On the wedding of an ex

The weirdness of a second marriage

I was four happy years into my second marriage when my first husband, to whom I was married for 21 years, got married again. I could get bogged down into a hundred and one reasons why this shouldn’t be an issue (I’m happy now, I left him, we were not close any more, our marriage was a disaster area) but it was an issue. I felt apprehensive as the day approached and it bugged me immensely that it was on my mind so much. I sent him a Whatsapp saying that I hoped he’d have an amazing day, and that I was excited for him, and that was true. But it was still an issue.

A happy day on my second wedding

I’ve had counselling to help me to work through my turbulent emotions, several times over, and I’ve got better at it, but it’s so hard sometimes to know quite what the emotion is. About his wedding, I felt uneasy. Troubled. When he first met his partner, a few years back, and it became very apparent that she was ‘the one’, I was angry to the point of fury that he had changed. Without going into boring, pointless details, I had wanted more from him for years and had tried a gazillion ways to make it happen, some of which were downright damaging for all concerned, but it didn’t happen.

And now he has changed. When I occasionally see him at the children’s birthdays and hear him talking about her, I can see it, hear it and feel it. This made me spitting, hopping mad. But the anger turned to sadness when, one day, I acknowledged to a wise woman that he hurt me very badly and I cried uncontrollably for hours. When I blinked away those tears of grief and loss I realised that I’m free of all that rage, now, and it was not anger that consumed me when he re-married. So what was it?

Here’s what it was. It was the irreparable, far-reaching rupture of the family. It was not about him and me; it was about a community of people that I am separated from. Our three children dressing up and going to a wedding where they would see their grandparents, their aunties and uncles, cousins and old friends. I knew, when we broke up, that this would hurt, and it does. His brother came over from Canada, the brother that lived with us for one summer when he worked for the post office in his twenties and we chatted, every day, in the kitchen, as I cooked for the kids and he helped with the washing up. We got to know each other well and since the split I have not seen him or his lovely family. He called once to say he wished he’d done more to support, when things were tough and we were living separately through the week. There was nothing he could have done. He was a great brother in law and I miss him.

I loved my ex’s parents, too. His mum has had a heart attack and I wished I could have seen her but distance has grown between us. I miss his sister. We were good friends. She is wonderful and her kids are adorable. I still think of them as my nieces. I never saw his other two siblings as often but always loved catching up with them and had such a laugh with his youngest sister.

So we move on. I’ve met lots of other people through Tim and now have a whole other extended family, a lovely mum-in-law, brothers and their wives and partners and good friends. But these first people, my children’s grandparents, Aunties and Uncles – these still feel like family. I love them and miss them. When we break up with a person, we break up with all of the people who come with them, whether we intend to or not. Sides are taken, sympathies are shown. The break up sometimes feels like the amputation of a limb that, although I’ve learned to live without it, still aches at times.

When an ex re-marries, it might mean nothing and that’s fine, but if it hurts, for whatever the reason, I really think that’s normal. What’s the answer? I think it’s to acknowledge the pain, live with it a while, know that it will pass, keep in touch with the people who matter enough, and be kind to yourself.

Decluttering

Hoping for space

Every day is declutter day around here. I’ve married a man who has accumulated a vast array of everything just in case it fits again or might be used again. There is a bewildering amount of stuff that surrounds him; too much, in fact, for the house. We have a lock box on the outskirts of town which is bursting at the seams. It’s full of boxes, weights, fridge freezers, tables, chairs, pictures, clothes horses, hairdryers, torches, books, elephants. cars, worlds and entire planets. I am on a mission to get rid of most of the stuff that we own but it’s a long, arduous and time-consuming affair. As for why there is so much of it, it’s one of life’s mysteries. I’m a would-be minimalist, on the other hand, and love the idea of only owning things that are useful or bring me joy. But how many of us could actually achieve this?

Starting with my own stuff seems like a better way of approaching decluttering than trying to throw out the endless galaxies that belong to my other half. So I went through some boxes today. Dressing up stuff. So many memories in there! There’s a green felt hat that must have been worn for a Peter Pan day. Also a burlesque outfit from a Christmas party with the Leicester Road Hoggs running club where we all did the can-can and then threw ourselves at the ground and rolled around in hysterics. A superhero costume that my son Will wore for Halloween one night. And finally, two 1980s floral Bo Peep bridesmaids dresses that have been in the box ever since my first wedding day 30 odd years ago. There were others but these are the two I’ve still got. It’s hard to part with the memories more than anything else. That August day with the warm sun, green grass, colourful guests laughing and joking on the New Bradwell green, my face aching from the endless smiling for photographs and so much happiness and hope. Obviously we got divorced in the end but let’s not ruin a good memory by going over all that.

