for those horny moods to disappear, I decided I'd have a fling. I don't want a relationship, I thought. I just wasn't sex. That's all.
I was in that rare state of mind that women always tell you to aspire to, but which you usually find impossible to reach. The state of mind that is completely fulfilled by work and friends.
And I really was. I realized, post-Jon-trauma, that I definitely didn't want to be in a relationship with someone unless they were absolutely right, and , let's face it, how often do you meet someone who you really fancy and really like? Exactly.
I do what most women do. I meet someone and some of it's right, maybe he looks right, or has the right job, or the right background, and , instead of sitting back and waiting for him to reveal his other bits, I make them up. I decide hoe he thinks, how he's going to treat me, and , sure enough, every time I conclude that this he's definitely my perfect man, and all of a sudden, well, not so suddenly perhaps, usually around six months after we've split up, I see that he wasn't the person I thought he was at all.
So that's' where I'm at when Sal phones, and I haven't seen her for ages, and she invites me out, breathless with excitement about her new boyfriend, and when I arrive at the bar Nick is there and he remembers me, and that's that.
Well, not quite, but more of that later. So you would have thought I'd have learned my lesson after Jon, but have I? Have I? Have I hell. Except with Nick I know from the beginning that I'd never be able to fill in the blanks and reach a conclusion I'll be happy with. And so that night, that night in the bar when there suddenly seems to be this amazing chemistry, I decide that Nick will be my fling, that he'll be perfect for a few weeks of brilliant sex, that I won't get involved, and that we'll probably stay friends.
And I feel really strong. I feel, for the first time in my life, that I can actually do this. That I can have sex with someone and not get emotionally involved, not suddenly start dreaming of marriage and babies and a happy ever after. I feel like a woman. I feel like a grown-up.