Lessons from love and longing

With Valentine’s day fast approaching, six students offer timely reflections on what they have learned from relationships, romance and accidently uploading naked selfies to Facebook.


Love is kindness

Orlaith Traynor

When I was 19, I hurdled into that powerful force field they called love. His name was Joe. It all seemed to equate to an intoxicating mesh of endless hand holding in the car and my mouth morphing into a Cheshire cat grin. You can’t prepare yourself for that immersive first dalliance. I realised months later in November how lovely being in love with Joe was. One Sunday night I got horribly sick after a bad reaction to some medicine. I was very conscious of my limp weedy retching self, clasping the toilet bowl with martyrdom pallor urging him to go home. The aroma of vomit isn’t conducive to any new relationship.  The night dragged on and I fell asleep with him sitting worrying in my window seat near my bed.

The next morning it all looked brighter when I woke up. I was momentarily stunned when I saw him curled up on my cold wooden floor like a muscular kitten, lying on an old coat beside my bed. It just hit me then: he had stayed. And he didn’t even mind. He was as friendly as ever in the crumpled shadow of morning. Love is so powerful that it really has the ability to slice you into galactic particles if it goes pear shaped, but with the right person life kind of clicks. I know I can be patronising to my friends who aren’t in relationships, agonizing over Tinder, but why shouldn’t everyone accept they deserve the best kind of love? I love the smoky atmospheric conversations that take place unexpectedly with friends when they detail their dating. Their enthusiasm is exuberating. I also love reliving summer 2012 as it unfolded listening back to old songs all tainted with dizzying happiness.

But ultimately I am in love with the residual, determined and sometimes euphoric kind of love I experience everyday with Joe. When I see older couples milling around parks and shops with cute little dogs on leads I wonder if they can just reveal all their secrets and save me the philosophising. What I’ve learned however is very miniscule in the grand scheme of things; but it is important. Being kind is imperative. Having separate lives which occasionally interlink allows you personal space. Being compassionate towards your loved one is demonstrably essential. These things can help dissipate fights and in the long term nourish patient love. It is easy to court love but much harder to sustain it in the neat cracks that surround real life. This year my beloved has had his spine sliced open twice and his life is in a transient hazy place. In the aftermath of something like that it is restorative to just eat yellow M&M’s in silence holding hands. It is sometimes just everything to be still and breathe it all in together. Frost said it best: “love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”

Don’t let Mam see your nudes


Smart phones have had a massive impact on relationships. Coming of age right in the thick of the digital revolution, my adolescence started with a Bebo profile and ended with an internet enabled, high quality picture taking iPhone in my pocket. It’s always there, whether cheering me up or connecting me to friends. It’s also there for when my hormones get the best of me and I have to have some fun.

I like to look good, and when I look good there’s nothing I enjoy more than making a pose and snapping a photo. From coy topless selfies to more explicit full nude pics, this has become part and parcel of life for many people, and I’m no exception. Just make sure you keep an eye on them, especially if you’re constantly at it.

Phones also have the amazing capacity to have apps such as Grindr accessible right alongside more innocent ones like Facebook. This creates a beautiful balance allows you to show off the photos of you doing a less clothed version of #SockOnACock on Grindr and keep ones of family, college and beautiful sunrises for Facebook and Twitter. It’s disappointing when someone puts a sunrise on their Grindr profile, but I know from experience that it is disastrous when you put a nude on Facebook.

Picture the scene. It’s 1:34 am on a Saturday night. I’ve been texting a guy for the last two hours and things are going well, but I can’t continue to extract nudes from him without giving some of myself – the tipping point has been reached. I decide to start with something soft core, but with a naughty punch. I get up, and go stand naked with my back to the full length bathroom mirror. I hold my phone – front- facing camera active – above my head (no face, no incrimination), arch my back slightly to accentuate my curves and snap away. Definitely one of my best, and better than all his so I’ll probably get through the rest of the night on this one photo.

I’m feeling so pleased with myself that I decide to share an uncharacteristically cheerful status on Facebook. “Feeling just peachy!” I type into my phone as I laugh to myself. This is great. My finger accidentally brushes against the photo button above the keyboard and I don’t notice. In the split second between that button being pressed and my thumb coming down to type the next letter, all changed, and changed utterly…

My bare ass was suddenly unapologetically splashed across the news feeds of 546 Facebook users, and the likes rolled in. I never knew so many of my friends were nocturnal. The commentary on what has just happened has spread to Twitter. In between receiving sleazy messages, calling me everything from a slut to the more observant “sweet cheeks”, I frantically attempted to delete the offending photo, only to find that such a failsafe was not included on the app version of Facebook! I raced downstairs to find my laptop underneath a pile of clothes on the armchair. Remembering that I recently accepted a friend request from my mother prompted me to practically scream with terror as I finally found the option to end my misery and remove the photo from my wall.

