All I ever wanted as an emo thirteen year old girl was to be in love.
All I wanted was a boyfriend with long hair, who would compose ~ totally meaningful ~ emo ballads on his acoustic guitar, and who would confirm the suspicion I had mediated over for some time: I was different to other girls (and being emo is not a phase, Mum! It’s a way of life UGH).
Of course I was different in the sense that I had the haircut of a 45 year old when I had only just stumbled into my teens (I had raccoon blonde highlights and a DIAGONAL fringe), but other than that I was a carbon copy of every other Ipswich girl that had come before me: getting drunk at the local park, going to a much-below-average state comprehensive, and desperately searching for something more than the county town I was born and bred in.
I didn’t get a boyfriend until I’d turned eighteen, so I spent a lot of my teenage years longing for boys (who in retrospect were not that attractive or interesting) to text me back, only to be met by the bitter reality that they weren’t really interested and I wasn’t that cute. But when I did fall in love, I fell absolutely. I couldn’t believe it - this boy WITH ALL OF HIS TEETH wants to publicly declare himself as my counterpart? Quick, say yes before he takes it back.
We spent the next three years together, the final year of which was a sad decline into the realisation that we no longer fancied each other. Loved each other, yes, but wanting to rip each other’s clothes off? It was more like hanging out with your brother’s best mate who you’d kissed once but were then too squeamish to take it any further with.
So we broke up, and in the least dramatic way possible. I think it was via a phone call where we both said ‘shall we just leave it then?’, partially in the assumption that we’d rekindle three days later, but partially astride the risk that this could be it. The end. Kaput. Vamoosh.
And it was the end. We both moved on and reupholstered our lives, and the cataclysmic doom that so often accompanies a break-up finally dulled to a simmer. The sun kept rising, the birds kept singing, and I kept getting my period at inconvenient moments. Life went on.
But here’s the thing: for all of the books and articles and podcasts you digest which tell you there’s plenty more fish in the sea and that pain is only temporary, break-ups are shit. Everything everybody says is right - you do get over it - but it’s still really, really shit.
And breaking up with someone when neither of you has committed a heinous adulterous crime or disappeared to Peru is it's unique blend of terrible. There’s no-one to blame, nobody to scapegoat and nobody to throw rotten fruit at in the street (what do you mean this is an outdated practice???) - you just don’t slot together anymore. And that’s it. That’s the end of it. But unlike those situations where you can rally your WhatsApp group to collectively hate “that prick” for doing something that will forever be unforgivable in your social circle (even if a few of your friends don't think it was actually that bad), you’re left still loving them, still caring for them, still wanting to tell them how your day went and what your Nan did after you got home from your latest garden centre visit. There is no bad blood, just distance, and it’s deeply, viscerally painful.
And then you go on to love again. You can’t believe it’s possible - especially not when you’re whipped up in the quiet tornado of a break up - but you do. Your ribcage opens like a rose in bloom, and there it is: your heart, pulsing, beating, yearning for love. It finds a home in the flesh of someone else, and you’re re-complete. All the love you had before is reimagined and resculpted and reflavoured, and it’s like tasting everything for the first time again. You explode back into life, aching and screaming and laughing and loving. In a medley of goosebumps and blow jobs you re-embrace love for the mindfuck that it is, but in doing so, you know you enter dangerous territory.
It’s going to hurt. Even when it’s good - even when your cheeks ache and your breath stutters and the magnolias bloom - it’s going to hurt, and when you move into the arena of love, you accept this.
There comes a point in every budding relationship where the dynamic switches. It starts to get scary. It becomes risky, and it becomes untenable, because you’re forced to accept the fundamental truth that to have love and to be in love, means to accept the often likely possibility that heartbreak is on the horizon. It probably isn’t going to turn out well, and if it does - if you stay together and plop out the nuclear family you so desperately longed for as the child of an alcoholic, absent parent (actually wait, I think some of my own issues are coming through there) - it still might go wrong. To accept and embrace love is to accept and embrace pain. They are not separate entities; in fact they form the fabric of each other’s being. When it comes to matters of the heart, you cannot have one without the other.
We accept this risk - and for many of us, on more than one occasion - because through that tangled web of thorns which pricks and stings and scars us, grows the purest of flowers. And her nectar is sweet. Fuck, is it sweet! You fill and fill your cup because when she has bloomed - when she’s bursting out of her petals with fever and abandon - her store is limitless. And life-giving. Suddenly the world is animated, an expansive plain of moving lines and radiant energy which hums and buzzes. And it’s not because you drank the mushroom tea your friend promised would make you feel good (although you should hold onto that friend, because she sounds cool), it’s because you’re in love. Love has hypnotised you with her sticky centre and you are engorged - glutted with adoration like a spring pig.
So rarely is love’s flower perennial, though. Sometimes she wilts because she is starved - of food, of water, of light - and sometimes she wilts because she’s outgrown her bed. Sometimes she wilts because of the natural turning of time, and sometimes she wilts because - well, we don’t know why, she just does. In the fury of her intoxication we are so often drunk on the high that we refuse to acknowledge the thorns creeping around us, and when love dies - when she withers, and softens, and her nectar turns sour - there is only one option. We must drag ourselves through the thorns, or we too will die.
And so we drag. With our elbows and feet and chin to the floor, we drag ourselves through the thorns and bear the battle wounds to prove it. We carry those cuts with us forever, like badges of honour for a love well-worn. They fade and quieten with time, but we carry them always. And then, once we’re through to the other side, beaten and bruised and thirsty from the journey, we see that which we are sure would fill us forever:
Love, in bud.
We look away, remembering our scars. ‘Not falling for that fuckery again, scoffscoffscoff.’ Yet the aroma of her bouquet stretches out with it’s tempting, tempting hand, and what can we do but follow it? We’re powerless. Back in we go, hungry again for her sweet nectar.
It’s nearly always worth it, the dragging through the thorns bit. We do it - submitting ourselves to a vulnerability that is not our own to control - because it’s nearly always worth it. And when it isn’t, we know that the next one probably will be. Every relationship is a lesson learned, a memory cherished, a glimpse of something incommunicable bottled and stored.
The reward of love is so much greater than the pain, even when the pain seems to outweigh the pleasure, and that’s why we so readily accept the risk when we allow ourselves to love. That’s why, with our cheeks pocked and painful from the recent departure of tears, and our hearts hanging out of our chests with hope not even a sparkle on the horizon, we know we’ll love again.
What else is there?