The Frightening Rule of ‘If’, not ‘When’

I’ve been trying so hard to force a change of mentality in recent weeks. But it doesn’t half bring forth its challenges, and that was truly epitomised this week.

Life WordMap (Courtesy of

I’ve had a bout of the illness that brought me home from Switzerland those years ago, and it’s a vicious cycle once it strikes. Getting through the week without giving anything away has been a total triumph.

I’m pretty sure I know what brought it about, too. After spending a long Easter weekend with family, the thought of coming back to Leicester – to the life that promises only work and nothing else – was frightening.

My family are currently booking their summer holidays. Despite having lived abroad, I haven’t had a holiday in nine years. The opposition at work to my taking an extended Easter weekend was astonishing, despite it being unpaid and despite taking only 15 working days since I started 18 months ago.

I’m supposed to be an usher at my best friend’s wedding this summer. I’ve seen him twice since moving to Leicester, and I know privately that if I am able to attend, it’s as much a farewell as anything else. The thought of asking for the time off for that already fills me with dread.

I’m such a timid man, it frightens me. Two critical problems in my apartment over the winter each took over a month to be repaired. It’s clear the electrics are dangerous, but I don’t shout, threaten, or make any unnecessary fuss, so nobody cares to listen.

And I’ve never felt further away from finding a partner – as if that even needed stating. Who’s got dreams of an imperfect person when the internet spoils us with the promise of a perfect one? Most people get away with their imperfections; some, like me, find that they are defined by them.

My coping mechanism to all this has long been a well-intended brand of written sadness. If you try your best in life and find that your only reward is that great gaping vacuum where you crawl home exhausted every night to the same empty apartment, the freedom to feel sad about that has made a difference in keeping myself afloat.

‘When’, not ‘if’.

Fundamentally, the biggest difference, and the one that I envy the most, is that most people operate with an attitude of ‘when’, not ‘if’. They know that, for themselves, it’s only a matter of time, and that opportunities abound. And even if they don’t know this or fail to believe it, it’s almost invariably true anyway.

I think Marvell was similarly rapt by this unhappy fascination of opportunity and struggle. His ‘Mower’ poems impart the near-impossibility of finding love in an isolated rural environment – perhaps similar to that experienced by the poet during his three-year spell at Nun Appleton.

The mysterious Juliana turns the mower’s world upside down, even though it’s not even clear whether or not she knows of his interest. He’s all too consumed by failure, a plight worsened by the daunting thought that she represents the one and only chance.

It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what pressed Marvell into pursuing a public-orientated career: the need to put himself into a situation where opportunity can strike. Either way, if we put the mystery ‘marriage’ aside, it looks like that still didn’t work.

And I understand that profoundly. I’ve moved to a city centre for the first time here. Modern flat, amazing views (perhaps the best the city can offer), within walking distance of more-or-less everything. It’s meant absolutely nothing.

I’ve been at five universities, lived in several major cities, including London, and that’s sparked absolutely nothing.

It’s why I understand Marvell’s ‘The Definition of Love’ in a particular way and appreciate so deeply its magnificently crafted – though very sad – message.

In a life where opportunities are endless, everyone else seems to find a way; the miracle is that I don’t.

Life Map Green (Courtesy of

‘If’, not ‘never’.

I don’t know whether it’s the way I was brought up, attending an all-boys school, or whatever, but I’m on a different planet. I don’t see for the life of me how opportunity will come.

It frightens me. I’m no longer young. I’m not a catch. One tragic date in years tells its own story.

Forget ‘when’. The biggest challenge for me – and I am trying to rise to it the best that I possibly can – is becoming an ‘if’ man rather than a ‘never’ man. That’s hard enough, and I’ve got more than enough time on my own for my mind to battle that idea with all its worth.

For now, despite the ailments, I am holding firm. Yet, that I notice it’s a hard-won battle means that it’s far from consolidated. And the more that time passes, the more likely it is that doubt will win.

I use work to escape from as many of the pressures of privacy and loneliness as possible. If truth be told, the reason this dissertation never seems to end is because I don’t know how I’ll fill the gap without it.

There are only so many prisons we can face at once. I’m not looking for keys, I don’t think. I’m looking for a miracle. But aren’t we all?

You know my deepest sin,
You’ve seen me deep within.
But fill me now like wind
And let the miracle begin.

2 thoughts on “The Frightening Rule of ‘If’, not ‘When’

  1. I we need a beer. The history woman is right! It breaks my heart too. Ya know kid. You’re just like I was at your age believe me … well not as thin …. But stuff happens. Get the dissertation done and a new chapter will open. But we need a beer a d a chat.
    I have been putting off a load of poetry recordings I have set up coz I’ve got do much work but work isn’t as important as life.

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