Tag Archives: International Womens Day

The Boyfriend Diaries: Darren

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

The Boyfriend Diaries: Early Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Rush Hour Rendezvous

January 2020. The start of a new year and in an attempt to regain some control back in my life I gave B an ultimatum; it was either everything, or nothing at all. After two, very long heartfelt messages we agreed to cut all forms of contact to allow us both to move on with our own lives. It was the single hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. The sense of loss felt all consuming. In the long-term I knew it would be for the best; the limbo we had been in for the last three months meant that my emotions were constantly on simmer. It wasn’t healthy and I respected myself enough to know that I deserved more than what B could currently give me. In the short-term, it felt like I’d lost my lover/best friend/confidant all in one. Some days I’d momentarily forget about B and then I’d go to bed at night, shut my eyes and my subconscious would push through a thought of him. It would feel like a heavy weight dropped in the pit of my stomach and a pang of longing, which felt almost physical, would twinge in my heart and then spread through my body like seeping ink. The oh too familiar feeling of heartache. I just wanted it to hurry up and pass.

I debated with myself on whether dating again and meeting other men would help. I applied to be a guest member of the dating app, The League. Apparently I was 46,000 out 57,000 people on the waiting list for London, unless I paid a hefty membership fee to skip the queue *rolls eyes*. I checked in a couple days later to see that I’d moved 20 places down. Bloody hell! At this rate I’d be dating again by the time I was 60. I reluctantly downloaded Hinge instead and stared at the app on my home screen. I really hoped that the last time I had deleted my Hinge profile would have been the actual last time. I sighed; I’d never felt less excited by anything. I created a new profile and watched over a few days as the red notification icon gradually climbed in numbers; potential likes and messages. The anxiety started to creep in. If by the tiniest chance that any one of these men could potentially be ‘the one’, could I even bring myself to open up to the risk of being hurt, again?

I started messaging one guy and it momentarily made me feel good; a little ego boost after the rejection. After a couple days of messaging back and forth, the conservation came to a halt. Maybe he had met someone else? Maybe he just wasn’t interested? Maybe he found your blog, Jess… I laughed to myself. Yep, that would do it. I looked at my other matches and realised I didn’t want to do this right now. A knee jerk reaction and I quickly deleted my profile. Oh, the relief. 

Come mid-January I was run down and lethargic with heartache and New Year blues. I was avoiding my phone (not always a bad thing), struggling to get out of bed in the dark mornings and had developed recurring sinusitis (probably stress related). My friend, Annie, reminded me to be kinder to myself, to not feel like I had to rush into dating. That it was OK for me to just sit with these feelings for as long as I needed to and allow myself to heal at my own pace. Of course, she was right, I knew this; this wasn’t my first rodeo. 

Then, in a weird twist of fate, three weeks after cutting all contact with B, the strangest thing happened. One Thursday evening in late January, I’d left work to go and meet a friend in Tooting for dinner. I was tired and full of cold and had very nearly cancelled my plans so that I could just go home and get into bed, but I’ve always hated letting people down last minute and decided to just suck it up and go. 

I made my way to the Victoria line and ran onto a carriage as the doors were closing. It was rush hour and commuters were tightly packed into the carriages. I hated travelling on the tube at this time, at five foot two I was always wedged under someone’s armpit or balancing between people because I couldn’t reach the overhead handrails. That evening was no different, I was squeezed into a small space with a woman to my left and then to my right a tall man reading his kindle. I did a double take. My stomach seemed to lurch upward into my chest. Was this actually happening? It was B. I lifted a shaky hand and prodded him on the arm. He looked up and I felt an immediate rush of love. 

“Oh, hello!” he said in surprise.

“Hi… this is so weird,” I laughed nervously, my heart starting to hammer in my chest. I paused for a second not knowing what to do or say. “Come here!” B said and pulled me in for a hug. He then spent the next few minutes telling me about his New Year holidays, his family and his evening plans. I nodded along, in a state of shock, my heart at risk of bulldozing right through my chest. Of course I would bump into him when I looked like shite; I was full of cold, no makeup on, unwashed hair, with a spot on my cheek that I’d quickly picked before I’d left work. B however, looked gorgeous, obviously. He chatted away like we always had, like nothing had changed. It was so wonderful to see him and hear his voice again, but I was also crumbling inside. I blinked dumbly at him, I felt hot and my hearing was muffled. Shit, please don’t faint, Jess. And then before I could collect myself and act like a normal human being the tube pulled up in Stockwell; my stop.

