First love – isn’t that the romantic ideal? You meet when young, sweet, unsullied by all life’s murky complications. You know you have found your soulmate and once you are together, you mate for life like two little beavers.
I know people like that and a lovely thing it is too. Some couples have enough self-knowledge to get it right the first time, enough flexibility and – let’s face it, downright luck - to change together at the same pace and in compatible directions. They are two saplings who grow up entwined, are friends, lovers, parents and growers-old together. All power to them. I envy them.
My Dad cared for his first wife, who fell ill with MS, for twelve years before she died. He loved her. She died. He married my mother and loved her too. But there was sadness and loss, the being second wife to a man whose wife has died and who otherwise would have been married to that wife… They had a great marriage, my parents. They’d been through all sorts of nasty stuff and knew when they were well off. But, as we know, later on, there’s more trailing along behind you...
My character in my new book, A New Map of Love (Pan Macmillan, paperback launch January 2018), George Baxter, is a widower. In George’s case, his marriage has been one of those endurable compromises. Life’s comfortable enough – mustn’t rock the boat. But alongside that, a feeling of never having lived or loved enough. Isn’t there more to love – to life? If Win had not died when she did he might never have found out. And even while Win is still alive, sick and withdrawn, George and lonely Maggie are finding comfort in each other because – well, it’s not always pretty, this needing something more.
I found the love of my life when I was in my forties and married with four children. This is about as far from ideal as it can get. Now I live with the love of my life. We have a lot of children between us, now all grown. Hardly the romantic ideal of how it should all go. But my goodness, we’re happy. And our children can see that.
Second chance love can be complicated, messy. As George finds out, it may mean far more risk, flexing and changing in ways you would never have predicted. But a lot of it can be comfortable, simple – that long skein of conversation and jokes, the new adventures. And there’s the raw honesty needed to share the massive blunders you’ve made in the past, the determination to learn and face up to them sooner rather than – as before – too much later.
Even the lucky first-time couples sometimes struggle and find their second chance again – with each other, understanding more this time around.
Second love is more gnarled and stained than young first love – more thunderstruck. But what a gift to be able to make mistakes and still try again – sometimes then, you find the very best.