Before you end your relationship, read this conversation between Ged and his friends.
On Friday I achieved a lifetime first.
I had a power lunch. At least, I had the starter.
It all began earlier in the week when I decided that, as I’m not very good with rejection, I’m going to self-publish my books and get discovered that way. First thing I do is call my mate Andrew, who knows a lot about everything but is the least creative person I know. I’m figuring I’ll get a well-informed point-of-view which, whilst completely missing the point, will give me a new perspective.
“Come to lunch on Friday” he barks down the phone.
He always barks when I call him at work. I suspect he regrets having answered the phone at all, realising he should be talking to someone more important. Anyway, I’m amazed by the invitation and accept immediately. Andrew normally only lunches with “strategic stakeholders” (words I’ve heard him use with a straight face).
“Tom’s blown me out,” he explains down the phone. “It’s too late to cancel the booking. I need to keep the girl at Quay sweet or she won’t get me my favourite table in the future. Dress smartly.”
And that’s that. Outside of soap operas, Andrew’s the only person in the world who hangs up without saying goodbye.
So, Friday lunchtime, there I am in my best shirt, sitting in Sydney’s smartest restaurant trying not to look impressed. This isn’t easy. Our table has a dress-circle view of the opera house, the harbour bridge and all that water. Andrew’s in a well-tailored navy suit, which is weird when I’m used to seeing him in sloppy joes or neoprene. I wonder if I look half as good as he does.
“Typical Lauchie” he says, stabbing at his salad. “Like his job’s not cushy enough already! They’ve flown him out to Fiji on some freebie and he asked Tom to go with him.”
I’m eating my starter slowly, if only because it cost thirty-five dollars, and so chew silently as I listen to Andrew talk. He tells me that, as Lauchie’s now dating a Swedish girl none of us have met, and as she couldn’t get the time off work, Lauchie’s taken Tom as his plus-one. Wow, I think, Lauchie must really like her. In the past he’d have taken another girl anyway. I’m about to say this when my phone starts vibrating in my pocket. It’s been doing this on and off since we arrived in the sparkling restaurant, so I steal a quick glance. Five missed calls from Michael and a message which arrives as I look at the screen. “Call me urgently. Important.” I look up to apologise to Andrew but he’s engrossed in his own phone-screen so I start to dial Michael’s number
“You’ll need to take it out” says Andrew without looking up. “They don’t like you making calls in here.”
It’s hot outside, the sun more blinding as it hits the chop of the harbour water. Michael answers on the first ring.
“Where are you, mate?” His voice is croaky and I think he might have been crying. “I need to talk to someone right now.”
I tell him I’m at Quay having lunch with Andrew. Not to show off, just in the hope he’ll realise he can wait an hour or so.
“Great” he says. “On Circular Quay right? I’ll be there in half an hour.”
And he hangs up. So make that two people in the world outside of soap operas.
Back in the cool of the restaurant, Andrew is unfazed by the news of Michael’s imminent arrival. He simply signals to the South-American waitress and then oozes charm at her until she agrees to set another place at the table.
‘Should I wait until your guest arrives before bringing the main courses?’ she asks in her lovely accent. She’s very beautiful, mixed-race with perfect teeth. Hair and breasts which don’t know the rules of gravity.
“No” I say quickly. I’m starving and, love Michael as I do, I don’t want him getting between me and my steak.
But time moves differently during power lunches. We’re at the end of the bottle of wine, nowhere near any of the questions I had for Andrew, and still on our starters when Michael arrives. He’s in a dirty old shirt and a pair of jeans but no-one in the restaurant seems to mind. He is, after all, wearing a collar. He gives us each a struggling smile as he joins us at the table.
“You alright, mate?” I ask him. “What’s happened?”
“No” he says, reaching over to take my water glass. “I’m really not.”
The latino waitress appears again and asks Michael if he’ll be dining with us.
“You should eat” says Andrew. “You look terrible.”
But Michael says he’s fine and – now I know things are bad – doesn’t give the waitress a second glance.
“It’s Michelle” he says, meaning his wife. “She’s doing my head in. I think it might be the end, you know. I think we might be about to split up.”
He runs his hand through his hair and I try not to notice the taut blonde at the next table giving him a worried glance. Michael tells us that he and Michelle have been fighting non-stop for the past two weeks. They tried to fix things with a romantic weekend away and it just made things worse. I ask him if it’s the pressure of trying for a baby but he either doesn’t hear the question or doesn’t want to answer it.
“Everything I do is wrong” he says. “Every tiny thing. It’s like I can’t walk across a room without her telling me how I should be doing it.”
There’s another ten minutes of this and in the meantime our empty plates are cleared away. It’s just as our main courses arrive, the steak singing to my saliva glands, that Michael says “I’m seriously thinking of leaving her.”
