Author Archives: Jessica Lloyd-Wright

My Year of Celibacy

No man is worth losing yourself over. Ever.” – Chidera Eggerue, How to Get Over a Boy.

I last had sex 364 days ago. I know this because the last time I had sex was on my 31st birthday and I turn 32 tomorrow. And when you haven’t had sex for a year you are all too aware of it. The last time I even kissed a man was at Christmas. I haven’t had sex or kissed someone since the last decade. I’m basically a nun. A horny nun.

It initially started after my breakup with B, as I didn’t want to have sex with anybody else; I didn’t want to have to ‘move on.’ And so, six months passed celibate. The country then went into lockdown due to the pandemic and I couldn’t meet anyone to have sex with, even if I wanted to. So, nine months passed. I suppose once lockdown lifted, I could have had sex, but meeting someone seemed like effort. I had become accustomed to not speaking to men; I liked not having the drama. 10 months passed. My competitive side sparked; It was now a personal challenge. I didn’t want sex because I was so close to hitting the year mark. I was on the home straight! And I’d be damned if was going to let a lousy shag with a lousy man stop me from winning, and so I consciously abstained.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Is she really winning, if she’s the one not getting any for a whole year?! But it wasn’t really about the sex (or lack of), not really. Despite what a lot of men think, you don’t need them for your own self-pleasure. There are toys for that. The real nature of my personal challenge was to test for the first time in my adult life if I could be truly content without a man. Since I was 16, with the exception of a couple months scattered here and there, I’d always had some form of romantic involvement with a man. That is 16 years of longing, loving, cheating, fighting, crying, hurting, and losing. I was exhausted. For half my lifetime I had spent days, weeks even, of my precious energy on men (mostly with no equal reciprocation) and I couldn’t help but think what else in my life would have benefitted and flourished more if I had just invested that energy elsewhere. It was finally time to see, and what better time to test it than whilst lockdown in the countryside for six months. So, it was decided. No sex, no kissing, no dating, no texting, no flirting, no contact of any romantic nature. Nothing. Nada. For the first time in my adult life I had the emotional capacity to contemplate other things outside my romantic status. Here’s some of what I’ve learnt over the last 12 months.

What I’ve learnt about society (in relation to women)

Since the day we are born women are conditioned by society to believe that we need to be married and have children by a certain age, and if we don’t then we’re classed as a ‘spinster’ or ‘old maid,’ whereas men are the eternal bachelor. For my whole life, whenever I’m asked the question: do you want to get married and have children? I’ve always automatically responded ‘yes’, as that was the answer I was meant to give, right? Only, when I really think about it, I’m never quite sure. I love the idea of marriage. I love the idea of the ring, the wedding, the honeymoon and growing old with the love of my life. But in reality, it often doesn’t work out like that. There are annoying habits, mundane domestic chores, late nights feeds, family fallouts, financial worries, diminishing libido, job losses etc. Life gets in the way.

Children are a whole different ball game. That is one thing that completely alters your life, for the rest of your life. Sometimes I see a mother holding her baby and rocking it in her arms whilst maintaining eye contact, a blissful bubble of the purest love. And I feel an overwhelming sense that yes, I do want to have my own children, eventually. But at what cost? Some women claim that they were born to be mothers and would want a child no matter the circumstance. And I appreciate that, I do. I’m just not one of them. As a race, humans are living longer with more opportunities open to us than ever before. I know that if I were to ever have a baby, I would love it more than anything in this world, but there is still so much I want to do before having the responsibility of a child. And what about the women who don’t want to get married, or have children, who are perfectly fulfilled in living life on their own terms and to their own timeline; let’s normalise that! Let’s normalise women doing whatever the hell they want, whether that’s husband, or no husband, babies or no babies, without facing judgement.

So, do I want children? Yes, I think I do. But do I want children no matter what? No. There are certain conditions personal to me in which I would want to have children. I understand that not everyone is given the luxury of choice, that some circumstances are taken out of a person’s control and they have to deal with the responsibility regardless, and for those people I have the upmost respect. My desire for marriage and babies is constantly in a state of flux, because if 2020 has taught us anything it’s that no one really ever knows what’s going to happen in five years or even a year! I think I’ll only truly know how I feel about marriage and children when/if I meet someone who makes me believe in it, but the one thing I won’t do is settle.

Over the last few months, I have learnt and continue to learn a lot regarding the society we live in. Mostly around the systemic and institutionalised racism that still exists and the damaging patriarchal systems we live in. Some may argue that these are urgent but separate issues. In many ways they are not. Racism and sexism intersect for a huge number of people. Black women and women of colour, who face discrimination daily for being both that, a person of colour and a woman. So much so that the term misogynoir, was coined by black feminist, Moya Bailey, to describe the prevalent hatred that black women face in pop culture today. I admit that I did not know until recently, some of the different levels of discrimination black women face daily. Whether that’s being told to style their hair differently as it’s deemed ‘unprofessional’ for work. Or being labelled as ‘aggressive’ when raising a point assertively. Or often being fetishized and dehumanised by men on dating apps, in addition to all the other atrocities that women are subjected to.

