What I learnt coming out of a thirteen year relationship
10 Jul 2017
I think we both just thought it would last forever. We never actually said ‘forever’ but the days turned into months and the months into years and it just went on. Our lives became intertwined. We became more than lovers; best friends and then, family.
Although I always thought we were solid, gradually, signs emerged suggesting otherwise. Away for work a lot, his phone remained face down, put on silent. Mine was too. I knew I had stopped trusting him.
Then there didn’t seem to be a shared future. Let’s travel the world together! Maybe, one day. Lets buy a place together! Perhaps, in the future. It was painful. I was especially offended when he told me to stop retelling stories of sexist encounters I’d had. But then, why would he get my frustrations about sexism? And hey, thirteen years. There had to be something strong there. I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind. I knew it was our love, our history, that mattered more.
I was wrong. It turns out that values and a shared future are important to me. In the end, frustrated and desperate for something more, I began to push for us to have the difficult conversations, harder and harder – not realising how fragile it all was, until it was too far to go back and it broke. We broke. Finally, after thirteen years, in a spectacular explosion of painful revelations, my world scattered into a million pieces.
How do you pick yourself up and begin to piece together a life after something that has defined you for over a decade suddenly disappears? I couldn’t fathom it. “You won’t die from this,” my friend said as she hugged me. “But she doesn’t know I am dying,” I thought. I couldn’t see how starting again was possible, let alone living.
“When everything falls apart, you build it all back up again from scratch”
But, it is possible, and I know it because I did it – that’s why I’m sharing my story. To anyone in a long-term relationship that no longer feels right, to those who have no idea how to cope in the world alone after so long: trust me, you can do it. When everything falls apart, you build it all back up again from scratch. You get to start anew and that’s where the fun begins.
Surround yourself with things that nourish you. Life in a long term relationship is a series of compromises and inevitably, you lose the things (or even people) your partner doesn’t like so much. When our relationship was over, I listened to all the music I loved – loudly, I bought books, read poetry, went to galleries and the theatre, I felt inspired again.
See your friends. You need a support system that encourages you to concentrate on yourself. Having friends for me was crucial for partying. After years of spending Friday to Sunday nights with him, I needed to change my weekend routine and raving became my therapy.
Ultimately, there was this surprising, but welcome, feeling of being 20 again. It was like time froze in the 2000s and re-started with an extra kick in this new, exciting and scary world. Of course a lot had changed since my last singledom – some of which, I struggled to deal with. Dating for example.
Back in the day I got to know someone on the phone – I’m talking full blown conversations, really getting to know them. These days it’s impersonal apps, masquerading as games. You connect if you like the look of a carefully chosen picture, which may lead to a WhatsApp convo. There you reveal as much or as little as you like, in fragmented sentences littered with emojis for effect. Not to mention the head-fucks of seeing when they were last online ignoring your message, or if they viewed your Snap without a response but liked your Instagram picture. It’s an exhausting minefield and whilst I do yearn for simpler times, I can’t lie – I’m enjoying navigating my way through it all.
“I think we often look at the person we’re with when the pressure hits, and decide they must be The One because our biological clocks are ticking”
In fact, this is the most liberated I’ve felt in years. The ‘marriage, children, mortgage’ conversations start in your mid 20s and once you’re in your 30s, it’s like blasphemy to reject them. In truth, I think we often look at the person we’re with when the pressure hits, and decide they must be the one because our biological clocks are ticking, our friends are getting engaged and pregnant – it’s obviously us next.
But you know what, if it doesn’t feel right – that feeling deep in your gut, that voice in the back of your head, that conversation you don’t want to have because you’re scared of the outcome – then it probably isn’t. And that’s OK. That’s what I’ve learnt coming out of my thirteen year relationship: succumbing to pressure to settle down before we’ve really lived doesn’t make us all happy. That doesn’t mean we’ve failed. Everything in life is temporary, including love. You take what lessons you can and continue on your journey and grow. Those thirteen years provided a huge experience of love, loyalty, forgiveness and friendship – and I am undoubtedly a better woman because of it.
But for now, I’m enjoying life and finally focusing on me – unapologetically.