Author Archives: Jessica Lloyd-Wright

Thoughts in Isolation

Disclaimer: This blog post will outline some of my thoughts on the current COVID-19 pandemic, and touch on dating (or rather, the lack of) during lockdown. This in no way is to diminish the severity of the current global situation and the way in which it has impacted thousands of lives. I battled back and forth on whether I should even write this post. I follow one account on Instagram, where a woman posted on her body image dysmorphia and how that has affected her mental health and feelings of self-worth. The backlash was quite shocking. She had received comments from people criticising her for even worrying about such things whilst people were dying from Coronavirus. I was confused, surely people could see that she wasn’t taking anything away from how terrible the current global crisis is, but only raising awareness about an entirely separate issue. One issue of many, that don’t merely evaporate because we are living through a pandemic, but exist regardless alongside it, perhaps making this situation all the more awful for others to endure.

If anything, this global crisis has taught most to be kinder to others. We are living in unprecedented times so there is no rule book to follow on ‘best practice’. We can only follow government guidance and do what is individually and collectively best for us all within those parameters.

Every Thursday at 8pm I stand outside my front door and clap for our frontline workers: the doctors, the nurses, the delivery drivers, the supermarket workers, and the teachers; and I tell myself that I’m doing my part by staying at home. But a lot of the time my conscience weighs heavy and I’m engulfed by ‘survivor’s guilt’. Guilt that I’m safe at home whilst NHS workers risk their lives every day for us all. Guilt that I am still able to work from home whilst so many people have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Guilt for having the luxury of time to sit at my laptop typing out a personal blog post, whilst parents juggle work with home-schooling young children. Everyday guilt that I could be doing more.

I listened to a podcast the other day in which members of the public had written in on their thoughts and personal challenges during the pandemic. I was surprised to hear from nurses who had written in about their own guilt that they could be doing more. I was gobsmacked. These remarkable everyday heroes also felt guilty. A reminder that no matter how many kilometres you run, or parcels you deliver, or lives you may save; everyone feels like they could be doing more. So yes, we should be kinder to others, but we should also be kinder to ourselves; we are only human after all. The woes of dating may seem like a very trivial subject in the grand scheme of things right now, but it is important to remember that we are fighting a war. A war for our survival so that we can continue to live our lives to the fullest, including even the most trivial aspects, as it is in those very small, almost insignificant aspects, that make us human.

***

April 2020. Day 3,452 of quarantine. But not really, It’s only the fifth week. Actually, it’s not so bad. I appreciate that I have it better than a lot of people. I managed to get out to my dad’s house in the countryside before they announced lockdown in the UK, so lots of open spaces and fresh air. Once I’ve had my one daily government-allocated exercise outside, I’m lucky enough to have a back garden to sunbathe or read in if the weather permits. I’ve curated a nice little daily routine of work, yoga, walking the dog, reading and Netflix. Then bed for a minimum of eight hours. Repeat. Yes, I am lucky. But this doesn’t stop me moaning along with the rest of the population about all our lockdown hang ups. Human, remember. Like everybody else I have good and bad days. Days where I may feel creative and attempt a makeup tutorial, painting, or even dress up as Frida Kahlo (complete with drawn on eyebrows) for the ‘recreate a famous artwork’ challenge. And then there are the other days, where I’ll feel lost and lethargic and where even burning my thumb on my straighteners brings tears to my eyes, surprising myself that they were that close to the surface. These are just a handful of my thoughts during isolation:

Running. I hate it. I have never been a runner, and now all of sudden it seems to have become everyone’s new favourite hobby. I was nominated a week ago to do the ‘run for heroes’ 5K challenge and so far, have avoided doing it. This was truly going to be a case of couch to 5K. Don’t get me wrong, I think its’s for an amazing cause and I donated my money as soon as I was nominated. But the actual running? I’m still psyching myself up for that bit.

Makeup. Why does every woman I know comment on how much better their skin looks now that they don’t wear makeup every day? Am I the only person who has had more breakouts than ever since having a bare face in isolation? I swear my skin was in better condition when I wore makeup and it was exposed to the pollution and grime of the London underground every day. Riddle me that?!

Maintenance. Like many others, I’ve had to be weaned off regular beauty treatments. Luckily, I didn’t have a manicure before lockdown so haven’t been left with chipped half-moons of gel on my nails. My hair is dyed in a low maintenance balayage style, so I don’t have to worry too much about root regrowth, and I haven’t bothered with a full wax down there in a while, because I wasn’t having sex. No, the only thing I’m really missing is my monthly eyebrow threading appointment. Cue the only person I’m self-isolating with – my dad. On my first brow he pulled the wax off so painfully slowly that it didn’t even rip out any hair, instead it just left a waxy tuff which when I blinked my eyelashes got stuck to. On his second attempt he managed to rip the strip off with more speed and conviction, unfortunately he also took 3mm of my hairline off with it too. But it’s OK, next week I’ve been tasked with cutting his hair with kitchen scissors whilst following a YouTube video on barbering. Karma works in mysterious ways.

Houseparty. I have a confession; I don’t like it. After a day of video call meetings for work, the last thing I want to do is log on to a poor-quality call with more people who may or may not be pixelated out. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my friends and can’t wait until the day we can all sit in a beer garden together again. But during quarantine I’ve found that I much prefer the one-to-one Facetime call approach in order to properly catch up, rather than to participate in my fifth virtual quiz of the week.

Tiger King. Everyone is obsessed and I just don’t get it. I watched the first episode and whilst I initially enjoyed the entertainment value of watching an eccentric man with a mullet and penchant for animal print rant about an equally strange woman called Carole; 30 minutes in and I started to feel quite uncomfortable.

Sex and the City. Having only watched a few episodes here and there over the years I decided to finally watch all six seasons from the beginning. A TV series which documents the lives of four single women in their thirties navigating dating in a major city; it has never felt more relatable. Although some of the views are quite dated now and others downright offensive, I felt my emotions rise as certain storylines developed. I didn’t like season 3 Carrie: it was beyond frustrating to watch her cheat on poor lovely Aiden and then complain that she couldn’t find a nice, emotionally available man. Then to watch her ignore all the red flags, and go back again and again to Big, was like watching my dating history with toxic men on replay. And then there was sweet Charlotte, who had a shotgun wedding to Trey before even sleeping with him, only to find out that he struggled with erectile disfunction and couldn’t have sex with her. Poor Charlotte. She was then diagnosed with a ‘depressed vagina’ because she wasn’t getting any. I couldn’t help but look down at my own crotch with a raised (slightly botched) eyebrow.

