Since I moved to London in my early twenties I’ve been the victim of theft several times. There was the handbag that got taken from a work event, the phone that was swiped from my bag while I was dancing the night away at The Dolphin, the sat-nav holder that someone smashed the window of my car to grab hold of and, worst of all, the moped mugging. Thieves mounted the pavement on a moped, while I was walking home alone, and physically snatched my phone from my hand. After each of these incidents, I felt sad. I felt angry at myself for being drunk on most of these occasions, not keeping a close eye on my belongings and really disappointed in myself. Disappointed that I’d let my parents down, yet again, with another teary phone call. After the mugging, I even felt physically violated. All of which was nothing compared to the mourning of the memories I’d lost – photographs on the phones that hadn’t been backed up, or the silver keyring I’d been gifted that was inside the handbag (I obviously wasn’t too distraught about the sat-nav holder, thankfully Google Maps is just as efficient). For each crime I was given a reference number from the Met, and an offer of victim support. The police were fantastic each time – after the mugging they even took me with them on a car chase, and dropped me home afterwards – bonus! My mum kept reminding me I wasn’t solely to blame as these criminals had illegally taken something of my possession – I should be entitled to be drunk without being taken advantage of, and my car had been locked. What happens though when somebody steals something irreplaceable, something far more important to you? What happens when somebody steals your heart?
I fell in love for the first time when I turned 29. Perhaps it took so long because (clearly) I spent too much time being out drinking and dancing. Or maybe because (likely) I continually went for the wrong guys. As time went by I started to feel that I was never going to form a serious relationship without having any kind of experience of how to acquire and function in one. Then, one day, love came along without me trying to find it. Without using a dating app, without making a bee line for each other in a smoking area or a bar, my now ex-boyfriend and I were simply put into each other’s lives. Our respective friends had concluded between themselves that we would make the perfect match, and they were right! Not only did he tick every single box I’d ever placed upon my seemingly unachievable list, there was just an instant connection, that elusive ‘spark’. I remember during an actual date after a few weeks of intense hanging out (we couldn’t seem to get enough of each other), I was in the toilet at the pub thinking, ‘Oh fuck, I think this is it. This is that love thing people talk about’. I remember leaving the toilet to meet him outside. As we walked along he looked at me and said, “You know there’s that thing you can say, but it’s probably too soon to say it? … I love you a little bit, yeah’. My whole body swelled with happiness. Sadly, I never told him about that wonderful little moment of complete synchronicity in our feelings. There were lots of things that were somehow left undiscussed… I just always thought there would be time. I thought we’d have the rest of our lives.
Then, as I’m sure you can probably guess by now, it ended. The first major argument, the second, a third. All drink fuelled and emotionally out of control. I naively blamed it on the booze and we never really talked through our issues in a sober state. It’s ironic, I work in communications and I’m well known for talking far too much, but I didn’t realise just how important communication is in a relationship until it was over. I just swept any negativity under the carpet, fearing if I put a spotlight on it he’d leave me. Nobody wants a girlfriend who can’t handle the tough times right? Wrong. It just looked like I didn’t recognise the severity of our problems or was unable to make any changes to solve them. So came the first break up, the second, the third. Third and final. It was a brutal couple of weeks – it so very nearly seemed we’d stay together at one point, then from that high we spiralled to the deepest low. I remember after the second time I begged him for one more week to think things through without any contact, then promptly ran into my bedroom, grabbed an emergency pair of knickers and got on a train straight to my parents’ house. I sobbed the whole way there. In this week of no contact I then continued to numb the pain with alcohol, meeting a different close confidant each evening to dissect and analyse what had happened, and how things could potentially be fixed. It was all for nothing – once he regained contact he didn’t feel there was anything that could be done, so that was that. We ended, and I lost him.
I hated myself. I loathed myself. How on earth could I be so careless as to lose my best friend? The person I wanted to be around as often as possible? The person I shared a bed with, the person who made me laugh the most, the person who made me feel safe, understood, desired, wanted? The person who supported me, was always interested in my day, and cared where I was and what I was doing? It was my fault for being inebriated and saying things without thinking, it was my fault for not challenging him, it was my fault for not being sexy enough, it was my fault for not being as free spirited as him, it was my fault for falling so deeply in love and putting my independence to one side – it was my fault for not keeping our relationship alive. Though I still had the photographs and the gifts, I had somehow lost my happiness and future.
