“Relationships are Hard Work”

“Relationships are hard work.”

How many times would you say you’ve heard that phrase in your life? People say it to each other all the time; over coffee, over cocktails, in the middle of long, exasperated venting sessions and at the end of despairing exclamations. I’ve said it, and I’ve heard it, and every time there’s a nod of understanding and agreement, because it’s just vague enough to sound accurate.

Recently though, I’ve come to realise that the phrase isn’t specific enough to be true.

It’s a bit like when people say, “Well, sure we fight, but all couples fight.”

I always nod. They both sound pretty straightforward, but the truth is that actually they’re blanket statements broad enough to cover a multitude of realities, and I think we sometimes don’t realise that until far too late.

I was once in a really unhealthy relationship.

I remember the feeling of being stuck in the Swamp of Sadness that was my life at that point, the feeling of our relationship being an endless slog. It would be okay, and then slowly it would be less okay, and then not okay at all, and then terrible, and then there would be an explosive argument with tears and shouting and accusations and apologies…

And then we would be back to the start of the cycle and things would be okay again for a short while. You know, before it all went south – again – like it did every time. Everything felt difficult. If I tried to fix things or communicate why I was so unhappy I was “picking a fight” or ruining everything with my “complaining.” If I kept quiet in an attempt to keep the peace, then I had to swallow down so much resentment I almost choked on it, and everything was tainted by the knowledge that it was fake. All of it. Our smiles were fake, because they were smiles papering over the fact that things weren’t okay. Our memories were fake, because the thread of misery was there running through them all like the long, lit fuse of a bomb leading to inevitable destruction. I loved him, but it hurt, and it was hard, and I felt like I was pouring myself into a pit with no bottom, losing myself in suffocating darkness.

Every time I burst into frustrated tears, mired in this misery, I would say these two phrases over and over to myself like a mantra:

“Relationships are hard work.”

“All couples fight.”

These two phrases reassured me, they consoled me, they made me feel less alone… but they were so undefined. They were elastic phrases that stretched and stretched until I felt they covered my experiences. I know for a fact that they cover many more. 

Since then, there’s been a lot of life happening. I’ve been careful to keep my eyes wide open, and I still hear those phrases but now, for me, they have definitions.

Relationships are hard work. They’re hard work because they involve being less selfish, and always taking someone else into consideration. They’re hard work because they involve thoughtfulness and respect and kindness towards somebody else and as human beings we don’t always feel that way inclined. Sometimes we’re tired or grumpy or we’ve had a bad day or we’re in pain and we want to snap at anyone who looks at us sideways, and on those days it’s work to rise above it. They’re hard work because you have to do things for someone else, and sometimes they’re things you don’t want to do. They’re hard work because maybe they have a habit that drives you up the wall and back down the other side but you love them, so you work to ignore it. They’re hard work because all of your time is no longer your own and you have to learn to compromise. They’re hard work because life is full of unforeseen bumps in the road and sometimes you will have to carry the slack, and sometimes they will have to do the same. They’re hard work, but they’re not slavery. It’s not supposed to be constant misery. It’s not supposed to be something you put your all into without getting anything back.

Relationships are hard work but if you have it right, they’re hard work that you enjoy and get paid well for. 

It’s hard work that’s worth the effort. Your payment comes in the form of receiving the same effort from your partner; you’re repaid in support and respect and love and kindness and thoughtfulness. You’re repaid in knowing that someone has your back, that you’ve got a teammate in this Life Race and that you guys meet in the middle.

Which brings us to the second phrase.

“All couples fight.”

This is such a strange phrase. Let’s change it to, ‘All couples disagree.’ I think that’s a fair statement. All couples disagree. I think it’s also fair to say that all couples can get pretty heated when they’re disagreeing about something important to them, so I guess you could call that a fight.

I think that the word ‘fight’ has something more aggressive to it though. The word ‘fight’ makes me think of shouting, name-calling, throwing things and losing control, and if that’s the definition then no, I don’t think all couples fight. All couples can have disagreements, discussions, even arguments… but fights? Fights that are verbal altercations that end with one or both people crying, or someone having to apologise for having said something purposely hurtful out of anger? If this is something that happens regularly in your relationship, that’s a problem. If that’s what you mean when you say, “We fight, but all couples fight,” then you need to reassess. Not all couples fight dirty. Not all couples fight like that. That kind of unhappiness should only happen extremely rarely, if ever. The basic respect that you have for each other as people shouldn’t slip just because you have strong feelings about opposing views. You can be frustrated and angry and upset and still mindful of what you’re saying. 

If you’re angry and you lash out and say something that’s hurtful – even if it’s untrue – you’re not only hurting them. Once you’ve said something, you can never unsay it. They can never unhear it. You can apologise, but that doesn’t erase it. I really think that’s something more people could keep in mind. Sharp words hurt both of you. They chip away at what’s between you until there’s nothing left.

When I think about Past Me, I feel both sympathetic and annoyed.

I feel sympathy because she was so confused, and so miserable, and trying so hard in such futile ways. I feel sympathy because she didn’t know any better, and she was so, so in love. I feel sympathy because I know she did her best, even if her best was a disastrous emotional mess.

I feel annoyed because it took her so long to read the writing on the wall. It took her so painfully long to dig up the last scrap of her confidence from wherever it had been buried. It took her so long to realise that their relationship wasn’t a winding path, but a closed loop that wouldn’t – couldn’t – go anywhere. It took her so long to stop believing the nonsense.

Nonsense like, “relationships are hard work.”

Nonsense like, “all couples fight.”

 

DISCLAIMER: This is what I’ve learned from personal experience and that is none of this is to say I have it all figured out, because I don’t. I wish I did. If I had it all figured out I would be living on a private island somewhere with a small herd of pet alpacas and maybe a beehive so I could have a continuous supply of honey. I would never have any unpleasantness in my life, everything would be easy, every day would be sunny, and I would never have to consider the pros and cons of having cereal for dinner for the third day in a row.

