Ask anyone and they’ll tell you, I’m an old romantic. A huge believer in real love. I believe we all have a soul mate, and I believe in ‘the one’ sometimes, often through no fault of our own, we are lucky enough to find real love more than once. But, in the midst of it all, love does exist, and, if you find the right kind of love, it’s so unbelieveably raw and precious.
I am guilty of many things, and like the next person, I am not perfect. I’ve made mistakes, on occasion, I am guilty of not learning from them. Ultimately, these mistakes all culminate into one thing. Love. I was so desperate to find the love I saw on films (never in Soapland because they all cheat, kill each other and then marry their exes siblings) that I went looking in all the wrong places. I never really knew that in order to love someone completely and accept that love in return, I had to learn to understand and acknowledge my self worth. And, as cliche as it sounds, I had to love myself enough to allow the right kind of love into my life.
In the past, I have allowed myself to be physically, mentally and emotionally abused by partners. I have allowed them to cheat on me repeatedly. I have allowed myself to be their rebound, their bank account, their puppet, their bit on the side and even their booty call because I literally lacked any kind of respect for myself. A big part of me knows that it’s only myself I have to blame for this. But at the same time, it astounds me that there are so many men out there with very little respect for women who happily treat them like this even now. One thing I do know for sure, if George EVER treated a girl in this way, I would tell her myself to take a one way ticket out of his life. And he would be grounded, for the rest of his life.
I was 28 when I realised I needed to stop repeating the same mistake. I’d not long come out of what can only be described as my worst ever break up and I think the fact I lost two stone was a clear indication that I was utterly heartbroken. I mean, how do you get over the fact that your boyfriend had not only dumped you for the 23625th time but this time, it was over for good because he’d left the sodding country? Dubai in fact. And what did I have to show for my two years of loyalty and devotion to him? A text at 7am to tell me he was halfway across the world and it was time to cut contact for good, oh, and a sorry for everything he had put me through (which I can now say, I’ve more than forgiven him for.) The long and short of it was, I was ready to commit, have children with him, drag his *much older* arse down the aisle and settle down. He was only ready to continue thinking of himself and where his life was heading. And, as weird as it may sound now, we are now both in such a good place in our lives (from different parts of the world) that we are great friends and able to look back and think only of what was good. We were obviously meant to be in each others lives but only ever as friends. Our love wasn’t the kind of love I have now and I don’t believe it ever would or could have been. What I thought I wanted, was a fantasy, I didn’t want to be married to him or have his children because I knew down the line, I’d be doing it all alone with a decree absolute in my hand. I didn’t love him like I should have, and I honestly think he’d agree with me, he’s the one I’m glad got away. But he always knows, I will always have his back and support him when it comes to one thing, as a shit a boyfriend as he was, he was an amazing Father to his two boys, and that is something I will always shout from the rooftops.
My friend Misty once said to me,
“Learn to understand what it is to want to be needed, not need to be wanted”
It took me a while to work out what she meant but when I met Paul, I knew. I met Paul when I was at my most vulnerable having had a life saving hysterectomy only weeks before and was still coming to terms with not fulfilling my dreams of being a Mother to a team of little people (it took a long time to realise I had fulfilled that dream because I was a Mother to a child who gave me the love of a thousand babies and I gave it back in return) but not only was I my most vulnerable I was also the strongest I’d ever been. I’d lost almost everything yet I was still going strong, I was still waking up every day with daughter by my side and I still had hope, I still believed in love. Which is why I had those words tattoed onto the inner arches of my feet, a reminder that everytime I felt like giving up and wanted to keep my face to the ground, I still had the world at my feet, I still believed.
Almost five years have gone by and I still look at him like we are on our first date (don’t get me wrong, there are days when I look at him like he’s just shit on my pillow) but mostly, I look at him with pure content. A look that says “so this is what love is.” Never before have I been in a relationship with someone who treats me as his equal and for the first time, I feel it. I’ve always felt like exes were better than me and that’s probably why I allowed myelf to be treated the way I was. Paul encourages me to be the best version of myself, he sees the potential in me and will always support me to go after what I want, even if he doesn’t always think it’s the right thing to do. He doesn’t allow me to waste my time on people who don’t deserve it, if someone isn’t treating me right, he will make sure I walk away from them. He knows what I am worth and has made me realise that too. Most importantly, I always know how loved I am. Just as he gets the same in return from me. We have balance in our relationship, we tell each other when we are being dicks, he tells me when I’ve spent too much money in Anthropolgie (“how many bloody mugs do you need?”) and I eat all the Pringles so he doesn’t have to and then moan the next day when his jeans are tight. We work well together, we respect each other and don’t undermine each others parenting. Paul has seen and understands my background, he gets it when situations get too much and I worry about what is and isn’t normal but he’s still there, loving me for me and helping me to mend the broken pieces. He can’t give me back my childhood, he can’t erase the memories, but what he does do is more than that. He has given me an adulthood, a family, a life.
And so, last year, when we decided to get married, it didn’t feel like anything I’ve felt before. It didn’t feel like a fantasy, a dream that was never going to be real. It didnt feel like something I knew in the back of my mind would end in divorce because it was so forced. It felt like I’d finally have a name where I would belong, one that didn’t belong to a shit Father (hashtag donator of swimmers) who’s first and last love was himself. It belongs to a man who makes me feel like this is home, this is where I belong. This is where I am loved.
As I sit here now, preparing emails to send to suppliers for our big day, looking at potential venues in Northern Ireland and trying to work out how many more inches I’ll need my hair to grow for the perfect Boho plait, I’m full of butterflies and dewy eyes. Because this is it, this is the love I spent years searching for, but I didn’t find it, it found me. Because I was ready to accept that he is the happiness that I deserve, and, as the wedding planning gets into full swing and the stresses of table plans, rsvps and trying to make my bridesmaids fully understand that crocs and wellies are not part of the day no matter how many pictures they tag me in on Facebook, I will continue to remind myself that none of it is as important as becoming a wife to the man who has made me fall in real love, for the first time.