Q: I recently met a man whom I really like. It’s early days, of course, but he’s charming, intelligent, generous, and really quite romantic. Sounds ideal? There’s one teeny, tiny little problem. I think he might be a writer. He hasn’t actually admitted it as yet, but I keep finding him scribbling away in a notebook and tapping at a laptop keyboard, often at some rather inappropriate moments. Yesterday, he talked admiringly – and with a touch of envy, I suspected – about “the supreme fluidity and grace of A.M. Homes’s prose.” What should I do?
A: As you surmise, he sounds like a writer. Writers, as a species, are rather easy to spot. They are indeed likely to keep a notebook and pen about their person at all times, and will rarely be without reading material. They have a distant, dreamy expression that is unmistakable. Being notably otherworldly, they may appear to be deaf, blind, stupid, or all three. If you’re in any doubt about your boyfriend, Google his name. In these days of ubiquitous online presence, writers – who are both eloquent and notoriously vain and opinionated – tend to have blogs or websites.
If your fears turn out to be justified, there are several things you need to be aware of before you decide to take your relationship to the next level. The sad fact is that writers rarely make ideal lovers. A writer’s vanity, for example, is rarely demonstrated by way of care for his or her appearance. You sound like you’re in the early days of your relationship, when you’re still trying to impress each other, so at this stage your writer may put some effort into his image. It’s as well not to become accustomed to this, however, as writers are rarely stylish creatures. It’s not that they disapprove of the convention known as “fashion”; it’s just that they’re indifferent to it. Largely existing in an imaginary world as they do, they are rarely too concerned about the mere trappings of this world. A certain amount of tolerance is required here, as suggestions to your writer that he smarten up are likely to be met with glares, tantrums, and the accusation that you are a superficial airhead.
Are you a notably materialistic person, by the way? Because an unfortunate side-effect of being involved with a writer is the negative effect on your finances. Writers rarely put a great deal of effort into their day jobs (if, indeed, they have day jobs). They will under no circumstances attempt to climb the corporate ladder, gain promotion, or take on extra work. Attempts to make them do so will result in tears, sulking, blazing rows and, in extreme circumstances, relationship breakdown.
It should come as no great surprise to learn that schools and the Civil Service frequently employ writers. These sectors are desperate for just about any staff, and consequently have low expectations of their employees. Besides, the generous holiday provision and/or flexitime arrangements common in such jobs, combined of course with the near-impossibility of being sacked, make them attractive to writers.
Incidentally, your writer may occasionally fantasise about “hitting the big time”, “being a New York Times bestselling author”, “having my genius recognised at long last”, and retiring to a Caribbean island or country mansion. Under no circumstances should you pay attention to these flights of fancy. He’s a writer: his raison d’être is to make things up. The chances of this actually happening are roughly equivalent to his being struck by lightning.
There are other issues to consider before throwing your lot in with a writer. He probably won’t be the ideal lover if you suffer from low self-esteem, as he will almost certainly forget birthdays and anniversaries, and will rarely compliment you on your appearance (or anything else, for that matter). He may, indeed, frequently appear indifferent to your very existence. It’s not that he dislikes you or is planning to leave you. It’s just that he’s so entangled in his imaginary world that the real world may actually appear somewhat illusory to him.
If the good opinions of friends, family members and colleagues is of great importance to you, a writer is probably not the ideal inamorato. Many writers do indeed manage to conceal their wilful, stubborn, rebellious natures beneath a conventional façade, but sooner or later the mask will slip and he will do something reckless, bizarre, stupid or shocking. He’s not doing it out of malice: it’s just that he’s temperamentally inclined to such behaviour.
This is perhaps not unrelated to the fact that writers are prone to mood swings. They may appear cheery and full of enthusiasm one day, and gloomy and morose the next. Erratic emotional shifts are par for the course when you’re a writer. A writer whose work in progress is going well may be full of blinky-eyed enthusiasm, but you should see him when it’s going badly . . . Bearing this in mind, it’s in your interests to provide a stable, comforting environment for your writer. Set aside a small space where he can write without distractions, and provide him with regular snacks and drinks.
By the way, it’s not a bad idea to stay on your writer’s good side. He will not hesitate to take revenge on those who wrong him, usually by way of inserting them into one of his fictional works and mocking or even vicariously killing them. He’ll probably be canny enough to change names and obvious identifying characteristics – litigation is rarely conducive to creation, after all – but he’ll leave enough clues there for it to be obvious to you, and anyone who knows you, that you are the target. This could prove highly embarrassing, especially in the unlikely event that your writer is bound for literary immortality.
Still interested? Not desperately dodging Cupid’s arrows or arranging to change your home telephone number? It must be love. Ah, well: in spite of these disadvantages, writers actually have the potential to be rather charming lovers. Given to deep emotions as they are, they’re likely to form strong emotional bonds with their loved ones. Being eloquent, they may attempt to channel their feelings into truly sublime prose. And even when that first flush of passion wears off, he’s likely to remain loyal to you. The idea of disrupting his writing routine with affairs and divorce proceedings will be anathema to him.
And besides, who the hell else is likely to take him on?