MIDWAY: Decoding romance

Friends occasionally come to me for advice, which is odd, because one look at my shambling semi-existence should be enough to convince them I’m in no position to offer guidance on anything. I wouldn’t trust myself to tell someone which end of a cup to drink from. But still they come. The other day, a friend wanted to know if a colleague of hers was a) flirting with her or b) not flirting with her, and c) how she should proceed, bearing in mind she didn’t know the answers to a) or b) yet.

I like it when female friends ask for advice about men, because it gives me a chance to slag off my entire sex with as much authority as I can muster. So I said, “Duhhh — he’s a man! Of course he was flirting.” “Maybe he’s just being friendly,” she replied. I snorted as though she’d asked whether horses have gills, and shook my head, which was pointless because we were on the phone.

“Look, all men, without exception, are shallow, priapic skunks. A man would not leave a ham sandwich if no one was looking. It’s all men care about. It’s the only thing... At the end of the day he’s just a half-sentient poking machine. A mindless sperm dispenser. Hello.

Hello? Hello?” Oops. I’d gone overboard a bit, and was befouling her harmless romantic daydreams, robbing her world of magic.

I felt bad, as if I’d just told a six-year-old that not only does Santa not exist, but only an idiot would think he does. Worse still, this was an ex I was talking to.

Anyway, the key to working out her next step was to decide whether said man had been genuinely flirting or not. Which wasn’t simple. With flirting, there are more variables than Stephen Hawking could handle. It’s as complex as poker, but with far higher stakes: potential life-enhancing happiness or crushing humiliation, not piffling financial loss.

Ultimately my advice boiled down to this: all you can do is prepare to go mad for a while. Maybe there’s a sunbeam at the end, and maybe there isn’t. But it’s out of your hands.

To quote Abba: “The gods will throw the dice/Their minds as cold as ice/And someone way down here/ May or may not have to eat shit pie.” If you’ll excuse the crude paraphrasing.