The first time I ever fancied someone I was four years old.
Let’s be honest, that’s premature. And a bit weird. So you can imagine my surprise – and disappointment – when, first secondary school disco in full swing, I found myself in the girl’s toilets, totally consumed with fear at the thought of the night ending in my being someone’s girlfriend.
It wasn’t like Scar from The Lion King was even there (plot twist: I no longer fancy cartoon lions, but still love a black hair/ green eye combo). Or that anyone was showing the slightest whiff of interest in the glitter hair mascara fringe I was debuting that evening.
But, despite the sassy four-year-old inside me who was so desperate to be wifeyed back in 1994, the mere thought of anyone trying to snog, dance or really do anything beyond offering me their seat so I could rest my inexperienced platform-heeled feet was enough to make me fake illness and call my Dad to come take me home. Ah, home. I could eat Indian takeaway and watch Friends there, I could have a bubble bath, I could listen to The Killers and imagine what it would be like to be in a relationship without the scary reality of actually having to go through with it.
Needless to say, after that first school disco, it was obvious: casual intimacy intimidated me. And I ended up spending my entire teenage years single.
It wasn’t because I’d suddenly stopped fancying anyone – quite the contrary. I fancied everyone. At least it felt that way; but as I quickly learnt, my feelings were fickle. The second anyone paid any interested in me I was onto the next one, before they had a chance to fish out the alleged eyelash from my heavily kohl-lined socket.
On several occasions I was accused of being a tease or a flirt, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was interested in being in the relationships I formed in my mind – it’s just the reality brought so much pressure, and I was yet to meet anyone with the maturity and patience to match my timid curiosity. I wanted fun from a relationship and, from the looks of things, the real-life kind involved heartbreak, school gossip and the risk of everyone knowing the private things I only wanted special people to know.
It took me longer than I wish it had to realise that I wasn’t a tease, and I wasn’t frigid. I just didn’t want to be in a relationship with anyone who didn’t love me. It was as simple as that.
Of course I felt embarrassed about being what from the outside probably looked like a ‘late bloomer’. When you aren’t in love it always feels like everyone else is – but, honestly, this is just imagination talking. I have friends who lost their virginity aged 14 and friends who had their first kiss aged 22, there is no finish line when it comes to intimacy. There just isn’t. Adult life doesn’t begin with your first kiss. If you’re interested in that stuff then life will be littered with it, and you’ll have times when it’s happening a lot and times when it isn’t happening at all.
I’m a bit older now, and I’ve had a serious relationship. We made it work for three years, which doesn’t sound like long but considering the fact that we were broke, lazy students who wore the same Dominoes-stained joggers every day (him) and believed that jarred pesto counted as one of your 5 a day (me), it was a triumph against bad odds. That relationship had everything I’d thought up in my Killers bubble baths. He was loving and hilarious with a gorgeous face, and the first time we kissed I remember being surprised because I wasn’t thinking about when it would be over like all the regretful snogs before him.
It’s important to say here that I think prolific ‘relationship people’ – the types that seem to have loved a hundred times before they’re even legally allowed to drink – are sensational. In my experience they tend to be super open, to both rejection and love, because they come as a pair. Emotional gamblers, pursuing subtle flirtation with the conviction of some sort of intimacy gladiator. But, unless that comes naturally to you, you can’t force it. As with everything in life, but especially your emotions, you’ve got to consider what you’re comfortable with.
A few days ago a friend asked when I was going to get round to dating someone seriously again and I felt that familiar pang of embarrassment – like FOMO with a sprinkling of shame. The truth is, I just really like being single. Not because I’m frigid, or want a different person every night, or have low self-esteem, or think I’m too good for that bloke who asked me out. I simply love being single because there is so much to love about it.
I don’t have to share anything; my money, my time, my bed, my pizza. I’ve got to know myself in incredible depth, because I’ve had to. I plan my weekends depending on what I want to do, I go to places I want to visit on holiday, I cook what I love for dinner every night. I know exactly what I’m lacking, and what a potential partner could give to make me a better person, but I also know that I’m enough. It’s a strong and sentimental statement, but it’s true. And I like to think this relationship with myself started during those relationship-less teenage years. I’m not scared of being single.
Ultimately relationships can be crazy, fun, sad, beautiful life experiences. But they’ve got to happen on your own terms. My advice would be: take the time to understand exactly what you feel comfortable with.
Because in the end, the only person you have to live with forever is yourself.