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ChickLit ClubThis is the book Sex and the City should have been. With non-stop sex and numerous lovers, this memoir makes you take a look at how to handle the men who come in and out of your life.
— Christy Goldstein
I've never been a great believer in the quintessentially female idea of "closure." But the trick to surviving what I call the "relationship exit interview" is to focus not on what your partner is saying, but on whatever it is they are trying to hide.
Unfortunately, for most of us, the phrase "I need some space" generally ends with "to sleep with other people." Likewise, "We need to slow down" is missing the ending, "so I can keep my options open, in case somebody more interesting/hotter/richer comes along." This isn't always a bad thing; in fact, telling a white lie to help initiate a break up can often save the dumpee a lot of time and heartache.
But Patrick was different, or so I thought. We based our relationship on "absolute honesty," which was why I agreed to move in with him after a whirlwind five-month courtship-even though I was still living in Manhattanat the time, and he worked in London as a banker.
I'd recently given up my job as a New York gossip columnist, and for ages I'd been flirting with the idea of relocating to London permanently. I figured that with my years of journalistic experience, landing a job, or at least a work experience placement, couldn't be that difficult. In the past few months I'd started flying back and forth looking for openings.
In retrospect, my career judgment at that time was almost as poor as my judgment in men. My efforts in London hadn't exactly been going swimmingly: The Independent had shown an interest in the stories I'd sent them but I'd only sold them one piece so far, and my last work experience placement (which I soon discovered was codespeak for "slave labor") at The Times came to a screeching halt after I screwed up an arts guide by listing a Kevin Spacey play one year too late. "It was only sixteen words, and I still managed to fuck it up," I had said when they dismissed me.
So I had continued to supplement my income by taking freelance assignments back in New York, the latest of which was writing entries for a fashion guide. Every day, I would trek through Manhattan, then run up huge phone bills on late-night calls to Patrick to talk about our future together.
Finally, I felt ready to take him up on his offer. I packed my stuff and got ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
But two days before I was due to fly to London for good, he sent me an email to say that he "didn't feel that we were on the same path" and never wanted to see me again. Clearly lacking a sense of irony, Patrick insisted that we meet one last time at the Bleeding Heart pub in Farringdon, where he would explain why he wanted to split.
I was in a state of shock, but nonetheless I cringe when I remember my pathetic selection of clothing that day. For women, there is only one relationship ensemble more monumental than the first date: the breakup outfit.
Legs shaved, bikini line waxed, and eyebrows plucked into perfection, I squeezed my size-8 frame into a black pencil skirt that I knew he loved, with a white off-the-shoulder silkscreen print Blondie T-shirt, my distressed leather biker jacket, and four-inch Christian Louboutin stilettos. Underneath I was wearing my lace La Perla corset in anticipation of a best-case scenario.
"I don't feel the same way about our relationship as I did and I think it's best if we call it a day," he'd written. This was in no way ambiguous, but I guess somehow I hoped that he would rush in, claim temporary insanity for the email, sweep me into his arms, and declare, "What was I thinking?"
However, one look at the bright lighting and strained faces of the couples around me told me that there would be no reconciliation: The Bleeding Heart was a place where relationships came to die. The room was cozy enough to ensure that I wouldn't raise my voice and "make a scene," yet the tables were sufficiently wide to prevent me from scratching his eyes out, or whatever men imagine women do in the face of a breakup.
I arrived fifteen minutes early, hoping to have downed half a dirty martini and smoked a stealthy cigarette to steady my nerves before he came in. But Patrick was already sitting at a corner table, tie loosened, looking slightly disheveled but gorgeous. He appeared to be sending a text.
He attempted to stand up when our eyes met, but his knee slammed the bottom of the table and he sucked in his breath, sharply, then gave me a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. "Hi, Cat, um, can I get you a drink?" he said, sliding his mobile into his pocket.
"What are you having?" I asked, trying to keep my tone light even though my voice was shaking. Despite my rock-star façade, I was a nervous wreck.
"A tomato juice," he said flatly. For a half-Irish bloke who drinks Guinness like water, this was not a good sign.
"I'll have a vodka tonic, please. Better make it a double." I sat down and took off my wraparound sunglasses, trying to steady my trembling hands. Unlike most of my friends, I prefer comfort drinking to comfort eating in the face of adversity. I tend to overthink everything, so in trying times I use booze to deaden my brain against the pain.
