Writing

My novel The Mysterious Fall is available on Amazon here. At the end of the book is the promise of a bonus chapter should you navigate to this web page. Good news, here it is.

Originally some of these words graced the early stages of the book, but after careful reflection from the author, supplemented by popular, indeed insistent, demand from friends and family, they have been surgically extracted and deposited here, in order that the action in the early stages of the book moved along more quickly and this introspective insight into a world of self-pity and general background misery can be considered separately. I was going to use the word enjoyed instead of considered but to be fair, it is all a bit downbeat and depressing, so ADVISORY WARNING OF EXTREME CAUTION: do not read if you are not prepared for that, or favour harsh judgement over empathy and don’t want to get annoyed. 🙂

I also want to make clear that we all know there are people out there who cannot attract partners, for one reason or another; Marlo is not alone. For example, a whole community has sprung up of what are known as ‘incels’, or involuntary celibates. But along with this term comes preconceptions of socially inept nerds who hate women and have terrible personalities. Marlo does not meet that criteria, other than his social skills are too passive and so not working for him. But this chapter shows what can happen to the mind of someone who is decent and well-meaning but day after day, year after year, finds that he, as a person, as a package, appears to offer nothing that anyone else wants, and cannot see how to change that. Whether you can empathise with this, or despise it, what you now read will be an interesting test.

Bonus Chapter

As the reader may have perceived, Marlo was always a very unattractive chap, and combined with a meek personality this resulted in him having absolutely no luck when it came to women. This chapter gives some history around how adolescence began that process and helped to shape the mental state that consumed Marlo through his twenties.

You may find the thought of this somewhat tedious. After all, it is understandable that some of our younger citizens in particular, charged with the positivity now drummed into them from childhood that you can overcome all obstacles, be who you want to be, and generally forge through life confronting challenges and shoulder-barging barriers away, may not be interested in hearing about a miserable and ugly person’s self-pitying woes. But maybe they should be interested. Maybe it is good to understand what it is like to face up to world where no-one wants you, to feel what it must be like to be at the bottom of the ladder, always looking up at those people on the rungs above, having to listen to them throw down comforting to them / patronising to you phrases like ‘come on up, it’s easy!’ without understanding that it is easy for them because they don’t look like you do. Perhaps it will change your perspective slightly, give you some insight. Maybe you feel like that too, in which case, you are not alone. Read on!

Looks

So let’s deal with looks first. Marlo hated his appearance with a passion and had done since emerging adolescence pushed him continuously in front of the mirror and started laughing at him. Puberty and the process of turning into a man, which can turn angelic youths into lumpen men and spotty, dull boys into male models, decided to apply a sad consistency when it came to Marlo and so no butterfly emerged from the misshapen chrysalis; the misshapen chrysalis just grew larger. He knew that certain people at school were calling him Gollum behind his back because some of those name-callers were very close to his back when they spoke, and it was as though they were blowing poison darts between his shoulders as each barb struck home. He knew they were just pathetic bullies, but who cared about that – all that mattered was that they said it, and by doing so they were hastening the day that his struggling self-confidence finally died.

His journey into adulthood became a steady upward graph of dawning disappointment and despair. Already the boys around him had an aesthetic head start, but then they became more hirsute and manly. He didn’t. Their jaws hardened, eyebrows thickened. His didn’t. Their voices broke, grew louder. His barely changed. Their bodies grew dramatically and in spurts. He felt as though he was getting shorter as they all sprouted up around him. They started shaving. He didn’t. They started to look eighteen at the age of fourteen. He continued to look twelve, even at eighteen, in part due to his smooth, virtually hair-free face. On every level, he couldn’t win. How was that fair? How was that right? Why was he being singled out?

Meanwhile, all around him the nice girls became automatically attracted to almost any of his classmates who weren’t him. Quite apart from their advantage in the looks arena, the more testosterone the boys around him channelled, the more swear words they used, and the louder and more raucous and aggressive they became, the more certain it was that they would spend each term cycling through a succession of girls who seemed to find this behaviour exactly what they were looking for in a boyfriend. He didn’t understand it. He thought girls might want someone quiet and pleasant to be with, but clearly not. So through his teens he didn’t even bother trying to chat them up. It was pointless. None of them ever even looked at him with anything other than ‘are you still there?’ eyes, making it fairly obvious that they didn’t want anything to do with him. Why would they? Who would want to go out with someone who looked like a hideous child when all these good looking young men were available? So, being way too meek and polite, Marlo took ‘being ignored’ as a silent instruction to be obeyed rather than a challenge to be overcome. It was a mindset crafted by adolescence that, as so often happens, became ingrained far too firmly into his psyche.

