How A Devastating Love Affair Made Me Flee The Country

It turned out to be the best move I ever made.

woman Bricolage | Shutterstock

It was Wednesday, July 29, 1981 — the day of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and all of Britain got the day off to celebrate.

While everyone else was attending street parties, waving Union Jacks along the procession route, or watching it on the telly, I was slumped on my couch in the living room of my flat in London, TV on mute, bawling my eyes out while Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" blasted from my stereo.


My companion was a one-liter bottle of cheap white plonk, through which I was merrily drinking: my usual go-to when affairs of the heart went skew whiff, which in my case seemed to be disturbingly often.

The previous night, The Loved One informed me that he couldn’t follow through with our plans to move in together, get married, have babies, etc., etc. In other words, he was canceling the whole happily-ever-after deal.


"I never know how you’ll be," he explained. "One minute you’re loving and sweet, the next, you’re screaming like a banshee. You’re too wild for me. You’ll get bored and leave me."

He listed several examples where I’d gone so far off the rails as to become an actual train wreck.

"You take each blow on the chin," he said. "Everyone else goes with the flow." In other words, I was a total nightmare that no one in their right mind could put up with. Certainly not him. Though, in my defense, there were extenuating circumstances. I replayed the previous evening. We had drinks after work in the local pub, where most of our social life took place. Drinking was par for the course for journalists back in the 80s. After dinner, we retreated back to my place.

After our usual tryst in the bedroom, he got ready to go home.


"So, when are you leaving her?" I asked.

"It’s difficult. You don’t know how difficult it is."

I said something like, "You’ve been saying that for a while, and it’s never happening." He responded with something like, "Sorry, I can’t do this anymore."

"What do you mean?"

"I don’t think I can leave her. I don’t trust you. Not anymore."

"Do you still love her?" I asked.

"Not like I love you," he said. "It’s different."

"How can you love me but stay with her?" That’s when my inner banshee broke free of its restraints and took over.

It didn’t help that we worked for the same publishing company, albeit on different magazines but in adjacent offices. Or that we saw each other every day, and that the entire office knew about our pathetic, non-secret love affair.


A fellow journalist introduced me to The Loved One at our company’s Christmas party. The food and drink flowed. A second-rate band played. Back then, companies still spent money on such things.

He arrived late, having stayed behind at the office after everyone else had already skedaddled to the party, to help the subs put the magazine to bed, even though it wasn’t his job; he was a reporter. I remembered thinking, how noble of him. I’d seen him around but we’d never spoken. As a union rep, I’d trundle from desk to desk, soliciting dues. I felt a frisson of excitement when I approached him. He had gorgeous crinkly blue eyes and always smiled at me.

That evening at the party, when our mutual friend drifted off to the bar, The Loved One said something that changed my life and that I’ll never forget.

"I know this sounds strange, but I know I could fall in love with you and I know I could make you love me."


"How do you know?" I asked.

"I knew it as soon as I saw you. There’s something about you. I just knew."

"I’ll know when you kiss me," I said.

Whether we kissed right away or waited until we were around the back of the building, away from prying eyes, I no longer remember.

All I recall is that we kissed. And I knew I would fall in love with him.

"What now?" I asked.

"It’s … complicated."

"You’re married?"

"No. I have a girlfriend, we live together."


Still, that minor detail didn’t stop me from snogging him around the back of the building all night.

Sometimes, you meet someone, and you know.

We didn’t see each other for two weeks after that. It was the Christmas holidays. I thought about him every day. When we returned to the office in early January, I bumped into him in the corridor, and my heart lurched.


"Let’s meet for a drink after work," he said.

"Okay," I said.

"I thought about you every day," he said over his pint of beer in the pub.

"I thought about you too," I said.

It was the start of a pattern. We’d meet after work in a pub. There was so much to talk about. We covered the same areas. Knew the same people.

He started coming back to my place, always getting a taxi home before midnight. He brought me flowers, champagne. It felt desperately romantic. The secrecy only heightened the thrill. But we were in love. We managed to go away for weekends occasionally and planned a future together.

