Within half an hour of meeting Roy, I knew all about his family’s lineage tracing back to the Welsh mines; I knew where he’d been on holiday last summer, and the excruciating level of thought and attention he had put in to choosing the new carpet for the family stationwagon. But what I didn’t know, was how one of the things he’d share would stick with me.
His daughter, no more than eleven years old at the time, was getting stick from school friends for not having a crush on any of the boys. She was starting to wonder whether she was strange for being more interested in hanging out with her friends, and playing soccer, than she was in dating. So Roy told her the story of his days before meeting her mom.
“When I was in my twenties I would go to dances with my friend and he would dance with as many girls as he could whilst I would stand on the sidelines and watch the room. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t doing what he was, and I couldn’t understand why he was wasting all that time. I was waiting to spot the girl that I would want to dance with for the rest of my life. And one day I did. What it comes down to, I suppose, is whether you think it’s ok to try people on, and discard them, like clothes. Some people do, but I never have. It’s up to you to decide what kind of person you are.”
It is easy these days to look at the likes of Tinder and bemoan how much things have changed – how romance has given way to almost transactory sexual encounters and how willing people seem to be to hold out their arms to be tried on. But what Roy’s story reminds me is that there have always been those two types of people.
From my early teens, I recall a conversation with a mid-western American guy who defined dating as the process you went through to find the person you wanted to marry: That’s the end goal, after all, so why spend time dating someone you couldn’t imagine being your wife?
And as old-fashioned as that may sound, in the mid-west where the median marital age for men is 27 (and 25 for women), I suspect his was not an uncommon outlook.
But in bigger cities and the Never Never Lands of London and New York, where people are married primarily to their jobs, it can be hard to tell if the person on court with you is even playing the same game – never mind trying to work out if and how they keep score – or how long you should be playing before someone calls half time.
So perhaps Roy is right. All you can really do is decide what kind of person you are, and treat yourself accordingly.