The Birds and the Bees

8 Mar

Z with linga, My Son, Vietnam

Linga, My Son, Vietnam

In the aftermath of our not wildly successful dragon boat cruise, Z and I are ambling along the south bank of Hue’s Perfume River, trying to put our collective fingers on what went wrong.

“I think the thing is,” he says. “That the people we met in Cambodia really cared if we had a good time, and not everyone was trying to sell us something, and quite a lot of people wanted to be our friends, regardless. And in Vietnam, it feels a bit like everybody we meet wants something.”

“I’m not sure that’s true,” I say. “Remember the nice guy who gave us a lift to the DVD shop in Saigon?”

His face darkens. “Oh yes. But he wanted something, or he might have done, didn’t he?”

We made friends with this nice (and, for the record, rather cute, but for the lack of spoken English) chap in a sidewalk cafe in Saigon. Z wanted some DVDs. Chap drove us to the store, ensured we got the local price, I took his number (as I couldn’t get mine out of the phone, long story) and he wanted to meet up.

He was a nice guy. But, I think, up for it. I wasn’t. And while going round to a male acquaintance’s home with child in tow is far less likely to end in awkward sofa-wrestling, cheek ducking, etc, than when one travels solo, I felt it could be a little uncomfortable.

So I sent a text saying we were busy, which we were, then semi-inadvertently ducked the ensuing call (long story, one of two major downsides to GeoSims), vaguely intended to call back, then didn’t.

I duly explain to Z, who was keen to meet up, why I didn’t really feel like it. I said, “I’d feel a bit uncomfortable with this. Because he’s a really nice guy, but I think he might want to be my boyfriend, and I wonder whether meeting up with him might send out the wrong signals.”

We move on.

Anyway, back in Hue, on the sidewalk, the prospect of someone being interested in being my boyfriend has taken shape in Z’s prefrontal cortex, lurched towards the fight-or-flight department, and is hovering in a very male space between the two.

“He wanted to be your boyfriend,” he says. “And I don’t want a stepdad.”

I avoid mentioning that getting as far as stepdad base is highly unlikely, opening the putative prospect of a baby brother or sister (I would guess at least equally unwelcome), or exploring my own emotional needs. It’s one of those conversations I think you have to plan. And it’s one I’m not ready to have. So instead I say, “Why not?”

He says, “The fairy stories they tell about stepfathers [now I can’t think of a wicked stepfather off the top — stepmother, yes, stepfather, no] are firmly based in fact.”

I say, “Do you think I would go out with someone who didn’t love you?”

He looks beyond dubious, then identifies pertinent examples of people we have known. When he identifies someone’s birth father as their stepfather, he seems more confused than reassured.

Perhaps I should have opened the topic a little further when he found the préservatifs after a too-hasty trek pack and consequent chaotic unpack in Cambodia.

I brought them not so much with any intention of doing the deed but with a desire not to entirely abnegate said possibility by knocking off (ahem) what every travel guide considers an essential item from the packing checklist.

All of a sudden, there they are, in prime position on the bed, with the safety pin from the First Aid kid positioned uncomfortably close. For a while, they are a rather small, square elephant in the room.

Then Z pipes up, “Isn’t it funny what the hotel left for us? They’ve really got stuff wrong! They think we might be having sex!”

He critiques at the text on the pack. “They don’t even say ‘Having SEX’, mum. They say ‘when MAKING LOVE’.”

Anyway, I ducked the ownership issue and ditched them, not before taking the teachable moment to explain how they work.

He blew one up, obviously. But didn’t put it on his head, which was, as I recall, the fate of the many similar items distributed to British schools in the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign when AIDS first hit in the 80s.

Yet the whole sort of “dating” topic keeps coming up. I am routinely asked “Where is your husband?”, which I answer using his father as the reference point. “He’s working in London. He’ll be meeting us in Australia.”

It’s a far cry from travelling solo or with female friends in my teens and early 20s, when, in Africa at least, we’d wear fake wedding rings for show (they did not, as I recall, convince).

Families are multi-generational (rather than “nuclear”), close, cemented by marriage. Single parenting is quite unusual, although one parent working away and sending money home is extremely common. Z, most of the time, is my wedding ring, which is really rather odd.

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