The Sticking Point

I don’t know if you have ever heard of the Bodies exhibition. 

It is an exhibition of real human bodies – dissected, plastificated – which has been touring the world for years now, and I visited it when it happened to be in Madrid, Spain. It was astonishing; human anatomy as I had never seen it. Maps of blood vessels and arteries, stiffened and displayed between slabs of clear acrylic. Skeletons in motion. Muscles, lungs, and other organs exposed to my curious eyes in a way that seemed slightly indecent. I kept having to remind myself that once upon a time these were people, real people. They had lived and loved and laughed and died and somehow they had ended up here, frozen forever in a frisbee-throwing pose or sliced into sections for intrigued spectators. A modern side-show.

Although I was much younger then, I still remember the black fabric-draped tent in one corner of the hall. A sign by the doorway warned those with sensitive dispositions to turn away. I passed the sign with barely a glance and entered into a long, narrow, spotlit room with numerous glass containers forming a line down the centre. Each glass container held one unborn human, from visible embryo to fully-formed baby. A sign on the wall explained that each specimen had been donated after a miscarriage. The room was sombre and silent, and I remember feeling a wave of sadness for the parents, and the amount of potential happiness and life that had died only to be preserved forever in these glass canisters.

I walked along the rows, reading the signs and looking at these unborn babies. The first few look like tadpoles. Then indistinct shapes with clouded eyes. Then embryos that looked like they might become baby rabbits. As I continued down the row of glass canisters I could see the development, the growth, the unfolding of a new human. The last one looked just like a newborn baby. It had hair, and fingernails. It floated, suspended in the solution, and the circumstances that had led to me standing there, looking this unborn boy in the face struck me as both grotesque and strangely serene, fascinating and utterly depressing.

I tell you all this because I want you to appreciate that I understand what is at stake. I am not ignorant of the facts. I am not blind to the sadness of the situation. I know what an unborn baby looks like; I have seen it with my own eyes.

********************************************************************************

In 1983, in an Ireland where abortion was already illegal, a constitutional subsection was voted in giving the unborn an equal right to life to the pregnant woman carrying it. This was intended to safeguard the unborn against any possible ramifications of the Roe vs Wade ruling across the pond. Making abortions extra illegal seemed important in a Catholic Ireland where people still could not buy condoms without a prescription*.

One week from now, Ireland will be asked to vote on whether to remove the 8th amendment from the constitution.

The no campaign has, as you can probably imagine, been extremely organised and well-funded. Their message is simple, and blunt, and effective: if you vote no, you are saving  babies. If you vote yes, you are paving the way to eugenics, and voting for the mass murder of innocents. They mention the decreased number of people born with disabilities in societies with legalised abortion. They discuss ‘contraceptive abortions’ borne solely of convenience. They talk of babies yawning and sucking their thumbs in the womb. They speak of women who have had abortions and later regretted it. 

The yes campaign for this referendum has been scattered, divided, and comparatively disorganised. I don’t think this is a problem with the campaign, as much as it is a problem with the issue at hand; there are many different reasons why people might vote yes, and not all of them mesh well with others.

Some will vote yes because they agree with the idea of legal abortion being accessible.

Some will vote yes because they trust women to make the best decision for themselves and their situation.

Some will vote yes because they find it hypocritical that Ireland continues to outlaw abortion*, while legalising travel to the UK for the same purpose.

Some will vote yes because they think it inhumane that a couple dealing with a fatal foetal abnormality must travel abroad if they want an early termination.

Some will vote yes because they don’t want anyone else – or they themselves – to become the next Savita.

Some will vote yes because they think rape victims should not have to carry a resulting pregnancy against their will.

Some will vote yes because they believe the lives of living, loving, thinking, breathing adult women should not be equal in value to that of ‘the unborn,’ because ‘the unborn’ is very vague; is that the unborn, newly fertilised egg? Is it the unborn embryo, bean-sized, dependent on the mother? Is it the 25-week old unborn baby? Is it all of the above? If it is not, then where is the line? The placement of that line is controversial and, depending on the individual, can be based on personal, religious or scientific reasons.

Some will vote yes for all of the above reasons, and some for a combination of only some of the above.

“We can’t focus on the hard cases,” is something I’ve heard often in the run-up to this referendum. “Not when 95% of abortions are not hard cases. Not when most abortions are done for the sake of convenience.”

I have feelings about this perception that women are getting abortions the same way they’d get their nails done. I have feelings about it, but for me it’s not the main issue.

The sticking point, for me, is this:

What if I’m that woman?

What if my wanted, yearned for, unborn baby is diagnosed with some awful condition that means that although I might carry it to term, he or she will die, suffering, within seconds, minutes, hours of being born? What if I have to endure nine months of well-meaning questions from strangers, each kindly remark about an impossible future cutting through me like a knife through my soul? What if I want an abortion to save my unborn baby (and yes, myself) the suffering? Would you think it fair and reasonable that I should have to fly to England, where I would then – like so many other women – have to make decisions about where to go, where to stay, and what to do so far from home with the remains of my very much wanted, heartrendingly loved child?

And what if I am raped? It doesn’t matter by who. An old friend. A man in a dark alleyway. A relative. A stranger with a knife at my throat. I am raped and now I am pregnant. I am already struggling to cope with this awful thing that has happened to me, and now I am pregnant with a daily reminder. Crying, I confide in you. I tell you that I can’t do this. That I’m not mentally strong enough. That perhaps I can overcome sexual assault but I cannot overcome it if I have to carry within my body the result of this rape for the better part of a year. Would you think it fair and reasonable that I should have no choice?

