Sunday 26th July

Today didn’t begin in a good way, spiritually or mentally, and there’s been awful weather around to match my mood. Rain fell from a grey sky and hit the windowpane loudly, waking me from an anxious slumber and setting me off on an emotionally wobbly day. For some reason I’ve been struck by blues today, of the type that sit with you and don’t leave, even if something good happens. I’ve been thinking back to past romances – never a good thing to do if I want to have a pleasant day – to everything that has been disastrous in my sex life. There was no reason for me to dwell on that particular part of my life today more than any other day. I just found myself thinking about the days when I was wanted physically by men with whom I always had unequal power relations, and it seemed so nice back then, all those years ago, compared to now when I get next to no attention.

I’ve talked about this at length already in recent years so I’m not going to go into detail about what’s happened to my love life again. I think it might have come up today because of a somewhat pleasant dream I had last night, in which an Eastern European colleague who I hadn’t seen for a long time literally jumped through my window and got into bed with me. A lovely scenario thus played out, one which of course could never be repeated in reality.

I was due to meet P at the gym at midday, and to make matters worse my landlord was up and about this morning at the exact time I wanted to get ready. The unwritten rule is that we avoid each other at all costs in the corridor and other shared spaces. When he’s out of his room I have to wait in mine until I’ve heard him close his door. I never normally have to wait long, and this morning I was only delayed by a couple of minutes, but it added an angry edge to my mood, which I didn’t need. I started to think of all the arsehole things he’s done to me in the past two years, and how it’s made life so difficult in comparison to how it used to be in the last decade when I was living at home.

After getting ready I was forced to go out with the cloud of melancholy hanging over me. At the gym I could just about muster myself to engage in the pleasantries with P. I didn’t want to tell him how my day was really going – he wouldn’t understand. Earlier in the week I’d talked to him about the possibility of buying my mum’s flat, and he’d been very keen on the idea, thinking it a wise move. Today I didn’t want to tell him that I was giving up on the idea because I wouldn’t be able to afford the mortgage on such an expensive property – he’d just try and talk me back into the idea, because he always believes he’s right. My original plan for the next few years, which involves going to France and spending the bonus money just on myself, was a plan that he never fully approved of. He wants me on the property ladder as soon as possible; to him, buying mum’s valuable flat for a discount and saddling myself with a heavy mortgage for the next thirty years is the only clever thing to do. After doing some research the other night I now know that the mortgage would be too high for my budget, even with the government discount. I couldn’t face having that discussion with P today, so I purposefully avoided the topic.

In the gym thoughts turned from past lovers to fantasy current ones, as I did my usual thing of staring surreptitiously at the men around me. I suppose everyone does it, but I always come away feeling guilty afterwards. For a while I wallowed in the tragedy of never being able to have any of these gorgeous specimens; then, to distract myself because it was becoming too much, I allowed thoughts to turn to the other great distraction in life: work. More specifically: when it’s going to end. I still don’t know when they might announce the sale and give us all the money they’ve been promising us for years. The other day someone thought it might happen in the next week or two. I can’t be sure. At the moment the process seems pretty complicated with no end in sight. I don’t want to get my hopes up thinking it might be next week, only to end up being disappointed again.

I must spend about 75% of my time thinking about this impending change in my life. Of course it’s not healthy, living so heavily in the future, but it’s hard not to when they keep reminding us about it all the time. Towards the end of today I experienced the heartache of another week passed without news. When will they let me go?! I wanted to scream at God. When will this torture end?

I had to put into practise the tools I’ve been acquiring from the Headspace meditation app recently, including the conscious labelling of thoughts and feelings which in itself separates me from them and eases the pain. It’s true that I’ve noticed a difference in the last few months since I’ve been using it; stepping back from the mental torrent has proved easier, and there’s been less of an intensity to my anxious moods than there would normally have been. Today’s been an exception rather than the norm. I don’t have so many terrible days any more.

This evening as I walked back from the station, dreading the return to work tomorrow, I knew I was once again giving into the Sunday blues in the same way that I always did as a child at the end of another school week. It occurred me I didn’t have to sink into that horrible “back to school” feeling again; I didn’t have to get stuck thinking of it as yet another miserable Sunday evening. That’s all I’m doing when I get lost in those moods: thinking. Why not pretend it’s a Thursday or Friday evening? Better yet, why give the day a name at all? It’s just another day in thousands that I will live through in my life. An unimportant day on which nothing is going to kill or hurt me.

I was just beginning to get somewhere when I stepped through the door and there was D, still pottering about the flat, getting in my way. It’s his flat and he can do what he wants here – and it really bugs me when he does. I’d intended to do some washing as I always do on Sundays, but I’d have to wait because he was claiming the communal areas for himself this evening.

It’s pretty much returned me to the mood I was in this morning: bitter melancholy. It’s probably time to utilise my last resort for day like these: Netflix.

Wednesday 22nd July

I have a bit of a dilemma. About a year ago, when I was starting to think about what I was going to do with this money that I’m due from work any week now, someone mentioned to me I could help mum to buy her flat. We would get a significant discount as part of a scheme that the government here has for public owned property. I’d be able to get a hugely valuable flat near the centre of town for a knock down price, and I’d be helping my mother to secure a place to live for the rest of her life. But the process of buying it would involve me having to live there for a number of years, which would interfere with my plans of moving to France, so I put it out of my mind quite quickly.

This year, the place where she works is going through a restructure, and although nothing has been officially announced yet, there’s the possibility of redundancy. She doesn’t think she will be out of work, but there’s always that chance, and if she is out of a job, she could be screwed. She’ll be turning 60 next year, so getting another job somewhere else would be hugely stressful and difficult. Since I’m about to come into this money while she is on the verge of unemployment, it’s re-occurred to me that I could help her. I’d just have to move in with her, become a joint tenant of the property, and then next year I could buy it. All her problems would be solved, and then in five years, when the mandatory ownership period that’s stipulated in the government scheme has lapsed, we could sell it on for a profit and buy our own places anywhere else in the world. Because in 2020, a two bedroom apartment near the centre is going to be worth a lot more than it is today.

