It's easier once you get older - or at least I've been reliably informed - to define somebody as your... well... significant other, I suppose. Do I still like "girlfriend"? Yes, I suppose I do. I prefer it, still, over "partner" for whatever weird reason I'll use to justify that preference. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.
The first (and only) time I asked someone out, I did the sensible thing and told someone else immediately afterwards. A few people, actually, including Lightsinthesky, Einstein, Moaner Lisa, my auntie, everyone at the Christian youth group I used to go swimming with, and some bloke I met on the street named Bernard. The last person I told, the only one who actually knew girl-who-had-a-crush-on by name, congratulated me heartily on having the courage to do so...
...and rightly so, as well; it took me about a year...
on the assumption that if she said no (which she did), then I'd have a better friend than I would have before, and if she said yes, then I'd have a girlfriend.
Which was the odd bit. I'd asked her out on a date - whatever that was - I wasn't asking her to be my girlfriend. But then, I reasoned, where was the line drawn? I'd known lots of people at my school who'd had a few "boyfriends" (and vice-versa, although most of my friends were girls), defining this as the person with whom they had been on a date with the previous night. To me, that all seemed scary. I wanted a girlfriend - of course I did; I wanted someone specific, too - but I suddenly realised that I had no idea what to do next. What, exactly, is a girlfriend?
In retrospect, I'm sort of lucky that all my relationships have been long-term ones. I've never experienced the alternative - the kind of gradual build-up towards whatever goal you're attempting to achieve - and, in some ways, I feel as if I've missed out a bit on whatever that feels like.
But I think I can guess.
In my early twenties, I had a friend who, for want of a better term, I went on dates with - which is to say, we went out together; we did things together; we saw things together. I liked her very much as a friend - she struck a chord with me that had hardly ever been struck before - but, deep down inside, I knew that I wanted something more. I never said so, of course; I don't do that, because I am an idiot. I didn't, however, want to jeopardise our friendship by saying something (what if she didn't feel the same way? how would we continue, knowing that one of us wanted more?), so I kept quiet about it.
So we were very couple-y, without being a couple. I remember lying on her bed, holding her as she fell asleep (and then going to the next room to sleep on my own). Her with her head on my lap in Regent's Park, discussing the virtues of jazz violin and the incantation to release Etrigan the Demon. Being taken to a coffee shop to drink a coffee, and ending up in a cuddle that lasted about two hours, plus a milkshake.
And kisses. We kissed. Not a full-on kiss with tongues. Friendly ones. But kisses, nonetheless.
However, we were never a couple. Never. We were asked, several times, how long we'd been together - by a comedian once, I remember - but we both categorically denied it: we were friends, we were just friends: close, but just friendly people who were friends.
I was very vocal in denying it. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
This thought was brought back to me during that last insightful conversation at 'con last week. How do you define, whether in your teens or in these slightly older (but not yet wiser) years, who your significant other is - specifically if it's an unspoken thing?
With my friend, our actions belied what our voices said. But, among all the meetings that went nowhere, mutual appreciation of Simon Pegg and laissez-faire IT advice through to my crying while listening to Tim Booth on the night bus home, there was certainly something that wasn't happening.
One foot over the line, maybe. But I still never took the great leap forwards.