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.