It sounds like a good deal, and my head’s starting to say that I should go for it, but my heart is sinking at the prospect. I’d need to live there for a year before I could be allowed to buy, and then I’d have to stay for another five years paying the mortgage before I could legally sell it on. That’s six years of my life I’d be giving up. No, during that time I wouldn’t exactly be a prisoner there; I could carry on my life much as I do at the moment, earning a living, going out whenever I want, taking holidays, etc. But I’d be living there, back in the place I hated when I was growing up, and I wouldn’t be able to leave. And although I’m very fond of my mother these days, it’s purely because I don’t live with her any more. That’s why I put this idea out of my mind immediately last year, because I knew I’d feel suffocated living there again.

But you see, now I know it could be doing her such a big favour – the biggest favour anyone’s done her in her life – I’m finding it hard to dismiss so easily. I’d benefit too, in the long run. Let’s face it, I would never be able to own and property in that area any other way. In the six years that I’m forced to live there I could save up and do the place up, put a new bathroom in (it badly needs one), finally redecorate my old bedroom, make the place look like the sort of place anyone would want to live, increase its value so that when it finally comes to sell we get the best price.

There’s no reason why we couldn’t do any of that…but it’s not what my heart wants. All my life I have struggled to break free of the apron strings, so to speak. Growing up I felt trapped by my mother’s love, and since I left home I have subconsciously done everything to detach myself from her. It took me years to feel comfortable just going back there for Sunday visits. I’m quite happy visiting now because I can always leave after a few hours and go back to my “real” home.

Financially it would be difficult in the beginning as well. Nearly all the money I get from this company bonus will have to go towards that flat. I might be able to do a weekend trip or two, but an extended stay in France would probably eat too much into the money. I’d need to be working almost continuously to support mum’s rent during the time that we’re waiting to buy. I’m fairly confident I’ll get another job when I leave this one, but to be on the safe side, I might need to consider keeping my current job. I could take a few months sabattical, like P suggested, so I get the break I wanted – but I’d have to go back to it next year, because it’s a secure permanent job, nothing to be sniffed at when you’re trying to get a mortgage.

Work’s been OK this week – I made up with the head of IT, and we’ve come to a kind of agreement about the tasks I’ll submit to his team. I’ve been getting on with my manager uncommonly well. If I can keep practising acceptance, I could survive there, but it wouldn’t exactly be heaven. My heart wants me to leave, go somewhere else, do anything else.

Staying so that I can help my mother buy her flat would go against the free spirited ideal I was aiming for with this change in my life. All year I’ve been dreaming of the freedom that I’ll get when I quit; I was no longer so bothered about getting a mortgage somewhere as I was about being able to spend a few months in France, learning French, writing, making art, being my own person for the first time in my life. Since I was born I have not been my own person. My time has always been owned by other entities: school, university, the dole centre, work. With this money I could take a year out and experience a life I always wanted.

Mum might not lose her job this year – as I said, nothing’s been announced yet. Even if she keeps the job, there could always be insecurity around the corner, given her age and the fact that closure seems to have loomed over the place where she works for years. It might be a kindness to buy the flat for her anyway, whether she’s in work or not. Either way it will mean she has a place to live for the rest of her life. I really would want nothing less for her.

Of course I don’t have to make a decision tonight. It’s my anxious disease that wants me to make a decision, so that I’ll know exactly what I’m doing for the next few years, because knowing that is more important to the disease than anything. It can’t bear uncertainty.

Uncertainty has always been really uncomfortable for me. When it comes to my mother’s security, any uncertainty is not good at all. Ultimately it will be a choice between my head and my heart. Go with my head, I face five to six years of challenging living circumstances, but then we both get to reap the benefits of that tough choice. Go with my heart, I get to live the life I always wanted, now, while mum continues to live the uncertain life she’s always lived, relying on mediocre and unstable jobs to pay the rent.

No caring mother would put this on their child’s shoulders, and mum would probably be horrified if she knew I was even thinking about it. She might turn down my offer, were I to make it to her. The fact we need to face up to is that she might not be able to afford to turn it down.

All this is making me feel quite sad and I have to stop thinking about it. I’d like to go to an AA meeting and talk about it, but there are none at this time of night.

Sunday 19th July

Didn’t go to the meeting again on Friday. Which means another sober anniversary has passed without anyone knowing, which means it’s been over a month since my last AA meeting. Which must mean that I am officially out of AA again. I didn’t intend to leave the fellowship, nor do I feel any strong wish to avoid it. I’m just not feeling anything pulling me to it at the moment. I’ve experienced nothing but stress around every meeting I’ve been to this year. Maybe I’m wanting a break from that.

I saw that guy who looks like M today in town – in fact I’m sure it’s him. That’s the third time he’s blanked me on the street this year. I guess when we hugged at the Saturday meeting last month, it was just a polite hug, for show. Yeah, it bothers me a little that that’s happened, especially as I don’t know what it is that I’ve done to upset him. I’m trying not to spend a lot of time worrying about it. I could waste another week torturing myself mentally over what’s gone wrong in AA, but I’ve already spent the last two years doing that and I don’t want to do it any more.

I’m not saying that trying to live sober without AA meetings is a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve had that debate. For me, I don’t know what the answer is. For others, AA will continue to be a lifeline and a support network and I fully support it. Upon reaching my eighth sober anniversary, I’m asking myself if I’m too much of a loner to fit into it.

I spent almost the entire day with J yesterday. I had to help him complete his guided tour of London – he couldn’t do it last weekend because of the dramas at the hotel. That was all resolved in the week and yesterday it was my job to show him all “the sights”. Had I not volunteered then he wouldn’t have seen them. No one else from the office had offered.

