When I was ten, Dad walked out. Within hours, Mum was lecturing me about finding the right man. She’d say, ‘Don’t repeat my mistakes.’
What did she mean ‘my mistakes’? How was it Mum’s fault that Dad had been sleeping with my babysitter?
When I was in high school, Mum started playing match-maker. I couldn’t see what the fuss was about – boys just weren’t that interesting. But on the drive to school, mum kept mentioning a certain boy in my class, the son of an oil driller, and why not ask him out? A nice enough boy, Disney prince handsome.
We went to the cinema. I found the film more interesting than him. My girls’ hockey teammates had elevated breaking the contact barrier to mythic status, but when Oscar and I tried holding hands, it was like a failed chemistry class experiment. All the ingredients, but no reaction. Oscar was nice about it. We agreed that night’s failure was no-one’s fault. Later, we’d laugh about it. When I got home, Mum lit a fresh cigarette – a post-Dad habit – and said, ‘If you’re not careful, you’ll end up just like me.’
When I started college, I still lived at home. Mum said she needed company. I should have seen through that. Within days, Mum was setting me up with dentists, lawyers, entrepreneurs… what she called the ‘right sort’ of men. I played Mum’s game, more to keep her happy than because I wanted to meet someone. I’d sooner have spent the time studying.
I did meet nice men – I’ll give Mum that. But – for no obvious reason – none of these encounters led to serious relationships. With every false start, Mum got pushier. One day in my late twenties, she screamed that all she wanted for me to settle down with an ‘appropriate gentleman’.
‘If you can do that one thing, I can die happy.’
‘Why does it have to be all about that? I came top of my year at college, I have a good job, I volunteer twice a week! Does none of that make you happy?’
Mum looked at me like I was speaking Swahili. Maybe I should have cut the umbilical cord there and then. But I knew she meant well.
Years passed. By then, I owned a flat, but Mum insisted I come for tea every night. More often than not, I stayed over. She was a great cook, although her lasagnas tasted of cigarette ash. But home comforts were hard to appreciate when Mum said things like: ‘You’re thirty-five, love. Leave this any longer, and that baby factory’ll shut down!’
My friends did have a habit of starting families. I tried every dating app out there on my quest for Mr Right. Once, I even dated a Mr Right. Kevin Right, a human rights lawyer. Body like Hercules shopped organic, rescue dog owner… What was not to like? But that date was still a repeat of Oscar and every man since. The magic wasn’t there. Were my standards too high? I didn’t think so – most of my stuff was second hand. But I still felt I was the problem.
Mum kept threatening to die before I’d met my special someone. Then I did – just not where I’d been looking. A librarian, good looking, stratospheric IQ. Things made sense then.
I phoned Mum to break the news. Breath shaky, I said, ‘Mum, I’m seeing someone.’
‘Seeing? You mean you got past the first date? It’s a bloody miracle. Well, go on then. What’s his name?’
‘His. Yeah, about that…’