My marriage to my best friend lasted less than five years.
We were colleagues for a year before we started dating and he told me he just knew we were going to be together.
We got engaged in Paris on Valentine’s Day, with a marriage announcement in The Times shortly afterwards showing just how in love we were. I felt like I’d met the perfect guy – he used to say we were like two of the same person, and it was so true. We had a deep love and understanding of each other.
So far, so Hollywood.
After two years as man and wife, our daughter, Annie, died when she was just a few hours old. I was heartbroken; I felt I had failed by not being able to deliver a healthy baby, and let down by the doctor and midwife who had ignored me when I said something was wrong during the pregnancy.
We were equally upset but my husband was more pragmatic in the aftermath. He wanted to move on but it was all I could think about.
A few months later, he said he didn’t want to be married anymore. I don’t think it was directly because of what happened with our daughter but – despite my repeated attempts to ask why – I don’t feel he ever gave a clear reason.
There was a lot of back and forth and, for a time while separated, we carried on sleeping together. Even when the divorce came through, I found I still thought of him as ‘The One’ and was reluctant to enter into another relationship unless it looked exactly the same: loving, predictable and sure.
I read deeply into messages from men on apps – would my ex have said that? What would my ex have done in this situation?
But focusing on him as the perfect relationship was preventing me from moving on.
The fact is that some relationships do just end, through separation, divorce, even death. And it doesn’t negate the love story – or the connection – that was there in the first place.
A year after I got divorced, I met someone else on holiday – we’ll call him Pip – and we got on incredibly well. He was four years younger, but the attraction was animalistic and conversation just flowed.
We travelled around Europe together being tourists, eating out and having great sex.
I loved hanging out with him and we talked about how we both wanted kids a few times. But he told me certain members of his family were racist and, as a Black woman, I wonder whether this informed his thinking right from the off that we weren’t going to end up together.
A few months in, he mentioned that he could never see it being long term with me; he just wanted to enjoy our causal relationship for what it was.
I’m a long term relationship girl. I’ve never had or liked casual relationships – it’s not about their length but about the commitment involved – so I took it as a rejection. What I heard was that he didn’t think I was good enough for something serious.
One day, when we were in the middle of having sex, I finally built up the courage to ask him if he loved me. ‘Not really’, he replied.
It hit me like a ton of bricks: this man was not The One at all. It hurt, but it was also a revelation. I realised that by looking for someone perfect, I had been doing all the work, carefully checking off relationship criteria and treating it like a research project, before we had even started.
I was so focused on finding someone who ticked my boxes that by the point I met them, I had already decided that they would fit.
But people (mostly) change and grow all the time – I hadn’t considered that love isn’t as simple as meeting someone who meets a template. No matter who you are with, you both have to put in the work every day for any relationship to work.
When I was with Pip, I didn’t expect it to be hard or challenging and was often surprised when it was.
It reminded me of the search for a career. My parents used to tell me to get a ‘job for life’ but for so many of us, such traditional approaches don’t appeal or, in some instances, don’t even still exist. Instead, like partners, we have lots of different jobs throughout our lifetime, with each one shaping what we’re ultimately looking for.
Naysayers might call that an inability to concentrate, but seeking new opportunities and stepping out of my comfort zone has helped me to learn more about myself.
There is so much expectation built up in the idea of The One, but it’s a false ideal that suggests there is a fast track to happiness and contentment. There isn’t.
Pip and I were together for two years before I ended it. I felt it was time to stop dating and do some soul searching.
I hadn’t really healed from the pain of divorce, I had just hung on to my rose-tinted view of my marriage and tried to replicate that in a new relationship.
Looking back over that period, I was looking for love, not the ‘situationship’ I ended up in – but I did have some amazing experiences. Maybe it was a different kind of love story, one I actually needed for that part of my journey in life.
Every new relationship since my divorce has challenged me by exposing me to the less-than-perfect, often messy everyday of real life.
Throughout the ups and downs, I’ve learned that true love is proven through honest, down-to-earth experiences, not one-off proclamations.
Did it hurt when these relationships ended? Yes. Do I regret having them? No. I’m single right now and I hope to get married again and have more children – one day. But I’m not standing still holding out a signpost for The One.
These days, I confidently go into relationships knowing that they could well end, but enjoying them as if they will last for a lifetime.
Last week in Love, Or Something Like It: The fact that my partner and I both have tics makes us love each other more
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Love, Or Something Like It is a regular series for Metro.co.uk, covering everything from mating and dating to lust and loss, to find out what love is and how to find it in the present day. If you have a love story to share, email [email protected]
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