Unbeknownst to me, I'd been married to two men during my year marriage: There was my husband, who was my childhood sweetheart and then there was the man he'd become, the one with the secret life. The years leading up to our divorce were turbulent and littered with my emotional pain. It seemed that my ex couldn't leave without first destroying my self-esteem.
It's not an overstatement to say he also took what was left of my future hopes and dreams when we divorced. In January , it dawned on me that my life could no longer be discussed in "we" or "us" terms.
My life was once again mine. I was now a very single parent. My sons, young adults at the time, had lost the father they thought they knew.
With fierce determination, we rebuilt our family life and forged a path to the future. We left old traditions behind and created new ones.
Those boys were and are a fortress of love in my life. In time, we moved on from the pain of the divorce. We became a solid, happy threesome. A photo of Linda and her two sons in To get my mind off things, I began the lengthy process of preparing for a yearlong European teacher exchange.
That absorbed my professional attention. Dating was clearly out of the question at this point. I could barely trust myself. How could I even begin to trust another man? Returning from my teacher exchange, I was standing in the doorway of the new millennium and the dawn of another new beginning.
Believe me, searching out a personal life after divorce is an odd situation to find yourself in. I felt like I was part goofy year-old school girl and part year-old-woman; a split personality with no experience in the dating scene.
What was the first lesson? I'd discovered hiking while away on my teacher exchange so when I got back, I joined the local hiking club and met someone. There were missteps along the way. My hiking buddy looked like my ex and behaved like him, too. As a dating neophyte, I assumed his indifferent attention was the real deal -- that he was just playing hard to get.
He was cool, aloof and parceled out attention. Eventually, I found out there was good reason for his five failed marriages. The last time we met was almost two years ago, at a family event.
We asked each other how we were, like acquaintances with no conversation. He was wearing a jacket I'd bought him once, from the Boden sale, and looked smaller than I remembered. For some reason, I told him this, and he said: He didn't look too unhappy about it. Something about the day was too banal, and there was too much. I knew I wasn't going to say anything personal to him ever again. Besides, technically, I had already moved on by then, following the directive that, at some point, you have to get back out there.
I wasn't much interested in other men, but I made myself be interested; the one thing that seemed obvious, from my vantage point in the slough of despond was that only the distraction of another relationship was going to help me get out of it. The memory of being tracked at night across the sheet by someone intent on spooning in his sleep wasn't fading: It had become powerful and undermining.
I grieved losing so much time with my son, and sat alone in my empty house, hours stretching ahead of me into days. I was so lonely. I think the time frames of 3 years for everyone that you were married or 5 years from your they were married or whatever are just guesses from people with flaws just like us. After all, we both solemnly agreed to stay married 'till death do us part. How would I even meet someone, and would they ever know me as well as Phillip did? Exploring interests, old and new, pulls one's attention into the here and now, creates opportunities for creativity, meaningful social interaction and new relationships, and can even promote personal growth.
It wasn't the prospect of being alone that was the problem. But I was constantly haunted. If you work at home and don't talk to strangers in pubs or do sport or belong to associations, and don't have school-age children, it is very hard to meet new people. After a while it seemed obvious that online dating was the only way forward, though I wasn't prepared for how much effort that would take.
The process of being "on offer" was not only humiliating, but time-intensive.
Soon, a significant chunk of every evening was taken up patrolling half-a-dozen dating websites, pruning my advertising copy and getting into conversation with people. People on dating sites fall into two camps: There are different rules there, inside the digital flirtation pool, and people behave in ways they never would otherwise. One high-achieving, emotionally literate, sane-seeming man sent two emails a day for a month, growing ever more sure I was the woman for him, before deciding he didn't want to meet after all. Not meeting became the norm. Sometimes just before the date the confession emerged: At other times it was simpler: Partly this was to do with being middle-aged and out of shape.
There are times in life when the sea is more attractive than the lifeboat. Unrequitedness was a big issue. Rows and rows of contestants, even of age plus, specified that they would meet only females under 30 who were a maximum size A man of 56 told me: It was all very disheartening and the end result was that I became grateful for crumbs of hope. In that situation, if someone nice crosses your path, genuinely single, not alarming-looking, someone you like on first sight, and the date goes well, and he's keen to have a second: It seemed less and less likely that it would happen.
I wasn't sure, after the first date — nervously, he talked a lot about fibre optics — and that's when lots of people give up, thinking that if there is no instant "spark", there's no point. There's a lot of crap talked about the spark. I can tell you from my own experience that sometimes it doesn't emerge for quite a while. Sometimes, people are just slow to get to know.
Some of the most endearing things about Eric have only emerged over time. Besides knowing a lot about the stars and about science, he has a secret passion for romcoms, is a buyer of surprise flowers and tickets, is up for budget flights on winter weekends, and is the uncrowned prince of DIY. It also turns out that he is the kindest man I have ever met. If I were to lock myself in the bathroom and howl like a wounded fox, as I did the night my ex made his announcement, Eric would be distraught.
He would sit on the floor and talk to me through the door, and beg to be let in to comfort me. Kindness is too often under-rated.
What is also noticeable is the constant physical proximity when we are together: Not that things are simple. At the start I spent a lot of time fighting it, convinced I couldn't see anyone else until the shadow was gone.