When I was 23, I had a one-night stand that lasted five years. I went on a ski trip with three school friends, all of us single and two of us recently dumped. We sang All Saints' "Never Ever" on the ski lift by day and shed our ski jackets to dance on tables in bars by night. On the penultimate night, I saw someone I liked the look of and, with a lot of Dutch courage, sashayed over in my salopettes. I don’t think we’d even exchanged names by the time we kissed.
All four of us on the trip slept with someone that night, which called for a brief strategy meeting about how to fit these boys into our already cramped 1 bedroom chalet. My friend took the bedroom, I took the sofa bed, another selflessly accepted the boot room, and the last stayed out. The following morning, I gave the guy my number (I don’t think he’d asked for it) and we vaguely agreed to meet up back in London.
Three years later, we were on a plane to a new continent to start a new life. By then we shared a flat, a big, active social group, and were deeply embedded in each other’s family lives. I had felt unsure at various points in the relationship, but whenever the thought crossed my mind, we’d have a really nice day together. We never had that 'conversation chemistry' where you just want to talk all night, which for whatever reason was my idea of 'true love' at the time, but the relationship was loving and relaxing, and the attraction remained strong. I think I was always trying to get something more from him, and I sort of thought it might go wrong when we moved away, with no friends or family to fill in the gaps. Eighteen months later, after nearly five years, I behaved badly and ended the relationship in a drawn-out way that I regret because I couldn’t decide what I wanted.
He was angry for a long time after the break-up, which was three years ago now, and I fully expected him to say no when I emailed and asked if he’d answer 29 highly personal questions about our relationship for an article. And I fully expected his answers to be brutal, if by some chance he said yes. But it seems I underestimated him, in more ways than one.
1. Describe the night we met…
I can't – I was too hammered. It was in a bar in the French Alps. I had been to a dangerous rum place beforehand and I remember kissing you inappropriately against a wall.
2. What did you think of me at the beginning?
I didn't understand you at all. I remember thinking you were cool and mysterious to the point where you seemed otherworldly. I had this idea, that's impossible to explain, that you didn't shower – it wasn't a hygiene thing at all but because you were so serene, I just couldn’t imagine you doing normal things... nope, it is actually impossible to explain.
3. When do you think we were happiest together?
Probably in the middle two-and-a-half years of the relationship and when we lived together. I thought I was set for life.
4. What's your favourite memory of me?
Spooning in bed every night – there was nowhere I'd rather have been. Also that time you fell over when we were running for something (lol).
5. When did it start to go wrong?
When we moved overseas at very different points in our careers – you were finishing something and I was just starting something. Suddenly it was just us – no family, no friends, no work – and that was a big strain on everything.
6. Why do you think, ultimately, that we broke up?
I failed to support you properly during a family crisis and afterwards when you were stressed. Sometime after that, you started talking regularly to two other guys (I think you were basically having emotional affairs with them) and lied to me about it. We muddled along for a while and then you made us go on a break, slept with one of the guys and then made us get back together. You never let me back in emotionally after that and we broke up properly a month or two later. I probably did some awful things, like tell your best mate's sister she was boring, but that is how I remember it.
7. Describe the day that we broke up...
We arranged to meet in a park, but my phone had run out of battery. So I just wandered around with a Magnum (white), not desperate to find you because I knew what was coming. Eventually, we sat on the grass and talked, and then said goodbye. I didn't know what to do after that because I had no home in London, so I leaned up against a tree and cried, and then cycled back to where I was staying in a daze. I haven't been back to that park.
8. How long did it take you to 'get over' me / the break-up?
Some of it was quick and some of it will always be there (I don't think I'm ever going to be like, 'Remember when we broke up – that was lol') but the simple answer is about 18 months.
9. How do you feel about me now?
I'm at peace with everything. I don't want to be best mates but that would be true for any ex of many years – I think there's too much water under the bridge and I'm not convinced that kind of friendship would be healthy. But I wish you health, wealth, happiness and many dogs.
10. What was I like as a girlfriend?
Overall, you were great. You could be very cold and distant, and I often felt I was playing second fiddle to your family (fair), friends (sometimes fair) or work (nahhh). But I loved you very much, trusted you completely and don't remember ever feeling actually pissed off – irritated, maybe – with you in five years. You were great craic, funny and always up for stuff, and your friends and family were cool. I was convinced we would spend our lives together. We were a solid couple.
11. What were my best traits as a person?
Sense of humour; loyal to family and friends; kind; hardworking; conscientious; generous; animal-loving.
12. What were my worst traits?
Starting 'deep' conversations at 11.30pm on weeknights; never sticking to anything you said in the deep conversations anyway; taking work too seriously; not being able to be alone; aggressive driving.
13. What do you think was unique about our relationship?
I felt like you knew me better than I knew myself, which seemed rare.
14. What did you learn about women from going out with me?
Everything! I don't think I knew anything about real women before we met.
15. What did you learn in general, going out with me?
I learned a lot about what kind of work/life balance I wanted to strike from watching you work too hard and get too stressed. And about how I wanted certain family dynamics to work.
16. What do you think I learned from going out with you?
I felt like it was my mission to teach you that being as happy and stress-free as possible is way more important than being a massive success. I'm not sure I managed it.
17. What do you think we lacked in our sex life?
Do you think stuff was lacking? I think the sex was always good even when everything else was collapsing, but I suppose you can always be more communicative and adventurous in sex.
18. How many times did you seriously think about cheating on me?
I don't know. I never plotted to cheat on you or got close to it (the closest I came was groping someone when paralytically drunk, which was mortifying, but I don't honestly count that as 'thinking').
19. If we hadn’t broken up when we did, do you think the relationship would have lasted?
I'm not sure. Of course we could have kept going if we'd both really worked at it but I'm not sure we'd have been as happy as we had been, all things said and done.
20. Do you think you were a good boyfriend?
For the first six months or so, no – I was an unthinking moron – but when it got serious I think I was. I really tried to be, anyway.
21. If you could go back, what would you have done differently in the relationship?
I would have fully supported you during the aforementioned family crisis and the aftermath. And joined a gym, built up my upper body and hit your current boyfriend with a stick.
22. What did you do differently in your next relationship after me?
I have tried to talk less nonsense and be less annoying, and be more thoughtful and supportive when necessary. I've also never made my current girlfriend go to bed at 10pm because I have a Sunday League football game at 2pm the next day.
23. What did you tell your girlfriend after me, about me and our relationship?
I had a small rant about you and why we broke up on the night bus once, which I slightly regret. But, really, nothing much because she's never asked.
24. Who would you say put more effort into the relationship, you or me?
In its death throes, definitely me. Before that, I think you edged it.
25. How did your family react to the break-up?
They were upset but I'm from a big family and they've seen it all before, so I can't say they were heartbroken or anything.
26. How did your friends react?
I think a few of them were upset/disappointed but you've stayed in touch with those ones and I'm sure they knew that would be possible.
27. Describe a typical day in our life aged 35 if we had stayed together…
We'd be living in the countryside or a leafy suburb, likely doing the same job because we have the same profession, and with a dog and a cat who are best friends. And some babies. I'd wake up early, walk the dog, work from home and have dinner ready for you when you came back from some cool event. We'd drink a glass of wine outside or watch TV by the fire (depending on whether it was spring/summer or autumn/winter).
28. Do you still think I’m a nice person?
Yes of course mate. I mean you're not Jesus or Harry Kane – you made mistakes. But so did I.
29. What do you feel when you see me now?
It's comfortable and a little bit exciting, like putting on your winter coat and finding a tenner in the pocket. It can also get a little uncomfortable after a while, like the sun has just come out again.