“People are very fond of giving away what they need most themselves.”
Please don’t be fooled by the presence of Oscar Wilde, Dante and Beatrice decorating my opening gambit here, I have no further eloquence up my sleeve with which to broach this subject other than to unabashedly describe my own experience of it. The subject being the thorny terrain of unrequited love.
Last night in bed he felt my pulse.
I am one of many thousands of people who suffer at the hands of unrequited love — that callous, cruel, conniving little bitch. I never imagined that I would be in this situation. It really is a fucking outrage that this has happened to me — I really believed that I would be loved, valued and adored by any man I wanted.
Well that was then, and this is now.
Why did he feel my pulse?
I met Mark when I was 20 years old. I was thinner then, my hair was blonder and my teeth were straighter. Mark was 21, with brown skin and thick curly black hair. His eyes were the darkest colour of coffee I’d ever seen. They are honestly still the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen. He wasn’t much taller than me and he was soft and warm. He laughed a lot.
Once I’d decided that I liked Mark I slept with him pretty shortly afterwards. It was after a big, drunken night out. We smoked weed in his flat and had sex on his sofa bed whilst two of our friends copulated on a bean bag nearby. I think it was only after this that I realised how I felt about him. But I’d already crashed head first into offering myself up as a casual vessel of sexual intercourse: a fact that would prove exhausting-ly difficult to ever reverse over the ensuing years to come.
Could he feel that my heart was beating too fast?
I was naïve with Mark. I believed then that life was simple. I thought that if you loved someone, just simply loved someone — then they would love you too. But Mark didn’t love me, not then anyway, definitely not then.
It had never occurred to me that loving someone might not be straightforward. That race, religion, money, distance, time and everything else in between could ever complicate any part of how you instinctively felt about someone. But what did I know? I continued to be the casual vessel. I was so willing and eager to please. I convinced myself that just being available would be enough. You see I hadn’t quite realised then all of the reasons why a man might not want to love me.
I suddenly became self-aware where I hadn’t been before. I’m smart, I’ve always been smart, but I’d also felt secure. Secure in the knowledge that I was desirable, likeable and lovable. What a terrible job my parents must have done to raise a child so assured of being loved. It was such a shock when I realised that I wasn’t good enough to be loved by him. It wasn’t a feeling that I’d ever needed to prepare myself for.
He felt my pulse and then he kissed me.
It has now been nearly 9 years since I first met Mark, and my heart still stops every time I see him. Some of the softness has gone; mercilessly so have all of those black curls, but those damn dark eyes. Sometimes I can’t look directly at them, because when I do I feel like I’m like peering over the edge of the roller-coaster drop, knowing that I fucking love the exhilaration and excitement of the free fall down, but also knowing that I’ll feel cheated when it comes to an abrupt and sudden end.
There are periods when we speak nearly every day; we are currently in one of those. The only phases in our lives over the last near decade when we haven’t spoken is when we’re trying at being grown-ups with other people. Actually that’s a lie. I’ve had two boyfriends since I’ve known Mark. One was, I suppose, my childhood sweet heart. But after I’d met Mark he never stood a chance. Every time I closed my eyes all I saw were those dark curls and all I felt was the warm skin and frantic grappling of someone who wasn’t in my bed, and who has never really wanted to be. It wasn’t a nice time, I didn’t enjoy thinking about someone else — I’m not really wired that way.
We fell out during that time, Mark and I. We’d had a year of me allowing him to pick me up and drop me whenever he liked and I’d developed deliriously strong feelings towards him. It was terrifying and frustrating because I had no idea how to behave and was frequently met with silence, indifference and even ridicule. There were other girls, I don’t know how many, I don’t how many he really liked or how many he didn’t like, but in my head he’d surely never spend a night alone because who wouldn’t want to be with him? Thinking about it made me sick, not just figuratively, actually sick, sick of food. I got really skinny. This ignited attention from elsewhere and as a reaction I blindly stumbled backwards into a familiar and safe relationship for comfort. This was a metaphorical false economy because I still went back to Mark, physically and emotionally, whenever he asked — physically this happened twice in three years — I feel like it’s important to write that fact down. I lied to both of them. It seemed the only way to still have what I really wanted but to also not be left feeling so bereft in the months in between when Mark had found someone else to occupy his time and attention.
