Much is made of how difficult it is to learn to live with someone else. But for me, the bigger difficulty has always been in learning to be on my own.
And yet, I know that a little separation is necessary. Some things are better off achieved alone. I don’t understand, for example, why women insist on dragging their gurning partners around the shops when they would be much better off at home. I also fail to appreciate my annual invitation to Herbert’s office Christmas party. Thanks, but the offer of reconstituted turkey and limp sprouts isn’t enough to swing it.
Herbert is always claiming he needs more ‘Herbert time’ (which is a euphemism for wanking himself stupid and playing on his XBox 360, possibly simultaneously), but this tends to involve me leaving the house, rather than him striking out on his own. However, I’m beginning to take this need seriously. In all frankness, now that we’ve been together for fifteen years, I’m conscious that we both need to bring something back to the dining table to talk about.
Today, then, I set myself a special challenge: to take myself out for lunch. And it must be good lunch, too; a sandwich in a cafe doesn’t count. In fact, it is a very special lunch indeed, for I have just come across the information that the River Cafe is offering a 3-course weekday lunch for £28. If I don’t go alone, I won’t get the chance at all.
I confess that my stomach lurches as I enter. The River Cafe is a great, bustling monument to the chattering classes, and here am I, silent and a little apologetic. The waitress sits me next to the wood-fired oven ‘so that I can watch,’ and I’m grateful for the occupation. Nevertheless, after a few seconds of gazing at the general air of purpose, I get out a book from my bag and bury my head in it. When the waitress returns with chewy yellow bread, I gulp and order an aperitivo, prosecco with blood orange and Campari. Drinking alone, at lunchtime: very decadent.
I sink into my book, and try to block out the noise of the two men seated next to me. In their matching denim shirts, they are engaged in a peculiarly middle class fight, blokishly daring each other to opt for the slow braise of beef shin rather than the squid salad. I’ve ordered the braise already; and a heavy glass of wine to go with it.
I feel rather sleepy and luxuriant: buttery ravioli, completely surrendered beef, sticky polenta. I text Herbert to tell him what I’m doing, and am then piqued when he doesn’t reply. Does he disapprove?
More likely he’s got his phone on mute. How infantile marriage makes us sometimes, with its merging of personalities and practices, the way it brings your own finances under your partner’s account. I feel guilty having this sumptuous time while he’s stuck at work, but more than that, I feel guilty for just being alone, and for spending my own money on myself . We’re trained to say, ‘Because I’m worth it,’ but only when it applies to a bottle of cheap shampoo.
Later, at home, I ask Herbert,
‘Did you get the text about what I did at lunchtime?’
‘Hm, yes, I did,’ he says, and that is that. He is neither excited nor angered by the information – or even particularly interested. My lunchtimes are, after all, my own business.
The River Cafe is running it’s Winter Set Lunch on weekdays until 31st March. More details here.