Slinking back up to bed where my phone laid, I logged back on to Grindr to be comforted by my waiting Romeo. A little blue dot hung over his profile and I read his message. He was gone and had withdrawn all his photos. “All I asked for was a pic, I didn’t know you were such a prude. Has anyone ever even seen you naked?”

Ibiza is the island of fidelity

Michela Esposito

When Carrie asks Big in Sex and the City if he believes in love at first sight, he answers only as Big can: ”I believe in lust at first sight.” I have never known what to make of Carrie’s question, and always found myself leaning towards Big’s lusty view of romance; that is until I ventured to Space nightclub in Ibiza circa 2013, mojito-fuelled and ready to rave.

I had just turned 19, I was with my best friend on the party-island for two weeks and I was ceremoniously bejewelled with glow sticks ready to experience Space Ibiza, the Mecca of the house-loving nineties-baby. That old adage of love or lust at first sight never rattled me, and after a pitcher of Mambo’s daiquiri that fateful June night I reckoned that any found ‘love’ would be stamped on a happy pill, served with 12 hours of dancing.

I have always been one to think of ‘love’ as like winning ¤2 on a scratch card: if you’re always looking to win you never will. But one day when you least expect it you strike gold and bam, you’re smugly perusing the McDonald’s Eurosaver menu. You cannot look for love. When the time is ripe and you are independent, loving life, it will just appear. And that’s just what happened to me: when Disclosure’s set ended and I was jumping around wildly to Dusky’s ‘Nobody Else’ I met my future best friend and boyfriend.

I have rather unbelievably conquered the insurmountable ‘Holiday Romance’ and the ‘Long-Distance Love’ and now two years later the English boy who I danced all night with in Space has moved to Dublin to be with me. Whether it was the ecstasy, love, lust, or pure coincidence, I met my best friend that night and as we stumbled into a taxi at 7am as the sun rose over Bora Bora our story began. We spent the remainder of the holiday together, romantically sharing gravy chips on the road by a bin one night (our first date) before spending our last night carrying one another back to the hotel, soon realising our mutual ‘lightweight’ drinking stamina.

When the holiday ended we parted ways, with him heading back to Northampton and I to Dublin. I laughed when he said he would come to visit me in two weeks, just in time to celebrate his birthday in my neck of the woods. When I stumbled out of arrivals into my mammy’s arms (wearing a cowboy hat and a Buddha around my neck I might add), I cried my eyes out. Maybe it was the emotion of leaving my English lover or maybe it was the two weeks’ worth of sambuca still pounding through my body but either way I was met with an eye-roll as she heard about my mystery buachaill deas: ”Don’t be telling your Daddy about your traipsing around an island with some English ‘how-do-you-do’ you little Jezebel.” Ah, young love.

Two weeks later I found myself (minus cowboy hat) waiting for an English boy at Dublin airport arrivals, stripped of my glow sticks and the camouflage of a mini cocktail umbrella. It was the most nerve-wrecking moment of my life to say the least. Ultimately, he missed his flight home that weekend. We continued our whirlwind romance et voilà, we had begun a long-distance relationship. For a year and six months, we travelled every second weekend across that wretched barrier of the Irish Sea and would spend one or two days together. People were often brought to tears by our story. Oh how romantic our Ryanair Romance must have seemed! We were certainly star-crossed lovers, but for some reason I don’t think Juliet ever had to balance studying for her degree, working to afford flights, and travelling every odd weekend to get a glimpse of her dear Romeo never mind lug a suitcase around, ruining the whole ”fairest-of-them-all” look.

No goodbye was ever easier than the previous one, and every hello brought back those pesky butterflies. Whether I was in the right place at the right time or whether karma decided it was meant to be (I can thank my little Ibiza Buddha possibly), after our night in June we simply couldn’t party without one another. That Balearic island certainly has a lot to answer for: on Christmas Eve last year my mystery Ibiza lover decided to pack up his life in England and move to Dublin and we’ve been gracing the underground Dublin party scene together ever since. My lesson in love? Forget love at first sight, or lust at first sight, when the right moment comes it comes. Oh, and also, meet the love of your life at a rave. That seems to do the trick.

