Some say we’re destined to repeat our mistakes. Others say we learn from them. Let’s be thankful for a second chance.
I like to think that my first marriage was just a trial run for the proper one. First time around I wasn’t ready. Some people are mature and balanced enough for a grown up relationship at 16. I hadn’t a clue.
Not that I got married when I was 16. Oh no. I ventured into the register office at 30, pleased to be wearing a lovely dress (shocking pink by the way, with long black gloves, a 50s style hat, and sunglasses) but not particularly fond of the man I’d ended up marrying.
We all make mistakes. Some are bigger than others.
I’d yet to learn that real sustained kindness was important. Observing my mother being kind and charming to strangers but treating my dad like an irritating member of staff, I’d picked up some bad habits. I brought them all with me to university, to my working early life in London, and into the house I shared my boyfriend.
Before you feel too sorry for him. we were both as bad as each other. From his father he’d learned that it was essential to dominate.
He believed I would respect him if he was right about everything. The logical corollary of this was that I always had to be wrong. I gradually formed the view that he was a right pillock. Moving swiftly on, six years later, I was happily living alone. I’d loads of friends; I went out dancing tango on Saturday nights, or I stayed in. I’d got to the point where I didn’t mind. I wasn’t looking for a life partner, or even a date. One day, at a wedding, I met a really lovely man.
I’d written myself a list of 20 things I thought would make a good partner. It turned out that he had one too.
The top three were these:
- Must like football.
- Must get on with his dad.
- Must be willing to get up and dance.
- Likes going on holiday.
- Doesn’t mind that I’ve got good friends who are women.
- Has a life and interests of her own.
We’d both based our lists on learning from our mistakes and deciding not to repeat them.
He’d got a reputation for being unable to commit. This was entirely wrong; he was entirely happy for us to be Velcro’d, just not Superglued.
- That thing about football. My dad liked football. I know what the offside rule is. People who can talk about football often have more in common with me than not.
- The thing about dads. It’s just my experience, but I find that men who are still unable to go out for a pint (or similar) and a chat with their own dads haven’t grown up enough to manage happy balanced relationships.
- Dancing? Well it’s about having a good time without worrying what other people think about you.
We were pretty much together from day one. And after four years of happily hanging out in my flat – him, me and a cat we’d acquired by accident – he sort of suggested that we get married.
It was difficult to tell if it was a proposal or not. It was my birthday, we were on holiday, and he gave me a ring then smiled but didn’t say anything. (What if it was just a birthday present?)
Honestly? I was terrified. What if I screwed up again?
So I thought about it. Here was the nicest man I’d ever met. But how would I make sure I wouldn’t go off the rails? What if it all just rolled to a halt? It wasn’t a question of behaving differently from the way I had in my earlier relationships. That would just be the same train on different tracks, still heading for the ravine. (Sorry about the train metaphors.)
So here are my guidelines for how to:
- Say what you mean and accept responsibility.
My family spoke English with a passive aggressive dialect. When things didn’t go her way, every remark my mother made had a sting in the tail. So instead of saying, “Give me another little splash of milk in my tea, would you?” she’d say, “Your sister always makes lovely tea. I suppose you like it strong, do you?” It’s not healthy. I had to unlearn it That and not blaming other people when things went wrong.
- Live in the present and count your blessings.
You can choose to grumble and wish things were different, or you can get on with it. When my mother’s mother, was widowed she had four daughters and four pence in her purse. She had a hard life but she chose cheerfulness and she was always a joy to be around. Once we understand that it’s a choice, we can choose.
- Be kind and say thank you.
Being kind and considerate makes you happier as well as making you a better person. Being kind to the people close to you, and not taking them for granted is tricky sometimes, but it’s essential. My mother once came home from a visit to her friends’ house pouring scorn on their behaviour. Every breakfast time, her friend’s husband had launched into effusive thanks for his soft boiled egg, which my mother thought was ridiculous. It stuck in my head for 30 years and I remembered thinking that it sounded rather nice, so I decided to adopt it for myself.
That and remembering that it really doesn’t take much effort to keep a nice man happy. I’m very interested in myself, so I make sure I stop and ask what I can do for him everyone now and again.
So far, nine years in, we still seem to be rubbing along nicely.