We all have a special number. A fictitious number. A number we rehearse until we can roll it out in a natural and honest tone of voice when someone pops that question.
The dreaded question.
“How many people have you, erm, you know, been with?”
The trouble is, as soon as they ask all you can think is, “oh my god, they want to know how many people I’ve shagged” and the number you had tucked away suddenly vanishes. The only numbers left in your head are your best mates phone number from when you were seven and your national insurance number. Neither of which is going to do you any favours at this point.
Whether we are tying to bump the numbers up or down, we’ve all been there, haven’t we?
As the love of your life/person you really fancy watches you all wide eyed and questioning, you grope in the recesses of your mind for a number that will satisfy their curiosity and not have them legging it for the nearest exit.
Not easy to do on the spot.
It’s a number you invariably need to be much more sober to work out. It’s tricky, it has to factor in several things: how old you are when asked; how many people you have actually slept with; how many people they have slept with; whether they would want you to have slept with more or less people than them; how drunk you are when asked.
As you stare at the love of your life/person you really fancy, your eyes wild with panic, a number reaches out to you. You grab it and almost blurt it out before realising what number it is.
The actual number of people you have slept with.
The only number you can bloody well think of. All other numbers in the history of mathematics having suddenly ceased to exist.
And so you get cunning. You get scientific. Or at least you try to through the fug of alcohol.
You devise a genius way of finding the perfect ‘magic number’. You divide it by the number of years you have been above the age of consent, times that by how many glasses of wine you have drunk, knock back another glass, attempt to work out the hypotenuse of the number before remembering you never really understood what that meant anyway, and give up.
You toss the number aside, open your mouth and say “seven”.
Because everybody says seven.
And why not? Seven is a lovely number. A respectable number. It’s not too big, not too small, neither intimidating nor pitiful.
The only trouble is – everybody says seven.
And that’s when it happens. The person who’s eyes you were just staring into trying to look honest and convincing gives you that look. The look of “yeah, I believe you, thousands wouldn’t.” And from then on you know: no matter how long you are together, no matter how many children you have or how many years you stay married, they will always think of you as either a pathetic loser or a bit of a slut.
And the trouble is, you’ll never know which one.
Nor are you completely sure which you would prefer it to be.