We have odd relationships with names. It might just be me I suppose, but I doubt it.
I’ve only ever met one Emma I didn’t fancy; she turned out to be the blackest of swans. I tend to be fond of a female Jo. Claires – spelled with an “i” – tend to be curious about me, but I always dramatically underperform for them when allowed the chance.
Helens cause me issues – dry, attractive and impenetrable to me, even when I’ve been with them for years. A Hannah will always confuse me.
I’ve only known two Amys. Each became my best friend. I fell for each of them in a huge way. I ended up married to one, and doing a reading at the wedding of the other. But not in that order.
A name mentioned in passing can trigger off an unintended string of memories. Right now, for example, I’m thinking about two Claire situations. The whole subject has me wanting to tell you about “the night of too many Kates”.
Those memories can raise unanswered questions from the melting pit of my back-brain. Maybe we’ve all got similar questions. Or maybe most of us find it easy or make the effort to let them dissipate. The questions that follow you around after a failed attraction aren’t always the healthy ones to ask. Some of those questions are pretty self-absorbed, and it’s often selfish to burden the other person with them.
You don’t often get the opportunity, or nerve, or find yourself desperate enough, to ever ask them.
Social networks ease the pain a little. You can find the answers to some of the easier queries with a little soft cyber-stalking, and a nudge and a poke of a long-lost ex online is less controversial and suspicious than an out-of-the-blue coffee-call with a thinly veiled agenda behind it.
I discovered exactly what would have happened had I somehow stayed with my very first girlfriend via Facebook. I’d been a crappy fourteen year old, obsessing about another girl for most of the time we were dating, and then failing to stick it out when my family eventually moved away anyway.
What I learned was: had she stayed with me her life would have been far less exceptional. I can say this with as near-certainty as one can have from the outside looking in. Her life looks like one spent pursuing worthwhile and ambitious goals, and with making strong and good decisions early. I’m doing okay now, but I only really became a functioning grown-up in the fourth decade of my life. If I’d paid proper attention back then, she’d have brought my average up, but I’d have dragged hers down.
That sounds pretty pitiful, but there’s comfort in it. Things worked out the way they were meant to, there.
(By the way, the girl I obsessed about, the whole time we were dating? I have almost no relationship with her name at all.)
Of course, being happily married is like applying Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to your life: it retroactively changes the way you see everything that’s happened to you in the past, so fundamentally that it might as well be rewriting the way those things actually happened. Getting hitched, especially when you’ve been around the block a few times, reduces any questions you’ve got about your own past to little more than mild curiosity about the continuity in a TV show that you used to be really invested in. That’s why so many married people act like they have all the answers… for the most part they’ve just lost interest in the questions.
Anyway, there’s only really one question I’m intrigued by, and it’s so far past being redundant now that I barely ever think about it. Unless a familiar name comes up in an unexpected context.
There was a late night kiss in what I think of as a “will-they-won’t-they” plot arc in the narrative of my life. It felt like a damn good kiss, worth the wait, followed by a few more damn good kisses. Drink-fuelled, sure, played out on a sitting-room floor, not without emotional weight or sentiment. A successful enough kiss that you can tell it wasn’t with a Claire.
But it was also a potential “jump the shark” moment. A threshold where it could all have gone wrong. And that’s the story as reluctantly laid out for me by the girl, after an awkward morning and a couple of months of ducked calls. “I only ever mess relationships up,” she said, “and I can’t afford to mess things up with you.”
At the time I told myself that that seemed reasonable. I even understood it a little. But sometimes I wonder whether it was just an excuse.