However, several months down the line, I’ve started to realise something. Like all those times I was stolen from, I wasn’t entirely to blame. I didn’t lose my phones, or my bloody sat-nav holder. They had been stolen, taken from me, and my ex had taken our relationship from us. It wasn’t a mutual decision, therefore essentially he had committed the crime. Friends and family were my own personal police force, meeting me whenever they could, ensuring I ate, and listening to my victim statement umpteen times. I started to compartmentalise exactly what he’d taken from me.
So, you become accustomed to sleeping next to a bizarrely hot (whatever the season) 6’4” adult male night after night. You get used to him having to go to work earlier than you, which never bothers you because you get a kiss, an ‘I love you’ and a cuppa (if you’re lucky) before he leaves. Then, of course, there is the falling asleep part, which is even better. Whether it’s after expressing love in the more physical sense or simply after an exhausting day when a big spoon is all that is needed to help you drift off to the land of nod, falling asleep was always better with him. There’s the hungover lie-ins, the cuddles with the pet who, if they could talk, would call you ‘Mum’ – bed is a uniquely fun and comforting place to be when you’re in a relationship. Then he’s gone. The cat has gone. His bed has gone. Suddenly you’re back in your own, one that had been neglected for the duration of your relationship. It feels sterile and cold, and you climb in night after night alone. All you want to do is sleep. Switch off, forget, escape. Frustratingly, you can’t get to sleep as your mind runs over and over what’s happened. Memories fight against each other to play on the screen in your head for the next fifteen minutes, and the next, and the next… you still can’t sleep. You purchase some herbal remedies and Nytol, and manage to drift off – but any sleep you do manage to get is now tainted by dreams. Realistic, vivid, cruel dreams. Your mind puts together a happy scene where you are both still together and you wake up feeling content. Then, reality hits a split second later, and it is crushing. Daily application of a very thick under eye concealer and an inevitable nap on the bus into work, with your cheek pressed against the window, are your new reality.
‘Even food don’t taste that good, drink ain’t doing what it should’, belt out Bryan Adams and Melanie C during ‘When You’re Gone’, their 90s pop/rock hit. They have a point. You just feel numb. Food is the last thing on your mind, the usual pangs of hunger just don’t seem to arrive. Anxiety is known to cause nausea, and that nausea therefore consumes you on a daily basis. No, I don’t want a tub of Ben & Jerrys, I’m not in a bloody rom com! You know you need to eat though, so you do, particularly when under the supervision of friends or family. So you force it down. Everything tastes like cardboard. It also doesn’t help that he did all the cooking, and he was really, really good at it (insert flat face emoji). The inevitable concerned comments about your sudden weight loss go in one ear and out the other – you’ve stopped looking in the mirror, putting on your makeup and caring what you look like anyway. Plus, when your clothes don’t fit well anymore it’s actually a inconvenient financial strain – those jeans were your favourite pair. I suppose alcohol is more readily accepted – let’s try to numb the numbness! Let’s try to forget everything and solely concern yourself with singing, dancing, socialising and being your most fabulous self again! Yeah, well, that doesn’t work either. It just ends up with you losing your dignity, passionately singing ‘I Will Survive’ in front of new colleagues during a Bavarian beer night, followed by an Uber home in a cowboy hat, crying your eyes out whilst you watch old videos of you and him that you don’t even remember filming.
When you meet somebody new, be it a colleague or a house mate, it doesn’t take long to share your tastes in music. When you enter into a relationship with someone it goes one step further. You share your number one favourite songs, you revel in the delight of the old bands that you both adore, and you both carefully create playlists for each other. Now all that music is made sour by the memories associated with it – dancing your hearts out on the local dance floor and concluding that one track will probably be ‘our song’, murdering the classics together on the long distance road trips, being held on top of his shoulders at a festival or closely at a gig, and those perfect evenings when you decide you can’t be bothered to go out but would rather sit in and talk, taking it in turns to play DJ into the early hours. Now you can’t listen to any of it, as it’s too painful. You can only replay heartbreakers that you stopped listening to when you met him. He’s taken music from you.
