At the moment, my life revolves around the new book I’m writing. I have a copy of the editorial schedule taped on the wall in front of my computer — when the next draft is due for submission to the publisher, when the next round of edits will make their way back to me. Back and forth, on repeat for the next seven months.
In my attempts to at least try and maintain some semblance of a work-life balance, I’ve scheduled not one, but two holidays this summer. The first of these was a week in Brighton with my boyfriend, primarily chosen because 1. there were flights out of Cork (Yes, I have turned into my mother. It was bound to happen someday) and 2. it would require little-to-no planning on my behalf. A flight from Cork to Gatwick, a twenty-minute train journey to Brighton, and a ten-minute walk to our Airbnb. Easy Peasy.
As it turned out, we had a wonderful time. We ate excellent food, we sat on the beach with ice-cream cones dripping down our fingers, we rode the roller-coasters at Brighton Pier, we wandered around the narrow, winding lanes, hand in hand.
For the last two days, we went to a spa hotel thirty minutes outside the city, dozing under sun loungers before practicing our handstands in the swimming pool like children. “We had the best time,” I told my friend when I came home. “We were together 24/7 and it still wasn’t enough. I really miss him now.”
She laughed in surprise. “Marry this guy,” she said, staring at me as if I had been invaded by an alien body-snatcher. “I never thought I’d hear you say that about anyone.”
This woman has been my friend for thirty years and she is aware that I am the quintessential extrovert, that I become exhausted from spending too much time with other people.
This isn’t a new phenomenon; I’ve always liked my own space. When I was sick as a child and my parents said I could sleep in their bed if I wanted, I would react in horror, begging to be left to my own devices. If I went to friends’ houses for playdates, I would ignore their pleas to play and make a beeline for their bookshelves, thumbing through their well-worn novels to see if they had any I hadn’t read already.
My mother was called up to the school for a parent/teacher meeting because the teacher was concerned that I didn’t play with the other kids at lunch time, all I wanted to do was sit in a corner and read a book.
There’s a scene in the 1994 movie interview with the Vampire where Brad Pitt’s character is trapped in a coffin and he’s screaming and shouting, banging at the lid in desperation, terrified at the prospect of being left there for the rest of his immortal life and I distinctly remember thinking to myself — that doesn’t seem so bad. It could be quite restful, actually.
Because of this, I wasn’t daunted by the prospect of a long-distance relationship. We promised to see each other every weekend, taking turns to travel. Castleknock to Clonakilty isn’t that far, I said, we can do this. And it’s been mostly fine for the last year and a half that we have been dating. In Dublin, we go for walks in Phoenix Park, we go to the theatre, we have brunch in hipster cafes where we say we’ll be different this time and order pancakes and yet somehow always seem to end up with poached eggs and avocado.
In West Cork, I take him to walk the dunes in Inchydoney and cycling through Glengarriff nature reserve, we have Guinness and mussels in a small pub in Baltimore, we go shopping in farmer’s markets to buy cheese and olives and sundried tomatoes for a picnic on Sherkin Island.
But every time he leaves, I don’t breathe a sigh of relief like I normally do when people leave after a weekend visit, secretly glad to return to solitude. I walk out to the road behind him and wave forlornly until his car disappears out of sight, and I count down the days until I see him again. I never knew that being in a relationship could be like this.
I always thought that love meant drama; holding my breath until the other person texted me, waiting until they decided I was worthy of acknowledging. I thought love meant what I saw as ‘excitement’ but what was really anxiety and uncertainty, never knowing where I stood.
I didn’t realise that when it’s the right person, love is so, so easy.
You won’t have to waste hours wondering how they ‘really’ feel about you because they will show you in more ways you could ever imagine. I think of how I hurt myself over the years, both physically and emotionally, and I realise that it was only when I began to heal that I was ready to allow someone this kind into my life.
He is my best friend and my greatest ally, and the person who makes me laugh the most in this world. When I’m around him, I feel as comfortable in my own skin as I do when I’m alone — something I never thought was possible. I have wanted so much in my life, I couldn’t count the needs I have had. Now, all I want is a little house by the sea, a room of my own in which to write, and this person by my side.
No Big Deal by Bethany Rutter. This YA novel about a stylish, intelligent, fat teenager called Emily is as funny and warm as it is genuinely empowering.
Top Marks for Murder by Robin Stevens. This series of books (think Enid Blyton meets Agatha Christie) is billed as middle-grade, but readers of all ages will adore them. I, for one, can’t get enough of Wells and Wong’s detective adventures.