For the last few weeks Lucy’s managed to get herself tangled up in a red-hot romance with Charlie, a charismatic and sexy 40-year-old who’s in an Open Relationship.
After much soul-searching and ALL the overthinking, she’d just about managed to accept this confusing state of affairs when Charlie pulled the already-unstable rug out from under her feet by announcing that he and his girlfriend are getting married.
When you think about it, there isn’t really that much difference between Charlie being in a long-term relationship and being engaged, but for some reason the news has hit Lucy harder than a thwack round the ear with a large frying pan. She hasn’t had this kind of mutual attraction with a guy since, like, 1948. So for him to now announce he’s engaged to someone else is like some sick fucking cosmic joke. When is she ever going to catch a break, FFS?!
But as always, there’s nothing she can do. Just like every disappointment, every letdown, every guy who turned out to be an idiot or a moron or married or just not that into her, she’s just going to have to suck it up and move on. Just as well she’s had so much practice at that, eh?
So they agree to just be friends, which is just as well really because before all this shit hit the fan they’d booked theatre tickets for next Wednesday and Lucy doesn’t want to have to find someone else to go with. But friends go to the theatre together, so that’s OK (it is OK, right?). And over the next few days they continue to chat occasionally over WhatsApp, and everything is all fine and dandy until out of the blue Charlie asks her a question.
He sent her a present? How sweet! Lucy wonders what it could be.
It’s unlikely to be anything big or expensive – at the very least she really hopes it isn’t, since that would be super awkward. Far more likely that it’s some sort of thoughtful token – Lucy’s favourite kind of gift. The kind that’s not embarrassingly expensive but shows her the giver’s been listening to her and thinking about her.
Charlie already has form for this, as it happens. Shortly after they’d met Lucy had mentioned that she collected fridge magnets from countries she’d travelled to, but was annoyed because she didn’t have one from South Africa, which she visited before she started her collection. So Charlie very sweetly sourced a South Africa fridge magnet (presumably by searching on eBay) and presented it to her on their second date, and Lucy was bowled over by how thoughtful he was and immediately took a large stride closer to dropping her knickers.
So could it be something similar? Something else that shows he cares?
While the idea of a surprise gift does put a smile on Lucy’s face, it also makes her feel a little uncomfortable. Isn’t it a bit odd to randomly buy a present for someone you’ve only known a few weeks? Now that she’s told him how upset she is about his engagement; now that they’re going to be Just Friends, isn’t a gift a little inappropriate?
Lucy feels a weird combination of being pleased that he’s still thinking about her and sad that he can’t be hers – and she wonders if maybe it wouldn’t just be better for everyone if he would just go away and leave her alone.
But Charlie doesn’t seem to want to do that.
What the fuck is she doing? You may well ask. She’s just told him she can’t handle being the other woman, and that she thinks they should just be friends, and yet here she is, already wavering. But here’s the problem: to Lucy, Charlie’s like an enormous sticky chocolate fudge cake. She knows he’s not good for her. She knows he’s bad for her health and she will only end up regretting it later. But right now the only other available food is, like, overcooked brussels sprouts and vegan cheese or something, and she’s tried the chocolate cake and it’s fucking delicious, and no matter how much she knows she shouldn’t, she’s not gonna be able to resist scooping it up with her bare hands and shovelling it down her throat until it makes her sick. And yes, it’ll probably make her sick, but OMG will it be worth it for those few moments of sticky, sensuous, chocolatey heaven.
The next day, Saturday, Lucy spends a hilarious afternoon drinking a shitload of wine in Green Park with some friends, and completely forgets about the mystery parcel. So when she finally rolls home, Sauvignon Blanc coursing through her veins, she’s surprised to find it sitting on her doorstep. A standard brown cardboard box from Amazon, quite small, surprisingly weighty for its size.
Curious and excited, she opens it. Inside is a 255 ml bottle of Sliquid Personal Lubricant.
Wait… what? He sent her lube? Lube? LUBE???!!!
Her happy excitement dissolves to nothing like snowflakes on a London pavement.
Lube. Umm… OK?
Lucy feels a little weirded out. What kind of a man sends a girl lube? Especially after they’ve only recently had a conversation about how she has feelings for him and can’t handle the fact that he’s got engaged. She literally cried in front of him in the pub! And then he sends lube?
How could he have got it so wrong?
Lucy knows why he sent it, of course. It’s his idea of a joke, or possibly being helpful. When they’d had that wonderful Sunday of All The Sex, he’d seen the bottle of Durex Play in her bedside drawer and laughed at it in mock horror, because apparently Durex Play is actually the Chicken Cottage of the personal lubricants world. So Charlie was just trying to be helpful. And since the parcel’s only just arrived, he must’ve ordered it before this whole thing fell apart. He was clearly hoping he’d get to use it with her, which is understandable if now a little awkward.
Still, she can’t possibly accept it now.
Lucy stands in the kitchen and stares at the bottle. Should she send it back? But it came from Amazon, and he ordered it. So she can’t. Should she just hand it back to him on Wednesday when they go to the theatre? That seems so rude, not to mention awkward. She’s sure his intentions were good, he just got the whole thing spectacularly wrong. She doesn’t want to offend him. He probably doesn’t even realise how upsetting this is for her.
