‘This doesn’t make any sense…’

A shock to the heart is bodily. I feel like I’ve been kicked, over and over, until I’m weak and defeated. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep for more than 35 minutes at a time. I shove my head into feather pillows at 5AM, willing my mind to rest. To stop thinking. To stop remembering that my loved one has chosen to have nothing more to do with me.

Two miles away — ten minutes in a taxi, I know it well — I suspect that he sleeps soundly, as he always does. His conscience is clear, his suffering largely avoided by having weeks to get used to the idea that he doesn’t love me.

The revelation hits me like a train, which is exactly what I consider the sensible course of action now, albeit for a short time. I gasp on the platform at Camden Town, at odds with the blurry drunkenness that surrounds me on a Saturday evening. My pain is sharp and in vibrant technicolour. It fills the whole of my perspective. It’s an orange sunset that covers the horizon, and cannot be ignored wherever I walk. The glow seeps out from under my bedroom blind, as I try to shut out the remainder of the day. I hide puffy eyes under sunglasses.

I have a knack for choosing people who are either incapable of romantic love, or specifically unable to feel it for me. Either is hopeless. By nature, they are restless travellers, miserable without their next destination — always without me, overriding my need to not be alone. They are ardent commitment-phobes. They are serial womanisers, or cheating husbands, or hedonist drug addicts and minor criminals. I am drawn to their boyish energy, their charm and refusal to live life conventionally. I seek complicated men who chase strange forms of excitement. It’s a heady set-up.

My attachment style is deep and long-lasting. I will sacrifice anything — money, my work, my family — to sustain my relationship. It’s a dangerous starting point for any interaction, particularly when the other half of my partnership is happy to prioritise his needs, wants, desires over mine.

In truth, I wonder whether ‘I don’t love you’ is an attempt to get himself off the hook. Because, it is not an excuse for treating me badly. Do I tolerate his moods because his ‘feelings aren’t strong enough’ for him to behave properly? He tells me he is powerless to what fate wants, which that we stop this, right now. I am dizzy with wilful misunderstanding. ‘You’re crazy,’ I tell him: it’s the only answer I have.

What smarts is the loss of a future, a hope, a journey. The forfeiture of dreams and of potential happiness, the nature of which I’m unsure, because it’s yet to be discovered. Isn’t that what everyone fantasises about — heights of joy previously unknown? A secret level in your favourite video game that unleashes new outfits, new weapons, new tasks, new achievements. My brain combusts with excitement each time I get that special feeling: ‘oh my god, I didn’t even know I could feel that!! This is AMAZING’.

But, equally, love brings fear. It requires encountering sides of myself I pretend don’t exist. Alone, I can write off days to crushing, undefeatable tiredness. When it’s over, I put on mascara and skip off to dinner. But, in a relationship, this cannot be done. (Very little can be hidden — bar intentional infidelity. And we haven’t even got to that huge crater in the road yet.) I confront my hugest shortcomings, while the person I want to impress watches from the other side of the bed, intrigued as to what truths are emerging, now initial dating is over. He smiles and I wonder how much it truly terrifies him, and how the hell to not lose him.

Letting go of trying to push people away is what unleashes love. It shatters me wholesale to look into his eyes and know his present and some of his past. I consider his future as I imagine my own, quietly, staring at my emails without my eyes reading the words. I could be anywhere and still thinking of him. And I felt better that I was no longer alone. I felt armour surrounding me where I once was fragile.

Solitude bores into me now with the particular potency of grief. I’m unsure how any human can withstand it. I wonder how much he morphed into what I needed him to be, and how much my imagination did that for us: leaps of fantasy, backed up by fleeting sentiment. A few gifts and a few scribbled words were sufficient for me, but not for him. I wonder why I accept them with such an open heart.

I tell myself he’s frightened of what we can be. But the truth is, whatever that is, he doesn’t want it. I want it enough for both of us. But it doesn’t work that way.

Perhaps two ill people can’t look after each other: it’s just too much to ask. We need to remember who we are instead of getting lost in the other’s distress. So, one day, when we are both stronger, maybe we can take solace in what we have already found.

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