Romantic relationships are fascinating things, aren’t they?
When you really think about it, the true depths of them are incomprehensible. They are totally unique to those in them.
Your firsts, your lasts.
Your ‘norms’ and routines.
The secrets you share.
The things that unite you and, equally, the things that set you apart.
And yes, the stupid voices and cringey nicknames.
We might not think our own individual love stories are spectacular, but they are. They’re made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny little extrodinary elements: memories, tears, laughs, songs, anecdotes, photographs...
It's a bond like no other. A tight-knit team against the world.
If your relationship – however you choose to define it – is one built on overall happiness, then it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. People are always going to speculate.
A 'conventional' relationship doesn’t always equal a happy one. Sometimes, relationships that are so far removed from the ‘normal’ set-up are brimming with more happiness than we care to comprehend.
At the end of the day, it’s what works for the both of you.
'I'm content just with the riches that you bring...' 🎼
My own relationship has caused some low-key controversy* over the years, and has, at times, been at the epicentre of mindless gossip and ill-informed judgements.
*(... I promise I didn't mean for that to sound so dramatic! I can confirm that we are most definitely NOT Cheshire's answer to Harry & Megs! By controversy, I mean a few judgey comments were tossed our way. I'm not going to contact Oprah or write a book about it!)
For a brief spell, we were newly-wed and living apart, having registered interest in our future-home just six days before Covid struck the UK with a vengeance.
Lockdown hit and we were confined to our parent's houses, apart. It was tough, and not at all how we had envisioned starting our marriage.
We bought the house in the middle of lockdown and eventually moved in after months of uncertainty. It was an insanely stressful time, and we split up shortly afterwards, although we remained in the house together. It was never supposed to be a permanent fixture, but neither of us had a clue what to do next. We'd spent years saving for our dream home - now we had it, but our relationship had chosen this untimely moment to fall apart.
I think we thought we'd awkwardly muddle along for a year or so, do the house up, sell it, and then go our separate ways.
But in the midst of this initially far-from-ideal situation, we built something far, far stronger than anything we had experienced over the previous four years.
We really got into the whole 'house thing,' and it became so much more than just the prospect of making a profit from a bad situation. The house suddenly stopped feeling like a compressing set of walls, and started to feel surprisingly like home.
Along the way, we got to know each other better than ever before.
We stripped our relationship right back to its foundations and became friends again, which was an integral basis for our re-growth.
'When we woke up that morning, we had no way of knowing that in a matter of hours we'd change the way we were going... Where would I be now, if we'd never met?' 🎼
We might have fallen out of love with one another in a romantic sense, but even throughout this phase, Josh remained my very best friend. I won't pretend that there weren't extremely difficult times where we both said and did stupid things, but our friendship always prevailed.
There were many people who just couldn't get their heads around our situation, and I understand that, but you never truly know what you'll make of a scenario until you're in it yourself.
The majority of my friends declared that they couldn't stay friends with an ex, but I never saw the issue.
Throwing away all of our history and abolishing our friendship just wasn’t an option for us.
As I've said in previous articles; my relationship didn't end as a result of cheating, harm or abuse - it just didn't work. And that's absolutely fine. But why should there be any animosity? Why shouldn't we remain friends?
We still like one another, even if the love fizzled out.
I’m not a relationship person – I never have been, and I doubt I ever will be. Deep down, I think I always knew this about myself. How lucky I am to have found someone who understands this about me.
As an only child, I have grown up being very independent and self-sufficient. I have always preferred my own company, and I guess the idea of relationships brought about a certain sense of fear that all of this could change.
What I failed to realise is that a good relationship needn’t change you, only enhance you.
The first time around, I resented the fact that I felt I could no longer go on my solo trips abroad, or spend a day off alone doing all of the things I wanted to do. I wrongly presumed that a relationship had to revolve around two people sharing absolutely everything, and I struggled with this.
I squirmed uncomfortably for four years, feeling as though I was losing myself. In reality, the only person allowing myself to get lost was me.
Josh was never controlling, and while he likes spending time with me, he also understands that I need more time alone than most. A lot of people wouldn’t understand this and may end up feeling rejected.
Being with Josh taught me that while I will probably always value my solitude, being in a partnership can also be fun.