I wasn’t exactly in the mood for a day of sightseeing yesterday. In the morning I had a silly argument with my flatmate while I was on my way out of the flat. Relations between us haven’t been great for a while now, and I’m looking forward to moving out next month. For half an hour yesterday I was angry with him – I wanted badly to blame the situation on him and think he was the cause of it all. Then I realised all too quickly that I haven’t been keeping my side of the street clean. I’ve been in this type of situation too many times before. The signs are all too clear.

As a result I couldn’t enjoy my day with J as much as I really wanted to. All day I was worried about the atmosphere I was coming back to that night. In the evening when J had seen all the sights and wanted to get back to his hotel to lie down and rest, I should have gone home too because I was knackered, but I couldn’t face it. Instead I met P and M at a gay pub for a few diet cokes.

I felt better when I saw my friends. I liked the atmosphere last night. There was good music and no awkwardness between us.

After an hour or so we were unexpectedly joined at the table by a cute young guy who appeared to be drunk and looking for friends. He started chatting to us instantly about himself, and we all found ourselves irresistibly falling for him. I fell in spite of myself. Normally I would think it very suspicious if a stranger were to just come up to me and start talking. It is an unusual thing in the city: you’re brought up to believe that strangers don’t talk to you, unless they’re after something.

The guy was obviously drunk and we naturally put it down to that. Despite the alcohol breath I was keen to treat him as a person and not instantly write him off. He debated with us the benefits of being nice to strangers. He had the philosophy that you can find common ground with anyone in the world if you just look for it. I don’t disagree with this – still, I doubt I’ll be smiling at strangers on the bus any time soon.

He got progressively more drunk until it was nearly impossible to have a conversation with him. At 11pm he had a brief moment of lucidity, during which he repeatedly asked us if we wanted to go clubbing with him. We all chuckled at the idea before declining the invitation. All of us, even me, knew we were too old for that sort of thing. No, I’m not that old – but I don’t mind defining myself as too old for dodgy nightclubs now. They always wear me out. I don’t delude myself into thinking I can have a good time in them any more.

Eventually he agreed to go by himself. P assisted him to the door and outside into some cold air, where he could wake up a bit and get himself to the next destination. P was outside with him for five minutes; when he came back he had the guy’s number. Apparently he’s been in touch with him today, so he survived the night, which is good because I was a little worried. I guess it isn’t much of a stretch to see myself ten years ago in that kid. That’s all of us at that age. That’s today’s typical 20 something guy on the gay scene. It’s not my place to judge, but I can’t remove myself from feeling a little sad about it.

Eight years

It’s my eighth sober anniversary today. Eight years! I never forgot about it, but there hasn’t been the fanfare of previous years. I haven’t been able to make a fuss this time around; it’s been nearly a month since my last AA meeting, and I haven’t been keeping in touch with anyone who could help with the celebration. The anniversary remains personally meaningful and important, that said. I’ve made it to this milestone because I still don’t want to drink, after all that’s changed. I still want to make it to the next milestone, and the one after that, and the one after that.

I really will go to the meeting this Friday – I’m not giving myself any excuses this time. I’d like to be able to share and connect with the meeting properly, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to. It’s far easier to be logical now and tell myself that no one will mind whatever I decide to say, here in the safety of the world outside of the meeting, but once I’m there the self consciousness will undoubtedly crystallise once more. I know I’ve got to go, anyway. That’s the main thing I suppose.

My boss got back from a break today and I asked for a meeting. I had been tempted to avoid a discussion about what happened earlier in the week, because some of the old mistrust remained. I still didn’t know if I could trust her fully to support me. But the unfairness of what happened was still bothering me this morning, two days after it happened, and the sense of injustice made me ask her for a chat. We went to a meeting room and I expressed everything I had been feeling – apart from the desire to quit my job. I kept that back because I need to be sensible. I’m about 80% sure that she wouldn’t pass it on if I said I wanted to quit, but I’d need to be 100% sure, and we’re not there yet. If she were to pass on to senior management the fact that I am thinking of leaving, they could get rid of me and I could lose my shares in the company. That’s the thin line I had to walk along today; expressing my dissatisfaction with the job whilst not giving any hint at wanting to leave.

I told her how unfair it felt to have those system requests closed without discussion the other day. For maybe the first time ever, she agreed with everything I was saying. She too was disappointed to learn what had been done, and wanted to escalate this for me. Like me, she knows that we can’t use the system as it exists forever. Changes need to be pushed forward to keep the business scaleable. If the only changes we can ever request are ones that will irrefutably save the company large sums of money, we’ll never be able to make much progress.

She’s going to talk to her boss at some point soon to try and get this ban on “blue sky” requests lifted. With the ban in effect, we both know that my job is at risk of seeming pointless. I told her that I have struggled with the frequent sense of not having anything important to do. Our discussion came into the territory of what else I can do on a day to day basis, to keep me busy and out of the realms of boredom. She said that our small admin team over in the support office needs a manager, and it’s going to be a while before she can recruit one locally with the relevant experience – perhaps I could fill some of that role on an interim basis. A few months ago, I seriously considered offering myself up to manage them, before I realised that they need someone local who is there all the time, and I don’t want to move to the Balkans. I told my boss I have doubts about how effectively I can supervise them via online chats. She appreciated the difficulty and made some suggestions, including daily catch ups and more active monitoring of their online work, something I was already preparing to do.

I won’t be their official line manager – I accept the reasons why I can’t be – but I will be able to fill maybe half my time with some managerial tasks. The rest I can dedicate to identifying best practise in the rest of the team. I came out of the meeting this afternoon feeling significantly better than I did on Monday and yesterday. The discussion had gone well because I said what I needed to say, in the right way. I didn’t go in with a negative attitude, and I didn’t talk about quitting. I do still intend to quit as soon as the share money is in my bank account, but it’s my right to do that and it’s also my right to keep that private until the day I’m ready to share it.

Monday 12th July

Midway through July and the interminable wait for the big announcement at work continues. Dragging on a bit, isn’t it? First they thought they’d sell the company in May, then in June, then in early July. Now the latest is they’ve pushed it back to late July. If it gets to late July and they push it back again I might want to kill myself, but I won’t be able to do anything because I’ll have to keep waiting for the bonus money. The worst thing for me would be to give up just days or weeks before an announcement is finally made. But today, yet again there’s nothing I want to do more than give up and quit this soul deadening job.