I opened my mouth to say something, but no words came out. There were a thousand things I wanted to say to him, but nothing came out. B smiled and pulled me in for another hug. “It was good to see you, Jess, have a nice evening!” he said, and I mumbled goodbye in reply. Had I been given a chance and messed it up? I stumbled off on to the platform in a daze and turned to steal one last glance at B, he was already nose down into his Kindle as the train doors closed. He was seemingly completely unfazed by what had just happened. I however, had momentarily forgotten what I was doing or even where I was going. I stood frozen to the spot as commuters pushed past me to get on to the tube. 

I swallowed a lump in my throat as tears threatened to spill from my eyes. I was still in shock. Nine million people in London and it was him who was squeezed up against me in that tube carriage. It wasn’t even his usual route; it wasn’t even my usual route. What are the chances? For the last three weeks I had been mourning the loss of B and coming to terms that I’d probably never see or hear from him again. And then when I least expected it, when I looked like I’d been dragged backwards through a bush, fate had dangled him right in front of me, the one thing I wanted but couldn’t have. It felt cruel. I lifted my eyes to the ceiling, ‘Really?’ I asked. Why couldn’t I just catch a break when it came to men? 

I brushed the escaped tears off my cheeks and slowly walked in zombie like motion across to the other platform; trying to replay those last few minutes in my head. It felt like it was just me that had been completely floored by our unexpected rush hour rendezvous. B had looked and sounded fine. Maybe he had already moved on… maybe he had even met someone else… my heart sank. 

The truth is that a week before, I had received an email from The League saying that my application had been reviewed and I was through the waiting list and could now start seeing potential matches. It was less pressure than Hinge with no swiping and just three profiles a day to vet, so I decided to give it a go. I had matched with one guy and we’d exchanged a couple messages and he had promptly asked me out on a date. I thought, what the hell, maybe it was time, and agreed to meet him for a drink. We set a date but all I kept thinking in my head were possible excuses I could give to cancel. The guy seemed attractive from his photos and had been perfectly polite in his messages, so why was I so determined to get out of it? 

The funny thing is I had agreed to the date only hours before my encounter with B on the tube. I knew then, it was a sign. I recognised what I was doing. I was trying to fill the void that B had left with someone else. But I was 31 now, and if there was anything that my twenties had taught me, it was that replacing one man with another was a sure recipe for disaster. As I lay in bed that night struggling to get to sleep, I knew that if I couldn’t have B then I didn’t want anyone else at that moment. I messaged the guy to cancel our date and then deleted the app from my phone. 

I made a decision to forget about men and spend the next six months concentrating on me. If, like that evening, fate decided that B and I would reconcile or I was to meet another man, then fine, I would embrace it, but no more dating apps. I truly believed in what my dad had said, that against the odds, if it was meant to be, then it would happen. The right man would walk into my life at the right time. I wasn’t going to chase it anymore.

So, in the meantime, I decided to focus on the small things I liked doing for myself, like reading, listening to podcasts, exercising and blogging. It was time to pull myself out of my January blues, dust off the remnants of hurt from last year, count the blessings I did have and focus on my goals for the year ahead. I had done it before and I could do it again. I could make 2020 my year. And what a better time than now to reflect on my past relationships, to remind myself of the lessons I had learnt through my twenties, about men, about life and more importantly, about myself.

Platform 2, London Victoria

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My train was still delayed. 

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

“Jess, you can’t ask me that.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Merry Christmas, B,” I replied. 

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

GUEST POST: Me, Myself and Identity

Written by Rebecca N.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The One That Got Away – Part 1

It’s been a little while since I last wrote a blog post. In all honesty I thought I’d next be writing about my previous two exes, Seb and Dennis. I’d put these posts off for a while as I thought writing them would bring up painful memories. But this is even harder to write. Most of my blog posts are written with hindsight and a good deal of reflection. This still feels raw and tears make tracks down my cheeks as I write this late at night. You see, I did unexpectedly meet someone, and I fell in love. This is our story.

As with all the men featured on my blog, I tried to give him a pseudonym. But any other name felt wrong. I love his real name, the way it looks, sounds, seeing it pop up on my phone screen. He couldn’t be anyone else but that in my head. So, for that reason we shall simply call him ‘B.’ 

B was always supportive of my blog and we’d always joke about what his blog entry would be. I would say, “but I don’t know the ending yet!” 

To which he would reply – “who said it’s going to end?”

April 2019. After matching on Hinge, B and I had been exchanging messages for a couple weeks. We arranged to meet at a wine bar on Northcote Road on the Friday after Easter. In all my haste not to be late to the date, I had rushed out of the flat to catch the bus, forgetting to ask one of my flatmates to zip up the back of my dress. I arrived at the bar a minute before B and watched him walk in. He was tall and handsome with blue eyes and upon seeing me he grinned to reveal perfect teeth. I smiled back, already hooked.  After kissing B hello on the cheek, I spun round to reveal my exposed back. He laughed and gently shifted me into the corner. I felt him breathe gently against the back of my neck and his hand ever so slightly lingered on my hip as he carefully zipped me up. Tingles shot down my spine. 