I think we often forget what a priveldege it is to be in a good relationship. A good relationship is not a perfect one, for they simply don't exist in the way we believe them to, despite what social media might have us believe.
The 'perfect' relationship is defined by each and every one of us, and, like relationships themselves, the definition is totally unique to us.
Being in a relationship requires a certain sense of vulnerability. As time goes on, the outer layers of ourselves fall away. It's almost impossible to keep up any level of pretence when you spend so much time with someone. Relationships often require us to see one another at our very best, but also at our very worst, too.
'Now how can he have her heart?' 🎼
Josh knows and understands me better than anyone else. He's stood by me through every one of my highs and lows over the past seven years.
Last year, he found me lying in the strip of sunlight on the floor in the spare room, crying into the carpet, digging my nails into my stomach because dealing with anorexia was just too hard that day.
It's not about knowing the 'right thing to say,' because how could anybody really know? What it is about, however, is simply being there when the going gets tough. It's about being a rock, a constant, and a cheerleader, no matter what.
And while I do pride myself upon being strong, sometimes you really can't make it on your own, no matter how hard you try.
It's a pretty big deal when you find someone you trust enough to witness your rock bottom.
Mental illnesses in relationships can be testing for both sides, but I have personally found that opening up to one another entirely has made us so much more invincible as a couple.
'And they'll meet one day far away, and say I wish I knew you... I wish I knew you before.' 🎼
I believe that friendship is the underlying strength in any relationship. Friendship is often how a lot of relationships actually start out, and so it's a grave shame that many don't succeed in retaining this. Somewhere along the way, this imperative ingredient is lost.
Quite inevitably, things will get tough from time to time; that's a fact of life. You'll argue, you'll shout, you'll lose your head. You'll say things you don't mean. You'll wonder if this is even worth the fight anymore. And sometimes, it's not. There's no shame in that. But retaining that mutual respect is so important. Remember why you liked one another in the first place. At some point, we have all been guilty of taking our partners for granted, and in this, it's easy to forget what amazing individuals they are outside of how we view them as our 'other half.'
I can honestly say that Josh makes me laugh every single day. Like, proper belly laugh. Nobody in the world makes me laugh like he does.
Most nights, we turn the light off and chat way into the night, often ending up hiccuping with laughter.
When we first split up, I went on a number of unsuccessful dates. While all of the lads were lovely, they just didn't make me laugh; not in the way that Josh can. More often than not, I'd come home from said dates and Josh and I would spend the night cackling together over how tragic they'd been.
"What do you mean he wasn't impressed by the Superman cape you made for the hamster?!"
It was during these moments that it fully dawned on me that Josh is 'my person' - the jigsaw piece that fits my own.
It doesn't matter if that connection is classed as friendly or romantic - I know I've met the right person for me one way or another.
I mean, who else in the world would surprise me with a 'homemade rave' on New Year's Eve?
Who else would search the internet for a rare TY Beanie Baby that I loved as a child and order it for me?
Who else would accompany me on mad 35 mile walking challenges?
Who else would tolerate my 7am Ashanti singing sessions on their day off?
Who else would buy me Arctic Monkeys tickets because they know how much I fancy Alex Turner?
Believe me when I say that I am the very last person to quote cheesy mantras, but this one couldn't ring truer: it's not about finding the perfect person, it's about finding the perfect in that person.
We met while both working for the travel company TUI; I took his job!
Our firsts, our lasts.
We were each other's first 'proper' relationship.
Our ‘norms’ and routines.
Our summer routine of walking up to the nearby farm shop for a fresh milkshake after work once a week.
Putting the tree up, having a festive buffet and watching Home Alone 2 on the first weekend of December.
“I don’t mind you calling me Wiggles, but I don’t like it when you call me Wigs and Chips”
Unplugging phone chargers when not in use...
The secrets we share.
He knows everything about me - from childhood, right up to the extent of my daily struggles with anorexia.
The things that unite us and, equally, the things that set us apart.
He's the most laidback person I've ever met, whereas I'm constantly 100 miles an hour. In many ways, our differences compliment one another. He's taught me to slow down and relax.
And yes, the stupid voices and cringey nicknames.
"What are you? A P... P.... PRINCE!!!!"
'Now I know why my Mamma, she taught me to be true - she knew just around the corner, was somebody like you.' 🎼
Cara Jasmine Bradley