What’s happened now? Oh, just the same thing that’s been happening for nearly six years. I need the IT team to fix some issues in the system that we use; they can’t do it right now because they have other priorities. The strange thing is they weren’t saying that a few weeks ago. For about three months now, things have been getting done. I’ve accomplished some things I never thought I would accomplish. When they had some new project managers start, we had a great meeting and it really seemed like things were going to change. Money was being pumped into the team and resource was becoming available for the first time. My purpose at the company was beginning to be realised.

For a while, maybe I actually thought it would be like this forever and I could consider staying. Maybe I was stupid enough to believe their promises earlier this year when they said that they wanted to help me out. I must have been stupid; now that they’ve done some improvements, they haven’t got time to do any more. They have bigger fish to fry, and I’ve taken up enough of their precious resource this year. Today I got my rude awakening when the department head closed all of my tickets that hadn’t been started on yet. Had those tickets gotten assigned to someone, we could have had some major enhancements to the whole system. It would have given me the ability to finally do some real work, as well as make other’s lives easier.

One of our company’s official values involves being honest. So I was. I owned this shit and I spoke up to the department head. I expressed the frustration of what he was putting me through. How it has never been clear to me what they would consider a priority and what they wouldn’t; how it’s so annoying to be given the expectation that things are changing, only to be told a few weeks later that really everything’s the same as it always was.

He started his reply with a meek apology, saying that he understands, it’s a real shame and everything but there’s nothing he can do because my expectations were unrealistic. I didn’t even bother to respond; there would have been no point. It was nearly 5 o’clock, so I shut him down and went home. I’d had enough. I didn’t even tell my friend J I was going home, which he probably thought was strange because it was his first day in head office today and he might have wanted to hang out after work. At 5 o’clock I didn’t care about J and his friendship. The mean part of me could only see him as “one of them now”. He’d been up there with them all day, training in his new team. The man I’d just had a mini argument with is his new boss; the people he works with now are the people who I can’t help but see as having let me down. When I left the office this afternoon I saw him having moved to the dark side and I didn’t want to talk to him. Even though it was me who encouraged him to go for that stupid job all those weeks ago, me who felt so proud of him for getting it, me who told him I couldn’t wait for him to get here so that I’d finally have a friend in head office for a while.

I went into victim mode today and I wanted to hurt everyone, but of course the only person who felt any negative effect of today’s actions was me. It’s so ridiculous that I’m feeling this way when I’m going to be leaving this job in a few weeks, but it’s the fact that I actually thought things were going well recently, that’s what’s getting to me. I was actually enjoying moments in my new job. Now I don’t have a job, because there’s nothing for me to do with my time. My official role is pointless in the company when there is no resource available to help improve the system. I can’t log any more requests with them, and I can’t go into the system and change things myself, so I’m screwed, really.

My boss was on holiday today and it’s probably a good thing because I wouldn’t have been very nice to be around this afternoon. When she gets back on Wednesday I don’t know whether to tell her what’s happened or just not bother. I might not bother, because really, if I’m leaving in a few weeks, what does any of it matter? Then again, if I say nothing to her I’m just lying and pretending that everything’s OK and I hate doing that. I really do hate it. I still don’t know my leaving date; it could be three weeks away or it could be six weeks away. I may have been able to pretend it’s all hunky dory for the past nine months but I seriously doubt I can manage another six weeks. I was expecting to be out by now; the longer I have to keep on going in and acting as if I like being there, the more it hurts my soul.

So I tell her the truth on Wednesday: that we’re not going to get any more system improvements for the foreseeable future and I need another job to do. Then what? I know it will be the last thing she wants to hear, and she won’t have anything else for me to do. If there were any more work available in the team I’d already be doing it. She’ll be disappointed in me for not being able to find work for myself – because it’s always been my responsibility to do that, never hers – I’ll have to go back to my desk and pretend to be happy here for another three to six weeks until I get the money and I can quit.

It seems like telling my boss the truth will get me to the same place as not telling her anything, so I may as well not tell her anything. Yeah, the more I think about it the more I see that there really is no point in rocking the boat at this stage. If there really was more work to do, if things really were going to get better, it would have become obvious by now. The reason I’m so desperate to leave the company is because I’ve always known deep down that things never change there. Today has proven once again that I was right all along. If I have to carry on for the next six weeks pretending to like it, filling my time with pretend work, so be it.

*****

I should have gone to an AA meeting tonight but I didn’t. That’s about a month since the last time I went to a meeting, then. I don’t know when I’ll go again. Just like before, the longer I’m leaving it the harder it’s getting to want to go back. It’s true what they say. If you don’t stay in the middle of the bed, you eventually fall off.

Sunday 12th July

I didn’t go to the meeting on Friday. Instead I had sex. It had been planned hastily the day before on Grindr. People rarely want to chat to me on Grindr, so when this guy who lived nearby started trying to tempt me over, I was hooked in the way that P gets hooked, which annoys me so much. He sent me some pictures and I was surprised to find he was attractive. About fifteen years my senior, if I were still adhering to strict rules in my sex life I wouldn’t have gone near him, but these days I know I just have to take opportunities where I can find them. I was desperate to be touched, to be wanted again, and although I was going for another daddy figure, he seemed nice enough.

I got to his place around 6pm on Friday, knowing there was no chance I’d be able to go to the meeting that night as originally planned. I didn’t care as much as I should have. When he started to kiss me there was an initial moment of unhelpful thinking: “He’s not as sexy in real life as he was in his photos; he’s being too forward, he’s not talking enough.” It nearly put me off, but then I remembered I can’t be giving into my thoughts in these matters. Thoughts will get me nowhere. I decided to go with it, to try and enjoy myself even though an abject terror of being abused was threatening to take over.

