Bel Mooney, on divorcing her husband Jonathan Dimbleby.
As an advice columnist, I read countless letters from women whose husbands have left them. Would I be capable of answering them if the experience hadn’t happened to me?
It was 12 years ago, and nowadays I don’t choose to dwell on the details, because (as I so often tell my readers) pain does recede, and you can rebuild your life. But the sudden end of my 35-year marriage was like a car crash, and, for years, the noise and pain of it filled my dreams.
Now, even though my new life is so blessed, I still hobble occasionally – like one whose broken bones have not quite healed.
Looking back, I realise it wasn’t the experience that contained vital life lessons, but what I made of it. After all, when you hurt yourself, you yell ‘Ow!’ and reach for the sticking plaster – which may well take the form of a bottle of wine. You’re in no shape to analyse what has happened to you. What counts is how you deal with the hangover – the aftermath.
I was lucky to have a successful career to give me confidence. In fact, one of the first things I did (when it was clear the marriage was unlikely to survive) was to change my legal name by deed poll to the professional one I’d used all through my career. My name. I was no longer Mrs Anybody – and nor am I now, even though I have remarried. The symbolic importance of that action can’t be overstated.
I remember gazing at my own reflection and saying aloud, ‘It’s up to you now.’ I was lucky in that I had amazing support from family and friends. I had bounced straight from my parents’ home to married life at the age of 21. Now, at 58, I knew that I was in charge of my one precious life and I was going to grasp it with both hands.
No man would ever make me break: I was the ultimate survivor.
It’s so important to tell yourself this – aloud, looking in the mirror, as you reach for the eyeliner and apply the strong face you turn to the world. That eyeliner may still run down your cheeks in private, but no one will see. There’s no victimhood here.
A key element in survival was a refusal to blame – let alone hate – my soon-to-be ex-husband. Why would I? We were both at fault, even though he was the one who left. I never lost the habit of loving him – with ‘all faults’, as the antique dealers say. I think such love is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Through it, you prove to yourself that the past you shared was real, not a sham. That the rich, complicated marriage was a marvellous thing that simply ran its course. By telling your adult children that their father is still a wonderful man worthy of their love and respect, you take charge of the situation.
On the stressful day that I heard my ex-husband was expecting a child with his new wife, I dealt with my grief by going out and buying them a baby garment as a present. And, if you think that is pathetic, let me tell you this: a positive action like that sets you on top of your very own mountain – and, from there, even though you may be buffeted by strong winds, the view is wide, challenging, and rather beautiful.
Bel Mooney is a writer, journalist and broadcaster – belmooney.co.uk