Women are consistently sexualised by men and the media, often against our own will and resulting in damaging and dangerous repercussions. But when we attempt to own our sexuality, we are reprimanded. We are labelled as a ‘slut’ ‘slag’ ‘whore’ and ‘too easy’, for merely admitting that women enjoy sex too (shock horror). This is why I love Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s latest song, WAP. An acronym for ‘Wet Ass Pussy’, or how I also like to refer to it, ‘Women Against Patriarchy.’ One of the first mainstream songs that consists of two women Hip Hop artists singing about and owning female sexuality. I applaud them. Not only for the memorable lyrics and addictive Tik Tok dance sequences, but for sticking two fingers up to all the misogynists who will happily sing along to a man rapping about fucking a load of women but are outraged when a woman sings about receiving oral sex.

Women do not exist as an accessory to a man’s pleasure, we have our own wants and needs. Recently I was on holiday and overheard a conversation by the pool between two men roughly my age. They were boasting about how many fingers their girlfriends like inside of them and saying, and I quote, “all women basically just love a whole fist up there.” I shook my head but refrained from interrupting their conversation and instead smirked from behind my book. They had no idea. And this has become so apparent over the years that so many men have no clue on how to really pleasure a woman. In an open question on Instagram stories an artist and influencer asked men how do you make a woman cum? ALL of the answers involved how many fingers they would fit in her vagina and how hard they would penetrate her. Not one of them even mentioned the clitoris. Seriously. The only human body part designed solely for female pleasure! And since 75% of women cannot orgasm from penetration alone, a pretty crucial body part to forget. So really boys, you probably want to spend a little less time watching Fruity Female likes Fisting on Pornhub and dust up on your clitoral stimulation skills. And whilst I’m on the topic, cut and clean your fingernails.

What I’ve learnt about men (in relation to women)

Do I miss the company of a man, physical touch, and the excitement of new beginnings? Whether that’s the flutter in my stomach when receiving a text or the contented smile when being spooned on a Sunday morning. Absolutely. But I know over the last six months I’ve also slept better at night knowing that my mood couldn’t be altered by something a man did or didn’t do. Despite the uncertainty of living through a pandemic, for the first time in years I became the master of my own emotions, with zero interference from a man determining my mood, and for that, I slept like a baby.

Never doubt the power of female intuition. If that’s one thing I’ve learnt is that my gut feeling on something is almost always right. Even when my ex-boyfriend, Seb, cheated on me whilst on holiday (amongst the others), he consistently denied it, but I knew he had. He finally admitted to it a couple years later, a few weeks before we broke up. These type of men are very good at gaslighting you and making you feel like you’re the ‘crazy’ one or ‘overreacting’ for even bringing it up. Rather than admit they were wrong they’d rather project the blame on to you instead. But that’s a blog post for another time.

I like to think that I’ve gotten better at picking up on any ‘red flags.’ In the past I would either be naive to any red flags or otherwise clock them and choose to ignore them anyway. But really this is just a form of self-sabotage. By ignoring any issues in the beginning, you are only in denial and setting yourself up for upset later down the line. Examples of red flags I’ve ignored in the past include (but are not limited to): a man being rude to waiting staff on a date, a man not texting to see if I got home OK after leaving his house in the dark, a man’s reluctance to call me his girlfriend despite us dating for 10 months. I could go on.

I don’t claim to know the inner workings of a man, God knows some things they do and say quite honestly baffle me, but I do know this. If a man wants to be with you, he will be with you. It really is as simple of that. If a man ghosts you or only responds (begrudgingly) days later after you’ve doubled texted and claims he has ‘been busy with work’, then it speaks for itself. Everyone is busy, but people will make the time for those they genuinely care about. He is just not interested. Move on. The time I have spent over the years overthinking, analysing text messages to try and decipher hidden meanings and attempting to double guess a man’s actions, is beyond ridiculous. When really, I could have used that same energy on someone who was actually interested or better yet, on myself!

So yeah, if a man wants to date you, he will ask you, if he wants to see you, he will make plans (and stick to them), and if he wants you in his life then he will make the effort to do just that. I honestly think most men unapologetically go for what they want, whether that’s romantically, professionally, or otherwise. If he’s acting shady or distant than that’s a huge red flag. Run. Do not waste your breath or tears on this man, because he certainly isn’t with you. And if I’d have known this simple fact years ago, I would have saved myself a lot of anguish and heartache.