We jumped into bed and were both naked pretty quickly. I used to hate it when guys pulled my clothes off at the beginning of the event. I used to think it was unromantic; in films and TV programmes couples never get fully naked straight away when they’re having sex. Couples always take their time on TV; you get lingering, fully clothed kisses on TV and in films that seem so meaningful because it’s all about the kiss. In life I’ve found that guys care about kissing but they care more about bodies and genitalia. The picture that’s portrayed of sex in mainstream entertainment is just a fantasy. It doesn’t really exist.

I tried not to yearn for those unrealistic fantasies on Friday once we were in bed and fully in the swing of things. I was a little out of practise after nearly a year of celibacy, and I was flaccid after about ten minutes. I fell to one side, laughed and apologised for it going to sleep on him. He laughed and said it happens to all of us. Amazingly, instead of kicking me out of bed he started to chat to me. We talked about our families and our careers for half an hour. It was quite pleasant. After half an hour he had to get on with some stuff, and I was relieved that I wasn’t expected to try again. We got dressed and he said that we should do it again some time. Even though neither of us had achieved the ultimate goal of sex, he had enjoyed it. I left, not really knowing if I would see him again, but glad my first encounter in nearly a year hadn’t been a total disaster.

*****

Yesterday, my friend from the Eastern European office, J, arrived here. I’d been looking forward to his arrival for weeks. He has been promoted at work and is over here training for a fortnight. I’m going to have to return to Eastern Europe in a couple of weeks to help train his replacements. There just wasn’t enough time for him to do the whole handover.

Yesterday morning I had his guided tour of the city all planned out in my head. I knew exactly where we would go, what he needed to see to get the full experience. In the morning the first sign that things weren’t to go to plan came, when J messaged me to say there were some problems at his hotel, and he didn’t know when he’d be free. Apparently, the hotel didn’t want to let him keep his room because he wasn’t the card holder that paid for it. His boss had paid for it with a company credit card, so his boss needed to go there to authorise the transaction. He was waiting at the hotel for his boss to show up.

It sounded like a stressful situation for someone who’s never been to Western Europe before and who doesn’t have anywhere else to stay. I felt bad for him. I agreed to wait around for him to get everything sorted. We hoped it wasn’t going to take too long.

After an hour there was no news so I went to get the train into town, hoping I’d hear from him by the time I got there. When I got there, nothing. I went to sit in café near to where he was staying, sure that I wouldn’t have to wait very long. I waited for three hours. Finally at 4 o’clock J came to join me, still with no news of his boss. He’d called his boss several times to find out where he was and had got no answer. By that point I thought surely it wasn’t worth waiting around any more. J, normally so laid back and happy go lucky, was in a state of panic and clearly needed his mind taken off the situation. I encouraged him to leave the café with me and start on his guided tour. His boss would show up and sort things out eventually – there was no point in sitting around worrying all day. Plus I was desperate to show him some of the city while there was still warmth and daylight.

We walked around for a couple of hours taking in some local sights. J wasn’t saying much. Normally he’s one of the chattiest people I know. Yesterday he was understandably upset at the possibility of having nowhere to stay, and it was hard to get him enthused about our overcrowded, noisy streets. When we got to a big famous landmark I was sure such a famous sight would excite him, but his reaction was pretty much “meh”. I wanted to carry on and show him more that was sure to cheer him up – but he wanted to get back to the hotel. I would have been just the same in his position. I would need to be at the hotel as much as possible, just to find out as soon as my boss had sorted things out. I wouldn’t be interested in walking around a strange city all evening.

He didn’t want to get on public transport so we had to walk all the way back to the hotel. It was a very quiet walk. When we got there, thankfully his boss had been and gone and everything was sorted. Had J been in possession of a phone with a local data plan he could have just kept in touch with his boss by phone all day, and not be tied to the hotel, but he didn’t have data so he could only check on progress at the hotel, sadly.

I was really disappointed having to say goodbye to him. I felt like my plans had been ruined. Yeah, it’s his trip not mine, but in my head the day should have been so wonderful. He’d missed so much of the city and he didn’t seem particularly interested in seeing any more of it last night. Sure he was dog tired by the time I left him and he’s here for two weeks, so he might want to finish his tour off next weekend. But I hate having nice plans ruined, especially by circumstances that are out of my control.

I was really looking forward to J coming here because secretly I’ve been a bit in love with him since I met him. He’s 22 years old and he’s straight, but he’s also my closest friend in the other office, we talk every day online and we have so much in common. I got carried away by the idea that yesterday was going to be our special day together. I never have him to myself over there. Here he doesn’t know anyone; whilst with me he was completely dependent on me. In my wildest fantasies I’d have got him back to the hotel and he’d have been so thankful for my company he’d have thrown his arms around me and kissed me. None of that would have ever happened, which is why as a fantasy it’s so appealing. I always go for the most unobtainable fantasies. In fact, all the real loves of my life have been unobtainable. I’m 32 years old, but in my head I’m still 16.

France

We got to France on the Friday with high expectations. On the journey there I wondered if I was bringing too many expectations with me. In one part of my head it simply had to be the best holiday ever, and I knew it couldn’t be if I thought that way, but the more I tried not to think it the more I kept thinking it. When we got to Paris the heat was so intense it was like stepping into an oven. P immediately wanted to dump bags at the hotel so that we could go on a walk along the little known Coulée Verte or Garden Path,  a trip I had suggested. We couldn’t go at any time during the rest of the weekend because Saturday was due to be taken up by gay pride and Sunday we were dedicating to Versailles.

I was really hot and tired that night but I didn’t want to miss the garden walk, so I did it, with P bounding along ahead of me, full of enthusiasm all the way while I felt like I was melting. We must have done about 3 miles, when with 2 to go I couldn’t manage any more. That was the first disappointment of the holiday. We’d ended up in one of Paris’s less salubrious neighbourhoods as well, somewhere in the lower 11th, surrounded by kids smoking pot and men shouting with lager cans in their hands. P was dying to carry on walking but I made him leave the path with me and get on the nearest metro. I was in a mood for the rest of the night.

