Red Flag

Spontaneity is the first casualty of infidelity. On sunny days, you can’t ring out of the blue and suggest a drink. Dates are planned weeks in advance.

As the lover you get the edited highlights of a relationship: the laughter, the smiles, the sex. A relationship with none of the boring bits.

But what you lack is emotional closeness – that sense of wasting time together and the accompanying feeling of certainty.

I sat pondering this. The existential, ‘What if this is it?’ Or, ‘What if the person you’re supposed to be with is already married?’ Great questions if you’re writing an episode of Sex and the City, a chick flick or a rom-com starring that mischievous cutiepie (and my her0) Matthew McConaughey (in fairness, MMcC only does srs movies now, but still).

Rewind: Tallaght, Dublin. I am there with a woman I’m dating. I’m fond of her. Inordinately so. We’re in the bedroom of her small apartment. I pass her my phone and she messes about with it. Suddenly the air is seemingly sucked out of the fucking room. Icy. She sits up. Angry. The conversation goes something like this:

‘You got a message.’

‘What does it say?’ I honestly don’t want to know.

‘I want you to come and fuck me.’

‘For fucks sake. That’s X from work. She always sends me messages like that. You know I wouldn’t fuck anyone else.’

‘Interesting, because this is from Y from work. She sent a video too.’

‘I’m not fucking anyone from work. I’m not fucking anyone but you.’

‘I don’t believe you. So X and someone called Y just send you messages and videos about wanting to fuck you and you don’t do anything to encourage them?’

‘Fuck no. Honestly.’

‘That’s bullshit, Michael. I fucking trusted you.’

‘I honestly wouldn’t even look at anyone else. I opened myself up to you. I’ve never left myself open with anyone like I have you.’ I’m struggling to form coherent sentences.

‘I opened myself up to you, too. We both have. That’s the fucking problem.’

‘Honestly. I’m telling the truth.’

I knew it was too little too late. That’s how it started.

‘And I lost my heart to a Tallaght girl,

When I woke up I was all alone,

With a broken heart and a ticket home’

A few months later, I’m on the same dating site I met her. I’m looking at women from Cork. Fuck knows why. A woman grabs my attention. I click on her. The profile is vague. There’s a picture that catches my eye. There’s a glint in her eyes in one of her pictures which actually reminds me of the Tallaght girl. I send her a message and this escalates quickly. We exchange numbers and I message her on Viber. I run through the usual shit. I ring her the following day. I remember this well. I walk out of my office, across site and I’m standing in the dingy fucking work gym. She’s got a strong Cork accent and I actually don’t understand much of what she’s actually saying. Nonetheless, 99% of a good phone call is tone and vibe and 1% is what you’re actually saying. Suffice to say, she likes me.

Following this, I receive a relentless barrage of texts, phone calls, pictures. I mean, fucking relentless. I’m actually daunted by how ‘clingy’ she is and her messages and phone calls are always full of fucking drama. For example she goes on her cousin’s birthday night out and claims to have gotten into a fight, been arrested and then released within the space of about forty minutes. This should be a major RED FLAG. However, I’m going through an experimental phase and I kind of get the impression that her heart is in the right place, so instead of my usual callous, ‘I can’t deal with this, don’t speak to me again.’ I opt for the more low key, ‘I’m kind of finding all this drama a little bit too much, please chill out on it.’ In my most diplomatic tone. She does.

About a week later I get a flight over to Cork and I meet her at the bus station at Patrick’s Quay. It’s a grey Cork morning. She gets off the Mallow bus, she’s a small, slim redhead and it’s clear she’s made a big effort, even if her clothes are a little bit big for her. She’s got a big smile and she seems really excited. She says hello and then full kisses me. We walk along the Lee, and then walk in a circle, come back on ourselves and go for a coffee. Then we go for some beers. For someone in her early twenties, she’s childish in many respects and has a strange disregard for what I’d consider social norms. Like wearing clothes that fit, not putting your feet on the seats when you’re out in bars and coffee shops, public displays of affection. Again, I just put this down to some kind of innocent quirk. I mean, I’ve already seen all the RED FLAG and decided to ignore them, ostensibly because I think she is someone who is kind and caring, so what harm are a few quirks? Two o clock comes around and we go check into the hotel I’m staying at. The Isaacs. We have sex for a few hours. She apparently also has some disregard for ‘birth control,’ too. There’s another RED FLAG. We go out on the night, we drink a shit load of booze and we’re sitting in a bar and she starts to cry. I’m confused by this, but she says she’s upset because I’m leaving the following day. If I wasn’t such a fucking egomaniac, this is really the point I should have said, ‘You know what? This is far too much.’ She tells me she loves me. Not many people have told me they love me. The first time this happened, I was with a woman from Manchester. I’d been dating her for a few months and when she told me she loved me, she asked me if I loved her back. I responded, ‘I’m trying.’ She looked really upset over this. So with this in mind, I decided that it would probably just be best to just say, ‘I love you too.’ Like I said, it was an experimental phase and it seemed the most appropriate response for the occasion.

The following day I leave her. I feel a pang of sadness as I see her walk off looking teary eyed that I’m going back to England. The taxi driver asks me what I’ve been upto.

‘So, you from England, boy?’

‘Yeah. I’ve been travelling around Ireland quite a bit lately. By which I mean I’ve been to Dublin and Cork. Cork is obviously better.’

‘Are you just over here on your own?’

‘I met a woman. She’s really something.’

‘From Cork?’

‘She’s from Mallow. North Cork.’

He laughed.

‘A Mallow girl? Once they get their claws into you, you’ll never get rid of them.’

So begun a relationship that would culminate in a whirlwind of epic alcohol abuse, regular psychotic episodes, faked suicides and miscarriages, convoluted, fetishistic sexual psychodramas, lying and cheating. That wasn’t even the worst of it. I was left shattered, exhausted and divorced from all emotion. Broken. It starts with the best of intentions. It ends with you a complete fucking mess. You try and keep up a veneer of social decency, to show that despite your personal life being a toxic cesspit of drama, which has driven you to the edge, out in public everything is okay. You try and hold it together as your whole world falls apart. Only one person could see through that.

In fairytales, love strikes like lightning. In real life, lightning burns. It can even kill you. However, I don’t feel love. I can’t feel anything. I’m completely broken.

Still, there is hope. There is a universal dialectic. When two elements come into contact with each other, they will usually be fundamentally changed by the experience. One way or another, change is coming and it always happens sooner than you think.


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