If you’ve been following this story for a while you’ll know that Lucy’s somehow managed to end up, quite by accident, in a sort-of relationship with a polyamorous man named Charlie.
In many ways this is just like a real relationship. Charlie and Lucy text each other regularly to talk about how their days went or to share interesting things they’ve found online. They meet up weekly for dinner dates, cuddles and sex. Lucy relies on Charlie as a sounding board for all her personal and work dilemmas. He knows everything there is to know about her – the good, the bad, and the downright infuriating – and yet, astonishingly, he hasn’t run away screaming. He’s become the closest thing she’s had to a proper boyfriend in a really fucking long time.
And yet. In so many other ways it’s not a proper relationship. She’s never been to his house. He’s never stayed the night with her. They’ve never been away together. She’s never met any of his friends. And apart from the one time they accidentally bumped into Lucy’s friend in the street, he’s never met any of hers.
Of course, there’s absolutely nothing stopping her introducing him to her friends. She’s single, they’re dating, so what’s the problem?
I’ll tell you what the problem is: she’s ashamed. Not of Charlie, but of his lifestyle, and what people will think of it. Of the judgement she gets from people who can’t understand why she would accept this deal. The people who think she’s being manipulated, knowingly allowing a narcissist to walk all over her. The people who think she’s pathetic – poor, sad Lucy, who can’t even get a man of her own, so has to settle for sharing someone else’s. That’s why she can’t introduce him to her friends, not because she’s ashamed of him. If he was single she’d be singing his praises from the rooftops like a candidate on The Voice and wearing him on her arm with pride like an expensive watch.
But he’s not, and with a few more open-minded exceptions, most of her traditional, smug-married friends would find the whole idea more distasteful than an entire wardrobe full of velour tracksuits and double denim.
People like her friend Dan.
Dan’s one of the few people Lucy has told. They’ve been mates since university, and Dan recently got divorced. So she’s been helping him get back on the dating horse and sharing her experiences along the way. And she didn’t think he was remotely judgy about her unconventional relationship status until the day she and Charlie had yet another fight about him posting loved-up photos on his Instagram, and she vented to Dan.
‘Vulnerable woman with low self esteem?’ Is this what he really thinks of her?! Lucy’s shocked. There they were having a normal conversation, and suddenly this! Maybe Dan is drunk – though it seems unlikely: it’s the middle of the afternoon!
Lucy’s trying not to be annoyed. She knows this is coming from a place of concern for her wellbeing because Dan cares about her, but even so. It’s hardly helpful.
Ahh, the age-old ‘you don’t value yourself’ line. Lucy’s trying not to get annoyed with Dan – she’s sure he means well. But how fucking dare he. Of course she values herself. But she’s also a woman with needs and desires, and she’s been on her own for far too long. People like fucking Dan, a successful white man married for over 10 years, have no bastard clue what it’s like to be an eternally single woman on the wrong side of 40. So don’t you try to tell me I don’t value myself, Dan. I fucking value myself enough to know I deserve to enjoy some great sex with a guy who thinks I’m brilliant more than I deserve to sit at home on my tod getting RSI from texting dickheads and dullards who’ll only end up ghosting me.
And Dan also seems determined to convince Lucy that Charlie doesn’t actually care about her at all, but is just an evil manipulator callously exploiting her loneliness to get sex.
Lucy wonders if she should tell Dan that all his typos are making him come across as more deranged than the worst of Donald Trump’s tweets.
Dan may not admit it, but Lucy’s willing to bet there’s at least a small part of him that’s jealous of Charlie. There he is, married to the same woman for years, probably hasn’t slept with that many, probably didn’t get any sex at all for the last part of their marriage, probably not getting laid all that much now… surely no one could look at Charlie with his life so apparently perfect – a loving bird in one hand and another two or three in the bush – and not be at least a bit envious?
