Little Black Book?

Here is some tedious backstory (well, it’s not tedious to me, but it’s my room, so, well): Four years ago my parents (and me, and my sister) moved into our new house, and I took the attic room, and although it’s a fantastic space, it had some huge disadvantages, and then there were all the building works, and basically what happened was that most of my belongings have now been in boxes for rather a long while, but my room has now been beautifully decorated and there are shelves all down one side and a beautiful new wardrobe and it’s looking truly wonderful and finally functioning as a room – although I haven’t yet seen it completely finished – so when I get home that means I actually finally have to properly unpack.

I don’t know if you know how much I hate packing and unpacking things. It’s almost a phobia. I will do almost anything else in the entire world, honestly. At the same time, it’s thinking-unpacking: what stays, what goes, what’s getting put where, what can I reasonably put back into the loft, what can get subsumed into the vast collection of General House Books or Other Things.

Worse than that, do you know what I was for a reasonable proportion of those three years, and the several preceding it? A teenager. An articulate, thinking, eloquent human being with a hugely inflated sense of self-importance, a lexicon of almost savant-esque proportions, and far too many emotions to reasonably vent in any normal way, and what this basically means is that a ridiculous proportion of all those scary, scary boxes is filled with paper. Hundreds (literally) of notebooks. Ream upon ream of scraps of paper. Drawings, jottings, lists, diagrams, strange doodles, treatises, massive long screeds of almost novel-like length, it’s all in there.

Part of me would honestly like to burn the lot. Celebrate my birthday by having a bonfire and feeding all those teenage ramblings into the smoke. But another part of me thinks that part of those writings might actually be worth reading or keeping or at least knowing about, not because of their intrinsic artistic merit (as you may have gathered, I hardly think so) but just out of affection for the strange being I used to be, curiosity about the way I used to think and feel, you know. Get rid of 90% of it but keep the rest in the darkest most secluded corner, in a box I’ll almost certainly never open again. But intelligent sorting is going to take days. Never mind, such is life.

Anyway, I half-heartedly did get started last time I was at home, and I found The List. This is an idea I might have mentioned to some of you before. My cello teacher when I was about 17 was not much older than I was, and usually – it was the end of both our days, my 7.30 Tuesday lesson, and the last ten minutes of my hour’s lesson were, quite frankly, all about the gossip – her boys, my boys, her friends’ news and mine. She was of an age where she was starting to want to really settle down, find a decent bloke, and she’d been thinking, and someone had told her about The List.

So, here’s what she told me. Sit down, with a piece of paper and a pen, and write, down the left-hand side, a list of all the things you want in a life partner. Not too vague – you want about thirty or forty things on it – but be wary of being too specific either. You don’t want your list to describe in extravagant detail the one person you can’t get out of your head right now – do your best to avoid bias, don’t write ‘obsessed with newts’ unless that’s your Big Thing too, but you could write something about ‘interesting hobbies’ or ‘a bit geeky’ (nearly wrote ‘gecko’ there, incidentally. Gosh I’m tired) or something.

And then, across the top (this is basically a chart) write the names of all the people you’ve ever been in a relationship with, majorly obsessed over, or have kind of never-quite been involved with, not fancied despite being perfect for each other, or indeed anyone who is basically at all relevant to the question at hand. Write them left to right in chronological order (probably don’t bother with that boy you ‘married’ in year 1, but you get the point).

And then get ticking. Every quality that each person has, put a tick below their name next to that quality. If you’re sensible, you’ll get more ticks for each person the closer you get to your most recent dalliance. If you’re really, really sensible, that list will tell you what you need to know about whether or not you should ask Next Possible Person out.

Anyway. I found my list. I made that list when I was 17, and despite all the angst and dreadful dye jobs and terrible record with boys at the time, that list is actually pretty accurate, even now. I no longer exclusively fancy men who are good at badminton, but I do still like men with good shoulders, and there’s only one man on that list who doesn’t like coffee. I went through and ticked off all the significant chaps in my life since that list was made, and yes, that rule very much held true – and certainly goes some way towards explaining the last eighteen months in my life. I’ve been ignoring one or two crucial items, and meeting a number of individually lovely but ultimately not-right blokes. Sorry (whey, arbitrary flippancy. It honestly wasn’t meant to sound like that…!).

When I get home, I’m finding that list, and folding it up and putting it into my purse – you know, that annoying pocket which mainly seems to contain Boots ‘double points’ vouchers, stamp cards (‘get your 10th coffee free!’), postage stamps, and out-of-date train tickets. You know you have a pocket just like it. And next time I meet someone, I can save time on all that first-date angst and hair blow-drying and clothes-obsessing, I can save money on drinks and silliness, and when my gut instinct says ‘this isn’t going to go anywhere’, I can check the list, and know straight away that my gut doesn’t lie because the list, so far, is always right. Then I can lavish all that blow-drying time and drinks money on someone who statistically at least actually has a realistic chance…

That said, anyone who reads this entry is going to back well away. Whoops.



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15 responses to “Little Black Book?

  1. Packing is bloody evil. I’m trying to cram my Canadian life into one big suitcase and one small (as in, carry-on size) one. Not. Going. Well.

  2. Antony

    I think describing yourself as savant-esque may be a little harsh there!

    “The List” sounds like an interesting idea. But I’m pretty sure what I’d have written on it when I was 17 has changed at least in part. Do I get to alter it? I reckon this could apply to life goals too, y’know, then you can sort of track them… man. Good idea. I’m gonna do this.