We spent the evening sampling wines and eating tapas, and telling each other funny stories. After dinner we moved on to another bar up the road. We tucked ourselves into a corner and continued to talk and flirt; our faces inches from each other. Not being able to wait any longer for B to make a move, I pushed his drink aside, lent in and kissed him. As I pulled away, I lifted my eyes up to catch B outwardly grinning upwards at the ceiling; clearly happy with himself. I laughed and cupped my hand over his mouth, telling him to at least pretend to play it cool. It made no difference. B spent the rest of the evening grinning to himself whilst I took the piss out of him for it. It was 1am, and after a night of dancing, laughing and kissing, B dropped me off home in his Uber and I was the one who fell asleep that night smiling to myself.

The next morning B messaged saying he’d love to take me out again. We met the following week at a street food market in Elephant & Castle. That evening we cosied up on one of the benches sipping gin and tonics and sharing a Greek food platter. Every now and then we’d steal quick kisses. “I’ve having a great time, but I wish there was somewhere more private we could go so I could kiss you properly,” I whispered to B. He asked if I’d like to go back to his house. I nodded. We finished our drinks and walked hand in hand to the tube station. As we waited for a train, I pushed B up against the platform wall, and kissed him feverishly. The train pulled up and we giddily boarded.

Once inside B’s house, I hovered shyly in his kitchen as he made me a drink. B turned and purposely walked towards me, scooping me up in his arms, I wrapped my legs around his waist, and he lowered me onto the kitchen side. As we kissed B slowly unbuttoned my top, planting kisses from my neck down past my collarbone. My breath caught in my throat. “Shall we go upstairs?” he whispered. I nodded.

I followed B upstairs. I noted the relatively tidy room, made-up bed and dear god… was that four pillows! This man was clearly marriage material. As B watched me take in the room, he commented, “I’ve read your blog, Jess. I added the fourth pillow from my cupboard this morning.” I giggled and fell on to the bed with him. 

That night we stayed up laughing and kissing in bed. I told B I was wary about men hurting me and hadn’t slept with anyone in months. “We don’t have to have sex tonight Jess, we can wait,” he softly said as we lay naked together, our bodies wrapped round each other. It took all my will power not to give in but eventually we fell asleep. The next morning my willpower had completely evaporated. My eyes were barely open before we were wrapped around each other again and I happily gave in this time…

Afterwards, I lay on B’s chest and he told me how it was unusual for him to spend the night with a girl. Sure, he’d go out and hook up with girls, but he would never stay over and would never invite them back to his. I inwardly scoffed to myself; surely this was just a line to reel me in. And yet, something told me he was telling the truth. “But you let me stay over?” I said.

“I know… it feels different with you,” B replied, stroking my hair.

For our third date, B took me up to the Sky Garden to watch the sunset. We ended the evening back at his lying in bed together eating Krave cereal for dinner at 11pm. “I really like you, Jess” B whispered in my ear as he spooned me that night. 

“Oh, do you now!” I joked in reply. In all truthfulness, despite it only being three dates in, I really liked B too. But I didn’t want to admit that to him or myself. I’d heard this before from so many guys previously; all of who had hurt me afterwards. 

“I don’t want to date anyone else…” B said, pulling me into him as he drifted off to sleep.

“Me neither,” I replied, quietly. We both deleted Hinge soon after that.

The months that followed with B were some of my happiest. Memories flood through my mind now. The time we packed up a picnic and spent the day lounging in the sun at Richmond Park. We laughed, drank prosecco and made daisy chains, which B weaved through the embroidery in my dress. The day we went to a festival in East London and B had to watch me pull out the wedgie my denim shorts gave me every 20 minutes. The time that we went bowling and I forced B to take his first ever selfie of us. The bank holiday where we walked for hours along Regents Canal from Little Venice to Primrose Hill and fell asleep together in the sun. The time I danced on B’s toes in my dad’s kitchen, or when he pinned me down and licked my face while I squealed with laughter. Gross, I know.

We started to recognise each other’s quirks; B would be consumed by work and I would overthink everything. But instead of holding these quirks against each other we just accepted them. Each month B would go away for a week or so to work on an event, which would take up most of his thoughts and energy. His messages would come fewer and more sporadically during those times. Unsurprisingly this would have driven a lot of women mad but despite missing him I wanted to be supportive. It was worth it to see him when he got back. 