Immediately, she feels like an ungrateful cow. He was only trying to be cheeky, and do a sexy thing for her. Or was it creepy? Lucy’s so confused. See, no one warns you about stuff like this with casual sex – the misunderstandings, the faux pas, the differences of perspective. If she was cooler, if she hadn’t already developed feelings for Charlie, it would’ve been fine. Probably.
But surely he should’ve known this gift would go down like a lead balloon? After all, she’s made no secret of the fact that she likes him. Is he just a typical man, being a bit cack-handed and crap, or is this part of some dastardly machiavellian masterplan to mess with her head?
Lucy knows she’s not a very good judge of character: she always tries to put herself in other people’s shoes and assumes most of the world is inherently honest and decent, but sometimes she can be a little bit too blindly trusting and forgiving. Is this one of those times?
The Instagram Problem
As anyone who’s ever dated in the age of social media will know, once you’ve developed a crush on someone it’s impossible not to stalk them relentlessly online. And so every few days, whenever Charlie pops into her head, whenever she’s feeling bored or lonely or horny, Lucy’s completely unable to stop herself from going to check out his Facebook and Instagram.
So the next evening, tipsy and disappointed after another mediocre date, and feeling sad that her love life seems to be completely fucking hopeless and broken, she compulsively fires up Instagram to see what Charlie’s been up to.
Charlie’s hardly a super duper trendy Instagram-influencer, but he’s posted about 400 images, and has around 700 followers. His pictures are actually quite good: travel shots, arty close-ups of things he’s found interesting, and quite a few personal photos – Charlie running a marathon, in swimming shorts on a beach, at a festival, and of course dozens of photos of him with The Girlfriend.
Lucy studies her. She’s a little younger, maybe mid-30s, and physically she’s the polar opposite. Where Lucy is tall, athletic and pale, The Girlfriend is short and curvy, with big boobs and a dark Mediterranean complexion. They seem well-matched, and happy. No wonder Charlie’s so relaxed and confident, thinks Lucy. He’s in a relationship with a woman who’s clearly good for him AND who lets him shag other girls. Who wouldn’t be fucking chuffed to the ends of the Earth with that?
But now, in addition to the photos she’s seen before, there’s a new one. An engagement photo, the cheesiest kind. The two of them, holding hands, ring presented towards the camera, grinning from ear to ear. And a gushing caption, detailing how ‘she said yes’ and made him ‘the happiest man alive’. Vomit.
Not for the first time, Lucy feels nauseous. It’s one thing to know Charlie’s engaged, and quite another to see the news presented here, in all its joyful, sickening detail. It’s too much; she simply can’t deal with this. But can she defriend him? Unfollow him? He’d definitely be offended if she did that, and besides, on Instagram she can still see this stuff even if she unfollows. She knows she’d never be able to stop herself from looking.
It’s late, Lucy’s tipsy, and still smarting from the shock engagement news and the weird gift, so she can’t resist sending him a hurt message.
As soon as she hits send, she regrets it. Her finger hovers over the delete button. Is this too much? she wonders. In spite of everything that’s just happened, a huge part of her still wants him, like he’s some fucking forbidden fruit, and this sort of thing will only push him away. But then, Lucy can only ever be honest, and deep down she knows that pushing him away is the right thing to do in the long run.
She returns to the message again, torn about what to do. And then the ticks turn blue. He’s read it. Ah well, it’s probably for the best anyway.
She reads his reply the next morning.
After all the confusion and headfuckery, you may well be wondering why Lucy doesn’t just block and delete Charlie and move the hell on. It’s resoundingly clear that this cannot end well for her. She’s already learned she’s not cut out for sharing, and she wants to find someone who can be hers and hers alone. Continuing to date Charlie would be like volunteering to row across the Atlantic when what you really want to do is go to Thailand: difficult, painful, and completely the wrong direction. Why would any sane person even consider doing that?
Well, quite apart from the question of whether Lucy is indeed sane, it’s really not as simple as that. If you’ve spent almost your entire adult life alone, going on hundreds of dates that never lead anywhere, it can start to feel as though chemistry, mutual attraction, and love, are things that happen to other people. And so when, for the first time in fucking forever, you finally catch a glimpse of that mythical prize, it can be next to impossible to walk away from it.
After all, thinks Lucy, her overthinky brain doing its best to rationalise and justify the situation, all relationships are hard. No one is perfect. Everything is about compromise. At least if she continues to date Charlie she will get affection, attention, and sex. Which is considerably more than she will get if she doesn’t.
And so she starts backtracking, and gently encouraging him once again. Leaving the door ajar just enough for him to know that if he gently pushes on it, it will open.
It’s not like Lucy has attractive men beating down her door. It’s not like anyone else is offering to have sex with her – and definitely not sex that good. She really doesn’t have the energy to go back to the dating apps for the 14 millionth time. And there’s a large part of her that wants to be able to squash her misgivings down and focus on the positives. I mean, if you look at it logically, she already knew he was in a relationship anyway. Does an engagement really make any difference?
But can you rely on logic when it comes to matters of the heart?
NEXT TIME: Resistance is futile…