And what if I am diagnosed with cancer, and I am pregnant, and I want to live? What if my doctor tells me that because I am not at imminent, immediate risk of dying, they will have to work around my pregnancy, give me treatment that is less effective, but also less likely to kill my unborn baby? What if they tell me that early, aggressive treatment will cure me but that I cannot access this treatment unless I get a termination abroad? Because my life is equal to that of my ten-week old developing foetus, they cannot harm it any more than they can intentionally harm me. Never mind that inaction will indirectly harm me. Legally, their hands are tied. I must be dying, and not only dying in a long-term manner; I must be dying enough to warrant intervention. What if the time it takes me to carry this pregnancy to term is the time the cancer needs to become terminal? What if I don’t want to take that risk? Would you think it fair and reasonable that I not have a say? 

I have spoken about this to people who are thinking of voting no, and they pat me on the arm and say, in what is meant to be a reassuring tone of voice, “Stop worrying about these things. They almost definitely will never happen to you. The chances are so, so small. These “hard cases” only happen to about 1000 women every year.” And every time I hear this I feel frustrated and upset that I have not managed to communicate my point effectively. 

I’m not worried that it will happen to me.

It’s not about me.

It’s about you.

It’s about you, and how you would react to my being in these situations. It’s about how you would feel if it were someone you know. It’s about whether the needle on your moral compass starts to shake with uncertainty if that one ‘hard case’ is you, or your mother, or your sister, or your best friend, or your cousin, or your daughter. If I become a “hard case” – or, God forbid, you – what does it matter to either of us how many other people are trapped in this same private hell? What does it matter if it is five? Or fifty? Or a hundred? Or a thousand?

It’s about the women that this is happening to right now along the length and breadth of the country. As I am to my friends and family, those women are to others. They are loved. They have people around them who are impacted by their joys and sorrows. Their tragedies unfurl like drops of ink in water, dispersing and turning everything around them a shade darker.

It’s about why the statistics and percentages and numbers of ‘hard cases’ don’t make a difference to me. I don’t think there should even be one couple crying, leaving the ashes of their baby in Liverpool because they can’t afford to courier the remains home. I don’t think there should even be one victim of rape forced to sacrifice their health – mental or physical or both – to carry the resulting unwanted pregnancy to term. They should have the choice to do what they feel is best for their lives.  We should have the compassion to allow them to make that choice.

In one week, Ireland will be asked to vote on whether we should remove the 8th amendment from the constitution.

I will be voting yes.

*Condoms and other forms of contraception were fully illegal until 1980, and then legal only with a prescription until as late as 1985. 

**Abortion currently carries a 14 year prison sentence.

A Gentle Reminder

 

Sometimes worry comes calling, and stresses abound,

And there’s too much to do, and yet time can’t be found,

And your stomach’s in knots, and your head is in bits,

And you’re starting to wonder if vodka’s the fix.

 

And your life has begun to feel slightly unglued,

And you can’t even seem to find two matching shoes,

And your top’s inside-out, and your plans are reversed,

And you start to suspect that you might have been cursed.

 

And if this has been you, (as indeed it’s been me),

And this feeling has left you completely at sea,

Just know that in this, there are many like you,

For at some point we all have felt anxious or blue.

 

But if you keep in mind that you are at heart good,

And you’re doing your best (as all good people should),

And you plant yourself firm when you’re desperate to flee-

You will find that it passes,

Eventually.

 

Notes for a Younger Me

When I look at photographs of myself when I was younger, I experience a strange, out-of-body feeling. It doesn’t feel like I’m looking at myself. It feels like I’m looking at someone else. The child of someone I know, maybe, or a distant relative. It doesn’t feel like me.

Sometimes this slightly freaks me out, because it makes me wonder if this is how it will always be. In twenty years’ time will I look at photos of myself now and feel like a different person? Will I have changed that much? Will I feel like the experiences and memories and thoughts of Now Me are so removed and foreign that they might as well belong to somebody else?

*shudder*

I was sorting through old photographs a couple of days ago hunting for something in particular when I came across a number of photos of Baby Quinn. There I was meeting my godmother for the first time. There I was going to school. There I was building LEGO and jumping through a stream and walking around with a Pampers box on my head. I have chubby legs and big eyes and wild hair. I am wearing flowery hand-me-downs (which means the anti-feminine movement must not have been active until much later) from what must have been the set of Mary Poppins.

In many of these snaps I am looking at the camera head on. There is no expression on my face. I am just staring, wide-eyed, either straight down the lens or with my gaze turned slightly upwards at (presumably) the photographer. I look as if I might be waiting for something. Maybe waiting for someone to tell me something? Maybe waiting for the manual?

Since we all know the manual never made it, I thought I might tell her something now.

Baby Quinn,

You are a small, round little ball of pudge. Look at you! You weren’t always like that (I’ve seen the earlier photos where you look like an alien beamed down from another planet complete with tubes in your head; those photos are less than lovely), but from this stage forward you’ll basically look like this, only stretched.

Not stretched by much, mind you. We stay pretty low to the ground.

In case you’re wondering, that pouty bottom lip will never go away. Don’t worry, you kind of grow into it. Anyway, it will come in handy whenever you want to make your feelings known. For example, on your way to school…

20180129_142846

Yep, just like that.

You will have a brother. You get on very well except for a brief period during which he does nothing but scream for things at the top of his lungs and pinch you when your parents aren’t looking. Don’t worry, he improves.

Your first friend is a boy called Peter. You spend many hours flinging micro machines at walls of LEGO, and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is an age during which you frequently collect worms and put them in your pencil case to “save them” from lashing rain and the indiscriminate stomping of children’s shoes. Please do not do this. They die from dehydration and you feel absolutely terrible when you have to shake their desiccated, hardened corpses out of the pencil tin. It’s very grim.

