It was Valentine’s Day 2019, and I was feeling sorry for myself.
I messaged my best friend, Alisha*. She’d recently moved abroad and I invited myself to stay. She replied instantly with love hearts, and I booked a flight for that weekend.
While I sorrowfully looked out to sea on the beach, I received a Facebook message from an old acquaintance, Cole* asking for my number.
We were neighbours when I lived in Australia during my gap year back in the late noughties. A newly qualified pilot, Cole was halfway through his round-the-world trip and staying in the same apartment block we once did.
He was a classic all-American guy: tall, blonde, and handsome. We’d sometimes steal chit-chat in the garden but neither of us made a move. Alisha asked if he was hitting on me – I doubted it.
Cole phoned me every night and messaged incessantly – he wanted to know everything about me.
The daily communication was a welcome distraction from heartbreak, and I won’t lie, the attention felt nice. Meanwhile, my friends persuaded me to join Bumble and Tinder over post-work beers as soon as I got back to the UK.
I came across my colleague while swiping one evening and threw my phone across my bed. I saw his profile long enough to see he’d taken five years off his age and was a ‘music producer’. He was an accountant.
Cole wanted to know all about my dating forays. I could sense jealousy in his tone and felt flattered. He booked a 30-hour trip to London that May – just to see me. When Cole sauntered out of immigration bearing gifts, my heart sang. It was surreal seeing him in the flesh 10 years later. Would we hug, kiss, shake hands?
He kissed me hello on the lips.
Over the next 24 hours, we draped ourselves around each other from St Katharine Docks to Primrose Hill. Cole booked our next date – Iceland, for two weeks’ time.
I thought that by telling him I loved him, I could salvage our relationship
‘Iceland for a second date – and the country not the supermarket!’ Alisha squealed in delight when I called to tell her. It felt fast, but I had been raised on Disney and my entire family met in whirlwind romances.
Cole flashed his pilot ID as we boarded the plane and seamlessly got upgraded to first class. Iceland was magical and romantic. While whale watching, Cole followed me around the boat like a shadow grabbing my waist.
We swam around the Blue Lagoon as he proudly posted selfies of us. The PDA was hot and heavy. Our family and friends were blowing up our phones.
On our last night, Cole whipped out his calendar and suggested I visit him in Chicago over the 4 July weekend. He added me to his work’s scheme for 50% off flight tickets. The scheme was strictly for family and spouses, but he pulled some strings.
This didn’t mean he would propose soon, I kept telling myself. We hadn’t even defined the relationship. Despite only seeing each other for several months, we had been discussing our future together.
Cole told me to pack a fancy outfit for a special surprise in Chicago – a sunset cruise around Lake Michigan.
Up on deck, we viewed the breath-taking Chicago skyline and pink skies - but, the following day, he flinched when I hugged him. For some reason, the vibe had shifted overnight.
On our way to the airport, Cole burst into tears: ‘I’ve never dated a Brit’, he told me, unprompted. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know what point he was making but I was worried. Was he saying I lived too far away from him? I wasn’t sure.
At security, I looked up at him and shakily uttered: ‘I love you’ for the first time. No reaction.
I thought that by telling him I loved him, I could salvage our relationship.
I tried again, but he averted his gaze, saying: ‘I can’t say that.’
A familiar pain shot out from my chest and made a Mexican wave throughout my body. I held back tears as I walked through security.
As soon as I was out of sight and earshot, my body collapsed. I wasn’t weeping, I was violently sobbing – gasping for breath. It was evident that the brunette in the hot pink dress was having the worst Independence Day ever.
A lovely air steward pulled me aside on the plane, asking: ‘Sweetie, are you fit to fly?’ Mascara tracks decorated my face and something told me he’d witnessed a fair amount of unrequited love at airports.
Back in London, Cole phoned me; he needed to talk. Apparently, his therapist advised him to dump me, but he gave no reason. I knew he was in therapy when we first started talking. He told me that ‘those three words’ had scared him as his parents divorced when he was a child.
But before he could launch into ‘let’s be friends’, I hung up.
That’s when the levee broke – raw tears cascaded out. I lay in bed scrolling through our chat histories trying to pinpoint the moment he had a change of heart.
I tortured myself by looking at our photos, zooming in on potential clues. I typed heartbroken messages before hitting backspace. I couldn’t sleep and ransacked my IKEA chest of drawers for Kalms.
That summer, Alisha sent me a bittersweet proverb: ‘Hearts need to be broken a few times to fully open.’ Fortunately, I knew I wasn’t alone.
‘He’s a lovebombing idiot,’ friends and family told me. ‘Block him.’ In retrospect, yes he did lovebomb me and I felt used.
Cole got in touch six weeks later to pick up where we left off. He told me about a gig he went to recently and asked when I was free to chat.
I realised I hadn’t blocked him, so I did just that.
Anya Abbott is a pseudonym.
*Names have been changed
So, How Did It Go?
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