The One That Got Away

In the cacophony of garbage and mishaps that have brought me to my 32nd year on the planet it is easy to reflect on only the negative and forget about the windows of sunshine that have glimmered in, peppering my life with moments of bliss and hope. I’ve led you to believe, wrongly, that I have been completely unlucky in life, particularly when it comes to love. But this is only mostly true.

I’m going now to tell the story of my first love. I actually really don’t talk about this very much at all, not to anyone. It is one of my biggest regrets and it makes me really sad to think about it…but I had a conversation about Aiden recently and I realised it would actually add a sort-of-nice story to break up the bad dates and the poo and the blood from blogs of old.

Between my degree and my post-graduate degree years I spent the summer working for a local boat company. Daniel worked there and he got me the job. That summer was a fun one; I tripped up and down the Thames morning, noon and night providing beverages to all who sailed aboard the fleet. It was a boiling hot summer and I spent every day raking in mediocre cash and getting to know the other gap year workers and school leavers in the company – as well as those older men who saw themselves as a Captain Pugwash character, navigating the high seas of the River Thames. One of these crew-boys was Aiden.

I already knew of Aiden as he was one of Daniel’s friends. I’d never known him all that well as Daniel rarely brought his friends over to the house – possibly he was concerned Mum would ride them if he did, rightly so…though it turns out he needed to be more concerned by my Mum’s sister on that front. I also didn’t know him that well as Aiden was infamous for being really, really shy and quiet. Others of Daniel’s friends were typical guys who had been out drinking and clubbing for a year or two and thought they were a drop dead pussy crusher, but Aiden was different. His shyness came off him in waves; you could feel how uncomfortable he was around people he didn’t know. I found this really sweet and endearing – which was a novelty to me as I had sworn to hate all men up to now but here was this lanky, blonde guy who actually made me think there could be some good qualities in the opposite sex. If I was put on a trip with Aiden I always made sure I spoke to him as much as I could to try to put him at ease. Silence grows between people like a malignancy of awkwardness and I wanted to save poor Aiden from that.

As the summer reached ever closer toward Autumn I started to look forward most to those shifts I shared with Aiden. Away from the shadow of his friends, Aiden had a quiet confidence when he was comfortable with you. He was really mature, much more so than any boy I had met thus far and was funny in a way I totally appreciated – when he spoke it was always something worth listening to. In short, Aiden was just a genuinely good guy through and through. What started off as an endearing fondness of him began to grow into an attachment – but it was a long time before I realised I actually liked him.

The revelation was surprising to me. He was younger than me – not by much, but when you’re almost 22 a couple of years feels like a really big gap. I knew he liked me; I think he’d maybe always had a crush on me. At first I just thought it was sweet, but the more drawn I was to him as a person the more I found I really loved that fact about him – that we got on so well and that he had clearly had feelings for me for a little while but he’d never said anything. It made me feel really safe, like nothing could ruin the friendship we had built over the summer, even if the nature of it deepened to more of a romance. I would be in the bar area of the boat and catch a glimpse of him out of the window as we entered into a lock; his light hair and his blue eyes looking furtively out from under thick, long lashes, teamed with a shy, reluctant smile when he caught my eye. The final piece of the puzzle slotted naturally into place as I found that he no longer seemed to be just one of my brother’s friends…he was now the first person I’d ever trusted enough to want to be with. These were strange waters indeed for me to find myself on, determined as I was that I would spend my life alone as a virgin and a spinster. (I considered myself to be a virgin as I’d never had consensual sex at this point. That’s important, I think).

Aiden and I getting together happened really naturally. We nurtured our friendship until it blossomed into something else. To me, it made total sense that we would find one another. He was a mature, gentle guy who genuinely seemed to adore me with every fibre of his being and I was a damaged, broken girl who wanted nothing more than to be loved by someone I knew I could trust never to hurt me. It was Yin and Yang. We were both totally inexperienced and I enjoyed discovering everything new with him for the first time. I don’t know how to find the words to convey how incandescently happy I was. I absolutely adored him and he quickly became my entire world. I met his family and they welcomed me with wide open arms. There was a knowledge, unshakeable, within me that this was the man I would spend my life with. I had always felt no man would want me – I was too jaded by the horrors of my past to find anyone worth having. Aiden not only accepted what had happened in my childhood, he helped to overcome it in ways I couldn’t even say. I finally had someone to have my back and be all mine and it was the most wonderful, uplifting feeling to be so happy. I know we all feel enamoured with our first loves in a way we never feel again, but for someone who had never had adoration bestowed upon them it was a liberation from the confines of my mind. Sadly, it was not to last.

