In isolation she seemed – not perfect, he wasn’t that naïve – but, well, a positive romantic prospect. A promising investment of his time. (Why was it that, despite having deliberately avoided any career choices that would put him at risk of becoming even remotely ‘corporate’, his thoughts had suddenly taken on the aspect of an investors’ board meeting?)
Viewed in the context of her life though – her friends, daily routine, ‘hobbies’ and so forth – he immediately saw how it would end: not well for him (or for her, perhaps, but his main concern here was for himself).
It was all too similar, too much like repetition – not of his last relationship, but the one before that. He’d heard somewhere, or read, that life is a series of challenges that repeat continuously until we learn to deal with each one. If so, he didn’t feel at all confident about handling this particular challenge any better than he had five or so years ago.
Largely, no doubt, because he wasn’t at all sure where the problem lay. Or, that is to say, he knew most, if not all, of it lay somewhere inside him – and you can hardly be expected to be objective and analytical about something which is part of your own self, can you?
Even if he couldn’t pin down the problem, however, he could see, all too clearly, how it would play out. Not in any dramatic, or even really externally observable way, but almost entirely below the surface, beneath the hidden anxieties of face, chest, breath.
Terminating at the end of a reasonably long, apparently happy (most of all, somewhere in the middle – they’d have one great summer together, which they’d never be able to recapture, leaving both ultimately doubting their recollection of those months) relationship, with a prolonged, painful, confusing break-up.
He knew that if he tried to retrace this to its roots, he’d arrive right back here, at this moment, where he’d first felt himself withdrawing – self-preservation, that’s what it was – while at the same time powerless to sever the reflex that left him reaching out, grasping, towards her.
This despite knowing (and here he indulged himself in a little self-aggrandisement, rather tragic, he thought; there’s pathos, at least) that they’d never fully combine. Even in those blissful few moments when they’d succeed in convincing one another, and themselves, of their utter devotion, even then, he knew – and would know, deep down – it was already over.
(It should be noted, they’d only at this stage been on three or four dates. And he hadn’t exactly met her friends or observed her ‘in the context of her life’. But he had clicked through a lot of photos on Facebook.)