“I don’t love you anymore.”
I was days away from moving into the house I was buying with my fiancé when the cracks in our relationship rose up for one last performance. With those five words, I’d lost everything.
Handing back my engagement ring, I felt physically sick – our decade-long relationship was over in the blink of an eye. Sure, there was the option of renting a place and trying to make things work, starting right back at dating each other, but after ten years invested in the relationship this was the final straw. I was done.
Little did I know that it would turn out to be the best thing I ever did.
It wasn’t until I was out of the relationship that I realised how toxic it was. We weren’t right for each other. In fact, I don’t think we ever really were. As Meg Ryan’s character says in When Harry Met Sally, “All this time I’ve been saying that he didn’t want to get married, but the truth is he didn’t want to marry me.”
“I was left at a crossroads: sit and feel sorry for myself or put a plan of action in place. What was to come was a journey of self discovery.”
I was left at a crossroads: sit and feel sorry for myself or put a plan of action in place. Just throwing the wedding magazines in the bin was liberating. What was to come was a journey of self discovery. Sounds corny, right? But it really was. For the first time in years I had the time and opportunity to really assess what I wanted out of life, what I would and wouldn’t tolerate, but also the kind of person I wanted to be.
So I made a plan. I would live with friends and then move to Newcastle where my family had relocated from Derby years before. Even better, my employer at the time would allow me to work remotely from across the country.
That weekend I packed up my belongings and made the six-hour journey with my parents from Southampton to Newcastle to start my new life. On that long trip I read Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k. I’m a serial people-pleaser, but I was emotionally exhausted. This book pushed me to tackle that and carve out more ‘me time’.
I lived with my sister Ellen and her family for a while before moving into gorgeous flat five minutes from the beach where I would soon become a regular at beach yoga.
The transition wasn’t easy. I had never lived by myself. But the pain was eased by people like Ellen who on the day we went to furnish my new home told me: “You’re going to have to make some decisions today.” That realisation snapped me back into reality and ready to tackle the job at hand.
The result was a real-life episode of Supermarket Sweep with us piling the trolley full of gorgeous homeware to go with the colour scheme I’d picked out for the flat. I still don’t think Ellen realises how much she helped me that day, in so many ways.
There’s something simultaneously invigorating and terrifying realising that the future you had planned is no longer going to happen. I would cry in the shower, at the bank when I closed our empty joint account, and when I saw things that reminded me of good times. But over time I learned to embrace those feelings of grief to enable me to move through them. I guess I became kinder to myself.
Keen to make new friends I downloaded the Bumble BFF app and met my now best friend Marj. She’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, always encouraging me to be open about my feelings. I’m a better person for having her in my life.
“There’s something simultaneously invigorating and terrifying realising that the future you had planned is no longer going to happen”
With the lyrics “I might empty my bank account” from Calvin Harris’ Slide on repeat I uncharacteristically dipped into my savings destined for a house deposit and went on a luxury holiday with Marj just a few months after meeting. We drank, read books, swam and napped. It was bliss.
Eventually I got brave enough to try online dating. It simply didn’t exist when I was single so I was a decade behind. Boy, was I in for a surprise. I quickly realised that Tinder wasn’t for me. I’m all for being direct, but not that direct.
Marj and my friends back in Southampton – Catherine, Claire and Debbie – were there for me for debriefs after each disastrous date. But with every failed date I felt that bit more confident. I realised I didn’t need a partner to be happy, but it would be a nice bonus.
Flash forward to present day, two-and-a-half years later, and I’m the happiest and most confident I’ve ever been. I’m working for a new company in Newcastle getting to do what I love every single day. Best of all, I get to see my family so much more, witnessing my nieces grow up into wonderful women.
Sure, I have regrets. I could have moved sooner. But then without the lessons I’ve learned along the way, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’ve lost friends, which hurts, but it just makes me appreciate those that have stood by me through it all that bit more. Never underestimate the power of female friendship.
There’s a quotation from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that gave me strength throughout it all: “For what it’s worth... it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. ...I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”
Not that many people get a second chance at life, but I did. I won’t lie, it’s been heartbreakingly hard and taken a lot of time and effort, but it’s so worth it. Handing back the ring, not buying the house, and moving across the country to start a new life are some of the best things I’ve ever done.
I’ve learned that it’s okay not to be okay, that it’s ok to ask for help, and above all else that you will find ’your tribe’. They will pick you up, hold you tight and tell you that everything is going to be okay. And it really will be, I promise. I’m proof of that.
And you know what else? Next March I am marrying Jordan, who I met on a dating app two years ago. I am sure that he is, without a doubt, the love of my life. What’s more the strong, incredible women who have been there for me throughout it all will be my bridesmaids.
Ruth is a writer, PR specialist and proud feminist. She lives in Newcastle with her fiancé Jordan. You can follow her on Twitter at @RuthBarrettPR
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