'Cake' by Hannah-Clare Vann
Hannah-Clare Vann is a graduate from the University of West England. Her short story 'Cake' is based on the subject of past relationships and a journey towards self love.
H-CV: "This is a personal essay written from my own personal experience surrounding the theme of love and dating in your 20's. Not every experience navigating the road of romance is an easy one and not every romantic connection you make will be everlasting as some can just be a lesson learned to elevate yourself and better yourself in your life then go on a self love journey. This is my personal experience on that topic."
My counsellor coined this incredible analogy recently in regard to love and romance, an area in life which I have yet to navigate successfully. The birth of this analogy came from me whining about how I’m bad at love, you know, all that relatability that comes with your 20’s as a millenial and the deeper I dug into my failed attachments that impacted me the most the more I shared these seemingly confusing fragments of shattered “relationships”. We worked together to make sense of a pattern that I once ignored but now I was finally facing. I’ve been a hamster trapped in the spinning wheel for the longest when it comes to dating. So, when she coined this theory it was inevitable to occupy a large quantity of space inside my brain because I had something that made sense and made me really analyse the errors of my dating ways and finally taking responsibility and it took a pandemic to lock me in a dating time out to really consider changing my ways and the situations. This was the analogy which changed everything, she said:
“You know, it’s almost like you’re walking past a cake shop, you see this grand cake and you really want this big beautiful cake. You walk in and order this cake that’s in display in the window, that caught your eye in the first place but the person behind the counter is only willing to give you a slice and you take it but really that’s not going to satisfy you because you set your sights on this grand version but you settle because something is better than nothing when you can’t have the whole thing”,
There it was. The analogy that has since changed my life. I, like many others out there in the dating field have accepted way less than I ever wanted but with a broken self esteem and already this instilled that you’re unworthy, anything is better than nothing because I really was sold on that belief of you’re nobody until someone loves you and that’s all I seemed to journey towards in the hope I’d be good enough for anyone yet I believed I wasn’t good enough for myself and being someone who craved for my own love story since I could remember I’ve wanted it all in a perfect abundant parcel wrapped with a ribbon from the universe. I’ve wanted the unrealistic “ever lasting” forever love the Hollywood moves have produce but with zero regard to the effort it actually takes to make a relationships work. I once thought that a “relationship”, was some magical whirlwind Disney scene that turns into a Nora Ephron movie but I didn’t realise how it can sometimes come with a very weird M. Night Shyamalan twist with David Lynch directing. The thing is though, I know I am not the only one. I know I am not the only self confessed hopeless romantic to my very core who wears her heart on her sleeve but weighed down with low self esteem, so low in fact it’s led me to situations where I’ve accepted way less than I ever should. I really began dating at 17 and for a decade it’s been the most soul crushing, heart wrenching, hope shattering experience but man, I’ve learnt a lot about myself and in order to really tell my story, I need to steer back to the beginning and it all began in 2011, with a 19 year old named *Chad*.
I met *Chad* at my “boyfriends” flat on a summers evening. I say boyfriend in the loosest of terms as we broke up 3 times in a year and the most memorable he dumped me via text on my 17th birthday and we were very off and on for a year so already rocky at best but on this particular evening in 2011, *Chad* turned up to this party I got way to drunk at and our eyes met several times. Of course my “boyfriend” and I wouldn’t last which sure enough pulled me towards *Chad* who, after the intimidation of his exterior found me getting to know this seemingly sweet talented artist. We would go from catching each other in the same friends house every few days to him being the reason I wanted to catch the bus and hang out with everyone, hoping he’d be there also. It wouldn’t be long before I’d be spending evenings and even nights talking to him, allowing him to pull me onto his lap and rest his head on my chest and even him promising to take me to Paris one day which he wrote on a love note and I kept for years. He would even sleep in a bed with me, pulling me into him, kissing my head so gently keeping me iron clad in his arms never wanting to let me go or disturb our bliss and all this would one day come to head in a kiss, a long beautiful passionate kiss where I saw fireworks in the dark living room. This sounds incredible right? How can *Chad* be a crumb of a cake? Well simple, *Chad* had a very serious girlfriend who he’d already been with for around 4 years at this stage. So... no, he wasn’t my whole cake. A crumb at best.