The next day I was required to get out of bed at the indecent hour of 11am so that we could head into town and find a good spot at the day’s gay pride parade. I wasn’t looking forward to the day as much as I would have hoped to. When we got to Luxembourg Gardens, the crowds were predictably horrid and more than ever I felt twice the age of everyone else there. P was buzzing and raring to go; from virtually the start I just wanted to go back to the hotel. It was turning into another hot day and I loathed the palaver of having to put sun cream on. I mean, I know it’s safety and everything but it’s also really, really boring. I felt eyes on me as I had to spray it on in full public view.

We took a spot near a busy junction in the road as thousands of rainbow coloured youths started to march past in stop start motion. At first there was more stopping than starting. It took the parade a while to get going, due to some delays up ahead that no one seemed bothered about. Everyone was there to have a good time, sing and shout a lot, get drunk and hopefully pull – everyone except me of course, who couldn’t help but loathe everything about the event. It had become just as predictable and generic as every other Pride in my eyes. When I first went to it a few years ago I guess it was different and novel, but this year I knew early on that it was going to be my last.

Every float that drove past was playing loud booming house music, all day long. Being so near to the road at P’s insistence meant I was nearly half deaf by the afternoon. At 2 o’clock I was desperate to leave, but I couldn’t say anything because I knew it would annoy my friend. I agreed with myself I would stay till 3 for him, and then I would go. Just another hour; how bad could it be?

At various points I was irritated to notice that P was barely paying any attention to the parade; he was too busy trying to find the nearest wifi hotspot so he could chat to someone on Grindr. It became really infuriating. At 3 I abandoned any worries about pissing him off and insisted that we leave. Luckily he agreed, after saying goodbye to his new Grindr beau who he would undoubtedly never meet.

And so a pattern was to emerge for the whole week. Every time we came near to a wifi hotspot, wherever we were, P would have to log into Grindr to check his messages. I had always known him to be a bit obsessed with the app, but this week it was on a whole new level. It was really disturbing. His need to be noticed by men in the area never let up. And he didn’t meet a single one of them all week. Now I’m not one to say that Grindr is always a bad thing – I’ve had some successes from it in the past, and I was on it a fair bit this week myself, only because there was nothing else to do, no conversation to be had with P. But come on! Seriously.

On Saturday night we continued with the annual tradition of visiting an obscure gay club in the Marais where they start the night with ballroom dancing. It’s one of my favourite gay clubs in the world. They always play excellent music and the crowd is always fun, and this year didn’t disappoint. For a few hours I could forget my cares and dance to music that I loved from the 80s and 90s. It was there that I first discovered French pop music a couple of years ago; ever since I have obsessively listened to French radio stations so I can learn these songs and sing along with everyone else when they come on. This year for the first time I knew nearly all the French songs that they played, and I could sing along properly. For a few minutes I could actually pretend that I was French, that I had grown up with these anthems in my life like everyone else there. If only that were true!

Versailles on Sunday was meant to be really nice, but the heat by then was beginning to be overbearing, and the queues to get in were unbelievable. We queued obediently because we’d bought the ticket, but it put a damper on the day from the start. Once we got in the palace it was all very impressive, but my back was aching from too much standing still, and I wanted to get through it as quickly as possible so I could get back to the hotel, shower and lie down for a few hours.

On Monday we left Paris to get the train down to the Mediterranean. I suppose this was the part of the trip I had been really looking forward to. A four hour train journey through the French countryside, in first class, landing up by the beautiful turquoise sea. Our train dropped us at Toulon, which instantly brought back memories from 2007 and my last visit there with P, when I was just a few weeks away from stopping drinking. It made the place meaningful when it shouldn’t have had any meaning. My memories of Toulon were not great, let’s put it that way, but on Monday afternoon it was pleasant enough. They’d done up the area around the train station nicely, put in a few cosy little cafés where we could sit and wait until it was time for our bus to where we were staying.

It was on that trip in 2007 where I had one of my last alcohol-fuelled breakdowns. I don’t even remember most of the stuff that happened there. P has since told me that it was a nightmare holiday. We arrived at the holiday flat early in the evening, and it was such a relief to set the bags down and crash out on the bed. The place looked much the same as it did eight years ago. P opened the gates onto the pretty little garden and set some chairs out so we could enjoy the evening sun if we wanted to.

Sadly for P there was no wifi at the flat, so it looked like I might have his full attention for the next three days. It wasn’t to be though; when we ventured out into the town later for dinner we managed to find a nice looking bar on the way to the restaurant where – amazingly – they had a decent wifi connection. Predictably, P wanted to spend every available minute there for the rest of the trip. We had to stop outside the bar for five minutes so he could try and connect and check his all important Grindr messages – without actually going in, because we were still on our way to dinner. Obviously we’d be coming back to the bar after dinner, so that he could check up on things properly.

I really wanted this trip to be relaxing – why else would I go to an obscure resort in the south of France where there isn’t much to do except sit on the beach – but I don’t think I ever fully relaxed. By the end of Monday night, I was sure that P and I were going to fall out at some point.

On Tuesday we walked along the very long beach to try and find somewhere that was quiet and relaxing. We were prepared with towels and umbrellas and lots and lots of suncream, but still, I couldn’t just relax. I was desperate not to get burnt, and paranoid that no matter how much cream I put on, I was still going to get burnt. I’d had so many bad experiences with the sun in the past, thinking I couldn’t possibly have missed a spot with the cream but still managing to come home with red blotches everywhere.

Until a few years ago I would never have taken my top off on the beach, but P’s nagging over the years got me to loosen up finally, so that now I can go naked if everyone else is doing it. Last year in Spain I had the time of my life on a nudist beach – nothing sexual happened, I promise, it was the pure liberation of it.