I don’t regret it because I do not regret a single second that I have ever spent with him. I feel foolish because I was a child playing at being an adult and not understanding what any of it meant. My now ex-boyfriend is of little concern, if that sounds heartless it’s not, we had our own issues but we were always just pretending. But I think I did hurt Mark, or at the very least really pissed him off. He called me some names. He pretended that he’d felt used, maybe he did? But at the time I couldn’t see it, all I could see was the hurt he’d caused me. It felt like a very cruel double standard considering, but it was a hard lesson to learn. I’d consciously made a decision to be dishonest and potentially cause people pain purely for my own, unsustainable gratification. I felt terrible for it.
After he kissed me he said we shouldn’t have sex. He said it was the only way to ensure we’d still be in each other’s lives forever.
It was after this episode that I really started to dissect myself. I started pulling off the pieces that had put me together and rearranging them until I didn’t fit anymore. I felt inadequate. I felt ugly, really quite ugly. I was dull and dumb and I realised that Mark would never see me in the same way that other men might. The crash course of our sporadically intertwining lives had moulded his opinion of me into something slightly distasteful.
I’m not sure how or why but somehow it wasn’t long until we were speaking again, we’d made our way back to each other and both subconsciously decided to never really address it. I played out every possible conversation a thousand times in my head, I practised how I would tell him how much he meant to me and why everything I have ever done since I’ve known him has only ever been out of desperation for him to love me. In hindsight it’s a good thing that these unnecessary conversations never actually happened, it’s pretty rare for the stink of desperation to go unnoticed — and unfortunately for me he’s really fucking smart.
We did see each other every so often, but the time he took occupying my thoughts compared to the time I was actually in the same room as him was an obscenely weak correlation. Yet he was still there, lurking in my mind, a ghost following me around my everyday life, reminding me that there was something I wanted but didn’t have, and was unlikely to ever have.
I still enjoyed every short moment I could force my way into, but unsurprisingly this would always leave me in a black mood the minute I set foot out of his door. It was a sporadic and strange routine but one that was becoming increasingly hard to bear. It was clear that I was starting to mean less and less to him, particularly as he started to grow up and found more hardened games to play with other women whose hearts, I assumed, had also been willingly given. In some ways I’m thankful that I wasn’t in the thick of it then, he’d started to become someone whom I didn’t really recognise. I sat on the side-lines and I watched and listened. I feigned indifference and I began to carve out a friendship between us. The sex became a dwindling side line so we drew a line under it, it was almost a relief — I was too aware that he had little interest in seeing me naked anymore.
I watched him sleep for a while after that. It felt like I’d never needed anything else.
We lost touch for a while. I assumed he’d fallen in love and I thought I was about to as well. In reality however I had already started down the darkest path I’d ever been on. We both lived out our respective relationships a million worlds apart. I lost myself, I couldn’t have been further from the 20 year old girl on the sofa bed, I was drowning and I was scared and I was a long way from where I should have been.
It is a strange thing, but even though he wasn’t with me, it was his voice that pulled me out — I couldn’t stand the thought of him ever knowing that I’d allowed my life to come to this point. The final straw was when his name was actually mentioned, it was spat like venom at me. Apparently that warm brown skin of his was offensive. If I hadn’t been so horrified I would have laughed. I didn’t laugh though, I just left and never looked back. Not long after that I heard from him out of the blue. It was one month before my 27th Birthday.
He spoke in his sleep later on. He grabbed my hand and told me not to worry.
As we both hurtle toward 30 at an alarming rate, something feels different. Well I still feel the same — the more we speak, the more I see him, the more he evolves, grows and changes — the more terrified I am that I really have no space left in my soul for anyone else. But he also feels different; there is now something about me that he values. I’m not sure what it is but he seeks out my opinion and my voice on a daily basis and he gives his time to me far more liberally, we laugh a lot.
However this tale will not have a happy ending, not for me. I have tried to convince myself over and over that one day it will all work out. One day we’ll be 21 again and all the bits in the middle will have disappeared and we’ll just be. This will never happen. I know that now. I know that I love him in a way that he will never love me. We are friends; he’s possibly one of the best ones, one of the best of people, but he’s just my friend. He might sometimes forget himself and kiss me and want me, just for a moment, but he won’t cross that line again. Is he aware of how much he’s already taken from me? He’s certainly aware of how much he’s not willing to give back.
Last night he felt my pulse and when I woke up next to him this morning I told myself that I was glad that it wasn’t marred by the messy exchange of bodily fluids — It’s easier to write that in a perfunctory way, the alternative description is just too painful to formulate into words — but not having him completely is truly the most excruciating thing.
This friendship cannot last; well not if I want to survive anyway.