Formative – first relationship experiences

By Pat;

Today I’m going to write about two “relationships” I had in my early twenties that have coloured and tainted the rest of my life (and my writing) since. I don’t like doing this sort of writing usually because it’s strange and self-indulgent and also involves other people in a way that usually makes me uncomfortable, but at the same time, I think it’s important to do so sometimes, even if it makes me sound, at times, like some odd incel or other weirdo. (Maybe I am, you be the judge.)

The first ever “date” I went on was with a girl I knew from college, when I was 22. She’d dropped out a while before, and we were Facebook friends. One day, after having a crush on her for a while, I asked if she’d like to go to the cinema with me. She agreed. But when we met, she was strangely distant. Walking through the streets, nothing I said could elicit anything but annoyance. I wondered why she’d even said yes to an outing. Even in the awkward world of Pat_Bren, it was something new and frightening. Of course, now I realise this young woman was probably going through troubles of her own, going places and meeting people without really knowing why. (Part of the reason it all hurt so much was that she was, by the standards of early twenty somethings, much more “normal” than me, being fashionable and outgoing in a way I will never, never be. So, she became a symbol of my rejection by everyone similar to her as well.) But at the time, and continuing to this day in a smaller way, the pain of having someone you liked (and the thought that, maybe, they liked you, having at least said yes to an outing) be totally indifferent to your existence, hurt deeply. She even unfollowed me on Twitter a few days later, a petty thing to bring up almost ten years later (lol), but its very pettiness makes it something to remember, a gesture I still don’t understand, and something that makes me wonder if I am actually some creep or weirdo who society rightly shuns. Did I genuinely upset her in some way on that day? Or did she finally just see I was merely boring, unattractive, weird, and unworthy of her time? There’s no answers anywhere. She forgot me entirely, I’m sure. But the brain of Pat_Bren drags me back to these things, like a buzzing in your ear that you hear only when things get quiet.

I dropped out of college myself soon after, not because of that, but because of my course’s increasing complexity, the fact I would already get a lesser degree by dropping out, and how there was a college trip abroad coming up, which I absolutely, 100%, would not be able to go on without literally dying, due to my social anxiety.

And then, a short few months later, a finger on a monkey paw curled somewhere.

A girl who we’ll call Elektra (let’s call the earlier girl Penelope). Elektra and I began talking on Twitter. She was in a southern US state (already a huge obstacle to anything, and also an early warning sign I should have heeded). We spoke a little via DM, then went to email. One of the earliest emails she sent was something along the lines of “I’ll marry you lol”. But I liked Elektra a lot. Where Penelope had been closed off and uninterested in our few interactions, Penelope was the direct opposite, sending me long emails about her life and her troubles. And she was BEAUTIFUL. Like, Scarlett Johansson levels of beauty. And she was interested in ME. But even I, prone to flights of fancy and romance and yearning for approval after the Penelope episode, kept enough distance to sense something was wrong in all this. Though we’d obviously never met, she spoke of moving to Ireland, of me being perfect. Maybe it was only my lack of self-esteem that stopped me believing in it. But then it came. She was in love with me. And I couldn’t return it. I broke her heart, and eventually I put all the pieces together. She had been horribly abused, used meth, and had only returned from Turkey, where she had a horrible marriage crumble. That I, with the social skills of a statue and still living with my parents to this day, seemed like a great alternative to the life she was already leading, should give you some idea as to how bad a place she was in. I didn’t end it straight away after she said she was in love with me, though I should have. To some that might seem cruel but to this day I can’t see it that way. It’s crueller to let delusions like that continue, and running away with a stranger in the search for a perfect life, to balance out all the pain you have, is extremely dangerous for everyone involved. We parted ways amicably, and I wished her all the love and comfort in the world, and that she can finally find peace.

But what if? At one time she suggested we run off to New York together. I thought the idea was laughable and dangerous and still do, but what if? After the Penelope episode I had wished for a girl to love me and here she was. And yet, it ended up even stranger and, in a way, cut far deeper (though obviously not through the fault of Elektra, who could only be herself, and follow her own compulsions due to their extreme strength).

So, that’s basically been my “love life” so far. I had a short relationship with someone else who gave me my first kiss at the very young age of 26 (if you’re reading this… hello, and also, I’m glad you’re happier now), but those two early experiences keep working their way through my brain and into my writing. My first novel (embarrassingly) had a Penelope-esque character fall in love with the Pat_Bren-esque lead. My third had a very Elektra-style character, following her own emotions and compulsions far beyond logic, as a character. And my current one, Burnt Cake, includes broad and eccentric characters inspired by both, a culmination really of my work so far, and the essence of those few months a long time ago.

I’d love to end on a positive note, that I’m getting married to Megan Fox or something, but I can’t. Adulthood strips everyone of their naivete. The fairy tales and romantic comedies fade away, and complicated and frightening reality is left. Love doesn’t conquer anything. It doesn’t even exist on its own. For romantic love, you need self-esteem, independence (including financially), confidence in your looks, your body and your sexuality, the ability to balance dreams with reality, and someone else with all those things too. Only then can you build romantic love on top of it. What those two “relationships” thought me is that life is more confusing than I ever thought possible, even at my most anxious, that the most important questions can never really get answers and that, if love has come to you without much struggle, cling to it and be grateful, because all that many people get are echoes and shadows that they can never quite make out, shifting and changing and fading away for good.

Pat Brennan, Ireland

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website:

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