Something clicked in my mind yesterday: one of those patterns you see often enough that eventually it becomes clear. Every London girl has six principal boys. Six male associates that might not last beyond her twenties, but which provide a useful social network for the seven-tenths of London’s young female population that wasn’t born inside the M25.
First there’s the boyfriend, the guy she’s either living with or is generally to be found with on Friday evenings. Generally around her own age and generation, he may feel closer to her than she does to him – she may consider it a lot less serious than he does, but he provides an essential part of her identity to be ‘part of a couple’ when it suits her.
Then there’s the ex-boyfriend, to whom she’s still close, given that he was one of the first people she met in the big city. The ex-boyfriend makes the boyfriend extremely nervous and they’re rarely seen together. She meets the ex-boyfriend for lunch more regularly than she admits, and frequently shares intimate details of the boyfriend with him. Despite which, the ex-boyfriend is no threat to her current relationship; for her it’s OVER, although the ex-boyfriend wouldn’t say no to an old-times-sake shag.
Third comes the male pal. The male pal really is a friend, and nothing more; he may be going out with her best friend, or she may have known him from school and got together when she discovered they both work in London. The male pal is as close as it gets to a real platonic relationship; this male associate is there precisely because there isn’t any mutual physical attraction.
Fourth comes the workmate. Different from the male pal in that the commonality with him comes entirely from work. They’ll have coffee, discuss the office, bitch about politics; office gossip is the reason he exists in her life. As a male, he also gets kudos from appearing close to a young unmarried female co-worker, so it’s satisfying for him too. The workmate does present a risk to her other relationships if it develops into physical attraction, so the male she choose for this role may change frequently for safety.
Fifth is the older male. Generally eight or more years her senior – with enough differences of opinion and cultural reference points to be interesting – he’s the guy she feels safe with. Their shared times, for her, are full of banter and laughter; she doesn’t consider him romantically; indeed, it barely registers on her that he’s male. And it’s possible that some older males feel the same way. Many, however, seeth with utter passion they know they must never reveal, and this inner turbulence causes great pain – which they never, ever show.
Sixth and last is the secret guy. The role is always there, even when the guy in question doesn’t exist. He may be an invisible friend, an idealised person she goes to for support (even in her own imagination) and likes to keep people guessing about. She’ll stick Post-Its to her monitor with notes like ‘Call Sam’, but the number will be that of her own spare mobile; it’s not important whether the secret guy really exists. What’s important is that the role does: something that belongs to her, and her alone. If real, the secret guy may be a foreigner, or someone without money, or someone below her social group; the interest factor lies in doing something outside her normal zone of experience. Generally, however, the secret guy is George Clooney.
So – six male roles. I don’t see comparable patterns with guys; young London males seem to have anywhere from 0 to 100 female associates, without them occupying particular social slots. But I think every twentysomething female in the capital would be able to identify these six in thirty seconds or less.