I’m typing this while sitting in my bed, wearing a bobble hat, a baggy sweatshirt and grey tracksuit bottoms you’d be forgiven for thinking were surgically attached to me. There’s a glass of wine on my bedside table, a Sainsbury’s pizza in the oven, and a definite feeling of “I can’t be bothered” hanging in the air.
I can’t be bothered to cook a decent meal for dinner.
I can’t be bothered to wash my hair.
I can’t be bothered to reply to my friends’ messages (even though I love them).
I can’t be bothered to read the book I’ve been trying to read for the last two months.
I can’t be bothered to reply to that email.
And I definitely can’t be bothered to entertain the idea of love.
Anyone who knows me will know what an absolute sap I am for love. I’m cynical on the surface, sarcastic most of the time, but always a believer in love. Romantic comedies are my bread and butter – give me a cheesy line from one of them and I’ll tell you exactly which character said it and where they were standing at the time. My favourite genre of book is ‘chick-lit’ (ew at that name, but you know what I mean). My Spotify playlist is filled with love songs and songs about heartbreak. I’m obsessed with analysing relationships – my own, my friends’, those of the couples on Esther Perel’s podcast. My actual living depends upon me writing about relationships and dating. But, right now, I just can’t fathom the idea of any of it.
The pandemic has tested us in so many ways. We’ve been shut off from the ritualistic comforts of everyday life, like choosing which film to pick at the cinema on a rainy Saturday. The random “do you fancy a drink after work?” question from a colleague is a thing we can only dream of. Gone are the days of ordering a McDonald’s breakfast with friends after a boozy night out, pyjama-clad, still a bit tipsy, laughing at something that’s definitely only funny because of the alcohol still flowing through our blood.
Now, the pandemic is testing my faith in relationships, but I’m not sure that’s entirely a bad thing. At the beginning of this strange, strange time in our collective history, I found myself pining for the comfort of being in a relationship. I envied my friends living with their partners, who’d unknowingly pre-prepared a comforting place to buckle down and weather the storm. I was happy for a friend when she found love on a dating app mere months after the UK was thrown into turmoil. I, like most other single people during the first lockdown, reached out to someone I knew wasn’t right for me to fill the space where panic lay. I refreshed dating apps with the steely determination of a Karen fighting for the last loo roll in Tesco.
Now, I’m less sure in my previously unwavering belief that a relationship is what I need. I’ve spent more time alone than I ever have, for various reasons. Flatmates left London to seek solace at home. I spent long, drawn-out weekends entertaining myself when state-sanctioned solo walks seemed like the safest thing to do. A flatmate caught Covid and isolated in her room with her boyfriend while I kept my distance, floating between the living room and my bedroom with a bottle of bleach spray in my hands at all times like the ultimate third-wheel.
I’ve spent so much time on my own that I can’t remember what it is to divide it between myself and another person. And now, I don’t know if I want to do that for a very long time.
I’ve never been a fan of dating, but it’s something I’ve viewed as a means to a lovely, comforting end. I get nervous before every first date, even if I know I’m not overly interested in the person I’m going on a date with. I’ve viewed love, not unlike Jordan Sparks (remember her?!), like a battlefield. I’ve always fought through problems in previous relationships by convincing myself that my partner is misunderstood and “a good person really.” My therapist told me I need to stop taking up the caretaker role, stop atoning for other people’s sins by bending myself in such a way that I could snap. I told myself she didn’t get it, she didn’t understand the connection we had, she was too far removed from the situation to advise me. But now, with a lot of solo thinking time and an endless amount of hours to fill, I see that she might have been onto something. Glossing over what this says about my own psyche, the realisation lockdown has brought me is that the idea of entertaining another person’s shortcomings simply to feel useful and wanted no longer interests me.
Giving a potential relationship your full attention takes a tremendous amount of hope, belief and energy. Those are three things that I don’t have in abundance right now, and I doubt most of you do, either. The pandemic’s influence on our lives is infinite, but I’m most surprised at how it’s affected my view of love and dating.
It was only when I was asked out on a date the other day by someone I’d been speaking to on a dating app that I realised that, quite frankly, I could not be bothered with love right now. I’d like to caveat the previous statement by saying that OBVIOUSLY not all dates, situationships or relationships result in love, but my point is that the idea of spending energy and time nurturing a relationship with anyone but myself suddenly became absolutely pointless in my mind. That thought was strange, coming from a person who’s always been invested in the belief that love conquers all. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love. Etc, etc.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been moments since last March when I’ve longed for a connection with another human. There is literally nothing quite like the feeling of knowing a person that you like, likes you too. The honeymoon period of a relationship is the best feeling on earth – hook it up to veins with an IV drip. I’ve certainly been guilty of entertaining messages from people I know I’m vehemently not interested in, because it’s filled the time and boosted my ego. I’m on dating apps, partly because of my job and partly because a tiny part of me feels like I could still meet the love of my life on them. But I’ve come to the realisation that relationships aren’t actually the be-all and end-all – something that probably seems obvious to most people.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m the living embodiment of a Lizzo song – Hair toss, check my nails, baby how you feeling? Feeling good as hell – because I’m not. Sometimes I feel lonely, sometimes I feel unloveable, sometimes I feel like all it would take for me to feel ok is someone to tell me they love me and mean it. But that’s not my reality, that’s not a cure or an antidote to how I’m feeling right now, and it’s not something I want to pin my hopes upon.
Self-love is a phrase that’s bandied around by the cosmetics industry to peddle their latest face masks and body moisturiser. It’s something I feel conflicted about and, to be honest, something I’m not fully invested in. Rather than self-love, this year has seen me striving for self-acceptance: acceptance that there are going to be days where I feel like I’m *that bitch*, on top of the world, ready to conquer all. And also days where I’d give anything to have a person’s undivided attention and adoration – days where I feel like I’m dealing with too much on my own, that make me think “wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to share this problem with?”. I think that’s a fairly healthy way to look at love – knowing that it would be nice, it would be an addition to a life, but it’s not a pre-requisite to being happy.
It’s taken me 25 years to reach this realisation, about 7 of which I’ve spent dating. I’m probably quite late to the party, but I’ve got there. I’m happy that I have, because this Valentine’s Day, I’m not crying into a pint of ice-cream and wondering why I’m not in love. Instead, I’m cooking a delicious meal for myself, opening cards from my best friends, talking to my parents on the phone, and finally, finally, realising that I’m enough on my own.