What I’ve learnt about myself (as a woman)

Over the past 12 months I’ve learnt more about myself than in the last 12 years. This personal challenge was more than just about sex; I wanted to find contentment in other things outside of my ‘love life’. Because despite what society tells us, women are so much more than our romantic status. I wanted to push myself and see what new things I could learn and do and question my own thinking. I’ve tried to diversify my reading, whether books or online articles, listen to various podcasts and begin to challenge my own unconscious biases and toxic behaviours. All whilst acknowledging that this is a constant evolving process.

I decided to research Attachment Styles to begin to understand my relationships with others. There are four identified Attachment Styles: Secure, Anxious, Avoidant/Dismissive and Fearful. If you don’t know yours yet, I recommend Googling, it’s an eye opener! I could quite clearly see myself in the Anxious category, where I’m hyper-aware of the other person and overly focused on small details. Interesting. Well they say the first step to solving something is the acknowledgement of the issue, so I’m working on and aiming for the somewhat healthier category of Secure attachment. That’s not to say that my attachment style is alone fully responsible for the breakdown of all my past relationships; although I acknowledge that it may have played a part. The men did a pretty good job of fucking it up at their end too. No, as humans we are complex creatures with a multitude of intricacies. We adapt, change, and grow all the time and sometimes people grow apart. And sometimes it’s just about the timing.

I also looked into Love languages to gain a better understanding of my personal needs and who I might be most compatible with. The five Love Languages are identified as: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. These categories describe how an individual expresses their love to others and/or responds well to. Despite liking elements of all the languages, I knew instantly what my top two Love Languages were. Physical Touch is a high priority, as I’ve always shown affection physically. I love kissing, cuddling, holding hands, having my hair stroked, and I like to have an active sex life (usually!). It would also explain why my previous relationships with men who’s love language wasn’t Physical Touch have always been strained.

I also put great emphasis on Words of Affirmation. No real surprise there considering I enjoy blogging, writing poetry and keep birthday cards that hold sentimental value. I’m known for my transparency and wearing my heart on my sleeve. I tell people how I feel about them, and I like to know how they feel about me in return. Obviously, all things in moderation, I don’t particularly like the idea of a man draped over me 24/7, hanging on to my every word! And as I’ve gotten older and more cautious, I will probably hold my cards a little closer, to avoid getting hurt as much.

I’m still continuing to learn and like every human I will inevitably make mistakes along the way, but it is the willingness to learn and take accountability where warranted which is important. The other day I did an exercise where I sat down and wrote lists of all the people in my 32 years who have impacted my life in one way or another. Nowadays it’s so easy to get caught up in life that you may take family and friends for granted, and I wanted to remind myself of the people I’m most grateful for. Afterwards I looked back at my list and interestingly there were 30 women who I consider as actively having a positive influence in my life, compared to just 10 men. I then consulted my list of people who have impacted my life at some point (but not necessarily for the best) and there were four women compared to eight men. That isn’t to take away from the men who have brought so much to my life (and I can count them on two hands!) because those are the men who give me hope and remind me that amongst the fuckboys and egotistical maniacs, good men do exist.

***

It’s been almost a year since I packed up my belongings and moved out of my South London flat, to escape to Mexico for a few weeks after my breakup with B. After a couple months commuting in from Kent at the beginning of the year and then spending lockdown in the countryside, I am finally moving back to London next week. Despite the still uncertain times ahead, I am ready for this fresh new start. I’m also ready to start dating again, albeit with a new, and hopefully healthier perspective. I can’t say downloading the dating apps again fills me with overwhelming joy, but I am looking forward to meeting new people again (if Boris so allows it!). And if not, Rihanna is 32 and reportedly single, and if its good enough for Rhi Rhi, then it’s good enough for me.

Yeah, Me Too

Trigger warning: this blog post contains references of sexual harassment and assault.

Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. – Elie Wiesel.

It’s been a while since my last post. I originally thought I’d spend a lot of my time during lockdown writing but in reality, I spent a lot of it reflecting. I’ve spent the last two months debating with myself about writing this. I’d form paragraphs in my head on dog walks then lose my confidence once I was in front of my computer screen. When I talked to my sister about this, she asked what was stopping me. If I’m honest with myself, I was scared of being vulnerable and of what people may think. I was scared of being labelled as a ‘victim’ and that I wouldn’t do myself or so many other women justice. I eventually decided the best thing to do, was just to write… and once I started, I found I couldn’t stop. The words poured out of me as I ferociously typed, I felt anger and relief at finally be able to tell my story. So many women are silenced because their story is not ‘palatable’ or it’s too ‘uncomfortable’ to read, or it would ‘damage a man’s reputation’ if made public. But if recent events have taught us anything, it is only once we start talking, can we finally face injustices together.