Nobody needs this stuff but who throws away dressing up stuff? You really never know when you might need it again. A burlesque outfit is a good shout – I don’t know what for but it’s staying. The superhero outfit can go. Will might want it and if not it’s going to the tip. But the Bo Peep dresses will need to go. They’re massive, bouffy items that, despite the fond memories they evoke, are a drain on the brain. Even knowing, now, that they’re there, in an enormous box, is tiring.

If anyone knows of a theatre company who are putting on a show that involves an 80s wedding, a vintage fan who likes 80s stuff or a child who loves wafting around in large dresses, please get in touch. Or here they are on ebay! https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/174995193387https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/174995193387

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Don’t sleepwalk through life

Tim and I went to watch Derren Brown yesterday in Leicester
and, despite the majority of the audience being maskless dickheads, had a great time. Derren wrote the show in celebration of his Dad, who died of Covid in March, and a recurring theme was authenticity. One of the regrets of the dying is, apparently, ‘I wish I’d lived the life that was my choice, and not the life that others chose for me’. The only life I want for myself and my kids is the one we choose for ourselves.

Now, an empty nester, in a quiet house and only two people to cook for and clean up after, life has changed. It’s a wide open space of opportunity. It’s time to ask the question: ‘what do I want?’ The question itself can be scary. I am with a life partner who I love, which is great, and not everybody is in such a happy position, but what do we do to be happy and enjoy life? I suppose the thing to consider is how to avoid sleepwalking through it all.

Sleepwalkers often buy lots of stuff. Our house is full of stuff that accumulated during years and years of life with other partners for both of us.  Boxes of books, weights, paperwork, magazines, photographs, tins of paint, rucksacks, weird spiky rollers that nobody ever uses, plugs, mugs, odd earrings, Feliway, screws, tat, tack and pointless rubbish. I think the first thing to do in the pursuit of happiness is to jettison, jettison and jettison some more. Keep the things that actually bring enjoyment and chuck the rest.
Ebay is my friend. Freecycle is my second best friend. The tip is next, and the shops are only to be approached with care, and a thought out list.

Sleepwalkers keep busy all the time. It’s tempting to fill the spaces and silence of an empty nest with projects, work and social occasions. Nothing
wrong with any of them but one of the things I’ve learned over lockdowns is to sit with myself. It was hard at first, all that quietness. But I came to the
fortunate realisation that I am my own best friend and a very good one at that.  Reading, playing the piano, looking at the sky and stroking the cat whilst
listening to some music are all very worthwhile ways to spend an afternoon.  When I changed jobs I deliberately sought something with more flexibility, so that I can have afternoons off, to see my poor old parents, or rest. I could fill up my time and earn more money but I feel that money is only useful as a means to an end. It’s not necessary to get as much as possible, which links to point 1 – getting fewer things.

Sleepwalkers get really involved in social media. I am addicted to social media just as much as the next person even though I don’t
post all that often as a way of curbing the craving. I can still occasionally lose the last ounce of sense in my brain and spend hours scrolling through and
looking at the lives of people I barely know. It doesn’t lead anywhere good. I either get FOMO or a massive inferiority complex. I keep Facebook off my phone and somehow I’ve weaned off Instagram, only going on now and again and looking at a heavily curated feed, full of people who I find inspirational and who actually teach me something.

So, what to do? How do we live purposefully? I think it’s
important to carry out experimental activities and if they make you feel good,
do them again and make them happen regularly. Since I’ve had all this gift of time, I’ve played netball (can’t at the moment due to counselling course taking
place on the same night), gone for a million walks, discovered beautiful local places, learned the first part of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the piano, read some great books, written a blog because I enjoy writing, laid in bed for whole mornings, listened to new music, chatted to friends, gone for coffee and cake, or wine and crisps, camped, watched the sun rise over the ocean and watched it set over a mountain. Life is for living. The fact is that it’s never perfect.  Our wittering minds get in the way. But it’s definitely got enough potential
for joy to stay awake for.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Purposeful living

The Art of Failure

Making things better is the mission that drives me. In every aspect of life, I try to make things better for myself.