“Eat me” says the steak. “Cut into me now, chew my sweet and succulent meat.”
I pick up my knife and fork but it seems wrong somehow. Michael’s on the verge of tears. I put my cutlery down and reach across to put an arm around him.
“Not yet” I say. “You’re not there yet. Marriage is like this. You go through terrible, terrible times. Your parents did and your grandparents did, all married people do. You might eventually decide to split up but you’re still a long way from that.”
Michael’s staring at the glass which is still in his hands and I can’t tell if he’s listening or not. Andrew, one mouthful into his own steak, is signalling to the waitress again.
“First thing you must do is tell her how you’re feeling” I say. “You listening to me, Mikey? Tell Michelle:
1. How serious the situation is –
You’re feeling so bad that you’re seriously thinking the relationship might be over. Mikey, are you listening?”
He nods slowly.
“Second thing is to give her specific examples” says Andrew, who’s more of an expert on getting divorced than he is on making marriage work, but hey, every little bit helps. “No point in turning it into a vague shouting match.
2. Give specific examples –
Give her specific examples of things she’s doing which are annoying you.”
The waitress arrives and Andrew asks for a piece of paper. She smiles like that’s fine, like you can ask a waitress for anything in a restaurant this expensive, and in less than a minute she’s back with a pristine piece of A4. Andrew, a gleaming Mont Blanc produced from nowhere, starts to make a list.
3. Remember you are part of the problem.
“Third thing,” he says, “you must remember all disputes are co-constructed.”
I’ve picked up my cutlery to start on my steak again but at this I put them down in protest. We’re not in a bloody business meeting. Andrew’s explains what he means.
“No matter how wronged you are, if you the two of you are arguing, you are part of what’s creating that argument. Even if Michelle is acting crazy, your reaction to that is not helping. This argument, all arguments, are as much about you being in the wrong as about her being in the wrong. Until you accept that, you will never find a mutually-satisfactory outcome.”
He puts this on the list and Michael looks up at me, wondering if I understood what that meant. I think I did, and, unfortunately, I have to agree.
4. Remember what it’s like being single.
“Fourth thing” I say. “You have to try and remember what it was like being single. Not your fantasy of what it would be like, but the reality. Remember before you met Michelle, how much you hated it? You’d be out there again, propping up bars and meeting inappropriate women. You hated all that.”
He smiles at the truth at that, but not for long.
5. Go to couple’s counselling.
“Fifth thing” says Andrew. “You absolutely have to go to couples counselling. No negotiation on this one, mate, you have to do it. When Tanya and I went, it made me realise that if Anita and I had gone we’d probably still be together.” I think he’s talking about wife number four and wife number three, but I always get them mixed up.
“Seriously, it’s like having an interpreter who can suddenly tell you what this crazy person you live with has been saying for the last few months. Like suddenly you hear their words for the first time instead of just shouting back.”
6. Calm Conversation.
“That’s the sixth thing” I say. “Don’t shout. If you’re upset and angry you can’t be rational with each other. Wait until you’re both calm before you talk about your relationship seriously. Promise each other you’ll talk about it like adults. If that means spending a day or two apart, or waiting to have the conversation, then so be it.”
Andrew nods at that and I can see him writing down ‘6. Calm Conversation.’ I wonder if, once he’s back in the office, he’ll have his PA send out Minutes and Actions. He looks up, gives me a ‘what?’ expression, then saws off another mouthful steak.
“I’ll do all that” says Michael. “You’re both right, I will. But, like, what if it really is over? What if we’re through?”
I have cut into my steak while he’s talking, saliva running in my mouth, but I have to tell him the most important thing.
7. Treat her the way you’d like to be treated.
“If that happens, if it really comes to that, then you end it the way you’d want her to end it. Be calm and kind and, if she wants, have a trial separation first. You don’t just walk out and leave a note. You treat her the way you’d want to be treated if she was breaking up with you.”
Michael gasps. “Bloody hell” he says. “I must still love her. The idea of her walking out and just leaving me a note is horrible. It would break my heart. I seriously think it would kill me. Which is good, right?”
The famous Michael Chan smile is more genuine this time as he looks back and forth between Andrew and me.
The words ‘fuss about nothing’ don’t pass my lips. Across the table, Andrew has finished his seven point plan. He sits up, satisfied, folds the list neatly into four and leans over to slip it into the breast-pocket of Michael’s dirty old shirt.
‘It is good’ he says. ‘You’re going to be fine. But you must eat, man, you look washed out.’
And with that he stands, reaches across the table, picks up my plate and puts in front of Michael.
“You’re right” Michael says for the third time in half an hour. “You’re both right. Thanks guys. Jesus, I’m such an idiot.”
And, without a second thought, he picks up the cutlery in front of him and starts wolfing down the most beautiful steak I’ve ever seen.
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