I remember when I was small, and it made absolute sense to me that I would find a nice man one day, and he would look like Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid. And we’d be very happy together, we’d have nice jobs, lots of friends, and we’d go on adventures together, and get a dog. Eventually he would propose, and I would (knowing me) burst into tears with a really sniffly ‘yes’. And when we were Mr and Mrs, we’d have a baby together. And so on, and so forth.
Now tiny Charlotte was ever the optimist. And, to be fair on her, grown-up Charlotte still is. Except Prince Eric really doesn’t do it for her anymore.
That aside though, I ended up, almost 26 years-old, and single. Except not alone. Because I had a small boy. My boy. And I had very much accepted that he may very well just be the only man in my life from now on.
I let society’s ways make me feel like a lesser individual, and I was certain that, overweight, with a stretch marked tummy, and an 18 month-old son, I was not destined for romance any time soon. Hell, I wasn’t even destined for a second look across a crowded bar.
There wasn’t the time for bars. I was a mother. And I only had one pair of hands, and none to hold mine and tell me it would be okay.
I didn’t really understand what happened when Mark turned suddenly from a friend into something more. And so quickly. My previous relationship had slowly passed away, over a period of year I think. We had fallen out of love slowly, and the fact we had a son caused us to turn a blind eye to that fact, until it was all too much.
I’ve told our story before, but Mark and I were like chalk and cheese (no prizes for guessing who was the cheese). He was living the life of an average 26 year-old, while I was rushing home to a small boy every night. We might have worked in the same office, and had a huge amount in common – including some very strange coincidences, which feel fated now – but I wasn’t his type I don’t think. And he was a sort of loveable rogue to me. That lad mate you adore, but eye-roll at when you hear of their antics.
It just didn’t occur to me that it would be anything more than what it was.
I came at my friends in a panic. I would beg for advice. I didn’t know what to wear. How to act. I’ve never been on a date before. I had forgotten how to kiss. I didn’t flirt very well (and still don’t – I don’t have that subtlety required for it to be effective – if I like you, you’ll know because I’ll probably just burrow my head in your chest, wrap my arms around your waist and smile at you). They told me that life was too short, and to go for it.
And I am so glad I did.
But I’m even more glad that he did.
In the early stages, we lay on the floor of an apartment in Manchester. The apartment was the first floor, and had a large window, from the ceiling to the floor, looking out over the busy streets below. We lay there and we talked for a very long time. I would glance to my right every so often, and I would see the lights from the cars below making shadows across Mark’s face. He was so beautiful to me, and he still is. I will always feel like I am punching above my weight, so to speak.
But as we lay there, we had a really open discussion. About us. And while it wasn’t the day we became a couple, it was a turning point for us. We talked about every possible eventuality. Our hopes and dreams. I told him so many things. I even told him about my syndrome, in case we did have children one day, and what it might mean. So ironic to think that exact scenario played out and we became even stronger once our daughter was born.
I think, even then, we knew that this wasn’t just a phase, or a fling, or a rebound for a desperate mother who wanted to feel something – anything – again.
And Mark turned to me and I turned to him and he was so honest with me and said he wasn’t sure how he would feel not being my number one. And when we talk of that now he says he sounds selfish, but I don’t think he does. I think, for the most-part, relationships should start when you are each other’s number ones. Because that is love. No one chooses to start a relationship with a toddler, who was really no more than a baby.
I completely understood and I tried so hard to be a respectful person that night. I replied calmly that I understood and I would follow his lead. I had to. But inside my heart was screaming at him: “Please love me. Oh God. Please.” He couldn’t hear her shouting. But she was.
The thing with Mark and I is that time; it goes goes very quickly for us. It’s almost as if every week is a month. And the way we are together – the way we work together, the way we flow, and the way we live beside each other – it feels like something that has been years and years in the making. Not just three.
“It’s crazy,” he said this morning. He was leaning back against our kitchen counter, wearing workout gear, eating a bowl of porridge that was sending whorls of steam up past his face. And I smiled. “It really is.”
Honestly, I look at him every day and I feel just as I did in those early days. His face will forever remain my favourite. I know every angle, the exact blue of his eyes that he passed on to our daughter, and the curve of his smile and his irritatingly perfect teeth. I know how his mind works like I do my own. He laughs at the stupidest things and when the moment really takes him he can’t even talk and he laughs so much that he cries. Yet, at the same time, he has the best resting-bitch-face known to man (another trait he has passed on to Daisy) and I am constantly asking if he’s okay, just in case it’s an actual bitch-face and I’m in trouble.
With everything we’ve been through, sometimes I half-expected us to fail. It didn’t ever feel like it should work, or even could work. But we kept going. And even though he traded in a life of holidays with his mates, and nights out every weekend, for a step-son, one allocated lie-in per week, and an old house with an even older shower that I believe he once said was like being “pissed on by a snowman”, he tells me he couldn’t be happier. But he did replace the shower within a month or so of us being together. And now we’ve got a new bathroom so he really can’t complain.
I just can’t describe how much I love him. He drives me insane sometimes. And I find myself growling under my breath and rolling my eyes behind his back. He always, without fail, burns eggs and porridge on my lovely pans. He is a massive telly hogger, which he denies with so much enthusiasm that it’s a sure-fire case of ‘the bloke doth protest too much’. And he gets far too much pleasure out of winding me up. But I know I have my faults too. I leave lights on all the time. I light so many candles that he is convinced the house will burn down. And I am such a hormonal cow that sometimes I don’t even recognise myself.
Sometimes, when I write, I look back on what I have just written and I wonder why I’ve written it, and whether it really even needs to be said. But then I simply wouldn’t write at all if there wasn’t anywhere for it to go. I just wanted to remember today. I wanted to remember how it felt to reach three years, when once upon a time I wondered if we’d even start a relationship at all.
Three years ago, he sat across from me, in a Nando’s of all places, in the middle of London somewhere. And he asked me to be his. It wasn’t the most romantic scene. We were both a little hungover from the night before. And the date was all wrong because now, every year, we celebrate me getting older, and then almost forget that, the next day, our love does too. But it was one of the best days of my life, because I knew that this was just the beginning.
Of our forever.