I was lunching with some friends the other day (I don’t lunch for every column, incidentally, but these happened to be friends from abroad whom I hadn’t seen for a while). I took them to a restaurant and we began catching up on our news over the gazpacho.
‘How’s so-and-so?’ I asked of a girl my age, who lives in America. This girl, let us call her Lucy and hope she doesn’t recognise that it’s her I’m talking about, is a good friend of mine (in a way we grew up together). Recently, though, we haven’t been in touch so much as she has been moving round the States.
Anyway, I was expecting the usual answers to my question — new flat, got married, having a baby, split up with boyfriend, etc. Instead, one of the people at lunch said, ‘She’s become a lesbian.’
‘What?’ I said stupidly.
‘She’s become a lesbian. She’s fallen in love with another woman and they’re living together.’
You will be shocked by my antediluvian attitude towards this piece of news. ‘But that’s not possible.’
One of the reasons for my astonishment is that this girl is very pretty. A Sex and the City type but more feminine. And in my experience she is certainly interested in sex with men. She was even married, briefly, while I was still at university. In the years after that, whenever we met, she always had a man in tow. More men than most girls.
The person at lunch said, ‘Not all lesbians are bull dykes.’
‘Yes, I know, I know, but not her.’
Then I realised I had begun to take this as a personal insult. Had she been faking all these years? And, if not, had my ultra-heterosexual influence been so ineffectual? And why hadn’t she told me if she had suddenly decided to go all Sapphic on me?
‘Maybe she had a bad experience with a man,’ said the person.
‘No, no,’ I protested. ‘I’m sure it was always the other way round. They looked as if they would lick her little manicured toes.’
Then the person said, ‘Well, get in touch with her, anyway. She’s longing to hear from you.’
I squirmed and muttered something about maybe after a decent interval.
‘What? She hasn’t died!’
But it felt in a way as if she had. I had never realised before how much a person’s sexuality defines them. I adore my homosexual friends but I have always known they have been homosexual. But suddenly to switch, mid-friendship, that’s different. I wondered if she even looked the same or talked the same.
Moreover, this whole thing threw up a terrible social dilemma. Was I to congratulate her? She was probably quite happy, meeting her female soulmate and all that. On the other hand, do you congratulate someone on that sort of thing? Would you congratulate a friend if they had a sex-change operation?
My instincts were to commiserate, but that would be even ruder. You know, I’m so sorry you won’t ever have a proper family or wear lace mini-skirts and Prada lingerie again. Or maybe she will. That thought was even worse. I decided that it really would be best not to telephone her. I would only make a horrible blunder.
Over the days I have wondered again and again why she did it. After all, when it comes to the debit and credit columns of her staying a hetero, the credit column had been overflowing. All those men. Then I began to think again. I never really got to know any of her boyfriends well. And they were American. Yes, American. And American men are never really what they seem.
I have had two American boyfriends. Let me tell you this: on their home turf, American men are not the bottle-washing, cooking, caring, nappy-changing creatures we believe them to be. After the first few weeks, they are far worse than any European male. They are bossy and short-tempered. They really do want Stepford wives — with a difference. They want them to earn the money as well. My second American boyfriend, after forcing me to cook three-course dinners every night, told me exactly how much dosh he expected me to bring in a month. He then went out and bought himself a Porsche. And a Maserati. And a new house extension. The only thing he bought me was a charm bracelet (for Christmas) that fell apart after two days. I must admit that he was great at one thing — as an advert for lesbianism.
What if all Lucy’s boyfriends had been like that, too? Then it was utterly comprehensible. The only alternative would have been abstinence. No, I have an idea. Lucy should move to London. Our men might not be as rich as some of their American counterparts. But they have one essential advantage which equals the key to a girl’s wellbeing. They are so wonderfully good at being stepped-over. They let you choose where you go on holiday — even though they are paying. They never expect to be fed. (If you cook them sausages once a month, they blub with gratitude.) And their good-natured chuckles when they find out you have secretly nicked 60 quid from their wallet! Or when you order them to the cash machine. Or when you say that you only travel by taxi. Come to think of it, I don’t know a single girl in London who is a lesbian. It’s too much fun beating up the boys.