You also stop eating around this age. Why? Who can say? You hate food. All food. You are not a picky eater, you are a non-eater. You just can’t stand the horror of having to taste and chew and swallow. You can’t bring yourself to eat. Every meal is a battlefield. The very idea of a future filled with the torture of breakfasts, lunches and dinners looms ahead of you every day for the rest of your life.

Luckily, as with the worm infirmary, this too shall pass. I am happy to relate that I now enjoy eating very much. VERY much! Food is amazing. So are drinks (although stay away from the fizzy ones; you can’t burp, so fizzy drinks make you feel like you have a chestburster from Alien struggling to get free). Wait until you try a White Russian for the first time.

You make a best friend. She is awesome. She likes Oasis when other people like Boyzone. You spend a lot of time thumping up and down the stairs of her house and playing on her road. There are many sleepovers and late night chats. Mind her, love her, be good to and for her. She’s still our best friend. She’s still awesome.

With the help of many books from the public library, you reach your teenage years with a wealth of information at your fingertips. You are ferociously outgoing and impulsive to the point of stupidity. You make decisions that are questionable at best, downright dangerous at worst. You skate along safely though, blithely unaware of the disastrous consequences you narrowly avoid along the way.

You fall in love.

The first year or so is amazing and then it’s just one long, drawn-out, awful descent into misery. You follow your heart and it leads you right into The Swamp of Sorrow. You’re not experienced enough to recognise or understand the lies or the gas-lighting. It’s a long three years of crying and fighting and crying and feeling like an idiot and crying and being manipulated and crying. Just… a lot of crying. Prepare yourself. Invest in tissues, even though you don’t use them. Your heart gets irreparably cracked (although you don’t realise it then) and over time, words and actions bluntly bash at it until the cracks grow wider.

The last, powerful, brick-breaking karate chop makes sure it’s properly smashed into glittering shards.

You end it, too damaged and much too late. For three long years you’ve been told that this is what love is, that your idea of love – with respect, and honesty, and common decency – is straight out of the storybooks and that this is as good as it gets… but you (finally!) realise that anything at all is better than this war of attrition you’ve been losing.

There’s more crying, because your heart is still broken after all.

Let’s just speed through that part.

giphy.gif

If I could warn you about all of this… I wouldn’t. Yes, it SUCKS. It sucks. It’s honestly brutal. The lessons you learn are emotionally beaten into you with what feels like a sledgehammer.

But after all that, you do learn.

You’ve learned what you need to be happy, and so you go do that for a while. You spend time with nice people who love you and you slowly put yourself, your sanity and your heart back together. You become a real person, not just a tangled mess of emotions  and frustration strung together in human form. You make good decisions, or at least decisions that are good for you. You take your time.

You fall in love again, and it’s pretty great. Better than expected.

Better than the storybooks.

So here are a couple of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way, Baby Quinn. The things that should have come in your manual. Here are the lessons you learn along the way:

Stay creative.

It doesn’t matter what you do or how it turns out. Some part of you is always waiting to create something. You’ve drawn, painted, cut, carved. You’ve burned names into chopping boards and made cakes that lean like drunken towers and sliced paper into slivers. You are happiest making things with your hands, and the end result is not always delightful but it is always satisfying.

Play with gouache, with watercolours, with acrylic. Play with clay, and candle wax. Crafting is the one area in which you’re never afraid to fail, so keep trying. Keep failing! Every so often you’ll find something that you’re good at that makes people happy.

Do that. It makes you happy to see other people happy.

Fall in love.

You are an affectionate child. You love hard. Keep that with you.

As you grow up, you grow less willing to be open about how much people mean to you. You close yourself off. You still care, but you hide it. You get shy.

Fight that!

It’s nonsense. You still think about people you haven’t seen in years, and cry for people you don’t even know; the least you can do is reach out to the people you love and care about now, today. I know that it makes you feel vulnerable and you hate feeling vulnerable, but the alternative is letting them think you don’t care, and that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fall in love, and not just with people. Let yourself fall in love with places, with animals, with experiences. Fall in love with lessons learned and dreams that dissipate five minutes after waking up. Fall in love with food (Italy will help), with adventure, with strangers. Fall in love with all of it.

Be excited about the future.

Sometimes things are really rubbish. Sometimes life feels endlessly terrifying and you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going. You look ahead and all you see is an expanse of hopelessness. There are panic attacks and weeks of dull numbness.

DON’T WORRY.

I mean, worry – by all means worry; you’re going to do it anyway – but as Sunscreen says, know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. In the midst of all that worrying, be excited for the future! Even when things look grim and you can’t imagine what there might be to be excited about… be excited about the unknown, because great things happen.

Great things happen to you, I promise. You, I, we have fed pelicans at a zoo! We’ve played with a tiger cub! We’ve bumped around Goa on a scooter, and gone swimming with sea turtles in Gili Air, and seen Mayan ruins in Tulum, and eaten ramen in Tokyo, and galloped around the pyramids of Giza, and sat drinking mint tea in Marrakech, and had gelato in Rome, and lived in Heidelberg, and gone skiing in Bansko, and seen a fever of rays in San Diego, and, and, and…

… And we’ve had hot chocolates on snow days. We’ve read great books. We’ve had long conversations with our grandfather. We’ve had hugs when we most needed them. We’ve danced in the apartment alone, and talked with friends over cups of tea. We’ve discovered maltesers in salted popcorn (the only decent way to watch a movie), and combed the beach for seaglass after a storm. We’ve had quiet, happy slices of time where everything was just right, just for a moment.

Those moments are all you need.

We’ve had good times so far, Baby Quinn. We’ll continue to have them. In the darkest times you couldn’t even have imagined any of those moments ever happening, but they did. They continue to happen. Right now I’m sitting here typing this to you under a barrage of raindrops with a cup of tea next to me and a cat curled up at my feet. I’m more than okay. We’re more than okay.

You’ll be okay.

