I have a disgusting habit, and that is that I like to fall in love. Especially around the holidays. I have held onto this hope for half a decade, that I can have a ‘me and mines pyjamas by the Christmas tree’ love during Christmas. Nearly every year since I started the hunt, I have not found it, yet I continue in this ritual of embarrassing dates and inadequate love connections.
2018 began this ritual, and it was the most cruel. I had a horrible year and while all my friends had returned to school, I had a gap semester. Most parts of my life were shit, I felt alone in every way, like life was leaving me behind. But at least I had the best partner and we had Christmas plans. One lifeline but on the 26th of October, he passed away. He could have at least just broken up with me. He took do or die to the next level, how very Nigerian of him.
That Christmas was cold and I vowed to always be found near a fire in the coming years. To achieve my aim, every year is split into two for me. The first six months are dedicated to ‘grinding’. As a seasoned freelancer, I take on as much work as I can find, even if it suffocates me. I work my fingers off, typing away, drafting away and there’s the occasional Coursera course I take to ‘develop myself’. All the certifications are in stock should I ever have the bravery to accept a full-time job against all my commitment issues.
In January of 2019, I had so much to build and return to after the grief, and that was what moulded this schedule. I did miraculous things that year, a resounding success in the wake of grief if you ask me. And that year, I gave myself a pass, an allowance that I did not need to have a partner for the holidays. That Christmas I was alone, but I was not lonely. Instead, I returned to my mother’s house determined to show them that I was not the same grief-stricken person that left in January. I was determined to show them that I could hold my own. I failed because I have painfully learned that you cannot prove strength, you can only apply it.
The holidays are a wonderful time if you ask people who have a home to go to. The holidays are a dreaded time if you ask people who have no home, and the same answer comes from people who are wandering because where they were born doesn’t feel like home. My answer changes because my perception of sufficiency is still finding bearing. As a mandatory act of self-development, I am in therapy and in that room that feels small because of the claustrophobia of my depression and anxiety, I have traced the root of my longing to always want to be in love during the holidays.
My parents got divorced when I was ten. It was a nasty separation but somehow it was the easiest part of what I had to endure in our collective life. We left my father’s house in May and that Christmas, there was a difference. We lived in a smaller house, I became a co-parent, and all the magic that engulfed my childhood memories of Christmas evaporated. I was my own Santa, my own father, and nothing felt magical when I was the one performing all the Christmas rituals for my family.
When you’re being raised by a single mother in Nigeria, everyone thinks that they can give you advice and hand-me-downs. They can come to your house on Christmas day, to ‘check in’ on you guys without doing any real emotional or manual labour. They eat food that was cooked by a ten-year-old and provided for by the penury of a struggling mother. They don’t care, they don’t mind, they came after all. They don’t bring any gifts, they don’t invite you anywhere, and you are constantly treated like an afterthought. When they do invite you out, you are constantly secluded. Everything has finished in the cooler when it is your turn to take food. There is the rare occasion when your mother has a boyfriend, and even they can’t take you and your sister to the gathering because it will just be better if you guys stayed at home. Everybody is celebrating, joyous, and you are at home, forgotten.
It should be no surprise then, reader, why after enduring this for over a decade, the minute I could afford to carve out a new Christmas tradition for myself and by extension my sister and mother, I took it. I did not want to give anybody the space to display their negligence of us during the holidays. In the most personal of ways as a first daughter, I craved someone else to wake me up to gifts, someone else to plan and perform festive rituals for me to enjoy. My hunt and resolve have good motives, a necessary rebellion from the status quo but it is the execution that I have query with. Let us revisit the years that will follow 2019 to see where I may have erred. I warn you, I am always running, so most of these memories might be fleeting.
2020 had an unmissable quality, the pandemic. I have a theory that the world changed after COVID. I am either too fleeting to remember all the things I want to comment on about post-pandemic anthropology or I am just neurodivergent. Either way, we are here for something else, my attempt at love toward the holidays. In 2020, I was off and on with ‘talking stage boy’. His name was Redacted. Redacted and I would ghost each other for weeks and return to the same spot with no answers from whatever we went to look for ‘out there’. We finally called it quits in November but it did not sting because we had practiced the separation over and over. Another cushion, I was going back home with money. My family could afford certain things that didn’t make you cry at their quality. I was able to afford nice gifts, nicer meals and clothes. In addition, that looming gratitude that cloaked the survivors of the pandemic world made people treat us kinder…? I don’t know, maybe I am remembering things closer than they happened, some people call that the odyssey of memory.
