From the age of 17 – I’m now 25 – I have been in relationships (and one marriage). Looking back I can observe myself swinging from Guy Who Treats Me Badly to Guy Who Is 'Too' Nice, with often just weeks in between. Arthur Schopenhauer – a philosopher who was pessimistic about the notion of happiness in general – said: “Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom.”
Why ricochet from one thing to the other repeatedly, even with self-awareness - who knows? Why not – I guess is as obvious a question. Relationships provide love, distraction, refuge. It is easier to define yourself in relation to ‘other’. In the same way that I love uniforms – I loved my school uniform and I love the kickboxing uniform I wear every week now – and equipment and gear – for camping, for festivals; I have always cherished things, activities and people that make it easier for me to define who I am.
Possibly as a result of this, I have always struggled with spending time alone. Leave me in my own company without an unhealthy dose of mind-numbing distraction for even 30 minutes and I would have convinced myself I am the worst person in the world. A barrage of negative thoughts would beat down on me so hard that I would often end up dissociating, seeing myself as if from outside my body, numb and unable to connect.
So when, a few months ago, I ended a relationship with an extremely supportive, kind and engaging man, it felt like a confusing and scary decision. I had nothing to base it on other than the niggling voice in my head - ‘You have no idea who you are; you’ve never been alone; you can’t be alone’ – picking up volume. I was daunted by the novel feeling of making a decision that came solely from myself. No person and no external circumstances or pressures were forcing my hand.
A couple of evenings ago, I was lying on my bed after a healthy home-cooked dinner, listening to music and writing in my journal. I suddenly realised that I had spent the whole evening in my own company, and that I was totally fine. I was enjoying myself. I almost cried with happiness.
I’ve come so much further in these last couple of years than I would have let myself believe. The stories we tell ourselves are so potent; they encase us in rigid definitions of who we are, what we can and cannot do. I still believed myself to be unstable, unable to be alone. And it’s simply not true.
I remember studying The Great Gatsby in my first year of my literature degree, and learning about the concept of 'unreliable first person narrators': we have to question what we are being told about Gatsby because the story is told to us through the eyes of Nick, and is therefore imbued with his essence. This idea really stuck with me. We are all unreliable narrators of our own lives, and we owe it to ourselves to push the boundaries and write new pages. I’m so excited to be spending this Valentine’s Day single – it means everything to know that I am finally building a better relationship with myself.