In the second half of this year, I found myself single for the first time in two years. Just like you’d expect, it sucked. And it sucked in every single way you’d expect two years ending in “I think we just want different things” would suck. But people make decisions which need to be made, and I can’t hold that against anyone. Sometimes, things just don’t work out.
Nevertheless, I found myself wading into the world of being single. It was a world which I thought looked cold, unforgiving and littered with disappointing dates with even more disappointing men. It looked like turning up to social events alone while I envied my friends glowing with their long-term partners as they gushed about the weekend away they’d just come back from or the farmers market they went to on Saturday. It looked like me living vicariously through my friends’ Instagram stories at home.
All this said, I made the best of being single. I cut my losses by going out to my favourite cocktail bar, reconnecting with old friends while hiking or cooking. I wrote; I thought about what I really wanted out of a relationship; I booked my first solo trip around Vietnam. I let myself cry until it wasn’t worth any more tears, then I blasted Beyoncé and Little Mix as loudly as I could. I learned the very important lesson that almost everything you can get from a boyfriend, like emotional intimacy, a shoulder to cry on, somebody to belly laugh with and a brunch partner, you can get from friends and family in a modified way.
So, when I felt a desire to expand my social circles and meet new people, I made the bold step of downloading Tinder. Now, I realise Tinder isn’t for everyone and it carries a certain stigma. I, too, once ascribed to the belief that Tinder was just about hook-ups and resigned myself to being too ‘old fashioned’ for the controversial app in the hopes I’d meet a man in a coffee shop over a mixed-up order or a chance meeting through friends. But I was also realistic: this was how people met people now and I wasn’t going to let an outdated stigma get in the way of meeting someone new.
One afternoon, I matched with somebody who looked intriguing. Let’s call him the ‘nurse’. He lived close by, he was a couple of years older than me, he was studying nursing. His profile was witty, he seemed reasonably well-adjusted and he looked cute in his photos. He messaged me, I messaged back, and then we didn’t stop messaging. The conversation was light and fun.
We really hit it off in a way I had never really hit it off with anyone else before. After a few weeks of dating, I finally realised why I was intrigued, curious and this way: he didn’t study law. For the better part of the last three and a half years, I had been in relationships with men who studied law because that was where my social circle was. I don’t know about you, but over the last four years at law school, I’ve found it difficult not to be constantly surrounded by the legal profession.
By dating somebody who didn’t exist in a bubble where suffering is the norm and where we can only bring ourselves to celebrate HDs, I learned a thing or two about myself and the importance of our non-law relationships.
First, I realised that I had interests which made me interesting which had nothing to do with how I felt about certain lecturers or subjects or my thoughts on the clerkship process. I found myself bonding with the nurse over Taylor Swift’s career progression and a reasonably obscure band we both liked. We talked about books, art, poetry and gender politics. We sang to rock ballads in the car and talked about the corners of the earth we had walked and the places we wanted to explore. We got up early and sat on the bonnet of my car while watching the sunrise and talking about the stars.
None of these things had anything to do with law – I met the girl who I was before law. The one who wasn’t paralysed by the fear of doing badly and keeping up the appearance of having it all together. I didn’t feel bad for spending time on things which weren’t studying. I allowed myself to be who I wanted to be, the girl who was creative, passionate and empathetic, rather than the girl who was quiet, reserved and maximising career opportunities with a man on my arm.
The nurse also taught me a great deal about perspective. I couldn’t help but admire the emotional struggle that people in healthcare go through daily and must deal with. A crisis for us is not meeting a deadline and the client being unhappy, or not being able to put in our best on an assignment. A crisis for the nurse was somebody he had built a good rapport with dying. Hearing his experiences working at an epilepsy charity, where this happened almost all the time, really put my own problems into perspective and I reconsidered whether a variation of a large pile of paperwork was really the best thing to complain about.
I also came to discover that I was a whole lot happier with myself when I didn’t measure my success by how good I was at law school. When I got my results back this semester, I realised how we measured success differently. I won’t lie, it wasn’t my best semester. But when I told the nurse my grades, feeling a little sheepish but trying to feign confidence, I was met with genuine praise. He was thrilled that I’d managed to stay afloat in such a difficult course and remain emotionally in one piece.
For one of the very first times, I felt proud of myself despite the lower marks and I no longer felt like I was second best to a partner who consistently outperformed me. I achieved in my own right, in my own field, and I was proud of myself. I found success in the journey and I no longer felt like I had to compete.
Finally, I learned what it was like to be a person who wasn’t just another law student who could be replaced at the click of someone’s fingers. I felt the glow which came with adding genuine value to somebody’s life, even if it was by something as mundane as explaining why there are so many memes about Justice [Michael] Kirby. The more I learned how I added unique value and insight to someone’s life, someone who had only recently come to know me, the more I believed that I could add value to my future place of employment.
So, as I relish in the throws of new romance and bask in the sunshine, I’ll be celebrating the value my non-law relationships bring to my life and the new perspectives, insights and lessons I’ve learned about the world and myself. And I’ll be celebrating one of the best Christmas presents anyone could ever have given me: growth.
Flynne Tytherleigh is a law student at Monash University and is the founder and owner of men’s accessories label PocketMan.