We all had the same posters on our walls as teenagers: David Beckham, Johnny Depp or Eminem. Today, I'd bet Beckham fans are married off, their hunt for sturdy husband types over before even leaving high school. Johnny Depp lovers lusted after brooding, poetic boys who never opened up. If you had an Eminem poster, you were after a bad boy who only your love had the power to change. Basically, you were fucked.
I had a wall of Eminem posters.
The celebs we crush on in our twenties are far more varied; who do you have saved as your iPhone background? They may not be mega-famous; they could be a model, a singer in an unsigned band, an author — people not so widely perved-on. Your friends have never heard of them and certainly don't understand what you see in them, but perhaps, whoever they are, they offer a bit of excitement you think your life's missing. These are people we maybe, slightly, perhaps think could be attainable if the situation — the party, the outfit, the plastic surgery — were all spot-on if you bumped into them.
Mine was always a certain model. I didn't know his name; I just saved his picture a few years back, in all likelihood during one of my "tattooed male model" Google Images wanks. I showed his picture to a few people, marveling at the eyelashes, those arms, even telling my ex-boyf to model his next haircut upon him. He was my iPhone wallpaper. The one person I never showed him to was my cousin.
Scrolling through the dating app Happn, eyes blurring until the word "model" appeared, I spotted a familiar face who was represented by one of the world's most well-known agencies. It was him. The Dream Man.
Being the creep that I am — that we all are — I searched him on Facebook. My heart stopped. It would appear my cousin — my cousin from my mum's identical twin, so close that us kids grew up as siblings and hung out every day — well, it would appear my cousin knew him.
One hideously embarrassing Facebook message later (thanks, cuz) and a few text messages where I try desperately to erase my stalker-vibe by proving how hilarious I am, and I'm meeting him for a drink.
The morning after the date, I woke up to 18 missed calls and eight variations of a "sorry for the calls" text. Not ideal. What's also not ideal is your "dream date," within the first three minutes of meeting you, laughingly telling you he was arrested twice last year. And that he used his one phone call to contact his modeling agency to ensure not that he'd make bail or that he wasn't fired, but that they'd replace the Links of London bracelet the police cut from his wrist.
The Boy With The Face freely admitted to having ADHD, which he chose not to medicate. He couldn't sit still, was excessively touchy-feely from the off (not entirely a bad thing) and necked a drink every three minutes. Somehow the loudest person I've ever encountered but unable to carry a conversation, he demanded that I kiss him before he bought me a drink.
Think of The Face, think of The Face, I thought as he grabbed my hair in a points-winning move and pulled me towards him.
Karma has fucked me over me for constantly complaining about dull dates; the tennis instructor with the beautiful body who I grew tired of because he didn't drink, not because he was driving or in AA but because sport was more fun, and the film reviewer who was just so nice, even in the bedroom. No one could call The Face's behaviour boring, but a lot of people would call it illegal. The police, for example.
Take a sucker for spontaneity and pour two bottles of wine and three tequila shots inside her, and an 11 p.m. bowling trip on a work night will seem like a good idea. Bowling not holding his ever flickering attention span, however — or more conceivably not getting him enough attention — The Face took his shirt off to reveal the skinny, tattoo-covered bod that has previously only glowed from a phone screen under my covers. He took The Body over to a couple seemingly on a far better first date than us — well, her date had his shirt on, at least. Grabbing the poor boy and dragging him to the bar to slow dance, he left me mouthing "help" at the girl in between frantic S.O.S. Whatsapp messages to any friends who live in the area.
It wasn't all bad. Later, he picked all 5-feet-11-inches of me up and bowled me down the bowling lane, where I roly-polied towards the pins. The bouncer was not as bowled away by this as I was, screeching and flapping as I struggled to get up on the slipperiest floor of all time in my giant flapping clown shoes.
As we exited, The Face asked, "So to your place then?"
I replied, "What part of this do you think went well? It's honestly the worst first date I've ever been on."
He shrugged, put a roll of filters in his mouth, tried to light it and walked off. That's when the calls started.
Clearly, I was going to sleep with him eventually. It wasn't for the correct reasons, and it's not very feminist or even of the 21st century for me admit this, but when someone repeatedly says they are in love with you after just nine days dating and you can't say it back, you distract them. Plus, there's being wrapped in those arms; the tattooed hands that have touched the clothes, photographers and other models you've spent years studying that are now touching you. What if you know you're never going to say the L word back? To a small-town boy turned product of one of the most disorientating, shallow, critical industries you can be in, it winds their insecurities to snapping point.
The Face becomes irrelevant; you actually enjoy Him. There are fun, rom-com-like times. He drives you three hours to the airport for your family skiing holiday, and when you injure your knee and have to cancel a gig you've had tickets to for months, he takes you to the seaside to cheer you up. You have a fairground to yourself on a Tuesday night. You get lost in the haunted house, jumping at the weary mechanical ghouls and clutching at each other. You can't keep your hands off each other.
But like a rom-com, it isn't real. He can't discuss Brett Easton Ellis with you — not even the film versions of the books. You don't introduce him to your friends and wouldn't dream of letting him near your mother. You are already making excuses for him. He can't even argue with you: "You're a fuckin' bitch. I never liked you anyway," to your "You think a relationship will fix you. I can't do that. You've got to help yourself." He won't get an STI check-up. He spells calamity "colamity" when you're ending whatever it is that this has been.
Today, I flicked through my iPhone Notes and found a thought from 10 months ago:
"When you have them they can't live up to your fantasy," I had written. "When you don't, they are it."
None of this was his fault; Google Images doesn't show a human with flaws. Maybe one day I'll listen to myself, or at least put a bag over The Face and actually listen to them. Justin Bieber is my new wallpaper.