9 // Guilt and gifts

The year was coming to a close and Christmas was just around the corner. By now, the last real man and I had been together for three months and everything seemed to be rolling along like any healthy relationship should – good times with no drama.

Gift giving is always stressful in new relationships, at least it seemed to be in this relationship. The last real man was happy to spend his money on me, but there was suddenly an uneasy atmosphere as soon as I presented something or would try and do something nice for him. This was my nature, I like to help and be involved. To me, these are the little things that make a relationship special. Love, care, help, appreciation and admiration become apparent through our actions, not just our words.

It’s customary when you move into a new home, even more so when it’s your first home, to receive a housewarming gift. One evening I arrived with a swag of practical goodies: tea towels, dishwashing liquid, spray and wipe and a nice set of canisters for the last real man. Naturally, I was expecting a “thanks so much, you shouldn’t have,” but instead I got the look of death, and a comment along the lines of you shouldn’t be buying me things. Honestly, I thought my lovely, thoughtful, and usable gifts would be thrown right back at me and I booted out the door. Talk about act like an ungrateful child. I cared about this guy, and I wanted to show this with my generosity, but it left me feeling like I’d done wrong. The following morning, after reflection, he did thank me.

Because of this incident, I was apprehensive about Christmas and gift giving. But surprisingly, it was the complete opposite. When Christmas came around he seemed appreciative and happy with what I’d selected. Although, I did only see the Elwood t-shirt I gave him twice, ever. Once on him and once on the bedroom floor (which seemed to double as a wardrobe most days). As for the bottle of Armani Code, well no one can really go wrong with that scent. Then for shits and giggles, I also gave him a book called Drinking Games and Hangover Cures and some bed fart eradication mints. It was a loving gift with a light and fun hearted tone.

I love a practical gift; something I can use. Yes, I like a good bottle of Dior perfume or some beautiful jewellery as much as the next woman, but they aren’t things I can use regularly. When I was asked about what I’d like for Christmas all I asked for was a perfect pair of kitchen scissors. The look on his face was one of relief. I’m pretty sure he was expecting perfume or jewellery. “A pair of kitchen scissors?” he said. “Yes, you know, the ones that you can cut up a chicken with?” “OK, kitchen scissors it is! Well, that was easy,” he added.

If this guy was thinking I want or must have the best of everything, he’s got me totally wrong. Yes, I like beautiful things, and when hard work pays off I do reward myself with the odd luxury item, many people do, but I don’t live outside my means. I’m just as happy with a $20 handbag from Sportsgirl as I am with a $2000 one from Prada.

Along with my brilliant kitchen scissors (honestly, they are) I also received a pair of Havaianas thongs (which I still wear daily) and an excellent sleeping bag, which had its fair share of use at the music festival we were set to head to for New Years.

Christmas was sorted, and both boy and girl were happy. Little did I know that it would be the only Christmas we’d spend together.

8 // Making a house a home

Saturday nights were now spent at the bachelor pad. I was really starting to enjoy living life between two houses, mostly due to the contrast in locations. He was close to the beach and I was in the mountains. It was like living the best of both worlds.

God, I loved Saturday nights. After a week at the office the thought of snuggling up with my cuddly teddy bear (truly, he was) filled me with happiness. Once those arms grabbed me and pulled me close it was like a wave of calm washed over me and any fear or stress, vanished. Never before had I felt so safe and secure in someone’s arms. Never had I felt so loved and protected. At least, so I thought.

It was around this time that I also started to notice my random need for sleep. Some people thrive on a good nanna nap. Not me. I just need six to eight hours of uninterrupted shut eye to run for 15-hours. But recently, my body felt tired and I really didn’t know why. I had days where I felt like my legs would give way from under me, and sometimes, even trying to hold a conversation was a struggle. My personality even seemed off and my zest for life vanished. The last real man would have a dig at me from time to time for being grumpy or unhappy, when I absolutely wasn’t. I put it down to a combination of work and old age.

