Valentines Series 2019

Photography by Lauren Coleman
Words by Beth McColl

The Love That Isn’t Smoke or Starlight

It’s hard to trust that love is coming. It’s hard not to think yourself in circles and doubt and doubt and doubt. The secret is not to tune out that disbelieving voice, but to learn how to forge ahead regardless. To do this you must hold tight to what you know to be true: you want an equal for the great and vast love you’re carrying. You don’t want “I meant to call”, you want a voice on the other end of the damn line. You want a flesh and blood partner that shows up, happily, without hesitation. You want a beautiful, tangible, laugh-into-the-crook-of-your-neck love. You don’t want a sexy ghost, a handsome shadow, a smoke-show that pins you against a wall but forgets your birthday. It’s too late in the day for all that. You want good intention that’s backed up by action, and you’re willing to do the hard and unsexy work to have it. 

You can’t follow stars or smoke signals or non-committal texts at 1AM anymore. That’s not how you arrive anywhere truly wonderful. You have to give that up and ask for more. And when alarm bells ring you have to stop insisting that they’re the opening notes of some divine, romantic orchestra and make a swift escape.

Listen, reaching for the kind of love that you want will not feel good a lot of the time. It will take work. But that’s okay. You need only to be patient and to believe in it, and when eventually you feel it you will thank whatever Gods you know by name that you kept going. Ahead there will be hurt and hard days. There will be arguments about where to eat dinner and whether your cousin’s new baby really does look like a wrestler. But there will also be love. Love like a voice in the dark, like a long blaze of light, like an antidote.

The Love That Belongs To You

It’s not shallow to love an unliving thing like you would love a living thing. A watch that was given to you after it was given to him after it was given to him. A book with a scrawl inside of the front cover that says “You’re a diamond, don’t give up.” A leather jacket that cost more than your rent that you bought because you’d had a bad day and the shop assistant said “A jacket like that only gets more iconic with age. It’s practically an investment.” And people will say “You spent what?” and “It doesn’t matter. It’s only stuff” and “Kim, there’s people that are dying.” But it matters if it matters. Things are important because they’re important, and never more so than when you get them or when you lose them.

The bracelet that you set down by the sink before your pottery class that wasn’t there when you went to put it back on, and how strange and empty that arm felt for months after. The note from your sister inside a DVD case that read “THIS DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU” and even though you haven’t spoken to her in a year and you don’t own a DVD player, you still cry when you realise it’s gone.

THIS DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU. Sure, but what does? Everything ends and nothing lasts forever, but it’s okay to feel a thrill when you see the shiny shoes on the shelf or the shiny bike chained to the railings outside your house. Things can just be things, but they can also be souvenirs of where and who you’ve been. Who were you when you bought those snakeskin cowboy boots (never worn)? You were hopeful and bold and full of lunch-time tequila, that’s who. And when will you be that person again? Perhaps never.

So treasure what you treasure. Shine it and turn it so it catches the sun. That tequila-warm afternoon belongs to you, and the gold ring belongs to you, and the feeling that feels without end belongs to you. These things are yours. Not forever, no, but for now. Hold them lightly. Let them matter very much.


The Love That Fell To Earth

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It’s hard to love yourself. It always feels a little embarrassing, a little shameful, like you should turn the framed photograph of your grandma to face the wall before you try it.

But there’s no great secret to it. You love yourself by saying “Yes” to what serves you and “No” to what doesn’t. You do it by filling your life with things that make you happy and awed and full of purpose. You do it by making independence and self-sufficiency and curiosity the great and enduring loves of your life; the loves that will go with you where you go.

You do not love yourself by collecting the attention and approval of others like Pokémon cards. You are not on earth to toil over writing the perfect ‘chill’ text or trying to convince yourself that you’re totally fine with being called “bro” and only hanging out after 10pm. You’re absolutely not here to do that. You’re here to leap into what frightens and thrills you and to go where you are celebrated. You’re here learn to make erotic ceramic figurines. You’re here to bravely try that intriguing new dish on a foreign dinner table only to be told “That was soap. You just ate some soap.” You’re here to look in the mirror and think “Yes, alright. I can be okay with that, I think.“ This is how you love yourself. You accept that you have been sending your love to places it has no business going. Loving people who don’t want to see you clearly is like launching a space shuttle to a planet that you can clearly see is burning. It’s time to stop waving at flames in the sky and call your love back. Call it home, keep it close, and see what it can do for you here.

The Love That Shouts Into The Night And Doesn’t Wait For An Answer


Whether it happens when you’re 18 and hopelessly single or when you’re 45 and years-deep in marriage, at some point in your life you will pause in thought and realise that there has never been a moment of your life when you were not in love. You will realise that you were in love on that Thursday night when four drunk friends were scream-singing Happy Birthday to you in the back of a cab. You were in love when your best friend squeezed your hand under the table as your boyfriend touched the same waitresses’ hip for the third time and said “Screw this, we’re going”. You are in love every time you and your oldest friend say the same joke in the same breath, send the same meme at the same time, stop dead in your tracks to point straight in the same direction.

You must remember that love does not always come rushing into the room, breathless, wearing a billowing white shirt, ripped at the shoulder. It does not always have a boom box propped on its shoulder and a fist in the air. Love is when someone says “I’m here” and “I’ve got you” and “I got us muffins but I ate them both on the way over. I’m not sorry.” It’s time to let all these different types of love land, and to celebrate them even when they’re not sparking, champagne-colored things. It’s time to admit that you are a geometric impossibility; you can have four, five, six other halves at any time. Because friends are the loves of your life, too. You can decide that. And you can decide that these are the loves that all the songs are about. Instead of bringing sexy back it will be platonic companionship that is returning. Grown-up sexless devotion. Mutual caregiving between non-romantic adults. They don’t fit the rhythm quite so well, but you can still sing them loud, in the back of a cab, with the window wide and the world wider, sending your love out in every conceivable direction.

The Love That Doesn’t Travel Back Along The String

Romantic loss is a strange loss. The person you love is still there in the world, still putting on their shoes and catching the bus and pointing at a dog and saying “Look. A dog”. But now they’re doing these things without you. It’s like they’ve dropped their end of a can and string telephone and walked away, while you go on holding your end, talking urgently into it and waiting for a reply that isn’t coming.

Perhaps you’ll handle this loss with grace and magnanimity. Or perhaps you’ll lie face down on the floor and sob into a faded restaurant receipt that you found in a coat pocket. You got the crab linguini. They got the aubergine parmigiana. You shared a tiramisu. Now they’re gone and your heart is a dropped lasagna.

You have to know that this is not forever. The world will right itself and in a year you won’t feel sea-sick when you smell their perfume on the train or hear that Abba song they always used to sing at karaoke. You have to trust that the more of these not-quite-right relationships that you emerge from, the stronger you’ll feel and the easier you’ll find it to ask outright for what you want, and lovingly disengage if it’s not offered. Until then it just hurts. That’s just how the human heart works. It’s a slimy, faulty, idiot machine that we must endeavor to take loving care of forever and ever. And when it asks you to wear their underwear to bed you will oblige. And when the commercial with the hotdog dancing with the hamburger comes on you will cry because it will remind you that you are by yourself and there is no hamburger by your side.

There is so much more ahead. But for now, you’re hurting. You have to reach the edge of that hurt before you can walk out beyond it. You have to suffer before you can stop suffering. You have to be a hotdog dancing alone in the dark, lovely and glorious all by itself.