Popular culture also compromises of what’s on the box. Or more specifically these days, what’s on Netflix. So you get together, then the reasons why you got together in the first place mean it’s likely you’ll have the same sense of humour or interests or emotional capacity, then boom, it’s likely you’ll both be into the same kind of comedy or drama or documentary. So what happens? You start watching stuff together. In my case this started as films. I suppose in the early days when you’re still dating, and perhaps trying to impress each other with your selections this is an obvious starting point. Plus a film is entirely non-committal – once the credits are rolling you’re done and unlikely to watch it again any time soon. This then naturally graduates into multiple series, which is where my frustrations lie. Sure, there are the smaller kind of series you can blitz through relatively quickly, e.g. I’m Alan Partridge (I’m eternally grateful to him for getting me to watch that, and yes, it’s mad I hadn’t already seen it), but then there is the 7 season plus kind of stuff that the break up abruptly stalls. One reason being that your significant other has the account details to the streaming site, another being slightly more emotional… how can I jump back into the show I used to watch sprawled over him on his sofa? The show he used to cook us delicious food to enjoy alongside? The show where he predicted who my favourite character would be and at exactly what point it would be likely I’d cry or laugh at? I’ve found it entirely impossible to pick up one of said series again for those exact reasons. Another I did and battled through. However when that favourite character left the series I had more mascara down my face than on my eyelashes. The other… well let’s just say he’s only gone and stolen GoT right ahead of the final season start date.
Same as above really. ‘You’d LOVE this place’, ‘I must take you here’, ‘List it!’ (my ex and I had an ever expanding list of places we wanted to go to together to tick off as we went/could refer to when bored and in need of something to do), ‘Meet me at the usual spot’, ‘Quiz again?’, ‘Let’s get out of the UK?’, ‘Remember when we had those delicious dumplings at…’ – now all those places, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, even cornershops are off limits. Cheers pal, I really liked those dumplings.
After that final breakup he tells you it’ll be ok, no one has died and besides, you’ll still be seeing him at some point next week to exchange belongings. You then find you’re in far too much of a state and find it far too painful to even contemplate doing that. You can barely reply to his messages checking in to see how you are. No I’m NOT ok. So the stuff isn’t swapped over. Time goes on, it’s still not swapped. You feel a bit stronger so you approach it, but he’s so busy with work and then before you know it it’s Christmas and it doesn’t happen, again. So you lose a few summer dresses, some speakers… it’s mainly the half read Dolly Alderton book you’re now in desperate need of.
Probably the worst thing that’s was pinched. Initially you try not to think any further ahead than getting to date number 3 or 4, but once you feel secure enough and he’s told you he loves you, surely it’s inevitable to think a little further ahead. Especially in your late twenties. Slowly you start imagining a wedding, even though he explicitly said he wasn’t that keen on the necessity of marriage. You even feel a bit like that too, now you’ve placed your rare and precious feelings of love above any desire to have it declared on paper, but your mind drifts to this tasteful low key event where everyone you both care about can have the opportunity to celebrate alongside you and the man you were lucky enough to find. And yes, you have fantasised about the beautiful white dress, your dad walking you down an imaginary aisle that finally has a face at the end of it. That face is now blank. Then there’s the acknowledged mutual want for children eventually. The baby name discussions pop up time to time, his mum has shown you photos of him as a toddler… you occasionally caught yourself thinking about you both on a dog walk with a fictitious dog and the fictitious children who are tiny versions of yourselves. Never happening. Shame – we would’ve made seriously cute kids.
Ok, I lied. This one is actually the biggie. And a recently added paragraph – I wrote all of the above whilst I was still in the initial grips of loss. I’m now in the process of submitting this piece of writing and I feel it can’t be shared without this being adding in. The most horrific thing he stole? Our friendship. Now time has gone on, I’ve started to revisit some of those places we frequented, and it was absolutely fine. My appetite is fully back, drinking is enjoyable again, and I can sleep through the night (he still pops into dreams sometimes, but so do most people I know). I listen to upbeat music again, even some of his old playlists I liked. I’ve not conquered the rest of GoT yet, but that’s simply because I’ve been spoilt for choice with TV listings of late. And sure, I still miss everything about him, I still cry about him occasionally (just last night in fact) and I still imagine what could have been. But essentially it’s the theft of our friendship I feel most bereft about. How could you take those daft impressions and voices you’d put on for me to make me belly laugh? How could you take away the one person who I trusted with anything I had to say? How could you take away that ease of companionship I’d not shared with anyone before? So ultimately, that’s the prize loot. Hopefully one day he’ll come into the police station (likely the pub) and hold up his hands, returning it. I’d really like that.