Because I had finally found contentedness after searching blindly for something to fill the emptiness, it hadn’t occurred to me that there might be people around me who were not happy for me. For the most part, people were. Friends, colleagues and acquaintances conveyed their feelings of delight at my new fledgling of a relationship, acknowledging I’d found a decent person at last who was worth the wait, stating how much I deserved this. My family were another story, though.

At first they embraced the relationship. I think they were mostly relieved I wasn’t a lesbian and that I might actually go on to lead a relatively normal life, to save them the embarrassment of having an unwanted spinster in the ranks. But over time I sensed a bitterness, almost a resentment, exuding from them. It crept in so slowly as to almost not be worthy of note, until all at once it was overwhelming and irrevocable. It began with Daniel.

I could understand why, as Aiden had been a friend of Daniel’s, he wasn’t overjoyed with incandescent glee for us. It must have been a bit weird for him and I do acknowledge this. I asked him if he was OK with Aiden and I being together when the relationship first started and he said it was fine, it was nice to see me happy. But his behaviour after made it abundantly clear he had changed his mind. A niggling guilt grew inside me and it became a daily struggle between my brother and what I wanted. Try as I might I couldn’t overpower the terrible guilt that my actions might be making Daniel unhappy. As a woman who has the luxury of hindsight, I now question why Daniel couldn’t be happy that his sister, who spent her life to that point being shat on from a great height by her mum, her stepdad(s) and everyone in between, had finally found someone worthy of her trust and her time and her love. Aiden was undoubtedly the friend you would want your sibling to partner with: he was never going to do me wrong. Even so, at the time I felt nothing but culpability that I had wronged my brother in some way I couldn’t fathom. During a minor argument with him over something completely innocuous I remember his passing shot was ‘you just don’t care who you hurt, do you?’ before he walked the 30 footsteps to Charlotte’s house, no doubt to moan about what a selfish girl his sister was for constantly ruining his life. His words hit me really hard and I didn’t seem to be able to let it go that I’d hurt Daniel by prioritising my happiness over his.

But Daniel was not the only one who didn’t like me being with Aiden. Mum was strangely quiet about our relationship. She would never talk to me about Aiden, never ask any questions about him or us or our plans. Nothing. Complete and utter disinterest was her only reaction. I had thought she would be thrilled, her desperation for me to have a boyfriend had been in place since her discussion with Gordon over the fence when I was 13 or 14 and now, almost 10 years on when I had finally found someone I wanted to be in a relationship with it was as if I had told her I was making a dinner she didn’t much fancy.

Even my Nan didn’t seem enthused, and she was always my most favourite person. The one who knew Mum was a nightmare and understood Daniel was a total dick, though we loved him none-the-less. Even she made it obvious she wasn’t interested in talking about Aiden and I.

It was so strange and, even now, I can’t understand it. He was such a good guy, he treated me with nothing but love and respect. If anything, he was too nice and I was clearly very, very happy for the first time in my existence…yet my family just couldn’t accept it. If he was a bad guy like Wateman Wes then I would get it. But it wasn’t; this was calm, kind Aiden.

All this wouldn’t have been so perplexing were it not for the fact the reaction of my nearest and dearest contrasted so strikingly with the reaction from my friends. So the dilemma was a complex one; friends were overjoyed, I felt in my gut that this was the man I had been waiting for to turn my life around, but my family – the people who meant the most to me even though I meant nothing to them – they clearly didn’t think Aiden was right for me.

Ours was a typical first love, albeit a little delayed for us both being out of our teen years. We never argued, there was no drama with our relationship. We laughed all the time and were quite obviously devoted to one another – it didn’t occur to me to be anything but a trusting, doting girlfriend to Aiden because I inherently knew he would never do anything to betray me. But now, thanks to my family behaving so strangely, our relationship became awkward to talk about with them. They just weren’t interested and I started to be embarrassed even bringing up his name. It was as though they all had a secret about him they refused to share with me. I therefore spent more time at his house where his family were normal and loving. We alternated weekends spent in Bristol while I was at University and back in Windsor. All this was to avoid the feeling of doom that had set itself inside my gut at the thought of having to choose between Aiden and my family. It was a choice I didn’t want to make but a choice I could see glimmering on the horizon like a hellish red sunset.

