Love stories. For a while, I thought they were everywhere and that they were somewhat tedious. If I’d been paying attention, I would have shrugged off romantic comedies and claimed that they were released every other week and that they were a dime a dozen.
Now I’m alone in a big city, knowing only a handful of people (colleagues), and I have started to see things a little differently. The cinemas are packed with CGI blockbusters, franchise films and dystopian fantasies. The theatres are full of interesting and forward-thinking pieces of writing.
Romance and love stories are not so easy to come by.
A role model of mine seemed to have the most perfect relationship; constantly declaring her love and dedication to her other half, posing in silly photographs with him and generally glowing with apparent love and adoration.
Then the engagement suddenly ended and they were apart. No details are known at this point, but it hit home for me.
You can never truly understand what exists between two other human beings. Every single relationship that exits, has existed or ever will exist is specific and individual and nobody other than the two parties can ever understand it. Similarities countlessly appear, labels remind everyone of where they stand, and empathy makes the circle continue to form but the secret is still sacred.
I see a lot of things in my line of work at the moment, and most of them I wish I could forget. Couples are constantly at the bar but they always, on the outside, appear to be carbon copies of one another. They hang off each other’s arms and don’t seem capable of communicating anything truthful or deep. All these couples drink the same drinks, use the same vocabulary and seem as unnecessary, vapid, empty and useless as the gilets they insist on wearing, even though it’s July.
One day a young couple were chatting. Both seemed articulate, both seemed cheerful and, most importantly, they seemed very into one another. It was clear they weren’t quite in a relationship just yet but the lingering eye-contact, the subtle flirting, the chemistry and the genuine sweetness was enough to make me, a complete stranger and bystander, hope that they would bite the bullet and get together.
Then her boyfriend showed up.
My sadness at this bittersweet moment could only be conveyed in my slightly frosty service; giving him a very dull gin and tonic. He was loud and brash and a little senseless, clearly oblivious to what had been occurring between the couple before he blundered in.
I never saw any of those people again, but it was the first time I had ever seen two people with actual, truthful and dynamic emotion on display in my slightly uppity and vacuous workplace.
So I opened up an opportunity for people to share, and share they did. A variety of people with a variety of experience chimed in with what they considered memorable experiences in love. It is, quite honestly, my privilege to share them here.
To swipe or not to swipe?
The first story is one of looking for love. Perhaps in all the wrong places but it’s 2014 and old-fashioned romance seems to be shoved aside for convenience by way of technology.
The heroine of this particular tale, Evie, touches on something very interesting in her satirical tale of online dating. She mentions that she regularly attends the gym, even though she is more than happy to turn into “the beached whale God intended me to be”. She goes on to say, however, that the reason she goes is because her “tearful” mother made her promise to stay healthy after she moved away from home.
This is, perhaps unknowingly, a beautiful example of love. Sadly, that is the last I hear of Evie and her clearly loving mother. Evie goes on to say that her flat-mate and friend, Jo, can be found bouncing around their kitchen like “a gazelle in heat” declaring that they need to sort their love lives out.
Of course, in this day and age, that does not always mean putting your glad rags on and heading into town, where you will depend on your looks, dancing skills or conversation to lure a guy in. No, nowadays all it takes is one simple photographic upload and the creeps come pouring in. You can sift through them without ever having to leave the house, though finding a prince in this pond of frogs is a rare thing indeed. Though I do know couples who have met online and who are now sublimely happy and in love, they are the exception rather than the rule.
For a generation so occupied with their phones and computers, you would think we would all be a little better at romancing online; if the juxtaposition of that statement can be momentarily ignored.
The moral of this short story is that Evie, after uploading some harmless pictures and a somewhat sweet line of thought, became bombarded by people that were clearly after one thing and one thing only. Now, that’s not to say that the guy who comes up to you in the bar isn’t either, we’re all mammals and attraction is important, or that there aren’t decent, lovely men who just happen to like dating apps but releasing yourself online seems to attract all the crazies to the watering hole.
As poor Evie learned the hard way with Mr. Snake. Enough said.
She, being the beautiful, spirited and intelligent girl that I know her to be, will find all the happiness she deserves. I just know for a fact that it won’t be on a dating application, but with a real-live human being standing in front of her.
