We’re sitting in a photobooth of Shoreditch House. Completely consumed by one another; brown and blended together like running watercolours, snapping in and out of breathy kisses, only stopping when we could hear the photos zapping out of the printer. Later on, we both sink into the sofa, talking about our hopes and dreams like we always did (this situationship started at when I was at university and bled into my adulthood, on and off over the course of five years thereafter). He bought us food, dessert and wine, before going back to my hotel. Where we then drank more wine, did face masks, watched Game Night, and fell into each other.
The next day, while I cleared the room, I realised all the photos we took were gone.
“Did you take the photos?” I text him.
“No, I only took mine,” he replied.
This was strange. There were no photos in the room, in my luggage, anywhere. He’d obviously swept the room for any evidence of us. Subtext: making sure that there was never a lingering feeling of this being anything more than an arrangement on his terms. Eventually, I had to say something: “why do you like cosplaying relationships?” I asked him later that day. “I thought we had an understanding” he retorted. Ah, an ‘understanding.’ The fact is though, situationships thrive on misunderstanding. It is about being clear enough to wriggle out of any accountability but obfuscating the truth just enough so there are still glimmers of hope.
This limbo status is murky and volatile. I once lived for it. Longing to feel the short-lived rush of being suspended between intense intimate joy and devastating loneliness. However, this time around it wasn’t fun. Sure, I’d keep my flatmates awake with laughter well into the night. But by the next day, after he had left, you could almost hear a pin drop as I sat silently in my room, unable to grasp why I felt so despondent. With this type of person, you get to know them intimately - the conversation is always so intense and revealing. But they are also scarce with intimacy and affection; by drip-feeding their attention they keep you wanting more (if you’re smart, to avoid the judgemental comments from friends and family, you keep this to yourself).
The only way to escape this fraught dynamic? Choose yourself. Which is hard, I know. So often women are conditioned to believe, be it through films or our own family members, that “men are the sun and women are the inconsequential planets that circle around them,” Charlie, founder of Charlie’s Toolbox a platform dedicated to helping women decentre men writes. Though now, for the first time in a long time, I am OK with being alone. There comes a point, with time and experience, when you realise you have to love yourself more than the hit you get from someone’s inconsistent intimacy.
Self-love is a process. It takes time and commitment - you have to be prepared to play the long game and be brave. This means leaving situations that no longer serve you, being clear about what you want and not compromising, acknowledging red flags and admitting when you’re out of your depth. The type of romantic partnership you’re seeking should not make you feel stifled, inadequate or a secret. Far better to be alone than feel suffocated by indifference. We all deserve more than that.