Reflections is a series of essays embracing the power of introspection, taking on personal topics and rooting out what is just below the surface.
“The prospect of never expanding completely into who you could be probably sounds awful to some, but I’m sentimental and I believe my purpose is love.”
Following a tactical chunder and monologue about Ed Sheeran’s tattoos, my best friend, lying beside me on the bed with the laptop and RuPaul’s Drag Race between us, asked: “do you ever regret not experiencing what it’s like to live alone?”
I didn’t need to evaluate my answer. It’s something I’ve thought about often, not wistfully, wishing I was in a different situation; rather in somber recognition that this may be something I never get to do, a little window of experience I’ll likely never open.
Not that I’m counting my chickens. I’m a realist when it comes to relationships and I know nothing is guaranteed, but I can comfortably confirm that we’re both in it for the long haul so breaking away to live my Bridget Jones fantasy isn’t in the pipeline.
And what a beautiful thing that is. Love, security, a deeper bond which is largely incommunicable and only ever diluted by the effort to communicate it. This is it, the heart of everything, the purpose: love. I’m not devaluing the magic of it all when I say ‘I wonder’, yet I can’t deny my own curiosity. What would it be like to have complete free rein? Sole responsibility of everything from the internet to the cushions to dinners and blocked drains? Not having to divide up the bed like a KitKat and forever hold your peace, even if you choose the wrong side.
The kicker? It’s largely an obsolete flight of fancy because I do have free rein of these things anyway. My partner will let me choose, decorate or change anything, and he’ll pay for half of it too. But there’s something about being alone which confirms the type of independence I’ve never fully lent into.
I flirt with a little taster every time I stay somewhere overnight for work, and wake up in a double bed alone, with no sudden urgency to get going or compare my timeline to somebody else’s or even speak. Granted, I don’t sleep well when I’m alone and the first thing I do is text my partner to tell him how much I miss him, but there still remains a delicious nugget of existing without expectation which is brief and beautiful.
Although I’m constantly wrestling with quite how much to give and take, relationships require compromise. Two (or more!) people come together. Human beings with all of their flesh and flaws, their rough edges and the innate selfishness, each trying to decode their meaning – the meaning.
How can the enormity of two full lives wrapping around one another come without a little tug? Though love rarely accounts for practicality, life demands it, and so eventually, inevitably, necessary sacrifices are made. And they aren’t always easy; sometimes you make the choice to live a certain way because the full expression of your independence and the continuation of love cannot co-exist. But you do it for love. Always for love.
The prospect of never expanding completely into who you could be probably sounds awful to some, but I’m sentimental and I believe my purpose is love. Exclusively romantic? Nope. Across the whole breadth of human connection? Absolutely.
“It’s not that I want to be alone. I am right where I am supposed to be. But as I inch towards the final part of my twenties, there ascends from the ashtray of an era the bittersweet truth that I cannot have it all”
I don’t think there is anything more profound than the consideration of our own existence and the complex relationships we choose to forge. Our time here is finite and fickle and yet time and time again we submit our vulnerability to the grip of heartbreak, because at the heart of love is something we’ve been trying to understand for eons. What is it? Somewhere in that gorgeous, devastating tangle is a prize.
So it’s not that I want to be alone. I am right where I am supposed to be. But as I inch towards the final part of my twenties, there ascends from the ashtray of an era the bittersweet truth that I cannot have it all. Or do it all. Some experiences will scoot right around me and I can only smile as these moments pass me by. Living alone in my twenties may well be one of these experiences.
I paint in the evenings. That’s what I imagine myself doing when I picture the version of me that lives alone. Standing in front of an easel, one knee slightly bent with the elbow on the same side tucked in at the waist, a painter’s palette in hand and brush gripped between my teeth. The outfit is a matching linen short set – yellow, and crinkled in a deliberate yet aloof sort of way – which glows like warm honey in the early afternoon sun.
“Basically, I imagine myself as the lead in an artsy Netflix sitcom, and I idealise the scenario because letting these ‘what if’ fantasies play out in my mind indulges the reverie of a better version of myself.”
Where am I? Who knows. It could be New York City or it could Ely. Wherever it is, the windows are positively enormous. They fill the far side of the wall in a generous sweep up to the ceilings, and I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to find curtains that are the perfect size too. Everybody comments on the windows as soon as they walk in. They really are quite something.
I don’t have a pet because the responsibility is too great but I do occasionally dog-sit for the elderly gent next door. I fill my fridge with fancy foods and I eat what I want on a whim, never having to half things, never having to make double, never having to compromise on flavour to find a happy middle ground. If I stay up too late and binge snacks at 3am, I don’t feel bad – who can see me! Who can judge me! I am an island, unattached, and the only person I need to please is me. And the dog when he’s here.
Before I tumble any further down this rabbit hole, you should know that I’ve never picked up a paintbrush in my life. Nor have I had the desire to move to New York (or Ely), but whenever I ruminate on never having lived alone, this is how I imagine I would have done it. Like some cliché bohemian creative who drinks black coffee and can always be bothered to set the vinyl player up. Basically, I imagine myself as the lead in an artsy Netflix sitcom, and I idealise the scenario because letting these ‘what if’ fantasies play out in my mind indulges the reverie of a better version of myself.
“It is confirmed to me then with certainty: love is everything. And though the sacrifices will be plenty in a life that is perpetually shared, there is nothing that will satisfy my pursuit of meaning quite like the exploration of love.”
Or a nicer one. More creative, more social, infinitely more relaxed. Without the buffer of somebody who loves me and the guarantee of support, would I push myself harder? Would I have grown from discomfort? In reality I’d likely be watching the same amount of Below Deck (if not more) and almost definitely ordering more takeaways, but in my quirky apartment with its big windows and painters palette, I let myself dream.
The answer is yes, of course – I do regret never experiencing what it’s like to live alone. But at this point my best friend has lost interest and is talking nonsense about something else, and I’m slowly dozing off in the cocoon of my duvet.
Suddenly I’m outside of the moment looking in, watching two people who have chosen sisterhood for over 15 years wile away precious time in the comfort of their company. It is confirmed to me then with certainty: love is everything. And though the sacrifices will be plenty in a life that is perpetually shared, there is nothing that will satisfy my pursuit of meaning quite like the exploration of love.
I’m happy to keep sharing my chips for that.
Illustrated by Anna Jane Houghton, a Liverpool based researcher and artist. Drawing influence from the ‘motel’ aesthetic and beatnik literature; her illustrative style combines florals and fruit, amongst plant-life and mid-century interiors, to reimagine the classic still life.
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