Well as you may have seen on Instagram, we had a big celebration in our house this week because on Wednesday it was our 20th wedding anniversary. And I know that immediately some of you will do the maths and think but surely the eldest is 24? And you’re right. You see there’s a story behind our story that I’ve never told but today feels like the day to do it. It isn’t going to be easy to write and neither will it be easy to read so if you come here for clothes and outfits, you might want to skip this post and come back next week. If not, here’s the story of how love broke and remade me. I’m going to tell it in the third person, as if it’s something that happened to someone else because I’ve found it’s the only way I can write it.
How love broke and remade me
Back in 1989, there was a girl who graduated from university with a dream of working in magazines. The boom of the 80s had turned to bust so she took the first job she could find, working for a car magazine which wasn’t quite what she’d had in mind but she knew that if she worked hard, she could move on. Her magazine was the biggest in one of the UK’s largest publishing houses and so she joined at least a hundred other young graduate trainees just like her. They worked hard, they played hard and at the age of 22, she was unwittingly making friends who would be important to her for the rest of her life.
Amidst the glamorous throng of youth and ambition one person stood out. The life and soul of every party; tall, handsome, charming and a demon on the dance floor he was the one that everybody wanted to have as part of their lunchtime and weekend crowd. Everybody apart from our young woman that is because she’d never been drawn to flashy types and anyway, her long term boyfriend was still back in Nottingham doing his masters degree. The charmer hadn’t encountered a situation of somebody being impervious to him before and so he began to seek her out at events until one day she finally agreed to meet him for a Saturday lunch. She discovered that there was more to him than she’d thought and in a whirl of excitement and glamour he swiftly swept her off her feet. Within weeks they were engaged and a wedding soon followed.
At first it was good. Being married to the life and soul of every party meant they were in high demand, always out living the London life with groups of dazzling people. She noticed that they never saw her old friends or family though, he seemed to find fault with all of her old crowd and would point out that they had no time for a trip to the north – it was just too far away. He didn’t like her to go out without him and as for as the new friends he chose, however hard she tried the girl couldn’t seem to get things right. When they were out together she would quickly anger him by speaking to someone for too long or saying the wrong thing. So he would spend the hours that followed furiously going over and over the many faults he’d found in her so far. However when he woke up the following morning to find her quiet and pale faced, he’d have forgotten all about it and carry on as usual.
She’d go to work feeling confused, worthless and empty and she started to worry about the joint bank account they’d opened which swallowed all of her salary. So much money was going on the designer suits he liked to buy and nights out that long before the end of the month there was nothing left for food or bills – and yet his fury when she asked to change things was too strong to challenge.
She concluded that they’d just have to work harder so that there was more money. A few years went by and their careers soared, hers perhaps a little more than his which didn’t please him but to the outside world they were a golden couple. His professional milieu suited him, working in marketing his job was to entertain clients and strike deals; his day began with champagne breakfasts and his hosting carried on from there, often continuing all night. The person who had always been gregarious was now whirling out of control at a scary speed. There were no mobile phones then and so she never knew where he was, instead she’d wait anxiously by the landline because she’d started to get phonecalls from the police to say that he’d been coaxed down from Kingston Bridge or that he’d been caught smashing shop windows on the high street or that he’d written off her company car but told them she’d been driving…
She quickly discovered that the new friends he’d made were for good times only and they vanished into the shadows as his behaviour became more and more erratic. She didn’t know what to do but after that last incident, driving drunk and uninsured, it was taken out of her hands and he was admitted to a secure hospital where tests showed just how much he was drinking and how badly damaged his liver already was. There followed a period of rehab and in joint counselling sessions he’d explain that they could get life back on track. “We just need a bigger house… a faster car… a baby,” he’d say to her, “then I’ll be happy.” She found that still loved him and of course she’d made a vow to stand by him so despite her parents’ protests, she was determined to see it through and believed that they could turn it around.
And so they gave it another go, he stayed alcohol free and for a while things were good. Enough so that when she discovered she was pregnant she believed that it was just what they needed, that it would give him a real purpose for settling down. However the prospect of so much responsibility set him off drinking again and she felt more vulnerable than ever. His behaviour towards her took a turn for the worse, it was almost as though he felt he had her captive now. Despite her pregnant state he would kick her in the back while she was sleeping and one night she went to bed to find a knife under her pillow. He smiled as he told her that he just wanted her to know where she stood.
