Trigger warning: Mentions sexual assault

Love has always been conditional in my life. I learnt that when I broke up with my last partner. My friends and family were never stable, a reality that showed up as I got older and struggled to form proper relationships. I resigned myself to the belief that the ‘good guy’ wasn’t for me and that love was always going to hurt.

Until my third year in university, I kept this up. I had been with a couple of guys, in both my first and second years.

In my first year, I dated someone that was a complete fuckboy, and I knew it. He was Italian, a fellow uni student and a friend of a friend—that’s how we got together. I made myself believe that I liked him, and I spent at least eight months with him. Come Easter, we broke up and I never saw him again.

I resigned myself to the belief that the ‘good guy’ wasn’t for me and that love was always going to hurt.

In my second year, I dated a friend of mine that I believed I could trust. It was a belief he broke. It was a belief that broke me through and through.

He sexually assaulted me, and we broke it off not long after. Once I had left university, I was pretty sure that I would never see him again. That was when I met Robert.* We were both interns in the same department and worked together on a project about Peace Education Theory in Israel and Palestine.

We didn’t interact much but I thought he was cute. On the 26th of April, we had to present our work. That was the first time Robert and I spoke. We talked about our interests, he told me about a time when he was 16 and did well on his exams and as a reward, he asked his mum to take him to Israel. I had never met anyone who was like me before. From a young age, I had loved learning about history and traveling and I was so surprised to find someone who thought like me.

We fought to answer questions and I always made sure that he knew when I was right.

In my third and final year, I served as president of the Amnesty International Society. It was liberating and I felt empowered. I was defending people who couldn’t defend themselves and was actively working to push my networks. In January, I ran an event. I asked an ex-Bahraini MP to come to my university campus and I invited everyone that I knew. At this point, Robert and I were in the same seminar.

We fought to answer questions. I sat in front of him and every time I would get an answer right, I would turn around and make sure that he knew I had beaten him. I didn’t realize that he liked me, I had never noticed it before. The event came and went, and he didn’t come. I didn’t think anything of it until he messaged me and asked for a video of the event for him to watch. I learned later on that he only asked as an excuse to message me.

From then on, we talked constantly.

I felt that I had finally met my match. I loved it. We used to walk back from the seminar together, talking about politics or what we had been up to. It became my favorite part of Wednesday afternoons.

On Valentine’s Day, my friend held an event, and I ended up inviting Robert to attend it with me. I knew that he wasn’t seeing anyone so I figured that he would be free. I didn’t realize that he had already been invited but had turned it down until I invited him.

For the rest of our relationship, he called Valentine’s Day our first date. We spent the whole night laughing and joking together. I hadn’t really clicked with anyone the way I did with him. He understood my jokes and took them in his stride, giving as good as he got.

This was the first time I saw the cross around his neck. He noticed my surprise and explained how important faith was to him.

He was running to be the head of a student organisation at this point, so our dates ended up being store-bought sandwiches that we would eat while sitting in the main university square. I loved it. The first night he stayed over was the anniversary of my assault, and he held me close the whole night.

Officially, we got together on the 8th of March. I met his friends and they told me that I gave them “the old Robert back.”

Our relationship was safe. I remember there was one night I was staying at his place where he had a single bed. I panicked and sat in the corner of his room crying because I had a flashback. He kept his distance but made sure I knew he was there.

I hadn’t really clicked with anyone the way I did with him.

Once I calmed down, I let him pick me up and put me in bed. Drowsily, I looked over to him going through his wardrobe. He was looking for his sleeping bag to make sure I was comfortable. I went over, reached for his hand and brought him into the bed. He took his cross from around his neck and placed it around mine saying that “God will protect you.” He stayed up the whole night to make sure I was okay.

We broke up at the end of the month. I still don’t know why.

Afterwards, we were together but we weren’t. We acted like a couple but whenever anyone asked us we would avoid the question.

In the week we weren’t talking, he slept with someone else. We talked about it and we both cried a lot. I noticed that he wasn’t wearing his cross, the one he never took off.

When I asked, he said that ‘he wasn’t worthy of it anymore, that he had ruined on the best thing that he had’. I flew out to the States not soon after and we carried on talking like we were still together.

He was there for me whenever I needed him. His hugs made me feel like nothing could touch me because I had him. The night before Eid we were fighting, he had watched a football game during my event and I felt so betrayed. It was 1 a.m., we were on the phone and I was crying.

I couldn’t understand what had happened and I just wanted to know why. What he said to me then will stay with me forever: “You’re the only person I can be myself around. You’re the only person I feel vulnerable around.”

He came over, and it felt like we were back on the same page. I would do anything to go back to that night and just pause it and I don’t think I would ever leave.

The ‘giving back of the stuff’-stage came next and I went to his place to get my things.

He came to mine to drop my things off and stayed. We ended up staying together all night, eating pizza on my bedroom floor, talking. The way he looked, lost in thought smiling at his own memories. He moved and pulled me into his lap saying, “I just want to be close to you.”

I had been dying to take him down the canal, and that Sunday I did. The conversation we had was about the first Socialist Prime Minister and how the Black Plague entered Europe.

To many, it’s not the most romantic but it was quintessentially us. We went to the graveyard, looking at the Commonwealth Graves and just being together. The graveyard is so big that it has different sections. We went into the Islamic section and he took his hoodie off and put it on my head so that I could cover my hair. That really touched me because he thought of it before I did.

It’s been almost a year since we broke up, and I still struggle.

Robert has been the only person with whom I’ve ever been completely vulnerable. Since then, I haven’t found anyone like him, anyone that protected me in that same way. I have dated people since we broke up, but I have never met anyone who has kept my interest like him.

Thinking of him still hurts and I miss him more than I can say. After we broke up, my heart still seemed to belong to him.

He used to talk about how much his family would love me because I kept him on his toes and challenged him.  His beliefs and opinions were what attracted me to him, even after we broke up. He allowed me to explore the opinions that I had never understood before and challenge things that I had learned. I miss having his opinion and take on things, especially politics. I am still struggling with the emptiness he left behind. His cuddles solved everything.

I never needed him to fix me, I just needed him to hold me whilst I was falling apart. I only ever wanted him, and I don’t know if I’ll find someone like him again.

The thought of that terrifies me. I just hope it isn’t true.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved. 

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  • Aafiyah Shaikh

    Aafiyah is a graduate from Lancaster University with a BA in International Relations. In her spare time, she loves writing poetry, and dismantling racist and patriarchal structures