It’s 10pm in a pub in Angel. The floor is sticky, the windows are fogged up. Its 10 days til Christmas and the place is packed out with twenty somethings looking to rub up against each other in the name of not going home alone.
I, on the other hand, am three (bottles of) wines deep and in a well of self-pity. I am 24, totally batshit-bonkers-in-love and the object of my affection, my boyfriend, is ignoring my messages. Savage.
My two friends exchange uneasy glances as I send him text after text ranging the entire five stages of grief.
Denial: heyyyyy – just out with the girls, having a SUPER time. Honestly – I love how independent we are in this relationship…I don’t text you…you NEVER text me HAHAHAHAHAHA anyway call me when you get this. Lol. Or don’t, I don’t mind. HAHAHAHA BYEEEEE.
Anger: PICK UP YOU FUCKWEASEL. Whhharrrr makes you think yuuurrr so gud anyway. Busturd.
Bargaining: oops sorry that was my…um…friend.
Playing a funny joke. Just reply to this message and I’ll leave you alone I promise – just want to know you’re not dead. Please. Thanks. I love you.
Depression: You say that you love me but sometimes I feel like you don’t even like me anymore
Acceptance: I think maybe if you love someone you probably reply to their messages… You don’t want to be with me anymore do you.
Yes. Pathetic. I am aware.
It’s at this point that The Darkness booms through the dusty pub speakers and I utter a sentence that I have yet to, and probably never will, live down.
“I believe in a thing called love? Well GOOD FOR YOU, JUSTIN. Because I DON’T”.
The point of sharing this immensely embarrassing tale is that my twenties have been pretty fraught when it comes to battling with the concept of love and verifying its existence. Up until the age of 23 I had pretty much the nicest boyfriend in the world. He loved me unconditionally* which, whilst good for my self-esteem, was also part of the problem.
*I once got blind drunk on a Wednesday (as in I literally could not see) smashed a bottle of nail varnish all over myself, lost my phone and purse, got in a black cab to his flat. Rang the buzzer repeatedly like all nice people do at 3am before realising I was ringing the neighbours buzzer. He then came down where upon I informed him with the haughty demeanour, that only a very drunk person can ever embody when quite so in the wrong, that he needed to go to the cash point to pay my 70 quid cab fare. I then found my purse and phone in my handbag. He still loved me. Weird.
What this kind of love didn’t prepare me for was the real world. When I broke things off with him and a few months later launched into a relationship with someone else I just assumed that this kind of love and kindness was a given. He was my boyfriend. Boyfriends are supposed to be nice to you, right? Wrong.
Up until my mid to late twenties I had always believed in love in its purest form – surely it was just finding it that was the hard part, I reasoned. It was only when I was let loose on the dating world that I started to realise that things are often much more complicated than that.
People are essentially loose cannons that you cannot control. Wearing a label of boyfriend or girlfriend makes them no less likely to be faithful or kind. At times it can feel a little like a wasteland, where everyone else is somehow maintaining functional loving relationships whilst you hop from feckless loser to feckless loser.
So what do you do when it feels like you’ve lost all faith in love? I don’t know an awful lot but here’s where I’ve got to so far.
Take love off its pedestal
Here’s my problem with romantic comedies – it’s all about the grand gesture. You know that part in the film where there’s some huge misunderstanding that leads to the main character doing something utterly reprehensible that forces the gorgeous, yet completely uncharismatic, leading lady to cut off communication/move country/sell her soul to a sea witch and live underwater for the rest of her life?
And then there’s the sad montage of leading man staring at an empty chair in the office where she used to sit or wandering past their favourite coffee shop or sitting forlornly in a park. Then the wisecracking female best friend (who is always way more brilliant than the leading lady – open your eyes DAMMIT) gives him a pep talk that always ends in some variation of ‘go get your girl’.
Then he runs (why are there never any taxis/cars/buses handy in these fictional major cities – who knows) through the streets of (always) Manhattan to go and accost her at her place of work/at the airport (always so perfectly timed, who knew) to deliver some heart rendering speech whilst holding a boom box and her beloved grandma that he resurrected from the dead just to show her how much she means to him.
You know… that kind of grand gesture.
Love that like feels fucking unobtainable. And you know why? Because THAT’S.NOT.LOVE. That’s called fucking up royally and not possessing the communication skills to just apologise and sort shit out. It’s also called being borderline psychotic and seeing as a guy I recently went on a date with kindly told me that a girl uploading a photo of him to Instagram after five months dating rang ‘crazy alarm bells’ something tells me that if I turned up to a guy’s place of work with a boombox shouting “I LOVE THE WAY YOU LOOK IN THE MORNINGS – I LOVE THE WAY YOU LOVE CHEESE” I’d be politely but firmly escorted off the premises by Mel in HR not snogged passionately in the rain.
When you realise that love isn’t grand gestures it becomes less of a nebulous scary abstract thing and becomes well within reach. When we equate love with this kind of unrealistic and frankly unhealthy concept we do ourselves a disservice. We forget that love is as simple as communicating when it matters and being kind always. Being on each other’s team and having each other’s back.
