‘I’m writing a book,’ she said. This was not a great surprise considering that her online dating profile stated clearly that she was a writer. But then, a lot of profiles claim this and yet, on further investigation, the writing, if indeed it’s more substantial than wishful inking, invariably takes place fitfully, and outside work hours. To claim 'writer’ as profession is often as misleading as your average dating profile pic: social pressures and practice means that women tend to take far better selfies than men, so it’s no surprise that they almost always look better in photographs than in real life. As for other information, women are most likely to lie about their age, while men lie about their height and marital status. But we are all guilty, to some degree, of mis-representation in our profiles because we don't want to give away our worst selves, and why would we? But Karin, it turned out, was serious, she was a writer, and a pretty good one at that. And her pictures didn’t lie, either. She looked every inch as smouldering as her profile had led me to believe so it was fitting that, on the first night she came for dinner, I answered the door with hands hot from the chillies I'd just been busy chopping.
I don’t recall when she told me exactly what book she was writing, a memoir of her sexual adventures following a pre-menopausal surge of libido, but it may as well have been that very evening. I certainly knew that, from then, our every communication would be grist to her mill. We skimped on neither words nor deeds, and revelled in the both of them. And I was well aware of my final resting place, between covers very different from the ones we tore off every bed we came across.Reader, I am Chapter Twelve. And it’s an interesting feeling. Unlike the other chaps in their chapters, I am easy enough to identify, though the reasons why are quite obvious, and were necessary. Karin asked me if I wanted to be more anonymous, but I declined. It would have cheapened both the subject of the chapter, and the book itself.I suppose you’re thinking ‘how does it feel to be one chapter of many, one staging post on another’s journey of exploration, discarded when no longer useful’? Well, I am privy to information that changes the context of my inclusion completely. She wanted my chapter to be the final chapter. Of course, we don’t always get what we want.We had already spoken online some months previous to our first meeting, and then she had talked about a date she was going on the next day, involving a motorcycle. That date lasted several weeks - you’ll have to read the book if you want to know which chapter that was - so we fell out of touch. When we spoke again, we made the decision to meet as soon as possible, just to avoid another motorcycle interlude. This turned out to be within days. She came for dinner and stayed the night... a night that changed everything. Neither of us were looking for an exclusive relationship, more a primary partner with the option for added dalliances: an open relationship in the widest of senses in that we were to be open to anything. We agreed terms, made plans, and exhausted every sexual cliché we could think of. Though not in that order. Our connection was not merely physical, however. We were intellectually compatible, too. We sparred on all manner of subjects but never fell out – we fundamentally agreed on most topics, even if we didn’t come at them from the same place – and we taught and learnt in equal measure. We even edited each others’ writing without coming to blows.
So much for the physical and the intellectual. Emotionally we found matters rather more complex. This was not due to a lack of feelings for one another but the opposite. We struggled with the realities of an open relationship. It wasn’t that one of us felt left out or as if we were losing out, or being ignored, relegated to the part of a part-timer. It was simply that one or other of us would, on occasion, struggle with the knowledge that our partner was with another because we missed them. Eventually, the stress began to tell as we fractured along lines not clearly communicated, second-guessed each other where once we asked, took things for granted that were only ever gifts, and, in the end, let one another down.
And so I became Chapter 12 rather than myself. I moved from being in the present to in the past.
Yes, it’s strange, reading about your relationship when written for public consumption. Yes, it feels a little like your soul has been stolen away for the titillation of others. Yes, it makes you want to shout, ‘that’s not entirely accurate’, before sitting down and blushing. But a writer is a creator of narratives, and all narratives are divergences from the real, from the true. When she wrote of me, ‘Cricket Man: broken can be beautiful’ (a title which in itself is misleading, but also logical), she wrote the me that fitted her narrative, just as much as she wrote the she that did the same: my versions of us, naturally, differed from hers. Of course, some of the things she wrote were just plain wrong, but that’s only natural, just as they were also right because her perception of me and my motivations or actions at any one time determined her subsequent behaviour.
To be able to see how someone really saw things, not when in the throes of a break-up when nothing is reliable, but sapientia post eventum, is instructive. In this instance, you can truly learn something about yourself, yes and about your [then] partner, for certain. But most of all about the nature and endurance of truth.
When in a relationship of any kind, we tend not to discuss our past partners to any great degree, as those relationships are to be seen as a staging post on the way to now, us, this. And this, even when we know that we will eventually be the undiscussed one. There are exceptions, of course. On Tinder I once chatted to a woman with whom I shared a mutual friend. It turned out they’d dated and why not? I like him, why shouldn’t she? When she said ‘He is an amazing soul’ and began to wax lyrical about him, I suggested it was a little early to start going on about her ex. I changed the subject. She didn’t. But with Karin, the rules were different. Once, when she was on a date with another lover, I was chatting to her on whatsapp when she handed her phone to him. Just so we could say hi to one another. We nattered a bit and then he wrote ‘may I kiss your girlfriend now?’ I replied in the affirmative and that I hoped they both had fun before getting on with whatever work I had to get on with. She instinctively thought we’d get on, and she was right, just as we later got on over dinner.
For us, this relationship was not only finite but a sort of experiment. It was necessarily finite and in that sense was more a negotiated co-existence between two people who shared similar views and goals. A continuous negotiation towards a known ending. Did it fail? Yes and no. It didn’t end the way we’d hoped it would, but then, what book has the same ending its author dreamt up at the beginning? And here’s where it becomes strange reading one side of the story.
'Every happy family is alike, and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' Thus begins Anna Karenina. And it’s not true of relationships, either. The early part of my chapter is largely true, but seen through a rather forgiving lens – reading the words we exchanged regarding our first meeting and comparing them to the beginning of the chapter is interesting. Hindsight supplies hyperbole. And yet the ending, naturally, is where point of view has most influence. It simply didn’t end like that. And yet it did. The truth is what we wish it to be.
And so as I read this partial account of me, of us, I know that few readers will consider that it looked different from my treehouse, and that both she and I are wrong. I could have been vilified, she could have accepted more culpability, but this is her story, not mine. And that’s what’s interesting. For those who think it must feel as if I’ve been placed as merely one amongst many, well, you’re right. But we’re all that. She is that to me. One step on the road. We never saw each other again, though we still talk. Her journey didn’t end where she thought it would, nor (perhaps) where she hoped. But then, whose does?
If you really want to know what it’s like to be Chapter 12, it’s like reading a review of a play you not only watched but starred in. And co-wrote. But didn’t get to edit. Freud had a word for it. Unheimlich.
Pete Langman keeps wicket for the Cricketers’ Club of London, occupies himself with words and lives between Brighton and Leiden. He is the author of The Country House Cricketer, Slender Threads: a young person’s guide to Parkinson’s Disease and, most recently, Killing Beauties.
Follow him on twitter pete langman @elegantfowl