Hugging the Pillows: This is Tough Love
Imperfect solutions as I adjust to life without my ex
In the week that I banged my nose on a door, briefly concussed myself, and saw my cheating ex on Hinge (in my ‘standouts’ no less), I renamed this newsletter: Tough Love.
Tough Love is a newsletter about how to build a good life when things haven’t gone to plan. In this newsletter, I’ll be sharing lessons as I rebuild my life after my break-up. So far, I’ve written Things I've learnt thanks to my breakup, a reflection on Why he couldn't commit and ‘productivity seasons’ which was about how loss can impact our work and my solution for navigating that.
Tough Love is a vibe. It is for people who appreciate the adventure and messiness of life. I believe that everything life throws at us is an opportunity for growth and without experiencing sadness, we can’t experience joy. Too many people are numb and afraid and I spent a decade like that, as I wrote in my book Totally Fine and I choose aliveness over existence. This newsletter isn’t for everyone: we’re living in a time of anti-hustle culture, quiet-quitting and a lingering lockdown trend for shrinking our worlds. I applaud that we’re challenging the status quo, but we’re in danger of going too far the other way. We have to be uncomfortable, put ourselves out there and gift ourselves focus and discipline to get what we want. In my agony aunt columns, I’ve always wanted to give people practical advice so they can reclaim control over their lives. My most recent one about how to make the most of dating apps, acknowledged their challenges, but also said: ‘There’s no half-way, half-arsed, half-invested way to make the most of the apps’ and ‘the thing is, as with everything in life, you get out what you put in.’
A reader commented:
Thank you SO much - this was fascinating and really helpful. I met my ex at uni years ago and so have never tried the apps and have been terrified if truth be told. But hanging around cafes hoping that the guy opposite me might be single is not working!
I can’t tell you how much that means to me.
Tough Love makes me think that there’s a difference between being nice and kind. In Arthur Brook’s How to Build a Life column, he writes:
Kindness and niceness, though both excellent personal qualities, are not the same thing. The former is to be good to others; the latter is about being pleasant. They don’t even have to go together. Some say, for example, that New Yorkers are kind but not nice (“Your tire is flat, you moron—hand me your jack”), in contrast to Californians, who are nice but not kind (“Looks like you’ve got a flat tire there—have a good day!”).
I’m kind to myself, but sometimes that kindness means giving myself a little kick up the bum or a reality check. As entrepreneur Grace Beverley on my work-life podcast said: ‘Productivity is a form of self-care.’ Sometimes in life, we have to surrender (like when I banged my nose), other times we need to get out of bed after a sleepless night after coming across your ex on Hinge, and show up to London Writer’s Salon’s writers' hour - which is where I am now! So welcome to Tough Love and here’s a mini piece on how I’m hugging the pillows.
Hugging the Pillows
I’m delighted after a turbulent couple of months to be back in my flat. It’s the flat my ex and I shared, but I got to keep it, which I wrote about for The iPaper. Every day, I wake up and feel grateful to be here. When I first moved back, the nights were the hardest. I missed the physicality of a man about the place. I spent the first couple of weeks expecting him to walk through the door.
I enjoy being alone in many, many, ways but at night, I’d go to bed and it’d feel terribly empty. Our, or now my bed is king size and I naturally sleep so close to the edge on my side, that I leave a big space next to me. He used to hug me to sleep — lots of people have told me they’d hate that, but that was our routine. So I filled that big empty space with pillows and I lined them up next to me, and it was like someone was there. This sounds incredibly tragic, but it helped. I get into bed and surround myself with cushions and pillows. My sofa now has six big cushions on it. When I watch TV, I pile them on either side of me and I don’t feel lonely at all. Hugging the pillows works.
When I wrote about how single people were ignored during the pandemic, I mentioned that we suffer if we’re deprived of touch. Scientists call it: “affection deprivation” and it can cause us a host of psychological and physical issues. I miss touch, but I’m not that keen for someone to enter my space right now, either.
I’m still adjusting to my new life with imperfect solutions. He used to do the weekly food shop. Now, I have to go twice a week because I can’t carry all the shopping for a week in one go. I also have to go at weird times because his new place is right by the LIDL, where I know he goes, and I’d like to not have to check down each aisle like a spy before turning into it. I still always wear a baseball cap when running errands in our area, though. I look forward to the day when I can leave the house without worrying I’ll bump into him.
There are also some positive adjustments like being able to watch reality TV shows like Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking on repeat without interruption. My space feels incredibly sacred. Kind friends have gifted me sage and crystals to get rid of the negative (cheating ex) energy and light up positive new beginnings. I ran around the flat with sage and said positive affirmations and predictions for each room. I’m reclaiming the space and feeling all witchy about it and as I wait for those affirmations to come true, I’ll be hugging the pillows.