I think I’m single again. The boyfriend has packed his stuff and gone. To be more precise, I packed his stuff, and now he’s gone.

Why? It will sound like nothing to you. Last night, he said he’d be home by 7pm, and by 11pm, I hadn’t heard from him. Deep inside me I felt a kind of seeping dread, like I was watching an old movie that I already knew the ending to, and it’s not happy.

My ex husband used to say to me:  ‘just popping out, back in ten minutes’, and then he wouldn’t come home til the next day. The boyfriend knows this. How reliability matters to me. How my ex husband called it ‘mickey mouse’ values, but to me, it just meant knowing how things stood. So when the boyfriend didn’t send me a text last night to say ‘out with friends, back much later, night’ or something similar, which would have made everything completely fine, I decided to pack up his stuff. By midnight it was all assembled and sitting in the pantry so my children didn’t see it in the morning.

It’s not the first thing that’s happened, of course. There have been a few of these things, perhaps more than a few; when he’d say he’d do something and didn’t; that he would pay a bill, and then didn’t. And it was like these things had accumulated into a tottering pile making him more and more like my ex-husband, and last night, that was just one thing too much on the pile and everything just collapsed.

The pain is bad. Because I love the boyfriend. It really hurts. It makes work hard, the day too long, the future something I daren’t contemplate. All the hallmarks of divorce, then.

My mother used to say, ‘the only person you can rely on is yourself’, and I’m starting to agree with her.

For the first time in a long time, I feel really defeated by this love stuff.

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When the world feels like too much.

Today starts as one of those skive off days. I’ve had a row with the boyfriend, and slept appallingly. I’ve missed my Pilates class, and have been avoiding the phone ever since. I’ve a pile of work I’m sitting at home doing quietly; the laptop I can face, it’s people and the outside world that I can’t.

Then the phone rings. It’s the number for Small Fry’s school. I snatch up the handset.

“Hello? Everything alright?” I ask breathlessly. I always fear the worst when they ring.

“Mum. It’s me. I’ve forgotten my money for the Year 5 cake sale. Can you bring it down?”

I arrange to drop by at bun break, when he can nip out and collect the money. Right on 10.05, he hares round the corner, hair flopping in his eyes, grey shirt untucked from his trousers.

“Thanks mum. You’re the best mum ever.” One gappy grin and he’s gone again.

But that is all it takes. I find I am smiling. I am still sad about my boyfriend (is another relationship going down the tubes?) and I am still tired, but I can answer the phone now, and do the shopping, and say hello to the neighbours as I bump into them. I don’t need to hide away, because I am reminded how much I have to be glad about.


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More on Divorce Guilt

The Ex has had a bad back for a while and been walking like a ninety year old invalid. Finally, last Thursday, he told me he was having an operation the following day. He gave it the air of an emergency.

“The doctor said it was the worst spine she’d seen in her 30 years of experience,” he told me afterwards, from his hospital bed. “When she opened me up, she had to do extra stuff, and now I’m going to be in here for at least a week.”

These things happen. We are all getting older. The question is, why do I feel so sorry for him? This is the man who cheated on me with 150 girls, and lied, and was absent when my beloved father was dying. He took me to court to avoid paying me a penny towards the children’s lives if he could help it, (he lost, but still doesn’t pay), while he flew first class on his holidays with them to Mauritius and went skiing in Verbier. What flaw is it in me, that means I still feel sorry for him?

“The pain is dreadful,” he moans. He sounds befuddled and hopeless. I find myself telling him to give the doctor my number and I’ll talk to her about getting him on something more powerful.

We share three kids, I reason to myself. That must be why I am trying to help him. But I think the real reason is guilt. He may have cheated, and lied, and been absent. He may have treated me like I was dirt on his shoe. But I left him.

I know I couldn’t have stayed. There was no other choice to make. But until the kids are grown up, and I don’t have to deal on an almost daily basis with the miseries of the Ex, I wonder if I’ll be able to make peace with that? Or is it just part of the price I pay to be divorced?



