I’m sometimes cautious about writing personal stories on here, because I also use this space for vaguely professional things. I don’t know who will end up reading this. Nevertheless, this is a story about Megan, my ex-girlfriend, who is now seeing someone else.
It’s got to the point where I figure I might never see her again. While it’s painful to write this, I’m writing for myself, I don’t want to forget. The more I question our relationship now, the more unreal the past becomes.
Megan was my first proper girlfriend. We met in May 2017, in New Zealand. On our first date we went to the Auckland Art Gallery and watched a 1960s film called ‘Blow Up’ by Michelangelo Antonioni. I didn’t even think it was a date to start off with, I’d invited another friend along too. As luck would have it, at the last minute he said he couldn’t make it. So, it was just the two of us.
During the film she leaned against me. I put my hand around her shoulder. We were both nervous and a bit giddy, we ended up kissing on a bench in Albert Park. That was my first kiss. I hadn’t really expected to fall in love with anyone, and yet here she was.
We got very close. Megan had already watched me role-playing as a union organiser, and I guess I must have left an impression on her? She did stand-up comedy, she played the guitar, she knew how to fly a plane. She liked country music, cherry tomatoes, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the colour purple. She was well-travelled, deeply knowledgeable, cultured, and she left an impression on me too.
Shortly after that, we went to see a folk concert in a former bunker in Devonport.
The air was still that night, we walked along King Edward’s Parade and watched the lights of Auckland twinkling across the bay.
Here we are, on her birthday, on the roof of the Te Uru art gallery. I got her a set of acorn earrings.
We were both working for the New Zealand Labour Party. When our campaign sort of fell apart, we regrouped, and ended up sharing a room as well as working together. Here we are with our red Labour rosettes.
I can’t say it was an easy period, but we held on to one another, and while we were together everything seemed okay. Moving in together is a challenge, for some couples the mundane realities of everyday domestic life would quickly extinguish the romance. That didn’t happen to us; we got along wonderfully.
When the time came for her to return to the US, she delayed her flight so she could stay longer. Before she left, I remember telling her ‘I love you, but I know how these things work.’ We’d been in such intimate daily contact, I didn’t know if we could survive the abrupt shift into a long-distance relationship.
Still, we kept talking, and it wasn’t long before we saw each other again. In September/November 2017, I was going back to New Zealand, and took a long stop-over in San Francisco. I took her out to a pasta restaurant, we went walking in the woods, played in an arcade. We would listen to the Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy slot in bed, it was a totally unpretentious romance.
I like this picture of her on the Golden Gate bridge, with the wind blowing through her wispy hair.
In winter of 2017/18, she came over to see me in Oxford, then we went on holiday with my family in France.
It was snowy, and I got chilly so she gave me her scarf.
We went skiing down the Morond mountain together. Here she is looking a bit concerned about the descent.
I went back to see her in Chattanooga, her home town. She showed me where she grew up, her family, her old school. She took me to the Rock City gardens on Lookout mountain, we walked among the technicolour LEDs and creepy illuminated statues.
Here we are in the Hunter Museum of American Art.
You might notice a lot of art galleries cropping up in this story, and that tells you a lot about Megan. When I said she was cultured, I really admired that. There aren’t many people who will talk you through politics, art, history, in the way that she did. I think we just enjoyed each others’ company.
At the end of that long journey, we went back to New Zealand, we even went back to the folk bunker. She had some funding to carry out research for her final thesis, and I was just happy to go along for the ride.
Did I mention how attractive she was?
I really thought she was amazing.
Here she is in Wellington, licking an ice lolly on Oriental beach.
The weather was hot, we had just walked up Mount Victoria, and I remember being glad to immerse my sweltering feet in the cold water of the bay.
In March 2018, I went back to see her again in Chattanooga. She took me up to this luxury bar at the top of the Westin hotel.
In July 2018, she came to visit me in Oxford again. The day she arrived we went on a walk down the canal.
I took her to Paris, and we sat on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur, while around us the entire city was celebrating both Bastille Day and the French victory in the football world cup. The capital was in a state of drunken joy, the air rang with the sound of vuvuzelas.
Moments like that are once-in-a-lifetime events, they stick with you.