This year on the other hand, I felt as if I was condemning myself to hell just by taking my t-shirt off, but it was so hot and my t-shirt was so drenched in sweat I had no choice. While P went to splash about in the sea, I got a book out and tried to take my mind off things. It was a good book, and eventually I managed to get so distracted I forgot that the sun was moving across the sky, gradually taking the shade of the umbrella away from me. At 4 o’clock I looked at my right arm and I noticed it was entirely red. At first I tried to console myself with the idea that at least it was just one arm – I could live with that. But later that night when we arrived back at the flat, I was mortified to find that most of my upper body was burnt. I really hadn’t put enough cream on. I couldn’t have felt more stupid – I was supposed to be the expert at covering up!

On Wednesday we made a planned trip to nearby St Tropez on the bus. Things there were a little nicer, I suppose. We saw some wonderful artwork for sale at the port and I cheered myself up by treating myself to some of it. Things nearly went downhill as we bickered about where to sit and rest later on. St Tropez doesn’t have much of a beach; instead it has lots of rocky little coves that you have to make an effort to get to. I wanted to sit on one far away from the town, where it was quiet and shady. We climbed over rocks and mounds for half an hour until we found one that I thought was perfect. After five minutes of sitting there, P announced that he was dying to go back to a cove nearer the town, where it was more “buzzing”.

I don’t know what this obsession with things being “buzzing” is but it was beginning to drive me mad. I refused to get up and move for an hour. P didn’t argue much but I could tell he was pissed off. And I was glad.

Thursday it was time to leave the family resort and head for more metropolitan climes in Nice. Once we were there things should have improved; I had only good memories of Nice and I knew P was going to like it. The train journey there was beautiful, and for once I didn’t mind the excessive heat as we arrived in the city and found our hotel.

I was looking forward to dropping bags off and exploring the city for a good place to eat, but of course once we were in the hotel P had to get on the wifi so he could check Grindr. It had only been a couple of hours since he’d last checked, at the bar in the resort, but two hours is more than enough for him. At first the wifi in the hotel wouldn’t connect for either of us, and at this P threw a tantrum, yelling and hitting the table and swearing. I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous he was being, which made him only angrier. I sensed some resentment; I was lucky enough to be on a phone network that allowed me to use data in France, so I never had to be without the internet. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so blasé about it all if I’d been deprived, although I’m sure I wouldn’t throw a tantrum like that.

When he had finally connected to wifi and learned that he had no new messages, we could go out and eat. Exploring one of my favourite cities for the first time in years should have been heavenly, but the mood at the hotel had spoiled the evening and I was keen to just sit and eat at the first place we could find. Much to my delight and surprised there was a Pizza Hut around the corner from the hotel. Not very healthy or continental, but, you know: needs must.

Stuffed full of pizza I wanted to go straight back to the hotel and sleep, while P wanted to check out what the Nice gay scene. I used my data to check it out on google. I got a list of nearby gay bars and reluctantly agreed to go and find them. I wasn’t in the mood for gay bars at all; it secretly came as a relief when we got to them and found that most of them were closed. P could barely contain his disappointment. Apparently all he’d been looking forward to all day was the gay bars. It’s easy for me to shake my head at that because I just don’t get it; we’ve been friends for years, we’ve been on so many holidays together. How did our tastes end up being so different? I hope I’m not being snobbish when I say I’d rather look for culture and architecture in a place than search out its gay scene. P meanwhile is only interested in everything that’s gay, gay, gay. He is more than a decade my senior and it’s like he’s only just come out.

We’d heard that there was a gay only beach to the east of the city and so we had to go and find that on Friday. I had no excuse not to go; P couldn’t go on his own because he’d never find it without data, I had nothing else better to do. We walked seemingly for hours in the blistering heat until we got to the place where this gay beach was supposed to be. It was absolutely stunning; small rocky coves and dramatic cliffs ate into a clear turquoise sea, much like the beaches at St Tropez. But there were no gay people to be seen, just straight couples and teenagers frolicking around like it was any old tourist beach. P’s face dropped; I thought he was going to cry. We’d walked so far – we had to go and sit down. P briefly piped up about walking further to see if it was the next cove; I wasn’t having any of this. If we could ignore the small groups of tourists nearby then we could make do with the perfectly pleasant beach that we had. I didn’t care about being surrounded by naked men who happened to be be gay. Seriously, was he just there to spend all his time cruising?

Once again it was a very hot day and a dip in the sea might have been lovely, but after a week of faffing around with suncream I just couldn’t be bothered to take my clothes off. I found a shady corner and listened to French music on my headphones while P went off and did his thing.

When night came we couldn’t let the night pass of course without looking for gay bars again. Early on we managed to find one, a loud neon-coloured bar in the old town that was similar in tone to the places you find in Spain. They had wifi and both me and P were on Grindr straight away. hardly any conversation passed between us all night. Later on P had heard about a sex club somewhere nearby and was desperate to try it out. Rather than being immediately put off the idea, I was intrigued because part of the club was supposed to be a dance floor in a converted swimming pool with great DJ’s. Never one to resist a good boogie on holiday, I went with P at 11pm, thinking it better be good.

All the way there P couldn’t stop banging on about how excited he was by the chance to pull a French guy. He really seemed to believe it was possible, even though he had spent the entire week on Grindr finding no success. We both had on our best clothes for the occasion, and I couldn’t help wondering what it was all for: even if you do meet someone, they’re not going to be the great love of your life. It’s always going to end in disappointment, whatever happens.

My belief in disappointment was proved right early on in the evening, when we got to the club and found it was closed. P couldn’t believe it. He’d built his hopes up so much and was so disappointed I thought he was going to kick the door. Tired and disillusioned, we returned to the hotel for sleep.

Saturday we had another fun packed day trip planned, this time to Monaco. There wouldn’t be a lot of time to explore Nice itself this weekend just because there were so many other places P wanted to see. Before we came to France he was keen on the idea of a day trip to Monaco followed by Sanremo – both within easy reach of Nice on the train. I thought it was a great idea and was really looking forward to this more than anything else in the week. When it got to Saturday morning, P was still disappointed about not having found a gay beach the day before. He’d researched other nearby gay beaches on google after going to bed the night before, and had found one that happened to be on the route between Nice and Monaco. His suggestion over breakfast was that we go to Monaco, and then skip Sanremo to go to the gay beach instead.

