It’s been a few weeks now since the anniversary of our first date, but I still can’t help but marvel at how much my life has changed since Leigh came back into it – something which was completely unexpected.
At the end of 2009 I was pulling myself back together after yet another failed relationship. I made some really bad decisions in my 20s – stayed with men for far too long who sapped my strength and identity, was terrified of being alone.
For a while I don’t think I was much fun to be around. I struggled with depression which whilst it was triggered by being treated really badly by two of those men in particular had its roots far deeper in a lingering feeling I had of just not quite being true to myself – and not even really knowing who that self was. All the while I was throwing myself into my career, getting real satisfaction from my work as a teacher with brilliant colleagues and fantastic family and friends. I had no real reason to be unhappy – and it was that I finally realised fully whilst walking in the snow in East London in the early hours of New Year’s Day. I needed to relish what I had, make the most of the opportunities I was being given, stop taking things – and people – for granted. My happiness was not going to come in the form of a man – or at least not until I had made peace with myself.
And then just as I was relishing the prospect of being happy on my own for the first time in my adult life, along came Leigh. We’d known each other for years – been part of a group of friends who all went clubbing together in our late teens and actually had our first kiss in a tent at Womad back in the nineties. We lost touch soon after that despite the fact we ended up at the same university, but when I joined Facebook he was the first person I looked up. There’d always been something about him that I was drawn to, but something always held me back from making proper contact with him.
We’ve talked about it since and he felt exactly the same way. We both seemed to think that we were out of each others’ league – watched each other from afar, with a strange sense of regret for a road not taken. Then one night in January 2010 Leigh made a comment on his Facebook page and, needing someone with whom to share my insomnia, I replied. I immediately switched my phone off once I had – it was such a tiny, insignificant thing, but for some reason it felt like I’d taken a massive step in reaching out to him and I was terrified in case he didn’t respond. But when I logged back onto Facebook in the morning it turned out he had, and that little comment sparked a flurry of online banter, our mutual friends amused at the public flirting we’d begun to engage in out of the blue.
A couple of weeks later I was throwing a party with my friend Sue. She thought I was bonkers, but I invited Leigh to come. He replied to my message straight away, saying that he would love to come but he was flying off to South Africa the next day for six weeks on a paramedic training course. This piqued my interest even more – I couldn’t quite picture the hedonistic public schoolboy I remembered as a paramedic.
Whilst he didn’t make the party, our communication had shifted from a public to a private forum, and over the six weeks he was away we exchanged increasingly long and intimate messages, catching up on all we’d missed over the more than a decade since we’d seen each other and falling a little bit more in love with each other every day. I was convinced it was the start of something, but Sue was understandably wary – she’d been there to pick up the pieces when things had gone wrong in the past, and she couldn’t quite condone me getting so caught up in a man I hadn’t even really met yet.
There was a particular week in February when we’d both gone to stay with another friend, Tsering, in Barcelona. They both teased me mercilessly about my pen pal, saying that I really shouldn’t get over excited as he would no doubt turn out to have a tail or at the very least extra toes. I, however, was undeterred. I knew it was crazy, but something about it all just felt so right. Leigh got back to London at the end of February, and our first date in the real world was on the first of March.
To say I was nervous would be a massive understatement, but as soon as we saw each other everything fell into place. The chemistry was just as strong in person as it had been through the thousands of words we’d exchanged online, and we had a brilliant night. We ended up going to a gig my brother Ben’s band just happened to be putting on round the corner, so he met my three brothers on that first date too – they gave him the seal of approval, and Leigh made a joke about the band playing at our wedding. Which, as it happened, they did.
He proposed a couple of months later, and we celebrated our engagement with a trip to Barcelona where Tsering got to vet him too – Sue had already given us her blessing (with a strongly worded warning to Leigh about what she’d do to him if he messed me around). I think they were both as relieved as I was that he had turned out to be amazing despite the unconventional way our relationship had started. There was no doubt that both Leigh and I were ready to settle down.
We got married the following summer in 2011, a year which was full of change for us both: Leigh won a place at medical school in Devon having decided to retrain to be a doctor, we found a house in Brixham in need of total renovation and moved in a couple of weeks before the wedding, then a couple of weeks after that I started my new job leading an English department in a school in Plymouth. Eighteen months later we finally finished the work on the house days before our son was born, and I have now taken a break from teaching to look after him and pursue the career as a writer I always dreamed of.
It makes me a bit dizzy to think about how different things are now than they were four years ago – how much we’ve achieved in such a short space of time. I finally feel like I can be happy in my skin, and much as I was ready for change that frosty January I don’t think I could have got here without Leigh, and love.
With thanks to Sara at Mum turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt: “That was unexpected…”