This particular weekend we’d planned to check out a furniture auction. The last real man was on the hunt for a dinning table and chairs. This place auctioned off top-brand gear at bargain prices and I found myself excited about our little excursion.

We arrived and viewed what was on offer. “What do you think of this?” he said, pointing to a modern round table with four chairs. “I like it, but it’s not very big,” I said. I found myself being asked lots of questions about colours, styles and comfort, and I felt like I was being of some value in the decision making process.  We found our seats and the last real man went and registered to bid. “Here boss, you better hold this; it’s dangerous in my hands,” he laughed, and handed me a card with a number printed on it. “True,” I chuckled.

The auction started and we observed several items sold before the table and chair set came up. The original sale price was quoted at $1,900. My mouth dropped open and I looked at last real man “I can see why it didn’t sell instore; no way is it worth that,” I said. The price started at $250 and a bidding war started. “What do you think?” he asked again. “It’s nice, but it’s small. I’d only buy it if it’s under $400.”. In the end it went for far more than that. Next up was a $2,000 queen bed mattress. Bidding commenced at $50 and there was silence. The last real man pulled the card from my hand and raised his arm in the air. I looked at him, he shrugged “It’s $50, and I need a new mattress,” he said smiling.”The old one can go in the spare room.” Fair point I thought, the spare room only had a base at the moment. After a good five minuets the auctioneer called time and we walked away with a $2,000 queen bed mattress for $50. Bargain! The next step was to get it home, thank god we came in a Ute.

We went home briefly then returned to the warehouse to collect the goods. When we walked back in we headed over to the area that contained brand new items for sale, not auction, and the last real man became very taken with one particular dining package. “Do you like it?” he asked, “Yeah, I do actually. I think it’s a lot nicer than the one in the auction, and the price is good too.”

He walked over to the administration area to organise collection of the mattress, plus a wall clock he’d also picked up for $10. When he retuned he said, “I’ve bought the table set too, I’m going to collect it tomorrow,” I smiled, talk about impulsive, but it was a very nice setting. As we waited around I noticed a nice sideboard and walked over to take a look. It matched the table setting the last real man had just bought. He came over to me. “How nice is that sideboard; it matches the table,” I said. He didn’t look hugely interested but did acknowledge it was nice. “Well, I really like it anyway,” I replied. Our number was called and we loaded up the roof-rack with our deal of the day. I enthusiastically jumped up on the footplate to help with the tie down. “Do you think it will hold?” I said, “Bloody hope so,” quipped the last real man. 10 minuets into our journey and things started to come lose on the roof. We pulled over, did a retie and laughed all the way home with our eyes on all mirrors.

Wednesday night was our regular mid-week dinner night. I’d been messaged photos of the new table set up and it looked great. But there was one surprise that the last real man was keeping from me (he was great at surprises!). I walked into the lounge to see the table and looking at me perfectly placed was the sideboard. I couldn’t believe it. “You got the sideboard,” I said with a huge grin on my face. “Well you liked it and I liked it so yeah, I got it too.” I kissed him and said, “It all looks great Mr. You have very good taste.” Hopefully he realised I wasn’t only referring to the furniture, but he did seem to be going to some effort to buy things that I approved of.

7 // Property and the parents

To own your own home is the Australian dream, and at the time of meeting the last real man he was on a mission to find a place to call his own. I too found myself on this journey.  My opinions and thoughts seemed valued, and I often found myself being asked for advice.

One Saturday afternoon I was undertaking routine maintenance around my own home when my phone suddenly went off. “I think I’ve found a house,” the message read. I giggled to myself; I’d only been hearing this line for about a month. Here we go again I thought. I clicked on the link he’d sent me and flicked through the photos of what appeared to be a solid looking family home, and clearly owned by a couple who truly loved the colour green!

“Errk, they love green don’t they,” I replied. After a few more texts back and forth about what would need to be done to make it a good investment my final words were: If it’s really what you want and it’s in your budget, then go for it, tiger. I just don’t feel it’s worth over A$500,000.