***

2012. I was 23, and it was my first job after I’d graduated. A few months after I was first employed, a new director, let’s call him Kane, joined the company and I reported directly into him. It started with flirtatious comments as I brought him coffee or put papers down on his desk. I thought he was just being cheeky and didn’t look too much into it until he started texting me in the evenings. They were borderline messages, not quite enough for me to say anything (so I thought) but inappropriate enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

Then there was a work trip to Germany with an overnight stay for Kane and his team, which included seven men, all above the age of 40 and one woman, me. As we sat on the tiny plane about to take off, Kane suddenly took hold of my hand. I looked at him and he winked, claiming he was a nervous flyer. As the engine fired up, I stared at his hand holding mine, wondering when he would let go.

Once we landed in Germany, we had a day planned with a factory tour, team building exercises, followed by a dinner, before checking into our hotel. Throughout the whole day I was subjected to sexualised comments and innuendos from the men, or, as it is still so commonly referred to, ‘just banter’. Kane sat next to me at the dinner and kept his arm across the back of my chair the whole time, whilst continuously topping up my wine glass. Afterwards, at the hotel, Kane insisted everyone stay up for night caps. After a couple more drinks we all started to head upstairs to our respective rooms. Once we reached the bedroom landing, Kane enthusiastically suggested that we all should play a game of hide and seek! Some of the older men begrudgingly agreed, not wanting to say no to their new boss. Kane faced the wall and started counting as everyone ran in opposite directions trying to find a hiding place.

I ran downstairs and hid under a staircase. It wasn’t a great hiding spot and I was still clearly in view. After a few minutes I heard footsteps come down the stairs, and I saw Kane peer his head around the corner. He spotted me but didn’t say anything, just ran back upstairs, which confused me. A few more minutes passed, and I couldn’t hear anything; I just wanted to go to bed. So, I headed back upstairs to the landing expecting to see more of the team peering out from hiding spots. But the landing was completely deserted. Then out of nowhere Kane stepped out on to the landing. He didn’t say anything.

“Um…where are the others?” I asked, nervously.

“They’ve all gone to bed.” said Kane, his eyes fixed on me, smiling.

I felt the panic rise in my chest as I realised, that he’d only gone back upstairs after seeing me to tell the others to go to bed, and then had come back out to find me. We were completely alone, and he was making no attempt at heading to his own room.

“Right, well I think I’ll be off to bed too then,” I said as I backed away from him and walked quickly to my room.

“Night then.” he called after me.

Once in my room I quickly locked the door with shaking hands and breathed a sigh of relief.

***

Kane abused his position of authority to try and take advantage of a fresh out of university graduate. I was young and naive and kept his actions to myself, but if something like that were to happen again to me today, I’d like to think I’d be able to report it. But the truth is that so many women are silenced, due to fear of losing their job, not being believed, or generally upsetting the status quo. Yet, most women have similar stories where they have been harassed and often put in terrifying situations by men. The #MeToo movement created by Tarana Burke in 2006, gained traction in 2017 when numerous actresses publicly reported cases of sexual harassment and assault. Once a couple of women had told their story, more and more came out. The sheer volume was staggering; it was time to break the silence. Women in the media and across the world are constantly named, blamed, and shamed for their actions, it’s time to finally make men accountable for theirs.

I was assaulted in my mid-twenties when I was having sex with a guy and he removed the condom without my knowing or consent. This is called ‘stealthing’. At the time once I’d realised what he’d done, I felt weird and uncomfortable, but because assault and lack of consent in all its forms is normalised in society, I hadn’t realised that I’d actually been sexually assaulted until later on. I had consented to sex with a condom, I had NOT consented to sex without one. He took that choice away from me and decided he could do what he wanted with my body. This was not my first experience of assault at the hands of a man either. I am not unique in my experiences. Most women you know will have been subjected to some form of harassment and/or assault by a man in their lifetime. And it’s not unusual for them to have more than one story, that is how much society normalises sexual assault on women. It happens every day and people turn a blind eye to it, cover it up, and gaslight the woman into feeling like she’s over-reacting. According to Rape Crisis UK, it was estimated that 1 in 5 women will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. This could be your mum, sister, or daughter. This could be you. If you’re a man reading this and you’re sat feeling shocked, disgusted, and angry, then imagine what it’s like to be a woman who faces the very real threat of this every single day.

***

Let’s talk about respect, specifically the lack of respect for women. When I lived in Australia with three men, I was partial to hearing the way they discussed women. Women were conquests that were rated on how their bodies looked to determine their value and it wasn’t uncommon for racist slurs such as, “I love a chocolate woman” to be casually thrown around as they dehumanised these women further. This is a prime example of toxic masculinity, and it was not the first time I have heard groups of men discussing women as if they were objects to be used and discarded, with little to no regard for the fact that they are a person with thoughts, feelings and lived experiences. This kind of behaviour is not ‘funny’ or ‘manly’, it encourages the disrespect of women and feeds into rape culture.