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Handover day

Suddenly the sunny, carefree days have run out and I’m packing three small suitcases, not to return home, but to deliver the children to their father for two weeks.

I’m not brilliant at Handover Day, which I consider to be one of the worst parts of divorce. But is it possible to be brilliant at planting goodbye kisses on the three faces of the small people you love most in the world, knowing you won’t see them for 14 days and nights?

The most important thing is trying to make it as easy as possible on the children. I’ve tried it long – breezily inviting their father in for coffee – and I’ve tried it short – ‘the kids are ready, here they come, well done everyone, have a wonderful time!’.

After four years, I think there’s a time for short, and there’s a time for long, but that overall, short is easier on everyone. So, this holiday handover day, we are going for short and we all know it.

The Boyfriend had arrived the previous night and I’m so glad to see him. Together we all pack the suitcases into the car, and drive in the direction of the rendezvous point, a local airport, full of jokes and laughter, stopping for a coke and baguette at one of the service stations off the Peage. We are still joking as we reach the rendezvous. I take the children to the meeting point outside Arrivals while the Boyfriend parks the car.

“We’re ok here, Mummy,” says Eldest Son. “Dad’s just a couple of minutes away.” A text from the Ex has told me the same thing. I look at Eldest Son. Just 16. A young man almost, and happy to babysit his brother and sister safely for a few moments, so his father and I don’t have to coincide at all. Perhaps, in this instance, with all of us caught up in the magic of a holiday, it would be best for me to just slip away. I think this is what he is telling me.

“Goodbye darlings, have a wonderful time, and I’ll see you in two weeks,” I say, and then I walk away, up and over the bridge that leads to the short stay car park. I stand on the bridge and watch my children for a moment, from a point where I can see them but they can’t see me. SmallFry is sitting on his new wheely suitcase, chosen with me yesterday after his previous one had exploded on the journey out. It has four wheels, and he is whizzing around the pavement as if in a small open top car. Eldest Son and Only Daughter are talking and laughing and playing with their ever-present mobile phones. My Ex comes into view, wearing his holiday wardrobe of linen shorts and velvet shoes.

I take a final look at my children, about to touch the portal. They are Lucy stepping into the wardrobe, they are Harry Potter on platform 9 and a half. I don’t want them to go but I know they must.

“They are alright,” my boyfriend says, walking towards me from the other side of the bridge. He folds me in his arms for a long moment.  When I come out of the hug, I know that if I look down at where my children were standing, they will be gone.

So I don’t look. I hold The Boyfriend’s hand tightly and together we walk towards the car, and the start of the two weeks of adventures we are about to have together.

The children are alright. And although I feel a little bit sick, so am I.

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All Things Pass

Four years on from separation, and so to Provence. We’ve escaped the biblical rains and  are currently baking in rural southern France, staying with close family.  My two teenagers – Eldest Son and Only Daughter – and my youngest son, the Small Fry –  are lapping up the weather, the food, the company of the adults and children we are with, in fact everything and anything this holiday throws at them. From early morning until well past nightfall, it’s a long round of meals taken relatively jovially around the outside table with at least the occasional use of cutlery, games of Kick the Can, water fights in the pool, tennis played in the still sweltering early evening  heat on the local courts, the intermittent ribbing of mummy, and the odd squabble, quickly doused. I’m happy, because I have sun and the company of my favourite people, and because I’ve left my real life, with all its daily anxieties, back at home.

But I’m mostly happy because my kids are so clearly so happy. In the daily rush of school bags and homework done and fingernails scrubbed and work to do and nit checks and cooking and cleaning, perhaps I don’t sit back and notice this enough, but on holiday, from my semi reclining position on the sun lounger, glass of rose in hand, sun sinking into the pear orchard that stretches into the next field, it’s glaringly obvious. My kids are not scarred, or feral, or ill. They are simply three happy, easy going, much loved kids, making the very best of themselves and their lives. It just so happens that their parents got divorced.

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How do you know if he’s The One (Second time Round)?

So can we divorcees find our way back to love or are we too scarred by what’s passed to take the leap? Unable to trust, to give ourselves up absolutely, to dare to lay down another 20 years of memories and nostalgia with a new person?