WhatsApp group chats. Like most people, I usually give the obligatory groan when added to yet ‘another group chat’ and endeavour to keep them all on mute. However, during lockdown I applaud the group chat. The memes and emoji games take the edge off cabin fever and it’s amazing what things can keep you entertained for hours on end. For instance, my friend, Kandice, sent me ‘laser beams’ via the new 3D effects on iMessage, which got me disproportionately over-excited. I then proceeded to spend a full half-hour sending animated blown up hearts and fireworks to everyone in my address book with an iPhone; the longest time I’ve spent on iMessage in probably five years. I especially love my girls group chat. Whether we are discussing the current nomination for our virtual book club, or how hairy on a scale of ‘one to sasquatch’ we will be when we’re finally let out of isolation, there is no subject too bizarre or trivial that we won’t discuss. Like, did you know that 70% of people on your chat will mis-read “do you think I’d look good with a perm?” as “do you think I’d look good with a penis?” or that the cost of a mop in Bermuda is over $40? You do now.

And finally, but certainly not the least, the majestic Quarantini. Like 90% of the population, I also run the risk of coming out of lockdown with a growing addiction. I’ve had to limit my drinking to Thursday-Saturday only, for fear of consuming gin like orange squash.

One good thing about quarantine though, is that I now have an extended excuse as to why I’m not dating. Although, ‘iso-dating’ has become quite big apparently. A couple weeks into the lockdown, I was informed that Hinge “was going off!”. All my single girlfriends exclaimed that they’d never known so much activity on dating apps, with a barrage of messages from numerous suitors and setting up various dinner dates over FaceTime. It all sounded very…time consuming. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing that we have these platforms, especially in light of current circumstances, where people don’t have to feel alone and are only a few clicks away from connecting with not just friends and family, but also romantic interests. But for me personally, I knew it wouldn’t work. I’ve been in the dating sphere long enough to know that I have to meet someone in person and ideally no later than two weeks after first speaking, to determine if there’s a genuine connection or not.

I have had too many experiences where I’ve built someone up in my head through texting alone, only to be desperately disappointed when I’ve met them in real life. And hands up, I know that that is completely on me. Through no real fault of their own I’ve projected my own wants/needs on to a person that I’ve never met before in order to re-create a version of my ideal man. A version that they probably will never live up to because they were never that person in the first place.

Nope, meeting someone after three weeks and being hit with the realisation that there is no connection is hard enough; I don’t have the stomach to be disappointed after three months of talking to someone. Besides, there’s really only one person that I wish I could contact during lockdown; but I know I can’t.

It’s been almost seven months since B broke things off with me, and I haven’t had a single date since. They say that it takes roughly half the time you were with someone to get over them. So, if I calculate this right, I should have been over him by Christmas last year… something terribly wrong seems to have happened to my equation. The first three months don’t really count as we were still talking. But from January when we decided to cut all contact, I told myself I’d give myself six man-free months in order to lick my wounds and get over B. The lockdown coincided with this time perfectly and what better excuse not to date than to say that I’m doing my bit for society. But come June, my time will be up, and most likely lockdown will be too.

So, what happens when I can no longer use social distancing as my get out of jail dating-free card? When this is all over and we’re let back out into the wild again? The logistics alone are going to be complicated enough. Maybe, like the film Contagion, we will need to show a wristband proving that we’ve been vaccinated before we could so much as hold hands with someone. Practising ‘safe sex’ is going to take on a whole new meaning. They’re going to need crate loads of PPE just for single people returning to the shag battlefield. Maybe they’ll invent a genital friendly sanitiser or some kind of protective latex jumpsuit that people can wear like a full body condom. Too far? Anyway…

If I’m honest with myself, it’s the fear I’m struggling with the most. Fear of putting myself out there again, only for another man to ghost me. Fear of rejection or not finding someone I like, or worse, the fear of finding someone, only for them to hurt me; shattering what’s left of my already fragile heart. The more I think about the exhausting process that modern-day dating entails, the more appealing a life of solitude with a bunch of cats and houseplants for company seems. Not that there is anything wrong with that, if you so choose, but I would like the opportunity to meet someone again…

The other evening, I was really struggling with my thoughts around B. The day that this post is published marks one year since that night where he zipped up my dress in a wine bar in Clapham. I felt an overwhelming urge to call him, just for the comfort of hearing his voice again and checking if he was OK. My finger hovered over his number on my phone, at the same time a text from my friend, Annie, dropped down on my screen. I confided my thoughts to her, and she coached me through it. She was kinder to me than I was, saying it is completely normal in these times to want to feel close and connected to others; especially someone we have been close to in the past. She asked what I wanted to get out of a call with him; and would I ultimately be hurting myself by doing it. She was right. B had known how I felt; the ball had been left firmly in his court. There was nothing to suggest that he would want to hear from me. Instead, Annie suggested I keep a journal or write a letter, noting down all my thoughts, and then put it away in a box. The letter was only really for me, it would never be sent.

I went to bed that night, emotionally exhausted but feeling slightly more at ease, and let my previous urge wash over me. And then the strangest thing happened, I woke up early the next morning after a night of weird integrated dreams, I grabbed my earphones, pulled on my trainers, and went… for my run. And do you know what, it wasn’t that bad.

The [Social] Distance Between Us

The distance between us is not new
I haven’t heard from you in weeks
But now that there is only time with my thoughts
Hearing from you seems all my heart seeks

It was easier to block you out
When life went by in a blur
But now that life has been put on pause
My emotions begin to stir

Are you quarantined with your house mates?
Or maybe with your family?
Maybe you’re with another girl
It hurts that it’s not me

I self-isolated myself from you months ago
That was painful enough
But now I find myself worrying about you
Now that times are getting tough

Do you scroll through our past messages?
Do I ever cross your mind?
Do your thoughts wonder what I’m doing?
Now that we’re all housebound and confined

I wonder if your arm reaches across an empty bed
And touches the ghost of my body
It’s at unprecedented times like this
That we all could use somebody

I hope that you are keeping safe
As life as we know it falls apart
Despite the social distance between us
I’ll always hold you close in my isolated heart

JLW, 2020

The Boyfriend Diaries: Darren

Disclaimer: ‘The Boyfriend Diaries’ series focusses on events and actions that happened in the past, some more than 10 years ago. I do not claim to know anything about these men now and their own personal journeys in the intervening years since we dated. Whilst these stories are told from my point of view, and the situations and feelings were real, it is important to remember that past actions may not reflect the person they are today. I hope that like myself, my ex-boyfriends have grown and learnt from their past mistakes too.

