Recently I watched ‘How to be single’ and it really struck a chord. It was hilarious and fun but although about the search for the one; ultimately it was about finding yourself. (With side kick Rebel Wilson to add hilarity).
This got me thinking about my life and my many single years. Throughout the 21 years of my adult life (gulp) I seem to have lived my life in seven-year stages.
Some may call it the seven-year itch.
Now at the age of 37 I am still to beat my longest relationship record of funnily enough… seven years.
Seven Year Itch
At 17 (exactly 20 years ago today – 11th January 1997 – yikes!) I met my first ‘serious’ boyfriend who I was with for seven great years. We grew up together. He was my first love and a great love that will never leave my heart.
We had fun – we went on holidays, experienced loads of festivals and gigs notably Ocean Colour Scene. I was at University but I was happily coupled up. After Uni I got a job, we bought a house, got engaged and was ready to get married and thought I was happy settle down.
Urgh no I don’t think so! I always had a ‘Sliding Doors’ view of my future. (Never had the guts to get the Gwyneth haircut) One half of me wanted the marriage and the family and the other half wanted the career, the travel, the fun of being single and independent. Not to sleep around but to be independent and to as cliché as it sounds to ‘be me’. I only knew the version of me that was L & D and I needed to be L.
I was definitely old before my time and had missed out on the crazy 20s. So my seven-year itch took me off to Majorca and then Australia and this then became my seven years single.
Seven Years Single
Ages 24-30 were the ‘Hey day’ of my partying, travelling and dating aka the ‘Sex and the City’ days. Or more realistically the ‘Occasional Sex in the Town’ days, with a one-bed flat in Bewsey (not quite Manhattan )and there was no sign of Mr Big more Mr Dickhead (and there were plenty of them!)
Those years were the best in so many ways. Filled with, fun, friends and frivolity but also so lonely. I spent six Christmases single. Went to umpteen weddings, christenings and 30ths alone. All of my school and university friends were ‘settling’ down yet I had slid right down my single snake and was back very much at square one.
The 17-year-old version of me had never worried about meeting ‘the one’. I wasn’t desperate to get married, I wanted to go to university, to work in Television… to write… to act… Those years that I was safely in a relationship blinded me to the possible difficulty of the search for my Mr Right. It had happened all so innocently in a pub in town. It started with a kiss, getting stuck on the Velcro of his Helly Hanson coat… swapping of numbers, a ride in his mates car and that was it we were ‘together’.
I used to skive off Sixth Form to sneak to his and meet him on his lunch break. I was young, naïve, excited and falling in love. I had always been very shy around boys, had little confidence in myself and although I had already had a few boyfriends and in fact ‘done the deed’ I was only at the very beginning of my sexual discovery. Seven years later and I still had a lot to discover (but I couldn’t imagine at the time!)
In those single seven years I was searching, yearning and fixated on finding the one. Yes I had some of the best experiences – working as a holiday rep – backpacking Australia – Festivals – Girls’ Holidays and a crazy amount of nights out with no concerns of lack of sleep! I found a new group of single BFFs and loved my independent self. I would have occasional ‘Oh my god I live on my own’ moments (usually when in the shower) and in true Bridget Jones style I would fantasise about how long it would take someone to find my dead body eaten by Alsatians (I didn’t even have a dog) and I sat at home many, many times and cried as it felt like everyone else in the world was loved apart from me.
The Big Five
For years I fixated on achieving the ‘Big Five.’ I would often talk about achieving them all – but sadly more often than not was missing one or two. There were five things that I wanted in life. Family/Friends, Home, Job, Health and Relationship. In those seven years I never quite achieved the Big Five all at the same time.
- Family and friends – CHECK
I am very lucky to have such a support network. A great family and friends from all corners of my life. School, University and Work (One good thing came from Air miles!) When I became single and returned from my travels I was somewhat left behind. All of my coupled mates were still doing couplie things and I often wasn’t included. I’m sure there was no malice but suddenly I didn’t have a place in that group. So I forged a new path and this path took me to find my life long best friends. My friends Post-break up have remained with me and will do for life. As cliché and cheesy as it sounds they have been there through thick and thin and to blatantly steal a line from SATC they are my true soul mates. Man or no man, with these girls by my side I am always truly loved.