But at least at school there were one or two equally solitary friends who sailed in the same type of single-seater boat that he did, although none of them wanted to admit it. Now, as an adult, it was not so obvious whether there was anyone as unsuccessful as he was because the lack of a love life it is not something you shout about. Physically, in his eyes little had changed. He still looked too young, albeit thankfully a little older than twelve. He had spent the last eighteen years trying to look older, and wondered when looking like an old boy in the literal sense (as opposed to the ‘respected pensioner’ sense), rather than a young man, would become less of a disadvantage. Probably once he was past forty, then at fifty he would no doubt merge sadly into the ranks of those trying to look younger again.

He had medium length straight brown hair that erred on the side of ginger and in certain lights could be taken as dark red. He had a smaller than average mouth into which you would struggle to push a plum even when opened wide, assuming of course that permission to do so had been granted. A tiny mouth is a feature rarely associated with handsome men, who can usually accommodate at least a small orange if persuaded to. People wondered why he ate slowly but it was because he couldn’t fit much in. On the plus side, it did hide most of his teeth. This was good because not only were they a bit wonky due to a cramped environment, but over the years they had also developed an unpleasant brown tinge possibly associated with a secret addiction to chocolate which had plagued him since his teens, over which almost every night willpower had a battle with desire and lost.

He was lucky that he did not put on weight (no doubt that would start soon) but conversely this meant that over the years he had eaten far more chocolate than was probably good for him, and, whether true or not or even a medical possibility, he felt sure that this is what had resulted in his teeth always looking as though he had just had a drink of semi-skimmed creosote. No amount of whitening toothpaste seemed to help. Unable to afford specialist dental treatment and influenced by the beaming white smiles of so many people around him, and the impression given in TV adverts that everyone should have perfectly aligned bright white teeth that sparkle as you laugh, there was nothing else for it – he would just have to keep his mouth closed most of the time. This was quite hard when you were laughing, but he managed to develop a ‘sewn lips’ technique that was unnatural at first and hurt his cheeks a bit when laughing hard, but eventually he got the hang of it. It was a sensible strategy on another front – whereas for most people a smile is a welcome sight, when Marlo smiled he looked like a constipated weasel, an image he didn’t want to inflict on anyone.

Yet even appearing ‘just-thinking-of-nothing’ neutral was a challenge because of the way his mouth turned down a little at the edges, giving others the arguably accurate impression that he was a rather dull and usually miserable chap. He had lost count of the number of people who had told him to cheer up, thereby having exactly the opposite effect, leading to even more people telling him to cheer up. It was a vicious circus, as his mother used to say.

In case that wasn’t enough to deter the opposite sex, he had retained a boy’s jaw line that to him appeared delicate and feminine, and he still did not possess the ability to grow a proper beard to cover it up – even that had been denied him. Everything had combined to ensure that any ambitions he had for modelling pyjamas in a mail order catalogue and needlessly pointing into the distance, or standing with a hand on one hip and still managing to look manly, were doomed to failure. No invitation to appear on Love Island would be dropping through his door. Consequently he knew did not have the armoury to attract women from the other side of a room, or any part of the room for that matter. None of this ‘love at first sight’ nonsense that as far as he was concerned was just unattainable fairy tales.

He wore glasses because, unlike contacts, he could hide behind them a bit. Yes, they were too large and already losing street-cred when he bought them, but nothing he tried on made him look good because no-one sold magic glasses that could do this. This pair at least maintained the status quo. Marlo hoped that perhaps one day they would become retro chic but when moments of doubt troubled him he did question his wisdom and wondered if he was being, ironically, a little short sighted. But of the few disproportionately priced designer frames that fitted him, temptingly more zazzy and current and the only ones likely to improve matters, precisely none of them were ever part of the lure-you-in 2-for-1 offer and anyway he couldn’t even afford them when they were 1–for-1. Hey, what was the point anyway, when you thought about it? It wouldn’t make any difference. A diamond necklace on a beautiful woman can be an enhancement, but secure a bow tie to a foul-smelling old tramp and that isn’t going to have him fighting off female attention. So if the specs he had were ok, wouldn’t that do? It wasn’t as if they were so bad that he was making a real spectacle of himself, unlike the author who crafted that tired pun.

