Always The Nights
Written by Cat Sarsfield
Sometimes one of these songs will play unexpectedly, and it turns my heartbreak on like a tap. A flood of sadness, waves of anxiety, slow and endless drips of rejection; and those lyrics you connect with feel like they are yours.
A friend recently asked me what my gut reaction was when I first met him*. My mind drew blank. When I first met him, I really didn’t feel anything. He bypassed my heart; no collision, no curiosity, no craving. Looking back, I remember that even then he was self-assured and charming and the man everyone wanted to be around. But I don’t think we really registered each other at the time.
It was months before the attraction hit us. And then it was more than curiosity, more than craving, more than a collision. We were the opposite of a slow burn; we happened fast. It was kinetic and fun and intense and everything I thought I knew love to be: painful, dramatic and littered with obstacles.
Our language was music. I wrote about music for a few publications, so often got us tickets to see bands all over London. Jose Gonzales, The Strokes, Future Islands, Beck, Panama, Oh Wonder. We spent the summer in secret; surreptitiously passing each other, sneaking out after work and crossing the city, entering sweaty bars and venues to watch worlds unravel as musicians sang to us, as if we were the only ones in the room.
I let him into my world. I was an open book: no barriers, no walls. Just unashamedly addicted and obsessed. It’s one thing I’ve always loved and hated about our relationship - that I could be so openly vulnerable with my feelings for him. And even though he would tease me endlessly, hurt me endlessly, he would always call me back. As if was a boomerang being thrown into the atmosphere, always returning without him having to move an inch.
It was a summer of love. Or maybe it wasn’t love. As the evenings turned cooler and sunsets faded deeper into the night, he told me (once again) that he wasn’t interested in starting up a relationship with me. With anyone. I swung between resisting, like a child throwing a tantrum for not getting her way, and then telling him that I was fine with that. Inside, I was falling apart, holding onto that last shred of hope that I would be the girl he would change his mind for.
But someone else was.
And that should have been it. That should have been the line drawn in the sand. I moved away from the city and down to the coast, putting 5 hours between us. It was painful - the absence of him, of us. Slowly we learnt how to be friends - best friends - even whilst he was with someone else, even whilst I was still infatuated with him.
He eventually ended up moving down to the coast, and we worked alongside each other, sharing a job role, and for a while it was good. He was in love and I was seeing someone else. When that didn’t work out for me, I returned to him for solace, comfort and intimacy. It took a while, but I began to see a way out of this rabbit hole I’d fallen down, and could feel that his relationship was serious and as much as I wanted him to want me, I wanted him to be happy. He seemed happy.
Then a few months later, out of the blue, he was single again.
I have never seen a man so broken. He couldn’t eat, or sleep, or work. The life was ripped out of him. My heart was breaking - once for him, because I hated to see him so sad, and once again because I was still so utterly, irrevocably in love with him. I counselled him, I comforted him; I even helped him try to get her back - and that almost killed me. He was sad - so terribly sad. And there I was: the comfort, the crutch, the best friend, the lover. The person who never left his side.
So we became entangled once again. It went on for months, all the way through another summer, two years on. I was invested. I knew it wasn’t going to work out well for me. I knew that I was sentencing myself to heartbreak. He wasn’t over her. He didn’t want me. He only wanted what I could give him: blind faith, undivided attention and a feeling of being someone’s entire world. It wasn’t the same as before. It’s always different the second time round. It was just as kinetic, frenzied and intense; but there were new emotions in both of us. He was angry. I was in love. I wanted to make him whole again. I wanted to crush his sadness and heal him with just us.
He was dating other people; I was sleepless, emotionally exhausted, constantly going through the highs and lows of his breakup as he recounted his feelings about how much he still loved her as we were tangled up in bed. There were weeks we didn’t speak to try and get away from the magnetic, fatal attraction. Then there were the nights. Never the mornings. And a deep set feeling of shame and sadness and rage.