At my age, the risk feels immense. First time round, I was naive enough to think, most of the time, that I wasn’t really taking a risk at all. We were going to be the couple that made it all the way. I was in my twenties, didn’t know anyone who had died, and was convinced a great future as a Have-it-All kind of woman in a glossy magazine spread lay ahead of me: Husband, kids, successful career in journalism. But by my Forties, one husband down, with an intermittent and poorly paid writing career, I often feel I’m more likely to find a matching pair of socks in the laundry basket than The One (Second time round).

Why, you might ask, do I even believe in The One, having divorced The Last One? I simply can’t explain it. I can only say it’s not a rational thing. It’s just what I believe in, together with God, and angels. (Sorry). Perhaps I just need to hope, to think The One is still out there, blundering about somewhere with a marriage behind him and a dysfunctional kid or two at boarding school, because the prospect of growing old alone is too bleak.

But is it too bleak? Surely being alone is not as bleak as growing old with the wrong person. Why? Because if that’s what I am going to do, there’s a question I can’t avoid: why did I slog through all that terrible divorce stuff that took up five years of my life and upset my kids and necessitated house moves and trips to court and endless amounts of weeping in public places? I could have just been quietly unhappy with the Ex.

So there’s pressure on, trying to find The One. No wonder I over-scrutinise the Boyfriend, and worry about whether he’s The One, or whether I’m making another mistake. Perhaps you can help. The list goes like this: Smokes (20 a day). Drinks too much (beer and wine). But: Smiles alot. Charms everyone. Walks the dog. Fixes things. Mows the lawn. Puts out rubbish. Devilishly handsome and funny. My kids love him and so do I. Huge resources of kindness. Generally makes my life so much easier.

Do I risk it? After really hot sex, or one of those times when we curl into each other all night long, I think, of course I do. He’s The One. But when we can’t finish a serious conversation because he has to go for a fag, or we have a row, or he borrows yet another tenner, I think, do I want to be here when the music stops?

Advice, please?

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We All Need a Divorce Buddy

I had coffee with a friend this morning. We first met through a potential work venture eighteen months ago, but bonded over divorce talk. At the time, I was newly divorced after much agonising and heartache, while hers was just getting started.

This morning, she told me her divorce had been finalised a month previously, and that her ex husband had remarried two weeks later, to the girl he had left my friend for. A big splashy wedding, in America, where he has now made his home. His three teenage children, from his first marriage, to my friend, did not attend.

“That sounds really hard for you,” I said.

“It wasn’t great,” she said, taking a sip of her latte. “But I’m OK. My main objective right now is to be here for the children as they adjust. They’re doing fine. I’m doing fine. So in fact,” she added, “I feel sorry for him. He’s given up his opportunity to live with his kids. To see them every day.  That,” she said, “I couldn’t stand.”

I know exactly what she means. A marriage breaking down, the dismantling of 20 or so years of shared history, the breaking of vows, hurts very badly; but not seeing your children, or seeing them infrequently and in pain, or slowly becoming strangers to you, would, I think, hurt much, much more. Her ex now sees his kids for holidays just three times a year.  So while he has got the new, younger wife, and most of the money, I still think my friend is much the richer.

“He’s an idiot” I said. “And one day he’ll wake up and realise it”. She smiled, and pushed back a stray lock of long blonde hair behind one ear. She’s fifty something, and beautiful and funny and clever.  And still here. Smiling. Mothering. Seeing friends. Working. Drinking lattes.

“You said that to me the first time we met. And you told me it would get better. Remember, when I was weeping into my glass of Pinot Grigio? And you were right. Life hasn’t turned out as I thought it would, but it’s still ok. It’s liveable. You said all that would happen, and at the time I didn’t believe you. But now, I know you were right. It’s not perfect, it never will be. But I’m ok. Thank you for being my divorce buddy.”

We both laughed and soon after, paid the bill and went our separate ways. But the phrase stayed in my head all morning, on the weekly trip round Sainsburys, walking the dog, and then, finally, when there was no further way to procrastinate, getting down to some work. Divorce Buddy, I thought…what a great idea.

