"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Monday, July 27, 2015


Now Playing: Sparks Fly by Taylor Swift (give me something that will haunt me when you’re not around)

We should talk about sparks.

(I am aware that this ramble might make me come off a little cuckoo.)

Girls like me – not-white, not-skinny, not-cool, not-pretty girls – are supposed to settle. I see it all the time; I know a slew of insecure girls who introduce me to their distinctly uninteresting boyfriends and can’t even think of a redeeming quality aside from ‘he’s nice’. Which is code for ‘he picked me, he has a penis, and isn’t deranged, so I can’t complain’.

The long story short of why I’m still single is that people generally don’t settle for me, and so I returned the favour and refused to settle, too. I don’t settle. Because I like sparks.

The only way that people talked about ‘sparks’ when I was young and stupid was that the deranged said it was love and the cynical said it was rubbish. They were both wrong.

When you’re a nerd – even a nerd of the distinctly artsy persuasion – you hang around with a lot of science geeks, and the science geeks like to babble on about the chemistry of kissing, of sexual attraction, of falling in love; analysing the oxytocin and saliva and bacterial exchange of those moments when you feel like your veins are turning into pure sunlight. As much as all this talk of germs and neurochemicals is kind of unpoetic, I do think they’re onto something; the spark is a chemical, physical, visceral reaction that is entirely irrational.

One of the most dangerous things I was told when I was younger was that that rush, that spark, is falling in love; as in, you’ve met the right person and they will treat you right.

I didn’t get that spark for my first kiss. The only thing that comes to mind is just total absolute shock followed by extreme guilt and then emotional overload. But it came, eventually, after a couple more kisses, punctuated with a lot of rambling and mumbling on my part. It felt like surrender. That was the start of ignoring reality and all the red flags that came with the real world. I had my spark.

It is difficult and painful to think about that time, and how so much hurt has tainted that golden rush of three years ago. But it was still there; I still remember it. With the benefit of retrospect, I know now that neither of us loved each other; but the chemistry was there and the life experience was not so we called it love.

And for the people who asked me why I stayed in a toxic, abusive relationship, yes, the spark was part of it. I didn’t know what it meant, but it meant something. I wanted that rush again.

There was a period of the most aggressively vapid, disconnected intimacy after that relationship went down the toilet that I don’t like to think about, and then the spark, again. I remember everything just sort of clicking into place, that strange, surreal moment when the two most unlikely people collide. I remember the scent and sound and feel of the moment; I remember, for the first time in a long time, arms around me that felt like home. And that was when I finally connected the dots that the spark is just something that happens in the moment, and that it doesn’t say much about the other person other than you have good chemistry; and god knows you can’t build a whole lot on that. This friend and I; we don’t talk much. We have nothing in common and fight all the time. But when we are alone together, quietly, the chemistry is undeniable, and that was when I learned to accept things that only work in the moment, things that don’t really have a past or a future, just a present.

And the spark isn’t really necessary, you know, in those fleeting relationships that happen in the blue hours before the sun rises. I remember meeting someone and having one of those painfully awkward conversations that you can only have when a slightly drunk engineering student tries to chat up an arts student nearly a decade younger. But we ended up having a good time, even with no spark. It was just like hanging out with a friend. A friend that you just met, that you have sex with.

I was eighteen, don’t judge me.

But you can’t build a whole lot without the spark, either; and sometimes the spark just doesn’t happen, even on people you’re dead keen on. I remember meeting someone at a party, and I just wasn’t feeling it. Objectively, he was very attractive; out of my league several times over. And he was lovely, as far as pretty strangers go. But no spark. He just kind of grew on me, later, when we were doing more talking and less aggressive face eating. We were both smooth talkers, which is a bad mix.

The spark never came, but we still managed to go down in flames. And when people constantly badger me with ‘but you did want something, didn’t you?’ or ‘but you were jealous, right?’ I really, really wish I could tell them about the spark, or lack thereof, without sounding crazy. There wasn’t any spark; and even as friends, we never really clicked. And even when I had a crush, even when I was in over my head, I knew nothing was going to happen and so I tried very hard to ignore the gossip and focus on my friendship. And now I just focus on trying to not sound crazy.

You know what else is crazy? Smell. You know when people just smell…strange? Like, not after-gym BO, just not right, and nobody else seems to notice? I think that’s the opposite of a spark. The physical chemistry is off.

It’s the most surreal feeling, when you kiss someone and you get that spark. On my birthday, it just sort of happened, with a beautiful stranger who was all kinds of strange and uncouth and trouble. And for the first time, I didn’t think about after. I didn’t think about maybe. I didn’t think about what if. I didn’t think it was love or anything other than just this spark of chemistry that just meant that on a visceral, physical level we connected, but everything else was all rather ethereal. I just went with it and it was beautiful, and then it was shitty, but I remember that spark and that made it special.

