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I’ve been in love once.

Okay, maybe that should read, ‘I loved someone once’, but I’ll leave you to debate the semantics of being ‘in love’ and actually ‘loving’ another person. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been in love with the idea of loving someone, but only experienced actual feelings of being in love the one, solitary time.

And no matter which way I decide to word it, she didn’t feel the same.

There’ve been the girls I’ve been in relationships with, slept with, lived with. But I wasn’t in love with any of them, I merely loved the idea that I was with someone and, possibly, with that someone who I am meant to be with, to have and to hold and all that.

I guess it was the incurable romantic in me, born during a time of Zack and Kelly, Ross and Rachel, the idea of soul mates and lobsters that mate for life. I would have that one person that would be with me, or be waiting for me, to have that one, Love Actually moment where we realised that we were made for each other and that our names would now only ever be spoken in tandem, written with an ampersand before one or other of our initials, whoever’s name ended up coming first in the most agreeable, syllaballistic pattern.

It took a few decades, but I’ve lost that notion now. The incurable romantic has been cured, and found a new residence – ex-directory.

There was the 19 year old when I was 21; the 19 year old when I was 28; the 22 year old when I was 16; and the 45 year old when I hit the big three-oh. In my head, there was a reason for them all to work, a belief that if people are meant to be together, they are brought together no matter what, no matter how I knew we weren’t going to last. There were the girls I worked with, the girls I went to Uni with, the girls I met on a night-out or the girls I shared a flat with and …

I knew she didn’t feel the same. Nothing ever happened and nothing ever would. But I had all those signs, so cliché but so real when they hit you. The butterflies in the stomach, the missing appetite, the want to listen to the same songs over and over and over and the want to do nothing else but think of her.

It was months. She was my friend, best friend, at the time. Every day spent together at some point, time apart filled with fear that she’d find someone, kiss someone, sleep with someone else – not that I wanted to, I just didn’t want her to be any other’s.

A summer apart thinking about her, but somehow finding the rational thought to know that absence makes the heart grow fonder and when we meet again I’ll realise it was nothing, until that moment when we meet again and bang, my heart explodes through my chest, beating at a rate of knots, wanting more than the five minutes we had.

I knew she didn’t feel the same. I had to tell her, though. Only way to break the spell.

I didn’t cry. I slept – the best sleep I’d had for months – but I didn’t cry. Not immediately, anyway. A couple of months later, when she moved away, and she was out of my life? Yes. Floods of them.

It hurt, of course. But I’ll never forget those feelings. Being in love: best thing in the world. But I was 19 years old then … and I haven’t been in love since.

I still think the person I’m meant to be with is out there, it’s just not a storybook. Look for the person, not the feeling, and it’ll happen when it’s meant to happen – when that yellow umbrella pops into my life.

It might already have; I’ve just been too busy to notice.

But there’s no need to drive myself crazy about it: no need to chase that pot of gold. Ten years of trying to force it: now it’s time to play it out, and see how it goes.

Written by Nick Draper

Teacher, writer, good egg