The urgency of youth is an apparition. It leaves you as you grow older, when with hindsight you realise that you just had to be patient. When you’re young, the pursuit of love cannot wait. For the God-conscious, nor can the pursuit of faith. For others, the pursuit of wealth, a fast car, or designer clothes. For some, the pursuit of fame.

The young seem surprised that we walked in their shoes before them. They cannot comprehend that these stuffy authoritarians were once engaged in the exact same battles in pursuit of whatever their hearts desired. But then, we cannot comprehend the passage of time either, both alarmed and surprised to discover that we’re suddenly middle aged, our youth left far behind.

I recall my urgent adolescent pursuit of a soulmate well. It was a confused kind of infatuation, falling for one I believed to be so sweet, despite all experienced reality. I fell for her even more in her absence, when my imagination ran away with me. While on an orchestra tour of northern France, she occupied my dreams. It was on the cross-channel ferry home that I made up my mind: I was going to speak to her. A moment of assured confidence, mindful that time was running out.

I had to act now, I told myself, there and then. I had to make my move, or else she would disappear into her world and I would never see her again. So it was that I confided my intentions in a friend, hoping to enlist his help. Only, his response wasn’t what I expected; don’t do anything, he told me. “Let me find out first,” he said. Find out what? “Trust me,” he insisted, leaving me, my newfound confidence waning.

The next time I saw him, he had bad news. Forget about her, he told me. Why? Because it won’t end in a nice way. But I only want to speak to her. Yes, and for that alone, her brother will snap your spine and break it into a hundred pieces. Walk away, man. Walk away, and don’t look back. “But, but…” Listen to me, he told me, this is serious. They’ll do it: they’ll smash you to pieces.

So that was that. I did as he said. I kept my head down for the remaining weeks there, and tried to focus on my upcoming exams. But of course that wasn’t really that, for she still occupied my dreams, and it consumed me. At the beginning of summer, we would all go our separate ways, our paths never to cross again. In the autumn, everyone I knew would head off to university. Everybody would move on.

But not me. I got myself a temporary job a hundred and fifty miles south instead, where I took to living an isolated life, completely alone. It was in my solitude that my regrets struck me with a vengeance, the face I remembered accompanying me on my nightly walk back from work to my lodgings. Every evening, lambasting myself for being so timid, so easily cowed. Every day, berating myself for listening to that friend. Was what he had told me even reasonable, or realistic, or true?

There, my descent into despair, until at last I took to counselling myself: had I pursed what my heart desired, I told myself, I would have ruined her life. If the consequences were to be so grave for me, what about for her? Yes, it was for the best, I told myself. What would she gain from ending up with a loser like me anyway? Thus would I eventually move on, cemented by an encounter with that old friend a year later, who was good enough to remind me that the girl in question hated me completely.

But such is the folly of youth. The pursuit of a soulmate had seemed so urgent at the time. Perhaps I had wanted to follow in my oldest brother’s footsteps, his sixth-form sweetheart transformed into his lifelong companion and soulmate, still together over thirty years later. Perhaps I just didn’t want to feel so forlorn, always the loner out on the periphery, ignored by all.

Little did I know then that I just had to be patient. That wasn’t my time, nor was she the one. Today I would be forced to apologise for my obsessions back then. I’m sorry my eyes continued to trouble them, even after they made patently clear what they really thought of me. I’m sorry the call of my heart caused me to forget myself, thinking that pursuit of companionship so critical.

My advice to the incel generation — those who believe themselves to be involuntarily celibate, unable to find a romantic partner with whom to live their lives — would be to be patient. Peer pressure can be immense — it was for all of us — but understand that your time will come, when the right preconditions have been set. Nobody owes anybody anything. It’s not our right to rage at rejection, though I understand the temptation. Loneliness is tough, but these tests will pass.

In time, just when you least expect it, everything will slot into place, and it will blow your mind. And one day, it the far off future, you will realise: “Yes, I just had to be patient. All of this was decreed.”

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