Teaching this man to dance the Nutbush gave me an addictive sense of freedom | life and style
Sticky floors and the smell of vomit from expired beer. It was in this context that I realized that the man I was dating was someone serious.
We were on our first weekend on what the Bridget Jones generation (yes, I’m a member) recognizes as the relationship milestone of a “mini-break.” But to be completely honest, for me it was less of a milestone than a test.
Brent was not my type. Mainly because he called me back, texted me every day, and didn’t seem to think I was a work in progress that needed an upgrade. I was in my mid-30s and had been dating for two decades. But still, I was way too cool to be serious with someone like that. Someone available. Someone secure. Someone… happy.
But we liked each other. We got on well. And he wasn’t leaving.
We went to a holiday town on the south coast of New South Wales. It’s a safe distance to walk if you’re not sure what you’re getting into. Close enough to fake food poisoning and flee to town if necessary; far enough to make you feel the freedom of a place visited for pleasure, not for work.
We were staying in an ordinary red-brick motel, our downstairs room overlooking a sizzling asphalt parking lot. We planned a day at the beach, dinner at a Thai restaurant and a walk in the bush. It was hot as hell. My low expectations blunted the usual insecurity of being seen in a bathing suit (even by someone who has seen you less). Brought a book to read on the sand, called a friend to chat. Let it be said, I did not make any effort.
The problem with underestimating people is that you are almost always wrong. There was something about being free from the city, days away from my job and my smart, cynical colleagues. The estrangement from my group of friends and our constant vigilance with regard to the faults of any potential “person”. A little buffer from the entertaining chatter that dissected the dates into hilarious anecdotes and mocking moments.
This weekend, I stopped listening to that. If you think I’m going to say I started listening to my own inner voice, no. I started listening to Brent.
Brent had traveled the world alone. He had worked in the Middle East. His family was complicated, scattered and loving. He had been heartbroken by his last relationship. He had written a manuscript for a book, by hand, while traveling in South America. Brent had lost his best friend, too young, to cancer. He had once tried, in vain, to save a man from drowning in a tropical sea. He still loved swimming in the ocean more than almost anything – almost as much as his mother, who had raised him and his siblings mostly alone, was a clairvoyant and, as I would later find out, the more fun. Bren too. Funny, outgoing, generous, kind.
This weekend, soaked in the sand, lying in my bed and on too shiny noodles, I colored the person I had drawn in Sydney.
We met at the pub. I love horrible ads. TV screens with running dogs, sullen men who have been at the bar too long. A bottle of everything. A swill tank. A jukebox. The kind of pub my Sydney friends wouldn’t be taken to death in. The kind of ad I wouldn’t let them take me to death in.
Everything was a blur that night, drinking, laughing and kissing on bar stools. Until Nutbush City Limits came out of the jukebox. I didn’t realize it was possible for a grown man who had spent much of his life in Australia to miss learning the steps of de facto national dance. But no.
Nutbush was a skill I had picked up as a backpacker, trying to assimilate into the questionable customs of white Australia. Now I was teaching this man to kick, turn and jump; we laughed, sweated and fell over. And I was very, very happy.
I don’t want to sound like the goldilocks of serial monogamy, but none of the people I’d seen in years past would have been perfect for this moment.
Too serious. Very cool. Too sober. Too stoned.
But the version of me that didn’t put in the effort felt a sense of freedom, comfort, and joy. It was instantly addictive, but safe.
The next day I had a terrible headache. We still hiked. And we’re still together now, 17 years later. We live on the south coast of New South Wales, not so far from this terrible pub, with our children, our dog and our less cool people.
Holly Wainwright is the author of The couple upstairs, available now through Macmillan Australia. She is the content manager for women’s media company Mamamia.