The feelings of guilt grew over the months Aiden and I were together. I was living a double life where I could be myself with Aiden and his lovely family but I had to shield him from the bitterness coming from my familial hearth. I loved him so much I couldn’t express it but in making me so happy, I was driving my own wedge between my brother, my mum, my grandparents. I wanted more than anything for them to have that epiphany moment where they realised I really wasn’t so bad and I was completely worthy of their love and their affection. I felt just like I had always felt; that I was a hamster stuck on a wheel running round and round unendingly just pushing onwards toward that elusive feeling of acceptance from them. They resented me and that was amalgamating in their energy toward the relationship that made me so blissfully at peace. Finally that awful penny dropped. If I was to ever have any hope of achieving their love, I had to sacrifice my own.

In desperation to make them see sense, I went with Mum for a visit to my Nan’s house. We hadn’t gone with the specific reason of talking about this massive elephant in the room that was their obvious disdain for Aiden, but I was determined to confront them about it. I thought if I could just tell them how closely they were pushing me to ending things with this wonderful person they’d change their behaviour and accept that this was the man I had chosen for myself.

‘I know you don’t really like Aiden. I don’t know why… but it’s making me feel awful when you make it obvious there’s something wrong. Is it because he’s Daniel’s friend? I just don’t understand what I’m doing to make you like this toward me…?’

My Nan looked me square in the face as I welled up with hot tears, her thick lensed glasses magnifying her serious eyes. ‘He isn’t for you.’ The words were spat at me calmly but with an icy edge.

That’s all she said. I asked her to expand, to give me a tangible reason, some evidence. I was crying now. She continued to stare at me coldly as my tears fell pitifully into my lap.

‘He’s a lovely person. There’s nothing wrong with him at all. But he is not for you.’

And that was it. Discussion over. And now her feelings were known, mum’s unusual silence from the other side of the room speaking her agreement in deafening volumes, I couldn’t avoid making the choice. To choose Aiden meant I lost my family, and I wasn’t ready for that then. But to align myself with my family meant I had to let Aiden go, and that was an unbearable thought.

I think Aiden felt I was pulling away from him from the moment I’d had that conversation with my Nan as Mum looked on. I cried spontaneously for no apparent reason when I saw him and I started to become avoidant. The more I pulled away the more Aiden tried to hold on. That just made everything so much harder because this was nothing to do with Aiden and my unchanged feelings toward him. This was about my strange relationship with my family and how they made it obvious I was doing something wrong being with him.

The night we broke up was truly horrendous. I ended things very quickly and emotionally, and I saw his world crumble to pieces. I remember telling him how sorry I was, how he was too young for me and I just couldn’t do this anymore. If he had known I was really caving to the pressure put upon me by my brother, my Nan… he would have seen me for exactly what I was: a weak little girl who was tirelessly hunting for the love and acceptance she would never, ever get. Instead I broke his heart into 1000 smithereens as the heart he had helped me find broke along with it. I regretted it the moment the words left my lips and I regretted it every day thereafter. I regret it now. I will regret it forever.

For months and months after that I cried myself to sleep. I couldn’t speak his name. Friends asked me what on earth I was doing, questioned why I would be so insane as to randomly end things with Aiden and I told them it was the two year age gap and that was it. I couldn’t bear the thought of admitting it was because I was frightened I’d sink even further down in my family’s estimations if I prioritised my love and happiness over them. I knew my friends would tell me my family had never prioritised me over anything, why would I give them such control over my life – I didn’t need to hear it. So I buried Aiden and those wonderful memories in a box in my mind and I would drag him back out every night and cry. It was shortly after this that I developed my anorexia and OCD, though at the time I didn’t see that the two things might be linked; my family had total control over me even in my adulthood and had pushed me, though I acted of my own accord, to end the one thing I had in my life that brought me any kind of joy.

