Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

January 06, 202412 min read

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Everything I Know about Love by Dolly Alderton was a fascinating read of her life, navigating through relationships and friendships in her 20s. Some of it was so wildly out of my own experience, and some of it touched me deeply.

I slowly began to realize that it’s best for those first dates to happen in real life rather than in written form, otherwise the disparity between who you imagine the other person to be and who they actually are grows wider and wider.

When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.

He ended up with a woman with her own adult identity and a preoccupation with her work

I felt our relationship had been one of the most enriching experiences of my life and I knew he would always be a huge part of the person I had become, but we had outgrown each other. I knew I had to let him go so he could be with someone who really wanted to be in a relationship with all the love and commitment he deserved.

Years later, I would discover that constantly behaving in a way that makes you feel shameful means you simply will not be able to take yourself seriously and your self-esteem will plummet lower and lower.

I would like to pause the story a moment to talk about ‘nothing will change’. I’ve heard it said to me repeatedly by women I love during my twenties when they move in with boyfriends, get engaged, move abroad, get married, get pregnant. ‘Nothing will change.’ It drives me bananas. Everything will change. Everything will change. The love we have for each other stays the same, but the format, the tone, the regularity and the intimacy of our friendship will change for ever.

But little did I know how much work it takes to sustain that kind of intimacy with a friend as you get older – it doesn’t just stick around coincidentally.

But I never chose to meet Scott when I was twenty-two. I wasn’t looking for a husband.

Some women get lucky and some women don’t. There are good guys and bad guys. It’s sheer luck who you end up with and how you get treated.

On long, lonely nights when your fears crawl over your brain like cockroaches and you can’t get to sleep, dream of the time you were loved – in another lifetime, one of toil and blood. Remember how it felt to find shelter in someone’s arms. Hope that you’ll find it again

You are realizing the mundanity of life. You are finally understanding how little point there is to anything. You are moving out of the realm of fantasy ‘when I grow up’ and adjusting to the reality that you’re there; it’s happening. And it wasn’t what you thought it might be. You are not who you thought you’d be.

I tried to imagine what it would feel like to find a sense of security in the person you went to bed with – a notion that was so foreign to me. I looked at the small gaps in between all their bodies and imagined the places that lay between them; the stories they had written together; the memories and the language and the habits and the trust and the future dreams they would have discussed while drinking wine late at night on the sofa. I wondered if I would ever have that with someone or if I was even built to float in a sea of love.

I realized that places are kingdoms of memories and relationships; that the landscape is only ever a reflection of how you feel inside

Rip open hearts with your fury and tear down egos with your modesty. Be the person you wish you could be, not the person you feel you are doomed to be. Let yourself run away with your feelings. You were made so that someone could love you. Let them love you.’

‘You have to live. You don’t have a choice. You move forward or you go under.’

I was grateful for understanding in that moment that life can really be as simple as just breathing in and out.

I thought I had a fear of falling, but really I just didn’t know who I was. And the stuff I used to fill up that empty space no longer worked; it just made me feel even more removed from myself.

what was chipping away at the void that I didn’t want to turn into a quarry. I was more honest; I told people when I was upset or offended or angry and valued the sense of calm that came with integrity, paid with the small price of an uncomfortable conversation. I became more self-aware, so inevitably I made a tit of myself for the amusement of other people far less.

I felt steadier; I felt stronger. The doors inside me unlocked one by one, I emptied the rooms of all my shit and talked her through every piece of old toot I found in there; then I threw everything out. Every room I unlocked, I knew I was getting closer. To a sense of self, a sense of calm. And a sense of home.

You know, that life isn’t happening elsewhere,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t exist in another realm. Your relationship with that man was seven years long. That was it, that’s what it was.’ ‘I know.’ ‘Your life is here, now. You’re not about to live a tracing-paper copy of it.’ ‘Yeah, I suppose it’s better not to dwell on what could have been.’

Pinch that little cheek of yours,’ he said as if he’d known me for years. ‘You don’t need someone else to tell you what to do or who to be. You’re your own mother now. You have to listen to what you want.’

Meeting them in the flesh for the first time was always jarring, but getting to know someone was just the art of closing that gap; that ‘chasm’ he referred to. That’s the entire premise of online dating.

Why do you find it so easy?’ I asked her. ‘I was always so jealous of how easy you found it with Scott. You were just there, in, boom. Committed.’ ‘I don’t know, really.’ ‘When you were engaged, did you ever think about how you’d never sleep with anyone else? Did that never bother you?’ ‘Do you know,’ she said, ‘now that you’ve said that, I don’t think I ever thought about it once.’ ‘That can’t be true,’ I said, jumping like a child as I walked so my fingertips touched a tree’s branch. ‘Honestly – I know it sounds weird – but I don’t think that thought ever crossed my mind,’ she said. ‘All I wanted was a future with him.’ ‘I want to know what that feels like, to be truly committed to someone, rather than having one foot out the door.’

