For one reason or another, I can’t seem to stop replaying different moments of my last relationship in my head. And no, it’s not because I’m still in love with him; I think part of it is boredom with my endless mountains of work and the enjoyment of such deep and perplexing thoughts (only slight sarcasm intended there).
It’s also more because I’m trying to understand where it all went so awfully wrong, why it was never right to begin with, and why we couldn’t ever seem to get all our dysfunctions straightened out. I’m telling myself it’s to help avoid these sorts of issues with my new boyfriend, or any other future partners, but I think part of it is just a certain morbid fascination with the dissection of my own petty existence.
Anyway, the moment I’m fixating on at this second is the moment he told me he loved me. You see, I always thought it was so romantic. But now I’m not so sure. Let me set the scene.
We’d been on holiday together in hot, sunny Spain in a little Airbnb apartment for just over a week during the summer. I had left about two weeks earlier than him so he could spend the rest of the holiday with his parents, but the week or so we had spent together was probably one of the most romantic weeks of my life. It was on that holiday, in those scorching, delirious days, that I first felt that I loved him in the proper sense of the word. Somewhere in the balmy muddle of those deep green sheets, or on those long, roasting beach walks, or the daytime trips for post-siesta food, I’d felt those first real sparks of complete, utter love.
And I’d told him that. The night before I left.
And he told me, on that muggy, humid night, that it was too soon. That I was being silly, and that the alcohol we’d had was muddling my brain and I wasn’t thinking straight.
So I dropped it.
I swallowed my feelings, and the rejection of not being loved back, and accepted that maybe I had been a little eager in my feelings. Maybe, after six months of seeing each other, it was too soon to say those big, burdensome words.
But then, two weeks later, after endless late night phone calls and desperate ‘I miss you’ messages, he turned up at my house, and pretty much as soon as I opened the door, he’d pinned me against it and moaned those glorious words into my lips.
‘I love you.’
I was ecstatic. Over the moon. He loved me. It was all I had waited for over those long, treacherous two weeks, and he’d finally said it.
Our two weeks apart had made him realise how he felt.
In that moment, it felt wonderful. But now I look back on it with mixed feelings. Because, why did two weeks away from me make him realise how he felt about me? Why was it that, when I was gone, and only then, did he realise how he felt? Is there not something fundamentally wrong with only realising you love someone when they aren’t there? Shouldn’t you realise it when they are there?
Because now, with hindsight, I think that hesitation, that doubt that played in his mind when I had revealed my feelings – that was a sign of all the problems to come. I know now that, if he had truly loved me in the way he later claimed to, he would not have scolded me for my ‘early’ declaration. He would have sung it from the rooftops; he would have felt the joy, the blissful happiness, that I felt when he said those words to me. There would have been no pause for thought, or absence, or any confusion whatsoever. His love should have been instinctual.
My mother has always been a big preacher of that awful saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” And I think for a very long time, I have accepted that without question. Because I know that feeling. I know that sometimes, to take a more basic example than the bewildering complexities of adolescent love, my cat really annoys me. I’ll be sitting at my desk, and the cat will strut across my keyboard, or knock things off the desk for the hell of it, or even dip his tiny head in my delightfully fresh mug of tea. It’s very frustrating.
But, when I’m back at university and far, far away from home, both in time and distance, I miss that annoying little fluff-ball. I wish that I could scoop him up off my keyboard and kiss his soft little head, or make those strange little pecking sounds at him that he loves. Because, as my mother’s preaching goes, absence does make the heart grow fonder. Even towards pesky, furry creatures.
That example makes it seem so innocent. But my critique of it, both for cats and humans alike, is that it shouldn’t take absence to appreciate someone, and especially not to love them.
Sure, my cat can be irritating and sometimes I want to lock him out the room and leave him to aggravate some other innocent member of my family, but actually, I should appreciate those moments of irritation. I should enjoy and love the fact that he is spending the little time he does indeed spend awake, hopelessly trying to get my attention. He may be trying to irritate me, but he does it because he loves me. And absence should not make me realise that actually, I love him back and adore the ruckus that his affection comes with. I should love it in the moment, not after the moment is gone.
And the same goes for people.
Love shouldn’t take time to develop, at least not after you know a person well enough. And it shouldn’t take them being gone to realise how they make your heart swell and your tummy flutter. It should be as simple as saying “I love you, too”, not because you think you do, or you think it’s the right thing to say, but because if you really do feel it, if you really do love someone in that whirlwind, tornado, swept up, all-I-want-is-you kind of way, then it just rolls off the tongue without a second thought.
We’re a species who are terrible at living in the moment, and despite our best pleas, are equally awful at going off our gut. At taking that leap of faith, and putting our hearts on the line. I’m still not brilliant at it, despite the endless mindfulness sessions I do; it’s not an easy thing to be good at. But I was better at it than my ex, and I’ve realised that is something we could never get over. An insurmountable chasm between us.
I have always led with my feelings, and he has always led with his thought. And although opposites attract, yadayada, that fundamentally different way of approaching life constantly had us in a state of conflict.
Even over something as magical and sensational as a declaration of love.