When I first met my husband he was in love with another woman.
Actually, he was living with another woman, whom he had met while travelling and then later spent hundreds of pounds tracking down and bringing her home in some great Mills & Boons kind of way, and they spent the next 8 years or so in romantic bliss.
Except they didn’t, because real life when you are twenty something is not really one great romance, and once the excitement of travelling and exploring together is gone and the humdrum reality of the 9 to 5 slog begins, many a couple realises that the fairy tale is not really quite so magical and the person you thought you loved is actually a bit of a vindictive, nasty little psycho.
So they fell out, and in, and out, and in, and by the time I met him, there was more destruction going on than love. But being, deep inside, a bit of a romantic, my husband was determined that she was the love of his life, and so even after she left, and even after we started dating, he still thought he loved her.
Yes, I know. I started dating someone who was still in love with another woman. Who, in their right mind, would do that?
The first few years of our relationship together certainly had some high and lows. In a screen romance two people meet, and fall in love, and learn about each other’s likes and dislikes and personalities as they grow together. It’s very lovely, and simple.
In a real romance one or both partners bring along their baggage, and the other person has to work out how to unpack the bags and throw out or clean up the crap from before. There were times when I felt he held himself aloof, waiting for me to start drinking and screaming and hitting, because that’s what he expected me to do. Weeks could go by without a single compliment or caring word – was he trying to stop himself falling for me, or testing my commitment to stay? And of course I brought my own shit to the party – but that’s a story for another time.
So why did I stay? The right answer would be love. That I could see through the grouchy exterior to the love of my life, and I knew I could help bring him out. The more honest answer is low self-esteem and a lack of experience of life.
(This would be the time to throw a review of Fifty Shades Of Grey in, and stir that pot that is brewing all over the internet right now between those who say it’s just a book and those who are screaming about it teaching young girls to be victims. I’ve been reading so much vitriol about it this week, I cannot be arsed to join in.)
Either way, I did stay, but I developed my own little ticks about it all. Did he stay with me because he couldn’t have her? Was I second best – or worse, just better than nothing at all? I felt that our relationship just happened, that he didn’t have to actually make a choice to be with me at any point. Even our decision to marry happened more because I can nag well than because he actively chose it to.
So here we are, fourteen years together, 3 years married, 2 children, 2 dogs and a cat. And yes, I still have low moments where I doubt. And I ask “Do you love me?” because I need to hear him say “Yes” – and I need to believe it. Maybe one day I will.
It’s not a Hollywood blockbuster of a story, for sure. It’s real and probably boring and perhaps a little sad. It’s not even the whole of the story – two people’s feelings and history cannot be summed up in 400 words on a blog page. But it’s our story, part of it, the beginning.
So why bring it up?
This isn’t the ending – I’m not jumping ahead that far. This hopefully isn’t even the middle. This is just us, 14 years later. Where we are now.
We had a rare moment out alone last night, a lovely meal, some wine and cider, and time to just talk to each other. After catching up on the kids, after sharing some of the funnier insanities of the school gates (me) and the idiocies of some of the young labourers who get sent to his sites (him), debating holidays for the year and our hopes for the children’s futures, he said
“I was thinking about you the other day, and how I worry that I stole your twenties by being with you, and stopping you travelling and doing things.”
That, there. That is the kind of comment that tells me he does love me. I can ask him a hundred times and never believe him, because I asked. But thinking and worrying about me – that is the love I need.
I am thankful that I did stick about, back then, when I was 22 and he was 32 and I didn’t know better.
I am thankful that I have a husband who cares about me, even when he struggles to say so.
A husband who makes me laugh.
A husband who works with me to bring up our two children as best we can.
A husband who listens to my opinion, even if he then does the complete opposite.
A husband who will later, grudgingly, admit he should have done it my way.
A husband who worries about his family and does his best every day to provide for us.
A husband who will stay in on a Saturday night so I can sneak off for a night out with the girls.
A husband who knows that bath time is my time, and will restrain the kids, physically if necessary, to let me have it.
A husband who, after 14 years, I am still learning about and who is still finding out more about me.