I get a lot of shit for being fussy. I often do the kiss and then politely leave thing. I haven’t been blessed with love, yet, but I have been blessed with a few precious moments. Some of them are marred by pain or fading into memory, but they happened and I am always happy that they did. Because quite separate to the many other joys in life – falling in love, curling up with a good book, dancing to hip-hop in the shower – the spark is something we don’t talk about, or we misunderstand, or we don’t give enough credit to.

I’m still young and reckless. I’m living for my next spark. I don’t know when, or who, or how, but I know it’ll happen and there will be something exciting to think of in my moments of nostalgia. People come and go, but that rush…there are no words, sometimes. And when people puzzle over why someone like me could stand to think well enough of myself to not settle, it’s got less to do with arrogance or confidence and more to do with the fact that I know what I would miss out on, if I settled for less than the spark (and also less than, you know, a decent human being). And that’s a price I’m not willing to pay.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

embracing brokenness

Now Playing: Like Real People Do by Hozier (I will not ask you where you came from, I will not ask it, neither should you) 

I think I've finally reached a point where I am secure in myself.

I've always lived in a state of malcontent. I remember being in primary school, finding increasingly obscure places to sit and mope, feeling like this time of my life would never end.

I read a collection of Buddhist tales around this time. One of them talked about This too shall pass. Some famous prisoner wrote this over his bed in jail, and then again when he had cancer. I felt like that. This too shall pass. But I didn't believe it. By the time I left primary school I had spent three quarters of my life in that place, which is a big thing to process for a twelve year old.


I did this through high school, too. Always pushing myself. I wouldn't be happy until I went to uni, no, until I'd graduated, not even then, not even until I went to school in England, and even then only after I'd finished with a handful of fancy degrees. I wouldn't be happy until I had a dream job and a dream house and a dream spouse and a dream child and I just wanted perfection, you know? I would look at my sheets that didn't match my pillowcases and my spotty adolescent face smeared with cheap makeup and the fact that I didn't have many friends and didn't have a boyfriend and I just wasn't happy.

(I realized later I had depression. But back then I just had a serious issue with mismatching pillowcases.)

I've always had a broken body, and I've had to learn to live with brokenness. I've always been acutely aware of the many ways my body has failed me, and my teenage rebelliousness was always tempered with an uncomfortable sense of my own mortality. It's not just how you look, but how you feel; and not just emotions and shit, but when breathing is hard and shitting is hard and just everything is hard and painful it's really hard to not hate yourself.

But you learn to live with brokenness. I think that's the most important thing I've learned so far. My body will not magically heal itself, it's just sort of patched up enough to keep on keeping on; and that's what you have to do, too. Just keep on keeping on. My physical limits don't bother me anymore. I don't think about how I'll never be in the Olympics or walk on the moon because, you know what, you probably won't either.

When I was fifteen I started a relationship that I thought would make me 'happy', because I understood happiness as a state of being rather than a quality in a certain moment, or an element of a particular worldview. And in exchange for total lack of control, debilitating insecurity and endless rages and tantrums yes, I suppose I had a few fleeting moments of giddy joy.I also developed severe panic attacks and social anxiety.

Dating...is not something I've seriously considered since this relationship ended. The idea of being alone in a cafe or a movie of whatever with someone I like is just too scary for me. I really struggle with basic things, like ordering food or making phone calls. Panic attacks are mortifying and scary but a daily reality for me, now.

And this was really frustrating to deal with, as a young person who really, really, really wanted a boyfriend. I was frustrated and humiliated and, you know, nerds aren't great at taking failure very well. I felt like a failure. When I was very small I was somewhat shy but I'd always been a people person up until now.

Anxiety is something I have to live with. I've had to re-learn a lot of things. Good days are filled with little milestones that make me incredibly proud of myself, and bad days are filled with, you know, bad stuff. But in not being able to date, I learned something really important; I don't want to date. I'm not ready to date. Anxiety or not, this pressing desire to have A Boyfriend was no longer a priority. I grew up a little, and there's the silver lining to that story. You learn a lot, when you reach a roadblock. Anxiety used to be one of the ways that I was broken, and I really fought against it. But in embracing brokenness, we learn more about ourselves, and I think there's something special in that.

But the biggest one for me, so far, has been vaginismus, which is when vaginal penetration is extremely uncomfortable. It is almost entirely psychological.

In our patriarchal society, it is hard to be a cis-woman with vaginismus and not feel like a failure, like something's broken. And it's incredibly defeating when you use your agency as a human being to consent to things with another human being and then you quite literally can't. And it's really hard to know that subconsciously something is wrong, but you can't get to it because you really, genuinely, feel fine.

I don't identify as asexual, so my sexuality has had to exist around vaginismus. And I've learned a lot. I've learned that sexuality exists outside of heteronormativity, even between a cis-man and a cis-woman. I've learned that there's more to sex and sexuality and being sexual than what people let on, and in being forced to set boundaries and just be really frank and honest about sex and consent, I've become a more mature person, and I've watched my partners grow in their respect for bodies and the people they belong to. It's actually less of a problem than you'd think, you know, having sex without actually having The Sex. When I first got vaginismus, I'd totally lost faith in humanity, in sexuality, the whole thing. But in navigating my life through brokenness, I've met some amazing people and had some incredible experiences and learned that, despite everything, there are people out there who respect boundaries and understand consent.

