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.