I’m going to tell you a secret:
My ex-lovers haunt my dreams like ghostly stalkers. They slip into my bedclothes and unravel the past from twisted threads – soft and benevolent, whispering indecipherable endearments, moving towards me with a yearning, ethereal tenderness and, sometimes, checking me into cheap hotel rooms like they used to do in real life. Or else they appear as bitter, demonic versions of themselves. Barking indecipherable abuse, moving towards me with a deliberate malevolence and, sometimes, forcing me to join them in sexual trysts in front of their new girlfriends (which, I’m pleased to report, has not ever happened in real life).
There are moments during these recurring dreams when I become lucid. But in such lucid moments I can’t be sure whether it’s me dreaming the dream, or whether it’s the ex-lover and, somehow, I’ve made my way inside his consciousness.
Occasionally, out of nowhere, an ex will totally freak me out by shape-shifting into a lamp or a kitten or – when the dream morphs into a Freudian nightmare – my father.
This is what my dreams have taught me: love doesn’t ever leave you. It clings like an invisible film to the deepest crevices of the psyche. It is a very consuming emotion – I have always said this. (Except for the times when I have denied its existence in an attempt to suppress the aching of my poor, bruised heart.) Love is beautiful, but it is also the hardest thing. In love you are vulnerable and exposed, but also (and it occurs to me that I have recently forgotten this) love makes you a warrior: alert, poised and oblivious to danger.
It is both tragic and delicious enough that the universe forces us to make such painful bonds with friends and family members – let alone that it complicates the experience of being alive with romance. And I’m not denying that love can be delicious.
Here is another secret:
There are moments on winter evenings when I feel content. Sitting by the fire in my parents’ London living room, sipping on good brandy and knowing that, at least for now, every single person I want to protect from peril is tucked up asleep under warm blankets where they cannot be harmed. It’s the same feeling I used to feel resting my head against my boyfriend’s chest and listening to the steady beat of his heart.
Though, of course, it is less than cool to admit to feeling anything at all, ever, I have to acknowledge that it is an actual miracle my heart doesn’t just literally explode out of my chest on a regular basis.
How does anyone bear it? I can hardly stand the pain of loving my friends and pets and family members. I simply don’t know if I can drag myself through another relationship only for it to result in my heart breaking and my subconscious replaying painful fragments of the experience all the night forevermore.
I mean – I’m tempted. Of course I’m tempted. I paint my nails blood red and I circle my blue eyes with kohl and I drape whimsical scarves around my neck and I occasionally leave the house and I do all this, not just because of vanity, but also in the hope that one day I’ll find another lover who’ll make me feel something. And then, at night, I fall asleep and I dream and I wake up remembering how hard it actually is to feel something. It is very hard indeed. It is much easier to sit in your flat cooking delicious food and watching Six Feet Under and arranging cut flowers and writing hilarious blogs and finally finishing your PhD thesis.
But that is not a very brave way to go about living. In fact, now that I’ve reached the end of this posting, and despite my resolute solitude up until today, I’m realising that, however I try to frame it, that is a very bleak way to go about day to day life indeed.
It turns out, on close inspection, that my dreams are perhaps a reason not to be single after all.
*With thanks to Nina Toussaint-White (@NinaToussaint) for the image.