It's easier to fall in love than out of it when the memories are everywhere - Alexander Brown

We met at a film festival. I was covering it for radio, she was filming it for television.
Broken hearts are hard to mend. Picture: Getty ImagesBroken hearts are hard to mend. Picture: Getty Images
Broken hearts are hard to mend. Picture: Getty Images

I joked about how charming and funny I was, both as a brag but also a not so subtle need for assurance, almost urging her to agree. She rolled her eyes, and I stepped closer.

She got me a trial shift at the pub she worked at, and in return I gave her years of my life.

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We were together through multiple jobs, homes and attempts at Duolingo.

When I got so sick on holiday I couldn’t stand she insisted on still sharing my bed, and helped me walk despite the comparative weight of my frame.

After a family tragedy I travelled across the world to support her quietly among family I did not understand.

She was wickedly intelligent, and had such a love for animals I became the sort of irritant who says “friends not food”.

It was a relationship I thought would be my last, the only person who made me think having children was anything but a compromise of our ambitions.

And then not one day, but over many days, it was over, and that was that.

Except it wasn’t. Relationships don’t simply end, you can’t just go your separate ways and that’s it.

The end is a slow unstitching of lives woven into each other, from council tax to box sets, private jokes to restaurants you discovered together.

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It’s losing the person you called when walking, the first thought you had waking up and the last before you fall asleep.

Connotations don’t simply disappear, and you still see things you want to share, only to delete them before sending.

I remember going on safari to South Africa years later, only to have a panic attack because I wasn’t sharing the experience with her.

Even now there are songs I cannot hear, art I can’t face, places I will not go.

Since then I have enjoyed a rendition of love akin to Chinese whispers, happy relationships that always felt like blurred impressions of the real thing.

We spoke for a long time after breaking up, blocking each other to make it easier only to undo it because letting go is significantly harder than lying to yourself that it can get better.

During lockdown we called frequently but avoided discussing our romantic status so as not to hurt each other, like getting into a warm bath you know will get cold eventually.

And now her birthday approaches, the only day that fills me with more dread than when I have to pay rent.

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Do I message something simple, formal, as if she’s not a part of me I can’t cut out?

Or should I write something overly familiar and loving, sending all the warmth I have and risk starting a conversation?

Is it better to simply say nothing, then feel like a bastard if she messages me for my birthday?

I am forever telling friends to stop messaging their exes, and to focus on the reality of why it didn’t work, rather than romanticising the highlights.

Yet I continue to wonder what if, without ever really wanting to try again.

Letting go means letting go, and one day I’ll start following my own advice.

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