The day of my illicit work lunch dawns. I catch sight of myself in the mirror on the way into the restaurant with Ben. Me and this other man who is not my husband.
Get a grip, I tell myself, women and men who are not married go for lunch together the whole frickin time. Stop making such a big deal about something that is totally normal.
The thing is, though, that this is a big deal for me. I don’t just go for lunches and dinners with other guys. I used to have lots of male friends but since getting married and having J I haven’t exactly nurtured those relationships. This isn’t because my husband is either protective or jealous – he is a dick in a lot of ways but not like that. It’s because there is no space in my busy little life. I’ve run out space for male friends.
I’m thinking about all of this as we order. We talk about work, and then our kids but the person Ben goes on about most is Agnes, his partner, an illustrator and artist who is FIVE whole years younger than me (which must make her at least eight years younger than Ben).
The woman he describes looks like Helena Christiensen and is probably bessies with Cara Delevigne. She’s an excellent mother, as in she never used a pram, just a baby carrier and is still breastfeeding AND has painted the most beautiful mural of meadows over the walls of their son’s nursery.
I agree this sounds insanely naff but he shows me a picture on his iphone and it’s quite the most dreamy picture I’ve ever seen. All wavy grasses and poppies and cornflowers. I am developing a serious girl crush on Agnes.
As Ben tucks the phone back into the pocket I note he is wearing skinny cords. I do not remember him wearing anything so provocatively tight when I was going out with him (or rather getting pissed on large glasses of white wine on an empty stomach and snogging awkwardly at tube stations). I have him down as more of a boot leg jean and gilet kind of guy.
Even more respect for Agnes that she’s transformed this Lego man… yes I was cruel enough to describe him to my friends as a Lego man…. rather wooden with a vacuous expression on his face…. into someone who could almost pass as a hipster.
I’m dying to see a picture of Agnes but can’t ask as I don’t want to come across as a weirdo. Thankfully, though, Ben is so infatuated with her that I don’t have to wait for long. He’s talking about Oslo (his new spiritual home, obvs) and wants to show me a picture of his in law’s amazing house boat and there she is, Agnes, not in the slightest Helena Christiensen, not tall, not skinny, not brunette.
Nice looking, though, normal, the kind of person that someone like me might be friends with.
I look up at Ben and like him more than I ever have before.
The experience taught me some important truths about my self. I am naturally predisposed to feel inadequate compared to other mothers (particularly those from Scandinavia).
But this is, of course, ridiculous and I must grow up and stop getting ‘mum crushes’. None of us are perfect… and projecting idealised, unrealistic images of other mothers onto ourselves will only lead to sadness.
If my husband were to put his mind to it, I’m sure he’d come up with some positive things to say about my relationship with J. Maybe he does do this when he goes out to work lunches with other women although I doubt it somehow. And I’m glad for this as it’s very, very tedious to sit through.
I am also in no danger of EVER having an affair with Ben.
But most importantly I am not the only one whose ability to converse with the opposite sex has got a little rusty.
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