We met at university, while she still had a boyfriend. We were young(er), stupid first year students, not knowing what the hell was going on, carelessly living day to day and, for the most part, hand to mouth. For both reasons (but especially the latter) most of our time together was spent in our university bedrooms, watching films, drinking cheap cider mixed with blackcurrant, being together in a way that wasn’t quite cheating, but wasn’t quite not cheating, either.
This went on for quite some time. I was urgently in love early on, sometimes to the point of incapacitation—and this, mixed with my floundering mental health, was not a recipe conducive to good health. I decided to distance myself from her, spend more evenings with friends, meeting new women, calling my mother. My health improved.
But of course, things never end so simply. Two years later, after some drunken nights together and a lot of arguments, we started a relationship in the last few months of our degree. We didn’t discuss what we were going to do when the time came to move away when third year ended. We simply enjoyed our time together: smoking and drinking at hers with Chinatown on in the background, eating pizza, fooling around in the front room while her housemates were away.
But our relationship had a sell-by date. After a farewell holiday together (Malta 2K16), we went our separate ways after university. We stayed in irregular contact while we both moved home, got jobs, realised the real world was shit, pined for each other, drank to oblivion every weekend, lay on the hallway floor in a drunken stupor thinking about what could have been. (In hindsight, that might have just been me.)
Then she told me she was going to Budapest in August to do an unpaid internship, and before I knew it, a year had passed, and I was with her again on the bus back to her apartment in the Hungarian capital, with an uneasy feeling in my stomach that something wasn’t quite the same.
I realised after the first night I didn’t feel the same way about her. I didn’t love her- at least, not in the pressing, intense way I had before. Time had changed that, even though it took me seeing her to realise it; I had only been pining for the idea of her, for the memories of her. We were arguing more than ever- partly due to the heat, but surely symptomatic of a deeper problem we hadn’t yet discussed.
One night, at a bar on a warm evening, drinking red wine, full from pizza (like always), I told her how I felt. I told her it was time to move on, that the last year had been the hardest year I’d ever suffered. That if it carried on the way it was- unofficial, closure-less, unhealthy- I would never be happy, and that I’d been trying really hard to be happy for a really long time.
There were tears, but in general, everything was agreed. On my last night, we got raging drunk and talked through everything- all the first impressions, all the moments that were special to both of us, how we’d felt when it had been shit and all the things we’d miss now we were definitely putting it to bed. We fell into each other’s arms that evening for a final goodbye, having both come to terms with what was happening.
Or so I thought. A few weeks later, she sent me some of the most horrible messages I have ever received. Some of the things she said- saying I’d turned into a dickhead since I started going to the gym, for instance- were silly (if maybe true). Others, like the message saying she preferred the version of me from first year, when I was suffering from serious depression, were less easy to bat aside. The next day, she issued a half-hearted apology. I didn’t reply, and we haven’t spoken since.
For me, it was a huge shame that this woman, once someone I loved so much it was painful, threw away any chance of us remaining in contact, and worse, tainted the memories I have of how caring she was, how understanding and how sympathetic. The memories of her looking after me when I was depressive are smeared by the knowledge that that’s how she preferred me- miserable, isolated, together, rather than happier, healthier, apart. (She was trashed and, granted, I’ve said things I don’t mean after a half bottle of vodka, but that’s little consolation.)
The moral, I suppose, is twofold: ‘time heals all’ would be the first thing to take away from this story. Love doesn’t always last forever, and sometimes, you’re not in love with the person anymore, but rather the concept of them, the memories, the promise they provide. If you’re single, trying not to feel nauseated every time you scroll past someone with a name vaguely similar to theirs on Facebook, just remember: things will get better. Eventually you’ll just remember the good stuff about it, and you’ll be able to imagine them with another person without feeling like tearing your legs off.
And if all that doesn’t work, well, just wait until they do something really, really shitty. That usually does the trick.