There’s a trumpet in my face the moment I realise my marriage is over. I’m in a Mexican restaurant in New York, on holiday visiting friends, a mariachi band is circling our table.
My friends are laughing as hard as me, while my husband, Will, is 3,000 miles away, back home with our children, Elfie, then two, and Huxley, six months. And though I feel guilty indulging in an adult-only week in New York, I know this trip is crucial.
Having met the man who I thought was the love of my life in my first year of university, I’d always felt lucky. We married at 23, and started our family a year later. I confess I’d felt a little smug, looking at friends, some of whom were in their late 30s with no sniff of a husband: how wonderful, I’d think, to be able to share my life with a man who I love so completely.
Until three years into the marriage, when I realised I no longer did. There was no watershed moment, no plates thrown, no long conversations with a relationship counsellor. We bumbled along in uncomfortable coupledom, and simply fell out of love.
Not long before my trip to New York, I’d been diagnosed with postnatal depression. That, coupled with a year of our firstborn being incredibly ill after being diagnosed with a life-long genetic condition, put an incredible amount of stress on our marriage, and a distance between us as wide as the ocean I felt I had to cross to escape the pressure.
A rush of peace and possibility washed over me and there was a sudden excitement at the prospect of simply being me
With two children under three, as well as the chores of a household, I hated that my husband (who had recently started a music events company) worked away from home more than I liked. So when he told me he needed to take a week to consider the future of our relationship, I wasn’t surprised, just sad we’d arrived at this stage.
He went to stay with his business partner for a week, and on his return suggested I take some time, too. I texted a friend who had moved to New York: my marriage was circling the drain, I explained. Did she fancy a visitor?
The next day, before I’d even had time to feel anxious, I was on the plane. That night at the Mexican restaurant, I had a funny feeling in my stomach. It was one of carefree happiness, and I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt this way.
For years there had been lead in my belly: the worry of a poorly child, the stress of a sleepless newborn, the sadness of falling out of love with my husband. I felt like I’d emerged from a cocoon. A rush of peace and possibility washed over me and there was a sudden excitement at the prospect of simply being me – a person who is happy to live her life, rather than endure it.
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Five days later I returned home and – just standing in the kitchen – announced I wanted to end our marriage. There was so much to talk about, but so little to say and, oddly, we laughed. How did we get here – from university sweethearts to near strangers?
‘Should we take our wedding rings off?’ I wondered out loud. And we did.
Five years on, that stark reality is normal. Though I struggled to settle into life as a single mother at 27, it was the making of me. I did everything in my power to make my kids’ childhoods happy, and make a success of my career. I haven’t remarried, but now the children are older, I am devoting more time to my love life.
Though we live in different towns, Will and I are good co-parents; he with his new partner, a woman I trust completely with my kids. Nobody would choose divorce and single parenting, but while it might have happened in a round-about way, we both finally found our happy ever after.
‘The Back Up Plan’ by Alice Judge-Talbot is out on July 5 (Coronet, £18.99)
More from Stella Magazine 26 May 2018