Sometimes it’s your smallest achievements that are your greatest.
You meet Matt at work; you warm to each other instantly but it’s only five months later, on Valentines Day and with a new job under his belt, that he emails you to ask you out for a drink.
You drive to his favourite pub, in a quiet suburb overlooking the ocean. You drink cider and share stories – your best ones, the funny ones – and listen to the sound of the surf crashing onto the rocks below you, and by the time he drops you home later that evening, you’re a couple.
Life with Matt is easy. You get on well, you have fun, you make an effort for each other; you organise surprises “just because” while he goes an hour out of his way to drive you home so that you don’t get wet catching public transport in the rain. You go for dinners, for drinks, to the cinema, to the beach. One night you stay at his, and find that he’s bought you a toothbrush and make up wipes. He tells you he wants to make his flat more homely, so one weekend you go to Ikea and you help him buy cushions and prints and bedside tables and rugs. You mention that you’ve never been to Melbourne and would like to go; the next day he emails you a booking confirmation for your flights. When you’re ill, he runs you a bath, with candles, your book, and a small folded towel for a pillow.
You fall into a routine; he picks you up from the station after work and drives to his; he cooks and you wash up. He makes you hot chocolate every evening before bed, and Vegemite on toast every morning, just as you get out of the shower. During the week, you wake up early and go to the gym together; at weekends, you lie in, and then wander down to the beach for breakfast. He puts aside a pair of his tracksuit bottoms and two drawers for you; there is always Diet Coke and cider in his fridge.
Two months in, you have an argument. Rather than sending increasingly hurtful or angry texts, as you’ve done in past relationships, you go round to his, you discuss the issue openly and honestly and you resolve it. “You’re the best boyfriend,” you tell him. “I feel so lucky to have you in my life.”
You go back to the UK for a fortnight; each day you see someone new, and they all want to know about Matt. “He’s great,” you say. “We’re very different – he’s a lot quieter than me but he has this amazing personality that you just warm to instantly. He’s very calm and thoughtful and measured – everything I’m not basically.” And you all agree that that’s a good thing, and they ask if you’re in love with him and you laugh and say you don’t know, and somewhere at the back of your mind you remember that every relationship you ever have will have to end except one.
The night after you get back, you go for dinner at a new restaurant down the road from his flat. The night after, still jetlagged, you watch a film on his couch before falling asleep, open-mouthed and dribbling, at 9pm. Life with Matt is so easy, peaceful, content – his flat is warmer than yours, his bed more comfortable; his television and Internet both work. You watch the news every evening and argue gently over politics; he tells you about a problem he’s having at work and you suggest possible solutions; you tell him a funny story about your day and his warm Australian laugh melts your heart. “I love you,” you think fiercely. “I love you and care about you and never want anything to happen to you that might make you sad.”
On Tuesday you spend the day in a change management training session. “All change involves loss,” says the facilitator. “So it’s natural to grieve when you experience change, no matter how small that change may seem or how beneficial the eventual outcome.”
On Friday, you have a team barbecue at Mel’s house. “I’m so pleased you and Matt are together,” your boss tells you, after a couple of glasses of wine. “I always hoped he’d meet a nice girl.”
On Saturday, Matt picks you up and you spend the day doing chores; you buy groceries, you drop off his dry cleaning. That evening, you go for Thai and stop for ice cream on your way home. The next morning, you wake up early and set off for an unknown destination, your birthday surprise. Two hours later, you’re in the rainforest south of Sydney, heading to the treetop walk that you’d mentioned you wanted to do a few months previously. The day is perfect; after you finish the walk, you sit and eat fish and chips by the ocean, sharing a cider in the brisk winter sunshine. On the drive home you get stuck in traffic; you sing along to the radio and discuss whether you should get a television for the bedroom. At home, Matt cooks a roast; you watch a film; in bed, you cuddle until you fall asleep.
On Monday, you both wake up to the 5am alarm and decide to sack off the gym for another two hours in bed. “Happy five months,” you say sleepily, because it’s your anniversary, and marking the weeks you’ve spent together is an in-joke that won’t die out. You shower, eat breakfast, watch the World Cup final; everything is as it should be. And yet.
In the car on the way to the station, you turn to him. “I’m really sorry to do this when I’m just about to get out of the car. But I think we need to talk.”
That evening, you do the same journey in reverse; when you walk into his flat, everything is exactly where you left it that morning; the plate by the sink, the blanket hanging off the couch. You want to cry for the very ordinariness of it. And then you sit down and you open your mouth and your stomach aches with the knowledge that once you say what you’re about to say, you can never unsay it; you wonder, for a brief panicked moment, if you’re doing the right thing. Life with Matt is so easy.
“But I’d be doing myself a disservice if I stayed in a relationship that wasn’t right just because it was easy and comfortable,” you hear yourself say. “I can’t put my finger on it, but something isn’t right and I’m not happy. I’m sorry.”
You pack your things, throw out your toothbrush, put your track suit bottoms in the wash; you give him a final hug goodbye. On the bus home, you cry openly, loudly, grieving for the end of a relationship that wasn’t wrong but that wasn’t right either. You cry for the loss of your best friend; you cry for the comfort of your life together, as you head back to your cold room and lumpy bed.
“I miss him so much, I can’t do this,” you think briefly, and just as quickly you think, “Yes you can. You’ll be fine.” And somewhere underneath all the hurt is a small surge of pride that you have chosen the more painful path, but the one that was right; you have chosen self-respect over cuddles and dinners and bedtime phone calls. A small achievement; a great one.