***

April 2008. Three months into my relationship with Arnold, I was introduced to Darren. I remember attending art college one day and my friend, Claudia showing me a photo on Facebook. He immediately stood out to me. Tall, blonde and dressed in a luminous hoody and matching tracksuit bottoms, phwoar. Turns out he was Claudia’s boyfriend’s cousin and she arranged to have us both introduced. And that was the end of Arnold. 

One evening, a week or so after being first introduced to Darren; I left my house to meet him on a bench on the village green. We ended up sitting for an hour in the cold talking. As I went to leave, Darren leaned in to kiss me goodbye; he smelt of weed and aftershave. I then watched him swagger off down the street. I was immediately drawn to his ‘bad boy’ persona. We were worlds apart, I knew that. I was your typical good girl at school and wouldn’t have said boo to a goose, and Darren was, well… the opposite, really. But they do say opposites attract. 

So, Darren and I started to see each other and quite quickly became official. My routine consisted of college, my part-time supermarket job, and spending any free time with Darren. Which mostly involved sitting in his bedroom (whilst he smoked weed), going to one of his friends’ houses (so that he could smoke weed) or else walking from one end of the town to other (so he could pick up weed). At the time I just went along with it because I was besotted with Darren. Never mind the amount of passive smoke I was inhaling or how the weed seemed to give Darren paranoia which often resulted in outbursts of unprecedented rage…

A lot of the time Darren would be what people would consider affectionate and loving, but his rages came frequent enough. Sometimes he would shout, scream and spit out expletives at inanimate objects and other times it would be at me or another poor, unexpecting soul who was in the vicinity. Darren felt that he had been dealt a bad hand in life and harboured so much anger inside and at the world. I tried to suggest ways in which he could help himself, like to enrol in college or an apprenticeship. But forever the pessimist, he would always come up with a reason why he couldn’t. Darren was one of those people who could never accept responsibility to change his own life, there was always something or someone else to blame.

Darren didn’t like institutions. He disliked the government; he disliked the police, to be honest he disliked most things that weren’t marijuana. He didn’t ‘believe’ in banks (no doubt paranoid that Santander was conspiring against him). Instead he kept all his cash from his wages in an old trainer box under his bed. God forbid there was a fire or robbery. I really do hope that nowadays Darren believes in banks (and interest) or otherwise has at least stowed his shoebox in a safe in his house. 

Darren would often refer to me as his ‘missus’. I recoil when I think about that now. Why do men think it’s acceptable to refer to their partners as something which is considered an add-on to their own identity? And whilst we’re on the topic, other derogatory names to avoid calling women, include ‘bird’ and ‘chick’. I cannot stand when men (especially men I do not know) refer to me as ‘darlin’. How about ‘shut the fuck up you patronising git, you’ve probably got the emotional intelligence of a gnat’. But Darren also had other pet names for me, which included (but were not limited to), ‘slut’, ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’. Whenever I got dressed up to go out with friends, he would call me these names as I walked out the front door. And the worse thing about it, was that I let him.

Although I think it was the weed that brought on Darren’s paranoia and consequently his outbursts, as you can imagine, throwing alcohol into the equation only exacerbated things. One time on a night out, Darren got drunk and was arguing, or mostly just shouting abuse at random people. He then turned his attention on me. Anyone that knows me will know that I hate confrontation, I don’t believe in loud slanging matches and prefer a more reasonable approach. My usual reaction to Darren would have been just to cry, but this time I must have told him where to go. He completely lost his rag at this and threatened to punch me in the face. I didn’t really think he would do it and all his friends were clinging on to him, holding his arms back so he couldn’t even if he tried. He had never physically hurt me before, but his eyes flashed with intoxicated fury as he spat out abuse at me. At that point in time I honestly couldn’t say whether he was capable of it or not. And that thought scared me.  

Not much longer after that incident I came back home from university for a weekend. It was Sunday morning and I was lying on Darren’s bed whilst he was in the middle of a rage and there was just a lot of the usual shouting and thumping of the walls. There was a time in the beginning where these outbursts would cause me so much distress that I’d leave his house shaking in tears. But at that moment, I felt nothing. I’d become desensitised to his rampages; they didn’t touch me anymore. Just being in Darren’s presence made me feel numb, I no longer cared. All the while he screamed, I was sat silent staring off into the distance. He punched the wall one more time and I said nothing but got out of bed pulled on my clothes and walked out the room. He called after me as I walked out the front door, but I didn’t answer him. Darren didn’t know it yet, but that was the moment I realised I didn’t love him anymore, I didn’t even like him. The next time I saw Darren was to break up with him.

***

I’ve never been one to approach guys in public, but whenever I go through a breakup, I seem to get this weird dose of confidence. It’s like the worse has already happened so I just think, what the hell. A couple weeks after my breakup with Darren was my Graduation Ball at university, and a well known UK band were playing. I remember feeling an odd sense of relief and freedom as I danced whilst watching the stage. I was young, tipsy, and the guitarist was hot. Later that night, tired and drunk I followed Guitarist Guy on Twitter and sent him a flirtatious tweet.

The next day I woke up and was mortified at what I had said. I went to go and delete the tweet when I noticed that Guitarist Guy had replied. Interesting. I then searched for his personal Facebook profile. What the hell, I thought, and added him. Not long afterwards he accepted my request. We exchanged flirty messages which got progressively more suggestive as the days went by. We then Skyped each other. Guitarist Guy asked if I’d come and see him in London, where he would do all manner of bad things to me. Christ, I wanted those bad things. So, one day without telling a soul where I was going, I booked a train from Nottingham to London. Guitarist Guy came and met me at Warwick Avenue and took me to dinner at a cute Italian place. Afterwards we walked back to his flat in Maida Vale, where we spent the night having sex. When we weren’t having sex, he showed me demos of his upcoming songs. Jesus, was I a groupie?! The next morning, Guitarist Guy took me to the station, and I got a train back home.

