By Kate Emory
‘ Increasingly, we would row about little things – the tone of my voice, who left the tap running, the setting of the thermostat.’
As an only child, my parents influenced all that I did. They were kind, clever and creative, and I longed to be like them. They’d met when they were 18, married at 20 and always seemed joyously happy. I simply expected that the same thing would happen to me.
When I paraded down the aisle, aged 23, it never crossed my mind that I was choosing entirely the wrong man. Yet it soon became clear that this was the case.
And new research, out last week, suggests that millions of us feel the same way. The study, conducted by Direct Line Life Insurance, revealed that a third of married Britons have regrets about their marriage, 1.4 million admit that they married the wrong person, while more than 1.2 million are only staying in it for the children and would soon tick every single box.
I fell in love with Bill because he seemed to be a grown-up. He worked in television and was passionate, curious and politically aware – all qualities I admired. He showered me with adoration and we were engaged within six months. But on our wedding day, I really knew nothing significant about him, only the dazzling side that he’d chosen to show to date.
It was as we went on our honeymoon to Greece that doubts first began to creep in. He’d wander off without warning – one afternoon I was in the shower, and came out to find him gone. Three hours later, he strolled back in. “Where have you been?” I asked. “I’ve been so worried.”
“Look Kate,” he replied. “If you think marriage means spending every minute together, you need to wake up.”
I was so shocked that I didn’t respond, but it was the first of many red flags. Bill hated being “told what to do”. He wanted a relationship, but only on his terms. I thought he was arrogant, he thought I was clingy – we were both inexperienced, too young, and too uncertain about what loving someone meant, once the hearts and flowers were swept away.
Meanwhile, he suddenly decided that he wanted to be a social worker, which meant, while he trained, I would support us both on my minimal wage from my job working in the local museum. Of course, this piled on more pressure. Bill made new friends who spent their evenings in smoky pubs, having heated debates about changes to child protection law. I couldn’t have been less interested, and if I ever disagreed with him, he’d belittle me for not knowing anything about his career. Equally, he had no interest in my own passions. Bill didn’t read novels – I love literature. I loved to wander around galleries whereas he “couldn’t think of anything worse”. I enjoyed cooking and entertaining, but to him food was just fuel and my friends were “annoying”.
I would glance at him across the room and marvel that I’d ever felt such wild attraction. Increasingly, we would row about little things – the tone of my voice, who left the tap running, the setting of the thermostat. Inside, we were both furiously angry at one another because we were so disappointed. I hadn’t really noticed at first that Bill lacked a sense of humour but, often, I’d mention something funny that had happened at work and he’d stare at me like an alien trying to understand human ways.
My mum was worried that Bill was nothing like my family, and gatherings were a minefield of political disagreement and difficult small talk. Slowly, we both retreated further from each other, terrified of admitting that our marriage had been an awful mistake. Four years in, I got pregnant. At first, I hoped that a baby would bring us closer but by the time Alice was one, we were living like flatmates, polite, distant and often in separate rooms “so at least one of us can sleep”.
We stayed married for 15 years. There were very bad periods, and slightly better ones. He was Alice’s father and she adored him, and I had a puritanical feeling that I’d made my bed and I must lie in it. It was only when Alice started secondary school that I really took stock of our situation. We no longer loved each other – if we ever really had – and we had less than nothing in common. We were two strangers who had mistaken infatuation for the real thing, and built a life on stilts.
Bill was devastated when I told him I thought we should split up. But he also knew that there was no future for us as a loving husband and wife. Now, Alice is at university, she has a good relationship with her dad, who is happy with someone else, and she knows I’m much happier alone. I married the wrong person, and I spent many years guilty and filled with regret, but too afraid to undo it.
For all those other millions who are sticking it out, I say this, I don’t believe in “the one” anymore, but I no longer believe in staying with the wrong one, either. Every day, despite everything, I’m glad I finally had the courage to admit that I’d married the wrong man.
Some names have been changed. Telegraph, London