There’s something about travel that cannot help but make even the biggest moron think of all the science involved. How does the plane stay up? Where does all our wee go when we flush; do the birds get wet? Why is this bread so hard? And so on.
There’s also something about being a visitor to new places which lends you an observational eye more inquisitive that usual. It’s like being a foreign speck placed in the Petri dish of a new culture, waiting to see if something will grow.
I felt a similar distance in some of my New York experiences. In the streets and in the theatre I felt like I was home, but in the bars I felt stilted. Though I knew some part of me wanted to ‘be’ a part of it, in the way I always want to live a place as though it is my life, perhaps because I prefer to write about it later from a perspective of inclusion, I did not feel like I belonged there. The speck rejected the Petri dish.
One night in particular I was in a bar full of post-work thirsty natives, and my gorgeous and slightly mad host Charlotte was explaining the travails and glories of their dating system to me. For the first five minutes I was enraptured by tales of liberation. I felt like I’d walked into a pop-up book of Sex & The City (my enduring passion for which I will never understand as I don’t do style, I hate Kim Cattrall, and I think the last ‘episode’ in the form of Sex & The City 2 was an insult to women and all of life everywhere. Go figure, as some yanks would say.)
We were with Charlotte’s yoga instructor Penny, a dazzling redhead in her 40s who introduced us to ‘some guys’. Somewhere in my story-head I imagined we were being introduced to New York society by a upper east side duchess who was weighing up our odds on the love market. Then a man proceeded to touch up my bum while going through the motions of small-talk, and I didn’t feel liberated or culturally curious. I wanted to punch him. Thinking he was a friend of Charlotte and Penny’s I politely kept shifting my derrière and spoke to someone nicer. I loathe myself now for not saying anything. I don’t know why I cared that it might ’cause a fuss’. (Practice run: “Hey, buddy, that’s my ass. Yours is the one behind you looking like an overfilled baloney sandwich.” How terribly New York of me that would have been. DAMMIT.)
Thus was my preconceived kaleidoscope of glamour shattered. I was not seeing women enjoying their freedom unjudged. I was seeing women who could date the same guy for a year caught in a constant round of small talk without ever getting anywhere, I was seeing women who could date four men at the same time without getting any satisfaction from it. I saw women playing cool, playing undercover detectives in their own cryptic games, playing phone tennis where the result is almost certainly never love-anything. I saw an awful lot of singles playing and it didn’t look a single bit like fun.
I’ve always wondered if I should have stayed single for longer after leaving my marriage, if I have fully explored the freedoms of the modern woman or have truly known independence for long enough, but seeing the dating scene in New York made me realise that freedom can be a sort of prison too, if you’re not exercising it in the right way.
I felt glad to come home to the fuzzy nook of my man. Where there’s no games, just truth.