However though, despite this clear knowledge, that couldn’t separate 17 year old Hannah from him, I was tenacious in my pursuit and I allowed him to continue to message me ritualistically daily and sometimes nightly. I’d allowed *Chad* to come and go exactly how he pleased. He’d express obvious upset if someone in the friendship group showed some interest in me he would claim me as “his Hannah”, branding me verbally, making me believe I finally belonged to someone. I was finally good enough to inhabit my body because someone deemed me a worthy human being. Placing my entire validation into his hands and being “someone’s something”, sounded so very romantic. The sick reality though, someone claimed me as his property when I didn’t have him. I lowered the bar for what? What was I receiving? You can’t survive on a crumb and get a split second taste then wait like a puppy for the next hurl of a crumb.
I realised in the fourth year (yes... I was hopeful for a guy I didn’t even have for 4 years) that I was nothing more except an ego boost for him yet I couldn’t boost my own ego. This set up *Chad* had was perfect. He could throw me crumbs whenever he wanted but keep his life with his girlfriend. I had nothing but I, with my puppy dog wide eyes of hope would pray one day he’d just realise I’ve been there all along because back then I believed real love was this romanticised tragedy and in my head we were this painful love story ready to conquer the world in due time but there’s a fine line between hope and delusion in the ultimate battlefield of love. I was the doormat right outside the front door but there was so little respect and he stomped all over it. I allowed it. I accepted it hoping it would be different but it never was. I’m sure we’ve all had an experience with a *Chad*.
Then of course came another crumb came in the form of *David*, a tall, skinny curly haired, brown eyed sweet engineer student the friendliest smile I’d come across. I never thought I would fall for him. He was so different to what I was used to. We met in an alternative night club only a brief short cut from my halls. Long story short, I ended up back at his place and it was one of the nicest nights I’d ever spent with someone. We talked about everything while songs that I still remember now after years should have disappeared into my sea of memories. He was so sweet. He would plant a kiss on my exposed shoulders travelling to my lips while he held me so close but that was about it. However the memory of he and I kissing to Bloodbank by Bon Iver is forever seared in my mind.... in the best possible ways. It was a great night/morning and we exchanged numbers and texted briefly but honestly even I knew this wasn’t going to anywhere. I was more focused on passing first year, I had zero expectations. Soon the messages fizzled to no surprise and so “hey well that’s that”, with a nonchalant tone. Nothing would ever happen..... until fate threw us together in the most weirdest of ways.
7 months later when I’d just moved in with a mutual friend and her mates in the very beating heart of Bristol’s nightlife. Below out apartment was a group of young guys who I’d met them all and were lovely, so lovely they invited everyone in my apartment to their flat warming. I wasn’t sure about making an entrance as I was already planning to meet someone but the moment I walked past their door there felt like something pulled me like a magnetic field into the wide open front door of downstairs apartment and the urge was so strong to enter I couldn’t ignore it. I did. I walked in through the long dark corridor where loud jeers were heard from the kitchen. I entered and saw through the darkened room with disco lights as its main source a bunch of guys standing around talking about to leave but then... then my eyes stopped at him. My heart stuttered in my chest, my eyes focused on him. It was *Dave*and he was taller than I remembered. I could tell from the way he was looking at me to he thought the same thing and suddenly it felt like a silence in this rowdy kitchen as we ignored pretty much everyone to talk to each other. There it was... the beginning of something that I had no idea would hurt so so much.
I had zero expectations from when we reconnected to texting almost everyday to even our first time having sex. I expected nothing until I wanted more when I got a taste. He was like the others throwing me crumbs but the difference was he would allow me to get a slither of what this could be..I would confuse his booty hour texts of wanting to see as genuinely wanting to spend time with me. I really thought I’d meant more to him than I did. He however kept me in check in reminding me what this was as he was sleeping with other girls and of course the devastating reminders of how his heart really belonged to his ex girlfriend which he would talk about to me after sex one day and when he left I would cry. I meant nothing to him in fact he was numb to me. I was just another girl like all the others to pass the time until his ex came to the city and he’d fully commit to her... and me? I was disposable. The reminder became all to real on midnight New Years Eve in 2016 where I got this incredible idea to confess my feelings for him. I mean in all honesty I hadn’t asked about how he really felt about me up until this point so it made sense to declare the feelings that were so obvious to another but to me, maybe this is what I needed to do to finally get that entire cake! So I pulled out my phone and headed outside where I pulled up his number. I drunkenly slumped against the doorframe listening to the continuous rings while my eyes stared into the abyss of darkness in front of me. It took me over a minute to gather the strength to even call him, and seconds for him to remind me I would never be his.