Knots and tangles
Emma* states openly and firstly with the sentence “my mother and I had a distant relationship”. She goes on to say that, what with her parents’ divorce, she rarely saw her mum growing up and therefore, they lacked a close bond. She states that they didn’t seem to have anything in common and that it was extremely difficult for her to speak to her mother about anything. In a way, “it was easier to fight and nip and argue, because anger gave us a way to communicate”.
When Emma* was thirteen, her mother became ill. Emma* doesn’t specify the illness and I don’t pry, nor does she mention whether or not her mother was ever open or honest about her concerning the affliction.
The message I was sent regarding this story was somewhat short and blunt. However, that made it no less poignant. Emma* finishes by saying that during the last few months of her mother’s life, she made a habit of visiting Emma* before school and brushing her long, blonde hair out after a shower.
“I would sit there, on the edge of the bed, stiff as a rod and tears would silently roll down my cheeks. She was touching me. She was finally touching me”.
Beautiful Laura sent me this and all it needs is to be copied and pasted. She says it all. Lovely.
“I think real and true love never leaves the soul. The first time I was in love was when I was fifteen years old. I was head over heels, crazy, over the moon for this guy. Every time I would see him my heart would start racing but I was always too shy to tell him that I was in love with him. The first time we kissed was when we had both just turned sixteen. We were out in town and both a little tipsy and we decided to go outside for some fresh air. The rest of the group, that had uncomfortably tried to set us up during the night, stayed in the bar. As we sat down on a wooden bench outside he said: ‘Everyone has been saying we should kiss tonight.’ This caught me off guard so I completely blanked and just giggled awkwardly. Then he made it worse by saying: “Why do they say that?’ My heart stopped and for a second I forgot how scared I was to admit to him how I felt. So I just blurted out: ‘Do you really not see how much I fancy you?’ I mean I had been throwing hints at him for almost a year! Then he chuckled and said: “Well, yeah… a little,” and slowly leaned in and kissed me. It was like magic when our lips touched, it still is. We never had a relationship but until this day we are still close friends with an undeniable chemistry. I think we will stay friends forever, even if we fall in love with others we will still love each other. I am now in love with someone else but that is going horribly wrong and I find myself doing things I would normally not do. Sometimes you forget who you are when you are so infested with this other person. Still I am certain that, just like my first love, I will always and forever love my second love too. In a big heart there is place for more than one great love, but I am scared that maybe one day some man will take up all the space in my heart and I will forget the love I felt before.”
Would you believe English is her second language?
Some people really battle with the notion of love at first sight. It may be the subject of countless books and plays and films, but in real life, how many of us can name examples of love at first sight that are legitimate and not born out of lust and with the assistance of alcohol?
Ben* has been with his now girlfriend for nearly nine years. This was a very brief but enlightening message he sent me. I know him to be a straightforward, no-nonsense kind of person with a love of science and logic so I can trust him not to be too overly sentimental when discussing love.
“I saw her trying to climb over a crooked fence and I was gone. I knew I would be with her forever.”
It’s that simple, apparently. A high-school romance became a university romance, which then became an engagement, which is still ongoing. The details of what happened after this initial sighting are not given, but they are not really needed. It seems, for some people, it really is a lighting bolt as opposed to a small fall of rain.
Look at me
This is another deep and articulate message, which I hardly need to paraphrase. So I won’t. Thank you, Cassie*.
“I was friendly with this guy who was on my course. I knew he was attractive at first, but I didn’t think he was attractive, if that makes any sense. He was clever and he could make me laugh so after a few months I started to notice that he was, in fact, pretty hot. He had amazing blue eyes and a great smile, blah, blah, and blah. Anyway, we were always quite flirty and he treated me as though I was special and more than a friend. I mean, he never made a strong move but he always said he was shy. He never showed much interest in any other girls and he was single, as was I, so I thought why not? We’d be good together, we’re already good together. All our friends were saying so.
Anyway, we all went to this gig in Edinburgh at this small bar/pub so we could hear ourselves talk and stuff. I thought there was no better time. This was our time. This was our moment.
Then, suddenly, my friend Rebecca decided that she thought he was really good-looking. I don’t know if she had always felt that way or if it was just the Jaeger but they spent the whole evening huddled together, taking and whispering.