This was at the time when I was living in Haywards Heath, we went down to Brighton and Lewes, I introduced her to British seaside fish & chips. Here she is on Brighton Pier, after fending off the seagulls.
The final time I saw her was September 2018, in Washington DC. She had graduated and was going for various internships. Here she is on the balcony of the Crimson bar in Chinatown.
When I had to go home, she came with me on the bus to the airport. It rained that day, and the following afternoon, I arrived in Leicester.
Almost 9 months later, I am still in Leicester, and she is still in Washington DC.
While we were in Washington, she asked me what my plans were for the future. She used to joke about what we’d do if we had children. It’s the sort of thing which looking back I should have paid more attention to. She wanted to get married one day, have children, and live in a big house with a dog. I said I wasn’t too fussed about getting married, wasn’t seriously committed to having children, and given my expected salary the best I could hope for was a 2-bedroom apartment.
All I wanted was to be with her. Although just being with someone is not a life plan; it’s good for a holiday, maybe a long overseas trip, it doesn’t last. So, Megan went for the internships, and she persevered in getting places. She interned at the American Enterprise Institute, then the Cato Institute, then the Heritage Foundation, then finally went back to get a full job as a marketing co-ordinator at Cato.
In case none of those organisations sound familiar: the Heritage Foundation supports Viktor Orbán and Trump. Cato is so capitalist they want to reintroduce child labour, and AEI were cheerleaders of the ‘War on Terror.’ I’m all too aware that you get work experience wherever you can find it, so if you have to do an internship at a right-wing lobbying group, that’s what you do. However, working for one right-wing institution is understandable, working for a second is unfortunate, working for three in succession is a pattern. I guess it bothered me, but I know that in these conditions you don’t always get to choose where you work.
Then, Megan said she was going to the horse races at the weekend, with the Young Republicans. That confused me, because it’s not the sort of thing you would do for fun. Who is this person and what happened to the Labour Party activist I fell in love with?
It became harder to speak to her. We used to talk at least once a day on the phone, then once per week. Increasingly, it was me calling her, and she stopped calling me out of the blue to say hello. We still chatted over text, but at some point these stopped being actual conversations. A message one day, a reply the next.
I felt the disconnection, and kept asking what the problem was. Every time she apologised, she was always just busy. She sent postcards, she knew I like liquorice, she sent me a bag of liquorice root. She even tried to send me chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Even if days, weeks, passed without knowing what was going on in her life, whenever she did get in touch, she was nothing but warm and encouraging, sometimes even flirty.
I remained patient, but with time the distance between us grew, and you can’t chat with someone who doesn’t respond. I sent her a card from Spain, she didn’t say anything. I bought her a gift subscription to Jacobin (such a romantic) - she never took up the subscription. She changed her WhatsApp picture, from a photo of the two of us, to just a photo of herself.
Megan had been planning a long stay in Lithuania in September, to teach english on a fulbright scholarship. She suggested that she might stop off to see me on the way there. Lithuania is well served by cheap airlines, and I’ve been to Vilnius before, it’s a doable journey for a weekend. I hoped that if we saw each other again, we could pick up where we left off, things would return to the way they were. In the end, she said she couldn’t stop off in Britain, because she wouldn’t have enough time.
Then, I see on facebook that she went to a wedding, and there’s this guy. I won’t post the photos, he’s hugging her from behind, and in another one she’s sort of sitting on his lap. In the comments, she writes:
Coolest parents ever and best date ever 😊
That line pretty much ruined my entire week, it had me depressed, unable to sleep, writing this blog post at 3am.
I asked what the situation was, and after about four days of agonising silence, she explained that she’d met him unexpectedly, it was hard to keep up a long-distance relationship, and could we still be friends?
So that’s it. It’s one thing to remain good friends, in the knowledge that we might meet again. It’s another thing to remain an unrequited ex-boyfriend, yearning for affection. It feels heartbreaking to just lose contact with her without ever having said goodbye.
Maybe she’s gone for good, and if that’s the future, all I have left are these fond memories.
These hearts, which were so weightless,
now fall, both feet on the ground.
Oh how it’s sad, the fate of those lovers!
We tell ourselves, at the end of a few years,
because you always begin to say adieu,
from the moment of the first kiss.