He made an offer which was accepted, and suddenly, he was a first home owner. Even though the purchase had nothing to do with me, I found myself incredibly happy for him. He’d worked so hard for this, and I was really, really, proud of him. To take the plunge in today’s housing market, and on your own, I had nothing but respect.

Fast forward two months and moving day arrived. How does one offer help to a Taurus I thought; knowing it dents a bull’s ego when someone asks if they need a hand. I phrased my offer in a way that was more, “Hey, if you find you need an extra set of hands I’ll be around.” He said he’d organised a truck and that he’d be right. Typical last real man, always a man with a plan. So I lied low and let him enjoy the experience of moving into his first place on his own. At least, that’s what I thought.

“Do you want to come and check out the house?” I laughed at the text the following morning. He’d only been in the house 12-hours and wanted me to see the place. I ventured down, armed with a few cleaning products, and got the grand tour. I really liked the place, even the location.

He’d started painting and I offered to do the edging, which he hated doing. I’d been there for about an hour when his phone went off. It was his Mum. A few minutes later I walked into the lounge where he was painting. “Mum’s coming down. It’s absolutely up to you if you want to meet her. You’re welcome to stay or if you want to leave you can. Just don’t blame me if it’s awkward.”

My heart started to pound. I came to see the bachelor pad, help with the painting and possibly be rewarded with a little afternoon delight. How did this suddenly turn into meet the parents? I suddenly felt very nervous. I’m such a polite individual, leaving just seemed too rude, I had to stay. “It’s ok; I’ll stay,” I said softly. He looked at me and smiled, almost like he was happy that I was staying.” If only a smile could cure the sudden nausea that had crept up on me. Was I ready for this? Absolutely, not!

His Mum arrived. I could hear the banter in the kitchen before the sounds started to edge closer to me. Before I knew it, we were all in the same room and introductions were made. “Hello, nice to meet you,” was the best I could muster. It was pretty clear that Mum didn’t meet many girls her son dated. She did know about me, so that was something. She was actually pretty cool and we quickly clicked. We chatted and had a cup of tea before it was announced that Dad too was also paying a visit. By this stage what I needed was a bottle of vodka, more so than a cup of tea.

Dad arrived and we were introduced, however by now I felt like I was intruding. I gave it about half an hour then said I had to go. I wanted to stay, but it was only fair that the last real man got to enjoy the first day in his new house with his family.

We said our goodbyes and I headed home. I was glowing. My man had a house and was happy. He had a great girl who loved him, even if he hadn’t realised it yet, and not only had I met his friends, but also the family. It was now that I started to feel like a bona fide girlfriend.

6 // The official first date

“What are you doing tonight?” The last real man asked one Saturday morning. “Nothing, why?” I said half  asleep. “Well, I have this engagement party tonight. Do you want to come with me?”

Like a spring I sat up in bed and just looked at him. “What, seriously, an engagement party?” I said, looking at him in disbelief.

“Yeah. I’ve talked to my mate and he said it’s fine for you to come.” You’ve talked to your mate? It’s fine for me to come? The words echoing inside my spinning head. Talk about pre-organising! How long had he been contemplating this little invitation I wondered.

I accepted the surprise invite and found myself unexpectedly excited. It wasn’t the fact that he wanted to spend the entire weekend together, but that he was comfortable enough with me and the relationship to introduce me to his friends. I felt like I was being invited into his inner circle and that he was happy to show me off. With the exception of meeting the family, this, I thought, was a big step forward.

After confirming plans for the night he left and said he’d be back around 4pm. My head was still spinning, this guy had everything planned to perfection.

My heart was pounding with excitement as I rummaged through the wardrobe to find an appropriate dress. I’d managed to keep a man in my life for six weeks and one who really appeared to want me as much as I wanted him. I had to make a good impression and get the tick of approval from everyone I’d meet.