The trick to keeping the buzz going is to stay at exactly the right level of inebriation to stay merry, not morose, which for me is usually about three drinks. Any more than that and I'm crying in the toilets or sitting on top of someone random. It's a delicate balance.
Once he returned with my cocktail, sat down, and fixed his gaze on me, I wasted no time. "Is there someone else?" I asked, fighting back tears. I was not going to cry. I wasn't going to give him that satisfaction. "I can understand if there is. In fact, I think it might help me accept why this happened."
He sighed and loosened his tie further. "God, I only wish it was that simple," he said, cagily casting his eyes downward, his hand wrapping around the viscous red liquid. I had always loved Patrick's hands. My friends swear by the size of a man's feet, but I could never look at his long, thick fingers without imagining them sliding inside me, stretching me out. "I don't think you have any idea how hard this is for me."
"Hard for you? You begged me to move in with you for months, then after I quit my job in New York, left my apartment, and was two days away from flying here, you tell me that I have nowhere to live? What were you thinking? Do you even care?"
My heart was racing, and despite the seriousness of the situation I could feel myself tingling down below. Even if we don't patch things up for good, I was thinking, the make-up sex would be amazing. It must have been my blood pumping and the booze, lulling me into thoughts of a temporary reprieve. I kept rattling on about work, manically, because I knew that the minute there was a pause in conversation the end would come and the pain would be too much to bear. Besides, Victoria didn't get off until seven-thirty, and had no spare set of keys. Even though we'd only met for the first time three weeks ago, at the hairdresser, she had kindly looked after me in my moment of need and was letting me stay at her flat.
It was either this, or crying in a Starbucks wedged between tourists with rolling suitcases. It sucked to be homeless.
I was also thinking that I might never get to fuck him again, and I wasn't sure when I'd have chemistry that good with anyone else. Part of the bitch of breaking up is the laziness that comes with being a couple, when you know each other's sexual preferences and are completely in sync. The thought of investing that kind of energy and time in someone else after getting kicked to the curb was daunting. I felt nauseous.
He sighed. "I did that because, frankly, I thought you might stay in New York after I sent that email."
This made me angrier than anything he'd said so far. He knew that I'd wanted to move to London since I came here at age fourteen with my school choir, and managed to ditch the adults and go to my first pub. I fell in love for the first time in the UK; not with a man, but with the drinking culture. And while writing about the Oscars had been fun, I was starting to get seriously bored with doing stories about celebrities and their rather frivolous concerns. I had frivolous concerns of my own.
I realized that if I stayed where I was, one day I would be forty-five, still regurgitating pop culture crap and trying to analyze the decline of D-list pop stars' marriages. I knew that I had to leave New York to get away from it all. I didn't know a soul in London, but that had never stopped me before. I love a challenge.
"Patrick, I've been talking about moving to London for a year now. Since before I met you. Why would you think I would change my plans?"
"Because, well ... what is it that you want to do here?"
I saw him sneak a glance at his phone. Was he meeting someone else? Was it that petite blonde who sat next to him at work, the one he'd always insisted was "just a friend"? I was probably being paranoid. Then again, what difference did it make? "I kind of thought you were moving for me. I mean, it's not like your unpaid work experience is going that well."
I felt like I'd been slapped. At twenty-seven I had found it difficult to be demoted from mingling with celebrities as co-writer of a trendy New York gossip column to brewing cups of tea for a grumpy Times editor who told me constantly he wasn't sure if I had the "feel" for features, before dismissing me over the Kevin Spacey debacle.
I took a deep breath. "Well, I really want to write a sex column for a national newspaper. The Independent has been very receptive to all the ideas I've sent them, and I've had one piece published. I'm hoping that a staff position will open up. I just have to be tenacious and make sure that I'm in the right place at the right time. Whenever that is."
"See, that's what I'm talking about, Cat," he said, exasperated. "I can't go out with someone who has her head in the clouds the entire time. A national newspaper column? Some of us have to have realistic dreams."
Fuck this, I thought.
He was allowed to dump me, but not to doubt me professionally. How dare he? "I have to go to the loo," I blurted out, because I knew that I wasn't going to be able to hold back the tears much longer. I flung open the door, walked up to the sink, and started my primary school trick of giving myself a mirror pep talk. "You are a rock star," I kept repeating, steadying myself against the crumbling brick wall while dabbing at my mascara and trying to regulate my breathing. "You are a rock star, and he is an idiot."
"You okay, love?"
