The Christmas party

I’ve never been in a relationship over Christmas before. So when I started dating Emily in early December, I began thinking it might be the year that I’d finally be able to sing along to Mariah Carey while truly understanding and appreciating her words. With Mariah’s lyrics ringing in my ears, I was thrilled to think of the potential that all someone would want for Christmas would be me.

We’d enjoyed a couple of very pleasant dates and when she text to invite me to her place for an “intimate Christmas dinner and drinks” with a close group of her friends one snowy evening, I was delighted. The day prior, she text me:

HEY. EVERYONE IS COMING TO MINE ABOUT 8PM BUT WHY DON’T YOU COME OVER IN THE AFTERNOON AND WE CAN SEE EACH OTHER BEFORE THEY ALL ARRIVE? xx

Even better! She was clearly keen to spend some time alone with me. I could picture the scene already: a crackling fire, some classic Christmas music in background, mulled wine flowing, wrapping presents, decorating the tree together, me making an innocent comment about her ‘pulling my cracker’, which she misinterprets, and we then have a jolly good laugh about it for some time. Perfect!

I pop on my best Christmas jumper, pick up a bottle red and a pack of mince pies and head to her place.

She swiftly gives me the tour and shows me in to the living room. A room which couldn’t look less Christmassy if it tried. I look around. No tree, no anything. Emily pushes open the door to the kitchen.

“Okay, so here are the boxes,” she asserts, starting to point at things. “The tree is in that box there, tinsel in that one, ornaments in that one and everything else is in that one there.” Emily looks back at me and then the bottle of Merlot in my hand. “Oh if you’re going to drink that can you do it in the kitchen? It’s a new carpet and I don’t want to stain it.”

“Oh are you not-…”

“Same with those mince pies. I don’t want to find crumbs when I come back.” she adds, with a laugh in her voice but daggers in her eyes.

“Wait, aren’t are you-…”

“I’m just going to pop out to get something to wear for tonight. I wont be long. Good luck, see you later!” she says with rapid-fire, grabbing her coat and bag and leaving the flat before I could ask her what the hell she was playing at.

It takes me a good fifteen minutes of standing still and staring at the ground to fully comprehend what is happening. She didn’t really want to spend quality time with me, did she? She didn’t really want to decorate together or get to know each other better or practise a duet to Fairytale of New York with me. Basically, she just hadn’t gotten around to decorating her house and wanted someone to do it for her. There’d be no Christmas music or crackling fire…. I started to doubt I’d even get to use any of the bauble-based innuendos I had prepared on my way over.

Close to two hours go by. I’d never before had to fully assemble and decorate a full-sized Christmas tree on my own and I don’t I fancy doing it ever again. I take it like a man though and decorate the crap out of that flat. I’m now incredibly sweaty, tired and pissed off, though, but the place was looking great. Emily texts me to say she’d been ‘held up’ and was on her way back. I took in my handy work, proud at my accomplishment. I celebrated with a glass of red and a mince pie. In the living room. Lying down. On her new carpet. No plates. No napkins. “Screw her,” I mumble to myself, mouth full of mincemeat.

I freshen myself up a bit try and focus on the positives. It would be worth it when everyone arrives and they see what I’d done for Emily. I reminded myself that the fun part was still to come and that I’d demonstrated my value, at least. It was the most gruelling manual labour (and I’m counting it as that) that I’d done in a long time. And I’d done it for a girl. I could literally feel myself maturing.

Emily returns and is suitably excited at the transformation. I grab her a glass and start pouring her a wine and tell her to sit down and put her feet up. She stays standing though and starts fidgeting with her phone.

“Everything okay?” I inquire.

“Yeah….well….ah, you know what? I’m so sorry James I totally forgot that I’d actually arranged tonight as a girl’s night only. They’ll be here soon so….”

“So…?”

“So….”

“Oh! Oh, okay I see. Right well, that’s a shame, I-…..” but before I can continue, Emily thrusts my coat at me and starts ushering me along her hallway to her front door, accompanied by plenty of “so sorry’s” and faux embarrassment. I stand there at her door, a little taken aback.

“I’ll give you a text, James, yeah? Soon, yeah?”

I spot the mistletoe above her door frame.”Oh, okay no problem,” I reply, before looking up at the mistletoe, smiling a wry smile and looking back at her. My eyes saying, “do you see what I see?”

She glances up and then back at me.

“Oh yeah I forgot about that,” mutters Emily, a little less enthused than I’d have liked.