I never saw Guitarist Guy again (although not from lack of him trying once he saw that I’d moved to London) and in hindsight I should have told someone where I was going. But my one-night fling with Guitarist Guy made me feel sexy and confident in my newfound singledom. I was 22, just graduated from university and I was looking forward to what my future held. I just needed to get through the holiday first. Holiday? you say. Yep. Months prior to breaking up with Darren we’d booked a holiday together. That’s right, a two-week, all-inclusive vacation to the other side of the Atlantic, just Darren and myself. What could possibly go wrong… 

We had been paying off the holiday in instalments for months, so, understandably, neither of us were willing to give up their place for free. By the same token, neither of us could find someone else to buy the other person out. So, I decided to be mature and say that I was happy to go as friends, if he was. 

“Fine.” said Darren. “But I hope I get eaten by a shark, so I don’t have to come home afterwards.” He was deadly serious. 

I bit my bottom lip. I’m glad this was resolved over the phone so he couldn’t see my face.

So off to Mexico we went. Apart from a few minor tiffs we were getting on OK. Not in a romantic sense, God no, I’d firmly shut that door, but in a way that was bearable for two weeks. The hotel and beach were beautiful and the all you could eat buffet and unlimited alcohol was a bonus (Darren made full use of that). We even did a couple of excursions including a boat cruise, where Darren won a bottle of tequila. Maybe this wasn’t such a terrible idea after all. 

Then, one evening, I left the pool area early to get ready for dinner. After three hours Darren still hadn’t come back to the room. I was hungry and starting to get annoyed, where was he?! Then as I opened the door to go and find him, there was Darren, stood in front of me, his pants down by his ankles, laughing and crying. He was wasted. Fuck sake Darren. I pulled him into the room and told him to get a shower and sober up, whilst I sat on the end of the bed angrily waiting for him to get ready. 

After a few minutes I heard a lot of cranking coming from the bathroom so went to see what he was playing at. Darren was stood fully dressed in the shower and had decided to lean his full weight on the shower head which had promptly fell off the wall, sending water jets shooting off in all directions. “What are you doing?!” I shouted at him, trying to angle the shower head as it was beginning to flood the whole bathroom. He let out a drunken sob and went to say something but instead vomited all over himself and the shower.

Both drenched in water and vomit, I told him to pull himself together and go to the toilet if he needed to be sick again, whilst I sorted out this mess. As I wrestled with the showerhead and mopped up the sick, I heard retching from the other room. I poked my head around the corner to see Darren sat on the toilet, projectile vomiting on to the opposite wall. Motherfucker.

It was the last day of the holiday and we were in our room packing our suitcases before heading off to the airport. I watched as Darren carefully wrapped his prized bottle of tequila in not one, not two, but five t-shirts in order to protect it whilst in transit. I watched him place the wrapped bottle on the edge of the bed whilst he bent down to make a snug place for it in his case. I watched almost in slow motion, as he turned around and his arm caught the edge of the bed causing the bottle to slip… and audibly smash on the floor. 

Silence. I daren’t move or make a sound. I watched Darren as he stared at the syrupy pile of t-shirts and broken glass. Then, very slowly, he raised his head to the heavens, his eyes bulging in anger (I braced myself) and in a deathly whisper, he breathed, “Why…. Why. Fucking. Me?” I held my breath. I must not laugh. Why anyone, Darren? Ever considered that.

To be fair, the holiday could have been a lot worse. Darren could have gotten eaten by a shark. But he didn’t, and we landed back in the UK and went our separate ways. Luckily, I have since had a more enjoyable and meaningful trip to Mexico. Salud!

***

For a long time, I didn’t consider Darren’s behaviour in our relationship as abusive. He did some lovely and romantic things in our time together, but these were always overshadowed by him saying something insulting or intimidating to me. There is no way to sugar coat it, it was verbal and emotional abuse. Just because a person can be loving and affectionate at other times does not discount the ways in which they have harmed or manipulated you. It’s strange how your feelings for someone can almost hoodwink you into thinking the way they treat you is OK. But the way Darren spoke to me and intimidated me was not OK. It is not normal and so we should not normalise it. It took me almost three years, but I’m glad that I finally realised and had the strength to walk away from this toxic relationship. It is undeniable that Darren had his own demons and I truly hope that he was able to see someone about that, but that is not an excuse to project that pain on to others.

I heard through the grapevine that Darren is now married and settled down. I don’t claim to know anything about his life or him now as a person, but I do hope that he has found peace within himself and that he is happy. I hope he doesn’t harbour the same anger inside of him and more than anything I hope he now treats the women in his life with respect, kindness and compassion. 

***

Between the ages of 16 – 22 I was constantly in and out of relationships; a consistent relay of boyfriends, with me as the baton being passed on to the next boy. When one relationship ended, the next boyfriend was always ready and waiting at the start line. I spent my early adult years not knowing how to be on my own or even what I was like as an individual without being part of a couple. After my breakup with Darren it would be three years before I met my next boyfriend, Seb, at the age of 25. And in all honesty, I don’t think I knew real love until then. Those early relationships were based on an exhilarating recipe of hormones, lust and the thrill of arguments and make-up sex. It was all only ever puppy love. And not to sound heartless, but they were all disposable; easily replaced with the next boy who could give me that dopamine hit.

Those intervening years as a young, single woman, before I met Seb, were particularly defining in shaping the person I am today. Outside of romantic relationships, those years hold some of my darkest days where I battled with depression and struggled finding my sense of self, which ultimately led me to one of my biggest life decisions of moving to London. One of, if not the best things I ever did for myself.

God knows that I am not the same person I was ten or even five years ago. I have better knowledge of myself and the world around me, experiences good and bad have shaped me, and I’ve learnt resilience in the face of certain life challenges; as we all do. So, whilst I can appreciate that my ex-boyfriends are probably not the same men now as they were back when I dated them, I am also eternally grateful that none of those relationships worked out.  Some of the reasons were blatantly obvious at the time and others I only recognised with the wonder of hindsight. That whether I knew it at the time or not, I did not settle. And for that, I am thankful. I’m looking forward to meeting my person – but until then, I refuse to settle for anything less.

The Boyfriend Diaries: Early Years

February 2020. I’m OK. I am. During the day I hardly ever think about B. Right now, work and life are busy and most of my energy is consumed by that. Does my heart skip a beat every time I see a tall, bespectacled man in my peripheral vision on the tube? Sure. When I get into bed at the end of the day, are my last thoughts as I drift off into unconsciousness of B? More often than not. And when I open my eyes first thing in the morning? Yes, absolutely. But I’ve almost gotten used to the dull ache of his absence, almost. This feeling will pass. Eventually.