When a woman is minimised to just her body, you dehumanise her to an object solely for male consumption. A lot of men believe they have some kind of ‘ownership’ over women’s bodies and think they can do whatever they like with them. An example of this that a lot of women will have experienced, is when men walk past them in a club or bar, or indeed any public space, and put their hands on her waist as they pass, instead of politely asking her if he can get by. For some reason men seem to think they are entitled to be able to touch a woman’s body without her consent. And we normalise this!? Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot. How do you think a man would react if they were physically touched by another person they didn’t know as they walked past? And yet, if a woman was to call a man out and quite rightly be outraged, then she is called a “bitch” for even daring to challenge a man, despite the fact that he touched her body! Are we starting to see the problem here?

Further examples of a lack of respect for women include catcalling, hooting of car horns, and inappropriate comments on a woman’s appearance. All are harassment and not a single woman I know considers it a compliment. Even when we’re in a bar and we’ve declined advances from a man, a lot of the time they won’t leave us alone until we’ve used the “I have a boyfriend” line. This is our strongest card of rejection, because men will respect other men more than the woman literally standing in front of them.

As women, we have to constantly think about our safety. Every day we have to navigate routes and plans to try and protect our bodies and lives. When we go out, we don’t have the privilege that a lot of men have of just choosing to walk home at night. If a man is walking behind us late at night or a car pulls up to us, our hearts begin to race as our bodies prepare for fight or flight. We have to be on constant alert to a potential attacker; packing a pair of flip flops as they are easier to run in, should we have to, or tucking our housekeys between our knuckles. Just a couple examples of my personal experiences include, having to get off a bus early because a man was harassing me, and I had to stand waiting for an Uber in the middle of nowhere at night. After a night out, I was walking the short distance from the bus stop to my flat when a man ran out of an alleyway, touching himself and chasing me down the street. Most of the women you know will have had experiences of this everyday harassment, and so we ultimately end up paying more for our safety on expensive taxis, rape alarms etc. All this, despite being paid less than our male counterparts! So, if you’re a man on a date with a woman, I wouldn’t begrudge her if you end up paying for a couple more rounds of drinks – the gender pay gap is a very real thing.

And then there’s the all-important subject of consent, with some people claiming that there are ‘blurred lines’. Well, let me break this down simply for you: If it is not a ‘yes,’ then it is a ‘no.’ And no means NO. If someone tells you that they are ‘not in the mood’ or doesn’t respond, then that is not an invitation for you to ask again and break them down until they agree. If someone is silent and still (potentially frozen with fear) then that is not a go ahead for you to proceed. If someone consents to kissing you, that is not an automatic pass to fingering. If someone consents to oral sex with you, that does not automatically mean that they consent to penetrative sex with you.  And if someone consents to sex with you using a condom that does not mean that they consent to that condom being removed without their knowledge. And finally, but certainly not the least, anyone can withdraw their consent at any given time – even if you’re in the middle of sex. If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend watching Michaela Coel’s 12-part series I May Destroy You on BBC iPlayer. A drama based on her real-life experiences of sexual assault and the importance of consent. It is the most powerful, impactful, and important series I have watched in a long time.

***

We live in a society of ‘victim blaming’. Where women who report cases of harassment or assault are questioned on whether “they led him on” or subjected to comments such as, “look what she was wearing, she was asking for it”. NO. No one asks to be assaulted. That blame lies solely with the perpetrator. We teach our daughters how to avoid danger and ‘how not to get raped’. When really, we should be teaching our sons not to rape women. Boys need to be taught that women are not sexualised objects who exist for their consumption and disposal.  

Men need to be made accountable for their actions. And if you’re a man sat reading this and your first response is defensive and along the lines of “but not all men are like that” or “well, I wouldn’t do that,” let me stop you right there. You are not being attacked here; it is women who are being attacked (in the majority). Yes, we know that not all men harass and assault women, but enough men do it that most women you know will have experienced it. And that’s a BIG problem. And if you’re still feeling defensive, maybe that’s actually a feeling of guilt and there’s a reason for that…

We need men to put their own egos aside and wake up to the reality of what is happening to women, every single day. What we don’t need is a man responding to our traumas by “playing devil’s advocate” or giving us “whataboutisms”. This is not a game or debate. You are not being constructive or helpful, all you are doing is deliberately dismissing and belittling our experiences. Women go through enough without hearing that bullshit too.

