Couple of lifetimes ago, I met a bloke while I was an exchange student in the States. Let’s call him Chris. We enjoyed a month-long romance, going for walks and drives in the countryside. We confided our ambitions and shared our hopes and dreams – how we laughed, for example, when I nearly hit myself in the face trying to play baseball!

Then we parted, paying lip service to the notion that we could have been romantic contenders for the duration if the stars and the date on my return ticket had aligned propitiously.

‘If you ever come to London, look me up,’ I said carelessly as I legged it to the departure gate, waiting for him to stop waving wistfully so I could revert to type as harassed scatterbrain tipping out the contents of her hand luggage to search for boarding pass while wailing ‘I know it’s here somewhere!’ to unmoved airline official.

The legacy of any fling should be leaving behind a perfectly preserved image of the person you’ve invented and would like to be, the defining gesture of a mutually pleasurable interlude with inbuilt reminiscence. We both knew I’d shortly be 3,000 miles away, and had settled for contenting ourselves in occasional missives that two such compatible soulmates would ‘always have that batting cage behind the Piggy-Wiggly.’

Little white lies, aka big fat fibs

Fast-forward those couple of lifetimes I mentioned, and, long after our stuttering correspondence had petered out, Chris gets in touch to announce he’s ‘dropping in on the U of K’ and reminds me I once promised to show him around London, which is ‘just peachy, as my wife will be busy attending a conference while we’re over there.’

Noting subtle mention of wife, I nonetheless panicked.

For a start, I don’t live in London any more. Then there was the little matter of how he’d tracked me down (darn the internet!), not to mention the other little matter of confusing me with a tour guide from English Heritage.

Finally, there was the distinct possibility of Chris anticipating a rematch with the pickled-in-aspic reincarnation of the woman he’d known all of five minutes, in which case he’d assume I was still all grace under pressure and on nodding terms with Emma Thompson when we walked our dogs on Hampstead Heath. This meant I had just over a week to find a dog, an unflappable temperament and a plausible explanation for why myself and Emma were no longer bessies.

When I’d calmed down, I arranged to meet Chris on a Sunday outside Camden Town Tube station and escort him round the market, flaunting my boho credentials.

My other half waved me off cheerfully, not so much brooding with suspicious jealousy as laughing like a drain at the notion of me as a laidback metropolitan type.

Let distance lend enchantment

Luckily, Chris was still a perfectly nice man and there was no romantic frisson between us whatsoever. Problem was, he kept complimenting me on how I hadn’t changed a bit, so I had to spend the day holding in my stomach and my withering observations on berks who stood on my foot on the Tube. I had to, in short, live up to a self-image that was higher-maintenance than Wayne Rooney’s hairline.

I couldn’t tell whether Chris had changed much over the years because a) I had only the faintest recollection of the youthful version and b) I’d never got to know him three-dimensionally either.

We had tea and talked of our respective families. Then I left him at his hotel and limped home on bruised toes, exhausted and irritable, to demand a large G&T and floppage room for my spare tyre. ‘At once, my liege,’ said other half, correctly.

Chris, in the unlikely event you’re reading this in the US of A, let’s not meet again.

You’re a lovely bloke and everything, but I now know it’s impossible to have any meaningful relationship with a former fling – a fleeting shadow of apparent perfection snatched at in passing.

That works both ways, of course. We all need the ego-boosting mirage of being the one who got away – in my case, 3,000 miles away.

lovers