January 2020. The start of a new year and in an attempt to regain some control back in my life I gave B an ultimatum; it was either everything, or nothing at all. After two, very long heartfelt messages we agreed to cut all forms of contact to allow us both to move on with our own lives. It was the single hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. The sense of loss felt all consuming. In the long-term I knew it would be for the best; the limbo we had been in for the last three months meant that my emotions were constantly on simmer. It wasn’t healthy and I respected myself enough to know that I deserved more than what B could currently give me. In the short-term, it felt like I’d lost my lover/best friend/confidant all in one. Some days I’d momentarily forget about B and then I’d go to bed at night, shut my eyes and my subconscious would push through a thought of him. It would feel like a heavy weight dropped in the pit of my stomach and a pang of longing, which felt almost physical, would twinge in my heart and then spread through my body like seeping ink. The oh too familiar feeling of heartache. I just wanted it to hurry up and pass.
I debated with myself on whether dating again and meeting other men would help. I applied to be a guest member of the dating app, The League. Apparently I was 46,000 out 57,000 people on the waiting list for London, unless I paid a hefty membership fee to skip the queue *rolls eyes*. I checked in a couple days later to see that I’d moved 20 places down. Bloody hell! At this rate I’d be dating again by the time I was 60. I reluctantly downloaded Hinge instead and stared at the app on my home screen. I really hoped that the last time I had deleted my Hinge profile would have been the actual last time. I sighed; I’d never felt less excited by anything. I created a new profile and watched over a few days as the red notification icon gradually climbed in numbers; potential likes and messages. The anxiety started to creep in. If by the tiniest chance that any one of these men could potentially be ‘the one’, could I even bring myself to open up to the risk of being hurt, again?
I started messaging one guy and it momentarily made me feel good; a little ego boost after the rejection. After a couple days of messaging back and forth, the conservation came to a halt. Maybe he had met someone else? Maybe he just wasn’t interested? Maybe he found your blog, Jess… I laughed to myself. Yep, that would do it. I looked at my other matches and realised I didn’t want to do this right now. A knee jerk reaction and I quickly deleted my profile. Oh, the relief.
Come mid-January I was run down and lethargic with heartache and New Year blues. I was avoiding my phone (not always a bad thing), struggling to get out of bed in the dark mornings and had developed recurring sinusitis (probably stress related). My friend, Annie, reminded me to be kinder to myself, to not feel like I had to rush into dating. That it was OK for me to just sit with these feelings for as long as I needed to and allow myself to heal at my own pace. Of course, she was right, I knew this; this wasn’t my first rodeo.
Then, in a weird twist of fate, three weeks after cutting all contact with B, the strangest thing happened. One Thursday evening in late January, I’d left work to go and meet a friend in Tooting for dinner. I was tired and full of cold and had very nearly cancelled my plans so that I could just go home and get into bed, but I’ve always hated letting people down last minute and decided to just suck it up and go.
I made my way to the Victoria line and ran onto a carriage as the doors were closing. It was rush hour and commuters were tightly packed into the carriages. I hated travelling on the tube at this time, at five foot two I was always wedged under someone’s armpit or balancing between people because I couldn’t reach the overhead handrails. That evening was no different, I was squeezed into a small space with a woman to my left and then to my right a tall man reading his kindle. I did a double take. My stomach seemed to lurch upward into my chest. Was this actually happening? It was B. I lifted a shaky hand and prodded him on the arm. He looked up and I felt an immediate rush of love.
“Oh, hello!” he said in surprise.
“Hi… this is so weird,” I laughed nervously, my heart starting to hammer in my chest. I paused for a second not knowing what to do or say. “Come here!” B said and pulled me in for a hug. He then spent the next few minutes telling me about his New Year holidays, his family and his evening plans. I nodded along, in a state of shock, my heart at risk of bulldozing right through my chest. Of course I would bump into him when I looked like shite; I was full of cold, no makeup on, unwashed hair, with a spot on my cheek that I’d quickly picked before I’d left work. B however, looked gorgeous, obviously. He chatted away like we always had, like nothing had changed. It was so wonderful to see him and hear his voice again, but I was also crumbling inside. I blinked dumbly at him, I felt hot and my hearing was muffled. Shit, please don’t faint, Jess. And then before I could collect myself and act like a normal human being the tube pulled up in Stockwell; my stop.
I opened my mouth to say something, but no words came out. There were a thousand things I wanted to say to him, but nothing came out. B smiled and pulled me in for another hug. “It was good to see you, Jess, have a nice evening!” he said, and I mumbled goodbye in reply. Had I been given a chance and messed it up? I stumbled off on to the platform in a daze and turned to steal one last glance at B, he was already nose down into his Kindle as the train doors closed. He was seemingly completely unfazed by what had just happened. I however, had momentarily forgotten what I was doing or even where I was going. I stood frozen to the spot as commuters pushed past me to get on to the tube.
I swallowed a lump in my throat as tears threatened to spill from my eyes. I was still in shock. Nine million people in London and it was him who was squeezed up against me in that tube carriage. It wasn’t even his usual route; it wasn’t even my usual route. What are the chances? For the last three weeks I had been mourning the loss of B and coming to terms that I’d probably never see or hear from him again. And then when I least expected it, when I looked like I’d been dragged backwards through a bush, fate had dangled him right in front of me, the one thing I wanted but couldn’t have. It felt cruel. I lifted my eyes to the ceiling, ‘Really?’ I asked. Why couldn’t I just catch a break when it came to men?
I brushed the escaped tears off my cheeks and slowly walked in zombie like motion across to the other platform; trying to replay those last few minutes in my head. It felt like it was just me that had been completely floored by our unexpected rush hour rendezvous. B had looked and sounded fine. Maybe he had already moved on… maybe he had even met someone else… my heart sank.
The truth is that a week before, I had received an email from The League saying that my application had been reviewed and I was through the waiting list and could now start seeing potential matches. It was less pressure than Hinge with no swiping and just three profiles a day to vet, so I decided to give it a go. I had matched with one guy and we’d exchanged a couple messages and he had promptly asked me out on a date. I thought, what the hell, maybe it was time, and agreed to meet him for a drink. We set a date but all I kept thinking in my head were possible excuses I could give to cancel. The guy seemed attractive from his photos and had been perfectly polite in his messages, so why was I so determined to get out of it?
The funny thing is I had agreed to the date only hours before my encounter with B on the tube. I knew then, it was a sign. I recognised what I was doing. I was trying to fill the void that B had left with someone else. But I was 31 now, and if there was anything that my twenties had taught me, it was that replacing one man with another was a sure recipe for disaster. As I lay in bed that night struggling to get to sleep, I knew that if I couldn’t have B then I didn’t want anyone else at that moment. I messaged the guy to cancel our date and then deleted the app from my phone.
I made a decision to forget about men and spend the next six months concentrating on me. If, like that evening, fate decided that B and I would reconcile or I was to meet another man, then fine, I would embrace it, but no more dating apps. I truly believed in what my dad had said, that against the odds, if it was meant to be, then it would happen. The right man would walk into my life at the right time. I wasn’t going to chase it anymore.
So, in the meantime, I decided to focus on the small things I liked doing for myself, like reading, listening to podcasts, exercising and blogging. It was time to pull myself out of my January blues, dust off the remnants of hurt from last year, count the blessings I did have and focus on my goals for the year ahead. I had done it before and I could do it again. I could make 2020 my year. And what a better time than now to reflect on my past relationships, to remind myself of the lessons I had learnt through my twenties, about men, about life and more importantly, about myself.