Connected by Nicola Bourne

Jun 8, 2018

They say when someone dies they leave a hole in your heart, but I don’t think that’s true.

Instead, they add something to your heart. It has the shape and weight of a large boulder, and it’s forever in the way. It makes it hard for your heart to keep working. Hard to breathe. I tried explaining that to a woman at work, and she told me about someone her friend knew who had a tumour inside their heart the size of a pea. I think she thought that would help. Empathising by sharing a parallel story. They did both involve hearts. Maybe the emphasis was lost over text message.

That is why I bought him online.

The day after my dad died started like any other. I woke up and pulled my phone from under my pillow. I checked WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram then Twitter. In that order. Always in that order. Instead of making me smile, other people’s posts and images, other people’s lives continuing as if something awful hadn’t just happened – it made the boulder in my heart expand, till the boulder was taking up too much room. It would soon be visible through my skin. I know the importance of sharing your feelings, of not letting them sit inside you, festering like mouldy bread at the bottom of the bin, growing their own life. So, I shared them, naturally. My status reflecting my current mood, missing my dad, not sure I’ll ever feel happy again *sad face emoji*. I stayed in bed, watching my phone, waiting for the love to show. Hearts started flooding my phone with support, lifting mine with them.

– Stay positive hun

– Everything happens for a reason

– Thinking of you

– Focus on the good times #SoBlessed

Yasmine tagged me in a meme – it was so sweet, an image of two hearts that crashed into each other, confetti and the words Thinking of you erupting as they hit.

My lifting heart was short-lived. It crashed even lower, even harder. The sense of missing splashed out from the sides as it hit the very bottom. I tried calling Yasmine. It rang through to voicemail. While dithering over whether or not it was appropriate to leave a message, my phone beeped.

A text from Yasmine:

– What’s up? Everything OK?

– Yeah I was just hoping for a chat?

– Very retro *crying smiley face* can’t right now?

– I know, who talks on the phone right?! *diagonal crying smiley face x2* I’m just feeling a bit crap.

– I bet hun, it’s complete shite.

– Are you free to meet for a drink tonight?

– Soz hun, working. I’ll text you when I get home.

– Okay, thanks.

– Just remember I’m here for you. Whatever you need I’m totally here for you *double heart x4*

– *double heart*

I tried ringing a couple of people over lunch. They all texted me back straightaway, letting me know how concerned they were. I get it. Honestly, I’m not complaining. I know I would do the same but …


I logged on to What kind of empathiser would you like? Male, female or transgender? Gay or straight? Young or old? Country of origin? Shit, I don’t know! I clicked on a man named Adam. He was the number-one-rated empathiser based on customer experience. That had to be good, right?

Hi, my name’s Adam and I just want you to know that I’m here for you. Whatever you are going through, you shouldn’t have to go through it alone and I would love to support you. I want to understand and truly feel what you are experiencing, and I have the strong ability to place myself in another’s position, whatever your situation may be.

It continued till the very bottom in very small writing. I zoomed in.

Prices start at £200 an hour for standard empathising. Additional extras such as hand holding, arm around the shoulder and hugs are available on request and charged at an additional £50 each. Email for full quote. All requests must be made through the website.


Adam was already waiting in the bar when I arrived. Seated at a small table at the back in a quiet corner – already he knew what I needed. He had an easy smile. Not stunningly good-looking, but there was something about him. An unknown quality. It made me feel at ease. That and the wine he had already ordered for me. He really thought of everything.

They were words. Just words. Individually they were nothing, but together – together, they created a sea and stroked the sides of the abyss. He laughed with me. He cried with me. He filled all the clichés, letting them spill over the sides of me.

“I’m so pleased I contacted you,” I said, somewhat clumsily. Somewhat shyly. “I do have friends …”

“Honestly, you don’t need to explain.”

“We are all so busy, you know? And it is a bit much of me to expect anyone to have the time for a one-on-one get-together.”

“Of course, and there has to be emotional regulation, right? I mean, surgeons need to control their emotions when operating on a patient, right? And friends need to be able to hold it together and protect themselves from someone else’s negative emotions too. It’s just how we are nowadays.”

“You’re so right.”

“Look, I don’t normally do this,” his hair fell across his face like something from a movie, “but can I give you a hug?”

“Ohh … I …”

“Usually hugs are an extra charge, but I feel we really have connected, you know? But only if you feel comfortable doing so.”

It was one of those amazing hugs. One that envelops you in warmth. He was taller than me, meaning that I could rest my head on his chest and let my breath sync into time with his. I actually couldn’t remember the last time I had been hugged, been touched for no other reason than to feel kindness, having been listened to and heard, and felt so at peace.


I couldn’t believe it was him at first. He was facing the other way, but then he laughed, throwing his head back and pushing his hand through his hair as he did so, then I knew, it definitely was. We hadn’t been in touch since our date. I had rated him as excellent obviously, and my fingers had hovered over the ‘book again’ button but it really wasn’t feasible until after payday. Remembering the feeling of really connecting with someone and the warmth of being held, that had to be enough for now.

He sat at a table near the bar, with a small group fixated on what he was saying. Good friends, I guessed, from their easy manner and constant laughter. I manoeuvred myself around the group I was with, getting a bit closer. I kept looking over, subtly, hoping he would turn around and see me. That he would sense my presence, but he was so engrossed. I downed my drink, signalled it was my round and shifted to their end of the bar. I was so close I could reach out and tap him on the shoulder.

“Don’t you feel bad?” a woman at his table asked.

“No one asked them to book me. It’s their choice.”

“Yeah, but they think they are getting something real from you.”

“They are! Human interaction! That’s a prized commodity these days.”

“Can’t believe you hug them as well. And for free! Thought this was a get-rich-quick scheme. You can do that hugs-for-free bollocks with those weirdos in the park on a Saturday afternoon.”

“Ahh, but that is where you are wrong. Think of it like this … empathy from me is two hundred quid, right?” She nodded. “A hug is fifty. Now, if I give you the hug for free, make you feel special, make it feel like we have a connection – that’s the word I always use by the way, ‘connection’, they love it, especially the chicks – they feel like there is an extra connection. Next time they need empathy, who are they going to book?” He hits himself on the chest like a silverback asserting his dominance. “I’ve just made myself a hundred-and-fifty pounds more.”

“Not just a pretty face, are you!”


The boulder in my heart has grown. I think it has spread to my head. I don’t remember leaving the bar, or getting home. I’m just here. Laptop open on my bed. My fingers are hovering once again, this time over the ‘delete account’ button. I shut it with a sharp snap. Not right now, because who else is going to be able to understand?

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