An unfortunate side effect of the glasses was a greater chance that he would be able to clearly see his reflection, something he consciously tried to avoid once he left his flat. It was too painful and depressing. Gents’ toilets in pubs, for example, being full of mirrors, were a challenge for him. Where most other young men were only too happy to check their image and preen a little, or a lot in some cases, Marlo washed his hands with his head bowed, determined not to look up. Catching sight of a reflected image of his revolting features only depressed him, which then led to an irritated anger at the unfairness of it all, which in turn strengthened the tumour of self-loathing that was growing within him. He made it a rule never to look at his reflection unless he absolutely had to. It was hard though; you always lived in hope that the next time you looked you would suddenly appear interesting and windswept, but that never happened.

It is not universally recognised that when trying to impress someone, not being able to see your own countenance because your eyes are part of it can help the unfortunate-faced suitor to assume things are going better than they are, an illusion soon shattered when they get back home and the mirror reminds them what their date was having to look at all night. It is a cruel reality check that takes the hope that had been rising all through the evening, and sucks it out of you as quickly as Simon Cowell can crush the dreams of a deluded singer. But it is strange how, once the mirror has gone, somehow hope survives and comes bobbing back up the next time, however impossible the aspiration. Damn you, hope, constantly teeing up disappointment.

Trying to attract girls through self-confidence when you know you are as enticing as a toad in a suit is bad enough, but being skinny as well puts you at an instant disadvantage, and he was not just skinny, he was positively, if that is the right word, weedy. Scientific studies have shown that most women are genetically and evolutionally pre-disposed to want a big strong chest-beating ape-man to look after and protect them, able to ward off rivals and make them feel safe – feminists might disagree but if he was being feminist-ist, he had reached the point where he didn’t care any more. Present two virtually identical men with the only difference being that one is a physical hunk and the other one a seven stone weakling, and given a choice how many women would be magnetically drawn to the weakling? He concluded that the answer was none, although of course he had not himself conducted a scientific study to support this. But facing the perils of life with the demeanour and physical intimidation of a small balloon with a smiley face on it was really not helping the situation.

To address the issue of his scant physique he attempted to bulk up in the local gym. He soon realised that his own genetics were against him in this regard as well, as he remained resolutely lean and spindly. Yes, his muscles became a little firmer and stronger, like putty setting very slowly, but didn’t grow noticeably bigger. Having to watch other stockier young males seemingly double their arm circumference in the time that it took his own stringy muscles to harden up a bit did not help his motivation. He tried protein supplements, which helped a little, but not enough, and anyway he did not want to go down that path. He also felt completely out of place in a gym full of grunting testosterone and glistening ripped torsos, like a baby deer being pushed into a cage full of shiny hyenas, should you be able to find any that shone. Being there just strengthened his inferiority complex rather than his body. There was the added irony that he was paying a lot of money for the experience, and he soon found out that even if you acquire the bicep ‘guns’ you always wanted, they don’t hang around unless you keep them active. Stop the gym work and they soon return to what they were before. That was no good at all; all that effort for nothing unless you maintain the effort for ever. So it did not take long for him to realise that the benefit gained did not warrant the embarrassment, time, effort and cost expended. He gave up, revoked his membership, and resigned himself to remaining an excuse for a man in a boy’s body.

So what else? Did there need to be anything else? Well there was. He wasn’t tall. He did not like the word short, it always seemed to have negative connotations. Short-changed, short of ideas, short on cash, short shrift, fall short, short end of the stick, short fuse – we could all list many examples. Racism and sexism were getting all the attention these days but perhaps people should start getting upset on behalf of height-challenged people and start levelling accusations of a shortism hate crime whenever someone inadvertently used one of those derogatory phrases. That would throw another rabbit in the fire, or whatever the expression was, and open up another opportunity for people who make it their business to take offence on behalf of others.

He wasn’t really that short though, he was kind of an average height, always assuming that he was in a group of similar sized men. He measured up at something approaching 5 ft 8” provided it was first thing in the morning and he was stretching his limbs and neck like a young boy does when trying to prove that they are as tall as their elder brother. He knew he was probably nearer 5 ft 7” in reality but like most men was not averse to a slight exaggeration of his dimensions when asked. He sometimes wished he had been born a century or two ago when 5 ft 8” would have required you to fend off people asking you what the weather was like up there.