I give her one of my top three best smiles, and tell myself that at least I’ll get a Christmas kiss out of all of this. I pucker up, close my eyes and lean in. But before I could feel her lips on mine, the door slams shut, my nose pressed up against it and I open my eyes to a face full of Christmas wreath and plastic berries.

I frown, turn away dejected, exhausted and shuffle down her stairs and out of her building. I can hear Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas blaring out from one of her neighbours windows and I take in a deep sigh and stifle a fair amount of swear words from exiting my mouth.

I look over at the flat and see written above the letter box in red glittering letters: ‘Tis the season of goodwill!’

I laugh to myself at the irony. “Aye, you’re not wrong there,” I mutter as I trudge out in to the snow.

Merry Christmas everyone.

J.

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The ex-boyfriend

“It’s very red,” I say, pulling out my chair and looking around.

“This is my favourite place to eat in the whole world,” Karly beams as we settle down to a meal in what was roughly our fourth or fifth date. “Don’t you just loooove it?”

“It’s quite red, though, isn’t it? Does it all need to be this red?” I ask, examining the red leather chairs.

“That’s the best part!” she says, playing with the red candle on the table. “I come here all the time. I thought you’d love it.”

“It’s just a bit red,” I say, quietly in to my drinks menu.

I had met Karly a month or so previously through a friend at work. We had been getting on well but we had very little in common. You know when you really like someone, you just don’t know why? This was the curious case with Karly.

“So, Karly,” I say brightly as we wait for our drinks to arrive. “I have an extra ticket to see a comedian next Saturday and wondered if you’d be interested in coming with me?”

Karly looked puzzled. “A comedian? What do you mean?”

“As in a famous stand-up comedian. He’s playing here next week and I wondered if you’d want to see him with me?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t really get comedy.”

I pause for a second, thinking I may have misheard.

“You don’t get comedy?” I ask.

“No. Not really.”

“How can you not get it though? It’s a fairly straightforward concept to grasp!”

Wasn’t it?

“I mean, if I went to see the comedian…I wouldn’t know what to do,” she tries to explain.

“What to do? The ‘doing’ is pretty minimal. You sit there and laugh if you find it funny.”

“Nah, I don’t like the idea of that. Sorry.”

“You don’t like laughing?” I ask jokingly.

Karly shrugs her shoulders in a no-big-deal kind of way.

Wow. Okay, I was dating a girl who didn’t ‘get’ stand-up comedy. Not to panic. I mean, it’s not for everyone. So what if going to see live comedy was a favourite activity of mine, one which I’d like to do with a girlfriend one day. So what if I regard it as one of the most important and skilled entertainment arts there is? That’s okay she’s not in to it. Laughing is obviously not for everyone, apparently.

“Okay, no problem. No big deal. Maybe we could go see and movie or something sometime?” I offer as a compromise.

“I hate the cinema.”

I nearly choke on my beer.

“You hate the cinema? That’s a strong word isn’t it? Again, it’s just sitting in a dark room watching a film on a massive screen..!”

“Yeah, but I just think it’s a waste of time. Plus all those people there…and what if you hate the movie? You’ve just wasted a couple hours,” says Karly, rather nonchalantly, sipping away on her red wine.

My mind was all over the place. In the space of five minutes she’s effectively vetoed two of my favourite pastimes!

“So you don’t think you’d be up for coming with me to see stand-up, or to the cinema? At all? Ever?”

“Sorry! I don’t think so. Not my cup of tea,” she adds, firmly.

On reflection I probably should have asked for the bill right there and then. I didn’t want to panic, though. So what she didn’t enjoy those two things? So what if I love those two things? It’s good to be with someone with different interests, isn’t it?

As we wait for the mains to arrive, I try and move past the awkwardness I was feeling and launch in to one of my trademarked and remarkably hilarious and fascinating anecdotes. Half-way in and gaining momentum, I catch her placing her mobile phone on the table and then begin to look down at it every few seconds.

Although it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, particularly on a date, I don’t let it faze me. Maybe she’s expecting an important call? Maybe she’s on call for work? Either way, I give her the benefit of the doubt. I am too polite to ask and I continue showcasing my exceptional conversational skills, but just when I brace myself for the expected hysterical laughter and admiration, her phone beeps. I pause.

“Sorry….”, she says with an embarrassed smile. I give a half-smile back and hesitantly delve back in to my story.

“So, yeah, as I was saying…it was just me, I didn’t know where I was and these three goats just standing there and then the priest shouts….” but I’m stopped in my tracks. I glance back up at her to see she’s now nose-deep in her phone, texting away like a women possessed, not paying the slightest bit of attention to what I am saying.

