I used to yo-yo break up with my ex-ex. Number eight. The guy I met at university and loved for many years (whose dark dark eyes and devious filth you can read about in my first book if you’re interested). We had our problems, but we also had our passion. Long, tortured silences in the middle of arguments that would stretch on for what felt like hours, while each of us rummaged in our equally-wordy minds for the perfect phrase that would lift the blanket of sadness. But words can’t always do the work: sometimes, most times, the physical yearning would beat our mouths to the punch, and one of us would reach out to touch the other. That touch would set us both on fire, then we’d fuck like the fucking would fix it.
To this day, I can’t go for drinks with that ex without a tiny part of my brain instructing me: ‘do it. Go on – fuck him.‘ I won’t, because he’s attached now, and actually saying those words would be humiliating. So I don my least-bad clothes and head to the pub praying that this time I will finally, fully be free of that physical yearning.
Then I see him standing at the bar, scruffy and shambolic, and the sight of his skinny wrists and dark eyes just punches me right in the cunt.
I will always want to fuck this ex. The physical yearning is more powerful than words. Words are mighty, sure, but there are some places they really can’t touch. When I write this blog, and these stories, I’m not usually hoping you’ll remember a good turn of phrase – I want the perfect phrase to make you feel it. Like heartbreak. Like a kick in the cunt.
The hallway and the silence
Let’s move forward now, to my most recent break-up. Summer. Hot. Agonising. The morning after we split I spent the night with my best friend who helped to scrape me off the floor and distract me with cider and stories. He’s precious – I treasure him, along with all my friends who gave me the superpowers I needed to get through those first few weeks and beyond. When I woke up at his house at seven in the morning, I clambered over him to get my stuff and said I was going home.
So early? Yeah, so early. I wanted to see my ex. I could not live with the knowledge that another brilliant friend would come to get me that afternoon, and I’d have wasted precious time that could have been spent just … sniffing this man who’d been so precious to me for nine long years.
I packed my panniers, hopped on my bike, and rode – swift and God-like through the early, empty streets.
It was magnetic: the pull of him. The physical yearning. The ache. The closer I got to our house, the faster I pedalled: muscles shaking, eyes streaming, lungs burning as I heaved in great gulps of fumey air. In my mind I could picture exactly the way he’d be curled up on his side in our bed, pillow-creases folded neatly into the soft skin of his forehead. Eyes closed, lips full, peaceful and calm and beautiful.
I used to take videos of him when he was sleeping, did I ever tell you that? I’m creepy, but he was OK with it – I never showed them to anyone else, because I only made them to prove to him how utterly beautiful he was. How astonishing. I’d tiptoe into the room with my phone camera, slip into bed beside him, and plant a few kisses on his cheek. While asleep, he had a kissing reflex: he’d purse his lips and kiss – mwa – just after I’d laid one on him. Each kiss I gave triggered another, with him reflex-kissing the pillow or his arm or whatever happened to be in front of his sleepy face. That his reflex was to kiss without question – giving love in response to love so instinctively he did it in his sleep… it was the cutest, most beautiful, most him thing in the world.
We were over, but the pull of knowing that he was there – right there – in our bed was too fucking strong.
Physical yearning and resistance
I tiptoed into the house so as not to wake him, and please don’t worry: nothing non-consensual is about to happen. I’m creepy, but not that creepy. I just sat on the stairs outside our bedroom, listening to him snore…
Please wake up wake up wake up and hold me.
…and bit back sobs so as not to disturb his sleep. At various points, I would heave my body into the spare room and listlessly throw clothes, laptop, games into a suitcase ready to take to my friend’s. At other times I’d stand, stock still, outside the bedroom door, marvelling at the strength of my will and my muscles – how strongly every atom of me ached to be with him and how much rigid effort it took to stay away.
The physical yearning that I had for him made the feelings I’d had for my ex-ex look like mere tingles. So eclipsed were they that as I stood on tiptoe rocking back and forth outside the bedroom door (being sure to avoid the floorboards that might creak and wake him up), I felt as God-like as I had done on my bike. The strength it took to stay apart, when everything in my body told me to be together, astonished and frightened and empowered me.
I can do difficult things I can do difficult things I can do difficult things.
I knew as I stood there that this could not be a ‘yo-yo’ situation. Looking at him is love, and danger. Speaking to him is love, and pain, and anger and hurt and nostalgia and joy and sadness and horn and danger. Touching him makes me physically weak. Holding him feels so right that I want to award myself medals if I manage to tear away. I hurt so hard for love of him that I know I can’t give in to it.
Besides, when he eventually woke up…
please wake up please wake up wake up and hold me
…he held me and agreed that breaking up was right. My resolve and my power and my strength of will weren’t needed: he didn’t want me anyway, not now. It hurt to hear that but I asked him to continue.
Tell me more, please tell me more, this is helpful this is good.
Because the words that came from his mouth helped cut the cords that yanked me to him, the ones that had dragged me across London at seven am. The story that he told was so different to my own that it helped a lot to weaken that connection.
Yo-yo break ups and finding ‘The End’
I have other memories of this precious, beautiful, kind and fucked-up man – final memories and not-so-final, and I-think-this-is-final-but-I’ll-probably-see-you-next-week ones. There will be plenty more, because our lives are so entangled that we cannot just detach. The week after this happened, when I was due to come home, he was surprised that I tried to avoid him. Hurt, perhaps, by my email ‘can you let me know when you’re leaving? I’ll try to time my arrival for after you’re gone.’
And I wanted to explain why: to tell him about this physical yearning, and why giving in to it means trashing my resolve. But the act of explaining is itself a kind of giving in. Saying ‘this thing right here is so precious it causes physical pain’ and ‘I’ll always wish this were different’ and ‘please fuck me’ and ‘I hurt for you.’
So I didn’t explain, I just came home. Let the now-frayed cords of longing drag me to his side for one last evening. We sat in the garden drinking cans and smoking cigarettes, tapping out of the conversation whenever it got too hard. I felt that yearning like a dragging, sinking weight.
And began the work of training myself to live with it in peace.
I wrote this blog post a long time ago – Patreons heard it in the messy weeks directly after the break-up. I don’t know why I feel the need to explain this, but the blog is very messy and not chronological right now, so it feels important to clarify for those of you who are concerned about continuity. Also I just sneakily plugged my Patreon! Go me!