    • Jenny

      I meant my vocabulary was savant-esque as in more than reasonably large…! Although yes, describing myself as a savant would probably be pretty harsh.

  3. Jenny

    Of course you get to alter it! Though I was quite surprised about just how few things I would actually change. My life goals have changed so much over the last four or five years though :S. At least career-wise. I’m reasonably convinced that it would be a bit pointless for me to make a life-goals list…! Xx

  4. Lucy

    This makes me smile! If there is one thing that would always go right at the top of my list for ‘things I find attractive in a guy’, it would have to be a good singing voice. Men who can sing make me go weak at the knees, seriously, and I always kind of assumed that I’d end up with fellow singers just because the chances of me finding them attractive were so infintessimally greater.

    Can J sing? For the sake of all of our ears, I don’t suggest that you invite him to demonstrate any time soon…

  5. Jenny

    I never said *all* – I’m exactly the same – I have always assumed that musicality will be way up there, but I don’t think it necessarily is, and certain names on the list would certainly suggest that’s the case! Although that said, music is at least important to all of ‘my’ men. Which is interesting, or at least telling. I think I’ll also have to add ‘left-leaning’ and ‘Christian’ to my list for everyone’s sakes as well now…!

  6. Lucy

    Yes, ‘left-leaning’ is a REALLY important one for me – Lucy Mangan’s columns about ToryBoy make me go “awww” and “aaaaurgh!!” simultaneously. ‘Quaker’ considerably less so, but it’s nice that it’s worked out that way. Likes walking, excellent. And he appreciates and listens to music a lot, even if he isn’t a performer.

    But let’s face it, it’s not like I intended to get into a relationship with anybody at the time when J and I got together, so I don’t think my experience of ‘How to find a life partner’ is necessarily representive or remotely helpful to anyone else (“Step 1: have a depressive breakdown…”)!

  7. Fiona

    I have a confession to make. I just had to look up what ‘savant’ means. Earlier today, I also discovered that ‘consonant’ was also an adjective. Teenage-me from my diaries and scribblings thought she had a wide vocabulary. Yet another reason that now-me laughs in the face of teenage-me.

    I am also intrigued by this idea, though. When I have a minute, I’ll probably try it too.

  8. Antony

    “And he appreciates and listens to music a lot, even if he isn’t a performer.”

    As you’re all set and can discard your list this probably isn’t an issue for you, but I should really point out you need to be careful when defining such requirements! For example, would you be prepared (hypothetically) to date a left-learning quaker who also happened to listen to garage, rap and house music?!

    Likewise, anyone with the requirement “plays an instrument” should refine that too. I play an instrument, technically. It’s just my skillz (sic on purpose) won’t be impressing the ladies anytime soon!

    @Jenny I thought it was meant in a self-deprecating way, as in “all I have is my lexicon!!” The use of esque to me implied the noun, but I guess you could also use the adjective meaning “wise” (savant is a french adjective meaning “knowing”. I know this because I always get it confused with the present participle sachant which is irregular).

    • Lucy

      Shouldn’t that be lay-deez? 😉

      In answer to your question, yes, I would. But not sharing those musical tastes, it’d probably mean that music wasn’t something we could share as a mutual concert-going/ radio-listening interest. As you say, it’s hypothetical and happily irrelevant.

      But yes, I do agree with your more general point about a prescriptive list becoming dangerous very quickly!

  9. Jenny

    Well, yes, it was self-deprecating, but it certainly wasn’t lexicon-deprecating! And yes, to be fair, my list might say ‘musical’ but yes, preferably shared tastes too. But it’s not just about shared tastes so much as shared enthusiasms. I am – or I mean to be – keen on basically the best bits of every genre, rather than being pure-and-simply a massive genre snob. Although I am a bit. But I mean well!

  10. Jenny

    Yes, setting out with a checklist whenever you meet someone with a Y chromosome is probably not the way forward :S. It’s more of an interesting exercise, because it is true, you don’t really think about it, but the people you work best with and the relationships that last any time or mean anything in the long run are, oddly, with people who are more and more like what you would actually design for yourself if you tried, and if you’re consistently getting it wrong it’s maybe time to stop and think, what is it that I keep not finding, or even not looking for, what should I be looking for, and why isn’t this working?

  11. Antony

    Lucy – yes, I think you may be correct. I am clearly not “street” enough. Interesting, interesting.

    Jenny – I don’t disagree. I’m going to try it for when I next meet an individual with two X chromosomes. I probably agree. Of all the people I’ve ever been attracted to, I suspect those I haven’t had a, what did you call it, dalliance with probably actually don’t meet many list points, whereas those I have probably do meet more of the list points. And now you’ve brought up this idea, I am definitely trying it. It will be an interesting exercise to decide (or probably to realise what I have already subconsciously decided) what I want.

  12. Adam

    For me, I’ve always had a set of criteria any prospective partner has to fulfil… Not so much a set of things I’d hope for, but things that if the person is lacking, I know that the relationship couldn’t work… I think everyone has their list internally, but not everyone is conscious that they have it, and very few have it numbered and memorised like I do…

  13. Jenny

    I think my list has always been reasonably well internalised. But I do have a tendency to ignore it – to think, well, you’re nice, why should it matter that you’re not X or Y, and forget that actually there’s a reason why X and Y are actually on that list. It’s silly because it’s not even like I particularly mind being single right now. I quite like it. Really, Someone would have to be something quite amazing (potentially) for me to consider changing my life right now.

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