In embracing brokenness, we learn to imagine ourselves and other people more complexly. People are forced to see you as a human being with flaws and baggage and bits that don't work, which is a difficult lesson to whack into people, because it is confronting to care about someone who is living in a state of brokenness. And then you learn to care about yourself, in your own state of brokenness.

Fixing what's broken might be an option. I don't have the energy or the resources to fix some of what is broken now, and that's okay. I've never been more okay with myself, and I think it's important to accept who you are, where you are, as you are. I get so frustrated so easily; and whilst I've never let go of my need to improve myself, to be better at more things, I have also learned to accept and to live with some of the ways that I am not a perfect person.

I'm not saying to live in a state of disrepair. If something's broken, fix it...but understand healing as a process rather than as an event. My anxiety is better than it was and will continue to improve, just like my depression did. One day I will be in a situation where I feel ready and safe and secure enough to deal with vaginismus. But I have learned that there is great value in embracing brokenness, in understanding that perfection is an illusion and that we are not machines.

We are so afraid of brokenness in all its forms; we hate it in ourselves and we hate it in other people. We've become so impatient, so unwilling to see disability, illness or disadvantage with empathy and respect. It is possible to live with brokenness. It is possible to live with pain. We all do it, all the time, and in embracing brokenness, in accepting that some things take time to fix, and some things cannot be fixed at all, I think we learn a lot about ourselves and the people around us.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The State of Being Connected

Now Playing: All You Had to Do Was Stay by Taylor Swift (people like me are gone forever when you say goodbye) 

relationship (noun): The way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected (Oxford English Dictionary)

Why are people so afraid of the r-word?

Dan Savage, something of a hero of mine, once said something along the lines of 'everything is a relationship'. A one night stand is a relationship. Your girlfriends have a relationship with you. You have relationships with everyone you know and meet, however fleeting.

We tend to think of 'relationship' as that big, elusive, monogamous, we're-going-to-break-up-get-knocked-up-or-get-married THING that I don't have, as a single person. Everything else is just 'everything else'. We refuse to define things for what they are. Relationships.

I think about all the times that I've been screwed over, and every single time the person has been adamant that we are 'not in a relationship'. Yeah, maybe not a 'relationship' in the big sense of the word, but if someone is in your life, you have a relationship with them. You have rights and responsibilities, the whole she-bang. And when we refuse to acknowledge our relationships with other people as actual fucking relationships, when we refuse to honour the capital-R Responsibilities of our capital-R Relationships, that's when people get hurt. You might not owe the girl you met at a club the same that you owe your wife, but you owe them something. All human beings owe it to all other human beings to try very hard not to fuck up.

When we tell people that 'this isn't a relationship', we're just kidding ourselves. You can't associate with someone, you can't be in a state of being connected, and not be in a relationship. What people really mean when they say that is 'hang around, for the chats/sex/money/whatever, but don't expect me to respect you'.

Which might sound like a silly thing to stay in, but we live in a world where we are constantly told that anything that isn't heading towards white picket fences and 2.3 children isn't a relationship, so we stay, in this not-relationship, with its lack of respect and all the shit that comes with that.

We're scared of people who talk about relationships like this, but we have to re-think the way we think about our states of being connected. There's nothing wrong with one night stands, or casual sex, or whatever exists in the spaces between the tiny boxes we confine ourselves to. But they are relationships, and we have to see it that way, otherwise people get hurt.

You can be in more than one relationship at a time - in fact, we are all in multiple relationships all at once, and we have to be okay with that concept and not let my lefty free-lovin' weirdness freak you out. It's not cheating to have a romantic relationship with one person and other relationships of a different nature at the same time; that's just called 'having a girlfriend and also having a social circle'. What is cheating is having a girlfriend, and having a 'this isn't a relationship' thing on the side, because really, that's cheating everybody. If you're scared to label something as a relationship, maybe it's because you know you shouldn't be in one; but you can't make it not-exist by refusing to treat them properly. You don't have 'relationships' and 'this is not a relationship'; you have 'relationships' and 'bad relationships'.

I'm sorry if the way that I talk about relationships makes your bachelor heart freeze or makes your dick fall off; but I'm not going to hang around, doing whatever, being whatever, because that's not a fair exchange. When we force people to exist in our lives in a not-relationship, we are not affording them human dignity; we objectify them, because they serve a purpose to us but we don't return the favour.

People are needy. People are greedy. I've seen the best and the worst in people. It's a weird, confusing world, but sometimes I think we just confuse ourselves. My relationships with the people in my life vary from intimate to cordial, but I don't think I'm short-changing any of them; and the only way I can say that with any certainty is because I'm not afraid of the r-word, and what comes with that.

Relationships end; sometimes when death does us part, and sometimes when the sun rises and it's time to take a taxi back to reality. That's okay. I just want the state of being connected to be okay, too.