 

A Last First Kiss

 

We had been sitting next to each other – awkwardly at first, then more comfortably – for about an hour. I could feel his thigh pressed against mine. When he moved his arm, I felt his sleeve brush against my sleeve. He made bad jokes and gave me lopsided smiles while I babbled non-stop in an effort to disguise my nerves. He took a phone call and unfolded himself from the couch to pace the room, so I moved to the window to look out over the river. Even from across the room I felt like there were delicate filaments of feeling tying us together, vibrating with the low sound of his voice and the shy uncertainty woven through my every action. I absent-mindedly flicked through a stack of DVDs as he wrapped up the call, and then he crossed the room until he was standing right in front of me, toe to toe.

“So?” I said.

He smiled down at me. “So.”

My gaze slid sideways to avoid meeting his eyes.

“Are we going into town?”

“No.”

I looked up then to find him looking down at me with an intensity he hadn’t had earlier. I felt it; a strange, electric thickness that hung in the air between us.

And then he dipped his head.

And then his lips met mine.

And that was my last first kiss.

******************************************************************

I was thinking today about being single.

Not longing after it, or wondering how it would be to be single now (although the thought of Tinder makes me deeply uncomfortable), but rather thinking about how I felt when I was single. I loved being single. I enjoyed myself immensely. If ‘love is… selfless‘ then ‘being single is… never having to compromise‘, and there is an unrestricted joy in that. You can do everything for yourself, by yourself, whenever you want, however you want. Your time is your own. There are a lot of things to love about it.

Still, if I were asked what I loved most about being single, it wouldn’t be that I had more me-time, or that I never had to compromise on holiday destinations.

It would have to be the microsecond before a first kiss.

I don’t mean casual first kisses. I don’t mean spin-the-bottle kisses, or truth-or-dare kisses, or seven-minutes-in-heaven kisses. I don’t mean prearranged kisses at teen discos, or kisses that are granted through friends of friends. I mean the few first kisses with people who matter. I mean the monumental first kisses; the kisses that feel like they might change everything and turn your world right on its head.

There is a strange magic about that sliver of time. That fraction of a second before your lips meet is loaded with possibility and hope and anticipation and excitement and sometimes a tiny flicker of fear. There are infinite lifetimes contained within that split moment. It’s like pulling hard on a lever to suddenly and irreversibly switch tracks. It sets you down a course that might lead anywhere. It might take you to a beautiful place, or on a short but scenic route on the way to somewhere else, or it might lead you through a dark tunnel… or it might just send you smack into the side of a mountain before burying you in a landslide of despair.

You have no way of knowing.

If you’re anything like me, all of these barely-thoughts and almost-feelings fuse into a single burst of energy that electrifies the air. Trepidation, lust, expectation, unease, desire and apprehension slam into the thrill of the unfamiliar to create an exhilarating mixture and, in all of its innocence, I honestly think it’s the most wholesome form of intoxication.

Now, my last first kiss is behind me* and instead, in the future, I’ll be experiencing subcategories of that kiss: first kiss as a wife**; maybe first kiss as a mother***. Who knows?

Here’s what I do know:

I pulled the lever and switched tracks that day without hesitation, and I have never regretted it. That’s pretty unusual for an overthinker such as myself, who goes back and forward over the same patch of memory with the fine-toothed comb of anxiety, worrying and wondering about all the other ways things might have gone and might still go.

So while I miss first kisses of that magnitude, I don’t regret having kissed them goodbye.

(And I don’t regret that pun, either.)

 

*Barring some awful tragedy. Touch wood.

**Typing that felt like an out-of-body experience. The word ‘wife’ sounds bizarre when you’ve been a girlfriend for so long. I already struggle with ‘fiancee.’

***(shudder of fear)

My Engagement Ring

 

My Engagement Ring (1).png

It’s been a few weeks now since I started wearing my engagement ring.

At first, it felt weird. Really weird. It’s heavier than any ring I’ve ever worn before, and it’s so… SHINY! It seems to catch the light no matter what I do. I almost felt a flicker of embarrassment even wearing it. I felt like I’d grown an extra finger. I kept catching it on the pockets of my jeans and I constantly worried about it falling off, even though it fits me perfectly.

Now I’m used to the weight of it, but I’m still sometimes surprised by its presence. I’m slowly getting used to it. Slowly!

When I started looking at rings, certain things quickly became obvious. Like the fact that certain rings I thought I liked actually made me look like a centenarian on her way to the opera, or the fact that yes, by and large they still all looked the same to me. It was just rows and rows (and rows) of identikit rings with tiny variations. This annoyed me slightly, because I didn’t enjoy the thought of dropping a large amount of money on something that had nothing to distinguish it from thousands of others.

Remember when you were in junior school and everyone in your class had that same plastic Aladdin lunchbox, but you knew which one was yours because nobody else was unlucky enough to have salami sandwiches and a pear inside of theirs?

I guess I wanted the positive, pretty, ring version of that lunch box. I wanted something inside my ring that made me nod and say, “Yep, this one’s mine!”

…Only, you know, with more enthusiasm than I ever showed for salami sandwiches.

In no time at all I sped through a quick game of No-No-No-Yes until I had narrowed down my options. I decided on the following:

  • One stone, because my fingers are stumpy and anything more than that made me look like a pirate gnome.
  • A plain band, because while I was ALMOST swayed by this gorgeous antique ring (the details! Can I buy that one just to frame it in a shadow box?), I am not nearly stylish enough to be wearing that sort of thing on a daily basis.
  • A tiny detail to make it personal.

Scrubs and I made an appointment with Diamant and met with Tom. You really need to have a pretty solid idea of what it is you want before you meet with him, because he doesn’t have three hours and hundreds of rings for you try on. What he does have are certified diamonds. Well, diamonds and contacts and a lot of knowledge. Before you meet him he asks for a budget and what sort of a ring you’re looking for, and then, like a gemstone hunter gatherer, he finds you a number of loose cut diamonds to choose from.

