The internet moves fast, leaping from meme to main news, quickly, indiscriminately, particularly right now when every hour there's a new horror headline of global terror, political disaster or Love Island plot twist (seriously, WTF even is Love Island?). While I rarely dwell long on celebrity news, I couldn't help but pause when I saw the footage of Bradley Cooper and girlfriend Irina Shayk caught on camera at Wimbledon allegedly having a fight (or a serious case of hayfever, as sources are now saying). I watched it, feeling both curious and voyeuristic, something deep within me churning in painful recognition.
Three days later, the clip is still popping up on my Facebook and Twitter - Irina dabbing her eyes, Bradley's seemingly exasperated facial expression, their body language so frosty I could almost hear Let It Go cranking up somewhere. We're fascinated because it's real. Because we have all had fights. Because it's awkward. We understand it. We know those feelings. But I have been that girl crying more than I care to admit. I have been that girl and it hurt so much I just can't find this particular caught-on-camera funny.
I had a relationship where I cried constantly. At first our union was beautiful, as all relationships start out. But after a time we began fighting relentlessly. I'd go to bed crying. I'd wake up sad, feeling empty yet simultaneously heavy inside. I'd walk down the street, eyes streaming thinking about what had just happened or what next fight awaited. Seemingly simple, enjoyable things such as choosing a restaurant together often left me in tears. Doing our weekly Tesco shop could quickly morph into us screaming in each other's faces. Let's not even talk about car journeys.
We were two good people - and I do believe that - yet we became very bad for each other. He brought out my frustrations, I brought out his temper, and everyone could see it. We once arrived at a party to be introduced as "Oh, these guys? They just fight, that's their thing." But I didn't want it to be my 'thing'. It wasn't my thing. I'm usually so fucking docile and accommodating I get annoyed with myself for not being more of a diva occasionally. Yet there I was, the girl having fights with her boyfriend in Soho Square, on the Tube, in the local shop, at a toddler's birthday party. There I was suddenly, wherever we went, dabbing my eyes.
My 'Wimbledon' moment wasn't blasted on screen for everyone to see, but it felt just as public. We'd gone to see a play and the space had been designed in the round so the audience all faced each other. I don't remember what prompted that row as we queued to go in, but as we walked into the theatre and sat down, my head throbbed. We sat awkwardly, sniping under our breath, my eyes refusing to stop crying. The more I tried to hold it in, the more my body became a human pressure cooker, filling up, tight with unbearable, toxic tension. I felt caught in a spotlight, imagining that everyone was watching me as our silent aggression projected out towards the auditorium. I felt their pity and shame and embarrassment. I looked at my feet, my fingers tugged at the tissue slowly disintegrating in my palm. The lights took ages to go down, and even when they did, it didn't feel dark enough. I wanted to be put out, anonymous, freed by the darkness. I wanted to vanish from myself. From this mess. But the scenes weren't loud enough and my sniffs felt amplified. Ironically, the play was about a relationship breaking down. Two hours of watching love fall apart. Two hours of art imitating life. That was not a good day.
What is the moral of this story? I don't know. There isn't one. Except that at some point, I realised this wasn't healthy or normal - no matter how much it had become my normality - and we mutually ended things. Both of us in tears this time. Both of us distraught, both of us - unknown at the time - heading off towards greater happiness. And after the first few months of break-up pain, I started to realise something - I wasn't crying any more, not from anger or sadness or frustration. My headaches vanished. Friends said I seemed more relaxed. My skin chilled out. And instead, I cried when things made me happy. When my niece did something funny. When I saw a beautiful piece of art. When a song spoke a truth only music knows how to convey. Maybe I've always been a crier, maybe I'm just sensitive, but at least I'm no longer dabbing my eyes wherever I go, hoping not to be seen.