***

I am a feminist. At least, a ‘feminist in progress’, a term coined by presenter and activist, Jameela Jamil. Acknowledging that whilst I am actively educating myself and striving to be and do better, I will never stop learning, and nor should I. Because the minute you stop learning and think you know everything, a person from a marginalised community gets overlooked. To be a feminist literally means the belief that everyone should have equality, be treated equally, and have equal opportunities regardless of gender, race, sexuality, or ability. Sounds fair right? Yet the world is far from fair, and if you don’t realise that or if all or even just one of above means that you’ve had no experiences of discrimination, then that is your privilege. It’s time to start recognising your privileges, because not everyone has them. And people are losing jobs, losing freedom, being assaulted, and being killed because of that.

I’m mixed race, but my lighter skin tone means that I have benefitted from white privilege and white proximity. I am also a straight, non-disabled, cisgender woman so I benefit from those privileges too. But what about women from marginalised communities? Women of colour, disabled women, trans women or gay or bisexual women, who in addition to being oppressed by the patriarchy also face further discrimination, and similar to higher rates of sexual violence than straight people. The 2015 U.S Transgender Survey found that 47% of trans people are sexually assaulted at some point during their lifetime. This is why we have to check our own privileges, face uncomfortable truths, and ensure that our feminism is truly intersectional, so that no one is overlooked and equality for all, actually does mean equality for all. This requires work from women and men, and the work is never done; it is always in progress.

Some people scoff at the mention of feminism and roll their eyes as if it’s some dirty or embarrassing word. There is an outdated notion of what feminism is – cue images of bra burning and man-hating. A narrative so obviously constructed by the patriarchy, yet it continues to seep unchecked into our daily lives. But it’s important to remember that everyone can be feminists. So, reader, are you a feminist? If you can’t answer that straight away, then I’d question yourself on why you don’t believe in equal opportunities for everyone? – because that is what’s truly concerning.

Contrary to what some may believe, I do not hate men. I hate toxic masculinity and misogyny. But I love men. Hell, most of the posts on this blog wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for my love of men! The patriarchy harms us all, it teaches men to supress their emotions, it teaches women to be in competition with other women and it teaches us all that if we do not fit into the narratives it assigns to us that we must be punished somehow. But if you’re a man (especially a white, cisgender man), the patriarchy holds you above everyone else, and if you don’t recognise your own privilege yet, then it’s time to. So, this is a call to all men, to leave any defensiveness at the door and to show up for the women you love and the women you don’t. To listen to our stories, to believe us, to fight against the patriarchal society that oppresses us, to help amplify our voices, to stand by us and to be our allies.

So, yeah, me too. I have past experiences of trauma and that will never be OK or just accepted. I don’t let or want what happened to me define who I am, but I know that is something I will always have to process and live with. But live I shall. I have a career, a loving family, and supportive friends. I had and will have boyfriends (although hopefully not many more!). I travel, I read, I write, and I continue to learn. I blog about my experiences in the hope that it may help others feel less alone in theirs. I cry when I’m sad or angry or when I feel something is unjust. I am strong and stand up for myself despite hating confrontation. I will laugh at myself and unapologetically always set out to be the joker. I love hard despite having had my heart broken more than once. And I will always be slightly obsessed with pancakes. I am still me; I am still Jess.

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

Trigger warning: this blog post contains references of emotional abuse and toxic relationships.

***

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

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.

***

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.

The One That Got Away – Part 2

The next morning, I cancelled my birthday drinks and took the first train out of London back to my Dad’s. Tears silently rolled down my cheeks for the full two-hour journey. Was it really over? It didn’t feel right to be over. Dad was waiting for me at the station. I didn’t say anything, just walked up to him and he held me for five minutes whilst I sobbed into his jumper. Once back home, I took myself upstairs and slept for most of the Saturday afternoon, my dad bringing me cups of tea every couple of hours. So British. I hibernated there for the rest of the weekend. It took all my energy to head back to London on the Monday and face the reality of a potential break up.

True to my word, I gave B his space to think. After a couple of days of radio silence, I decided to bite the bullet and message him to ask if he would like a phone call; just to talk. B agreed to the phone call on the Tuesday evening. As we talked it was like nothing was different, even laughing at a couple of each other’s jokes. B suggested we meet in person on the Thursday. Maybe B meant for me to be comforted by the call, but as I went to sleep that night something niggled at the back of my mind. He’s already made his decision, Jess. He just hasn’t told you yet.

That week I couldn’t sleep or eat. I lost half a stone in 10 days. My eczema flared up on my hands – a true sign that I was stressed out. It didn’t help that the flat I had been living in for the past two years in Southwest London; once my safe haven was now somewhere I dreaded going back home to. I’d had some tense encounters with my flatmates over the past few weeks and in all honesty, I couldn’t see a way back from it. I tried to keep myself busy with work, but I felt distracted.

One lunchtime whilst sat in the breakout room, Margaret was watching me absentmindedly stirring my rice on my plate. “I know you really care about him, Jess, but there’s plenty more fish in the sea.” I looked up from my plate and paused. “Yeah… but he was my fish, Mags” I said.