2. Home – CHECK
I had a lovely home. I had a mortgage and a trendy modern apartment. It was mine and I loved it. Friends came and stayed, many a drunken night with the didgeridoo, musical sticks and occasional naked dancing were on the cards. It was where I spent time with my good friends the Gilmore Girls, Carrie and the SATC gang and the Desperate Housewives. These TV programmes got me through some significant life moments and I honestly couldn’t have coped alone without them. SATC was my therapy, Gilmore Girls helped my loneliness and DP (Desperate Housewives) was my escapism. Not forgetting of course continual re-runs of Friends!
3. Job – CHECK
Job wise I was on the up and up. In those seven years I went from working in a call centre to working abroad to training to be a teacher. I retrained whilst paying a solo mortgage and it’s the best thing I ever did! I was promoted in my second year of teaching and paved a very successful career. So there is a massive tick next to the job box! I had never wanted a baby young and always wanted to ‘do well’ in my career and I can safely say that I have done this!
So I was happy at work, socially and in a lovely home… but there were two major ticks missing off my checklist.
4. Health – UNCHECK
At the age of 23 I slipped a disc in my lower back. Although I recovered after about 6 months, this was the beginning of eight years of back problems. From 2002 – 2010 I was plagued with chronic pain. I slipped the disc countless times – every which way possible – had months off sick and treatments that involved key hole surgery, an invasive epidural and ultimately major surgery to replace two discs in my spine.
It’s to safe to say that my bad back defined my life. People still ask me how my back is, as it was the epitome of who I was for those years. After the first slip it came back with a vengeance in 2006 and those subsequent four years were the worst.
At times it felt that I would never break the shackles of the pain that gripped me 24 hours a day.
Pain. It’s a bastard. It’s also invisible and it is so hard to live an invisible illness.
Screaming with agony on the commute to work, spraying deep heat continually, blowing up heat packs in the microwave as I couldn’t get them hot enough to take the pain away.
Waking paralysed with pain on a daily basis. Having to wake 2 hours before I was due to get up to take pain killers that allowed me to live some sort of a life.
The time I took off sick caused so much additional pain. The stress and worry of work, the paranoia and guilt from being off. The denial until I was at the point where I couldn’t stand up to the acceptance that I had to give in and rest.
The days where I couldn’t bend down to put clothes in the washing machine. The times that I couldn’t get off the sofa and used the didgeridoo as a waking stick. The morning I was paralysed with pain and couldn’t move and had to take painkillers with cold tea. The times I cried with pain, frustration and despair.
These are the invisible moments.
I lived an invisible existence. Everyone knew I was in pain, but no-one knew. No-one knew until someone did and then he took advantage of my vulnerability. But that’s another story!
5. Relationship – UNCHECK/CHECK/UNCHECK/CHECK/UNCHECK…. Argghhh I give up!
I don’t need to spell this one out. This is the one of the Big Five that I was looking for and failing to find for those seven years. In a nut shell … Seven years Single = Six Single Christmases. 15 months in several failed relationships. Two broken hearts. Bunk-ups at Festivals (complete with Wellies still on) Holiday flings, Fag machine snogs and Rotters. That pretty much sums up those seven years.
Looking back, there is somewhat of a correlation of Bad back flare ups with Relationships… perhaps being single was in fact better for me. I don’t think that it is any coincidence that my major flare up in 2006 and another in 2009 were around the time that I entered a relationship! A bit of back pain wasn’t going to stop me enjoying myself, but perhaps if I’d stayed celibate I’d have been better off!
So I ended my Seven-Years-Single with a lot of lessons learned, a heart that had loved and lost, a mind that had been expanded and a soul that knew I was going to be ok.
Life kickstarts at 30
At 30 I met the one – or in fact the lastest ‘the one’ in a long line of ‘the ones’! But this was the one that I was to marry! My back was at its worst. I was on the rebound from my last failed relationship and I was taking a ridiculous amount of drugs. My heart was laid bare yet again ready to love. But this time it was tricked, manipulated and this took me on to the journey that made me who I am today.
In the last seven years having been married, divorced; I finally stopped looking for ‘the one’ I accepted that I didn’t need ‘The Big Five’ to be happy. I was happy with myself. To again quote SATC “The greatest relationship of all is the one you have with yourself, and if you find someone to love the you that you love… well that’s just fabulous.”
And here I am. Happy and healthy in a four year relationship with a baby and a step son, working part time and I couldn’t be happier. Emilie has made my life complete. A line that keeps running round my head at the moment is Robbie’s new song “about his children… “I started to question the angels, and the answer they gave was you.”
So there we have it… the Big Five pieces have all worked themselves out. I suppose that they were always there, I just hadn’t had time to put the jigsaw together fully.