Before The Party

Entry by: writerUEFPLYNAYO

30th October 2014
Before the party I sit with my head in my hands wondering if I even like the people I've invited. They aren't really getting me anywhere, I thought, in terms of where I wanted to be in life, mostly we were just friends because we make the same bad decisions, we're angry about the same things, and we have a similar amount of money.

But it's important to keep up appearances, so every now and then I invite all of my friends round. We mostly met at school or university, and they come with new or old boyfriends whose jobs we could all approve of (if not sometimes with a slight sideways glance of one-upmanship or jealousy). Most of these men are handsome and have good manners, and seem content to talk amongst themselves amiably whenever the girls get together.

With the girls, however, it tends to be a different story. Maybe it was our upbringing, maybe the culture that demands we tick all of the boxes of career, of looks, of relationships; or perhaps we do it to each other. But there is, in every sentence we speak, in every thank-you card we write, in every party invitation, a subtle, insidious competition, an urge to be the best, to appear the most generous, the most capable, but yet the most humble.

Our friendships are haunted by this constant battle -- this constant need to appear the most together, the most controlled, the most successful. And often we go back to those boyfriends and fall to pieces in the bedroom or the shower and they come to us and prop us up again and then we take ourselves out for another day of it. But they are like that too with their friends, and often it is just exhausting and we lie in bed and cling onto each other for dear life. Then we get up early for work, go through another day of it, go out for drinks, get home exhausted, argue, make up, have sex, and then fall asleep again clinging on to each other like two emotionally redundant limpets.

So anyway -- the party. It is my birthday. Twenty Seven, if you must know, and three of my friends already engaged. Banker, PR Man, Accountant. They all step out in nice suits, they all smell of mid-to-high range aftershave. The accountant isn't even boring. My boyfriend gets on with him. But then again, my boyfriend sometimes cries at episodes of Made In Chelsea, so he really isn't to be trusted.

The party. Everything is ready. Place mats are laid out. Chorizo stew bubbling away in the casserole on the hob, starters in the oven, prosecco in the fridge, glasses and name cards next to their places on the table, boyfriend upstairs somewhere brushing his teeth, birthday girl sitting in the kitchen with her head in her hands wondering how she's managed to get to twenty-seven without once, in her whole life maybe, ever really feeling like she'd opened her mouth to speak, and said something that she really meant to say.

Other people do it, all the time. I've heard them. Always speaking their minds, clearly and succinctly. Once when I wore a particularly low cut top in summer in Central London I heard a lot of people speak their minds extremely bluntly. So I know it is possible. But why can't I do it? Why can't I, just once, stop with all the pleasantries and trying, and grace and poise, and just say something I really mean?

Even in bed I find it difficult, sometimes, to tell my boyfriend that I love him. Sometimes I can, but then almost straight away I wonder if I really, really mean it, deep down, or if it's just something I'm so used to saying now that I just say it automatically. I don't think I really have to think about it every time I say it, and yet, I hope I mean it, but I don't know if I really do. I try to remember the first time that I said it, just after we'd gotten back from a weekend away, where we had spent two days being as close to happy as I think it's possible to be, and when we got back and parted ways to our separate flats (it was that long ago), he leaned in and kissed me and told me that he loved me. And I told him: "I love you". But somewhere in me there was still a little knot of doubt: is this love, then? Is this what it is? Could it be different to this and still be love?

I don't know. It certainly feels sometimes like I love him. Sometimes it feels more like we are just together now by default. I feel the same as when I was a girl and I used to come home from school; I knew my mother would be there. Now I know, when I get home from work, that he will be there. Or his things, or a letter for him, or his jacket hanging on the back of a chair. But I wonder if that is the same as love, or a type of love, maybe.

And I wonder if I can't say that I love someone, with any certainty, but I say it anyway, if then I have somehow compromised my voice, and I can never speak the truth again, because somewhere I am lying to myself about the definition of words, somewhere inside me my internal dictionary has been ignored, and now there is no truth left to speak.

I wonder if my friends are in love. I wonder if they have doubts like these. I know that later, when they get here, conversation will glide elegantly, like a skater over a frozen lake, and if a topic threatens to break that thin layer of ice, and plunge into the icy, black water below, that the skater will change course, having heard, ahead of time, the warning pings and groans of the ice shifting, and her line will be unbroken, graceful, and pleasing to the eye.

So it goes with my friends.