herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Dating after divorce

Suzanne Power says dating after divorce is difficult... and the perfect partner is often where you least expect to find them

Dating again after you've left a marriage is a bit like waking up after a long coma. You have to re-learn a few things, such as how to open your mouth and speak to a strange man when you fancy him. This feels like taking off your knickers in public.

I'm a talker. That doesn't mean I am not shy. There are two kinds. One is withdrawn and the other is verbal. I am in the latter category -- a lone wolf with a social instinct. When it comes to men, I am from some Jane Austen period novel -- I get tongue-tied and I blush.

It's horrible, the only thing that ever got me over this was a feed of drink. When I emerged at the age of 31 from an eight-year marriage and a 12-year relationship, I was aware that, this time round, it was not going to be possible to get rat arsed.

I was not drinking. I was calm and more confident than the wild days in which I met my first husband. And I wasn't going to rush anything out of a need to be loved or to have babies. I didn't think of it as a failure to be single. I loved my freedom. I had two delicious, glorious years of deciding what I wanted to do with my weekends and not having to go to action movies.

I never had any problem standing on the terraces. In fact, that's what I'll be doing on my second honeymoon. Watching the Newcastle derby game with my boys and my new husband.

Yes reader, I am to marry him. I know that's Bronte, not Austen, here's how:

When this piece is published a lot of people will find out I'm getting married. I have stayed very quiet about it -- I learned a lot from the first time around.

And that's how I approached dating him. I was slow, more focused on my needs than his. For a year before I met him I had tried the dating scene. I realised this was a crock within six minutes of my first Saturday in the 'cattle sheds', as I call them -- the pubs and clubs where the unmarried go to woo just like their great-grannies and great-granddads did.

Dating has changed since the days of chivalry and courtship, but the principles are still the same. You want to meet someone you have something in common with and someone to share your life with. For that you have to hear them. The modern sound system prevents natural speech.

So when the first man who asked me to dance in more than 12 years took me onto the floor I watched his mouth moving like a goldfish and leaned in to hear what he had to say. He thought this was a cue to wear the face off me. My elbow went into his ribcage and I headed off to get my coat and some toothpaste.

Driving home I had a good cry and missed my husband. The lads on the pub scene were more aggressive than I could handle and I was 10 years older than the tribal mix I found myself single in.

I was never going to meet a man that way. I wasn't ready to go out with someone, the feelings of loss were still too raw.

But I needed male company. There's only so many Sex and the City evenings you can have without wondering if someone will pay you for them. My single friends were lonelier and bitterer than I was about men. They didn't have the advantage of a previous marriage and, if I am honest, my expectations of what marriage could bring were more realistic.

Some blind-date experiences made me want to go blind. Also, I had no instinct for signals. One man I worked with kept calling me on spurious pretexts and, on one occasion, asked me for a DVD to be returned. I sent it via An Post rather than in person. Poor fella.

Feelings

Then a stand-up comedian asked me out on a date after his gig. I thought he was funny, but didn't fancy him and I had the old-fashioned thing of not hurting his feelings. I got into his car and saw the baby seat in the back. He claimed it was his sister's. I decided against not hurting his feelings and told him to feck off.

A few meals with a few strange men later, organised by caring friends who could have saved themselves the bother, I gave up. "You need dating rehab," one friend said to me. "You have no aptitude for it."

I agreed. It just felt like a stage I was past.

So when the girls went on holiday together, to meet lads in drinking holes, I went on holiday by myself -- and I met him. When I least expected it. I knew I wasn't ready but my gut told me if I didn't make an effort with this man I would regret it for the rest of my life.

I overcame horrible shyness to sit with him at dinner in the centre where we were doing courses. I asked him questions and he was clipped in his answers. So I sat back and felt the leaden disappointment of the unrequited seep through my veins. I observed him for nine days on that fortnight holiday and I felt sad because all the doubts I had about whether you can love someone and feel right about it were answered when I heard him talk to others. I saw how considerate he was. I knew he had been through a great deal. I couldn't get past the lack of confidence to do what my instinct said.

A stroke of luck put us on a nine-mile hike. I was hanging back feeling broken-hearted and he was delayed setting out. We ended up walking together. Within five minutes I knew this was him. He took longer. For him it was five hours. He told me he'd fancied me from the word go but I came across as aloof and cold. Shy strikes again.

When I went back to Ireland he went back to England. This was a good thing. I wasn't ready for a full relationship and he was also going through divorce. We waited.

Then events overtook us. I got pregnant on the first try. I moved in with him when I was four months pregnant with twins. It's been a rollercoaster and we did separate for a time, to get our heads together. But I believe in fate and I believe in what I feel for him.

Suzanne and Albie are getting married tomorrow at Gretna Green

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