By Thursday I was a nervous wreck. I had convinced myself that it was all over and B was only going to confirm that horrible truth to me that night. 5pm hit and my phone flashed up with a message from B saying that preparations for his event that weekend were running over and he’d have to work late. He apologised and asked if we could reschedule until the Sunday, and in the meantime, he would call me later that night.

That evening I waited nervously for B to call. 10pm came and he hadn’t called. 10.30pm, still nothing. By 11pm I’d had enough and decided to call B instead. It went straight to answerphone. Hot tears streamed down my face. It was 11.30pm before I gave up hope of a call and went to sleep. The next morning, I sent B a message telling him how I knew he was busy but that I was really hurting, and it felt like he’d already made his decision, and nothing indicated that it was one that which involved me. B read the message but didn’t reply.

Later that day I headed to my mum’s place for the weekend. The whole of that Friday went by with no reply from B. Saturday came and went with still no response. I stared at the two blue ticks feeling anger and hurt pulsing through me. I don’t understand, this was so out of character for him. Why was he treating me like this??

Dad dropped by Mum’s that weekend. When in crisis, call in the cavalry. I sat across from him in my pyjamas, staring at my phone screen.

“You will be OK, Jess. You’ve done it before, and you’ll do it again. You’re strong, stronger than you give yourself credit for,” he said.

“I know…but I don’t want to keep doing it, Dad. I’m so sick of getting hurt. My heart can’t take it,” I whispered.

“Well, that’s one of the most beautiful things about you. Despite having been hurt, you haven’t become a cynic. You let yourself fall in love again, and that’s a brave and wonderful thing.”

Would help if the guy felt the same way though.

I listened to my mum on the phone to my sister. She was currently in Next with her husband and was asking about different sofas for their new house. God, our lives are so different. Dad was watching me.

“Y’know Jess, if you wanted to have a baby on your own…I’d be OK with that,” he soothed, tentatively.

I stopped sniffing abruptly and roughly wiped my face. “What’s that got to do with anything?!” I asked, perplexed.

“Nothing… I’m just putting it out there,” he replied, holding up his hands defensively.

I rolled my eyes. Like my biggest concern right now was whether my father minded if I had a child out of wedlock.

I later found out that this stemmed from a whole conservation my dad had with my aunt on the opinion that if I had a baby (donor sperm or otherwise) all my problems would be solved! (On hearing this I manically laughed at the ludicrousness of this conversation, if only to stop myself from crying). When was it that my parents went from doing anything to make sure I didn’t get impregnated to practically shoving pamphlets for artificial insemination down my throat??

“Dad, this isn’t about kids! This is about losing my fish!”

He looked totally bewildered and I wandered off to wail at Mum instead.

On the Sunday evening, I still hadn’t heard from B. In a state of shock and hurt from his lack of response, I dragged myself back to London. He clearly had no intention of meeting me that day. It was 9pm when my phone flashed up with a call. It was B.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Jess? Oh Jess, I’m so sorry,” He said. “I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your message. I’ve just been so busy with the event and I know that’s not even an excuse. I have been thinking about you, but I just didn’t know what to say, and I’m sorry.”

I was emotionally exhausted. I just needed him to put me out of my misery. “B, please…just tell me. You’ve made your decision, haven’t you?”

“Yeah…yeah I have.” He replied. And I heard the tears catch in his throat.

It was over.

B and I agreed to meet in person to properly talk things through. So, on the Monday evening I ordered an Uber to B’s house. I wanted to be mad at him; mad for not replying to my messages when he knew I was distraught, mad for promising Switzerland then ending it only three days later. I wanted to be mad at him for making me believe that I’d finally met someone that felt the same way I did. I wanted to be so mad that I could scream at him at how fucking unfair this all was to happen, again. But when he answered the door and I saw his face; I felt my anger instantly evaporate. B wrapped his arms around me, and I inhaled his familiar scent. God, I couldn’t be mad at him. He had been stupid, and cruel even, not to reply to me, but I knew it was never to deliberately hurt me. I could see in his face that he was hurting too.

We went upstairs to B’s room. B sat on the bed and pulled me in between his legs, and I tucked myself under his arm. “I’m so sorry, Jess,” he said, tears beginning to form in his eyes. “I just have to do this.”

“I know…” I replied quietly. “I just wish I was a part of it. I really thought we had a future together.”

I looked up and held B’s gaze. He started to sob. “God, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, every time I look into your eyes I start crying!” he said, rubbing his face with his sleeve. I laughed softly even though tears were silently rolling down my face too.

“It’s fine, its OK to cry; I’ve been doing it all week!”

“I know, it’s just that I haven’t cried in years… and I can’t seem to stop now.”

B and I stayed on his bed for the next hour holding each other, tears falling, whispering memories and inside jokes to each other.