Nowadays, however, it seemed as though almost every young man he met was taller than him, some of them veritable giants who strode around the office like suited giraffes, nodding to each other but sometimes failing to notice the greetings of the groundlings beneath them. One day at the office he had stepped into a small lift with four male colleagues who all coincidentally, and rather unfortunately, happened to be at least 6’5”, and as they descended 4 floors there was an awkward silence as Marlo acquainted himself with their ties while the heads above him, able only to see the top of Marlo’s head, said nothing and just looked knowingly and smugly at each other, sharing the silent joke.

In Marlo’s eyes these recipients of good fortune were invariably also formidably intelligent and, naturally, a lot better looking than he was, so it stood to reason that with this kind of competition his chances were rapidly diminishing as time wore on and more and more of these huge lady-catchers emerged from all the best learning establishments to display their credentials in the world of work. What chance did Marlo stand when up against this kind of competition?

Character

But all is not lost, surely. You just have to blind people with your shining personality, let them see the real you behind the fright mask of your face. They will soon forget what you look like, won’t they? It happens all the time in films – the fat nerdy guy with thick lensed glasses pulls the attractive blonde just by taking the wheel of a runaway bus at the end of the film and saving everyone’s life, throwing in a couple of self-deprecating wisecracks for good measure and thereby allowing the ironically beautiful girl to see the true measure of the man trapped behind his own face. Works every time. But then those are films. In real life the girl would just say ‘thanks mate’ and walk away. But given that he wasn’t going to be taking the wheel of any runaway buses, for Marlo, sheer force of personality was his only route out. What a shame, then, that he didn’t have one.

He had been born shy, a natural introvert. An only child, he had been doted on, and consequently become over dependent on his parents, particularly his Mum. In primary school years he avoided conflict or argument or anything that might encourage it; he was frightened easily. He cried a lot and wished he didn’t but he couldn’t help it. He wasn’t a girl and didn’t want to be, but he sometimes felt that life might have been easier if he was. Life was confusing. Then he moved up to secondary school and now he had to learn how to grow up and turn into a man, part of which seemed to involve enjoying the discomfort of others. When he was thirteen he was standing in a queue outside a classroom waiting for the teacher to arrive, and a boy called Stephen ran past, obviously late for a different lesson. One of the rougher boys in the line stuck his foot out, causing Stephen to come crashing to the floor and slide to a stop in a crumpled heap. Marlo was appalled, thinking only how that must have felt for Stephen. Yet all around him most of his classmates were laughing, literally shrieking with laughter, at the misfortune that they had just witnessed. Why was it funny? He just didn’t understand. It was horrible, someone had been hurt, could they not see that? They only stopped jeering and whooping when Stephen didn’t move other than to let out a low wail that turned into prolonged gasping cries of pain. It turned out that he had broken his arm. Only then did the kids around him start to look a little embarrassed and uncertain, perhaps regretting their immediate reaction, as did the rough boy who knew he was now in big trouble. But the fact that they saw someone crash to the ground and found this hilarious in itself just didn’t compute for Marlo.

As he grew older he remained out of step. He didn’t begin to swear, he didn’t do drugs, and he didn’t drink much, all attributes that marked him out as strange in many circles. Thankfully he had stopped crying quite so much, as to burst into tears at seventeen when you’ve just caught your finger in a door would definitely draw attention. And that was something he avoided at all costs. He would never in a million years be known for being the life and soul of the party, the ‘all eyes on me’ Big Personality who stood out from the crowd. He was the exact opposite, the guy who heads straight for the corner, keeping his head down, just wanting a nice, quiet, civilised chat with a nice, quiet, civilised girl. As long as no-one minds, that is. But no-one minded only because that situation never arose.

At the few parties he felt obliged to go to he tended to sit on his own for a while, waiting for someone to talk to him, then, when they didn’t, he left, deflated. No-one was interested in him. Why would they be? They were too busy chatting and having a good time with their friends. All he wanted was for one of the girls see how lonely he was and come over and talk to him. Isn’t that what girls were good at? But none of them ever did.  They were too busy with the others. The only time he came out of his shell a bit and dusted off his dazzling charisma was when he was on his own at home and talking to a bathroom mirror that was probably thankful it was not expected to talk back.

