Candidly Reading #2: Tell Me Lies, Carola Lovering

Candidly Reading #2: Tell Me Lies, Carola Lovering

There is nothing that will sell me on a guilty pleasure read quite like twin recommendations from Cosmopolitan and theSkimm. So when I came across the ombre cover for Carola Lovering’s Tell Me Lies (which, through the novel, you learn is named after Fleetwood Mac’s song “Little Lies”), I was quick to make it my next read.

The premise in essence is very simply collegiate girl-meets-older-boy. But very quickly, I became aware of how Tell Me Lies was going to serve as more than just a fun read. Heroine Lucy Albright is introduced as an aspiring journalist in a non-industry job trying to mentally prepare for seeing the guy who epically broke her heart at a wedding they are both attending. Her narration, altering between her college years and the hours of the wedding, is coupled by those of Stephen DeMarco’s college narration, the very boy who broke her heart. Their duality offers cutting insights into both sides of an addictive and spiraling love affair that derails not once, not twice, but thrice.

And more than once, I saw my relationship — my only relationship to date — unfold on page in glaring ink and typeface.

DISCLAIMER #1: This post contains spoilers. Sorry. Don’t come here if you don’t want the tea.

DISCLAIMER #2: If you are close to me and you don’t want to relive 2015-2016, for understandable reasons, then this post is not for you. You do not need to be supportive right now.

For eight tumultuous months, he was my favorite person.

But those months were brutal. They started with an argument about what the “rules” were for behavior at music festivals. It escalated from there to losing my best friend over their old flame (something I, admittedly, should have been more prepared for). There was the night that I screamed in my sleep in rage because he was fazing me out, my mother in bed next to me having driven two hours up from Annapolis to comfort me in ways she simply could not have done over the phone. There were the Christmas presents thrown at me from the doorway of his bedroom, and the (light) push backwards when I came too close during one of his rants that followed.

People always talk about realizing they’re in love during the happy moments, but I think you realize it in the bad ones. The ones that knock you off center, scaring you when they prove that no matter what kind of logic is in your head, it’s what’s in your heart that determines fucking everything.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

And yet if you asked me during this time what I was doing with him, I would have said he was my best friend, my person, my soulmate. I loved him more than I loved anything in the whole world. When we were good, it felt like I was alive in another plane than I had ever experienced in my previous twenty-one years. So, yes, against all reason and all judgment, I kept returning every time that he would take me back. As long as I was given chances, as I viewed them (instead of me giving them to him), I was okay.

I was delirious and idiotic and naive and irresponsible and self-destructive, and I knew all of that. But none of it weighed anything against what I actually felt. Do you follow your head or your heart? which do you do? Your heart, always. Right? I didn’t think I would ever stop believing that.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

When it actually did end, I descended into my darkest mental health to date. It was shocking to me how bleak my life seemed in his absence. For the six months to follow, I was a shell of the person I was prior to our relationship. It took moving to another country, completely detaching myself from the ghost not only of him but also of those who had separated themselves from me in the aftermath, in order to grant myself the clarity and chance to start fresh. I gave myself permission to go on dates again, although I didn’t kiss anyone for another year. When I finally did re-enter the physical arena of romance, I found myself avaricious, eager to gain some sort of confirmation that I was still desirable now that I was capable of optioning myself that way.

Three years passed and (just like Lucy in Tell Me Lies) I found myself in New York City, fully redeemed and confident again. And then he was nine miles away from my apartment.

Whoever I was then seemed like a long-lost version of myself, someone I didn’t know anymore, and I couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten to where I was. I’d been experiencing the same recurring thoughts since I’d moved back to New York: What was I doing? Why was I still chasing him? Did I even like him as a person? How could I ever bank on a future with someone I couldn’t trust? There was that one stubborn, annoyingly veracious part of me that knew wanting Stephen had to be wrong. If you ignored the gray and got really honest, if everything in the world was separated into black and white, into good and bad, Stephen would fall into bad.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

I knew that I shouldn’t have gone to drinks with him. I kept it quiet, not telling anyone what I was doing beforehand and only a few after the fact. I knew it would hurt many who stood by me, alienate their loyalty, but I couldn’t stand strong, stand reformed, without having the chance to shove it in his face and say, “Look! Look what you did to me, and I’m still here!” And — if I’m being honest — there was still affection.