It bothered me, of course, but it wasn’t as if he was shutting me out. We were at the bar doing shots when I finally said I wanted to talk to him about something. He didn’t seem to realize what I meant and looked a bit confused so I hesitated. Rebecca came back over and was hanging on his arm so I left it and forever regret that.
I was coming back from the toilet when I saw them sucking face in the corner of the room. I know it sounds juvenile and silly and mundane but my heart literally broke. My knees weren’t strong enough to hold me, my pulse was in my ears and I was too warm. I pretended I hadn’t seen them when all I wanted to do was throw up and I pretended to listen to the guy playing the acoustic guitar.
Later on, when he and I were alone, I told him I was going to pop out for some cigarettes and he said ok. I went out into the hallway and tears rushed straight out. I could hear him and her laughing and I just sort of stared at the door, the door to the room where my friend was, my friend who I was in love with and I just kept thinking.
“Follow me. Followmefollowmefollowmefollowmefollowme. See me.”
He didn’t. He never has. Probably never will.
They’re dating now.”
Too many Sarahs
I care about this person too much and want to protect their privacy, but at the same time I cannot think of a good alternative name for her so I won’t use one.
Her story is about two loves, the only loves that she admits to having. I should begin by saying she is one of the best people I know and that this story was delivered in person rather than through social media, which made me that much more determined to tell it properly.
She was very much in love with a man for three years, though she describes their relationship as “on/off”. He would never truly commit, never truly nail down what it was that they were and that she, being young and a little too enamored perhaps, never pressured him to. His previous girlfriend was named Sarah and it was alluded that he would drop Her and go back to said Sarah at any moment.
She bluntly reports that he ended it and that she never truly received the closure she needed after three years of an undefined relationship. Not even when he invited Her to his wedding. His wedding to a different Sarah.
She went, she says but she doesn’t give any details. It’s difficult to read how she feels about this exactly. She does, however, remark that her close friend at the time said, “He will divorce her in five years and realize what a huge mistake he’s made and what he’s thrown away”.
I have to agree.
The second half of her story consists of her starting a new job in a new workplace and, upon seeing a current employee, experiencing that illusive lightning bolt effect. The instant attraction. Sadly, he was going out with someone else. I know that this girl has a strict code of honour and would never go after another’s girl’s guy, though she does claim that she turned down hanging out with him on New Year’s Eve purely because she wasn’t sure if “she could hold back”.
When his relationship with the other girl ended, She says she simply turned to him one day and said something like, “So when are you going to ask me out for a drink?”
Needless to say, they went out sooner or later; very grown-up with just drinks and no sex or kissing. Then, the next day, she received a message saying she needed to meet him in town. She talks about how she instantly felt disappointed, thinking he was going to end it before it even began and so she went with a somewhat dejected feeling.
She describes it as “corny” but she’s smiling. He says he just wanted to get to kiss her. I’m guessing he did.
After some time together, she says that, and these are her words, she thought, “Cool, let’s do this thing, boyfriend”.
Frogs before princes and all that.
Not quite knowing you
My best friend Charlie*. She’s been knocked around a bit concerning her love life. Which is universally cruel considering she’s one of the best people I know and has more love in her than anyone you could imagine.
Her story is candid and far too good for me to paraphrase.
“It wasn’t love at first sight. In fact I was scared of him, he looked so tired and gaunt. I wanted to steer clear of him. And I did for the first day.
The second day he kept walking around my department circling me like a shark I was terrified he’d tell me all the things I needed to change and everything is done wrong. But when he finally introduced himself he said; ‘Want me to teach you a really cool way of folding T-Shirts?’ Well how could I refuse. Still hesitant he shows me this quite impressive trick. Trying to act cool I ask passively how he learnt it. ‘YouTube’ he typed in how to fold t-shirts into the search engine! I couldn’t stop laughing. We got talking more and more and I realised he was funny! The dark witty, did he just really say that or did I miss hear him kinda funny. My favourite funny.
He wasn’t what I expected, he taught me things each day about the company, about my department, and he told me things about himself. He wasn’t scary, he was intriguing and I couldn’t help but want to know more. I started to look forward to seeing him at work. Would deliberately make any excuse to walk up to him.
Then I had a day off, I spent it with my friend from work; we ended up sitting out side in a pub by the cathedral. Suddenly I notice a shadowy figure outside wearing a Sherlock Holmes cap… It couldn’t be. Then he walks in. He laughs orders a drink and sits beside us. It may seem trivial and perhaps pathetic but this was the turning point, the exact moment I knew. I knew I liked him. This was the moment.