Recently my little sister was complaining that her bathroom sink had one boiling hot tap and one freezing cold one. A few days later she came home to find that her boyfriend had been over whilst she was at lectures and fitted a connector tube so that the two temperatures mixed together so she had warm water to wash her face in.
Give me that over loud proclamations in the rain any day.
Remember that finding love is not the end
There’s a real temptation to think of love as an end point. Not to point all the blame at rom coms (seriously though Hollywood pls stop) but we’ve grown up surrounded by the notion that love is the happy ending. No matter if Andie Anderson realised that Benjamin Barry is actually a bit of alpha male douchebag underneath all his tanned southern charm. The credits have rolled, who cares. They kissed on a bridge, that’s the end of the film. We’re asked to accept that this will be happy ever after.
The message it sends is that the romantic declaration of love = pure happiness forever more. We, as sensible humans, know this not to be true. Even when you love someone there are arguments, disagreements, moments of extreme compromise and sadly times where ‘love’ in its romantic comedy form just isn’t enough.
It’s tempting to believe that the road to finding the ‘one’ will be paved with challenges and insecurities but as soon as you’ve found them all of that will magically melt away. Not so. You’re still you, no matter who you love. The same old anxious mess who inexplicably drinks three bottles of wine on a casual Wednesday when she was going for ‘just the one’. (WHY) Love is not there to plaster over the cracks in your life.
Accept that it’s scary and that’s ok.
Modern dating is tough. And it’s made tougher by the fact that we all seem to put on this weird brave face where we have to pretend that we don’t care about anything.
Didn’t text me back? I don’t care – your loss!
Slept with someone else? Lol I don’t give a fuck.
Didn’t show up when I really needed you and only you? That’s fine not a big deal.
It’s ok to admit that actually this kind of stuff hurts. And that it’s scary putting yourself out there. After a recent first date I found myself in tears on the phone to my sister because in the two hours it had taken a guy to text me back, I’d written him off as a total arsehole and saved his named to ‘Absolute Dickhead’ in my phone.
“I don’t want to be like this” I wailed to her down the phone “I don’t want to think the worst of people all the time. I want to assume people are nice, but honestly every piece of evidence I have points to the fact that men aren’t nice. And I hate myself for it.”
In trying to be cavalier I’d actually gone the other way into total cynicism. But perhaps that’s ok. I think it’s ok to admit that it’s absolutely terrifying to put yourself out there when you know what it feels like to be let down. It’s ok to admit that it’s scary to let go of control and open yourself up to potential hurt.
Falling in love = allowing for the possibility of feeling sad sometimes. Feeling scared of it, scared of never finding it, scared of finding it and then realising that person is the kind of person that claps when the plane lands is all totally, totally fine. Feel the fear, take a deep breath and do it anyway.
Realise that love is… actually… all around.
When Hugh Grant delivered this line in his plummy pant-dropping tones, women the world over swooned. But far from a cheesy Richard Curtis special, this is actually extremely true.
Love is everywhere. It might not come in the form that you’re looking for but it really IS all around.
Off the back of watching one of the aforementioned terrible rom coms that I like to torture myself with I found myself in a spiral of panic. The leading man, in this case a carbon copy of a Zac Braff indecisive indie boy (my catnip) had declared his love to the pound shop Zoey Deschanel manic pixie dream girl in vintage jeans by reeling off a list of all the minutiae he knew about her.
I basically couldn’t breathe. Where was my person who knew all my stuff? Who knew that I like to lick the salt and vinegar flavouring off crisps before I eat them? Or that I consider ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together to be a sauce for all occasions (pasta, pizza, rice anything – just add kayo). Who was there who knew that I hate people touching my legs when I’m wearing tights and that I honestly cannot walk past a single magpie without saluting it and saying ‘morning mr magpie how are you today, how’s your wife and family?’ There was no one that knew that stuff and loved me despite it or for it.
Except that’s not true. My friends and my family know all of this and so much more. They know the most shameful and strangest parts of me and they love me regardless.
When I thought about the things I wanted from romantic love, it came as a shock to realise I basically already had it. Everything I thought I was missing was already there.
I already have love in my life. I already have people that want to be around me over anyone else. I already have people who want to sit and do nothing with me on a rainy Sunday. I already have people who have helped me move house, cooked me dinner, looked after me, make me laugh – the whole package. It doesn’t mean less because it doesn’t come from one person. Equally I know how it feels to whoop with genuine delight when one of my brilliant friends gets a job they deserve. I know how it feels to feel absolutely gutted to my core when they are hurt. I genuinely believe that the purest happiness is sitting around a table and screeching over ten bottles of wine with people who love me even though I once said I put blusher on my nose to make me look cute.
Finally, I know what it is to sit in my room bewildered, bereft and lost and to pick up the phone to my very best person and hear her say “Oh god – how could this happen, what are we going to do?” and suddenly feel not alone and to know I never ever will be.
So believe in love because it is real, it’s all around and it’s already here. If you live your life waiting for something more meaningful to come along, you might miss the point altogether.