We are no longer in contact, and I don’t anticipate that will change anytime soon. Like Lucy at the end of the book, when Stephen comes up and tries to flirt with her at the wedding with his fiancée just feet away, she knows that there is no reason to pursue something that to him is just a game. Much like the end of the book, Lucy is able to go and pursue her writing and Stephen is stuck in a dead-end finance job (just like my ex).

Tell Me Lies was exactly the cathartic read that I needed. At the end, I feel as strong and empowered as Lucy. The world is capable of so much more than the multitudes of cookie cutter Stephen DeMarcos. I know this because I see it in my parents, in my friends’ relationships, in my relatives. I feel it in the love they show me.

One day, writing this won’t even cross my mind. It will be, as my ex said when he broke up with me, “a blip on [my/your] radar.” Because, one day, there will be real love in the picture. That all-encompassing, past-relationship-amnesia-causing love that comes into your life in the most common ways. As CJ, Lucy’s mom, tells her in one of their last scenes:

Love — real love — isn’t something you construct or hope or imagine or plan for the future. Love is something you live and feel in real time, in every single moment, big or small. It’s reciprocal and often unglamorous. But we bank on it because it’s what gives life meaning.

On empowerment

You can’t fight fire with air. But equally you can’t fight for a freedom you’ve forgotten how to identify.

– Feel Free: Essays, Zadie Smith

Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal.

– Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Be a little kinder than you have to. 

– We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

There was once a time in which these quotes would have been both doomsday in delivery and as weightless as a feather, for they meant everything and nothing. Everything because for women there was nothing.

Thankfully, most of that has changed.

I say most of that because we as women still face constant opposition from men, from ourselves, from society at large when it comes to how we look, how we dress, how we talk, what sort of jobs we have, what we eat, where we go, who we go with…you get the picture. When I first started this blog, my inaugural post was a rather aggressive feminist rant about how the wage gap isn’t actually a gender gap but a motherhood penalty, something which seems far more unjust than anything based upon genitalia.

My favorite saying to have emerged from the celebrity driven — let’s not deny it, okay? — feminist movement has been the phrase “Empowered Women Empower Women.” Because, in all honesty, there is no reason for one woman to cut down another unless the original is in a bad place herself. Remember Sam from On mattering? She confessed she was in a poor mental state and her external manifestations of that were moments of neglect and harm towards our friendship. Case and point. 

Me though? I’m in a good place. And being in a good place makes me capable of putting others in a good place too. 

Over the past few weeks, I have been working to put together the MA Publishing exhibition at the Postgraduate Media Show at London College of Communication. While my peers thought this was a one-woman role, and that definitely was all they saw since I was the one liaising with them through spam-like frequency Facebook messages, this was not the case. So when the Show launched, I made sure everyone knew that it was not just me behind the curtain. I had been in a partnership with a Masters in Arts and Lifestyle Journalism student Aliaa who was sharing our exhibition space. In natural millennial style, I took to Instagram.

Aliaa deserved every bit of recognition. She kept me sane. We joked. We drank wine. We nailed signs to walls and created visual displays. We, by all means, bonded quickly over a short period of time. And I will always fondly remember our time together, regardless of whether we continue to keep in contact.

Empowering women, empowering your coworkers, empowering your friends, empowering your peers — it’s all important. Never for a second think that you are where you are because you alone were capable. There is always a team behind you, if you take a look around. Be humble and grateful and let them know that you see their efforts. Let them be heard too. It’s more rewarding than any praise you alone can get.