At this I snapped. All week I had wanted to go to Sanremo with him. I don’t know why but there is nothing cooler than being able to cross the Italian border and say you’ve been to Italy for the day. More than that, I didn’t just want to skip it so that I could have a few hours on a “gay” beach. At that point I couldn’t think of anything more tacky. I said as much to P, who instantly went quiet.

We’d gotten up pretty late that morning, which meant that by the time we were out the door it was nearly midday. If we were going to fit both Monaco and Sanremo in we were going to have to speed things up. Sunday we’d be going home, so we didn’t have any more days to fit things into.

Sadly there was no controlling for the train, which took bloody ages just to get to Monaco. When we got there we needed lunch; P wanted to find the only McDonalds in Monaco, which took about an hour of us walking around to find. At 35 degrees it was the hottest day of the week so far. The heat of course was oppressive and made walking much harder and slower. We didn’t end up getting to the beach on the other side of the city until about 3. By then I knew there wasn’t going to be a second part to the day; it was too late. I didn’t say anything to P about it and he didn’t say anything either. As usual, I sat in the shade with all my clothes on while he went for a solitary dip in the sea.

Not much was said on the way back to Nice later that evening. It felt like there was nothing more to say. In London I can talk to P about anything. In France, we had spent too much time in each other’s company and I just wanted to be on my own for a long time. I didn’t seriously ever think that our friendship was at an end in France, but it has shown me that 9 days is far too much time to spend in someone’s constant company. You can love that person dearly and it would still be far too much.

That night, knowing it was the last night and that we’d be out of each other’s hair again in 24 hours, I decided I was up for trying the sex club that we’d heard about again. This time when we got there, by some miracle it was open. I know there’s generally a script for what can happen in gay sex clubs, but nevertheless, in spite of my reticence around “gay” things and cruising during the rest of the week, I was curious to see what would happen, I guess.

The first thing that struck us was the interior decor. It was done up like an old upmarket bathhouse, with arches and plush sofas and mock marble floors. The place looked empty when we got there, but then people started drifting out of dark corners and soon we were practically surrounded by men. Some of these men to my surprise seemed attractive; dangerously so.

It was my first visit to a sex club in a number of years. My old aversion to the seediness had to be fought against. “It’s OK, there is nothing inherently immoral or bad here,” I had to keep telling myself. But once I had gotten over the immoral arguments I was reminded of what happened to me the last time I visited one of these places, when I was dumped unceremoniously by the love of my life in one of them. I remembered how G had used me up and spit me out in a place like this; how that was all anyone in these places wanted to do to me.

To date and to bed a sexy French man is a secret dream of mine – all tied into this fantasy of speaking French and living in France, becoming French – there were a number of very attractive French men in that club that night, some of them were looking at me and I could tell one was getting ready to make an approach at around 10.30. What happens to me when I’m on the verge of realising a fantasy is that I seem to get threatened, and I want to run away. So the case was on Saturday. Before the guy could start talking to me I turned to say goodbye to P and made my exit.

I still get very lonely and I really crave sex sometimes, like any man; I know it would have been very easy to have sex that night, god knows it’s not always so easy. It may not have been the greatest sex ever but then again it might have been OK. I turned my nose up at it like I regularly have in the past because I couldn’t help thinking into the future, wondering what the point would have been. I could see guaranteed failure, an inability to perform, an unceremonious dumping, heartbreak. I couldn’t just stay in the moment and try to enjoy some possible connection with somebody. I had to run away because after all these years I still can’t bear the slightest chance that someone will take a look at my body and my failings as a man and reject me.

I kind of wish I’d stayed at that club now. But what’s done is done.

Yesterday it was time for the long train journey home. We chose to do it by train instead of plane this time for fun. The cost was a lot more, but sometimes you just think hey, what the hell. Unfortunately I’d caught something overnight and I wasn’t feeling particularly well when the train left Nice. For the next twelve hours of travelling I said barely anything to P. By the time we finally got home I was ready to collapse. And I really wished we’d got the plane.

It may be ironic at this point to say we’re doing it all over again in August, when we’ll be getting the train all the way to Barcelona. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I hope by then I’ll be in a better place, having left my job. On that holiday, hopefully the lesson will be taken on board that we don’t spend every minute of our time together.

*****

Back at home, I’m left to reflect on things. I’m glad I can go on these holidays with P and we generally trust each other enough not to fall out over the silly things. But I’d love to go on holiday with someone else for a change. Where do I find someone else? Once again I find myself looking through a glass window at other people, who manage to go on big group holidays and have the time of their lives. In AA, groups of lifelong friends form and go to big AA conventions in America. I meanwhile don’t seem to stand a chance of being invited to anything like that.

Another question I’m left pondering on. Where will I find a sexy, intelligent man who will love and respect me? Someone I can actually enjoy sex with and not feel afraid?

I’ve come to strongly feel in my heart that moving to France later in the year will change everything and be the answer to my problems. I want to know for sure if that’s true or if it’s just a stupid fantasy. I won’t know until I get there; until then I just have to wait, keep pondering.

Another answer which I keep trying to ignore is the whole sharing in AA thing. Sharing in AA meetings, leaving my comfort zone again and again; in an even deeper part of me than the part that wants to go to France I feel this knowledge strongly telling me that I have to do it, I have to get over that fear, to be happy and find the people I want in my life. Honestly, the thought of going back to the meeting this week and sharing, actually speaking to people, after three weeks’ absence, is terrifying. I couldn’t even drag myself to any meetings in France. I just didn’t try very hard, I’m afraid – so once again I am on the edge of AA where I have been for three or four years, and I’m literally at a brick wall trying to get back in. The brick wall is me, there’s no doubt in that. The idea of just opening up my mouth in the meeting this Friday is the same as the idea of jumping out of an aeroplane. And I have to keep doing it again, week after week, to keep up the momentum. How the hell do you live with that?