I trusted B. He was the first man in months that I had let my guard down to. I was scared about getting hurt again but it felt safe and right when I was with him. He would do all the little things to make me happy without me ever asking him to. I loved the way he would turn up at my front door with flowers for no reason. The way he would kiss me hello after being away, cupping my face and intently holding my gaze. I loved the way he would stand behind me on a tube escalator and playfully squeeze my bum. The way we could be completely ourselves around each other even if that meant acting like loons (cue very unsexy attempt at Full Monty strip tease and makeshift man thong). I loved the way we would randomly have sex in the middle of the night and not remember the next morning how it even started. I loved the way we’d fall asleep holding hands every night that we spent together. After all these years I felt that I’d finally met my person.

As my feelings for B grew stronger, I introduced him to my friends and family. After meeting B for the first time I asked my sister what she thought. 

“Oh Jess, the way he looks at you,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“When you’re chatting to someone or doing something… he just watches you.”

“Don’t be silly,” I laughed, waving off her comment, dismissively. But I had sometimes seen it too, when I had turned and my brown eyes had met his blue. I had felt the warmth travel up through me and my cheeks pop out as I barely contained my smile. I knew then, I had fallen for him.

September 2019. It was my birthday and B was due back that day from working away. B arrived at mine that evening armed with an orchid and a card that said that he was taking me to Switzerland. I was over the moon! We’d been talking for months about going away together, but what with B’s busy work schedule we just hadn’t found the time. Later that night as we were curled up in bed together, B turned to me and whispered, “Happy Birthday Jess.” I smiled. We’d had lovely dinner out, we were finally going away together, and everything felt perfect between us. I really was happy.

Three days later and everything changed. 

I had organised to go around to B’s for a night in that Friday. I was looking forward to spending some quality alone time together and I’d bought some new sexy black lingerie especially for the occasion. That morning B and I had exchanged a few messages, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But I had a bad gut feeling. I couldn’t explain why, but I also couldn’t shift it throughout the day.  I’d never had this feeling with B before and it unnerved me, as I knew from experience that my gut feelings were almost always on the mark.

I got home after work and started to get ready and pack my overnight bag. My phone flashed with a message from B saying that he was seeing a mate around the corner and would pop by mine about 7pm. Alarm bells rang in my head. “And then head to yours together?” I replied. The message remained unread. Shit. This wasn’t good.

7pm came and true to his word B arrived at my front door. He greeted me normally and so I mentally told myself to get a grip. Once upstairs in my room I turned and threw my arms around B. I must have been shaking because he asked if I was OK. “Yeah, it’s just me being silly… I had this feeling that something was wrong,” I whispered into his neck.

“Actually Jess, there is something I wanted to talk to you about,” B said, pulling away.

And right then, I knew. My stomach dropped and the pain was almost instant. I immediately reverted to the hurt I had felt 18 months prior when Dennis had run out of the very same room. Something I had never wanted to feel again.

B took my hand and gently pulled me on to his lap. “Jess, this is the hardest thing to say to you… and it’s honestly nothing you’ve done” OK…

“…I don’t think this is the right time to be a relationship” What??... But, we’re going to Switzerland??

“I think I want to move to Canada… or Australia.” Motherfucker.

Oh, of course it’s Australia. I am actually cursed.

B genuinely looked anguished. “I don’t understand,” I whispered, attempting to fight back tears. “We’re so good together, we make each other happy.”

“We do! And this has nothing to do with you, you’re the nicest girl I’ve ever met.” He said, earnestly.  I don’t want to be the nicest girl; I want to be THE girl, YOUR girl!

“This is just something I need to do for myself,” he continued. “The last thing I wanted to do was upset you, Jess.”

“Well, it’s too late,” I whispered, and not being able to hold back the tears any longer, I began to sob into B’s neck. “I was too scared to tell you before…but I’ve felt it for a while now. And I do, I really do. I love you.” And then B was the one to break. He pulled me tightly into him and we cried into each other’s arms for half an hour.

“Are you really saying that this is over?” I cried, as B pushed the hair off my face.

“I…I don’t know…I just need a few days to think everything through. I should go.”

“Please don’t leave me alone.”

“Jess, I have to. I need some time to think.” 

“I know, I know…I’m just scared that once you run out of that door, I’ll never see you again.” 

B stopped crying and pulled my face up to his. He looked me dead in the eye, and said, “That is not what’s happening here. This is not the last time you will hear from me or see me. I promise you, Jess.” B then kissed me and walked out the door.

I let out a sob and curled up on the floor in a corner of my room and phoned my dad. 

“Hello… Jess?”

I couldn’t say anything; I just broke down in tears.

“Oh no, Jess…” 

He knew what this call was. This was the third time he’d received it in the last four years.

To be continued…