At a magazine awards function in Auckland last year, I was introduced to a wildly popular female columnist who writes for one of the same publications. After first agreeing we got terribly sick of the sound of our own (authorial) voices and that having to constantly come up with new stuff could occasionally be a bit of a struggle, she hit me with: “You know, I hope you don't mind, but sometimes I don't like the economist very much.”
Of course I didn't mind, almost squeaking with pleasure, standing in the glow of her considerable fame. It was afterward, when all (accidental or otherwise) mean comments always start to really sting, delayed-reaction style, that I had time to think about it and be just a teensy bit offended. The economist is, as you will know if you've been keeping up, a character who often appears in my work, bumbling around in an old-school manner and seeing the world through a filter of 1984 prices – but he is also my boyfriend. And nobody, I mean nobody, wants to think others might not feel the same way about the person they have singled out for special cuddles.
What's that? You're shocked to hear there's someone out there who doesn't completely adore the economist? Tell me about it.
Unfortunately, this not-liking happens more often than Mills and Boon would prefer. A crime against the female mafia and as secretly secret as chin hair and your actual weight, the awful truth is one woman's muscle-bound hunk is another woman's fat thicko. The love of your life might well be your girlfriends' idea of a boring pain in the ass. Don't believe me? Here's some history: Sylvia Path's friends didn't think much of Ted Hughes, Frida Kahlo could have done a lot better than Diego Rivera and while everyone in New Zealand worshiped Aunty Helen, few took to Peter Davis.
All of which started me thinking recently, as I dug this idea up, brushed the dirt off it and began rolling it around on the floor under my desk, about just what to do if you really really don't like your friend's boyfriend or worse (and slightly more permanent), her husband. Because, believe me, its going to happen. It happened to me.
I didn't like him from the start: smile too wide, hair too perfect. I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something wolfish about him, as if the minute your back was turned he might sneak up and sink his teeth into your leg. They dated, it seemed a weird combination, but I said nothing (well, hardly anything). They got married, and she disappeared from sight. I still said nothing, but thought plenty.
And it turns out I was right, he WAS a dick. A thug, a bully, a bad husband. Behind the scenes everything was so utterly textbook, so movie of the week I want to kick myself, but why a smart, successful woman would let herself be belittled and shrunk down to a shadow of her former self is a question for another day. Only now they have parted do I feel able to say, not 'I told you so' (because I never did) but 'thank goodness.' Extricating herself while walking on the broken glass that is shared parenting, its easy to see my friend let the wrong one in. So ... maybe we should say what we think of our friend's partners? Perhaps voice our concerns when we feel they're not good enough, or ick? Although, when is anyone ever good enough for someone you're close to? Probably never. And who listens when they're in love? No-one.
So, I don't know, and anyway, the whole idea is ludicrous. My daughter would be single her whole life if I were left to my own devices, and the economist would never have made it to 14 years with me if other people's opinions' mattered a jot. Nobody knows what happens in a relationship apart from the people in it. Love is strange. It sneaks up and clobbers you when you least expect it and takes a form unexpected. And its a good thing indeed we aren't often attracted to our friend's love-interests, because that never ends very well.
When it comes to hearts and hopes, all we can do is wish up a safety net of happiness and stand by, arms out to catch them, if that happiness proves threadbare.