I am often called clingy. By strangers, by guys, by friends I relentlessly moan at. I guess it’s because I have two settings when it comes to dating. The first sees me carry a general sense of indifference around for months until it morphs into a crippling boredom, by which point I feel too guilty to end things. The second is I start planning our honeymoon before the guy’s finished his coffee on the first date. There is no middle; I either have bucket loads of chill or absolutely zero. When it’s the first I’m fairly easy going throughout the entire lifespan of the relationship. I don’t freak when they don’t text back right away, I’m casual, nonchalant about sex and stuff. Then there’s setting number two, which sees me transform into a forlorn creature who gnaws away at slices of pizza without guilt or remorse after my aggressive clinginess inevitability asphyxiates the relationship.
When you’re in love with someone there is one statement that must be uttered with the utmost caution. It’s a sentence that’s most likely to get you dumped if it’s executed too soon and that sentence is, of course, the words ‘I love you.’ There is a second sentence that’s also likely to get you dumped, and that’s admitting that you’ve listened to Taylor Swift so many times that you can immediately associated any song of hers with whatever romantic entanglement you’re currently trying to tear your way out of – but that’s a different kind of loneliness also together. Loneliness is a funny thing. Solitude, loneliness, singleness. It’s a mode of existence that comes very naturally to me. The sort of loneliness that allows you to ponder and dream about what things would be like if you were still with someone you were once in love with. The one where you imagine the simple things you’d do together. How you’d be shopping together, in the car together, holding hands together. Just those things that are so simplistic in their beauty but are always taken for granted in a relationship. It’s not until now, a year since I first started speaking to the last person I was in love with, that I’m able to look back at what we had and how we handled it in a way that’s equal parts of satisfying and sad.
Being trapped can come in many forms, but mostly it comes in the form of a relationship. When we were together my bedroom felt like it had no windows in it. At first I thought, this is kind of cool, it’s like we’re on a boat; but at the time I was unaware that I was wading into waters too deep to swim in. We kissed each other before we tumbled into what I thought would be a one-off thing. What I didn’t know at the time was that there I’d stay intermittently for the next couple of months; leaving every other day only for sustenance, work or when he had to go to college. Every time I left him I felt easy and afraid, the light hurting my eyes like I’d been stuck in that windowless room for years on end. I asked him to take a selfie with me after sex, as proof of how young and rosy we were, but the picture came out as shadowy as the relationship would soon turn out to be.
The first night we went out together it became clear to me how ill-matched we were. The moment we were in a place that wasn’t the comfort of my unmade bed we began to crumble as aspects of our personality, which had remained submerged until this point, begun to surface. In a room full of crowded people, with light flooding into all that space, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. He got mean, I got sad. He flew around the room, flirting shamelessly with others, whilst I was left entertaining the idea that we were only connected by our bodies, wedged together by my King-sized bed. After our first couple of sleepovers he started asking me to take the side against the wall – the opposite side of where I usually slept. Quite often I’d awake in the middle of the night sweaty and disoriented, my face pressed against the plaster of my wall. ‘This isn’t working’ I thought, as I tossed and turned, cuddling up to my insomnia as he overheated when I hugged into him.
Over the next eight weeks we stopped and started, wept and slept and I’d awake with a gasp and listen to his breathing, as he looked so lovely when he slept. All the while wondering what would happen when I again let him leave. Would these moments just stop existing? I felt trapped in a place in space and time, one from which I couldn’t leave. I just had to exist there. One December morning he left to go to college, exiting my flat via my wallet, withdrawing enough money to make sure he’d be able to get food for that day and his train fare home. When he was gone I looked in the mirror, my hair tangled, my eyes housed blacked circles and my mouth felt like the Sahara. Later that day a friend asked, ‘what’s happening to you?’ I explained, but he didn’t get it. I explained that it’s hard to give up on someone you really care about, even if you know it wasn’t going to last forever. The friend then told me that I wasn’t in love with the person, but rather the idea of him and what could be. Perhaps this was true, but it’s hard to believe that something as simple as a concept could cede such carnage in its wake. After this chat there was a stony silence. I tried to close my eyes and surgically remove the thought of the inevitable future I’d soon face. I sat on Twitter trying to distract myself, but to no avail. As scrolled down my feed I landed on a Buzzfeed article that shared the story of someone that had been in a comparable situation. In bold, doomsdayish words ‘you might end up alone if you don’t settle’ was strung across the header image and for a moment I chocked on the cosmic irony of this. I then looked out across the café at my seemingly bleak future and imagined being strapped to a gurney a in a mental hospital, driven insane by the promise of perpetual singledom, my heart as antiqued and rusted as the machine they’d use on me for electroshock therapy.
Three weeks later our relationship concluded. I sat looking at my phone, seemingly useless to me as I tried to convince myself that I didn’t know the pass-code to unlock it; when in reality I didn’t even have one set at the time. With shaky finality I crafted my goodbyes as elegantly as iMessage would allow. Before I could get the rest of my words out my friend called me and told me that someone had backed into her car. Putting her on loud speaker I finished my message and hit the send bottom. His response came through and I shivered as his cold reply ran through my entire body, ushering in that final nail-in-the-coffin feeling that arrives when you know that it’s really, truly over.
For a solid hour after I felt trapped within the white confines of my room. I tried hard to stitch together a logical path forward, but got distracted by everything around me; from the plants that were shedding leaves, to the ball of dust that sat delicately at the bottom of my guitar. I sat on the edge of my bed, my hands between my knees, the international sign for panic attack, and wept between gasping breaths. In comparison to other heartbreaks the damage of this one appeared to be minimal. But even now, a year to the week after we first started talking, I still find myself snugly nestling up to a useless cluster of ‘what ifs’ that died in their infancy; willing them back-to-life the best I can. It’s hard not to feel hopeless about it. Everyone I’ve ever dated since has, in some way, echoed aspects of that guy I was really drawn too. Perhaps that’s why it never works out.
When I found out he’d been sleeping with other guys throughout the entire course of us being together I immediately stopped caring about him in that way. He could be stuck on a punctured lilo in the middle of the shark infested waters of the Mediterranean for all I cared. Yet here I am, seven months on since our relationship ended, clinging to some of our memories like I would my backpack in a bad part of town; worried-but-happy at the knowledge that, for now, it’s contents are safe. Sitting in my apartment, writing this, surveying the empty spaces in my open plan kitchen/living-room, I am comforted by the knowledge that one day such spaces can and will be filled. I never believed that I’d have choices in love, or that I deserved them. That guys like me – awkward, begging guys – can love more than once. I left my last heartbreak armed with the knowledge that there will always be choices, and windows, for guys like me and that I’ll never have to sleep against the wall again.