“Thus, statesmanlike, I’ll saucily impose,
And safe from action, valiantly advise;
Sheltered in impotence, urge you to blows,
And being good for nothing else, be wise.”
John Wilmot, The Disabled Debauchee
Me here. As in, you. From the future. Yes, the future. Don’t get too excited. It’s just a narrative device.
I’m writing because … because things didn’t quite work out as you planned. It hasn’t been an unmitigated disaster: I’m still here, I still have my health, I have friends, fun, and a reasonable job. But there are a few things which, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d done differently.
(Hm. I can’t decide whether to write this from my perspective, or yours. Past tense, or future? Future, I think. Makes me feel like less of a dick.)
Everyone makes mistakes, of course. Mistakes are how we learn, and become stronger and wiser. You, however, are going to make a series of spectacularly awful decisions, all in the same sphere, and I thought it might spare you a bit of heartache if you were forewarned about one or two of them.
Look at you. So pure and unsuspecting; so full of joy and wonder. And what a charmed life. You have friends, a loving family, a nice home. You’re carefree, top of every class in school, and you still wake up with a visceral thrill on Christmas morning. I look back at you now and I don’t just envy you; I admire you. I think you’re a genuinely nice kid.
All that’s about to change. In the next few months, something’s going to come along and turn your cosy, orderly world upside down and inside out; stretch it and squeeze it and whirl it around, then fashion it into a crude balloon animal – a one-eared, three-legged giraffe – which will then sit at the back of a musty cupboard, quietly deflating.
Oh, they won’t mean to. At least, most of them won’t. It’s just the effect they have on you. Think back. Remember how fanatical you were, until embarrassingly recently, about collecting Corgi cars (which, by the way, was your first terrible decision. If you ever get round to writing a letter to your five-year-old self, tell him to go for Dinky instead. They’re worth a bomb now). And about Star Wars figures, and Hardy Boys books, and Doctor Who. Well, it’s going to be like that with girls. Times a bajillion.
Oddly, they won’t affect your schoolwork much – not until the sixth form, anyway – but thereafter, the female sex will be the principal driving force behind everything you do for the rest of your life. They’ll monopolise your eyes whenever they’re near, and your thoughts whenever they’re not.
But unlike Corgi cars, and Star Wars toys, and Hardy Boys books, and Doctor Who, girls cannot be purchased at branches of Smiths, or summoned through your TV set. They cannot be bargained with, they cannot be reasoned with, and they absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead. OK, that last bit’s an exaggeration, but they will cause you more pain than you ever thought you could bear.
You’ll have a few girlfriends – one or two of them will even be quite nice – but you’ll also be rejected and rebuffed in a bewildering variety of ways, and you’ll spend the vast majority of your life alone.
(You’ll be pleased to hear that you end up having sex with quite a lot of different people. Now wipe that smile off your face. With most of them, it’ll just be the once, and it’ll generally be fairly pedestrian. Although it will always be substantially better than doing your ding-ding.)
And when you get to the age of 38, after one particularly galling break-up, you’ll have a sudden urge to figure out how it all went wrong. And you’ll spend five years piecing together your every romantic disaster, and scrutinising feminist literature, chick lit and academic journals for clues.
But even after all that, you won’t have solved women.
You’ll find evolutionary psychology fascinating. You’ll find that it offers some illuminating insights. You’ll also find that, like all social sciences, it’s not exact, or reliable, or foolproof. While it makes some plausible and elegant generalisations, it can’t predict how any one individual is going to react in any one situation, because no two people are the same, and some girls aren’t even the same from one day to the next.
You can’t get a master’s degree in womanology. Even if you could, there’s no graduation ceremony involving the handing-over of a laminated certificate and a sweet, funny, left-leaning, bi-curious girl next door. This is one subject in which you’ll never be top of the class.
But you will learn something from picking through the wreckage. From considering all your romantic misadventures together, and seeing vague patterns emerge from the chaos. From understanding, at last, what your failures, and your limited successes, had in common.
Then you’ll come up with few small pointers, which, while too late for you at 43, might be of use to someone with more time, energy and ability to change. Like you at 13.
So, Andy – can I call you Andy, or are you still Andrew? – I’m going to write you two more letters (or “blog posts”, as we call them in the 21st century). They will contain the sum total of my wisdom on dating. The first will concern itself with the things you shouldn’t do; the things I did and regretted, either immediately, or later. The second will list some of the positive steps you can take. Get your Silvine exercise book ready.
And give Lee-Lee an extra-big hug from me. He … never mind.