Making things better is the mission that drives me.  In every aspect of life, I try to make things better for myself.  Relationships, nutrition, work life, home environment, fitness and strength, education and understanding of the world.  It’s not just myself that I try to better: other people and animals are a part of my mission.  In my teaching career, I have strived to provide children with a better understanding of literature and the worlds within the texts that we read.  As a mum, I worked relentlessly to give my children a better childhood than mine, and better opportunities as they grew up.  As a friend and acquaintance, I try to support others to achieve better states of mind and happier lives.   As a vegan, I want to improve animal rights and the environment.   

Alongside these worthy thoughts and dreams, I have become aware of a subtext, born directly from my inner ‘truth’ that I must always get better.  I regularly find myself pestered by thoughts and ruminations about all the times in my life that I have got things wrong, and I haven’t known how to handle the sense of failure.   The list is long and goes back to incidents at school where I made up stories for attention.  ‘My cat has had kittens’, I told the class one afternoon, in circle time.  When a friend turned up at the house, with her mum, to buy one, the truth was revealed.  I’d made it up because I wanted the class to look at me with the ‘oohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ that other children received, with their exciting lives.  I can still feel the shame of that doorstep conversation, with my mortified mum denying the existence of any kittens, and my friend’s accusatory voice.  ‘But Ruth told the whole class!’ she persisted, disappointed and shocked. 

I don’t intend to write a list of my failures here.  The kitten story is difficult enough to confess, even now, although it happened when I was five.  There are many more.  I’ve been bitchy, two-faced, untruthful, cruel, weak and immature.  I have a failed marriage, which still bothers me.  He wasn’t the only one who messed up.  I did, too.  Many, many times.  It’s true that we were never compatible, and something was always off from the get-go, but there were times that I behaved badly and it’s difficult to live with that.

Why is it so difficult to know that I haven’t always been ‘good’?  I guess in my case there is a lot of conditioning behind that.  A Christian girl should be (insert a list of self-sacrificing bullshit).  Raised in a small sect of conservative Christianity, wearing a headscarf in church and being taught that men are leaders and women should submit to their leadership, I knew that I wasn’t supposed to feel, or express, anything challenging.  Taught that self-denial is a virtue, I learned to keep my true self hidden, and I simply behaved ‘well’ and mimicked the words and actions of others, to ensure my own acceptance and safety.  It has always felt like a terrible thing to say, ‘I failed’.  Getting things wrong is not acceptable.  I have tied myself in knots, time after time, trying to convince myself that what I did was understandable, and what I said was actually alright.  Given the circumstances, I couldn’t have done different etc etc.  ‘I failed’ has never been a phrase that I could live with.  It has seemed like a pointing finger – pointing to damnation and self-loathing.  In trying to forgive and accept myself, I have exhausted my frazzled mind attempting to justify and explain away my mistakes and wrongdoings.  When asking myself, ‘Am I a good person?’, I find that the failures make the answer a firm ‘no’.

Until this morning.  As I bumbled about, getting my breakfast and cogitating on the previous few days, analysing everything and anything as usual, something changed in my thinking.  I considered a recent failure, and instead of trying to justify it to myself, I said aloud, ‘I failed’.  The world did not change.  I said it again, with a growing smile: ‘I failed’.  It was strangely freeing and acceptable as I found myself accepting that failure is human.  We can be glorious and we can be diabolical.  I have been glorious and I have been diabolical.  We all fail.  Instead of justifying and explaining, I accepted, this morning, that I sometimes fail, and that’s not great but neither is it a disaster.  It is a fact.  If I wish to forgive myself, I must first acknowledge that I was wrong.  It wasn’t OK.  It was crap.  But that doesn’t make me any worse than the next person.  I’m no better and I’m no worse.  The average person gets many things wrong.  Even the most saintly type has a bad day.  So today I see my failures.  They make me human.  ‘I failed’.  And what?  It would be impossible to stop trying to get things right, to take the better path and to be the kindest version of myself possible every day.  But when I fail, I fail – and from now on, those are the times that I will put my arms around my fragile, failing self and remind myself that forgiveness and compassion are the most important qualities of human kindness, even and especially when it comes to ourselves.

Older and newer: embracing the grey

When I met my current partner, who I’m shortly going to marry, I dared to hope that this would be a modern, interdependent relationship, where we lived with mutual respect and love and affection. So far, that has been the case, but when I tentatively told him the truth, on a cycle ride, that my hair is actually grey, I honestly expected him to be rather upset.