His upbringing was partly to blame, he reckoned. It had been genteel and decidedly middle class: always being told to do the right thing, consider others before yourself, be polite at all times, do to others as you would want them to do to you. Nothing wrong in that, all perfectly proper and correct. Yet as he progressed through adolescence and enacted these teachings, he started to question them. If he held a door open for a group of girls and let them through first, more often than not they would just laugh at him and give him a look of mild contempt as an afterthought. If he let someone have some food off his plate they didn’t always thank him, they just grinned and took more, and others joined in. If he loaned someone his pen and they lost it, he got no apology, just a shrug. Why was no-one else behaving properly? And because, after some tortuous consideration he decided that ‘properly’ was the right adjective there, he carried on in an attempt to lead by example, very rapidly becoming known as a goody two-shoes and definitely not cool. But, it turned out, that is just who he was. Not cool.

In such vein he grew up a living example of the words ‘nice’, ‘quiet’, and ‘sensible’, and in the context of relationships, this, for a man, seemed to be a really bad thing. No young women anywhere, he found out, are attracted to nice, quiet, sensible men, especially if they are ugly. Nice and sensible means weak and dull as far as they are concerned. In-your-face loud men, however, however unpleasant they appeared, seemed to be interpreted by girls as being strong and confident and good fun. He would watch in bemused bewilderment as a girl he had thought was as pleasant as he was and would therefore value this attribute, fell into the arms of an arrogant loudmouth who used four letter words as adjectives and had just moments earlier verbally abused her as a joke in front of his mates. He just didn’t understand the logic. If he spoke to a girl like that, he could guarantee that she would look at him as though he had just asked if he could pour some porridge on her head, and probably never speak to him again. Nice polite wimps didn’t stand a chance, and as he moved into adulthood he just couldn’t shake off that description.

There was more to it than that though. He had to find out why there seemed to be an invisible force field around him that kept women well away. Was this some form of divine victimisation? He was not religious and had never believed in any god, so this was causing him a real dilemma. But…if, just if, there was actually a supreme force of some kind then he or she was sure as hell doing a great job of ensuring that Marlo would never find someone to share his life with, or even just have some of the fun everyone else was having. What if there really was an evil conspiracy of some kind, ordained by a higher power, to make Marlo’s life hard and miserable? It was a theory that Marlo liked if only because it took a bit of the weight off his own shoulders, and he had something or someone to shout against when another girl pointedly ignored him or treated him differently.

So how to overcome this? Maybe he would just have to change his personality somehow. Yet although it made things more difficult sometimes, there was nothing intrinsically wrong with being quiet and introspective, was there? It was just that it wasn’t ever going to get him a partner when combined with his physical appearance. It was ironic really that he wanted to share that life with someone equally quiet and introspective, yet such a girl would no doubt want a man who wasn’t. Could you have two people sharing a life of quiet introspection? Sounded a bit dull actually. Maybe he needed someone to shake him up a bit, be the chalk to his cheese. He just didn’t know, and anyway it was academic really; what would a lively outgoing girl want with him? What he did know was that he was so used to his own company that he had got used to living with himself even if no-one else would, but the more he closed himself off, the fewer the opportunities he had to make friends and meet people. His only friends were at work, and they were more acquaintances than friends. Having lived such a lonely life for so many years now, he found himself strangely reluctant to let people into it, even though he knew he should.

Give a small bag of gold coins to a psychiatrist and they will be pleased to tell you that if you don’t like yourself, and as a result you are getting increasingly angry with everything, you are a possible candidate for some form of clinical depression. Marlo was on a slow downward spiral whether he recognised it or not, not helped by his increasingly frequent gloomy philosophical thoughts about what the point of it all was.

So ok, his personality wasn’t helping, but you can’t just change it, can you, pretend you’re someone you are not? If you did that, you’d be presenting a false impression of yourself and betraying the person who fell in love with you, wouldn’t you? As soon as they found out what you were really like, they would be off, which would cause even more pain and upset than not finding someone in the first place. It was an impossible situation. Anyway, it would be really hard pretending to be someone you weren’t. Clearly his particular mix of looks, size, and personality was almost pre-destined to ward off girls, and what little self-confidence he had started with had soon reverse-turned into miserable self-deprecation and lack of self-belief that had twisted the whole exercise of attracting someone into an extra dimension whereby even if a girl didn’t dislike him he had to try convince himself to believe that. Not easy when you don’t even like yourself.