He arrived back at my house, beers in hand and ready for a night out. “You look nice,” he said as I opened the door. “You don’t look so bad yourself,” I quipped. He’d scrubbed up very well indeed!

We headed out and my first assignment was to meet his best friend. We arrived, introductions were made and then the awkwardness of the situation kicked in. It was clear to see that the last real man didn’t introduce many, if any, dates to his best mate. He was pleasant to me, as was his girlfriend, but I didn’t feel that immediate “click” you get with some people. All things aside, I liked this couple and I tried my best to interact with them and get to know them. After a couple of drinks and some chit-chat we were off to the engagement party. There was good banter between us all in the car and I finally felt like I was now holding my own.

Upon arrival, we were greeted at the door by the groom-to-be, and I was introduced. “I’ve heard a lot about you; nice to meet you. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of you.”God I hope so I thought. Although right now, I’m not exactly sure what I am. I haven’t actually been introduced with the title of girlfriend. Early days I thought.

The night progressed with more introductions, drinks, food, speeches, dancing and flowing conversation. Now as many girls will attest, some men aren’t exactly liberal with telling a girl how they truly feel, and certainly not in the early stages of a relationship. However, when you bring beer into the equation feelings soon start to flow.

There was one point during the night that I caught the last real man just looking at me. Naturally thinking he’d over indulged on the truth serum, I laughed and said, “What are you looking at?” “You,” he said. “I’m struggling to find anything I don’t like about you.” The words poured out with such sincerity and emotion, it was like it was just him and me in the room. I moved closer to him and echoed his words. “I’m struggling to find anything I don’t like about you either,” and followed up with a lingering kiss.

It was at this point that a very drunken friend appeared and flung his arm around the last real man. “All right mate, how long’s this been official then?” he said. Looking a little shell-shocked, the last real man replied, “well, now I guess.” “You’ve done well there mate,” he quipped as the last real man answered back with a cheeky grin.

By this stage the night had started to slow down and we were all ready to head home. From the moment I jumped in the car the last real man held my hand so tight like he never wanted to let it go. To this day, that night is still vivid and sticks in my mind. It was a night that I didn’t want to end because the last real man was such a perfect date.

5 // Mr. fix it

Four weeks in and things were rolling along at a steady pace with the last real man. Regular text, calls and all weekend dates were happening. The relationship, and our friendship, appeared to be flourishing.

This guy operated to a routine in everyday life, you could just about set your watch by him. His response time to a text message or call was faster than the speed of light. Unless he was flat out at work, rarely did I have to wait any longer than 20 minuets for a reply.

If I didn’t see him on a Friday night, and if we hadn’t planned anything for the weekend, you could guarantee a text or call by 10:30AM Saturday morning to make plans. I’ve never known a man so dedicated or consistent. He never once canceled on me and he made me feel like I was a priority in his life.

One Saturday afternoon he came over after a swim at his local pool. After about 15 minuets he asked me, “Do I smell like chlorine to you?”

I sniffed his arm. “A little bit, but nothing over-powering,” I replied

“Do you mind if I have a shower?”

“Sure, go for it,” I said.

10 minuets later he came bounding out of the bathroom.

“Your water pressure isn’t very good,” he said.

“What do you mean? My water pressure is fine,” I responded.

He walked over to the kitchen sink and opened the taps fully and noted the pressure difference.

“Must be the shower head; I’ll take a look,” he said.

He disappears outside to his work ute and returned with a few tools. After a few moments of clanging and banging the shower head was off, cleaned and put back together. This was actually quite a turn on, this guy was my own personal Mr. Fix it! What a win! What a keeper!

“It’s not great, but it’ll do. I’ll get you a new one,” he said.

Two days later I received a call at work.

“I’m at the hardware store and they have shower heads on special, I was going to get you one. What style do you want?” he asked.

“Umm, I don’t know, what do they have?” I said. All of a sudden the screen of my phone filled up with shower heads.

“I’ve just sent you a photo. Pick the one you want and I’ll put it in on Saturday,” I picked out the one I wanted and said i’d call him after work.

