When I was a kid I knew I’d grow up to be a butcherer. Butcherers lived alone, my mother explained. They didn’t need the company of anyone, least of all girls. They never married and just went about their way, doing whatever they wanted whenever they pleased. The sweet empty life of no compromise. I wanted to be a butcherer, of that there was no doubt. No darling, a bachelor, my mother went on. But I wasn’t listening. My mind was made up. I was going to be a butcherer for as long as I lived.
And now my childhood dreams have come true. I sit here in the encroaching dark with the hairstyle of a 68yr old, the mental age of a 17yr old, nearing my 40th birthday as the draft creeps under the sash of the old school window and I wonder how it came to this.
Trouble is, I’d got to a stage in my life where I was quite happy to not be a butcherer. I’d found somebody I could not be a butcherer with. And for a clutter of reasons it hadn’t worked out, and circumstances had conspired to return me to the state my eight year old self so coveted. The door to butchererdom had creaked open and I had walked through it, and the cold stone floor had echoed under my footsteps.
When you’ve spent years taking on the world with somebody you feel confident enough to bounce the more mundane things in life off such as the interesting thing about tarmac is, when that intimacy is taken away over night it’s scary. You can go on a socially distanced walk with a friend and laugh a little but then you really are back to being alone. You go to the shops and buy food for one and you turn a film off twelve minutes in because you can’t focus, and you sit there on the sofa and the aloneness of your existence washes over you. You turn to where she used to sit and an emoji cushion with hearts for eyes stares back at you.
I don’t know if I was heartbroken. I must’ve been. I felt underwater. Kind of in denial, kind of angry, stoic around mid-morning, a mess walking to the loo half asleep in the night as the fact of my aloneness tapped me on the shoulder once more. I didn’t want to be a butcherer. It was the last thing I wanted to be.
One morning with my cheek squashed against the trackpad I channelled all I’d learnt in November’s touch-typing free trial and hit why are breajups so gucking shiiit into the search bar. The next morning, on the hunt for some Ultimate Fighting Championship highlights to drown in, I saw the YouTube algorithms had gone to work and staring me in the face was this:
I was in shock.
Brad Browning aka Breakup Brad had five golden rules to get my ex back. Who was this guy. He called himself ‘the No. 1 YouTube expert on getting back together with your ex’. This was unbelievable. I told Brad to slow the hell down and ran to get a pencil.
According to Brad there were five golden rules:
1. Don’t let your ex see your emotions.
I had a think. Well… we weren’t exactly in contact, so I calculated she was unaware of the aggressive blubbing I was doing into my emoji cushion. Check.
2. Don’t be obvious with your attempts to get him or her back.
I was on this too. In the three months of our trial-break period I’d formulated some pretty ugly texts but stayed cool and never sent them. Ch-check.
3. Get out, be social, and stay busy.
I was not doing this. But then again no-one was, we were in the middle of a pandemic. Uncheck.
4. Get help from an expert.
You know it, Brad. What next? This is where Brad recommended I sign up to his online course for a cool $127 and he’d agree to throw in his Ex Factor Guide for ‘just’ $47.
5. There wasn’t even a number 5.
I had to admit I felt shortchanged. If this was YouTube’s ‘No. 1 get back together with your ex’ coach there must be a load of still-single people out there. As my back to square oneness sunk in once more, something appeared in the corner of my screen.
Who was this guy.
What the hell. Six minutes from Coach Alex on why ‘silence makes your ex come back to you’. This guy was rocking the tee and blazer combo and his facial hair was tight. He even had a french accent, this guy blew Breakup Brad clean out the water.
Two minutes in and struggling to understand a single word coming out of Coach Alex’s mouth I admitted defeat. Something about how yoomen naduwr meant silence was bound to pique my ex’s interest. I held out to see if he mentioned where his blazer was from and scanned the comments.
I needed to get inside the mind of a woman. What was she feeling. My search intensified. Coach Stephan appeared to have been burnt badly in his time, the only thing he recommend was getting the hell away from them.
Next up was heartbreak, one year later. Worth a shot. It basically entailed a girl watching a video of her heartbroken self a year earlier sitting in a car and crying. 2,212,279 people had watched this. I’d be damned if I was going to add myself to that list.
But I felt her pain.
My feeling of shittiness was actually neurological withdrawal. I read that the pain of a breakup actually starves your brain of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, the same circuitry as an addict coming off cocaine. Just looking at old photos was enough to light up my dorsal posterior insula, the same thing that occurred during physical pain. I ditched the photos and got all Pride & Prejudice and took to gazing out the window at the falling rain with some embroidery.
It wasn’t easy. I’d imagined a future with this person but they needed time. And the pain I was going through was probably a result of how bound up with them I had become. Which wasn’t healthy. After the initial break period where we’d been in contact every couple of weeks we were now embarking on indefinite no contact. It was new territory. I’d tell myself I was doing alright but I was sleeping like shit and having awful dreams.
Enter Coach Lee.
Coach Lee didn’t mess about.
Coach Lee was all about the No Contact phase. It was the phase where each partner ‘truly has the space and time to work out his or her feelings’. But what the hell did ‘no contact’ even mean. A no contact phase with no time-limit was just an inventive way of saying we’re done. If you’re not in touch ad infinitum, you’re not in a ‘No Contact phase’, you’re just not in contact.
As comforting as staring at Coach Lee’s haircut was, he made me realise these relationship coaches were just feeding off people’s need to believe whatever they had wasn’t over. That by watching their videos you might wreak psychological havoc on your ex’s mindset and lure them back. But it was all bullshit, all just a reason to keep clicking on another video and earning them another buck.
I needed some truth. One day I came across this guy.
This guy had something about him. The upper-arm definition, the five day shadow, the ambient piano music he chose to back his videos with. More than anything he made me think he was talking to me.
The reason I believed him was that he told me what all the other relationship coaches put together hadn’t been able to. That a break was something to simply walk away from. His audience seemed to agree.
(sorry to hear that Lenka)
But this dude was powerful.
His parting shot topped it all. A quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald.
But hold on. I was being encouraged not to wait for anybody, but it also occurred to me that I wasn’t a girl. I then wondered why every single person in the comments section was female, and why the sold-out theatres Matthew Hussey gave his inspirational relationship advice to didn’t have a man anywhere near them.
I had one last pot-shot.
That was a week ago. No-one got back to me. Turned out after a relationship with Cuban megastar Camilla Cabello, Matthew got done for credit card fraud.
And so came to an end my dalliance with YouTube relationship coaches. None really the wiser. The pain was still there. Some days were good, some days not so great. Some friends listened, some friends were full of advice, projecting past heartbreaks onto me for their own catharsis.
But being single wasn’t so bad. I could fart in bed, watch the football without guilt, I could go on four hour YouTube binges. I did all that when I was with her. Maybe that’s why she left me.
Despite what Breakup Brad and Coach Lee would have me believe, complex problems came with no simple solutions. I wasn’t going to find answers in a six minute YouTube video. I’d rather go biblical and disappear into a cave or seek out the ends of the earth to arrive back at the river like Siddhartha.
It was kind of simple. I couldn’t make someone be with me. Or even lure them into being with me. It didn’t make any sense. If I loved her that meant loving her independently of me, it meant loving her life and wherever that might take her. Sometimes I think love is like a little bird that is never yours. One day you might hold it briefly in the hollow of your hand and whisper something to it before letting go and watching it fly off never to be seen again.
Some days I think that. But most days I think love is like a fart. If you have to force it, it’s probably shit.