Hard Lessons From My Marriage To An Unfaithful French Chef

To find the light of love and laughter in life, sometimes you have to travel through the shadows.

woman standing outside by water in city CarlosDavid / Shutterstock

My whole life revolves around romance, dreams, and soulmates.

I marvel when the right biochemistry ignites sparks that become a flame so intense as to burn eternally, when two people allow the most powerful and meaningful emotion to rule their hearts, and then embrace that magical potential where True Love will become the torch that lights the course of their future. I am an artist and lovers are my palettes, a modern-day Picasso of sorts.


You see, I am a matchmaker. People look to me on a daily basis to give them hope that yes, they too can find their soulmate. My specialized knowledge, however, has been learned, in part, the hard way.

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A marriage made in Hollywood

My first encounter with the illusion of true love occurred when I was a young struggling actress in Hollywood. I had always felt very confident about myself in the looks department and was often asked for my autograph. I signed it “Molly Ringwald,” and then, “Just kidding.” Eyes shining with stars, body surging with hormones, I fell for an incredibly beautiful, charismatic, and talented French chef. Bruno.

He had deep green eyes, full, pouty lips, and thick, chestnut brown hair that fell just above his shoulders in ringlets. I used to love stretching one out and letting it go … boing! I told my aunt one day, “I’m lucky to be with Bruno. I mean, it’s amazing I was able to attract such a great-looking guy in the first place.” She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. I pretty much had.

I had only known him for six adventure-filled months when we got married. I was smitten, while he mostly needed a place to crash. Yes, I know, a heartbreak waiting to happen. But it wasn’t just his looks I adored.

Our wedding in his small village in France was a fairytale. We posed in the nearby woods where white cyclamen grew wild, my white lace dress rising out of the blossoms, white against white. And the food! To Bruno and his wonderful family, food was a spiritual experience, savored and revered as an art form. What could go wrong?


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Here's the truth about Bruno

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the bonfire of my true love needed more fuel than my attraction to a gorgeously chiseled face, a French accent, and his skill at preparing coquilles Saint Jacques. I was in love, and I thought I understood that the key to having true love in my life was to begin by loving myself. I was pretty sure that I did, but the way I allowed myself to be treated, suggested otherwise. My beloved didn’t think that I was good enough the way I was.

In his opinion, I was an uptight ball-breaker with hair that was the wrong color; he wanted me to bleach it blonde. Teeth? Not white enough. My nails? Too short. Breasts? Too small. Skin? (Yes, skin.) Too white. You’d think I was a red-headed albino frog with fangs. I am pale, and my skin burns easily, but Bruno bought me a gift certificate for several sessions at the local tanning salon and started in on the idea of my getting breast implants, threatening divorce if I didn’t change right away. My self-esteem imploded, while at the same time, I was also in awe of his confidence.

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Adjusting to a much different culture

He used to look at himself in the mirror, as he was getting ready to go out and declare, “God I’m good-looking.” Then he would jump on his vintage motorcycle and speed off into the night, often not returning until the next day. Even though I had lost my mind, I adored hanging out with the “Frenchies” as I used to call them. His French friends held garden parties in the evenings, stringing twinkle lights and playing world music, the men and women in cool jeans, cigarettes of tobacco or marijuana at their lips.

They talked of their international travels, their easy laughter filling the warm summer nights. I felt like I was in a new world, a secret club with a secret language that I quickly became fluent in as well.  They were enlightening, exhilarating, carefree, and completely comfortable in their own skins—which I was trying to be. They lived in the moment.

If they felt like making love, they could do so without getting attached. They did it for pure pleasure, something I hadn’t quite been able to do. The casual way that the French viewed their bodies intrigued me. Men and women were never embarrassed to slip into a Jacuzzi nude together at a party. Women sunbathed topless all the time. It was completely natural to them.

Bruno would constantly saunter around the apartment au naturel. He went so far as to answer the door in his birthday suit. Frankly, I was appalled. His best friend James would knock on the door, and there came Bruno, treating his buddy to a full frontal extravaganza and a big bonjour! James wasn’t fazed in the least. One day Bruno shocked a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses.


“Aren’t you embarrassed to have your privates on display?” I asked.

He gestured toward his package and shrugged his shoulders. “C’est une partie du corps.” It’s just a part of the body. “You are so uptight, Marla.”

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The illusion of freedom

For all the French freedom, I watched the girlfriends and wives as they discovered their young men cheated on them all the time. I couldn’t figure out if they were just dumb, or if they had their own flings going on. I didn’t think I would be able to recover from a betrayal, but then it happened to me.

I stayed with Bruno after he had an affair with James’ sister who was visiting from France. My self-esteem crashed to a rocky bottom — I thought. But it turned out that it could go even lower.


Bruno’s green card came in the mail after we had been married for three years. What a coincidence that an hour after it arrived, he told me that he didn’t want to be with me anymore. I was so distraught that I went up to Sunset Boulevard to a tattoo parlor blaring Guns and Roses and subjected myself to modern-day torture by having a tattoo engraved on my left hip of a heart with a dagger through it with the words, L’AMOUR.

I was a mess. I couldn’t eat or sleep and my heart literally felt as though it had been pierced by a dagger. I was able to convince him to stay with me after that, but why did I want to hang on to someone who didn’t love me? I tried changing my personality to be more “cool” and “easygoing.” When he was there with his friends, I even walked around the house as nonchalantly as a cigarette dangling from my lips could make me. All I got was a sore throat.

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How I healed and grew as a person 

After four more years of tears and anguish, we finally parted for good. I packed two suitcases and my 3-pound Yorkshire terrier and moved to Chicago, where I had some wonderful friends waiting to uplift and support me.


At first, I cried at the sound of a motorcycle, or when I would see his favorite yogurt at the supermarket, but within a couple of months, I had pretty much exorcised him and felt wonderful. My energy lifted, my self-esteem was slowly climbing, and amazing things started happening to me. I signed with a commercial agent and I booked two commercials in one week. As much as I’d like to blame Bruno for everything, to be fair, I always had the choice to leave, so my unhappiness was of my own making. I needed to find the meaning of true self-love to pave the way for lasting love with a soulmate.

Yet, I think there was another angle to my sojourn with Bruno. Maybe in life’s journey, we need the very people that we love to force us to grow. I thought I was fine, but Bruno uncovered my weak spot and used it for target practice. Even though I thought my self-image was good, it wasn’t all it needed to be, so I attracted someone that showed me exactly what I needed to work on. I couldn’t really see myself, and so I couldn’t really see Bruno.

Other people are mirrors, and our own reflection in their eyes isn’t always rosy. After so much heartache and disappointment, deep diving into the shadows and the dark side of romantic relationships, I have come to the conclusion that our trauma is our training, and that, is a good thing in the end.

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Marla Martenson is a transformational life coach, matchmaker, author & tarot reader.