Going the Distance

A year into my first proper relationship and I was a bit out of my depth.  I was in London, he was in Leeds and a year of weekend meetings followed.  He would catch the coach to London one weekend and I would get the train to Leeds the following weekend.  I got to know Leeds train station and Victoria coach station very well.

I didn’t feel very welcome in his house in Leeds.  His friends were a bit reserved but above all it was a house of 4 lads.  It wasn’t very homely and washing up never happened.  However we were getting used to the situation of our weekend travels when Jack applied for a job with the Royal Antarctic Survey.  Yes, seriously, the Royal Antarctic Survey.

You couldn't get a great deal more remote from a girlfriend in London.

You couldn’t get a great deal more remote from a girlfriend in London.

‘Moving to Leeds wasn’t far enough away?’  I asked.  ‘What does your family think about it?’

‘They think it would be an amazing opportunity,’ he replied, ‘My mum says I will always regret it if I don’t give it a go.’

I had never been all that sure that she liked me. The first time I visited their house, she turned to the dog and said,

‘Well Gonzo?  Shall we let her stay?’

However like all mums she wanted what was best for Jack.  He had studied Marine Biology.  That was one of the things I liked about him.  I had always enjoyed Biology in school and very nearly took it to A Level.  It was a subject I might even have been studying if I hadn’t gone down the route of languages and literature.  I loved the fact that he could tell me things I genuinely found interesting and that he was studying how sea urchins moved for his thesis.  We went to the Natural History Museum and visited aquariums and he told me cool facts about fish that glowed in the dark.  It was like dating a National Geographic Magazine!  However it was a very limited field.  To get a job that was directly related to the degree, you’d need to be one of the students who excelled.  He wasn’t one of them – competent, by no means unintelligent, not hugely original and not one of the ones who would be invited to stay on and carry out research.  While living in Leeds, he was scouring the broadsheets job adverts for something where he could use his qualifications in Biology and he wasn’t finding much.  He was working in an airless lab, sieving soil and providing data to a road building company on soil composition.  He was very bored and not a little fed up too.  The Royal Antarctic Survey was a bit extreme but it was the first thing that had caught his eye and captured his interest.  He asked if I would let him go, if his application was successful.

Jack and I sat in bed talking about the practicalities of him working in Antarctica, how at the time (this being pre-internet) he would only be allowed 1 airmail letter every month and that included hearing from his family too.  It seemed pretty clear to me that as things stood if he did get the job, that would be it, unless he was coming back for something committed.

‘OK,’ I said eventually, ‘if you get the job, you can go, but if you do, I need you to be coming back for something definite.  Let’s get engaged.’

He agreed and with very little idea of what exactly marriage entailed when it comes to keeping a relationship going long term, we hugged each other and basked in naïve happiness that we were going to get married and were now engaged.

My first boyfriend and THE FEAR

‘I’ve got a boyfriend! I’ve got a boyfriend!’

I rang my parents, I wrote to my school friends, I wrote to my sister.  I was so excited, I turned back into a teenager.  From kissing, we moved pretty quickly to sleeping together and while our first attempts at sex didn’t go as planned, after about the third attempt things were most definitely looking up.

A further week, and in the middle of a seminar on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, I realised I was in love.  Full on hearts and flowers, makes you feel a bit queasy in a good way, can’t eat, want to be with them all the time.  I went home to his room where we spent every evening now (his bed was marginally bigger than mine) and told him.  All sorts of things could have gone wrong here but I was in luck again.  Jack had realised he loved me too.

From that point, it was LOVE in big capitals. We barely managed to stagger out of bed to lectures.  I wore his clothes so I could smell him when he wasn’t with me.  I met his sister.  I heard all about his past girlfriends and he heard about my lack of boyfriends and the coal shed.  I met his friends in the third year and sat with them in the Union Bar.  He met my parents.  I met his.

I would love to say that we were love’s young dream for the next year but unfortunately once I’d got my boyfriend and should have been revelling in enjoying being with him, I went a bit mental.  A terrible fear came over me, that Jack loved me more than I loved him.  I felt, although I didn’t want to, that I should break up with him for his own sake.  With the benefit of hindsight, I now think it was becoming apparent that the relationship had a use by date and I was becoming aware that I could, if I wasn’t careful, make him very unhappy indeed when we hit that date.  But it had taken so long to actually get a boyfriend, I couldn’t bear to give him up now.  You might ask why on earth I was worrying about the end of our relationship when we’d only been together a couple of months but it was always on our minds that he was in third year, the end of the year was coming, he would sit his finals and we had to think about what to do next.

Jack wanted to move to Leeds with his best friend from school.  They’d had a summer hanging out in Leeds where his friend was at university, before he came back for his final year.  It had taken on fairly legendary proportions in his mind, like a 1980s American coming of age teen movie.  He hadn’t really enjoyed his university years in London that much, it’s too big a city to have the college culture of a university town, and he wanted a bit more carefree living with the boys.  I had no other friends at my college.  The people I met at lectures and seminars were passing acquaintances to meet for coffee but no one who was going to become a life long friend that I would be happy flat sharing with.   Jack was adamant he wouldn’t stay in London.  We didn’t want to break up either.  My school friend Nia saved my bacon by putting me in touch with a friend from her course who had been living out of halls in Essex at the home of a schoolfriend and who had, like me, not found a group of people to share a flat with.  Maelle, who is a proud Breton but will also admit to being described as French, couldn’t come over to flat hunt so she trusted me and my dad with the job of finding a flat for us both and we came up trumps with a flat in the upper two storeys of a big Georgian house in Hackney.

Jack, meanwhile, moved into a terraced brick house in Leeds with his mates for a year of scoring drugs (conveniently 2 of his housemates were dealing) and what he hoped would be fun, clubbing and enjoying the city.  A year in, and on not too certain footings given my worries of earlier in the year, we were now in a long distance relationship.

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