On the day that you meet with him, he sets a few tiny, glittering crystals before you in order of cost, and you decide – in what for me was a slightly surreal and uncomfortable experience* – which one you want. Honestly, unless you have a microscope and a diploma in gemology** you can’t really tell the difference. They all look practically identical. Then your chosen diamond is shipped off to Antwerp, where a gruff but genial goldsmith named Reggie sets it to your specifications.

In the end, I decided I wanted a round cut diamond in a thin, plain band, with compass prongs (four prongs in a north-south-east-west placement instead of the far more common box shape). The one little detail I wanted to mark the ring as mine?

Scrubs’ birthstone on the inside of the band.

A teeny, tiny emerald.

I love it. It’s not blinding. It’s not ornate. It’s exactly what I wanted; simple, and sparkly, and when I twist it around my finger I know that the smallest emerald you ever did see is rubbing against my skin; a reminder of Scrubs and the reason I’m wearing it.

*Nothing to do with Tom or Diamant (who are awesome and even leave you alone for a while to make your decision in private), just my own general awkwardness at the entire idea of choosing between virtually identical sparkly stones.

**This is a thing.

 

getting-physical-when-do-i-get-the-manual

So, Touching

getting-physical-when-do-i-get-the-manual

I am a tactile creature.

Not so much with people, but with things. I like to touch soft fabrics, and run my fingers through deep pile carpet. I like to trace the grain on solid wood, and press my hands against granite stone so hard the imprint is left on my palms. I love searching the seabed, trying to find beaded seashells and tide-smoothed driftwood and coarse-edged coral. I like the slippery coolness of glass, the feel of a salty breeze on my skin, the springy tension of needles on a pine cone. My fingertips explore the world around me. it’s not always enough for me to just look at things; I have to feel them.

I suppose I don’t seem overly tactual when I first meet new people. I didn’t grow up in a cuddling kind of household; I still feel a bit awkward hugging people that aren’t my closest friends. It feels uncomfortably intimate, and I’m never quite sure how to arrange my limbs so that they fit against the angles of a stranger’s body. I overthink it, debating whether or not to stick my hand out or just hug-tackle the person before they have a chance to decide for themselves. When I touch strangers, I always feel like I’m intruding, rudely popping their personal space bubble with my clumsy presence.

If I care about you, it’s different.

If I care about you, I like to sit shoulder to shoulder with you. I like looping my arm around your waist while we belt out lyrics to terrible songs. I like sitting against walls, thighs touching, talking about life. I will hold your hand on the way to the shop. I will throw an arm around your shoulders and pull you close. I will hug you hard and long, because I missed you, or I hate saying goodbye, or I’m happy for you, or just because. I will hesitate for a split second before doing any of the above because it doesn’t come naturally, then do it anyway because I want to be close to you.

But if I love you.

If I love you, I can’t keep my hands to myself. I want to run my fingers through your hair, and trace the outline of your lips. I want to hook my arms around your neck and stretch against you, tucking my head into your shoulder and disappearing into a feeling of warmth and quiet thoughts and soft exhalations. I want to rake my nails lightly down your back.  I want to slip under your clothes and feel the difference in texture between the cotton of your t-shirt and the warmth of your skin. I want to lace my fingers through yours, and kiss a trail down your throat, and place the heel of my hand in the hollow of your shoulder. I want to lean against you, and rest my forearm on your thigh, and be acutely, painfully aware of your arm around me. I want to slip a finger through one of your belt loops, and tug at the rough denim. I want to sit between your thighs and feel the safe, solid weight of your body against my spine. I want to outline the features of your face until I recognise them blindfolded.

The chasm between the stiff discomfort I feel with casual physical interaction and the greedy, bottomless hunger for touch I feel when it comes to those I love has always bewildered me. I assume it has to do with feeling vulnerable, and feeling safe, and the mix of both of those things making it possible for me to express myself. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking that I am not a physically affectionate person. Maybe I am an intensely physically afffectionate person and it just happens to generally be constrained by a straightjacket of apprehension, unease and the usual social anxiety.

Physics says that our electrons never actually come into contact. Our electrons repel each other, keeping us apart from anything we reach for. On an atomic level, I suppose I am never actually touching anything, only following its form.

My fingertips will always hover an infinitesimal distance from yours.

Wedding Daze

Wedding daze

I love a good wedding, and I was at a great wedding on Saturday.

The bride, my cousin – who is stunning on a bad day – looked so beautiful she actually glowed. I’ve read about people “glowing” before and always thought it was hyperbole, but I can’t think of any other word to describe her when the fact is that she legitimately had a honey aura going on.

Although we’re cousins, we look nothing alike. She is the blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, high-cheekboned, glamorous blonde to my hazel-eyed, dressed-in-the-dark, sallow-skinned brunette. As teenagers we would lie side by side on her bed, talking about boys and secrets and friends and life. Even though she’s a little younger than me, I’ve always looked up to her. She’s ambitious and determined, beautiful, strong-minded and incredibly talented. It doesn’t seem fair that one person managed to get all of those attributes, but here we are.

As a clear and timely example, let me tell you about her veil. If you tuned in (along with 2 billion others) to watch the last English royal wedding, you’ll have seen Carrickmacross lace before. It was all over Kate Middleton’s dress. Carrickmacross lace originates in County Monaghan, and involves a painstaking process of handstitching fabric to lace before cutting away the excess material. Consider that for a moment, and then consider the fact that my cousin decided – with all the ambition and determination and talent I outlined above – that she would make her own veil for her wedding day.

As you do.

I can’t imagine the patience it must have taken to make. If it had been me, I would have thrown it out the window after the first couple of months. Tulle and lace, needles and thread would all have gone sailing out onto the lawn in an unwittingly graceful show of frustration. My cousin being who she is though, she stuck with it; she found a teacher, learned the technique, and over many, many, many months… made her own veil.

