Love Lessons Learned
Year 2. 2018-2019
Second year. University. Grades count now. I was adamant I wasn’t going to be distracted by yet another man. I was wrong.
Ahhh… Gorgeous green eyes and the Hemingway of my story. So beautifully simplistic, and yet unexpectedly complicated. I did not see him coming. I sat in my best friend’s house aiding the completion of a home-made birthday present between the three amigos: three best friends since the first year of university and inseparable ever since.
“Say hi to Hemingway,” chimed up the stairs, someone else had arrived home.
We all yelled down “Hi Hemingway”.
The minute I looked into his eyes I knew the man would be between my legs if the opportunity arose. We compared heights to see who was taller like two infants. He followed me into my friend’s room: curious and bright.
He asked what song to put on as he left. I said Dangerous Woman. Oh lord, how little did I in that moment how true to life the lyrics would be. Something about the man did make me feel like a dangerous woman. We both later concluded we wanted to fuck each other there and then. I’m glad I waited.
Late October 2019. The night of the house party arrived. I think I acted cool and somewhat distant as not to seem too keen but alas, my perception could be wrong. The walk home I don’t remember but when I slid my key into my front door I’d sobered up. Fuck. One: this wasn’t my usual way of things. Two: I’d just brought a gorgeous man home. What was I supposed to do? Him, it turns out.
I was an awkward mess. Perched on the edge of the bed, nervous, overthinking. Tense and quiet. All awkwardness faded away when his lips met mine. Oh, his taste, his touch, his smell, everything about the man was perfection in its finest form. It turns out it wasn’t the last time I would see him.
Friends with benefits. The title was new to me. Foreign in a wonderfully exotic and forbidden way. And, as predictable as you would think I caught feelings as effectively as an elderly person catching a cold – far too quickly. I was a goner.
I still to this day do not know if my love was unrequited or reciprocated but alas, I do not care. Some questions do not need answers and this ‘What if’ is one of them. I guess what I learnt from Hemingway was that I was capable of falling in love with a person and not just the idea of who a person could be, nor the idea of a relationship itself. Even now I’m smiling like a fool at how I was. Who I was then. Hemingway will forever have a precious fondness even though he was never meant to stay.
God, the words I could use to describe the next one. Three months into the new year and March found me another lover after Hemingway and I parted ways. There’s a beautifully obscene word I could use but I won’t. Maybe you’ve heard of it; it rhymes with punt. This one came with a mouthful of forevers. Eyes the colour of sunlight through whiskey. One simple swipe right and I found myself in his company. A well-travelled, broad shouldered, cocky rugby player. Only an inch or so shorter than me, but rather insecure about it. And with the most spectacular ability to tell lies.
I ignored far too many red flags with this one. They were literally hitting me in the face, and I didn’t take heed. Perhaps I was lonely, perhaps I was seeking what I found in another, or maybe I was trying to conform to the societal ‘find someone to be happy’ bullshit. Most likely, an amalgamation of these unhealthy things.
Chlamydia. The clap. A sexually transmitted infection I could not have gotten from anyone but him. What did he do? He blamed me. I must have cheated to have gotten it. It was insane. I should have left there and then. I’d been clean before him. I wasn’t clean after fucking him. The math was simple. Far too simple. Yet the answers from him were anything but.
Can we talk? As if I should have had to ask permission. Ridiculous. When the pain hit I realised the extent of my actions. He smashed my pride, my hope. I smashed a glass. Picking up the shards was a messy affair – I cut my hands. Always the way. The sobriety of heartbreak was comforting, like that of an old friend as if to say: Here, you naive hopeless romantic, let him be your final lesson.
I honestly thought I’d stopped the toxic trend with him but evidently I hadn’t. Love is blind. We only see what we want to see until it’s far too late. And I, it would seem, still had that fatal flaw of wanting to help the demons.
I got help after this particular episode. Semester two of second year had meant shit was getting real academically and I needed to be at my best for third year. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was actually more help than I expected it to be. It addressed all sorts of issues I hadn’t addressed before: self-esteem and the need to have validation from others. And now, I know myself even better. Counselling aided my journey, addressed the scars I had only half healed. Anxiety and depressive episodes are diminishing and my progress, although not linear, is gaining speed.
I remember hoping that whatever it is I found in Hemingway, I would find in another.
Year 3 2019-2020
November 2019. I was almost twenty-one and I’d had a fair few casual vacancies flit across my pages but never for a chapter. I was sleeping around and avoiding relationships. Hemingway delved in my sheets every now and again. A Master’s degree was in pursuit with a conditional offer. University grades were steady. I felt stronger both physically and mentally. I was healing, still am.
I stopped seeing Hemingway in the beginning of December – addiction is never an easy thing to overcome. December came, and instead of snow falling, tears did instead. How poetic of me. I knew it wouldn’t last forever. Hemingway and I even had the conversation in real life whilst intoxicated in October. I had entered the phase of my life where sensibility won over unhealthy somewhat exhilarating acts. I had to stop the hurt before we imploded. It was hard walking away, I only managed it the second time around. I had to stop engaging in healthy behaviours and start validating myself.
January 2020. My Dad told me that men are a lot like cars: some you don’t buy and others you do – just a matter of finding the right one. I’ve taken far too many on failed test drives is all I’m going to add on that matter. I simply replied with: I seem to be rather hopeless at that. Relax, he said, you’re only twenty-one. The thing is, what I’ve learnt is that you need to be able to love yourself, validate yourself first. I’m still learning that even now with my current boyfriend. I once accepted the love I thought I deserved, which was fucking shit. I’m still working on the healthy relationship with myself and undoing the years of trauma and maladaptive behaviours.
Once upon a time, these people made me happy (or still do) and they were exactly what I wanted in that moment of folly, of bravery, of lust, of loneliness, of love… They are the building blocks of who I am, the scars on my heart. All of these tender casual vacancies… This has been a reflection of failed love attempts but it has also been a reflection of a spectacular love story about loving myself and healing old wounds. I lost myself and found myself. I’ve learnt what I love and what I do not. Sometimes we love those we cannot have or were undeserving of our love. I needed to learn to love myself whole-heartedly so that I would never dare let myself be under-loved again. Hell, I’m still learning that now, and it’s difficult but getting easier. Progress is uneven and sometimes slow but I have the right people beside me and I have me to keep pushing me forward.
This collection of stories was me letting go of my past and accepting it, accepting who I was and knowing that now, now I know better. Now, I know what love is both from me and from another.