(Brace yourself for a little bit of a weepie…make yourself a cuppa before you read this one.)
He told me that what I had done was courageous. He said he and I should have talked along time ago. He said it was the right thing to do. I had already asked him once three months earlier, and he had made excuses. He said he should have made time to sit down with me and talk…he regretted he had not.
He suggested we sat down at our dining room table in the huge kitchen dining area. Then those life-changing words: “Would you like like a cup of tea?” That seemed like a very good idea. It would give me something to fidget with while trying to hide how terrified I was.
So, for pretty much the first time in three months he did something kind… he made me a cup of tea. With my tea-bags and my milk. He made two cups of tea, one for him and one for me. He even made it just the way I like it…stewed tea – strong enough to make hairs grow on your chest – with a tiny splash of milk.
Here is what followed:
- He told me that he had been a coward and that I had been courageous.
- He told me that he had never felt so close to a woman.
- He said he was totally out of his comfort zone, that he had no idea what he was doing.
- He wanted us to be friends.
- There had been a lot of pressure on him. Many people had expressed their curiosity in the dynamics of our flat.
- Many of his friends and co-workers had been teasing him for months that a romance would develop between he and I.
- It had made him very nervous around me.
- He apologised for his behaviour.
- He realized he had made me feel awkward. He told me that had not been his intention.
- He wanted me to know how bad he felt.
- He paid me extraordinary compliments…beautiful words I had never heard in my life.
My face must have been a picture. He used expressions I was baffled by!
The man I am telling you about had been making my life miserable for months. He had been hostile, grumpy, rude, inconsiderate. He had said some very unkind things about me to his workmates…some of whom sought me out and had told me what he had said.
Who was this capricious man? At that point he was my flatmate, one of them. Six of us were sharing a huge flat.
I remember him moving in one August weekend. I was nice to him and his friend who moved in at the same time and would be sharing a bathroom. I really was super nice. I went out, I thought the two of them would prefer to be on their own to unpack and settle into the flat. But before I left, I told them they could use my tea and coffee and milk. I even told them they could help themselves to some biscuits I had baked. That was a nice thing to do – was it not? How many neighbours actually do that nowadays?
We went to a party together that weekend. All six of us were invited to a party in the flat two floors above ours. So many at the party were curious about him moving into our flat. People seemed to be watching the two of us. I tried to ignore it. I tried to act natural. I think I learnt then that living with a celebrity can become a nightmarish experience.
I remember the first Monday morning…my other five flatmates were up early getting ready to leave the flat for work. I was on late shifts that week (2-10pm) so I did not need to get up as early as they did. But I had overheard him singing at the top of his voice while he was showering. There were only three inches of plaster between his room and mine. It made me smile even though he had woken me. We had not had chance to discuss rules…so rather than wondering around in my nightwear, I showered and dressed before I went into the kitchen to make myself breakfast. I had a habit of opening the French doors of my room and letting fresh air pour into my room before I made my bed. I had left the door of my room open while I came into the kitchen.
I heard his voice…he seemed full of excitement to be in a new flat. Everyone had remarked we were going to be the coolest flat in the neighbourhood and they were expecting lots of parties. I was sitting at the dining table eating cereal as they were all leaving to travel to work. He must have stopped outside my door. He was asking the others where I was, had I slept in, was I going to be late for work. I called from the kitchen. He came to the doorway and looked at me with surprise. I told him I was on late shifts that week. He looked disappointed. He thought we were going to travel into work together. Maybe he realized that meant I would not be around in the evenings that week.
I think that was the last time he actually seemed happy to be in the same flat as me. For the next few months I would see him being friendly and jovial and laughing with our friends and coworkers. Then we would walk into the flat and he would ignore me. He seemed to be failing to suppress a strong dislike for me, because it was manifest in so many ways that he did not want me in the flat with him.
Looking back, I guess it was mostly external pressure that caused problems. People were saying some really shocking things. In the end I started to note down what I was hearing. It filled both sides of eight A4 pages…most of which admittedly was just teasing. However, a good portion was insulting, degraded comments insinuating he and I had a very particular type of relationship.