I suppose somewhere deep down I had always believed Aiden and I would end up back together. I didn’t want to be without him. When I pictured having a family, it was his children I wanted. When I thought about being content and stable in life, it was with him and his massive eyebrows at my side. After a few months had passed I decided to find out how the ground now lie on that front with my family. Perhaps they could see the profoundly negative affect the break up had on me; I was sliding into my eating disorder and my weight had plummeted. I wasn’t laughing and merry and jovial now – I was back to being diffident and apathetic and withdrawn. They would surely make the link that I felt breaking up with Aiden was the wrong thing to have done and I was just waiting for their permission to run back to him. So I chanced to ask Daniel how Aiden was doing. If he spoke openly about him, for the first time since the break up, perhaps there was a chance I could try to win him back, if he would have me now. For some reason I was nervous to even say his name in front of Daniel, but I couldn’t leave it any more. When I finally plucked up the courage to ask the question it broke my heart once again. Daniel told me, without an ounce of regret or any attempt to soften the blow, that very shortly after our break-up, Aiden had found another girlfriend and he was moving in with her.

So that was it. I had broken up with my first love, the only man who has ever treated me as I deserved, and karma had come around to kick me in the teeth. I had been weak and given in to the pressure of my family yet again, and my reward was to have to watch from the wings as Aiden went on to live the life I had wanted for us with someone else. I was surprised, given the depth of our feelings for each other and the length of time it was taking me to get over it, that he had moved on so quickly. But I neither judged nor blamed him. I’d been dishonest about my reasons for the break up and that left him with a lack of clarity around what had happened. Who could blame him for finding happiness elsewhere?

And that was that. It took me years and years to find someone else I could love…and ironically that was a man who would treat me in a totally polar opposite way to the way Aiden treated me. I went from being worshipped and adored to being kicked about, financially drained and emotionally beaten. I waited and I waited for Aiden and by the time I accepted he was happier elsewhere, all that was left available was Wasteman Wes!

Except that, when Daniel had told me Aiden had a new girlfriend and he was happy, he had lied. I have recently learned that Aiden did not move on for over two years. I can’t say he was waiting for me to change my mind and come back, he was most likely just healing: the first cut is the deepest after all. But that information was really difficult to hear. Had I not been such a pussy, had I fought for myself for once in my life, I’d have got everything I wanted. I’m not going to be naive and say we’d still be together now, four kids and a Range Rover… but it could have happened.

So I suppose the question is, what the fuck was my family’s problem with Aiden? Or with me? I could study them for 100 years and still never know the answer to why they would have driven us apart. But my theory goes something like this:

I have told you how mighty was the pedestal upon which my mother raised my brother. He could do no wrong and this created an arrogant monster the like of which has not been seen before or since, thanks be to God. As a child, he loved football and Mum encouraged this love. Of course, in Mum’s and Daniel’s eyes other boy could play better than my brother, no other child could be so singularly gifted on the pitch. My understanding is that, in fact, Daniel was a pretty average player. Aiden, on the other hand, was outstanding. Anything Daniel did throughout school and after, Aiden did one better. If Daniel got scouted for Southampton, Aiden got scouted for Chelsea. If Daniel played for the local B-Team, it was because Aiden played for the A-Team. I think the bitterness toward him was actually nothing to do with me at all, but rooted from a jealousy that Aiden exceeded the talents of Daniel and Mum couldn’t stand it. From there it is not difficult to imagine her massaging the resentment from Daniel, making him feel inferior to Aiden so he might begin to harbour feelings of negativity over the one thing he could control in Aiden’s life; me. She would also most certainly have dripped poison into my Nan’s ear and from there a triangular attack was spawned. This would certainly explain Mum’s uncharacteristic silence on the matter. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

There isn’t really a moral at the end of this story. Just a tonne of sadness and regret. I am living a contended life with two cats. I’m financially stable and I’m comfortable with who I am. I have good friends around me. I love my job. I am emancipated from the crushing pressures of my horrendous family. But I am noone’s highest priorty and that’s mostly my own fault, because I didn’t make me my main priority soon enough. From what I hear, Aiden is also content in a long-term relationship. I’ve often thought about what it might be like if we came back together; I’ve spoken about how wonderful it might be but friends think perhaps we are both much changed and it would be different now. I’d love to agree with them but there’s a small part of me that just doesn’t want to believe it wouldn’t be every bit as wonderful as it was before.

Anyway – don’t feel sad for me. I made a mess of this one all by myself and I have noone to blame but me. So I’m off to down a glass of something bubbly to while away the lonely night with Pretty Woman and a take away – living the single gal dream.

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