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Divorce – I will survive (with thanks to Gloria Gaynor)

Halloween tonight, and I take my youngest to a little party at a neighbour’s. She’s a fellow mother and, also, a vicar. She tells me about a member of her flock who rang her, weeping, the other day, desperate to talk about her new, raw, separated state. “She’s desolate, keeps talking about how she has failed,” my vicar friend says.

As I listen, and remember that searing early desolation, I am cast back to the first days of my own separation, and I realise how far I have come.

1) Now it is a case of good days and bad hours, rather than the other way round.

2) My children seem well adjusted and happy, rather than the delinquents I feared they would become as a result of my divorce.

3) My Ex and I get along well enough, and it doesn’t seem to hurt me at all when he has girlfriends.

4) Each day of my life is mostly calm and happy. In fact, to build on point 1, most days are happy, and easy, and I laugh several times (at least. And not in a mad way).

The sum total of this is that I think I may have survived my divorce. I have survived the crashing of my family hopes and dreams; I have survived my (then) husband’s brusing multiple infidelities. I have survived my own punishing disappointments in myself. I have survived my dislike of my Ex. I have survived my Ex’s sneering dislike of me.

And I have come out the other side. My family is still going, just in a different shape. My ex husband has become an amicable co parent (though I do well to stay on my guard just a little: this may be wolf in sheep’s clothing). I forgive myself, (mostly) for not being  the Perfect Mother of a Perfect Family, as I, long ago, set out to be. And, to cap it all,  I am not sad and alone. I have my lovely, sweet boyfriend, who mows my lawn and puts the rubbish out and seems to love me, smoking on the porch.

All this, my friend, will happen to you too. Gloria was right. You will survive.

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Divorce Worries

I’ve survived my healthscare, but after just a few, fleeting, thankful seconds, I move almost seamlessly on to the next worry in my never ending list. There is always a next worry. And one after that.  And after that. If I were to visualise them, they would look like a long line of tourists queueing to get into Madame Tussauds. Jostling each other for position, they would stretch, five deep, along the Marylebone Road and round the block. That’s how many worries I can visualise.

I wonder if this is the worst part of being divorced. The worries. As a divorcee, the worries are doubled, because they all stop with you. No one else is going to help you resolve them, or cuddle you at night and make them go away. Divorced, it’s your mortgage, your car payment, your house insurance, your council tax, your bills bills bills…

Wide awake at 3am, it’s almost enough to make you go back to your lying, cheating uncaring dismissive ex-husband.

But then the dawn breaks and things don’t seem quite so bad.

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Salute the Sun

I am in my weekly yoga class in contemplative mood. As I settle into Downward Dog and look backwards at my toes, (recently painted an autumnal purple), I think about my week ahead. I have been feeling unwell and as a result have a horrible medical test looming. I hope it’s nothing, but being a writer with an over vivid imagination, I have also envisaged my decline and death, to the point of my wonderful and precious forlorn children, brave and desolate, at my funeral.

I once read a report that claimed divorce was worse for children than the death of one parent. The report maintained that death meant the children still lived in one home, without divided loyalties, and so life remained relatively normal. As I move into the Cobra position, I reflect that the author of this report failed to weigh up the impact on a child’s life of a parent lost for good. If I die, who will do the million small repetitive things that makes their day run? Put out the school uniform, pick them up, drop them off, talk to their teacher about their difficulties with maths, hug them when  they’re sad, help them with their Match Attax collection, plait their hair. Suddenly, I see that doing these things for my kids is part of the process of knitting them into adulthood.

When I was growing up, my father used to say he just wanted to live long enough to bring up his children. Then, the idea of death was utterly remote to me, and I had laughed off his fears and run off to play. Now, I understand what he meant. He was about my age when he made his remark, and by 45, would have felt, like me, the first twinge of mortality.

As I rise to salute the sun, and my yoga teacher encourages us to set our intention for the day, I know what mine is. And I know that while divorce is bad, death is much, much worse.

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