The thing is, Dan isn’t actually saying anything Lucy hasn’t already thought herself, many times. She has the same doubts all the time! Is Charlie manipulating her? Is he using her? Will she get hurt? She’s thought all of this through over and over and over again, and decided to take her chances anyway.
The problem is, as much as Lucy will defend Charlie to the death against criticism from friends like Dan, deep down she wonders if he’s right. It’s like when people slag off your friends or family – everyone knows you’re allowed to bitch about your own loved ones as much as you like, but woe betide anyone else who does the same.
But while she’ll fight back against any criticism of her relationship in public, behind closed doors Lucy has her doubts. She’s not really sure that Charlie actually cares about her as anything more than a decent fuck. She’s not sure she hasn’t been cleverly manipulated into sacrificing many of her most deeply-held values by a cheeky smile, a confident manner, and a skilled tongue. And now, even though she finds herself regularly hurt and upset by the knowledge of Charlie’s multiple partners, she can’t quite bring herself to walk away. What the fuck is wrong with her?
Lucy knows that Dan cares, and so do her other friends. And although few of them will be as upfront about their judgement as Dan, behind closed doors Lucy knows full well that they’ll all be having similar conversations with their husbands and partners. Why would they not? They’re only harbouring the same thoughts and doubts that Lucy’s had herself, but without the benefit of having (a) been single for so long you can’t even remember what it’s like to wake up next to someone and (b) met Charlie.
So on that basis, perhaps she should introduce him to some of her friends.
And the opportunity arises sooner than she expected.
On Tuesday Lucy and Charlie have a date planned. But then, out of the blue, her friend Anna from Kenya messages to say she’s in London for a few days, and is Lucy free for dinner – also on Tuesday? Bollocks.
Obviously Lucy doesn’t want to miss this rare opportunity to see Anna. Mates before dates, right? But Charlie isn’t free any other day, and Lucy also doesn’t want to miss her one chance of the week to spend time with him and maybe get – if not laid – then at least a snog and a cheeky grope outside a tube station.
So in a moment of oh-fuck-it-ness she invites Charlie to join her and Anna for dinner. It’ll be OK, she figures. She’s already told Anna all about Charlie, and Anna’s an open-minded single woman so she understands Lucy’s predicament. There’ll be no judgment here. It might even be fun – finally a chance to show off her sexy new guy to someone.
They meet for dinner at a restaurant in Kew owned by Anthony Worrall Thompson. Whatever happened to him after he was caught putting extra items in the bagging area in Tesco? Lucy wonders.
Charlie’s running late, so Lucy and Anna get a chance to catch up first.
“How’s it all going?” Anna asks. “Tell me all the gossip.”
Lucy fills her in on all the latest headfuckery, and Anna gives her the usual concerned words of advice. “Look, I understand why you’re involved with him, but please look after yourself. You’ll fall for him, and then you’ll end up getting hurt.”
When Charlie shows up, they greet each other politely, but Lucy’s watching them suspiciously. Anna’s an attractive single woman, and Charlie’s a very red-blooded male who likes women a lot and has somehow managed to engineer himself into a position of being able to shag whoever he chooses. So even though he’s promised Lucy he won’t try it on with any of her friends, she’s still wary. Can she trust him?
She’s relieved to see no sign of interest from Anna’s side. If anything, Lucy thinks she detects a flicker of surprise that Charlie’s so normal-looking, and not some sort of ripped superhunk-type, given how much Lucy bangs on about him, and how he’s managed to persuade her to date him in spite of the fact that he sleeps with other women. Surely the sort of bloke who can have multiple women eating out of the palm of his hand must be a Hollywood hearthrob, no?
But for Lucy that’s really not what it’s about with Charlie. That’s not to say she doesn’t think he’s handsome – because she really does – but his attractiveness comes just as much from his confidence, his charm, and his intelligence. It’s something Lucy likes about their relationship – and it was the same with the Ex too – the fact that she really fucking fancies him but that other people don’t necessarily get it makes her more confident. It proves their relationship is built on more than just physical attraction and it reassures her that not every other woman will be trying to steal him away from her.