"You’re more exciting than anyone I’ve ever met," he said. "All my life, I’ve done what’s expected of me. I’ve been the dutiful son, loving boyfriend. I’m going to leave her. And when I make up my mind, that’s it. I don’t change it back. Give me some time. Let me put things in place."


I was delirious with happiness. He’d tell her in the next month, or so. He’d get his own place first. Then we’d move in together. But first, we’d travel. Later, have a family. Oh, the brilliant, shimmering future that awaited us.

It wasn’t meant to all go so wrong.

It's hard to remember the exact point at which I gave him power of attorney over my mental and physical well-being. Like a frog in a slow-boiling pot. It happened slowly, then all at once. But he didn’t leave her that month. Or the next. She was ill. Okay, understandable. No worries. Nor the month after that, when she was better.

Full disclosure: back then, I was not yet the calm, groovy, laid-back person I eventually became. As time went on, some scenes weren’t pretty.


I dated an Australian photographer to make him jealous. It worked. Until the Aussie realized he was being used as a ploy and disappeared. Meanwhile, another set of challenges was ratcheting up my emotions.

I had purchased a flat on the ground floor of a Victorian mansion that needed renovation. On my first night there I discovered that the previous owner neglected to disclose that there was an illegal reggae club in the basement of the house at right angles to mine. The music started cranking at 10 pm and didn’t dissipate until around 3 am.

Drug dealers came and went. Couples fornicated in the alley below my bedroom window. The police made frequent raids. Sleep became a stranger to me. Shortly after I’d moved into my new flat, I moved back out and returned to my previous flat with my old flatmate.

The Loved One was sympathetic to my plight. But still, he didn’t leave her.


Friends quizzed him on why. They were as sick of hearing me whine as I was of whining. His answer? Always the same: It’s not easy.

By the time the Royal Wedding rolled around, the reggae music makers had been evicted, and I’d been able to move back in and begin renovations.

We kept meeting. Each time was worse than the previous one.


Forget him and move on, friends urged.

It’s not easy, I said. I believed I could change his mind. I was addicted.

Work wasn’t going well either. I didn’t get the promotion I wanted, which led me to wonder, was my personal life overshadowing my work life? So I quit my job and went freelance. At least I didn’t have to see him every day. But I still saw him, even though I knew it was useless.

I toyed with suicide. I drank. Because it was all my fault. I was a terrible person. Wallow, wallow, wallow.

Objectively, I knew that our pathetic office romance, indulged in by millions of couples before and after us, did not amount to that proverbial hill of beans. But at the time, it felt as if no one had ever loved as we did. No one. I threw a party in my flat. Some uninvited guests — neighbors whom I disliked — gatecrashed and wouldn’t leave. I felt helpless.


And something snapped. Somewhere around 5 o’clock that morning, I made a vow never to be so low or desperate again.

I had to do something else with my one wild and precious life. I decided to leave London. The city wasn’t big enough for both of us. It so happened that Scottish artist friends of mine from college were traveling to New York City to launch an exhibition called Scottish Expressionism. I decided to throw my lot in with them. They knew people in New York. I wouldn’t be alone.

I organized work for myself as a stringer for British magazines and newspapers, rented my flat out, flew to New York, and within a few months, changed my life.

Looking back forty years, I wish I could have told my twenty-something, lovelorn self that this too would pass. To have faith in myself. That no man was worth destroying me over.


I wish I could have told my younger self so many things. I also understood that if I hadn’t gone through this unhappy love affair, then I would never have emigrated to America. I would never have experienced the career, loves, friendships, and adventures that awaited me in New York City.

I wish I could have given Princess Diana some advice, too. But we both had to find out what we needed to know the hard way and sometimes, there is no other way.

Annie Forbes Cooper is a memoirist, essayist, actor, playwright, fiction writer, and contributor to YourTango. A former journalist, editor, radio host, and exhibitions curator, she has published her fiction and nonfiction in newspapers, print magazines, and online websites on both sides of the Atlantic.