Screenshot_20170703-122224
the veil

Even the most hamfisted, chronically unimpressed heathen would have to admit she did good. She did better than good. I mean, look at that. I don’t know anybody else on this earth who would take on that task on top of wedding planning and a full time job being the country’s best art teacher.

But that’s my cousin for you!

The day went off without a hitch. Everything was perfect. The cherry blossoms at the church, the incredible food, the heartfelt speeches from the wedding party, the cake that her mother made for the reception… In terms of talent and creativity, it’s a case of like mother, like daughter. As they say in the country, “She didn’t lick it off a stone!”

201707031234363390
the cake

So we danced, and we drank, and we toasted, and we talked, and we sang (not well), and we enjoyed ourselves. My cousin and her kind, loving gentleman of a husband (!) celebrated getting hitched and we were lucky enough to be witnesses.

After the meal, as I leaned back in my chair and wondered if I would ever need to eat again, I thought about growing up, and falling in love, and how complicated it is sometimes, and how simple it can seem from afar. It’s like an impressionist painting; from a distance it’s easy to think it’s a distinct scene painted in three or four colours, but once you really get up close and examine it, it’s so much messier than that. Every person lives in their own bubble, feeling things you can never know unless they tell you. Everybody has their own secret inner life, with their most personal dreams and hopes and memories and fears. It’s terrifying to trust someone enough to tell them all of that. It’s hard to let other people into your bubble.

And yet… we do it. We risk it. We feel passion, and loss, and love, and pain. We trust in people, even when we’ve been hurt before. We’re honest with people, even when we’re afraid they’ll throw it back in our faces. Over and over, we put our hearts on the line and we tell people the truth about how we feel, and sometimes it’s a disaster, and sometimes it’s magical. People have been doing this in all countries, in all cultures, again and again, over and over, since the dawn of time.

I can’t decide if it’s beautiful, or boneheaded.

Here’s what I do know though…

Life is hard sometimes. Nobody makes it through unscathed. With that in mind, it’s pretty amazing to find someone who you know has your back. I know that my cousin has found a guy who will go to bat for her everytime. If life was a zombie apocalypse, they would both be in the Winchester with her husband watching the door while my cousin came up with an elaborately detailed yet highly effective plan to get them to safety. They’ve got it on lock.

In the end, that’s what we all want, I guess. Somebody who will make the good stuff better and the bad stuff less bad. Somebody who you know is on your team, no matter the highs or the lows. Somebody who will keep the zombies of life distracted while you map out an escape plan using paperclips and toothpicks.

And vice versa.

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts On… The Ring Thing

So it turns out that when you get engaged, you wear a ring.

Who knew, right?* It’s a whole thing. There’s the proposal, and all the things that come with that (champagne… lots of champagne), and then there’s the ring. Usually a shiny ring. Usually a shiny ring with a sparkly rock perched on top so that you can blind your enemies with some carefully-angled light reflection. While I was aware of all of this in a vague, theoretical sense, I hadn’t really thought about it.

Like… ever.

Of course I’ve been around other engaged people, and I’m not completely socially inept, so I have taken part in the customary, “Congratulations! Oooh your ring is amazing!” routine. My congratulations are always sincere – I am a secret sap and melt internally during retellings of funny/sweet/charming/odd/downright peculiar proposals – but if I’m honest, my interest in the ring itself has always been extremely limited. My brain sees the new bit of jewellery and registers ‘beautiful silver-coloured ring with sparkly stone’ and literally nothing else. This may sound borderline sacriligeous, but by and large they all look the same to me. More importantly, they mean the same thing; this person (who I love) is getting married (to someone they love)… and that’s lovely!

But amigos, you have no idea.

Or rather, maybe you do have some idea, but I had NO idea.

The ring thing is an actual rabbithole. It’s Ringception. You think all you need to do is pick a ring. You think it’s simple. You think there’s only one layer… but you’re wrong. You’re so wrong. There are many layers, and once you’ve jumped in there is no Edith Piaf singing Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien to kick you back to sanity.

The first time I looked at rings, I felt the same icy panic that usually closes over me in the men’s shoe department. They all look the same. I know they’re not the same – I know there are differences – but God help me, I cannot point them out. I start to feel a strange, itemised kind of colourblindness; each ring I look at blurs into a muddy amalgamation of every ring I’ve seen before it. It turns out they are not just beautiful silver-coloured sparkly diamond rings. They are rose gold, or yellow gold, or platinum, or white gold, but if they’re white gold then they can be 14 karat, or 18 karat, and can I tell the difference?

No. No I cannot.

Then there are the diamonds (you can use any stone, but diamonds are most common); they can be round, or square, or oval, or pear, or princess, or cushion, or marquise, or emerald, or asscher, or a dozen other “cuts,” and that’s without going deeper into facet cuts and table depths and mathematical formulas for making the diamond a blinding weapon of refraction. I avoid mathematics whenever possible so as you can imagine this is not an area I am particularly interested in. When it comes to one round cut diamond or another round cut diamond, can I tell the difference?

No. No I cannot.

And then, after all that, you have the settings. Do you want it in a bezel setting? Halo setting? Tension setting? Prong setting? How many prongs? Four? Six? Square-placed or compass? Talon or rounded? Cathedral or Tiffany?

It’s endless.

When I started reading online about all of this, I kept coming across forums full of men planning to propose. There are threads out there in the wilderness of the world wide web crammed full of adorably encouraging strangers virtually psyching each other up and advising each other to “Check out her pinterest so you have an idea of what rings she likes.”

Psssh! I scoffed. Like there are people out there pinning their ideal engagement rings to their pinterest boards. Pinterest is for food! Everybody knows that!

