Not my love

I feel a bit like Mr Magoo.* Somehow I’ve gone and done it again.

I’ve made reference to the girl who used to work at the shop. She said she was obsessed with me, then that she couldn’t do any work because she was thinking about me, then that she was in love with me. At first I didn’t take it too seriously. I thought that she was exaggerating, or being provocative, or both. I couldn’t believe it could be true. I knew she liked me, but thought it was no more than the occasional affection a loyal employee has for a kindly employer.

It’s clear now that there is much more to it than that, and it worries me.

Last night she was on the phone in tears to me. I wonder if I’ve erred in responding to her throughout this. I’ve made it clear in general that I’m not looking for a relationship, and specifically that I see her as no more than a friend – which is gilding the lily anyway. I’ve answered her text messages (not all, but many) and her phone calls in the well-mannered and polite way I was brought up be. It’s rude to ignore someone, and doubly so when they are in some distress. I wonder if in doing so if something that might have been nipped in the bud has instead been allowed to germinate. Apparently she thinks I’m a very nice man – and by acting by that nice, responsible man, I am simply confirming her feelings.

So she was in tears last night. There was in her voice that deep, soulful wail. I was in no doubt that her pain was genuine. I still struggled to understand at an intellectual level. We have met no more than half a dozen times perhaps, and at no time longer than an hour. She appeared a smart, quirky, independent woman, liable to spit out the odd cheeky comment. It was a personality at odds with the overwrought girl I now heard in my ear.

It goes against the grain to abandon someone in distress like that, particularly when you are the source of it – yet I didn’t really know what to say or do. As someone who feels none of what she does I could not give her the comfort she desired. Though I’ve been in that place before I felt sceptical, as if it is a passing infatuation. While it may be it is real enough right now. And so I stood there on the end of the line listening to her visceral grunts and barely coherent monologue until I had to ask, “what do you want?”

It was at that point my maleness came out. Most men will understand perhaps, and many women will scald me. Men can be deeply irrational in matters of romance, but in general we act differently because we are wired in more prosaic, rational ways. For a woman, I think, it is all feeling, an often inarticulate and formless sense of longing and desire and pain. The man may feel those things, but experience them differently, and will seek to control it where women want no more than to surrender to it. For her, this girl, she feels an overwhelming ache that allows nothing else. For me, the hopeless subject of it, I wonder what it means, and am impatient to put a label on it.

In the end I asked her, perhaps too bluntly, in my masculine way: what do you want? Do you want to be my girlfriend, do you want to marry and have my children, or do you just want a fling? She couldn’t answer, or wouldn’t. I needed context. Once more in that linear way that men will proceed my expectation was that feeling this way that she must make a pitch to me. What I couldn’t understand was that she was locked in an all-consuming moment on an infinite loop. For her it was all feeling, as I think is so often with women. For me, subject of this but otherwise uninvolved, I needed something practical to work with.

Not that I would say yes to anything, not even a shag. That way is bad news. I just wanted it out so that I could deal with it. If I knew what it was she wanted I could then in my calm and rational way begin to defuse it.

I feel for her, but I don’t want to be dragged into this. It might sound selfish to say, but I didn’t ask for this. I’m willing to go so far, but I think it unwise to indulge too long, or too far. There is little I can do, which may be sad, but is true. I can’t give anything of what she might want, even if I wanted to – which I don’t.

In the end last night I agreed to meet with her. I’m not sure if that is sensible, but my hope is that face to face she might calm down, and the inarticulate feeling she is victim of might become less. Truth of it is that I can meet her so far, and no further. This is not something that should be dragged out. I know how painful it can be, and quicker is better. Ultimately it is something she has to deal with, with the help of her friend perhaps, and with me preferably out of the picture.

* For those too young to encounter him, Mr Magoo was an elderly, near blind, eccentric cartoon character from many years ago, oblivious of all the fixes he found himself in.

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