It feels strange to be turning twenty in the knowledge that I have already fallen in love, cherished that love and let it go. I think it’s partly a generational thing; in previous decades there was a tendency to marry much earlier – you fell in love with someone and that was that. We get caught up in university and careers and thoughts of the future and talk about how complicated things are and how emotionally torn we are.
I fulfilled all the clichés with my guy. As much as you know that the concept of ‘the one’ is best reserved for Rihanna songs and that when people say childhood sweethearts don’t last through university they’re right, you let half of your brain luxuriate in the possibility that you’re the exception; that because you both want it so much you’ll be the ones that make it. It’s that stubbornness that keeps you trying even when it’s making you absolutely miserable and you know that clinging onto those ideals isn’t helpful for either of you.
Time is a healer; another thing that those older and wiser people say and another thing they’re frustratingly right about. But for now I am resisting it because I’m not ready to have those feelings healed away. I don’t want the exhilarating memories I have of being in love to be put in a rational perspective, the kind of perspective where you smile at your former self in a knowing, condescending kind of way.
When I first met him I just wanted to spend time with him. I had this huge impulse to go and speak to him about anything and everything. I was late for so many classes because if I saw him I’d always stop and talk. We always met in the meadow; we’d lie in grass and buttercups and try and not kiss. I had another boyfriend; I’d trail kisses up his neck and jaw line and stop before his lips. We thought we were above labels; we were us and we were better than any ordinary couple could be. Eventually I found the courage to break off that other relationship.
On Bonfire night he stood against a tree in the dark and I went on my knees to give him head. When I stood up I said ‘we should go out shouldn’t we?’ and he agreed. We continued to meet at the park; we never wanted anyone else near us. We were at school every day together for another year after that but we never met anywhere else. We didn’t have mutual friends – he was in the year below, something I always found intensely embarrassing. He lived in the same town as the school; at lunch times, we’d skip meals and run to his, take off all our clothes, have sex and run back again. I was late for my afternoon history lesson every Thursday.
When I went to university we decided to be entirely cool and practical. Couples didn’t last at university, we’d always been best friends we’d just go back to being best friends. We didn’t need labels holding us back from anything. In reality we couldn’t do it; I heard his sadness on the other end of the phone as I told him about uni and boys. We were back together after the first week. I kept thinking that in hindsight I might regret this; that I’d look back and wish I’d made more of university, of opportunities for sexual experimentation and meeting exciting new men. I have hindsight now and I don’t regret it. He excited me more than anyone I’ve met since. In the end it was amazingly stable; we’d text and skype all day and every two or three weeks he’d come for a weekend. We’d make an island out of my bed and leave it only to collect the pizza we’d ordered. In the holidays he’d come and live at mine for a bit. We’d lie on the sofa and make big dinners. When we were together we never did anything adventurous and we never socialised with anyone else. It felt unnecessary.
We always just dealt with stuff; if there were problems we said so and we adjusted. One morning I woke up in someone else’s bed. No actual sex but enough for him to call me a cunt. For a morning and an afternoon he hated me. By the evening we were okay. It took a couple of weeks for it to be forgotten but we did it and we carried on as before.
When he went to uni, I just kept waiting for the moment he’d freak out and tell me he wanted to be single. It didn’t happen for a while. We celebrated our two year anniversary on bonfire night with sparklers and sex. I lay naked in his arms and thought ‘I don’t want to be anywhere else’. I thought then that whatever happened, however hard it got, I’d always want to be with him. In fact it broke down very quickly after that. The freak out came and as ever we tried to come up with a practical solution; we’d go on a break, he’d have time to figure out what he wanted. I went out excited to be finally ‘single’ at uni. I ended the night cycling home in the dark by myself tears smudging my makeup. Neither of us could handle not speaking to one another; the break lasted just a few days before we got back together. But it hadn’t solved the problems and the knowledge that we’d both got with other people just added some of its own.
The most stressful month of my life followed. We were desperately holding onto something that we couldn’t keep together. For the first time I couldn’t find anything to say to him. Everything I could think to say was angry and bitter and had already been said. It became almost a relief if we were busy and couldn’t try communicating. We broke up in a very similar way to how we’d got together. I said ‘Do you think we should break up?’ and he said ‘maybe’ and then ‘yes’. It was actually a huge relief to say it; to have made the decision. I was staying with him in London that night and we stayed up until 4am watching episodes of Friends and hugging one another. Strangely it was the first time since the break that we’d had our normal affectionate relationship back. We said goodbye the next day and I walked away. There was a huge impulse in me to run back and change things but I didn’t.
We saw each other a few months later and it was as if nothing had changed. We hugged and had sex and stayed up late into the night. But we didn’t get back together and I’m glad about that; we’ve done things right, we haven’t had huge rows and we haven’t tried to resurrect something that’s already dead. If we do get back together at some point it’ll be another relationship entirely and we’ll be very different people to the teenagers in the meadow. So now I just have memories of it and time ahead of me to let everything but those memories go.