Alas, further googling forces me to admit that I was wrong; these people exist. They are legion. There are many, many people out there who are extremely prepared for any potential proposal that might pop up. In this, as in so many other things, it turns out I am that one suddenly cramming for a test I didn’t even know I had to study for, while other people have been carefully compiling binders of detailed notes** for years.

Quelle surprise.

Still, there are a few things here that are bring me a measure of serenity when I start to feel like I am falling into a vertically-placed, asscher-cut hall of mirrors.

asscher cut diamond engagement rings
You could fall in and never come out

 

  1. This is the most first world of first world problems.
  2. Parts of this process have allowed me to say shake my head vigorously and say truly outrageous things like, “NOT THOSE PRONGS!” which is not something I ever thought I would have an opinion about, let alone say out loud.
  3. I don’t really care. I mean I care in so much as I do not want to wear an uncomfortable, heart-shaped eyesore for the rest of my days, but I don’t care. I would have said yes without any ring. I would marry Scrubs with a rubber band around my finger. He is the best.***

So that’s where I’m at. I’ve read more than I ever thought I would need to know about engagement rings. I’ve made some tentative decisions (I’ve decided against heart-shaped diamonds as a general rule). I will no doubt update you when I receive the final product so you can say “Oooh your ring is amazing!” in keeping with the well-established custom.

… Even if it does just look like a beautiful silver-coloured ring with sparkly stone.

*When we got engaged there was a provisional ring (rose gold, with rose quartz and little diamonds for the curious), with the plan being to find The One Ring To Rule Them All at a later stage, together. Hence, Ringception.

**Pinterest boards.

***I realise I am biased. He is though.

getting-engaged-wise-men-say-only-fools-rush-in-love

Wise Men Say…

imageedit_27_8227660760

There is one teeny, tiny thing I neglected to mention in all of my rambling about Mexico.

I got engaged. We got engaged! There was an engagement?

Basically, what I’m saying is that there was a very happily accepted proposal, and I know that makes it sound a little like a business deal, but in actual fact it was both completely unexpected and eerily perfect, and not at all like a business deal.

More like a movie.

Or a telenovela.

I don’t talk about Scrubs much here because Scrubs is quite a private person, but we have been together for… a while. A long while. About eight years now. That sounds like a veritable eon, but it really doesn’t feel like it. The other day we were out having dinner and across the way from us a couple were sitting, sipping cocktails, having an awkward first date.

“Yeah, so I play the oboe,” the girl said.

“Oh right. That’s interesting.” Said the boy, sounding not at all interested.

“It’s quite time-consuming.” Brief pause as the boy digested this bit of information. She forged ahead. “I also play hockey.”

“Oh?” Said the boy. “Like, on grass?”

“Yeah, on astroturf. Sometimes we play on gravel though.”

Scrubs and I locked eyes over our potato wedges.

“Thank God we never had to do that whole thing,” whispered Scrubs, sounding like we narrowly avoided death by immolation or radioactive waste. I nodded in grave agreement.

It’s true that we never had that awkward first date. Timing, or kismet, or any number of factors combined to create a moment in which we simply connected like magnets. At the time that my world collided with his, I had passed through phases of singledom; I had been sad and lonely, then disappointed and bored, and (eventually) made it to the promised land of consummate enjoyment. After a rough patch of heartbreak I had finally discovered my happy place. I had found my groove, and I was making the most of it; everything was fun, and light-hearted, and there was a lot of dancing to bad music (there is still a lot of dancing to bad music but these days it’s mostly in the comfort of my own home). Then, that one night, our little world bubbles bumped into each other for no more than five minutes.

“I know you! Or … I know someone that knows you?”

“Yeah! I was on foreign exchange with someone you know!”

“I have to go, but we should meet up sometime?”

“Yeah, for sure!”

…and that was it. It sounds ridiculous and impossible even to my own ears, but I still vividly remember sitting in my taxi home, tipsily thinking about him and feeling absolutely infuriated. I remember having this clear gut instinct of, “This guy is going to be Something Serious with a capital S, and just when I was starting to have so much fun! Why did Something Serious have to come along now? Why couldn’t I have had a bit longer to enjoy my groove?”

giphy1
Just like this, except that Scrubs is younger and better looking… And I’m not a man.

Worth it, though.

We never really went on a first date. We simply met up to hang out one day and then just… were. I found a new groove, a better groove than I’d ever even dared to hope for, and we’ve continued on like that up to now.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting the proposal at all. It blindsided me to such an extent that I didn’t really have a serious think about what it truly meant until afterwards. I think I was in shock for the first couple of days. It took me a minute.

One night I lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling, and thought long and hard about it. I realised that even though I’d always felt like we were in it for the long-haul, this was actually a Big Deal; this was an official, public, no-screwing-around, it’s-you-and-me-against-the-world type promise. I know that may seem obvious. It is obvious. I mean, that’s really the whole proposal question when you think about it. I needed a moment for it to sink in though. I needed a moment to turn it over in my mind and examine it from every angle. Now not only am I an adult, but I’m an adult with a fiancé! I still can’t say it out loud without turning red.

Nothing has changed. We are the same as we were before. Nothing has changed, and yet something has. Before, I knew that we loved each other and now, I KNOW it.

… But I already knew it, so what’s the difference?

I can’t tell. There is a difference but it’s something so tiny and sharp that I can barely figure out what it is. Something so miniscule it’s invisible but I can feel it, so I know it’s there.

I could write a long, long post here about Scrubs. I could write about the many reasons why I love him, and how he makes me a better person, and all the ways he makes me smile. I could write about how I still feel the same about him now as I did that night that he threw me off my groove and knocked me right into a different (and completely unexpected) lane.

I could write about all of this and more, but as I said before, he’s a private person. He would hate that.

So I didn’t write about it.

Not in so many words.