My first love story is a long, lyrical, slow-burning courtship. It took me three years to convince a girl I knew from primary school to go for a date with me. He was the most kind and optimistic young man I’d ever met. He was charming, had the perfect gift for getting a woman to open up and talk to him, and when I told him I was attracted to him, his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. I thought he was one of the most thoughtful and patient men I had ever seen.
We’d gone for dinner two nights in a row, and all I was thinking about was how so much time had passed since we’d last been together. It had been so long since I’d been out with a guy before, that I’d started to panic that I had never been really sure how long I’d been single. Once in a while, I’d worried I would be alone for ever. “No,” I told myself. “I’ll just go a little crazy, until I fall in love and get married.” But why would I want to go crazy with a boy I barely knew? It was impossible to imagine the questions that would no doubt come my way, and if you do so, you shouldn’t let it get to you.
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He was a popular child at school, but when he was in uniform, everyone was an outsider. For a time, I could’ve understood. Sometimes, I was sure his parents weren’t proud of his appearance. But they weren’t far off, and when they were, they could be quite hard on him. Now, more than 20 years later, I understand it was the boys – rather than the parents – who were the problem. I wish I had a couple of dollars that I could put towards a full-size family portrait. He and his brothers and sisters were so full of energy, so much fun. The laughing madness of their childhoods never seemed to happen again.
Instead, my adolescence was spent on several long, slow-burning cases of jealously. Every time I saw a friend, I felt guilty because I just couldn’t relax around him. I didn’t want to waste time with him, because I felt unable to trust myself to let him into my heart. I wanted it to be different, I didn’t want to be broken; I wanted it to be perfect. I let the wound fester for ages, I learnt, just like my first love. If I hadn’t been so desperate to keep my friends and him apart, I would’ve known how fragile, how unforgiving love can be.
‘No,’ I told myself. ‘I’ll just go a little crazy, until I fall in love and get married’ Photograph: Getty Images
I wanted to know what he was really like, and I felt like I couldn’t trust the other girls. They reminded me too much of him, which was awful, because he’d told me how much I meant to him. I thought he saw me and he wasn’t as kind as he’d been when I was in the same school. Even the girls he had gone out with since had a skewed view of him.
That night we went for a drive, and as soon as he looked over the wheel, I could see he was nervous. I felt pressure: what if I ever tried to kiss him? I would be reminded that I had no interest in having children, which I knew deep down.
The morning of our first date, he paid me a surprise bouquet of white roses and whisked me off for tea. We had the conversation of our lives, on our way to a country house. That first summer, he did everything I wanted. I told him I wanted him to propose. He took off his belt, unbuttoned his jeans and asked if I would marry him. I said yes, and we got married in a church in Brittany, where we were excited to be able to marry in public. But the night before, we had trouble sleeping. It felt like this was too soon, too soon. For a second, I thought I would never have children. Instead, I had two tiny girls – Ruth and Lucy.
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As my marriage aged, I tried to compensate for my feelings of vulnerability by