Together alone

Together alone


A FEW weeks ago, I had a little too much to drink at a lovely dinner party I was invited to by a girlfriend whose love for fast cars borders on the obsessive. The cars she loves are like the men she loves: they look great; they’re a bit of a handful; and they’re prone to letting her down, generally in the most predictable of ways. She approaches the issue of men in the old-fashioned way of owning exotic cars: she has two on the go at the same time, one her daily ride, the other undergoing maintenance.

She puts on the very best soirees, bar none, and they are usually enlivened by our mutual love of Boërl & Kroff. On this occasion I planned once again to leave my car at her place and find a ride the 30 minutes or so back to my place. It was on the journey home that the unexpected happened.

‘There’s something about a man who’s comfortable in his own skin, not pushy or flashy but quietly confident, and engaging in a reserved and slightly understated kind of way.’

The only guest who had arrived expecting to drive home afterwards, and who therefore was not drinking, was someone I had not met before and whom I estimated to be in his early forties. He was well-dressed, well-spoken and clearly well-educated. He was also clearly and resolutely single. There didn’t appear to be any tragic tale of loss embroidered into his life story and no bitterness about a failed relationship, just a mature acceptance that he simply was not the kind of person who could, or who wanted to, hold down a long-term relationship.

More power to him, I thought, if he’s come to terms with that and he’s happy. There’s something about a man who’s comfortable in his own skin, not pushy or flashy but quietly confident, and engaging in a reserved and slightly understated kind of way. The Guest spent a lot of time listening, and only spoke when he had something interesting to add. At least, every time he spoke he added something interesting, which I accept is not necessarily the same thing. At dinner parties people often offer up the “greatest hits” versions of themselves. 

You never know in the three or four hours after you first meet them whether you’ve heard absolutely every last thing about them that’s remotely interesting, and whether spending the next 40 years of your life with them might just be one long, boring, repetitive loop. It’s like when the novelty of the new car wears off, suddenly and unexpectedly, after just a few months, leaving you with that curiously empty feeling and the nagging sensation your money might have been put to better use doing something else.

Worse than being just dull, they could reveal themselves to be some sort of terrible misogynist or racist or religious fundamentalist, or that they exist in a perpetual state of arrested teenage development. One thing I will say for The Companion is that he’s come a long way, despite the preoccupation with gadgets and fireworks, the outright refusal to buy feminine products from the pharmacy and an ongoing refusal to engage with the motor vehicle as a work of art. Some of his best friends are idiots, but then who among us has a partner who doesn’t have a few dickhead mates?

When The Guest suggested I skip the Uber and let him give me a lift home I accepted, thinking nothing more of it than a favour and, as we chatted I realised my impression of him had been formed entirely through what I perceived was missing in his life – namely, the presence of a meaningful other. It’s funny when you find yourself evaluating others by how you think they should be, how you think they should behave, how you think they should feel and what they should have, and then feeling anger or contempt or pity when they don’t conform to your expectations. I suppose that’s the exact definition of prejudice.

We were about 15 minutes into the trip home when The Guest fell silent for a few moments and then asked: “Why is someone like you all alone?”

I was quite taken aback. I’d never thought of myself that way at all. Quite the opposite. I have The Companion – although I admit I hadn’t taken him to the dinner party, and now I wonder why. I have friends, one of whom had invited us to the very party I was being driven home from. I’m busy, I have houses and cars and places to go. Lonely? Not me!

And anyway, that’s what I had assumed about him – how dare he turn my prejudice back on me? I objected politely to his presumption but the rest of the trip passed more or less in silence.  

And all these weeks later I’m still thinking about what he said, his question still ringing in my ears. What has he tapped into that I wasn’t aware was there? What did he see in me that I can’t see in myself? I need answers.