I’m sticking to my decision to stay away from men for the moment, because if I don’t engage with any then I don’t have to worry about any of them hurting me. Not a single dating app on my phone and in all honesty it’s a relief not to feel the pressure. An errant thought crosses my mind – will I ever have sex again?! Obviously, you will, Jess… It just doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon. Maybe when I move back into London in a couple months’ time, then my interest in men will return. Maybe.

I wish I could be cold towards men. Just find a fuck buddy and not worry about getting attached. But I know myself too well, I only really enjoy sex if there’s a genuine connection. And if there’s a connection, I’ll no doubt catch feelings (which currently has as much appeal as catching Coronavirus). I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve and that’s the problem. As my family always says, ‘Jess has so much love to give…’ (and the unspoken) ‘…and no one to give it to’. I really should just get a cat.

But like I say, I’m busy. I’ve managed to fill up the month already with dinner and drinks with friends, I am never more sociable than when I’m not dating. I’m spending the rest of my free time running across London to different yoga sessions thanks to the recently discovered wonders of Class Pass. I stubbornly ignored that day in February, I spent that Friday evening curled up on the sofa, with my nose in a book, with no intention of looking up until it was 15th February. Social media is insufferable that day. A full 24 hours designed for smug couples to rub their smug love in the face of all singletons. I suppose it could have been worse… it could have been Valentine’s Day last year.

A few weekends ago I took myself home to my dad’s in the countryside for some time out from London. I’ve been sorting through my clothes and possessions lately; nothing like life laundry to soothe the soul and decided to look through my memory box. Amongst it, my christening candle, my degree certificate, old theatre ticket stubs, newspaper clippings and a lot of ex-boyfriend paraphernalia. I nostalgically sifted through the numerous anniversary cards, couple photos and even a calendar from 2005 marking the actual date I lost my virginity. Jesus.

I found the note that Seb had given me the day he left to move back to Australia. I was to join him two months later and his message read that I ‘meant so much to him and had been such a big part of his time in London that he had no choice but to take me back home with him…’ I felt a temporary sadness engulf my body. I put the note back in the box and it lifted.

When I look back at my previous relationships it’s so easy to remember the bad stuff, the arguments, the broken promises, the lies and the gut-wrenching heartache of the breakups. You forget those horrible moments were generally more punctuations in a time where you were happy, or at least thought you were happy. I’ve dated a few men over the years, but I’ve only had five (okay maybe six) ‘official’ boyfriends. The Boyfriend Diaries is a series of blog posts which will reflect on and explore each of these relationships. So, let’s begin…

***

At the age of 16 I got my first boyfriend, Neil (I’m really going to enjoy these pseudonyms). I’d had relatively close to zero experience with boys before this. The closest I’d got to a boy had been at a sleepover when I was 13. My friend, Claudia, and I stayed over with two boys from our class (what our parents were thinking, I do not know). We played spin the bottle and I had my first kiss, which was just a lot of tongue being forced down my throat. We then all took it turns to snog each other, obviously trying to perfect our techniques. I remember Claudia and I flashing our semi-developed breasts in return for the boys flashing their semi-developed penises. We all had a giggle, watched a scary film and passed out in sleeping bags. It was all fairly PG.

Anyway, I digress. I met Neil at a house party where he had apparently; unbeknownst to myself spent the evening watching me from across the living room eating Doritos. At 11pm my mum had come to pick me up, and as I went to leave, Neil bolted down the stairs to ask for my mobile number, despite not having said a single word to me all evening. We exchanged numbers and thus began my first ever relationship.

Neil was a year older than me and so had left school the year before. He was in the process of applying to join the army. One day whilst at school, an excited buzz passed through my fellow classmates. Claudia nudged me and pulled me to the window of the humanities block. Sure enough, Neil and his friend had walked into the school grounds apparently looking for myself and another girl. They weren’t allowed to do that. “He’s here to see you, y’know! Are you going to go down and talk to him?” asked Claudia. I blushed, shook my head and hid upstairs in my tutor room until I knew that they had been ushered off site by a teacher.

Once I’d gotten over my initial shyness, I asked my mum if I could invite Neil over to hang out with me for an evening. I couldn’t be sure, but something flashed across her eyes. Surprise? Fear? I can only imagine that parents know that the time will come but are never quite prepared for the eventuality that their eldest child could become (gulp) sexually active. “Let me check with your dad first,” she replied, and I nodded.

Dad agreed to it and I invited Neil over. We could hang out in my bedroom so long as the door was open, and my dad would come upstairs every 30 minutes to check if we ‘wanted a drink.’ Something he had never done in all my 16 years. I also had the ‘talk’, which basically comprised of my dad sitting me down with an A3 copy of The Body Atlas (1993 edition) and turning to the Reproduction chapter. This book had previously been pulled out five years prior to the Menstrual Cycle chapter. My dad was a geologist, and so took relief in the scientific side of these pivotal moments (sex for pleasure obviously wasn’t covered). He then concluded the talk with, “and you should probably go on the pill”.

I did in fact lose my virginity to Neil. We first tried on Valentine’s Day with a room full of lit candles, thinking this would be the optimum of romance. After several attempts it just wasn’t happening; it was like throwing a frankfurter at a brick wall. Then one day it finally happened. We were in his room above the pub where he lived and it was all over very quickly, but I remember feeling different, like I was now a woman. Neil documented the moment by graffiti-ing the date on his bedroom wall. And they say romance is dead.

Then a couple of weeks after we first slept together, the unbearable happened. Neil broke up with me. Actually, he got his best friend, Kyle, to call me to let me know that Neil was breaking up with me. I’m not sure what’s worse, that or being ‘ghosted’ these days. Can you imagine a 30-year-old man asking his mate to call up his girlfriend to dump her on his behalf?! If they could get away with, I bet they would. Anything to avoid the decency of communicating their feelings with a woman *rolls eyes*.

Do you remember your first ever break up? I do. I remember the physical agony of feeling like someone had punched a hole in my guts and then reached up and ripped my still beating heart out through my innards. Graphic, I know. But when you’re 16 and it’s your first love, you can’t imagine a more potent pain. Despite my begging, Neil refused to talk to me on the phone and Kyle eventually hung up. I ran downstairs in floods of tears; I had never known such devastation. My dad, hearing my wailing came running out of the kitchen asking me what was wrong. He grabbed my arms and I dropped to my knees (I can still remember it now, as clear as day) and I tell you why I can remember it, because I will forever be eternally mortified at the next words that came out of my mouth. “He broke up with me!… I can’t believe it… I GAVE HIM EVERYTHING!!!” I sobbed. To my dad. Poor bloke.