It might have been heartbreak - not a clean snap in two, but splinters which tore through flesh and muscle, eventually shattering the illusion.
I think the hardest thing is feeling like you don’t deserve to be heartbroken. Ours was not an epic romance. We weren’t in love - not mutually in any case - and from the outside, we were merely friends and lovers, carrying all the messy bits each other. At times I have felt like an imposter - as if I wasn’t allowed to feel this deeply, this intensely, this sad. When I told him I was in love with him, he said that I had no right to use that word. That ‘love’ wasn’t in our vocabulary. That it wasn’t owed to what we had.
I still have to remind myself that love is subjective. No one can judge it. No one can tell you it doesn’t hurt. And no one can tell you how to feel.
Don’t run away from your pain. I did. I fled for 10 months, putting entire oceans between us, shedding layers, creating new ones, convincing myself I would return a new and improved person. I would be over it. I would be strong and unfazed and totally fine. I came home and I was frustrated to find myself crying myself to sleep over him night after night. I was exactly the same. And so was he.
Except that I had changed. Yes I was still crying about him. But I realized that caring about him didn’t make me a bad person. It was just proof of the magnitude of my heart. And actually, I can’t hate him, or stop wanting to take care of him. But I can stop wanting to be with someone who doesn’t respect me or my mind or my body or my heart. I love him, but I love me more.
Recently we managed to say our first real words to each other in a year. And although we’ve made amends, I know I have to be so careful around him, because for me, those feelings haven’t disappeared. They are as real as they always have been. And I can feel my heart opening, bursting at the seams, desperate to pull him back into my life.
I don’t believe he ever meant to cause me this much sadness and pain. And even though I’ve cried rivers, pushed my heart to its limits, laid myself bare and put myself in the line of fire time and time again - I don’t regret it, and I wouldn’t change it. Because I have learnt how to love wholly and fully and without holding back.
I’m not here to tell you that you’re stronger than this. That you deserve better. That love shouldn’t be torture. That respect is the key. You know all this. You were born with this knowledge. It exists deep within you - right at the core of your heart - and even when it is splintered and broken and fragmented and shattered - it is still in tact. Perhaps you need to break through the flesh and the muscle to discover it, to truly understand it. Maybe that’s what they mean when they say time is a healer. Time to love, to be unloved, and to love yourself.
We exist in the same world. We have untangled ourselves, and created walls and barriers, and our language has changed. We pass each other at parties, at events, on the street, at work. I still want to hold him, to help him, to be there for him. He - doesn’t. He’s not ready to face up to what is haunting him, and I can’t change that. What I can do is wish him the best, show him kindness, and jump into the river of my heart again, gliding through, hoping for better days.
A ritual for heartbreak:
Find their scent in nature. Bring it home with you. It could be a wet stone kissed by the sea, a felled branch from a tree, the salt of the earth.
Write a list of all the things you loved about them.
Write a list of all things you didn’t love about them.
Wrap their scent in both of these notes.
Listen to their mixtape.
Create a pyre. Sit with this package. Take all the time you need.
Throw it on the fire.
Cry (if necessary).
Eat ice-cream (definitely necessary).
Swim in the sea (if accessible. Otherwise a bath or a long shower works too.)
Know that it won’t go away instantly. It might linger. But that’s ok.
Make a new playlist. Make it just for you.
*’he’ was a him = this is just in my case. This could be anyone, girl, boy, fluid, non-conforming; gendered or not. Know that this is not an exclusive process, tailor this to your heart <3
Cat Sarsfield 🇬🇧 is a content creator, writer, storyteller and community builder. She currently lives by the coast, but is soon heading to Panama to train with Ally Maz + Ash Brodeur for her 200hr YTT. She dreams of mentoring young womxn, and can usually be found in her shed cooking amazing food, making playlists, or pretty much anywhere in the world rolling around with puppies. Her mega talented friend Victoria May Harrison is the wonder woman who captured these images.