Relationships are funny things. When you’re single, you spend every waking minute wishing you were in one and stressing that you’re going to end up alone and living in a cardboard box under a bridge. And when you’re finally in one, you catch yourself – usually as you’re putting up the laundry, or screaming at the kids – wistfully thinking about the good old days when you were single and fancy free.
My mother always says that if she had her life all over again, she’d never have gotten married. And at some stage in our lives, she’s said this to each of my brother, sister and me: “You know, as I was lying there on the operating table trying to push you out of me, thinking that I’d rather be dead, I swore to myself that I’d never do it again. Ever! And look how much you’ve ended up costing us!”
I think she probably said it out of some misguided sense that she was helping us in some way, by imparting a valuable life lesson in staying single, footloose, and debt free. My sister has since spent her whole life complaining to her therapist: “My mother always considered me a cost centre! Seriously, it’s a wonder I’m not a bigger nut case!”
Meanwhile, as soon as he was able to walk, my brother tried to put as much distance as he could between himself and our parents. When he was 8, he sneaked out of the house and was found a mile away hiding under the table of our local pub. And when he turned 20, and got his hands on the first installment of our grandfather’s trust fund, he packed up a tiny rucksack and went trekking in Nepal.
“He’s so ungrateful,” my mother will complain to all her mahjong kaki. “Not even a postcard on my birthday.” On cue, her tai-tai friends will cluck, though I know for a fact that Mrs Yang recently disinherited her daughter on the dubious grounds that she’d married an Australian man, while Mrs Tang’s husband is having an affair with his twice divorced Indian secretary, so they should be the last people to be casting stones, if you ask me.
“This must be why I’m still single,” my sister moaned to me on Facebook the other day.
Which reminded me of the conversation my flatmate Amanda had with her girlfriend Sheryl.
Sheryl had been single for the longest time, but one drunken evening, at her firm’s end of financial year party, she woke up to find herself in bed with her boss. There’d been a lot of flirting going on over the course of the year and between the canapés and the champagne, inhibitions were shed and assorted sins were committed.
The morning after, Sheryl and her boss assessed the situation and decided that they rather enjoyed each other’s company and what they did after office hours was really nobody’s business but their own. Within six months, Sheryl had moved into his apartment. And on the eight month, he proposed. But here’s the kicker: she told Amanda over afternoon tea that though she’d told him that she loved him at least a million times, he’d never actually said it back to her.
Amanda blinked. “What, like never never?”
“Never,” Sheryl said firmly. “Sometimes he’ll say, ‘Aw, that’s sweet’. And the other day, he said, ‘Thank you’.”
Amanda gasped. “Oh my God! Do men still say that?”
But the best part was a recent declaration of ‘I love you’ by Sheryl, to which her boss slash fiancée replied, “Thank you. I feel very comfortable with you!”
Of course, the minute Amanda left Sheryl, she immediately speed-dialed Saffy.
“What is wrong with men?” Saffy wanted to know. “Why can’t they just say ‘I love you’ back? These are not difficult words to say! It’s a total of three lousy syllables.”
The subject haunted the girls for days and formed the subject of endless threads on Facebook. The unanimous female verdict was that men were basically scum. The hostile level was high until Peter calmly tapped out a comment: “Yes, but is this guy cheating on your friend, S? Does he physically, emotionally or verbally abuse her? Because if he doesn’t, then why are all you girls so hung up on whether or not he will say ‘I love you’?”
“Who is this Peter guy?” Saffy asked.
“He’s a friend of Marlene’s,” Amanda replied after she checked.
“Is he straight and single?”
“He makes an interesting point,”said Saffy. “I’m intrigued.” Later that night, she sent Peter a ‘Send Request’ friend app. “Maybe he’d like to get comfortable with me,” she said, hopefully.