It transpired that Neil had broken up with me to get back with his ex-girlfriend. Apparently, she had bigger boobs. My first dose of heartbreak. For weeks afterwards I was beside myself, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to embark on any relationship knowing that there was a good chance they could end up feeling like this. At school I went through the motions of preparing for my upcoming exams. For my art GCSE I painted a Picasso-inspired woman in despair, on her knees with a hole in her stomach (I should really thank Neil for that A*). I’d then spend my evenings curled up on my bed, crying whilst listening to Westlife’s Greatest Hits. All kinds of tragic.

Then just as I was starting to feel OK again and could start to imagine a Neil-free future. He came crawling back (as most men do when they sense that you are moving on). It was the night of my year 11 prom and some of the girls came to grab me from the dance floor. They said that someone was waiting outside for me. Curiously, I made my way to the hotel lobby. Low and behold, there was Neil, outside on his motorbike (with Kyle, obviously) begging for me to take him back. Apparently, things hadn’t worked out with Betty Big Boobs. And when you’re 16, naïve and think you’re in love, you make daft decisions, and so I took him back.

***

It was the summer of 2005 and Neil would pick me up from school after I’d finished a GCSE exam and I would clamber on the back of his motorbike. I wore skirts with bare legs and just a helmet; my dad would have hit the roof had he known. Come the end of summer, Neil was due to start basic training for the army. We didn’t see each other for a whole month. We exchanged handwritten love letters and I attended his graduation ceremony. At the tender age of 16, I was convinced that we would be together forever, such is the beautiful naivety of puppy love. But of course, we didn’t.

I met my second boyfriend, Jeremy, when I started at a new school for sixth form. I was 17 and waiting around for a boyfriend in the army soon lost its romantic appeal, so after a year together, I broke up with Neil. Within a space of a week Jeremy and I were together. Back then, there was no mourning period for an end of a relationship, it was straight on to the next.

From the get-go Jeremy and I were inseparable. We lived in each other’s pockets for the whole two years of sixth form. If we were in the same class, we’d be sat next to each other, if we had a free period, you’d find us in the common room, me sat on his lap until told otherwise by a teacher. At lunchtime we’d go to the local pub with our friends, share a bowl of chips and snog across the table until told otherwise by the pub manager. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other; time not spent naked was considered wasted time. Jeremy’s bedroom was in the attic and the bed would squeak loudly, sending vibrations down through the floorboards. His mum would shout up the stairs, “you pair better not be bonking!” But obviously we were. We were always bonking.

Do you remember being 17? You are never as horny as when you were that age. Except maybe when you hit your thirties, then suddenly you get this second wind; but this time, you are more confident in your powers of seduction (and less willing to fake an orgasm). Anyway, when you’re young, nimble and your hormones are raging, everything and everywhere is a sexual challenge. In my early relationships I had sex in cars, on a pool table, on a pub bar, in the middle of fields and in disabled toilets at restaurants (shameful, I know). You would try every position going even if you were at risk of slipping a disc. Karma Sutra you say? Yeah, completed it mate. Nowadays the thought of even having missionary sex, with a man, in a bed, seems a far stretch.

In the summer of 2007, Jeremy and I sat our A-Levels and I joined him on a family holiday to Florida. But by this point the once hormone-driven lust had started to die away and we were more best friends than anything romantic. I don’t recall there being a big break up as such, I just remember that our once all-consuming relationship slowly but steadily dissolved into nothing. Around the same time, give or take a few weeks, my relationship with Arnold seemed to transpire, an almost seamless transition to my next boyfriend. Just like that.

***

I was 19 when I met Arnold, inside a giant icebox full of dead birds. I kid you not. Throughout sixth form and college I worked part-time at my local supermarket and every Christmas I took on the prestigious role of ‘Lead Turkey Coordinator.’ Which basically meant I spent the two weeks in the run up to Christmas locked in a giant refrigerator wearing an oversized thermal coat, organising various turkeys and birds stuffed inside other birds. I’d then go home and get told off by my dad for walking congealed turkey blood into the carpet. When I wasn’t in the refrigerator, I was on the shop floor discounting turkeys. Bargain-crazy customers avidly followed me around the aisles ready to pounce on any yellow tickets I displayed. I cannot tell you the power trip you get from those yellow ticket dispenser guns. I often enjoyed toying with customers, hovering my gun near a particularly large guineafowl then at the last minute, releasing my finger from the trigger and running off down the aisle with the angry punter fresh on my heels. I held this glamorous role right up until I left university.

Anyway, I digress. I met Arnold whilst working in the refrigerator; he was my fellow Turkey Coordinator (although I like to believe I held a more senior position in the chilled poultry department). Technically Arnold was my third boyfriend, we had the label but because we were only seeing each other for three months, I just don’t really count it.

I liked Arnold, I did. But I didn’t love him. And I probably shouldn’t have said that I did at the time. But I’ve always been a hopeless romantic and love the thought of being in love, even if I wasn’t. Nowadays I can differentiate between the two, but at the time I just thought that’s what I had to say to all my boyfriends. After a while though, I soon realised that Arnold was quite stroppy and well…annoying. And when he refused to help carry some of my bags on a shopping trip, telling me it was my ‘own fault for buying too much’ whilst he happily swung his stupidly tiny Abercrombie and Fitch bag containing his stupidly tiny low-cut t-shirt, I knew it wouldn’t last much longer. And a few weeks later, I met Darren.

***

I saw on Facebook that Neil recently became a father. There was a picture of the baby boy dressed in a camouflage army outfit. It brought a smile to my face.

I loosely stayed in contact with Jeremy for a couple years after we broke up. One day I heard he had been taken into hospital after being attacked. I went to text him to check that he was OK, when my boyfriend at the time, Darren, asked what I was doing. He then proceeded to launch my phone at the wall, shattering it into tiny pieces. Jeremy and I have not had any contact since. I saw on Facebook that he has a wife and two daughters, and I could not be happier for him.

Over the years I have occasionally bumped into Arnold in my hometown and even once randomly in London. Turns out he was working in the building next to mine – we both have come a long way since the turkey refrigerator.

Rush Hour Rendezvous

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.