Next day at work it gets more and more obvious that I like him, he has a tattoo on his arm. ‘Cold, Black, Heart’. He blushes and tells me the embarrassing drunk story, I would tell you but it wouldn’t be fair to him as it’s not mine to tell and because after he told me he blushed once more and said he never really talks about it.
I was honoured. It was obvious that he kept himself to himself, not an open person but with me he told me things and that made me special. I hadn’t felt special in years.
Then the week was over and he had to leave. I was distraught; he’d helped me so much, he knew so much, he couldn’t leave when we were just getting to know each other! He gave me his name badge and left me my own weekly supply of coca cola in the fridge. We hugged goodbye and he left.
An hour later he enters through the staff door. My heart is in my mouth, I nearly jump on him! ‘You bragged about me so much they demanded I stay this weekend.’ I promised him to take him out for a drink before he left this time. Unfortunately when the time came we weren’t alone; another member of support joined us. All of this time I was never sure how he felt, he was of course clearly a tad bit older by well 20 years but I didn’t care, I’ve always liked what I couldn’t possibly have. When he walked me to the train station we hugged and there was a slight linger but nothing much. And then he was gone. For good this time.
Then the texts started, he finally admitted he had a ‘thing’ for me! Next thing I know I’m on the next train going down to see him.
He took me to his favourite pub. It was agony trying not to touch him. Not knowing whether he was actually attracted to me…then we got more drinks, joined the pub quiz and then finally we kissed.
I have this theory about the first kiss. It tells you everything. It decides whether you really like a person. It’s important. And my god they have to be good.
And it was good. Fireworks! Finally after two years of nothing, believing that I’d never feel anything again it all came flooding back.
‘Stay in the pub? Or go back to mine?’ The decision was easy.
It’s been five months, and I still feel this way. But things are complicated, he’s complicated, we aren’t supposed to be together, we aren’t allowed and yet I try and see him as often as I can. I never know how he truly feels but when I’m with him I know. Perhaps reading this you’ll think I’m blind; it’s obvious he only wants one thing. But I’ve never trusted a man in my life till I met him. Although he may not admit to having any emotion he tells me his secrets and his dreams. This is not forever, we have a deadline and I know that . But I need to make the most of this while I can. For who knew I could fall in love again?”
This is my story. Or a part of it. I’ve never had a very good record for falling in love with the right people. When someone admits to liking me, I often wonder what’s wrong with him. I mean that, too, I really do.
My one, truly successful relationship had a rocky start. He was an exceptional human being, in many ways, and we met very young and it took me some time to say this. He was a couple of years older than me which, when you’re a teenager, feels like an eternity. He was musically gifted; able to read and write music perfectly while I scrape by well enough. He, a few months into our acquaintance, would often call me “kid” or “kiddie” or “kiddo”, just to irritate me. This, I later learnt, might have had something to do with his mother making him watch black and white films from a young age, see Humphrey Bogart.
At the time, I didn’t like it. He was a stuck-up, older boy who called me names and was never impressed.
We both frequented this place that held open mic nights. He never performed any of his work, but would sit at the back with his brother and just listen. It was mostly boys performing, with their bands or with their guitars. Girls rarely got up to do anything, except the odd cover of “Hallelujah”.
Every Friday night someone would win overall and be given an iTunes card. One night, I wanted more than anything to wipe the perpetual smug look of his pale face so I signed up. He’d often hinted that girls didn’t win, or couldn’t win.
I sang “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” by Jim Croce. The room exploded. It was electric and I felt amazing; still do, looking back. I can’t hear that song and not remember this happening.
I walked straight up to him, at the back of the room, and said, “See…you see. Girls can win it, James”.
He smiled, very slightly. A different kind of smile.
“No, Kid, only you.”
We were together for five years. He is the first thing I think of when I wake up, and the last thing I think of before I go to sleep. I see him so often in young men’s faces, only for a second and I hear him every time a certain song plays.
If this piece has clarified anything, it’s that time may heal all wounds but love will never stop causing them.
It makes us bleed and then becomes the thread that sews us up and keeps us from death.
I love him. I love the people who contributed to this work and I think I love you for reading this far.