Not that he’s hers to steal. And even if he were, she’d have to put up with him being stolen.
Dinner seems to go well. Anna and Charlie get on brilliantly – as you might expect from two bright, articulate people who have the same taste in friends. Anna, who’s still in touch with Brad, updates Lucy on what he’s up to. Apparently he’s grown a giant beard and is dating a woman ten years younger than him. So far, so clichéd. Apparently his new relationship is ‘just as mad and intense’ as it was with Lucy.
Lucy wonders what Charlie thinks of this. Would it make him jealous, hearing about her with another man? Would it turn him on? Maybe it’d make her seem more desirable, by dint of being desired, but who knows? Most likely he’s just completely unbothered either way.
At the end of the evening they say their farewells outside the restaurant. Anna’s going to catch the train from Kew Bridge, and Lucy is going in the opposite direction to Kew Gardens station to get the District Line. She’s hoping that Charlie will do the gentlemanly thing and walk with her back to the tube, and then do the ungentlemanly thing and finger her deliciously in a dark side street, but it’s not to be. It’s more convenient for him to get the train, he says, so he’s going with Anna.
Lucy’s crushed. Does he not care about her? Is saving 15 minutes on his journey really more important to him than the chance to put his tongue in her mouth and his hand in her knickers? Does he fancy Anna, after all, and is he going to take this opportunity to get to know her a bit better? It’s not that she doesn’t believe him when he says he won’t try it on with any of her friends, but even so… something doesn’t sit right. Attractive, single Anna, and charming, sexy Charlie, heading off in the dark together. It’d make even the most secure of girlfriends slightly anxious – and Lucy’s neither secure, nor a proper girlfriend.
As she walks back to the tube station, alone, Lucy’s furious and anxious. It’s dark, late and the streets are empty. Surely Charlie should have offered to accompany her, even if it might have made him a bit later getting home? Is it too much to ask that he might actually have wanted to walk back with her, to enjoy a few more precious moments of her company before they part for another week? Is it too much to hope for a bit of chivalry – or is chivalry now dead in the age of feminism? Is it anti-feminist and contradictory of Lucy to want a man who will not only respect her as an equal – but who will also buy her flowers and walk her back to the station in the dark?
But maybe these are proper girlfriend privileges, and Lucy’s an independent woman who doesn’t need protecting (though it’d be lovely if someone would offer), so perhaps she doesn’t qualify.
She arrives back at the tube station unharmed, and her phone pings with a message from Charlie.
She knows he’s only teasing, but even so. Making light of her anxiety is hardly amusing.
How long can she realistically carry on with this? she wonders. Is Anna right: will she end up falling for him and getting hurt?
But then she wonders: is it even possible to fall for someone who already hurts you?
Because it’s true: every time she sees Charlie, it hurts her. Sometimes, after sex, she cries. Every time he goes back to The Girlfriend, it makes her heart ache. Every time she sees loved-up photos of them on Instagram, she feels like she’s been punched in the stomach. And can you really ever fall for someone when those are your overarching emotions? Lucy doesn’t think so. For her, love is associated with happiness, and without happiness, how can there be love?
And as much as she adores the rare and fleeting time she gets to spend with him, and the sex is some of the best she’s ever had, and it’s fucking brilliant to have someone in her life to talk to about her day and bounce ideas off and rant to about Brexit and TfL and the twat who sits next to her at work, still she wonders if it’s really worth it. Is it worth the heartache and the jealousy and the tears, just to have someone to make you feel a little less alone? Is the heartbreak of having someone who hurts you greater or less than the bottomless ache of having no one at all?
Lucy wonders if she ought to call the whole thing off.
Next Time: Lucy goes back on the apps in another attempt to find a replacement for Charlie.
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