In December 1980, when living in London, I had a girlfriend who was a sweet little thing, but apt to get carried away by male attention. She was just coming out of her teens and exploring her womanhood. I was half a dozen years older, and because the age gap meant a lot when so young, I tended to watch it all happen from a mental and emotional distance: sometimes it felt like half a generation.
I wasn't sure how to react. Convention told me to do things that would reassert my Number One position in her world. But although I was very fond of her - we had become engaged (with parental approval on both sides) in May 1980 - my heart wasn't doing what convention demanded. She was like a bird ready for flight, and I didn't want to cage her. She needed to be free.
Matters came to head in Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve. I believe the crowds of revellers are nowadays tightly controlled, but in 1980 it was still possible to roam about, mildly misbehave, be in any state of merriment, perch atop marble lions, splash around in fountains, and generally let off steam, responding to emotional impulses to your heart's content. The police, a lot of them, were of course on hand; but Rent-a-mob was not there, and the atmosphere was thoroughly good natured. They had nothing to do but stand around, simply a moderating influence. And they were smiling all the time. It became something of a sport for young girls to go up to the male officers and give them a big kiss.
My girlfriend, when she realised this was allowed, plunged in and spread her kisses around. It was actually quite decorously done, as if the sergeants back at the station had given strict instructions to the men about the correct way to receive kisses from hormone-driven young girls. So there was no improper hanky-panky; just grins on the mens' faces, and hoards of blushing young ladies in their prim hats and coats and scarves and gloves dashing around to see who could kiss the most men. For some it must have been a Rite of Passage into the next stage of their sexual development. It was curiously engaging to watch. The policewomen present turned the other way, with strange expressions on their faces: rueful smiles that might have been interpreted as good-luck-to-you tolerance, or might not. Nobody was kissing them of course. And it really didn't matter that the male officers' minds were diverted from their essential job: there was no trouble.
It felt odd to see all this and not respond in a conventional way. I badly wanted to talk about this strange inertia, with a policewoman I suppose. What was my role here? What was the right thing to do? Why didn't I do it? Why didn't I mind that my girlfriend was enjoying herself in this way? I told myself that it was harmless, that she was simply being high-spirited, and that she was having fun. I felt a pang of abandonment, but that seemed to be all. For not the first time, I questioned my 'male' role - or was it a parental role? Why I wasn't being seriously annoyed by her behaviour, and why I was temporarily forgotten? The questions hung in the air, then thinned out and disappeared. Until the next time. I had no appetite or urgent wish to analyse my own responses. They could be ignored. And the kissing had stopped; here she was back at my side. I could put on a rueful smile and carry on.
Fast forward to 2011, and behold Lucy Melford, the nearly-60 Lucy Melford. But a woman now confronting her childhood. She realises that her emotional development stopped in puberty. She is determined to unblock her teenage hangups and move forward.
How do you 'unblock' anything? And how vulnerable will you be until the job is done, and you feel adequately sorted?
Let's put this into a specific situation. It's New year's Eve. You're in a pub with convivial friends, and you're relaxed and looking good. Everyone else there is getting mildly tipsy, or at least excited. Everybody has shining eyes and is talking loudly, and laughing, and making extravagant gestures of goodwill. Then some of the men start kissing every female they see. Do you dash for the loo, or make up your mind to respond? What will I do?
Put it another way, do I take the initiative?
And what if a man makes an approach, isn't somehow put off, starts a conversation, gets interested or at least intrigued?
I'll let you know. If it happens. Next year.