Why I'm Glad I Stomached Two Painful Divorces Before I Found My 'One'

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Man and woman upset with each other

I was such a good girl as a child. Quiet, well-behaved, seen and not heard.

But good children don’t always turn into easy teenagers. Cue my renaissance as a rebel.

After falling in love working in the local cinema as an usherette, I got engaged at 17 against the advice of ... everyone. My fellow students voted me "most likely to get married first" in the school yearbook and I was so proud because my life was going to be like a Disney film, complete with a house full of kids and talking animals to help with the chores.

Thank goodness I didn’t have to do the whole dating thing. I was on my way to Oxford University living the dream, about to marry my prince, a good-looking, rich, and charming biochemist.

Of course, life has a way of slapping you in the face when you predict too much of it. So my first marriage was over in a year once he met his 'soulmate' on an Open University course I’d encouraged him to go on after he failed his degree.

My parents were so ashamed that they kept the wedding pictures up in the living room and pretended to our whole community that I was still married! Anything else would be far too embarrassing.

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Thus followed a multitude of bad choices and terrible online dating experiences:

  • The guy who looked dreamy but sounded like he’d been sucking on a helium balloon
  • The one who took me on a romantic trip to an art gallery then leaned in for a kiss, exposing a set of bright yellow rotting teeth
  • The one who was great fun and super-affectionate but had a temper like a Tasmanian devil and two kids he never saw
  • The one who was only interested if I pretended I wasn’t
  • The one who turned up looking like his profile picture had been taken about 20 years ago

By the age of 28, I needed to make some changes.

Going out to the same bars in the same town on a Friday night wasn’t going to find me a decent man. Plus I’d managed to get £20,000 into debt by cheering myself up with shopping trips and nights out.

Oh, and my 'best friend' had decided to fabricate a story about a car crash that never actually happened in order to sue me, which resulted in most of the staff at my school not talking to me and leaving the room when I walked in.

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So, the only course of action was to move abroad to a country I’d never heard of. Obviously. Perfectly sensible.

Marriage number two was a fellow teacher in an international school in the Middle East, with a great body but some serious commitment issues. Plenty of people warned me not to touch him with a ten-foot pole which, of course, made him more attractive because I was delusionally convinced I could change him.

He kept dumping me and then begging me to get back together, but who doesn’t like a bit of drama in their life? And he assured me he was emotionally damaged from past relationships but would see a life coach to try and sort out his issues for me.

The final straw was when he lied about where he was applying for jobs — the deal was moving together to the next country but he’d been applying all over the world behind my back and accepted a post in Bangkok without consulting me. 

So I left our relationship and decided I was going to be a young, free, single teacher and start my life again in Abu Dhabi. I spent time making friends and flirting with eligible young men. But after a sudden diagnosis of cervical cancer came along, my ex — who was still in Bangkok — began messaging me every day to console me and offer his sympathies, support, and eventually: an engagement ring. Bam, another wedding — and shockingly, a divorce three months later.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock but it did. I had nightmares the night before our wedding day and an actual voice shouted in my dream, don’t do it. But he said his parents were on their way and if I changed my mind, I’d break their heart. So I did what any sane woman would do and chugged champagne while getting my hair done.

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Little did I know, as I pieced my life back together following my two divorces — while I made plans to emigrate and change careers once again — that my one was just around the corner.

Along came a new teacher in the same school I found myself in.  He was respectable and kind. We were on playground duty together and chatting was so easy — and this time, it was him pursuing me for a change.

A chat turned into a drink, turned into a second date dinner, turned into a third date swimming and cycling (totally out of character for me) then multiple dates hanging out with friends. There was no drama. It was a type of relationship I wasn't used to. 

He liked musicals, rom-coms, and cheesy pop songs from the 90s. He cried at sad films. Maybe, finally, he was the elusive 'one' I kept (incorrectly) thinking I’d found.

A the supermarket one day I asked, "H many nights are you staying for dinner this week so I know what to buy?"

"How many nights will you have me?" was his reply.

So he moved in.

With so little effort and no chasing, worrying, or crying myself to sleep over being mistreated, I finally felt at home. I felt free. I went completely without makeup around him and felt no shame, something I had never done before. 

The beauty of failing before you succeed is that you truly appreciate the success when it comes. And when things inevitably hit a few road bumps, you work at the relationship — because you know what the alternative might be.

With age and two failed marriages  comes patience, less drama, and an extra helping of kindness.

I no longer place too much importance on massive romantic gestures — I'm happy for him to show he cares in little ways, like filling the car with gas, cheering the kids up when they're having a meltdown, or walking the dog before work to give me an extra ten minutes in bed. 

Maybe trying and failing isn't so bad after all. Maybe to love fearlessly and trust people isn’t a shameful thing (although I sometimes wish I’d have saved just some of that love for myself). You do you, ignore the shamers and sort out your life priorities, and who knows what might be around the corner.

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Lisa Pickering is a mom, writer, and ex-primary school teacher turned music therapist.