Flipping through the personals, all I can detect is booby traps, minefields and big, black lies

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Barry and I are sprawled on his bed penning him the perfect personal ad. We have been here some time. I am rubbing my head. It hurts. Here's why: Barry asked for a snappy opening line and I suggested: "If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain ..."

And Barry considered it for a second and then leant across and clipped me around the ear.

"What was that for?" I yelped. "For being ironic," Barry snapped.

I'm hoping my silence will convince him that I'm serious, but, dear furry little woodland creatures, I always was. I was the first to notice that Barry's boyfriend situation is disastrous. Barry has found an age - it's about 30 - and stuck with it, but the lovers have kept getting prettier and prettier, younger and younger and blonder and blonder. 21, 20, 19, 18, 17 ... It wasn't the rich tapestry of life, it was a countdown - though admittedly an Apollo countdown.

One night, after Barry had popped in to complain that the very tall and very treacherous Joe was torturing him and I had once again patiently explained that Joe was 18 and it was in his job description that he torture Barry, I even had a nightmare. Barry arrives for dinner and I open the door and he's crouched down, holding hands with an embryo. "This is Armando. He's Italian," Barry says, and the embryo tosses him a sideways dismissive look, makes a huffy noise and sweeps past (it's an awfully fey embryo) and I commiserate, "Kids today - they don't know they're born", and that's when Andrew has to shake me awake before I begin screaming, because, Christ, everything I've cooked is solids. Why don't friends ever ring up and warn you?

This makes Barry sound like a letch. He's not. He's just a crazy bitch who believes his youth won't slip away if he locks him up. Barry is naive. That's what he responds to in others and that's what has got to stop. We're sifting through hundreds of personals for guidance and cheap laughs and Barry still believes that "water sports" is a reference to, like, swimming - which, depending on the correspondent's bladder capacity, it possibly could be. What it usually means, of course, is back to their place and plastic sheeting boldly unrolled from under the mattress while you're protesting, "Hold on, please, I'm potty trained ... " and wondering if Sarah Miles is on to something about it - you know, it - being great for the skin.

Barry should know better. He doesn't. Not that I blame him. These are adult concerns. The personals may appear a targeted method of gaining one's broken heart's desire, but flipping through the pages all I can detect is booby traps, minefields and big black lies.

"What does 'versatile' mean?" Barry asks, and I reply, because it's a well-known fact, "It means they're a bottom." Barry shakes a wad of papers and answers, no, here are the ads from bottoms and here are the ads from tops. So versatile must mean top and bottom. Which makes me shriek, because my ear still throbs, "It means bottom." London is New York, with extra added-helium ankles and legs waving in the air: a city of pushy bottoms. Indeed, the capital city of pushy bottoms. Claiming you're versatile is ... go figure. Dislocated hipness, an unwarranted pretence at tattered and tired butch, a hedge against inflation. "Well I want to put that I'm versatile," Barry insists, so I remove myself from slapping range and snort the only response possible: "Well, I want to put that I'm Michelle Pfeiffer, but guess what, I'm not."

Barry opines this would be a good time to order Chinese takeaway. I order the bean curd soup, seafood noodles and seasonal greens in oyster sauce. Barry has the humble pie.

Not that I'd ever disguise myself as The Blessed Pfeiffer. The personals pretend to individuality and freedom while measuring you for a strai(gh)t- jacket: "Must be straight acting"/"No femmes"/"No camps". Barry and I chew this over. What constitutes "straight acting"? What if you're genuinely stunned by The Triumph of the Will but don't think it's a patch on The Mirror Has Two Faces? Is this intrinsic "camp" or merely an unfortunate chink in one's carefully constructed masculinity?

I administer the internationally recognised butch/camp test. Complete this simple sentence: "Burt ... " Barry's answer is instant: "Bacharach." I shake my head: "I'm afraid the correct reply is 'Lancaster'." I pause. "Let's forget about facts. Let's do what everyone else does. Let's make it up as we go along."

Barry is aghast. He needs to bare his pock-marked soul. I suggest that the world isn't ready for this and, barring the Day of Judgement, may never be. C'mon: all honesty requires is that he state that only human beings need reply, not unclassified forms of flesh-eating bacteria. Barry groans: "I can't tell the difference. What if they can't either?" I invoke the bright side: "Then at least you're involved with a class of sadist who can read and write and doesn't need to use his fingers to count."

Which provokes Barry to mention that he prefers the prehistoric personals, the covert, coded entries from the Fifties I've found in Sight and Sound, the ones that mention companionship and shared interests: Maria Callas, ballet, private drinking clubs, quiet nights in dusting the dog. Which is my moment to stretch over and land a blow to his shell-like: "This isn't the time to get nostalgic about oppression." And Barry sighs, at least oppression was simple. To which I reply, "The price of progress is complexity," and Barry hesitates and hesitates and finally moans, spit it out what was it you were raving about pina coladas?n

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