I’m only 22, but I’ve been with my boyfriend, Laurie, for almost eight years.
We met at school aged 13, but our memories of our first meeting differ wildly – and neither are particularly good.
Me: He was running around the playground with a pot of ‘stinky mushroom powder’ that his auntie had bought him from Holland and Barratt. I thought he was an irritating freak.
Him: He turned around to ask me if he could borrow a pen in Spanish class. I scowled and coldly told him he should’ve brought his own. He thought I was an uptight loser.
Gradually, somehow, we ended up in the same friendship group, we sat next to each other on flights to and from New York on a school trip, and he came round to my house with a group of friends and asked me to be his girlfriend. Immediately after, we shared our first (and definitely our worst) kiss.
Thankfully that would improve, as would everything else in our relationship. Unlike the many other couples that formed in the playground of year 11, we lasted more than a month.
We seemed so ill-suited; I was nerdy, unconfident, well behaved. He was a skater-boy with floppy hair, drinking K cider (he called it ‘tramp’s piss’) and stealing his teacher’s favourite ornament off her desk and planting it in people’s bags whenever she wasn’t looking.
But weirdly, we seemed to grow closer together as we got older. I gradually found I had a wild side, got into makeup, bunked university lectures. He worked really hard and turned out to be a natural coder with masses of ambition.
It seemed that we had, subconsciously, met somewhere in the middle.
When I stayed at his house the night before he left for university, crying hysterically that it was all over, he told me “three years really isn’t that long” and I was furious at him for being so ridiculous. Most relationships don’t even last three months, let alone three years.
But, I took a gap year and it actually became four – and he was right (as he frustratingly always is), it flew by.
People often congratulate us for having been together for such a long time. But sometimes I think it’s braver to admit something is wrong and break up there and then; we’d definitely had our fair share of reasons to split in the past, and I sometimes wondered whether we were both just too comfortable to act on them.
We moved in together a few months after I finished university and I went through a phase of thinking I wasn’t living out my twenties as I should be. It’s not that I wanted to be on Tinder or sleeping with other guys (that genuinely never appealed to me), but I’m a writer and, by nature, I never want to restrict myself to a narrow set of experiences.
Working in a magazine office has its perks, and one of them is advance proof copies. I was able to read Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love a few months early. It’s essentially a memoir, a journey through her hilarious, love-filled twenties. But the love she describes wasn’t romantic love, like mine is, but the love for her friends.
I absolutely loved it and identified with it in so many ways, but the anecdotes and stories of awkward dates and one-night-stands made me worry that I’m missing out. Not on the events themselves – as most seemed to be embarrassing and regretful – but on having funny and interesting tales to tell.
There’s such a preoccupation with telling stories in your twenties, and Dolly covers this quite a bit in her book. We’re constantly told these are the best years of our lives; we need to fill them with memories and drunken nights and idiocy so we can tell our children, and we won’t regret not living life to the full.
And it’s even more immediate than that; if you’re not being fun and wild and you’re not posting it on Instagram or Snapchat, you’re clearly not doing it right.
Thankfully my twenties are hilarious and exciting in other ways; Laurie has never lost his 15-year-old sense of mischief, and I have a great group of friends with whom I share sleepovers and secrets and bottles of Smirnoff.
So why, a couple of months ago, was I feeling like I was missing out? FOMO doesn’t just apply to singular events; it can feel even worse when applied to an entire way of living.
But I changed the way I thought about it when I finished reading The Course of Love by Alain de Botton, a recommendation from one of my editors.
It follows the story of a couple – Kirsten and Rabih – as they meet, marry, have children, commit adultery, and make it out the other side. Throughout the book though, are little italicised gems of wisdom, analysing their relationship and making the book more a therapeutic guide to relationships than simply a novel.
It made me realise that all the things I catastrophise about in my relationship – he’s stubborn and messy and completely maddening – are actually, really, inevitable aspects of any relationship with someone you’re so ridiculously close to.
We put all this emphasis on finding the ‘perfect’ person, who understands us so completely and deeply that we have no need to express how we feel; they should just know. And for a while, our relationship seemed sort-of like that, when we were infatuated teenagers who only saw each other twice a month, after an excitable train journey between Bristol and Exeter.
But realistically, a long-term relationship is just two imperfect people who have chosen each other because they know that’s the best way they could possibly live their life.
Sure, I could try the single thing – meet a few guys who completely destroy my self-confidence, travel to Australia for a year – but then I think, could I really be happier than I am now? With someone who gives me so much love, adoration and comfort that I don’t deserve it, who I laugh and play with in front of a crappy reality TV programme or at a party with a bunch of friends. He thinks my blankie I sleep with is cute, he thinks the weird voices I do are funny, and he unconditionally accepts me, even when I’m being irrational and unreasonable.
And I know I’m the same for him. Sometimes he squeezes me so hard, like a boa constrictor, puts on a stupid voice and says, “you’re not going anywhere” and he’s right. Why would I?
The love we have, although it started early and is often characterised by snacks and TV, is mature and real. Over the years, slowly but surely, he’s become family. So instead of thinking about all the things I’ve missed in my youth, I now think about the incredible thing I’ve gained. And that’s a pretty great partner in crime.