This isn’t easy to read (or write) so let’s fast forward a few months because surely things will change. Well the new baby came along as well as promotions for both of them so there was a new car and a big new house – all of the things that he’d always promised would make the difference. The problem was that a small baby wasn’t quite the dream topping that he’d expected it to be. It came with needs and demands and put an end to the social life they’d had together so instead he just went out more and more on his own. His drinking was, once again, out of control and even though she was exhausted, every night she’d lie awake knowing that whenever he came back he’d be angry so she was never sure what would happen. With a small baby, a demanding job, a commute and no sleep she was on her knees.
One night when he’d been at home for once but had spent yet another evening raging over her faults, something finally stirred deep down inside her and she thought, ‘enough!’ With a baby to protect she knew she had to get away and so she started to plan a way out, saving small amounts of money here and there. She looked around and realised how isolated she’d become because she’d been out of touch with her old friends for so long but there were a few people around her she could trust – a friend from her publishing days, a friend in the office and then one day on a work trip she got talking to Mr MC and he became her lunch buddy, gently uncovering what was going on. It was he who gave her the courage to find a place of her own, he who arrived with a van and a rugby friend one Sunday afternoon and helped her to take a few things even though she left most of it behind. He built shelves and beds, screwed in picture hooks and tried to soothe the confused little toddler who suddenly had to cope with a new nursery as well as a new home. He gradually made her feel safe again. And from that friendship grew a love that has never wavered.
And so you see when I say that Mr MC and I have a truly happy marriage I have reason to know that we really do. It’s taken him years to rebuild me because there were so many things that I’d buried but since the beginning I’ve had an instinctive feeling of us belonging together, as though we’ve been together for centuries – and that was heightened when my dad (who never really approved of any of my boyfriends) said on meeting him “he feels like one of us.” Every day at some point I stop to think think how lucky I am to have him and be where I am now.
You’re probably wondering what happened to the man that I left behind. I’ve included some examples of the very cruel things he did to me here but even so I feel it’s important to say that he wasn’t a bad person, it was the alcohol that was bad. For most of us, alcohol is an occasional release that enables us to relax and escape the everyday for a while – it does us no harm and it doesn’t hurt anyone around us. For others it’s toxic even in small amounts but somehow it seems to lead them to crave it more. Alcoholism is an affliction that rapidly erodes the good in a human being, leaving behind only the darkest side of their soul. The people who are closest to them are the first ones they burn as they breathe the fire of their addiction, torching everyone and everything that surrounds them.
Sadly, despite three further long stays in rehab, he quite literally drank himself to death. At the end he had nothing left. He was living on a friend’s sofa with little more than a suitcase to his name; he had no home, no job, no money and a family who no longer spoke to him. Rather poignantly though, his suitcase was still filled with designer suits and I find it heartbreaking to know that he’d been walking the streets in his last few weeks, still keeping up his outward appearance while everything else was turning to dust.
How love broke and remade me – happier times
Mr MC and I were married on 10th February 2001 – for those who like palindromes, 10022001 (they’re rare but as it happens today’s another one – 12022021). Our winter wedding was just as we wanted it to be, small, relaxed and personal with just our closest friends and family around us. There were no formal photos, just snaps as the day went along.
I was driven to the registry office by my friend Giles in his TVR – and it always makes me laugh when I remember our conversation along the way. I asked him how much his pride and joy had cost and when he told me I spluttered, “you could buy a whole house up north for that!” His southern reply was “darling… you could probably buy a whole street up north for that.”
I walked down the the aisle hand in hand with my by then four year-old boy because of course Mr MC wasn’t just marrying me – we came as a tight knit package. He took on the role of dad to my precious firstborn when he was just a year old and so there’s no prefix of ‘step’ in our family, they’re every bit father and son.
Our vows were as simple as everything else, “I promise to put a smile on your face every day.”
