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Behaving Like Adults
Modern women don't believe in love. Believing in love carries roughly the same stigma as halitosis. It's as old-fashioned as going on a diet (as opposed to a detox). It suggests you have no sense of irony, and you like Meg Ryan films. A modern woman cannot accept that Father Christmas is a fraud and persist in believing that one sunny day her dark handsome destiny will appear in a puff of Fahrenheit and haul her off to Happy Ever After.
I know all that and yet I do believe in love. I apologize. But I can't help it. I presume it's a genetic blip which might also account for my dress sense (too pink).
I just like stuff to be nice. That's even worse. If you wish to maintain even a shred of credibility, you have to be cynical and keep your mouth in a hard straight line even when you find something funny. I'm not stupid. I do know the world is cruel. But I always like to hope that it isn't. I test my awwww! count. You proceed through the day, listing every occasion you're prompted to think awwww! You can't cheat and hire a puppy to peep out of a basket. Often, my total is horrific.
When I started the dating agency, Rachel crowed that now I'd see what people were really like. I wouldn't believe the lies they told to get laid! She said this as if I were either a nun or a social retard who believed -- despite living in a densely populated part of the planet for twenty-nine years -- that seduction was about honing in on the obvious and blurting it. Whereas I'm well aware that if that were the case, the human race would have fizzled out in the Iron Age when Wilma stared at Fred and said, "That's quite a small flintstone you've got there." Sometimes I think my friends confuse optimism with idiocy.
Of course, unpleasant characters applied. When you launch a dating agency, even if you specify as we did that Girl Meets Boy was for the "young and funky" (which no doubt deterred everyone in both of those categories), you invite weirdos to your door. It's Open Day for Oddballs. It's the Marilyn Manson Fan Club Parents Evening. But overall -- despite the nutters, nerds, squares, sociopaths, oafs, half-wits, dummies, brutes, airheads, and deviants gracing our files -- the awwww! count was immense.
Partly to distinguish ourselves from the Christians with an interest in ornithology and partly to discern if anyone out there possessed a sense of humor (a Good Sense of Humor is a luxury), we asked silly questions on the application form. Even Nige -- who'd only agreed to help out because he was between acting jobs and is nosy -- agreed that the hoi polloi were far wittier than he'd given them credit for. I particularly warmed to the twenty-seven-year-old man who replied to "Do you have any talents?" with "Probably not."
Girl Meets Boy began as a business, but the people who used it fast melted my heart to a soft, sticky caramel. Also, toward the end of the great fiancé fiasco (not before in case you were wondering), it did occur to me that I might find someone. Don't mix business with pleasure? I thought it was a phrase made up by killjoys to stop you from smiling at work. I was trying to enjoy what I'd achieved. I'd achieved so much, everyone said, I should be so proud. Oh, absolutely. I'd made sacrifices, but not whole lambs, more the odd chop. I should be happy.
When I'm told I should be happy, I start trying to measure it with a ruler.
Everything is a test. Rachel rings to say that the cab dropped her outside her flat, whereupon she bade farewell to a loud luxurious fart. She then turned and saw her neighbor padding up the path behind her. We howl with laughter. Yes, but is that happy? The cat sits on my lap, her purr rumbles through me, and I sigh -- that's happy, surely? I visit the art house cinema because I hate Warner Village (Village? It's not a village!), and I feel comforted by the fact that they sell whole-grain flapjacks -- even though I wouldn't eat one for a bet. I watch myself do this, and I think, That woman, she's smiling. But is she happy?
Self-interrogation is dangerous. Your inner voice pronounces the obvious -- "You don't realize you're happy till it's gone" -- as if it's your fault for not keeping an eye out, thus making you feel worse than you do already. But you're not to blame. Mostly, happiness doesn't just drop from you like an apple from a tree. It trickles away silently, evaporating over the months and years, until one day you feel a strange hollowness inside. You glance around and it hits you -- despite all you own, your great, glorious success, you have nothing.
The good and therefore unreported news is that you can find it again. It might be a bit of a trek. If you haven't the least idea of your destination, the journey takes a little longer. But I'm your fresh-breathed proof. Rachel was right. I did discover what people were really like. And yet, after everything that happened, I got happy again. I still believe in love. As I said, I can only apologize. And explain.
Behaving Like Adults
When Nige suggested a party to celebrate the success of Girl Meets Boy, I did wonder. I had done well, creating a company from scratch and making it pay. Although any old pinhead can create a company. They make it foolproof at Companies House. For around eighty pounds they hand you over a shrink-wrapped company ...
A Novel. Copyright © by Anna Maxted. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.