I have started this blog to document some of my thoughts and experiences relating to perimenopause, which is, for me, more than a bunch of hormones conspiring to age me beyond all recognition and turn me grey.  Far more than that.  And a million times better, too.  I feel as though I’ve been gearing up for this for years, starting at the age of 33 when I developed feelings for a man other than my husband.  That was the beginning of a process of reassessing my life, and it started with an infatuation.  I thought it was love, but it was really a glimpse into a multi-faceted world of opportunities: different people, places, conversations and friendships.  It turned out to be nothing; we were both married and he wanted an affair, nothing more.  I stopped seeing him and spent months agonising over what had become of my marriage.  When I told my husband that I thought it was over, we decided to go to counselling (Relate) and managed to negotiate some changes that suited us both and gave it another go for ten years.  But the unrest of that fling stayed with me.  It was the beginning of the end – or the end of the beginning.  And that’s what I think this midlife business is all about.  Whether we stay in a relationship for life or not, our relationships do change.  We change.  I started to want more for myself.

I was brought up brethren.  Plymouth brethren.  Strict parents, nothing worldly, long hair, a head covering in meetings and a skirt and never trousers.  No discos, no version of the Bible other than the good old King James with its ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and ‘sayeths’.  The meeting was a solemn affair and women were under what was termed ‘the headship of men’.   I married under that and we didn’t really stray far from the tree until I went to university to study English Literature at the age of 32.  Suddenly I had options.  I was getting good grades and realised I had a brain and over the next years I graduated, took my PGCE and became a teacher.  I left the brethren, got fit, ran two marathons, raised my three kids, kept an eye on my ageing parents and got grey hair.  I coloured it religiously, obsessively, red, purple, blondey, streaked, dark, covering the roots increasingly often, sometimes every three weeks.  I couldn’t afford hairdressing fees and did it myself using L’Oreal products and then, scared of carcinogenic chemicals, Holland and Barrett brands.  The greys grew in abundance.

My marriage ended, finally, in a fizzled out mess of empty abandonment.  He moved to London with his job and I got to spend all week raising my two youngest whilst holding down a job and dealing with the middle daughter’s bulimia.  They were the most heartrending two years of my life and certainly the most difficult and painful of hers.  Whilst he was away pursuing his dream job, I wrote letters, chased the NHS, called my MP, shouted a lot about the CAMHS waiting list and funding problem and finally she got treatment.  During her time waiting for treatment, she went from mild anorexia to full blown bulimia, characterised not only by binge-purging but also regular panic attacks, self harm and, on one occasion, after a relationship breakup, an impulsive suicide attempt.  He told me I was exaggerating her illness and he continued to return home later and later on Friday nights, we returned to Relate, nothing changed and I ended it.

For the next year, I battled depression and anxiety, took a course of antidepressants, learned to look after myself, started dating again, had loads of fun, and developed more grey hairs.  When I met my current partner, who I’m shortly going to marry, I dared to hope that this would be a modern, interdependent relationship, where we lived with mutual respect and love and affection.  So far, that has been the case, but when I tentatively told him the truth, on a cycle ride, that my hair is actually grey, I honestly expected him to be rather upset.  His response, ‘Is that it?’ surprised me.  I still hung on to this idea that men do not fancy grey haired women.

Now, I’m a feminist.  Honestly.  A strong-minded, educated, mid-40s woman who believes in absolute equality, despises shallow frivolity and obsessions about perfection and considers our brains to be our biggest asset.  But I still want to be considered sexy and that, although I hate to admit it, equates with youthful.  I think we all do.  Men, too.  But lots of women I know struggle with the whole grey hair thing.  Although, I was talking about this with a colleague the other day and he said he reckons loads of men dye their hair secretly.  Loads.  Anyway, I toyed the the idea of going grey for some months and finally went to the hairdresser, asked them to chop out as much colour as they could, take it as short as they could without shaving my head, and went natural in one fell swoop  I bought a L’Oreal purple shampoo, which tones the remainder of the previous brassy overtones, and now I have silver streaks that are all mine.  People think it looks lovely.  I’ve had so many compliments.  My fiance loves it.  My kids think it’s cool.  My students have commented positively.  And I feel like my hair now matches the rest of me.  Older and newer.

My youngest is about to go to university, my house is on the market, I’m saying goodbye to the first half of my life: the day to day life of a working mother and the packets of hair dye.  I’m about to move away, buy a place with my fiance and say hello to the second half which is still brand new, with doors to be opened and memories to be made.

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