Platform 2, London Victoria

December 2019. I had just arrived back in London from the most amazing trip to Mexico. After my breakup with B, it was the perfect time to get away and gain a bit of distance and perspective. I flew into Cancun and from there travelled to the chilled, vibrant island of Holbox. Next, I set off to the old Spanish colonial town of Valladolid and then to the paradise beaches of Tulum, finally ending my trip in the beautiful lake town of Bacalar. I stayed in hostels for the first time in years, since travelling down the east coast of Australia, back in 2013. I had one eyelid always marginally open keeping a watchful eye on weird, Netflix Guy in our dorm. It was 30 degrees outside, but he spent all the daylight hours watching his iPad in bed. He was obviously a vampire (and the not the Edward Cullen, sparkly kind).

I enjoyed spending quality time with my brother and meeting new people along the way. I lost count of the number of tacos I consumed, and subsequently the number of times I had to run to the bathroom due to a disagreeable ‘al pastor’. I waded through the sea in the rain for an hour to find flamingos, only to see one vibrant pink blur flying away in the distance. I discovered I disliked Mezcal as much as I did tequila, and ate a questionable brownie, supplied by a hippy, resulting in me being put to bed at 8pm. We went sailing with a dog as sea captain and paddle boarding in crystal, turquoise waters. It felt good to get away from the hustle and bustle of London life, to not bother blow drying my hair or wearing a scrap of makeup; where my biggest decision was whether to have banana with my Nutella crepe that day or not (yes, always yes).

Did a part of me hope that B would be there at Heathrow arrivals to greet me and say that he wanted me back?…Yes, absolutely. Did this happen? No, of course not. Because this is not a Christmas rom com with an ‘and they lived happily ever after’ ending, or my sister’s life; where that did actually happen (with her now husband). No, this was my life, and stuff like that just never happens. So, I landed back in London after almost three weeks away, incredibly jet-lagged and dragged my (over-packed and excessively heavy) backpack across the underground, back to reality.

***

B and I had stayed loosely in contact over the two and half months since we’d broken up. I saw him once before I went to Mexico and we had messaged each other sporadically whilst I was away. It had been over a month since I last saw him and he had since turned 30, so we agreed to meet up and go for a drink to celebrate his birthday.

It was the week before Christmas, after work on a Monday, and I nervously waited by the entrance to Market Hall Victoria. I was living at my aunt’s place in Kent until the new year, when I’d be moving into a new flat back in London, and B had suggested it would be best to meet somewhere near my train station. The doors opened and I watched B walk towards me. I felt a physical pang of longing as I saw his familiar glasses and smile. We hugged each other tightly; this had been the longest time that we hadn’t seen one another. 

The evening went just how I expected it to. We drank, we ate, we laughed, it was so good to see him again. Several times throughout the evening we held each other’s gaze a little longer than we perhaps should have, my hand reached up to caress his face probably one too many times, and he stroked my hand from across the table, no doubt against his better judgement. It was useless trying to be just his friend; it felt like we were two magnets being forced apart. I started to get tearful, asking him the same question: but why weren’t we together? 

B suggested we go for a walk. Once outside in the fresh evening air, he enveloped me in a hug. He explained that he still needed to do what he needed to do. I nodded. I knew he did, I just couldn’t get my head around why I couldn’t be a part of it. We had only been together five months, so why was it that over two months later it still felt as raw. It felt like our time together had been wrongly cut short. I pulled away from B and looked up at him, our faces inches apart. B sensing what could happen pulled me back into his chest and away from his lips. 

“Would it really be so awful to kiss me?” I asked.

“No, it wouldn’t… but I don’t want to lead you on, Jess. It’s not fair on you and it’s not fair on me,” he whispered into my ear.

“It wouldn’t hurt me,” I mumbled into his coat.

“But it would hurt me,” he replied quietly. 

“C’mon let’s get you on a train.” B said taking my hand and leading me to the station.

I felt the unfairness of it all well up inside me. “Oh, fine then, let’s just ship me off home! So much easier than just talking to me!” I said, dropping his hand and stomping off down the street.

“Well that’s a bit sassy, c’mon Jess, that’s not fair.”

“No, I’ll tell you what’s not fair, all of…this!” I said, gesturing between the two of us. Anger and hurt pulsed through me. Tears began to form in my eyes, “What hurts me is us not being together.”

Out of nowhere B swooped down and kissed me, stopping me mid-sentence. My breath caught in my chest and I melted into his arms; all of the nerve-endings on my body screamed with pleasure and longing.

After a few seconds B gently pulled away and I sheepishly smiled at him. Next thing I knew, he had picked me up and started to carry me into the station. I wrapped my legs around his waist and joked that he was making a scene. B only put me back down again once we were in the middle of the station concourse. We both laughed with tears glistening in our eyes. It was almost 10pm and London Victoria was still heaving with people. Commuters ran across the concourse with seconds to spare before catching their trains home. Holidaymakers wheeled heavy suitcases around in circles staring up at the departures board. Parents fought to drag screaming toddlers through the barriers and down into the underground. An electronic reindeer was playing ‘Jingle Bells’ on repeat, whilst tears began to roll down my cheeks. It was a surreal moment. It felt like B and I stood opposite each other; frozen in time, whilst the station’s hectic atmosphere was on fast-forward around us.

I looked up at the departures board. My 10.10pm train was delayed, and the platform number hadn’t been announced yet. 

“I don’t know what to do.” I sobbed to B. “It’s been over two months since we broke up and I feel like I can’t move on. We message each other at least once a week and I feel guilty even thinking of trying to date again, like I’d be cheating on you! Which I know is ridiculous!”

“I know…I feel the same way,” replied B. “How can I help, Jess? Do you want me to text you less? Text you more? Tell me what to do.”

“I don’t know… all I know is the thought of not having you in my life at all kills me, but at the moment all I’m getting is crumbs, and I deserve more than that. I deserve the whole cake.”

And I did, I really did. I deserved to find someone who felt as strongly about me as I did them; someone who wanted to be with me against all the odds. I deserved to find my person. If B didn’t want to be that person, shouldn’t I give myself the opportunity to find someone who did? 

My train was still delayed. 

“Do you love me?” I tentatively asked B.

“Jess, you can’t ask me that.”