2021 was my first real shot at love during the holidays as I had three long-distance lovers who did not relent in treating me when I was in their cities, and even out of their cities. That year started on a high note coming from my Christmas victory of the previous year. A financial investment I made proved unbelievably fruitful and for the first time since we left my father’s house, wealth was within reach. I was also finishing an elaborate part of my life, I was graduating, with a law degree, with honours. I had a fundamental reason to go home and boast to the rest of my family who had shunned us all these years. Yes, your daughter graduated, but she had a pass. I had fucking honours. I also approached romance earlier that year because money was in order. I did not wait for the clock to reel in July, I hit the ground running and had my first group sex activity on January 5th. It really opened my eyes. I replied to more DMs that year than I wrote journal entries. Somehow, I got swept up in how good my life was so I knew that a ‘me and mines pyjamas’ Christmas was sure. A stark departure from the years before, this year I had options. There was Lagos Lover Numbers I, II and III, Rema Concert Boy, Redacted II, The Sexy Doctor, and Mr IJGB. One of them was going to stick, it had to, yes?
However, my best friend’s mother passed away from cancer that November, sadly followed by another friend’s brother, so that Christmas it did not matter to me how many people I had on my roster. I did not have the emotional bandwidth for romance. My heart was occupied with two co-existing griefs, and one more. That Christmas, when I stepped into the cemetery where I had buried my partner just three years ago, my aunt some months earlier, and another aunt nearly a decade ago, I started getting the inkling that the hole I was trying to fill would not come from the people I had on roster nor a picture in front of a twinkling tree. I did not know where the sufficiency was going to come from either so during the body lowering, I cried into my mother’s shoulders so loudly, painfully and achingly. That was the word, this ritual of searching for love during the holidays sprung from an ache of years of grief and negligence. It was born from the fact that just once I wanted someone to stay in my life all year, not leave, not die, that they would remember me in the most wonderful way in the most wonderful season of all.
Christmas in 2021 was sobering, and sobriety accompanied by tears cleans our eyes so we can see clearly. 2022 needed to be more authentic, I told myself. In strides of authenticity, I moved out of my mother’s house. I had left in 2017 when I went off to uni, but this time I was leaving for good. I needed to find what I was looking for and even a ‘serious mind’ could not numb the fact that I still wanted to return with a ‘real’ partner. One I had gotten as an adult, without all the games of the modern dating world. No games, no roster, it was just going to be two adults going home for Christmas. The matching pyjamas was even debatable. Growing up in divorce also instils in you the desire to prove that despite your history, you can escape that fate.
I survived so many things in 2022: a miscarriage, a semblance of a divorce, a return to poverty, and a housing crisis. But I had secured a loving long-distance relationship with a wonderful woman by the time the year was over, and a job that paid in dollars. It was an eventful year and finally, I had the Christmas I had been working toward. My partner was divine, we had celebrated Christmas early that year so we could ‘go home’, and even if it was not loud, I could touch it, it could hold me, I could know if I had found sufficiency.
This was short-lived because 2022 also gave me a scholarship that would take me to England the following year. My partner and I would not survive the move but not knowing that yet, that Christmas I expanded my love beyond romance. I wanted to hug my mother, my sister, my friends, my estranged aunties, and the widower next door because that Christmas on the precipice of my reality adjusting, it dawned on me that things change really quickly. The existential finality we feel while trying to live through an emotional war is false. Nothing lasts forever and this is why we need to continue to live life ever so bravely. Whether it was me finally having romance during the holidays or leaving for a new life, something clicked that Christmas, the ache did not come, and I did not feel alone.
2023 arrived and as an autistic woman, I cling to patterns especially when my immediate environment feels estranged. I searched my brain for the previous year I had lived that could be likened to this one so I could do the same things for a similar safe outcome. I found 2021 and decided to plot similar graphs. Let us see how it turned out.
Moving to England has given me things I could write about for eons, but surely one anthology cannot take all my stories. I moved on the fifth day of February and in one week we were going to confront Valentine’s Day. I had broken up with my partner before leaving so I was a ghost for the first two months. This sexy ghost however did not restrain herself; she did not try but she did not refuse. When a Valentine’s weekend offer from a boy I had attended undergrad with, but had never spoken to, arrived in my DMs with minimal effort on my part, I took it.
Migration introduced me to an unshakable numbness and I paid very costly prices to feel something this year. There were a number of romantic encounters where I took what I was offered and ran. The Valentine’s weekend getaway was sweet, he was kind, there was a threesome, but it still failed to evoke anything out of me. I blamed it on my heartbreak and how I did not really ‘try’. In true hunter fashion, I must see my effort in a connection before I enjoy it. A strive is a prerequisite of my enjoyment. After the weekend, I ghosted him, and threw myself into academia and this part-time job I had. They distracted me until June when I attended my very first pride parade and the ache returned. After months of numbness and unromantic sex, I was plunged into the familiar ache and a consciousness that the holidays were once again going to arrive. It was good to be ‘home’.
