“Take it and run,” he said, in an imagined exchange that popped into my head a few weeks ago as I perused my ex’s Instagram.
I say ‘ex’- we were together for two weeks when we were 16, one of which was half-term. Despite the occasional Snapchat conversations (mainly pictures of my face decorated with emojis to hide a particularly nasty breakout), we rarely spoke. It was an intense and fleeting relationship, as first love should be.
I have since moved on and have found happiness elsewhere, namely Lloyd-Webber musicals and Florence Pugh. So apparently has he, namely his boyfriend. His new boyfriend is beautiful (they always are) and the polar opposite of me: he is tall, wears beige clothing that actually fits him, and receives sycophantic comments on the majority of his Instagram posts.
I noticed these things and went straight to the mean place. In my defence, he did himself no favours: his bio reading “London Fashion” oozing self-congratulation, his story highlight entitled “LOVE” filled with pictures of his friends (we get it, you know women!), the assault of selfies that all feature him wearing sunglasses and posing leisurely against a tree (oh to be tall!) with captions that lack even the slightest traces of irony or self-loathing. Captions that appear to say “I am beautiful and I know it.” I felt a sense of superiority rise within me as I scrolled, aware that, while I may never look like him, at least I’d never take myself so seriously.
Although, my self-satisfaction reached an impasse when I clicked on one post. A chink in the armour. It was a video (a shaky-camera to reinforce the coming-of-age aesthetic) of him and my ex at the beach, running hand in hand straight into the sea. In my head, I had envisioned the exchange that had taken place moments earlier. My ex had turned to him, extended his hand and said “take it and run.” And he did.
There was something so uncomfortably earnest about the whole thing, as if it had been lifted directly out of the finale of a Greta Gerwig movie, and yet also resembling a Meg Stalter parody of such a scene.
I instantly dismissed it, and them. I clicked off his page and found an Amy Sedaris post to add to my story. “That will show them,” I thought.
But a nagging thought popped into the back of my head. I tried to remember the last time I’d run into an open body of water, or danced at a club, or sung a pop song, without a layer of self-irony undermining the sincerity of it all, without the need to let people know that “it was obviously a joke” through exaggerated body language or an overly accentuated Cher impression. I, in my anxious, sarcastic, self-parodying state, have never been and never will be the kind of person to “take it and run.”
A fun fact about me is that I signed up for three different acapella groups when I first joined Oxford. There was something about belonging to a group obliged to spend time with me that really struck a chord. My first audition was for one of the better-known groups. I sang nicely enough. I had a decent falsetto, they told me. But I let myself down in the part where I was instructed to “blend in” and “vibe” with their effortlessly beautiful and overtly homosexual boyband. I tried my best but my self-consciousness clung to me like their oh so tight blue T-shirts. I felt out of my place amid their smiling faces. I could feel each one of them willing me to succeed, but I felt wrong. I left and didn’t attend the call-back.
“They’re the kind of gays that would have bullied me in secondary school,” I told my friends in an effort to save face, but it wasn’t true.
It wasn’t a fear of performing or public humiliation that held me back. It was fear of standing up and doing some in complete earnest. A fear of truly and authentically living in the moment, without parody or cruel jokes to protect me.
I feel very comfortable inspecting other people’s lives over Instagram through a prism of bitterness, jealousy and unfounded superiority. My safe space is the toilet where I may comfortably cringe at bad singing, bad acting and bad school productions of Little Shop of Horrors. But ask me to stand up, to set aside the remnants of cynicism and scorn left over from years of insecurity and reading Lena Dunham, and my protective layer of provocative bravado evaporates.
A friend messaged me recently and told me that she saw my name on the sign-up sheet for another acapella group. An audition I never showed up to.
“Can you imagine what would have happened if you had?” she pondered.
Maybe I would have got in, or maybe I would just have another notch to add to my bedpost of public humiliation. Maybe I would have experienced the joys of vocal layering first hand or maybe it would have become tedious. Maybe I would have made an army of aca-friends, or maybe I’d just find myself with a long list of aca-acquaintances I’d feel obligated to invite to my 21st. Maybe I wouldn’t be writing a column about an experience I never had.
And so in a rare moment of sincerity, I will admit to the world that I admire the people who post nice photos with non-cryptic captions that actually make sense. I admire the people who can dance at clubs with their friends and not feel the need to self-parody. I admire the people who can get on stage with their acapella group and perform their tired choreography with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.
I admire the people who can “take it and run,” without fear that they’re doing it wrong.