I had no friends. For a few years this realisation had crept up on me; when my girlfriend, Lucy, was away, I wished there was somebody I could meet for a beer. On my birthday, I wished there was another couple we could invite over to our flat for dinner. But these were mere twinges of recognition which quickly went away as Lucy and I got on with whatever we were doing. I might as well admit now that one reason why I’ve let so many friendships slide is undoubtedly that for ten years I’ve lived with Lucy in something like bliss. We’ve had our share of noisy arguments in small flats but it’s been great fun and I’ve become so wrapped up in our relationship that, for the most part, I simply haven’t noticed my lack of friends. Lucy has kept in touch with many of her friends and made new ones, so I’ve come to rely on her for my social life. Even when it’s occurred to me that I should spend time with other people, I haven’t dwelled on it for long. According to some men, I’m that guy – the one who ditches his mates when he meets a woman – but it’s more complicated than that.
How did this happen? This question ran through my mind as I crossed Trafalgar Square after the film, on my way to catch the bus back to Crouch End. In spite of the weather, everything looked enchanting and I felt like I was momentarily glimpsing central London through the eyes of a visitor; the fountains were radiant, the buildings gleamed and the streets teemed with people who looked like they were on their way to Christmas parties. Being self-employed I have no colleagues but, even though during the four years I worked in an office I never attended the Christmas party, I felt envious tonight of the people around me. They looked stylish and jubilant, compared to me who felt shabby and alienated. I wouldn’t have minded, I thought, spilling out of a cab with colleagues I sort of knew and sort of liked, men wearing too much aftershave and women with tinsel in their hair, nipping into a pub for pre-party gin and tonics. But I was on the outside, in self-imposed solitude, with nowhere to go but home.
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