My options in England felt wider but somehow it was harder to meet people. I join the chorus of immigrants everywhere to reverberate that it is lonely in a foreign land. Nothing lasts and trust is fickle, but I had to try, right? After submitting my dissertation and quitting my part-time job, I went on a two-week holiday in a small village in Wales in hopes of writing and finding love. I took a holiday just as I did in 2021 after finishing a previous dissertation. Perhaps because in 2021, I had a river of love interests, some I found on holiday like the Liberian banker, I was hopeful. I wrote, engaged in solitude, did my puzzle, drank in a strange pub, and ran in the rain. A truly refreshing holiday, but I did not find love and suddenly it was October. The day I returned to England, I felt a heavy disappointment, my faith had not been rewarded, and my bravery had not been met with results, this was unfamiliar, and it was embarrassing. Every couple on the streets of Oxford started irritating me.
At wit’s end, I ventured into the business of online dating and, because it was the only free one I found, I started an unholy tango with Hinge. Hinge opened me to the idea of interracial dating. I had not seen dating through that lens before and while I am for it, I will admit that it demands so much from me in a new way. On Hinge, I had to give my matches a glossary of my dichotomy so that they could translate my expressions. Imagine sending an English man a thirst trap and instead of, “Omo you fine die,” he replies with “Goodness me, your bum is lofty.” This translation perhaps made it exciting at first. The desire to be the first person to teach someone else something is riveting for those of us with a saviour complex. But it also opened a new dimension of loss, especially in communication. I am not asserting that there were no Nigerian men to date on Hinge, I am just saying that I rarely ever matched with them based on interests.
I dated three English men in the space of six weeks, and the first separation was by far the most gut-wrenching. It happened some days just before the great memorial and it happened suddenly. It caused me to see how many of my separations in the past were always sudden, and the rug has been pulled from under me too many times to be a coincidence. I was not paying attention to something. This was the incident this year that caused me to interrogate my ritual of a holiday love hunt and I would always be grateful for it.
I will disabuse you, dear reader, of the notion that this realization came from ‘looking inward’. We have been scammed into believing that all forms of love can substitute one another but that is not even remotely true. Self-love is self-love and it is necessary, familial love is that and it has its place. Unless you are stuck in the medieval times, there is no need to want to fuck a family member. The love you get from friendships can hold you, save you, shelter you and, although it can sometimes morph into it, it is not romantic love.
Romantic love is a desire that should be honoured, hand-in-hand with sexual gratification. It has its place but, as I learned in the murky waters of October, until we answer ourselves sincerely on who we are, what we want and how romantic love fits into our lives, we will hunt shadows. After the first breakup with Englishman Number I, I said an overdue final goodbye to my partner who died half a decade ago in an intimate online ceremony I held with some of my closest and dearest. Even though I had been in and held wonderful love in the past five years, I never found the ‘matching pyjamas Christmas’ love. Perhaps because for those five years, I was trying to replace a dead person rather than let him go before finding someone new. I was too terrified to be utterly alone that I cast expectations across my dating life while I held his love in reserve. This often flowed into the fact that while in the same reality, I was always steps ahead of a romantic prospect. I was always trying to get somewhere secure, looking for some assurance that this one is ‘solid’.
I have already told you an unholy amount of secrets so, what is one more? Being alone is not the existential finality we think it is, and it is not always loneliness. We are also not ever the same person we were the last time we were alone. The first time I felt alone, my true induction into loneliness, was when I became my own parent. The next monumental time, the pinnacle of loneliness, was when I, an 18-year-old, had to bury the love of my life. The next big time was life-threateningly lonely, when I was a 22-year-old living alone in a faraway city, going through a separation from the man whose child I had just miscarried. This time, I am the 23-year-old who has survived so much and has pacified that lifetime ache inside of her. At the pathway of pacification, I have deleted Hinge. I did this because it feels too much like the hunt I have quit and the love I am looking to be in now, requires nothing of me than to simply wait for it to find me. With love we want to keep for eons, we need to learn to step back and let life happen to us, it will never be on the premise of what we did to reel it in or not, it is dumb fucking luck.
In my Aaron Burr era, I am watching a long list of romcoms to soothe my longing for romance, and it is not. that. bad. Sure, it is winter and darkness knocks by 4 pm. Yeah, seasonal depression is constantly tricking me. Of course, I would like to watch these romcoms with another pair of socks under the blanket. Yes, Christmas dinner would be better when there is someone else to share it with, but I don’t have that person – yet. The addition of ‘yet’ in my romantic life helps put things in perspective and extinguishes that finality that promotes loneliness. A joint effort between ‘yet’ and the human unnegotiable of exhaustion has halted my hunt. Migration has also tired me out on all fronts, causing me to rest, pause, and see what I do have and not all the things I don’t have. I am not trying to replace it again, I am just taking stock and, hey – it is a wonderful life. I can escape any fate because I can write myself into better narratives.
After a five-year hunt, it is December again, and I am alone but I am not lonely because somehow against all odds, against what I was afraid of, loneliness has forgotten my address. I have a number of solo events I am determined to enjoy this holiday season and when I am tempted to recline and redownload Hinge, I must repeat this to myself:
Loneliness has forgotten my address, this is my new ritual.