I spun around and saw a tall, lean, shaggy-haired rocker boy leaning against a urinal. In my haste to flee the scene, I must have stumbled into the men's bathroom. Great. This night just kept getting better and better.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I've just been outside getting dumped, and I'm trying to psych myself up. Nothing to worry about."
"Someone binned you?" he said kindly, a smile crossing his friendly, open face. "He must be crazy." He was wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt with some artfully torn jeans. Despite myself, I forced a smile. I appreciated his, apparently sincere, incredulity that someone could end it with me.
"Are you sure it's over?" he said, handing me some tissue from one of the stalls. "I mean, can't you two work things out?"
I blew my nose really hard and flung the disintegrated tissue into a bin. "No, I think the fat lady has sung on this one. Thanks anyway, um, what's your name? I'm Cat."
"Nick," he said, shaking my hand before we headed towards the door. But he hesitated slightly.
"Look, this may seem a bit weird, but should I give you my number, in case you need anything?"
My mind reeled off a variety of reasons why this was a bad idea. It's too soon. I don't know you. You have unsightly facial hair.
But I found myself fishing through my handbag; the time lapse in finding a writing utensil told me I was well on my way to being three sheets to the wind. "Um, I have a pen, but no paper," I said, sticking my hand out. "Write it on the back in case I have to wash them." I attempted a feeble smile. He scrawled down a mobile number, and held my hand a bit longer than absolutely necessary. "Listen, my mates and I are going out to a rock club tonight, so feel free to give me a ring any time. And good luck, Cat."
I followed him out of the loos, and felt my heart drop to my stomach as I went back to our table. This scene was so surreal; the last time I'd seen Patrick he had made me breakfast and kissed me goodbye before I left for the airport to go and do one last freelance assignment in New York. And he was wearing my favorite suit, maintaining the illusion of manly control that had snared me in the beginning.
Patrick and I met when I was on a trip to London, while I was still debating whether or not to take the plunge and move permanently. Since I knew almost no one in town, I had come to Amy's, a friend of a friend's, party alone and spent the better part of the evening talking to the birthday boy's Italian father, while he spoke to my cleavage. My Italian is pretty much limited to Frank Sinatra tunes, so I was miming enthusiastically as I nursed a glass of wine. Normally I have no problem chatting to strangers, but the cliques at this party were difficult to infiltrate.
In New York, people tended to open with the "What do you do?" line, but the girls here seemed to be bonding over where people went to school. They probably also wore elaborate hats to summer sporting events. I didn't really fit in.
"This party is boring," a baritone voice behind me whispered. "What do you say we go out on the terrace and share a bottle of wine?"
I whirled around to see a tall, solidly built, dark-haired guy with piercing green eyes and a very posh accent hovering over me brandishing a bottle and two glasses. I wasn't overwhelmed with passion, but I'd already found out the hard way that most British men's idea of an approach involves furtively staring across the pub until after their twelfth pint of liquid courage, at which point they blurt out something charming like "Nice tits!" and stumble outside. So I had to give him points for trying.
I touched the top of the bottle. "Just want to make sure it's corked and you're not some kind of date-rape serial killer who has severed heads in his fridge. I don't mind dismemberment per se, but I prefer that my dates keep them in the basement. Otherwise it's, like, totally unsanitary." I used my faux-Valley Girl accent and rolled my eyes.
He laughed. "You must be American. Well, I have to admit that I never leave the house without my Rohypnol. What would happen to my success rate? But I haven't graduated to homicide yet."
Hmm, cute and a sardonic sense of humor. This was starting to get interesting. Over the next hour I found out that his name was Patrick, he worked in high-risk finance, and he was in his early thirties.
Amy warned me that he had a reputation as a "bit of a womanizer," which of course only made me want him more.
Back in New York, the craziness of my job meant that I was always attracted to bad-boy tattooed biker types who would never invade the neatly regimented reality of my day-to-day life. But this was a real man, with a grown-up job. I love men in suits, because I imagine stripping them off and unearthing their kinky side.
Our first date took place two nights later, where we split two bottles of champagne over a four-course dinner at Hakkasan. "Cat," he said, stroking my face in the cab, "why can't I stop thinking about you?"
This is the typical ploy of average-looking men. They will spout phrases like "Don't break my heart," complete with the wounded, puppy-dog face, right until the moment you get comfortable in the relationship. The about-face is like having a finger severed by a benign-looking chihuahua.
Excerpted from SLEEPING AROUND by CATHERINE TOWNSEND Copyright © 2009 by Catherine Townsend. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted November 4, 2012