Come out to yourself

Naoise Dolan

Having boyfriends feels dishonest, but not in a way you can locate. The closest term you can stick onto it is ‘using people’ – but for what, exactly? What does a heterosexual relationship get you, except ‘a heterosexual relationship’? And why isn’t that making you happy?

But you know why, and have known long before you had the word for it. It is glaringly obvious that you are a massive lesbian. You laugh at yourself in the mirror the first time you say it to yourself. Painfully apparent, too, that time and time again, you mistook wishful thinking for love. That you’ll have to start over now.

I’m not a Disney princess

Adina Sulemane

I spent my formative years with headphones on and my nose in a book. I rejected most crooners in favour of punk rock, rom-coms for action sequences and preferred stories of dragon chasers and vampire hunters to the writings of Jane Austen (but damn if Colin Firth in the white shirt didn’t get my attention anyway).

I was mostly taken by tales of superheroes, and there was one character that caught my attention above all others: Lois Lane, the stylish, sharp-tongued, award-winning reporter who just happens to be dating Superman. Talk about a dream life! I figured if there was anyone on whom to model my life it was her. With an established career, home and sense of self, Lois Lane had all her ducks in a row before settling down. I would do the same if it weren’t for the recession limiting job opportunities, housing options, and so on.

One criticism I often face is that I don’t put myself out there, or I’m not open to dating. In my defence, I have dipped my foot into the dating pool. It’s not my fault that the good stuff is covered with pond scum, but I guess that’s why they tell you to dive in. My indifference to dating has been mistaken as “waiting for the perfect person,” but the truth is I’m waiting to be the perfect person. I was hoping to have all my issues resolved by the time I fell in love, and I see now how that’s naively on par with waiting for Prince Charming.

I was raised on strict diet of Disney films and all the songs that really stuck with me are duets. Two people working hard to stay in harmony: there’s a metaphor for love in there somewhere. But is it fair to join a duet not knowing your own voice? Ariel, Aurora and Belle were all comfortable belting out their tunes before they met their princes. I didn’t think I could share my life with someone if I didn’t know what I wanted from life. For this reason I shunned the idea of falling in love for the longest time.

This whole time, I failed to realise that I grew up watching a great love story unfold before me. For nearly 30 years, my parents have been laughing and dancing their way through life. While they didn’t have it all sorted, they had an idea of what they wanted so they worked together to get it. Perhaps my life could still be a Broadway production. I’ll just have to let love see it through the work- in-progress phase, stage fright and bad reviews. If I have to put in the work, it might as well be for a good duet.

Girlfriends over boyfriends


I was never really a girl’s girl growing up; I didn’t understand a lot of the subtleties involved in maintaining female friendships. I spoke in very straightforward terms, and didn’t pick up on a lot of the things that teenage girls get offended by. Not agreeing on opinions for example, or sometimes just agreeing too much, because actually, liking Russell Brand is kind of their thing.

So I stayed in my comfort zone, and usually made friends with guys, because I laughed at dirty jokes, and could quote Anchorman. As we got older things got more complicated. Everyone starts to feel that their friendship changes when their friend is in a relationship, but it’s much messier when you’re friends with a member of the opposite sex.

While I had a lot of male friends growing up, I didn’t have many boyfriends, so I didn’t understand the other side of being jilted so that your mate can hang out with their girlfriend. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I got into a serious relationship, with a guy that I met through a bunch of lad mates.

The transition into college is a rocky time for secondary school friendships. I was unsure about my course and suffering from a particularly prolonged bout of the freshers’ flu. I had zero energy to go out once a week, let alone take part in the seemingly standard constant binge. All of my social interaction dwindled down to lazy nights in eating pizza and watching TV, with my then boyfriend. I started to rely more and more on my boyfriend to be my best friend. He would be jealous of my being close to other guys, as if playing board games with a couple of cans somehow muscled in on what we had. I had never imagined that breaking up with him involved breaking up with our mutual friends. I found myself left with the girls who I had always felt uncomfortable around.

What I discovered was that being friends with women was very different to being friends with girls. Everyone was less worried about appearing feminine, because we already knew we were. Also, minus the people who lied to avoid hurting feelings, giving an honest opinion was suddenly valued. Becoming close friends with the women around me has been amazing. Girl talk not only includes pretty much the same stupid jokes I could make with lads, but also overwhelming support and understanding of exclusively female problems. That messy breakup created the strong bonds I’ve made with my ladies. I now feel like a stronger person.

Illustration: Mariam Ahmad