He was probably just as dismayed as I was at the comments people were making. It is hard to define the perfect way to handle that kind of challenge. How do you shut people down without fanning the flames of curiosity? I found myself saying things along the lines of that there was no possibility of a romance developing and listing the reasons why. I used to laugh that putting up with a man whom you are living with but not in a romantic relationship with, means a romance is highly unlikely to develop. A flatmate who never empties the bins, (I am astonished that every male flatmate I have had believed in the magic bin fairy…oooh I am going to get myself in trouble with any male readers) leaves stacks of dirty dishes around the kitchen sink and is noisy, smelly and untidy…and who brings dozens of other single men round to the flat to add to the general man-stink of the place (apologies yet again to any male readers)…well, for fairly obvious reasons there is a distinct lack of warm feeling growing in your heart towards such a flatmate. I thought that was both a humorous and logical way to stop people from teasing me about him. My strategy failed.
I kind of blame him. When his friends and workmates teased him, his reaction was like a teenage boy at school. He said, “No way!” He said, “I think she has OCD, she keeps tidying up after me.” Even worse, he said, “She is a wonderful woman, but she is not attracted to me.” I don’t think it was deliberate on his part, but he was actually just throwing fuel onto the fire. The teasing intensified, the level of interest in everything that went on in our flat was shocking. Social media websites seemed to be making my life unbearable.
Some of his friends started stopping me when they saw me, to tell me what a nice guy he was and that what he really needs is a good wife who can match his mind but is also happy to tidy up after him. His manager saw me one day at the flat, and had a quiet word with me in the kitchen. He said to me, “So you are his future wife”. I felt tearful more than once because they were talking to me about a man who apparently was repelled by me. I did not want to let a bad word about him creep out of my mouth…but inside he had me in agony.
I think you would either be very entertained or very bored if I related more of the hundreds of comments that were voiced about my flatmate and me. As I mentioned, they range from cute to crude, from ridicule to outright rude, from droll to dreadful, from silly to slanderous, from vile to vicious. People seemed to be watching our flat, watching my ex-flatmate and I. If we looked at each other, someone had a comment or a joke to make. If we did not look at each other, someone else would pry as to what was going on between us. It was wearing me down and making me feel desperate, it was making him grumpy.
Sure enough, I asked him very early on if the two of us could talk about it and see what we could do to discourage all of the gossip. He did not seem to want to talk about it though. His behaviour towards me made life very uncomfortable. I did lots of nice things. I am a great believer that if someone has a problem with you one of the best cures is to cover it over with kindness. I did wash a lot of his dishes. I regularly cleaned up the kitchen after he had been a messy puppy. He seemed to use my tea, coffee and milk all the time, which I never made an issue of. I baked cakes and biscuits and always made sure he could help himself to them. I have tidied up after him, even picking his underpants up from the floor when guests were coming. I have cleaned his mouldy leaky food spills up from the fridge. I do not try to subscribe to generalisations (even though some of them are frankly hilarious) – but he is the only man I have ever faced inordinate communication difficulties with – to my Martian flatmate, I really may as well have been from Venus. Or else, he had all the communication skills of a teenage boy (sorry to any teenage boys reading this, but on the whole it is true!).
He seemed to like those things, but he was very strange in his behaviour to me. Cold, hostile, silent. Despite that, I sincerely was pleased to have him as a flatmate. I enjoyed his noisiness, he seemed to be an unquenchable fountain of fun and life. It was great to come home and find so many people in our flat. I genuinely was happy to wash up and clean up and tidy up after the messy pup. I kept on trying to provoke a kindly warm attitude from him. It did not work…and it started to distress me deeply. I had never been living with someone who behaved as if they had a huge grievance towards me.
Finally, three months later, there we were. He made me a cup of tea and we sat down and had the conversation I gave you a few glimpses of above. Bizarre!
Just think, all I had to steady my nerves was a cup of tea that he had made me.
In case you are wondering whether there is a happy or a sad ending to this story…I have to tell you…that cup of tea was the beginning of the end of me.
(More to come…If you have not already read it…take a look at my post “Peanut-Butter Cookies” which will give you more insight into what was developing.)