Esther's dog in a cemetery, feeling frosty and festiveEsther Arthurson for Varsity

At present, I seem to contain an impossible volume of anger for such a compact, 5′3″ vessel. I suspect this has been building for some time. Only now, when I’m beginning to slow down, the momentum of daily life dropping exponentially as I crawl through the deceptively entitled “holidays”, have I started to notice this insidious, draining, red-hot presence inside my chest. It probably doesn’t help that in order to “unwind” I’ve been reading 1984, not renowned for its cheeriness.

Fictional tragedies warned me that emotions can be parasitic, bleeding you dry like an army of psychological leeches, but I’ve never experienced this myself until now. There’s nowhere productive to direct this anger, and since it’s hard to say whence it came it is proving endlessly difficult to send it back there – think of the One-meets-Eleven confrontation in the Stranger Things finale. It is an idle tenant in my stomach with nothing better to do than break up my concentration and wreak havoc among my relationships, yawning, stretching and knocking the Self-Sabotage button just for the fun of it.

After some much needed self-reflection, I’ve found an interim solution: I have made a list of people about whom I am not allowed to think or speak. Writing this article absolutely violates this newfound resolution, but it may provide alternative catharsis, so here we go. This list comprises of three (or rather six) individuals whose presence in my life only fuels my rage. On writing this list, I’ve realised all of its members happen to be couples. Coincidence? Surely not …

Grantchester Meadows sunsetKatya Bungay-Hill

Before you get any ideas, there isn’t some anti-romance bitterness at the root of this. (For those of you who don’t know, I am in a rather lovely year-long relationship with a certain life model you may have read about.) That being said, I’m of the firm belief that the festive period only serves to highlight the shadow of one’s pre-existing loneliness. This, the yearly highlight for those with close families, can be the lowest of valleys for those who feel isolated and alone, or for those who have lost people they love. Christmas can be cruel that way. I am starting to suspect that it’s simply impossible for everyone to be happy at the same time.

The List Couples have several things in common: their intense, all-consuming natures, and their perpetual smugness. Allow me to dissect.

“I’m allowed to name the elephant in the church and I’m calling him Abstinence”

Being a Theology student, it seems natural to start with religion. There’s a culture among young, sex-starved – who said that?? – Christians of getting married at a very early age. It’s a statistic. A fact. My sister did this, so I’m allowed to name the elephant in the church and I’m calling him Abstinence, with a capital A. Practising abstinence is a personal choice and can be admirable (purity culture is an issue for another article), as is choosing to spend the rest of your life with someone. However, the former shouldn’t necessarily inform the latter, especially when you’re fresh out the womb. Commitments of this level are not to be made lightly, or when you’re still wearing metaphorical diapers. Especially when hormones and libido may be behind the steering wheel.

Institutional critique aside, exchanging vows and student debts is really none of my business. What truly irks me here is when the new-borns-turned-newly-weds start patronising their peers and generally being … well, smug. I want to scream: YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL! at the top of my lungs. But I think that would scare other churchgoers, so I contain this urge. I want to tell them that just because God “approves” of their sex, it doesn’t make them any better than the rest of us! Are you seeing my spiral into rage just writing this? Problematic.

Warriston cemetery, gravestone with an ivy braid.Esther Arthurson for Varsity

And then there’s the other type of List Couple. Two of my friends have recently been swallowed whole by relationships. I assume this was voluntary, so haven’t yet reported them as “missing”. They’re AWOL for weeks at a time, missing out not only on the big things going on in the lives of the people they once professed to care about, but the daily interactions that, over time, evolve into the niche webs of shared smiles and references that we label friendships. In the rare moments when they’re not being held hostage by other halves, they’re still not present; they’d rather be somewhere else, and would be if their girlfriends weren’t so selfishly keeping up their own friendships. Their eyes are forever fastened to their phone-screens, which ping nonstop with messages from the person whose identity seems to have been confused with that of their lungs.

It is abundantly clear that they no longer need me, that our friendship has been rendered redundant now that they’ve found all they could ever want in just one person. A capsule wardrobe in human form. I’ve heard this withdrawal justified by others with the assurance that they’ll get married one day. (One of these completely hypothetical couples was overheard naming their future children three weeks into the relationship.) But who exactly will be at their wedding? All the friends they’ve cut off? Cue: rage spiral number two.


Mountain View

‘Beautiful, my life’: November doesn’t have to be dreary

So I’m not thinking about these people who enrage me so. Whether that’s because they represent some bigger, institutional-level grievance or because I’m hurting, disorientated and simply missing someone who was once a good friend … it’s irrelevant. Perhaps it would be healthier to drill down to the roots of these feelings and start from there, but therapy takes money and time, neither of which I currently have in abundance. In the meantime, I will take a deep breath and, as ever, use my laptop as my personal therapist.

Now that that’s out of my system and I’ve begun a Nick Hornby book, I’m hoping to have a lovely Christmas and New Year – free of Big Brother and infuriating couples. I hope you do the same.