“It’s getting late, we should really get you home,” B said, softly.

“Can I stay here with you tonight?”

“Jess, you can’t. That’s not how this works.”

“Not to do anything, I just want you to hold me.”

“We can’t…I can’t…I’m sorry, Jess, it would just be too hard to then let you go.”

And then the realisation that this was really over hit me like a giant wave and I broke down in tears. “I don’t know if I have the strength to walk away from you and go home,” I managed in between rasping sobs.

B gently wiped the tears from under my eyes. “Ok…how about I come with you and I’ll put you to bed?” I nodded silently. B ordered an Uber and we sat in silence cuddled up in the back seat, my hand in his whilst he kissed my forehead.

At 11.30pm we arrived at my flat. B sat patiently waiting on my bed whilst I took my makeup off and undressed. He wrapped his arms around me from behind as I brushed my teeth. Once I was ready, B pulled back the duvet and let me climb into bed. He pulled up the covers and rested his head on my stomach, looking up at me through teary eyes. “Don’t ever forget how amazing, funny and beautiful you are, Jess.” B whispered.

“I don’t want to lose you completely,” I replied stroking his hair.

“And you won’t, I meant what I said. I’m not running out of the door, never to see you again. I promise.”

And with that B got to his feet, lent over and kissed me, and it felt like the world stopped.

He closed the door and I heard every step he took, as he made sure to walk and not run out of the flat. And my heart shattered, as I knew I loved him all the more for it.

***

When I was 24, I quit my job without having another lined up and moved to London. At the time I thought I was having a quarter-life crisis. I now recognise it as the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Now, it feels like I’m entering my third-life crisis. Losing B had turned my world upside down. The dream of a future I would no longer have had been pulled up from underneath me leaving me emotionally crumpled on the floor. I had to get out of my flat; I had to get out of London. So, in a desperate attempt to regain some control in my life, I called my landlord and told him I was moving out in three weeks. Instant relief flooded through me. Fuck it. I then picked up my laptop and booked flights to Mexico for the following month. My brother was currently out in Guatemala learning Spanish, so I planned to meet him in Mexico and travel down the Yucatán Peninsula together. I’ll be away for most of November, hopefully enough time to help sort my head and heart out.

The intervening weeks before moving out went by in blur. Flat viewings kept me occupied for a couple evenings. Once they were finished, I would head upstairs exhausted and be left with nothing but my own thoughts, usually resorting in me crying myself to sleep. I spent the days keeping busy at work and the evenings attempting to pack. B and I exchanged a few messages over this time, checking in on each other. It was amazing how a single message from him would lift my mood, and how if he didn’t reply it would crush me. The news filtered through my friendship groups resulting in a flood of supportive messages; offers of cooking me dinner or taking me out to lunch. They were all insistent that it was nothing I had done and any guy would be lucky to have me. A reminder of the amazing friends and family I have around me.

It was weird; I’d never had a break up like this before. Most of my previous relationships had ended because the guy had either cheated on me or treated me badly. I could use my anger at them as energy to get over them and move on with my life. This time was different. I still have a huge amount of respect for B. He taught me that there are good men out there; men that will treat you right. I want him to do what’s right for him; I want him to be happy.

I miss him so much. It’s funny how when you lose someone, certain words and intimate details you shared flick through your mind like a show reel of your relationship. Isabella Plantation, rhubarb gin, Pergola, yummy buns, belly button, Jeffries chicken burgers, grey hairs, Tooting Common, pain au raisins, Borough Market, pancakes with bacon, Kew Gardens, Oyster Bay, Daquiris, gritty bits, Tango Blasts, The Hurlingham Club, Longback, Littleback, Basement Sate, escalator kisses. All these little things, so insignificant to anyone else but carefully woven threads which formed a relationship between two people. Thoughts of them make me both happy and sad all at once.

So at the age of 31, for what felt like the hundredth time in my adult life; I boxed up all my belongings and moved out of my flat. The sexy black lingerie with its labels still intact was carefully folded and packed away. I left behind the small housewarming cacti from Dennis and donated the watch Seb had given me to a charity shop, but I took the orchid B had given to me. I felt weirdly protective of the orchid. Which is annoying as they are notoriously hard to keep alive.

I’m not mad at B for his decision. I’m sad for what could have been. I mean, what do you do when you’ve found your person, but it’s the wrong time? One evening whilst on the phone to my dad, he shared his wiser words of, “I really believe that if it’s meant to be and that if it’s true love, you will find a way back to each other, Jess.” Maybe this isn’t the end for B and I; maybe it’s only the beginning of our story. But I know for now, whilst B pursues his life dreams in other countries, I know I have to move on and live my own.

So, tomorrow I leave for Mexico, with just my passport and backpack. Any extra baggage? Just a broken heart.