"The crying stopped last week - that's something, which is nice."
My friend Les delves into the emotional turmoil of his past romantic relationship ending. He has recently broken up with his girlfriend of two years, a disorienting time in a person's life, but he is very reflective of his feelings and their meaning.
It is a Sunday afternoon in late January and we lay on the couch in his parents' spare room in Surrey, stuffing our faces with Celebrations, drinking white wine and playing video games. I haven't seen him in over a year since he and his now ex (who shall not be named) paid me a visit in Madrid where I resided for a year. I wasn't nervous to see him after months apart. He is one of those friends you always feel comfortable around.
"Everything remind you of them," he says as soon as I finish setting up my recorder. "She and I went to Canada - we saw these beautiful black bears together on our way back from this beautiful, beautiful day when she said she wanted to marry me and I felt the same. You go from what you think is having everything and then little problems become big problems and what would with a sober mind be a resolvable issue was not on an emotional."
It's been a difficult few weeks for Les. Work (he is a local journalist) and getting over a breakup have taken a toll on him, causing sleep deprivation and uneasiness.
"I don't get to relax anymore. Now that's the other thing, your soul relaxes when you're with that person," he explains. He instantaneously dives into his own world, seemingly forgetting I am there, as if ready to get supressed feelings off his chest.
"We broke up in late November, early December. There was a Christmas thing and that was particularly difficult because we talked about our plans for Christmas together and then those weren't happening and instead I find myself sat there alone." Loneliness, he says, is the closest thing to describing the feeling of heartbreak. "You are alone, truly alone in your greatest fears and my greatest fear is to be alone," he pauses.
"Nothing hurt like that before, nobody has ever hurt me like that before and she didn't even do anything. You wake up, she's THERE, you go to sleep she's THERE, it's tormenting."
"Nothing hurt like that before, nobody has ever hurt me like that before and she didn't even do anything. You wake up, she's there, you go to sleep she's there, it's tormenting. It doesn't stop, it's there all the time. And you can't control it, you're completely out of control. You've got no...there is no one there. Doesn't matter how much you talk about it, doesn't matter who you talk to, doesn't matter how much you push yourself to run up a hill, doesn't matter any of that, she's still there."
Les is filterless, which is one of the reasons why he is such a refreshing conversation partner. We've had our fights, but it is difficult for me to imagine him engage in one-upmanship when proving his point, I assume he is too empathetic for that. Unlike many of us he doesn't seem to let his ego get fueled by desire to demonstrate his win of the battle. On the contrary, he's the first to admit he's defeated.
"I don't smile as much as I used to, I'm quite sad. But that's because you don't have that reassurance. You make this person your home, you make your future up in your mind and your life's path is swayed towards matching with theirs and you make every effort to make that future happen. They become the other part of you.
"She made me feel like I was the only person in the world and she was my special person. And all of a sudden you've got to come up with a way to feel special for yourself and it doesn't make sense because it's hard. Your ego is linked to them - when they smile, you smile, but you smile big. All of a sudden that light is gone," he explains.
"She made me feel like I was the ONLY person in the world and she was my special person. All of a sudden you've got to come up with a way to feel special for yourself and it doesn't make sense because it's hard. Your ego is linked to them - when they smile, you smile, but you smile BIG. And all of a sudden that light is gone."
For anyone who's ever felt heartbroken, his words will sting a little. My mind wanders to year 2017 when he and I cheerfully rode to the Mayfield Lavender Farm on his motorcycle, ridiculously refusing to pay the one pound entrance fee and laughing at the silliest stories. His wide smile lifts everyone's mood in seconds so seeing it fade hurts a little. Despite the pain, Les gladly reminisces about the beautiful times he and his ex-girlfriend spent together and cracks a joke here and there.
"We used to dance and cook together, she was a brilliant cook! I'm not too bad so I get to chop all the chicken," he laughs. Several incidents like these stand out in Les' memory.
"The things we would do together were just weird. One time we saw a guy play an apple box for twenty minutes to a bunch of silent people observing him as if he was a f'''ing genius. He wasn't, he was a bloke tapping on an apple box with a stone! But she was the perfect person to [do it with]. And I know that since we've broken up, she went to do feminist knitting," his voice grows louder now.
"And it's frustrating, because of all the little dates people have suggested, I really want to go to a feminist knitting class, because it would be so much fun to do it with her!"
Les reminisces about the individuality of their relationship: "We talked in a way that was completely different. I don't get to have conversations like that anymore and I miss that so much. That's the point, that's the person that she was, she had these wonderful interests everywhere! I use her in the past but realistically, that's a defensive measure, because to me she is.
"She was an idiot, she was a wonderful, wonderful idiot. They know you in a way that only they can know you and for that, you'll always be slightly alone."
Months since our interview Les has found affection in someone else's arms. In a world and time when men are considered strong based on their insensitive demeanour, Les' vulnerability is admirable and his words will resonate with many, even those who refuse to wear their heart on their sleeve. Heartbreak and loneliness are universal feelings we all have to face in our lifetime and hopefully don't feel ashamed to admit that we do. Masculine vulnerability is yet to be destigmatised and to me, Les is one of those men who leads the way in doing so.
Episode 12: A Place for UsWYCH Podcast
Episode 11: No Home Like YouWYCH Podcast
Episode 10: Music to My EarsWYCH Podcast
Episode 9: Vini e PaniniWYCH Podcast
Episode 7: My Place in the WorldWYCH Podcast
🏳️🌈Episode 8: Change of Heart🏳️🌈WYCH Podcast
Episode 6: The Summer You DiedWYCH Podcast
Episode 4: MemoriesWYCH Podcast
Episode 5: Taking ChancesWYCH Podcast
Episode 3: Starting OverWYCH Podcast
Episode 1: Impressions from a Foreign HomelandWYCH Podcast
Episode 2: A Journey to Self-LoveWYCH Podcast