As promised, my new shower head was promptly put in the following Saturday. The last real man was certainly going above and beyond for the new woman in his life.

3 // The tall man with a small dog

When you find yourself suddenly single, normal everyday routine tasks unexpectedly become a challenge. For me, grocery shopping was one of these. 

Food brings people together and cooking for those I love brings me great joy, so i’m sure you can understand why going to the supermarket suddenly became a massive chore. No longer did I have anyone to cook for and keeping myself nourished wasn’t high on my list of priorities. I was more concerned with trying to avoid falling into the depths of depression.

You can imagine my surprise when one evening I inadvertently found myself being picked up at the local supermarket. It was the average post-work food run. The mind set: get in and out as quick as possible. Strolling down the aisles, in hope of finding dinner inspiration, I stopped abruptly when the bargain hunter in me spotted something on special. Within a fraction of a second I felt a crippling pain around my Achilles. Some fool had careered into me with their trolley. “Oh gosh, I’m so incredibly sorry, I wasn’t looking up.” Glaring at me horrified was a skinny man of about six-foot-tall, bald head and wearing a professional sports kit. This guy was an athlete!

Through (awkward) small talk he convinced me to meet him for a coffee to apologise. I was so shocked by everything I found myself saying yes, and before I knew it I was handing over my phone number. What was I doing! This isn’t me. This isn’t how I roll. And since when is the supermarket a hive for singles? Once again, my brain had a freak out.

About a few days later we met up for a coffee. From the moment I clocked him a second time I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him after today.

Now, I love animals. I own a Labrador, cats and I ride horses on weekends. I consider myself fully equipped to deal with any four legged creatures. What I was not prepared for was a very tall man to show up with an incredibly small dog. When I say small, by comparison, my cat is actually bigger. He owned a Chihuahua! There was part of me that just wanted to break into laughter. One Labrador paw to the head and death would be imminent for something like that. I couldn’t deal with this. I also couldn’t deal with the fact that he treated it like a baby. Throughout the course of our conversation I learned he had significant baggage that did not have a simple solution or an end in sight. I politely thanked him for meeting me but made it clear that I wouldn’t be seeing him again.

So, it was back to the last real man.

2 // Where do I even begin

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

They lied.

After going through what can only be described as the closest thing to a divorce, feeling strong I was not. The thought of having to start again close to my mid thirties was nerve-racking. Where did I even begin?

How does one date in the 21st century?

Where do single, strait, eligible men circulate these days?

Do bars work?

Tinder, Bumble. When did mobile phones become a weapon in the dating game?

I remember online dating, is that still a thing nowadays?

My brain felt like it was about to explode. These were all the questions I had whirling around in my head, and they were moving faster than Phar Lap!

I felt battered and broken, I had no self confidence and the thought of dating and physically trying to put myself out there terrified me. So, I became the cowardly lion and took what felt like the safe and easy option – online dating.

From the safety of my own home, I created a profile that was simple and honest. It wasn’t long before I realised profiles were not something that men took the time to read, particularly the specifics.

Quickly, I became bewildered. No where in my profile did it say I was searching for a man 25 years my senior, overweight, a regular smoker and had three kids. Nevertheless, this was the type of man I was attracting. Then there were the fake accounts, which any switched-on and cautious woman can pick a mile away.

I patiently waited to see if some sort of prince charming would find his way to me. 10 months went by with hardly a bite, then one evening my phone flashed with a kiss notification. The user’s alias was Last Real Man. I had a chuckle and thought, probably not mate, but let’s have a look at you.

I read the profile, which was full of spelling errors, but to my surprise I found myself attracted to this guy. Our interests matched and on paper we appeared to be seeking the same things in life. He was a tradesman and not the professional business man I usually had to deal with. I actually found him refreshing and exciting. English isn’t everyone’s strong point, so I wasn’t going to hold him to ransom over a few typos.

Oh my god, I think I’m actually going to accept this one! And like that, I found myself back in the dating game.