Failed attempts

Having got himself a job, even going for a drink with work mates was no longer the pleasure it should have been. This was always an opportunity to meet a girl, but should females of the species be present, as they often were, it only ever brought him crushing disappointment and (later when he got home) anger. He was starting to think his best policy was to either leave early every time or just not go at all. Not everyone is a party animal. Pub socialising seemed to him to regularly prove that the arrogance, over-confidence and booming voice that he saw other men use to great effect were traits often bestowed on those who should really have been last in the queue when it came to their allocation, but it worked. It was such a dilemma that behaving like this delivered results that he could only dream of.

Despite those long, lonely teenage years fuelling his lack of self-confidence, occasionally he thought he had felt a developing mutual spark of something, he wasn’t sure what, with a girl, but every single time that started to happen (and it wasn’t often), the girl in question had quickly made clear – in an ‘oh, by the way’ aside that disguised a very clear erection of a boundary rather than an erection of any other kind – that she was already attached or even married, so however well they seemed to be getting on, it wasn’t going to go anywhere. She was only being friendly because she felt safe in the knowledge that nothing would come of it. He just had no luck at all, absolutely none.

In complete desperation, and fearing he would spend the rest of his life sated only by sexual self-administration, he had in his early 20s summoned up the courage, after months of agonising, to commission a ‘lady of the night’ – although she wasn’t because the deed was done in the afternoon. It had been a bit of a disaster. No, actually, an unmitigated disaster. He had made a complete pig’s ear of it. Ok, so it had allowed him to find out what physical intimacy actually felt like, that heady feel and smell of a woman right up close to you, but he was too nervous, too uncertain as to what he should be doing, whether he was doing it right. Even the fact that he was touching her where no other woman would ever have let him venture made it felt as though he was committing an assault of some kind and that any minute she would rush out screaming and report him. His head told him that wouldn’t happen, but his stupid emotions were trying to irrationally convince him that it might. At the same time he felt sorry for the poor woman who was having to look at his face and no doubt wondering how she had sunk so low, and kept wanting to apologise for putting her through this. So all the feelings he was expecting to enjoy were slowly squeezed away by an encroaching surge of fear, remorse, and self-criticism, so that the whole experience ended up being more of a mechanical challenge than a pleasurable act. He couldn’t finish, used up all his allotted time, and eventually just had to apologise and give up. His temporary partner seemed completely ambivalent to the whole thing, the polar opposite to his own mental turmoil, and this served only to further illustrate his own inadequacy. He had to pay for it too. There was no emotion – the love was missing, and this, he realised afterwards, was the part of the experience that he really wanted. You can only have a love life, he concluded, if you have somebody to love. He resolved never to put himself through that kind of embarrassment again.

So what could he do? He so wanted that someone to love, to share things with. “Nothing’s as good if you don’t share it” he heard someone say once, and he often imagined what it would be like, how good it would be, to snuggle down on the sofa with another human being, holding each other close, talking contentedly about work, life, dreams, and the future.

But it didn’t happen, and showed no signs of happening either. Meanwhile most of his friends and work colleagues were effortlessly enjoying the kind of relationships that he could only dream of, on every level. One minute a couple of work colleagues were having a chat in the pub, then by the next morning they were ‘dating’ or had come in on the same train that morning looking slightly flustered. How did that happen? How??

By contrast, just look at what happened every time he managed to strike up a conversation with an unattached girl who he was interested in. It would have to be in a group of course, no chance of engineering a quiet one to one, but if she had ended up unintentionally sitting next to a grateful Marlo, and the two of them had chatted, and they got on well, and everything was looking promising, and Marlo’s hopes were rising…. the same thing always happened. The end of the evening would approach, and the girl would smile politely, make her excuses and vanish. Then one of two things would happen: she would either hurry home alone, in his mind no doubt thanking her lucky stars that she had escaped from him and cursing the waste of an evening, or she would head straight for an alpha-male who she had spotted earlier. After five minutes of flirting she would then duly elope for a night of passion, sweeping past Marlo without a glance as she left, a big smile on her face, as though he was suddenly invisible. It was always one of the two. Each time it happened it was like someone carefully snuffing out one of a dwindling supply of precious candles. He didn’t know how many candles he had left but it was looking more and more likely that they would run out soon and he would have to finally accept the darkness, and that friendly conversation was his glass ceiling.