A month passed – I felt nothing but total, unbridled relief. I deleted the dating apps on my phone. I deleted the numbers I booty-called. I stopped replying to ex-boyfriends who would send me messages at three a.m. asking seemingly casual questions like ‘How’s it hangin’ m’lady?’ or ‘What’s the dealio smith?’ I stopped stalking potential conquests online; I deleted my Facebook account mainly for this reason. I stopped living with secrets. I stopped with the midnight hours. I invested all my time in my work and my friendships. Two months passed. I discovered what it was to go to a wedding and actually be there to witness your friends getting married, rather than treating it like an eight-hour meat market. I found out what it was like to enjoy the beautiful, bell-like sound of a choir singing in church, and not manically scan the pews, checking the fingers of all the men to work out which were unmarried. I learnt how to enjoy the conversation of a man next to me at dinner regardless of his marital status; to resist fighting for the attention of the only single man at the table by saying something inappropraite in a vaugely threating tone of Sid James bawdiness. I saw Leo for the first time in five years at a party and met his new wife - I gave them both a hug, then I left them alone. Harry got engaged - I felt no anger at all. Adam moved in a with a girl - I sent him a text to congratulate him. Their stories had nothing to do with me anymore, I didn’t need their attention. I felt like I was finally jogging on my own path, gathering my own pace and momentum.

I sat on tubes and got lost in my book, rather than trying to catch any man’s eye. I left parties when I wanted to leave them, instead of desperatlely doing circuits of the room until the bitter end in the hope that I’d find someone I fancied. I didn’t go to events just because I knew certain people would be there; I didn’t engineer chance encounters with people I fancied. I went out dancing with Lauren one night and when she was chatted up, instead of trying to find a bloke of my own, I stayed in the center of the dance floor for an hour and danced by myself, sweating and swaying and spinning and spinning.

Because I am enough. My heart is enough. The stories and the sentences twisting around my mind are enough. I am fizzing and frothing and buzzing and exploding. I’m bubbling over and burning up. My early-morning walks and my late-night baths are enough. My loud laugh at the pub is enough. My piercing whistle, my singing in the shower, my double-jointed toes are enough. I am a just-pulled pint with a good, frothy head on it. I am my own universe; a galaxy; a solar system. I am the warm-up act, the main event and the backing singers. And if this is it, if this is all there is – just me and the trees and the sky and the seas – I know now that that’s enough. I am enough. I am enough. The words ricocheted through me, shaking every cell as they travelled. I felt them; I understood them; they fused into my bones. The thought galloped and jumped through my system like a race horse. I called it out to the dark sky. I watched my proclamation bounce from star to star, swinging like Tarzan from carbon to carbon. I am whole and complete. I will never run out. And I am more than enough. (I think they call it a ‘breakthrough’).

The endless seeking. Leads to here. I am enough. I’ve felt this too, on my walks, breathing and exhaling and seeing the blue sky, feeling the breeze. It makes me feel alive. I want to keep doing the things that make me feel alive.

You are the sum total of everything that has happened to you up until that last slurp of that cup of tea you just put down. How your parents hugged you, that thing your first boyfriend once said about your thighs – these are all bricks that have been laid from the soles of your feet up. Your eccentricities, foibles and fuck-ups are a butterfly effect of things you saw on telly, things teachers said to you and the way people have looked at you since the first moment you opened your eyes. Being a detective for your past – tracing back through all of it to get to the source with the help of a professional – can be incredibly useful and freeing.

Everyone should own a Paul Simon album, a William Boyd book and a Wes Anderson film. If those are the only three things you have on your shelf, you will get through the longest, coldest, loneliest night.

And I know how liberating it feels to be loved and accepted with all my flaws in return

It was the home I now carried on my back like a snail. The sense that I was finally in responsible and loving hands.

Take care of yourself, and that is love that will always be there

Break-ups get harder with every year you get older. When you’re young, you lose a boyfriend. As you get older, you lose a life together.

If you lose respect for someone, you won’t be able to fall back in love with them

If you’re doing it for the right reasons and both parties are fully aware of the nature of the encounter, casual sex can be really good. If you’re using it like an over-the-counter prescription to feel better about yourself, it will be a horribly unsatisfying experience.

The most exciting bit of a relationship is the first three months, when you don’t yet know if that person is yours. A great bit that comes right after that is when you know that person is yours. The bit that comes a few years after that is something I’ve never experienced. Apparently it’s not always exciting, but I’ve heard it’s the best.

Read on 30th October 2023

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