When my insomnia was really bad, I’d ask my boyfriend to tell me the story of how we met. Sort of like a bed-time tale, some real-time ASMR. I would listen intently to him recount it, and correct him when he got something wrong. I knew it perfectly, down to the songs that were playing in the background. It wasn’t a romantic meeting, but I recalled it time and time again when things got bad; both with my sleep, and with him. I’m aware that relationships grow tired and wear thin, but I’m also a strong believer that if you have a firm basis of love and respect, you can claw anything back. The memory of how we met was what I used to forgive him, every time.
It was July 2015, Trap Queen had just been released and I was at university whilst working in a luxury dress shop, see also: wore, and Instagrammed myself wearing, a lot of bodycon. At midnight on a late June Saturday, an all caps message popped into my dry, dry, dry DM’s. My favourite writer was complimenting an article I had written for my Uni’s newspaper. I played it cool as a cucumber; immediately responding with multiple flustered messages. Why was MY favourite writer complimenting MY little article? Why was MY favourite writer – who I once previously messaged, only to receive radio silence – looking at MY tweets at midnight on a Saturday? The answer as to why he didn’t respond at first was obvious to everyone but me, but cut me some slack – when your heroes hit on you, it seems too good to be true.
This DM of course turned into the classic constant-texting-yet-not-meeting-up situation, which I had wrongly assumed he would be far too old for. One night out, about three weeks later, I drunkenly text him from a club’s smoking area, informing him that THEY’RE LETTING PEOPLE IN UNTIL MIDNIGHT! YOU SHOULD COME TO THE CLURRRRB RIGHT NOW! Then I returned downstairs, phone signal abandoned at the door, just like my white plastic cup of promotor-provided Möet.
Thirty minutes later, I noticed a huge man slowly gliding down the club’s escalator, wearing a t-shirt and a confused expression. I ran to this giant confused man, realising he had brought himself here on a half-invite, and introduced myself with a subtle ‘YOU’RE WAY TALLER THAN ON TWITTER’. We went to the smoking area and I ditched my friends to talk about his life story for the next two hours. He had Uber’ed himself to my location as soon as my text came through, leaving his work pals at Shoreditch House to meet some girl from The Internet at Shakazulu. Truly a millennial love story in the making. The night got weird and we did a conga around the club, and when it was time to go, he lingered outside whilst mine and my friend’s cab bailed on us. A group of charming men came past and told him he was stupid for trying to ‘pull me’. “Watch me” he replied, and suddenly we were kissing in the middle of Camden high street. This isn’t a John Green novel, but the closest thing I can compare that kiss to is falling down a rabbit hole of Instagram ‘Oddly Satisfying Video’ accounts. Kissing him was like glittery slime. Kissing him was like a looped video of a laser cutting some wood. Kissing him was like slowly grating a bar of soap.
I’d assumed after a kiss like that, I was going back to his house. I was ready to up the intensity from ‘cake slices being cut perfectly’ to ‘PERFECT FIT COMPILATION VIDEO 3 HOUR EDITION’. I tried to order an Uber for my drunk friends, but it didn’t work (side note: why does Uber always want you to verify your card details at literally the least convenient moment possible? 3am on a Sunday morning, Uber? That’s peak card detail entering time, is it?), so he ordered one for them. I asked him how we would get to his if his Uber account was in use, and he simply said ‘uh… not tonight’. The Prius showed up, I bundled myself and my two screaming friends into it, and off into the night it went. I spent the journey home trying to stop them mauling the driver, and wondering why this man – the man who had turned up to the club on a half invite, then kissed me and danced with me to a boomboxed Trap Queen remix outside Camden Mcdonald’s – didn’t seem into me. [Plot twist: unbeknownst to me he was living with his very newly ex-girlfriend. I warned you this wasn’t a particularly romantic story.]
When we got together we had a lot of questions. Questions from my friends were along the lines of ‘are you trying to get a job out of him?’ (no) and, ‘isn’t it weird he’s ten years older than you?’ (unless we were discussing our favourite TV shows as kids, it rarely made any sort of difference). For the first year of our relationship we had so much fun. Every Sunday we would trawl the streets of East and North London for our favourite brunch-and-homeware-shops, which never got boring; mainly because he moved three different times in 12 months. In retrospect, it should have been a sign. At the time, it was just a change of scenery. I was midway through a course I hated, at a university I hated even more. Every Friday till Monday morning I spent at his house, and impatiently waited for my end of week lecture’s 4pm bell, to drag my ass back to London to meet him as he finished work. He was my best friend and I wanted to believe I was his, even though he once told me he loved me ‘because I was obsessed with him’; something I couldn’t deny, but made me feel uneasy all the same.
When do fights turn from lover’s spats to full on wars? Where words are said that you can’t un-hear, no matter how many times you convince yourself he only said it in the heat of the moment, and that he doesn’t mean it really. In the second year of our relationship, where once squabbles over an untidy bedroom had lasted half an hour and ending in him buying an apology takeaway, they morphed into days of silent resentment. I grew tired of having to be the adult in the relationship where I was not; begging him to pay his bills before the bailiffs came, throwing out takeaway stowed as leftovers six weeks ago, listening to him vomit twenty beers up knowing I’d be cleaning the sink in the morning. Where once I had seen a disorganised life as a romanticised side effect to being a ~popular London writer~, taking off the rose-tinted glasses that came gratis with the early days (or in my case, months) of a new relationship, I started to see the weeks’ worth of dirty dishes stacked up for what they were. I resented having to use my Friday night doing my ten years’ senior boyfriend’s laundry whilst he sat playing video games.