I take a sip of my beer through gritted teeth and clear my throat, ever so subtly.

I wait a few seconds for her to finally finish her text and put it back on the table.

“Everything okay?” I ask, masking my annoyance.

“Oh, sorry James,” she says. “That was Rob. He keeps cancelling our plans on me!”

“Oh, right. As I was saying…we’re in this strangers bathroom and …….Wait, you’re ex Rob? You still see him? After what you told me last week?”

She and Rob had a terrible break-up, apparently, which I heard all about on date two. They met on holiday, were in a relationship for a little under a year and one day when she popped over to his house to surprise him, his pregnant wife answered the door.

“Yeah, we see each other all the time. We’re friends now. Didn’t I mention that? He’s actually a nice guy,” she says.

Is he? Is he now? Are you sure? I was having a hard time with this revelation, I’ll admit. I didn’t know the guy but everything she had told me that night led me to hate him with the fury of a thousand suns. So the fact she only now tells me they’re mates made me a little uncomfortable. I try to laugh it off and we move the conversation on.

It’s on my mind now though and I’m not sure if I am more annoyed at her being friends with her asshole ex, or that she brazenly will start texting him while we’re on and date, and when we are in mid-conversation. It’s just rude!

It’s the following day, and Karly invites me to her place as she’s having a group of friend’s over for a bit of a gathering. I was still reeling a bit from the night before. The comedy, the cinema, the text-rudeness and ex-boyfriend revelations were still a little fresh and rattling around in my mind.

I do my best to make a good impression with her friends and I think they start to warm to me. Especially her male friends. I got the sense they knew she could be difficult and had sympathy for my efforts. Things were going very well although Karly herself was acting a little distant.

Then, something I was not totally prepared for. The doorbell goes and It’s Rob. I am pretty taken aback, and her friends are visibly split on his inclusion in proceedings too. Karly looks thrilled though as Rob saunters in to the thick of the party. He was all taller and better built than me, with better hair and what looked like a far more expensive and fashion-conscious style.

Not that I was feeling threatened or anything.

I wasn’t. Because he also had the smarmiest, smugiest (it’s word…) face I think I’ve ever seen. And after engaging in a couple minutes of light ‘banter’ I realise he also the personality of an old, unused wardrobe.

The night wares on and I do my best to stay out of his way. It’s getting late though and the handful of guys remaining gather in the kitchen, drink beer and talk about sports, cars, and sports-cars, while the women laugh and joke together in the living room. Rob is lingering too and I desperately try not to make things awkward and just look the other way. Literally and figuratively.

Conversation soon turns to my relationship with Karly. Her male friends are intrigued as to how things are going and I try not to let too much slip out, but my frustration had been gathering momentum and with 12 hours of drinking behind me I, momentarily and, without mentioning Rob, let the guys know about the texting-while-chatting over dinner the night before. It feels good to get sympathy from her friends and to get some reassurance that she can just be socially difficult sometimes.

The night ends and I head off home, with a lot on my mind. The next morning I head to the beach for a hangover-clearing walk and think long and hard about what to do next.

Then, as I I’m sat on a bench emptying sand from my shoe and remembering why I don’t often go to the beach, my phone beeps. It’s Karly.

JAMES. I KNOW YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT ME LAST NIGHT. I CANT BELIEVE YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT ME BEHIND MY BACK. I WONT TOLERATE THAT TREATMENT.

Bollocks. She was angry, clearly. But what had she heard? Did she hear something out of context? I try to remember what I said and scratched my head at anything overly offensive or hurtful. Over the next hour or two I try asking, explaining, reasoning, but it isn’t working. I ask that we meet face to face instead to discuss properly but she’s having none of it. Then she texts:

ROB CAME ROUND THIS MORNING AND TOLD ME EVERYTHING. HE TOLD ME WHAT YOU REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT ME. TOLD ME WHAT YOU SAID TO MY FRIENDS ABOUT DINNER. HE WARNED ME ABOUT YOU FROM THE START. I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO HIM.

Of course he did. We exchanged a few more texts. I apologised for my part in talking to her friends about something she deemed private but it seemed her mind was made up.

Karly and I naturally lost contact after this, but a few months ago I heard on the grapevine that she’s now engaged to be married. To Rob.  He left his pregnant wife for Karly, who had clearly forgiven him for his previous misgivings and they’d gotten back together a couple of weeks after Karly and I stopped seeing each other.

You have to laugh, really, don’t you?

J.