Since it’s V-day, I’ve written an extra post this week, about how I have fallen in love for the first time – at 39. Oh sure, I’ve thought I was in love before. I’ve had crushes – OH so many crushes. I’ve had relationships, and known there were feelings. But looking into a man’s eyes, and saying ‘I love you’ and him saying it back? As part of a committed relationship? Not until now. I know, gush gush! Feel free to stop reading if this isn’t floating your boat. But, hell, I’ve written so much about being single, I feel like I’ve earned a moment to write about being in lurve. Especially since I had almost begun to give up hope of it happening. I have yearned for years for a man to tell me he wants me, loves me, needs me, wants to share his life, his hopes and dreams with me – his bed, his cooking and his laughter.
This time last year I had just got back from a work trip to New York. My mission was to investigate single life out there. I had a fab time but deep down, I also felt foolish. I came home to questions about who I met, how many men I pulled, how the search for Mr Right had gone. But it hadn’t gone well at all on the meeting men front. I learned a lot about how they date in NYC but I didn’t even get a peck on the cheek. My self-created role was a Bridget Jones type who was all LOLS about single life but getting rather downhearted about her Mark Darcy and where the hell he might be.
A friend used to say 'I'd rather be on the shelf than in the wrong cupboard'. But I was beginning to wonder if there was a cupboard for me. Or if I should buy some pot plants and adopt a puppy and learn to live on the shelf. The idea of accepting I might be single for the rest of my life was something I explored – eg I tried to accept it could be just me, for life - and it made me panic, brought a lump to my throat.
Where was my man? My happy ending? Hadn't I ‘done my time'? I felt lonely and I felt like a failure. I am NOT saying being single is a fail! But it wasn't what I wanted for me anymore, and so for my own life it was a failure. Surrounded by friends who were married or in relationships, I wanted to know how it felt to share my life, my time, my social activities. How it felt to say 'my boyfriend' and get Christmas cards addressed to 'Jenny and...'
I wanted what I saw as my next life stage. To be part of a two. To see a future with someone else in it. Because I was hurting so much, I went to therapy to try and come to terms with being single. It was eating me up inside – and sadly not in an emotional-liposuction type way. I’d sit on the tube alone and kiss-free after another date that didn’t have ‘that spark’. I’d nervously look at exes on social media, wondering what was ‘so wrong with me’ that they had moved on. When friends announced engagements I was torn between excitement and happiness for them, and a piercing pain of feeling even more alone than ever. I’d spend Sundays on Tinder wishing I was hanging out with a boyfriend. I’d go to parties, weddings, birthdays, and never have a plus one.
When I posted on Facebook that I’d met someone, a few single friends said 'there's hope!'. Yep, if Jenny can get a man, anyone can! Only joking. But there IS hope. There is hope beyond the tears, the self-analysis and loneliness. There is also a moment when you realise that being single has made you who you are, and that you have a life of your own. You're not looking for your other half, so much as your plus one. You are enough, but having someone in your life would make it better than enough.
If I sound like I am crowing, it’s not my intention. I have also written about being sad and lonely, and I want this to be part love letter (because I want to say thank you to The Boyfriend for loving me), part missive to single people. I have written so much about being single, the change in my relationship status has been a surprise to me – I’d become what I was calling a professional singleton. I’d got a book deal (yay!) I was writing about dating (fun!) but I’d often walk home close to tears wondering why I was so unlovable.
Cheesy realisation alert – you need to love yourself (not in a rude way) before you can let love in. That’s how it’s been for me, anyhow. And therapy helped with that. As have my friends and family, of course. I haven’t had a love-deprived life, just not the kind of love I craved. Love from a partner.
And I thought love would be just a crazy overwhelming feeling, sparks and thrills. But it’s been more stealth than that. The phrase I come back to so often is ‘I feel like he’s got my back’.
He says: ‘You know I love you, don’t you?’. So I want to tell him, yes I do. I know when I look at the shelves and coat hooks that weren’t fixed to my wall before I met him. I know when he texts good morning even though I called at midnight the night before, tipsy (ahem) from work party. I know when he watches Death in Paradise two weeks in a row cos it’s my TV guilty pleasure. I know because he picks up my overnight bag for me when we’ve stayed somewhere, and recreated the Pret breakfast bowl I like to take to work. I know because he bought me a fox from the John Lewis Christmas ad, and took pics of me with it at a drinks 'do afterwards. And because he bought me the GAP pjs my new ‘frugal month’ meant I didn’t buy when we were browsing the shops last week.
I always imagined being in love would be fireworks, and funnily enough, we said I love you the first time on fireworks weekend, after going to a fireworks display with a hipflask and then ordering pizza. The feeling when he said it was overwhelming and thrilling, scary and amazing. My moment had come. I had my ‘I love you’. And I adore it not because of the words, but because it feels like they’re coming from the right person.
Have I been naïve in the past, wanting a boyfriend like some kind of Judy Blume teen character? Possibly. I’ve always craved a boyfriend, since I fancied a boy called Ben at school. I love saying ‘my boyfriend’ – and I pinned hopes on so many men. I feel like so many of us can’t bring ourselves to say we want someone, and it was often hard to keep the faith. I woefully wondered last year if I should give up looking. But I couldn’t. It meant too much to me to meet someone. This life isn’t one I want to live alone. I had career goals ticked off the list, my own home, I’d travelled. Having a boyfriend was something I wanted to experience. But with the right person – I couldn’t just be with someone just for the sake of it.
And I know I am at the start of a journey – I know I am not paying tribute to a ruby anniversary. That there will be ups and downs, that we still have a lot more to learn about each other and being together. But in five months, I’ve learned to love and feel loved, to trust that it’s for real. And it’s wonderful - a feeling I treasure. I am not taking it for granted, I hope he knows I love him too. Although he’ll never know it by looking at any DIY I do at his house. Sorry, Boyf.
Am I saying being in a relationship is the only way to be? Of course not. I’m sure many of you aren’t fussed about these things. Or you’re not in love (single or not), and that’s a challenge. But today, because it’s V-day, and the first V-day I’ll be saying I love you and hearing it back, I thought I’d write something to mark the occasion. Because at 39, being in love is very fine.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!