Monday, February 26, 2018

Is the Mulvey saga coming to an end?

As a journalist, Kate Mulvey has been in a good position to share the trials and tribulations of her love life. And she is a very good example of the folly of having big tickets on yourself.  Because she has taken so long to settle down she has missed out on children, which is a huge loss

As I sat chatting happily to the man opposite me, I was trying hard to cover up how nervous I felt. Terrified he wouldn’t find me attractive, I had spent all day getting ready.

My hair was newly highlighted and sexily tousled, while my favourite Diane von Furstenberg mini showed off my legs.

But I needn’t have worried — the moment he saw me, his face lit up. We were soon laughing. He held my hand briefly and even put his arm around me as we left the restaurant. I smiled and rested my head on his shoulder.

We could have been any other middle-aged couple on a successful first date. The difference was that we were not strangers. This was the man I had loved and lost 20 years ago. This, remarkably, was the man who had asked me to marry him when I was 33 and he was 32. This was the man I turned down.

At 54, I am not one for dwelling on the ‘what ifs’. But as I looked at him, wearing his trademark charcoal-grey jumper, his face a bit fuller, his girth a bit wider, but with the same half-smile that always seemed to be affectionately mocking me, I felt a serious pang of regret.

My personal life post-Serge has been a roller- coaster of failed romances, unsuitable men, and a near nervous breakdown after a series of miscarriages.

Marrying Serge would certainly have saved me a lot of heartbreak. But then hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Would I have been happier, settling down with him all those years ago? Facing old age with a family — had I been lucky enough to have one — and living in the large, rambling house he now owns? Building a lifetime of memories with one man?

It sounds idyllic. But even though that is absolutely what I want now, I was very different back then.

I met Serge on a hot summer’s day at a friend’s house party in the countryside just outside Burford in the Cotswolds.

It was 1998. I was sitting on the grass when I saw him walk across the lawn. He was bronzed, his hair falling foppishly over his blue eyes. Although we hardly spoke, I caught him looking at me.

When he called a few days later to go for a walk in Richmond Park, I was over the moon. Within weeks we were inseparable. It was the classic opposites-attract paradigm: he was serious and shy, I was a neurotic loudmouth. I made him laugh, and he made me feel safe.

A couple of months later, he asked me to move into his flat in Chelsea. He bought new modern furniture, the kind I liked. Serge is Swiss French, so he introduced me to his friends and family back in Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva.

He took me on weekends to Rome and Paris, and we enjoyed holidays in San Francisco and Hawaii. It was life surfing the crest of the executive wave: he worked as a trader at a Swiss bank and had moved to London as part of their team.

I should have been happy. And I was, but I felt claustrophobic. He stifled me with his declarations of love, his intensity. The more I tried to free myself, the more he tightened his grip.

I didn’t want to have to account for my every move. I didn’t want to check in with him if I wanted to go for drinks after work.

I remember coming home after a night out with friends to find Serge sitting at the kitchen table, fuming. There were fights, chipping away at our happiness.

I don’t know whether it was out of true love or a need to lock down the relationship, but at the wedding of his best friend, Serge asked whether I wanted to marry him.

I said nothing, and my crestfallen face spoke volumes.

I did love Serge, but I simply wasn’t ready for marriage. We barely exchanged a word for the rest of the weekend. Things went rapidly downhill after that.

The cuddles and romance morphed into evenings spent in silence, while everything about the other started to grate. He sulked, I shouted.

In the end, the constant arguing got the better of him. One morning, without saying a word, he gathered all my belongings, put them in a large black bin liner and placed it by the door, before telling me to get out. It was finally over.

Overwhelmed with emotion, I walked around like a zombie. I had to take a couple of weeks off work — I was a writer for a woman’s magazine, and kept bursting into tears in meetings. So why on earth was I, as a middle-aged woman, embarking on a trip down love’s memory lane? Did I want to go through that heartache again?

The truth is, I never forgot Serge. I bumped into him once in a restaurant in London, three years after our break-up.

I was 38 and on a disastrous date, while he was at a business lunch with colleagues, visiting from Switzerland, where he had returned. I wanted to fling my arms around him; instead, I laughed and joked as though he were a casual acquaintance.

Then, a couple of years later, I heard through mutual friends that he was getting married. I was shocked at how deeply upset I was. I suppose, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought we might get back together one day.

I carried on living my glossy magazine lifestyle, travelling and building my career as a journalist and author, as relationships came and went. But none of them quite lived up to Serge.

Then, in April last year, while I was on holiday with my then boyfriend, Serge pinged me a message on Facebook.

‘Coffee, tea, me?’ he said.

Huh? I thought. Then I realised — it was the line we both loved from the Eighties romcom Working Girl. He was flirting!

My heart missed a beat. I knew I still had feelings for him.

‘I have a mind for business and a bod for sin,’ I pinged back immediately (quoting the same film).

We messaged each other surreptitiously that week, but when he asked me to come to Switzerland ‘to recreate old times’, I told him I was with someone and we left it at that. A few months later, my relationship came to an end, so I got back in touch with Serge.

We started chatting on the phone. He told me he was divorced with a son. I commiserated, but inwardly I was whooping with joy.

I told him I had never married or had children.

‘You should have married me,’ he said, laughing.

That was typical Serge, throwing his little darts. I burst into tears. He was overcome with remorse, and immediately we were back in our old routine. The thing is, even then I knew I still loved him.

Nevertheless, we were both wary. The hurts have been so etched into our hearts, but we seem propelled towards each other.

Then, in December, he told me he was thinking of buying a place in Spain. He suggested we meet in the New Year in a tapas bar we both knew in Marbella. I couldn’t wait.

Nervous though I was, that first meeting was all I had hoped for.

Little things kept reminding me of the young Serge: the way he always pulled my chair close to his; even the timbre of his voice. It was lovely. We spent a wonderful few days together hiking in the hills (like we used to) and he took me to romantic restaurants in the middle of nowhere.

So what next? Now he is back in Switzerland and I am back in London, but our diaries are full of plans. I’m going to see him in Geneva in a couple of weeks, then it’s his turn to come to London.

On one level, re-romancing an old flame is easy. On the other hand, we don’t want to fall back into those negative patterns of old. I will need to dial down the histrionics, and he will have to learn not to sulk for days on end.

Then there’s the small matter of us living in different countries, though he is semi-retired and, as a freelance writer, I can hop on a plane with my laptop — and even, down the line, move cities to be with him.

Only time will tell if our history together will prove to be a hindrance or a help. But who knows — this time round, we could actually make it all the way to the altar.

Earlier versions of the Mulvey story as under:

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