If we can find the courage to walk away from people and relationships and yet still understand, even cherish, the beauty of them, then we are truly choosing ourselves
It’s a Saturday in late August. I’m catching up on one of the last few episodes of this season’s Île de l'amour and I’m not altogether surprised to find myself crying. Female friendships and female empowerment are increasingly the theme of the show (I thought it would be difficult to top Amber and Anna from last season until Liberté and Kaz came along).
Liberté, one of the contestants who was there from the beginning, coupled up early on with Jake. They quickly established themselves as official boyfriend and girlfriend. In the last couple of weeks, Liberty began to feel insecure, not receiving the reassurance she sought from Jake who was clearly unsure about the relationship. He performed the ultimate act of gaslighting when she confronted him: he told her he loved her.
After days of watching Liberty unhappy, my tears were imbued with pride and heartache when she told Kaz, her best friend in the villa, that she had ended things. Liberty said: “It’s so hard Kaz because I love him, and I feel like what we had was really special, but I wouldn’t be choosing myself if I didn’t do this.”
At that moment, I knew what I had to do in my own life. I had to walk away from a situation which, if I stayed in it, would have eroded my sense of self. I knew that this is what it means to choose yourself.
To walk away from someone you love is the single hardest thing to do. It’s why so many couples become miserable together and why unequal dynamics are allowed to continue for so long. The challenge is in looking ahead and realising that staying will break your heart in a more profound sense than leaving ever will.
Choosing yourself also means honouring the love you felt and the relationship that you created with this other person. How can we honour our love in the midst of heartbreak? It has struck me that if we can find the courage to walk away from people and relationships and yet still understand, even cherish, the beauty of them, then we are truly choosing ourselves.
In April, I struck up a friendship with someone I had known for a while. Within a very short time we became incredibly close, and fell into an emotionally dependent dynamic, relying on each other for comfort, support and intimacy. After feeling alone and misunderstood for so long, I found I couldn’t let such a soulful connection go.
Whilst our friendship never blossomed into anything fully romantic, there was a consistent romantic inflection present which confused us both, and which we talked about on several occasions. We did sleep together a few times and spent many nights in the same bed. Our friendship served as a quasi-relationship for both of us.
Over the summer we were as good as inseparable, spending long evenings drinking margaritas in pretty pub gardens. We talked constantly. On rainy days, we sank into deep and comfortable silences together with backdrops of books and films. We cried to one another, held each other in the night, rested our heads on the other’s shoulder. The strength of affection we had towards one another was evident to anyone who spent time with us.
The situation became untenable for me because he restarted things with an old flame who we both knew. Although our relationship was not explicitly named as a romantic one, I felt his choice was cutting through the intimacy we had built. We had several altercations over a few weeks. I knew our time was up.
I left his house for the last time and walked from east London to the Southbank. The pain I felt was so powerful, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I stopped at two benches along the way. I sobbed. I listened to a song I had come to associate with him. I told myself that feeling this was the only way through and I let the pain in. I felt a peculiar sense of being outside of myself. Grief is so particular, n'est-ce pas? It’s the mirror image of love.
My friends were angry with him, and perhaps I should’ve been too. He didn’t choose me, après tout. But I know love is more complicated than that, and I don’t begrudge him.
Le lendemain, I lay on the grass in the garden with my dog. My dad called my name from the kitchen, asking me for coffee. People who loved me filled the house. I won’t pretend I felt warm and engulfed, but their love was like a small acorn in my chest and I knew I would be okay.
I knew that it was okay to love him and also to leave the situation. I knew that even if no one else chose me, ever again in my life, I would always choose me. And that in the end, that’s the only thing that matters