When he moved in with me and my family at the beginning of 2017, things went from ‘I’m dating a child’, to worse. Relying on me to do his chores was bad enough, but relying on my family to do them was something other entirely. I became the middle man, with my family screaming at me in private, and him screaming at me in public. He got a new work commitment and suddenly weekends that we had previously spent brunching and wandering around cemeteries dog spotting, he spent alone writing. I spent them alone too, waiting for his self-set 7pm finish time, hoping he wouldn’t be too tired to do something with me afterwards. Things were tense and the arguments spiralled. We had arguments over everything and anything. A chopping board was a vehicle for a slanging match. Folding clothes wrong resulted in slammed doors and tears. Asking how his work was going wasn’t worth the hassle. To tell you the last time we kissed I’d have to look through my iPhone calendar.
I held onto hope that it was because we weren’t living in an ideal situation, “He’s just stressed,” I told my friends, my family and myself. “It’ll be better when he’s back in London.” External factors are temporary. I still loved him as a person, and few and far between cute moments reminded me of this. Maybe he was still the person who took a chance on my drunk text message. Our arguments became so frequent I didn’t even bother to tell my friends anymore. I began to believe that arguing was just part and parcel of our relationship, and it would never get bad enough for us to actually end. This was just How Relationships Were. I trashed my childish ideas of a perfect love, a marriage-and-child situation that he made clear he didn’t want from the outset, for the reality of messy, adult relationships. I was emotionally overbearing, and couldn’t understand why my affection wasn’t being reciprocated. In hindsight, I should have given him more breathing space, but at this point, I’d already given up most of my relationship ideals – at what point do you cater yourself so intently to another person you lose all sense of what you want, both long and short term? Of course, relationships need compromise, but when the positives seem like the distant horizon and you’re drowning in negatives, it’s time to call it off. I was happy to accept perfect love doesn’t exist, but in doing so, I could barely see it wasn’t just imperfect, it was unhealthy. And yet my mum told me it could be worse, he could be beating me. My friends said that’s just how men are. I convinced myself that if every man on Earth was like this, at least the one I picked could be funny, sometimes. And so we carried on.
But when is a relationship past the point of resuscitation? When do you place your hand on a heart, so recently full of love and admiration for your other half and realise no amount of muttered morning apologies or scattered crumbs of affection – once so constant – will bring it back to beating life? Would it take being cheated on? Lied to? Where is your limit? For me, it was much less drastic than happening upon them in a compromising position with someone else. The realisation came on our two-year anniversary. He had a work commitment in Manchester (I asked to tag along; my ideal, romantic getaway wasn’t traipsing around the Trafford centre alone whilst he did stand up, but you take what you can get). After he finished work, we had a pleasant dinner and went back to our hotel: to sleep. We didn’t even want to kiss each other. On our anniversary. Lying tear stained and silent next to an apparent stranger, with the sheet pulled up to my neck because nakedness with my long-term boyfriend seemed inappropriate, I realised it was the point of no real return. Of course, the next morning we would wake up and pretend like nothing had happened. And to an extent that’s true: nothing happened. But for me, mentally at least, it was over.
Now, onto the break up. Can you believe I made you read two thousand words before I got to the point? How fitting. Breaking up was even less exciting. We had an argument over him flaking on plans, and the next day he left without a word, living out of a duffel bag for the next month until he had chance to come back and collect the rest of his stuff, a visit he arranged by texting “When will you next not be home?”.
There can’t be a do-over once you’ve shown all your cards. And if your card of choice is ‘I’m happy to leave my long-term girlfriend whomst I live with, with no explanation, no regard and no closure’, you don’t deserve a do-over. You deserve subtweets and call outs, because why are women expected to take the high road when they’ve been so hurt they feel numb? What’s the concept of ‘self-respect’ when it’s used in a way to prevent men from feeling the consequences of their behaviour?
There’s a line in one of my favourite poems that goes ‘it might be enough just to find a longer hair than mine in my sink, once in a while’, and when you’re lonely, that line hurts. But then again, what happens when you resent the hair because you’ve told the person who owns it time and time again that MY GOD if I have to unclog your FUCKING HAIR from the sink again COULDN’T YOU JUST DO IT ONE TIME WE’VE TALKED ABOUT THIS NO I’M NOT BEING UNREASONABLE-
There are times when you think you’ll never move on from a relationship you thought would last forever. But remember, when you go on your first post-break up date, when the person doesn’t know what cocktail you want automatically, when they don’t get your in-jokes, when they haven’t seen a particular episode of a niche American show that ran for one series; all is not lost. There was one point in your life when your person didn’t know the drink, the jokes, the TV show. And once you thought you knew each other inside out, you cemented them in your mind as Being It. But ‘being comfortable’ and ‘taking someone for granted’ is a fine line to toe. Remember that this person doesn’t have to know all those things instantly; there’s joy to be had in simply spending time with someone new. You’ll go on dates you use fake phone calls to get out of, and you’ll go on dates that end up in brunch the next day. They might be the one, they might not. And that’s okay. One day, someone else will know you want a Cosmopolitan, they’ll quote a new Vine back to you, and you’ll have your own Sunday routine. One day, it will all be a memory.