“I know, you’re right. I’m sorry.” I sighed. I never really knew how B felt about me. I knew he had strong feelings; otherwise we wouldn’t have even been in this situation. But I honestly couldn’t say if he felt about me the way I did about him. It felt like I’d never know. I didn’t know how long I could hold on to him (both literally and metaphorically), I knew it wasn’t healthy. I’d have to eventually make my peace with it; to let him go and try and move on.

The tannoy announced that the delayed 10.10pm train was due in at platform 2. B pulled me into him and gently kissed me before urging me through the ticket barriers. I reluctantly broke away from him, trying to drink everything up about this moment. My eyes searched his… would this be the last time we saw each other? I wanted him to give me answers; to tell me what I wanted to hear. Instead, we smiled at each other; I scanned my ticket and walked through the barriers.

I walked towards platform 2; my heart heavy in my chest. I thought B would have left, but out of the corner of my eye I saw him walking round to the next set of ticket barriers; the ones closest to me. We both walked up to the barrier, until only the main gate stood between us, our bodies pressed up on each side against the cold metal. B pulled me into him as much as he physically could, and I wrapped my arms around his neck; kissing him tenderly goodbye. The electronic ‘Jingle Bells’ continued to play in the background; maybe this was a bad Christmas rom com. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care that everyone on the concourse and the platform could see us; all that mattered in that moment was just the two of us.

And then my train pulled into platform 2, and it stopped. 

“Merry Christmas, Jess,” whispered B, stepping back from the gate.

“Merry Christmas, B,” I replied. 

And with that, B walked away towards the underground, glancing every few seconds over his shoulder at me. I turned on my heel and walked towards my train and away from the man I love.

GUEST POST: Me, Myself and Identity

Written by Rebecca N.

Hi, Classic Jess’s sister here. You’ll be hearing from me occasionally, giving another outlook on feminism, sex, relationships and general life.

Unfortunately, you won’t be hearing of any Adonis sexcapades from me as we’re not all that fricking lucky. Instead, I’ll be delving into other aspects of my life, from having the ‘perfect’ married life and holding up to the ideals my family has placed on my relationship, to sexual awakenings, sex parties and BDSM workshops.

There’s a lot to cover so it’ll be over a series of blog posts. For now, I wanted to touch on the beginning of my marriage. The BDSM stuff comes later…

A little over a year ago, I was battling with myself constantly in the run up to my wedding. Was I being completely anti-feminist, playing into the patriarchal institution of marriage? Traditionally speaking, your dad ‘gives you away’ to another man. You are then owned by that man. And to ensure everyone knows it, you take his name as well; you are quite literally stamped by his ownership in the marriage certificate. WTF?

Back when I was 25 and newly engaged, I didn’t consider any of this. Admittedly, I got caught up in the excitement, the idea of having a big party with my nearest and dearest, and of course, being the centre of attention. Before I was engaged, I hadn’t really thought about getting married. It wasn’t something I’d ever strongly desired. I wasn’t bothered by the marshmallow dress, the fruitcake, and the ten bridesmaids. I did always like the idea of having a heavy diamond ring on my finger though… Anyway, as I said, it wasn’t ever a big thing for me, but once P popped the question and after I told him to fuck off a couple of times (I was in shock), I said yes, and then proceeded to get very excited about it all.

But once the initial excitement died down, once we’d had the engagement party and booked a venue, and once I’d asked my sister and bestie to be my bridesmaids, I was left with questions. What the hell am I doing?! Isn’t this against everything I stand for? How could I so easily and quickly throw my feminist values away?

For the record, I am a loud and proud feminist. Definitely a guilty feminist, though. I have been known to try and eat bananas seductively whilst in the presence of men, and I have definitely had unflattering thoughts about other women. But I’m trying my hardest to unlearn patriarchal behaviours that society has thrust upon us since the day we were born, and this has led to intense anxiety around my acceptance of a marriage proposal.

During the year leading up to my wedding, the question I most struggled with was, ‘Do I keep my surname, or take P’s?’. I made a mental pros and cons list. Pros: He has a cool surname, if we ever have kids then we’ll all have the same name, I like the way my signature looks with the new surname. Cons: It is steeped in the old school tradition of ownership, I would lose a piece of my own identity, I shouldn’t have to lose my lovely, double-barrelled surname.

It was the idea of losing a piece of my own identity that hit me the most. For 28 years, I’d moved through life being sure of myself, who I was, and what I stood for. I recognise that I’m very fortunate in that respect. So when it was presumed I would change my name, I struggled. To give P credit, he never made that assumption and he always made it clear that he would be happy with any decision I made. No, it was mainly other people’s presumptions of what moniker I should be going by.

So I struggled. Should I cast off my old name for the happy label of Mrs X, as if proclaiming “Forget who I was before! I am now Smug Married, I am loved and owned by a MAN!” Or should I keep my name, forgoing tradition and expectations? Who would I even become, if I were to take a new name?

After months of internal torment, I came to the realisation that I did, in fact, want to take P’s name, and that my struggle was really with how I might be perceived by other feminists. I felt so guilty. There I was shouting about the next wave of feminism, yet at the same time I was getting married and changing my name. It became less about my identity and my literal names, and more about how I identified as a feminist. I needed to try and marry (excuse the pun) my feminist values with my acceptance of P’s proposal.

So I decided to change the way I saw marriage. I decided I didn’t need to adhere to any traditions, and instead of playing into its roots of ownership, I would work with my partner to realise our own version of marriage. 

By taking P’s name, I also decided that I was adding another aspect to my identity. It wasn’t going to take away from who I was before, and it certainly didn’t change who I was or what I stood for. It was merely another chapter in my life. The next part of my story. A public declaration that I really liked my new signature.

The choice to marry is deeply personal, and so is a change in name. But when publicly performed, they become statements of implied social values and virtues. Many of us now have the power to choose what those values and virtues are. We have greater scope to challenge and reshape the gendered norms of marriage. Yes, you can say I played into the societal norm of taking my partner’s name once married. But I would argue I only did that after researching and debating the subject, and having the self-empowerment to make that decision for myself; a true feminist act.

I’m still a guilty feminist. I’m sure I’ll still flirt with the barman to score a free drink, claim “I’m cramping!” to get out of any physical activity, and suggestively suck on phallic fruit for shits and gigs.

But I’m also still sure I am a feminist. I am sure of the role it plays in my relationship and marriage, and what it means as part of my identity. To anyone considering marriage, whatever you want to do; take his name, don’t take his name, have a civil partnership, don’t get married at all… I salute your own decision, your own choice.