We went on to celebrate with a long lunch in a cosy old hotel in Cobham where Mr MC and I sat together at our own little table surrounded by all of the people we loved most. There were lots of children and they had their own magic show to save them from the speeches which went on forever because so many people stood up to say a few impromptu words. My mum made us all cry when she described how she’d seen my ‘light’ nearly go out and how happy she was that it was shining brightly again. Later on of course there was a disco dance-off and bacon and egg butties.
Oh and the cake was a proper chocolate one, not fruit.
And so we went on to live happily ever after – or certainly for the next twenty years. As you may have seen from Instagram on Wednesday I celebrated by unearthing my dress, it hadn’t seen the light of day since 11th February 2001 but I had to see if it would still fit. And it did – although I can’t be too big headed about that because I was four months pregnant when we got married which caused no end of problems with having the dress altered as my bump started to grow.
It was ivory velvet with a faux fur trim, I found it in a little boutique in Kingston and it was the only one I looked at – like everything else it was just meant to be. On Wednesday I couldn’t find the faux fur hat anywhere but then last night as I was packing the dress away again I discovered it all wrapped in tissue in a special compartment of the garment bag!
I don’t regret the eight difficult years I spent in my first marriage, firstly because it brought me my beautiful eldest boy but also because it gave me the context to know what a truly happy marriage is. If I’d never had that experience I’d probably have been very complacent about Mr MC’s tenderness, never truly appreciating how precious it is to be loved by somebody day in, day out, through good times and bad. Those eight dark years mean that every day that’s followed has felt full of sunshine. I’m so very grateful for the life I have now and we really do stick to our wedding vows by putting a smile on each other’s face every day, whatever else is going on around us.
So there you have it, marriage can be good or bad. Taking the first steps towards leaving a bad one can feel impossible because your lives are so intertwined. The idea of unravelling them and standing alone can seem insurmountable but if you’re unhappy you owe it to your very self to make the first move towards building a different life. It’s really hard but once you’ve begun, you’ll find that good things come along because you’re back on the path that’s right for you.
If you’re somebody who’s on their own, especially if it’s hard at the moment remember that being by yourself is better than being trapped in a lonely cage, however gilded it may appear from the outside.
And if you have a good partnership, even if it’s feeling a bit jaded after months of lockdown, never underestimate how lucky you are. Don’t be complacent and take it for granted because if you’re not careful with it, the magic that keeps a long relationship going can evanesce. It’s Valentine’s Day on Sunday so why not celebrate? Even if you think it won’t be reciprocated be the one to make a selfless gesture, I usually find that it has a rolling effect and one small kindness triggers a whole host of others with an upward effect.
Of course we were planning to be somewhere fabulous this week, celebrating our twenty years in the sunshine. Instead we had a takeaway à deux with champagne and pored over our globe, trying to work out where we most want to go over the years to come. The thing is that we can’t take time for granted and there’s a lot we want to pack in. Our tale throws more light on why Mr MC is so looking forward to our empty nest. He sees it as a chance to enjoy the childfree courtship that we never had and even plan a proper honeymoon.
So that’s been a different story today but it’s one I’m glad I’ve told at last because it will give you context to however we spend the next few years. I will absolutely read and appreciate everything you have to say in the comments but I may not respond. It’s been good to exorcise this but reliving the past has taken its toll on me over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been having restless nights and terrible dreams so it’s time for me to move on from it now. Please do still contribute though because there will be others who will feel the impact of my story and it’s good to know that we’re here as a group of friends to see each other through the bad times as well as the good.
… and breathe because I’ll be back to clothes again! I’m not sure when I’ll be posting next week because I’ll be reviewing the new collection from Inès de La Fressange at Uniqlo and giving you size and fit information. The problem is that quite a lot of the stock is currently being held up in Europe and so I’m supposed to be posting on Thursday when the collection is due to go live but I can’t be sure. However in the meantime you can preview it all here.
Do bear in mind that every retailer is doing smaller, safer collections this season and this is the perfect example of a range that is focusing on the styles that are proven sellers. They’ve added tweaks here and there but most pieces are classics – retailers just can’t afford to take any risks this year if they’re going to stay in business.
If you’ve got this far, thank you for reading my story today – and I’ll see you next week, as always.
Disclosure: ‘How love broke and remade me’ is not a sponsored post
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