Perhaps he had a mild form of Asperger’s or something and this would help to explain his inability to connect with women. He didn’t think he had, and he didn’t want to know in case he was told he did, as this would just smash another cannonball into his battlements and knock him back even further.

He remembered a TV documentary he had seen a few years previously about successful dating techniques. It included a piece with a handsome young, confident and loquacious man who claimed that he could go up to any single girl sitting on a park bench and get her telephone number, so all that a love-deficient chap had to do was follow his technique. To prove this they set up some hidden cameras in a park and launched this lothario at any poor woman who sat down to have her lunch or enjoy some peace and quiet reflection. Within minutes of joining her on the park bench he had sprinkled his charm words all over her and yes, more often than not, had walked away with her telephone number. Point proved? Absolutely not. Marlo was literally screaming at the TV screen in frustration. “Can’t you idiots see? Do you not even have the faintest idea why this man might be successful? He looks like he is Brad Pitt’s brother! He is a good looking man. Are you all blind?? Try it with someone who looks like me, see how many women you seduce then! Unbelievable. How can people be so stupid!”  He hated that this made him so angry but… well, the arrogance of people who thought that it was just their sparkling personality alone that landed them partners, it was just hard to stomach. Then again, would Duncan and his overbearing self-confidence have yielded a result in the same situation? He would never have thought so but now he wasn’t so sure.

In today’s Britain of course the man would probably be charged with sexual harassment, and in any case it was of course entirely possible that many of the women had given a false telephone number just to get rid of the unwanted pest who had unexpectedly plonked himself next to them and disturbed their relaxation, but Marlo doubted it. From his own admittedly limited viewpoint, perhaps influenced quite strongly by his own experiences rather than any concrete evidence, if a good-looking man showed any interest in a girl who turned out to be single, within seconds she would be reciprocating, so it was hardly a surprise that the women being approached didn’t sneer and immediately dismiss the man’s attentions as would have so obviously have happened if Marlo had tried it. The final straw had been when the suave self-appreciator looked into the camera at the end and casually announced “Are you too shy to try? Well, I’ve just proved that anyone can chat up a girl just like that if they use the right techniques!” at which point Marlo only just managed to stop himself from kicking the TV screen. “You stupid, stupid idiot!” he seethed, “of course it works for you, you pathetic halfwit! How couldn’t it? It’s arrogant greedy people like you who have slept with more girls than you can count who take girls away from people like me who are left with nothing. How the hell is that fair? It’s ridiculous!”

It took him a while to calm down but it confirmed his view that there are two worlds out there, and the occupants of the lucky world – where attractive or normal looking people can go out and just ‘pick up a date’ or ‘have a relationship’ or even select a one night stand for that evening, have absolutely no clue that there might be a sub-class beneath them of people for whom this just isn’t even remotely possible unless you have an enormous stroke of highly unlikely good fortune, like perhaps meeting a lovely girl with very poor eyesight. They become smug and patronising to anyone for whom this is not the case, subconsciously and often openly labelling them as ‘losers’. Which of course they are, but not in that sense.

That didn’t explain that oaf Duncan’s success though, so there must be even more to it, a reason why girls looked away whenever Marlo approached while those around him, oblivious to his feelings, were always referring to their previous girlfriends or relationships in the plural. It was so depressing.

Can’t let on though. He was very careful never to reveal to anyone what he was really thinking or feeling. Well, you wouldn’t, would you? Who’s going to walk in to work one day and announce “hey guys, just so that you are all aware, I’d like to announce that I’m a loser who can’t get a girl. Please don’t pity me. Actually, maybe you should. Will that help? Oh I don’t know. I don’t care any more. Anyway, back to work, people.” Fat lot of good that would do. You just pretend everything is fine. All the losers just pretend, because they have to.

All in all it seemed hopeless. And one of the worst things about it was the feeling that no-one else understood. Everyone else had relationships, all the time it seemed. It was all anyone ever talked about on TV and in newspapers. For everyone else, this was normal. How could they ever possibly understand what it was like to not be part of that world? So you keep it quiet, don’t you. Pretend that you are happy. Put on a brave face, and save the crying until you get home.

But if you wait long enough, could it be that even Marlo could find someone? Someone like Lillian? The tale is not over yet.