Then, of course, there was *Tom*, a guy I met at a house party who I became instantly smitten with the very night we met which was at a house part in his place where I was invited along with my best friend through a mutual friend. The second *Tom* and I began conversing we were just adhered to each other's side. Super glued and sealed. We talked in depth about music and our interests in writing and he in turn shared parts of himself to me. My best friend stole me to go to the toilet with where she exposed *Tom* as liking me which she heard from a source who *Tom* confided in. He was so sweet. He tied my shoe lace for me, gave me his jacket and held my hand even asking me if he could kiss me. It seemed to begin at a fast pace from meeting him, like a race car determined to win believing if it began the journey at high speed it wouldn’t be a disaster in the end but even they crash and burn out in a explosive disaster. At first, I couldn’t ask for someone or something better. He seemed completely invested in me. Totally single, spent as much time with me as he could. Arranging dates with me and honestly for once, I felt pursued. Like I didn’t have to chase and cling and suffocate, instead I allowed this grow and became surprised with the results. It grew to me meeting his friends, date nights, video calls when we were apart, we had photographs as a memento of our short lived but very intense romance together. We’d text every day without fail and call each other. It was bliss... until it wasn’t. Until he pulled the rug from my feet when I started to get far too comfortable.
He broke up with me after a heads up he gave me via text after he wrote the words “we need to talk when you come over”, That night would unfold further into the most awkward and incredibly intense break up I ever had as we both cried over this. We cried into each others arms and he apologised profusely while I stayed over his that night and we talked and I tried to piece this together. I’d soon spend months and months talking about *Tom* like word vomit I couldn’t keep down. I’d obsess what went wrong and why he didn’t want me and what did I do? It would be the beginning of a familiar spiral with me questioning why I wasn’t good enough. I continued this until... honestly... I became exhausted.
It wasn’t until last year I decided to embark on this inner journey of why I kept drawing myself closer to unavailable me and through counselling, I think I found it. Like finally placing the pieces together on my very own jigsaw that once seemed far to complicated now finally made sense. I got it. I wasn’t used to the whole cake, crumbs seemed conditioned in my brain from childhood because that’s all I got so I better accept it. I had a father I barely saw which would progress to not seeing him at all for 12 years. I held this belief of how terrible I must be because I couldn’t make my own father stay but now, I’ve decided to melt away and I relinquish responsibility for a grown man's actions when I just a child. It wasn’t my fault, I know that now. I wasn’t the problem. With that new found liberation it was freeing came the understanding and the root of all my failed misadventures with love and how my I sabotaged myself with people who did not have my intentions but feeling worthless about yourself will make you accept crumbs. I accepted unavailability because I was that also.
So, I’ve finally said peace out to every single one of them. Their tenancy has ended in my head and I kicked them all out because they didn’t even need to be living rent free in the first place. I’m putting far to much work into myself to finally heal to blow it all on another crumb. I’ve been single fully for closing in on two years this September (the pandemic helped in a weird way) the moment I deactivated my tinder was the moment I decided to take this healing shit seriously. You know what? It’s fucking nice. Once my toxic mindset, a confusing cocktail of “I fucking hate myself I’m a piece of shit person who doesn’t deserve anyone good” with a very unhealthy dose of “why... why am I a disaster???? Why can’t I keep anyone??” and even more double shot of “fuck I’m ugly and so disgusting. I’m not worth love” and of course the typical “why couldn’t he just be mine?”, with these disturbing thoughts I had about myself it really was about time I just focused on my own self love and I’m feeling a positive change. Am I there yet? No, no one is really there yet, life is both long and short but there’s always time to grow and be a better person for yourself and those around you.
If someone is only willing to offer you a crumb and you have to grapple in convincing them to finally offer you only a slither of the cake... are they worth it? Is there someone in your life right now who isn’t offering the entire cake? Hell... the whole fucking bakery? If there is, listen to me when I say walk away. Do it now because I hate to say it but they won’t change, trust me on this.
Now, with all this brain space I can give it to friends, family, creativity and people who truly love me in all my peculiar weird glory. I’m not changing my shit for anyone. Neither should you.