I’ve Been In A Relationship Since I Was 18: How Has It Shaped Me?

2 boyfriends, 6(ish) years, 1 break up and innumerable orgasms: that would be the succinct way to sum up my love life from 18 to now. Well, that and a lot of irrational drunk arguments started by moi, most of which were tailed by a session of hungover grovelling. I’m sorry I tried to climb out of the kitchen window. It was the wine, it wasn’t me. Can we just forget about it, please? PLS.(Unfortunately a true story ffs.) Relationships, in any form, are far more complicated and complex than we ever give them credit for. In fact, there’s so much science-y shit going on in our brains and our bodies which help us to bond and stay connected to our significant other, that considering a relationship as a simple partnership is a heck load of reductive. A relationship is so much more than just fancying someone and wanting them to stick around, no matter how long it lasts; it’s chemical reactions, environmental influences, time, place and connection. It’s learned behaviour - what hasn’t made us happy previously, and what we predict will make us happy moving forward. It’s one of the most profound human acts that any of us will ever engage in, and often, it’s not given the credit as being such. If you couldn’t tell by now, it probably comes as no surprise that I’m particularly interested in romantic relationships and all of the sexy bits that come in between. I just find them really interesting, and judging by the reaction my articles about sex and relationships receive, other people feel the same. There’s something satisfying about spying in on something so intimate, isn’t there? Yes, I absolutely want to know the 15 small things your boyfriend does to annoy you and the reasons you were first attracted to your wife, and yes, I want to cringe at the slurpy snogging sounds on Love Island as I voyeuristically spectate behind the safety of my dressing gown sleeves. Love and romance are fascinating, and I’m an enthusiastic follower.  

Blazer - & Other Stories*

T-Shirt - Topshop

Jeans - & Other Stories*

Shoes - Bershka

Bag - J.W. Anderson

As someone who is so invested in the sentimental side of life, it struck me that I’d never sat down to consider how being in a relationship for the past 6 years has shaped me. The years from 18 up are considered to be a formative period of your life; all of the big changes happen, from education and career to socialising and building friendship groups. Then there’s sexuality, bodily changes, spirituality and personhood. Who the fuck am I? What am I doing with my life? Can you eat grated cheese out of the bag for breakfast?

These are the years we’re often told we should be single. Go out and have fun! Sow your seeds! Put a dick in your ear! Sure, a solid relationship is good and all, but single life? That’s where you’ll really find yourself.

Though, of course, sometimes it doesn’t work out like that. Sometimes your life is less Skins circa 2007 and more Emmerdale circa any year ever, and these expectations of raunchy hook-ups in the Vodka Revs toilets look more like light petting during the break of Kitchen Nightmares. Sometimes you find someone whose morning breath you don’t mind pretending you can’t smell, and when that happens, you don’t want to bin off the possibility of a meaningful relationship just for the sake of feeling young, fun, and full of cum (which you can still be, anyway).

This was exactly what happened to me. Upon turning 18, I have visions of myself staying out, shagging everyone and returning to the girls’ group chat with a list of salacious anecdotes as long as my arm. But then I met Jordan, my first boyfriend, and I was besotted. He had nice teeth, was the first person I ever had an orgasm with, and drove a car he’d happily cart me around in. It was the perfect combination. We started dating just before I left for my first year of university, so in terms of divine timing, I was way off. We stayed together for three years however, so it was worth missing out on the odd Jack Wills bunk-up courtesy of bargain student union nights.

Towards the end of our time together, I started to feel like I wanted freedom. I was aware that I was entering the ‘prime’ of my life (or so we’re instructed our twenties should be), and I barely had any stories to tell. I wanted to know what it was like to snog someone else, to have somebody else show interest in me. Truthfully, we’d also stopped having sex (at least interesting sex, anyway), and that was a deal-breaker for me. So we broke up, and I stepped out into single life with my trigger finger set on Tinder and the first pack of condoms I’d ever bought.

And thennnn I met Keiran (well, actually, I met Keir when Jordan and I were still together, but we broke up a couple of weeks later and I made a beeline for the tall boy with the irresistible sense of humour). God, did I try and resist another relationship. I had both hands up, pushing back against the inevitable with all of my might. I’d organise a thousand Tinder dates, tell Keiran with an entirely misplaced self-assurance that he couldn’t be upset with me for going, and then I’d cancel them all when the day to get suited and booted finally rolled around. I told Keiran I didn’t want a boyfriend - I absolutely, categorically, did not want a boyfriend - and then spent every waking minute thereafter either speaking to him or laying next to him. I was doomed from the beginning; I knew I liked him and I knew I couldn’t bear to be away from him, so even though my brain was saying one thing, my heart had already decided. And decided well, to be honest - here we are however many years later, popping each other’s spots and kissing each other’s foreheads.

How has it shaped me? Being in a relationship with little break in between, over the past 6 years? Well, I’m certainly more appreciative of how complex relationships can be. Sometimes what adds up on paper doesn’t translate into real life, and sometimes the other way round is true, too. If anyone would have suggested that Keiran and I would have ended up together, I would have scoffed. I don’t think anyone else would have put us together, either, and yet here we are, and it works. On the flip side, Jordan and I were probably too similar in ways that pushed us closer to mates than girlfriend and boyfriend, qualities which, weirdly, now, allow us to be somewhat friends.

I’ve also benefited from the security that a relationship brings. Something I think about often is how willing I am to show every side of myself online, because I know I already have a tall boi in reserve who won’t think any less of me. If I was single, would I be more concerned with how I present myself online? Would I try and curate a slightly more attractive, slightly less manic version of myself, in the knowledge that prospective partners might be watching? Whether I’m talking about sex or class or even just a big pair of ugly white trainers, I feel more secure putting myself out there because I know I’ll automatically have someone in my corner, cheering me on. In that way, relationships have certainly made me feel more confident, more able to take risks.

And then there’s selfishness, and a developing understanding that sometimes, you need to exhibit more of it. Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it, to claim selfishness as an element that has shaped me from being in long-term relationships? But it’s certainly the case. The older I get and the longer I spend in a relationship, the more I believe that it has to be worth it. It has to tick all the boxes, from being emotionally fulfilling to sexually fulfilling to simply practical (do you have enough time for each other? Do you want to do the same things?). If I ever get to the point where I feel I’m sacrificing the precious years of my youth, as I did towards the end of my first relationship, then something isn’t right. You have to be selfish. And if something is lacking from a relationship which you feel you need, you have to say. You have to be selfish. Save the complicated crap for further down the line when you have a marriage and kids and a mortgage; you need to do what’s right for you, what fills your heart up. The other person is a bonus, not an essential.

Possibly the most meaningful way that being in a relationship has shaped me, however, is encouraging me to trust my gut. To go with my instinct and ignore what I should do or what would make the most sense. In both instances of my relationships, the timing was dreadful. First of all I was heading off to university, 200 miles away from where Jordan was living, and second time around, I’d only just binned off one boyfriend so I wasn’t looking for another. But was I sensible? Did I heed precautions? Did I listen to my head? Nope, I dove in head-first to a sea of snogging and semen and enriched my life with two of the most profound connections I’ll ever make. I fed my heart, and she was full. She still is.

Here’s to relationships. I don’t fucking understand them, but I love them nonetheless (and here’s to Keiran, for helping me to unlock corners of myself that I didn’t even know existed).

Go and snog someone! x


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