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.