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FLIC EVERETT: My journey through two lost marriages has taught me how to make my THIRD last for ever

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At the age of 51, my wrinkles will appear in all the photos, and it isn’t traditional for a middle-aged, third-time bride to wear ivory raw silk, but I don’t care.

As I walk with my son and two overexcited cocker spaniels — the ring-bearers — towards my partner Andy, also 51, who is waiting for me under an arch of spring trees along with 50 guests, I feel nothing but joy. This will be my last marriage. I have no doubt in my mind.

‘Third marriage’ carries a whiff of devil-may-care bolter, a woman who collects husbands like diamonds and runs at the first sign of trouble.

Some, understandably, consider multiple marriages a sign of failure, and a tendency to leap before looking. For me, however, marriage has always been about love and hope.

And although it took a great many wrong turns, mistakes and soul-searching to find my happy ending, I don’t regret any of the journey that led me here.

The first time I walked up the aisle, it was June 1992. I was 21 and four months pregnant. I’d met my fiance, Nick, at a party the previous November, and by New Year we were engaged.

This time, there was nobody I wanted to impress with the wedding. This would be for us and our nearest and dearest, a celebration of love after two very dark pandemic years. It was Andy’s first wedding, so while I might happily have scuttled off to Gretna Green with minimum fuss, there seemed no reason to force him into an under-the-radar, muted event

While my friends and family reeled in shock, looking back, I felt as though I’d willingly stepped onto a conveyor belt — that my life would pan out exactly as my parents’ did. They had met aged 19 and 20, married months later, had me, and were still joyously happy.

My grandparents met in an 1930s opera queue and launched a love story that lasted for over 50 years. I had no experience of marital fighting or divorce — I simply believed, subconsciously, that in my family you fell in love in your early 20s and it lasted for ever.

Hence, when I found myself pregnant soon after we were engaged, I was excited; I put my plans to be a journalist on temporary hold and we moved in with my parents.

Swiftly, it transpired that Nick and I hardly knew each other. Once the reality of pregnancy, lack of money and the stress of a dramatic life-change kicked in, the rows began.

My fantasy was quickly dismantled by the realisation that this was a mismatch of two people far too young and inexperienced to cope or communicate our real feelings. 

But I still loved him and naively hoped that once we were married, things would improve. More importantly, I couldn’t bear to rob my child of a father before he was even born.

Despite neither of us being religious, we had a church wedding in our home town, Manchester. I wore a plain ivory chiffon, empire-line dress, which repeatedly had to be altered as the baby grew. I had three bridesmaids — my best friend, who concealed her doubts elegantly, and the daughters of my parents’ friends.

I remember standing in the porch of the old church, shaking from head to foot, clinging to my dad’s arm. The vicar came out and gently encouraged us to move inside, as The Arrival Of The Queen Of Sheba blasted from the organ.

I now knew that a wedding isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning, and it’s the marriage that matters. I understood that trust has to be gradually nurtured, not assumed. She is pictured above at her first wedding

I now knew that a wedding isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning, and it’s the marriage that matters. I understood that trust has to be gradually nurtured, not assumed. She is pictured above at her first wedding

I had no knowledge of classical music, but somebody more grown up had suggested it.

We knelt at the altar, giggling like children as words we didn’t understand the meaning of floated above us. Afterwards, there was a formal reception at a restaurant and a party back at our family home. My friends all got very drunk because they were still, effectively, kids, and part of me wished I could join them.

I wanted to be a good wife. I wanted my son Tom, born that November, to have two loving, happy parents. But row after row, as I discovered how hopelessly out of kilter my expectations had been, meant that increasingly we lived in a welter of simmering distrust and disappointment, like a 1960s kitchen sink drama.

For almost everyone, it was a sad relief when we split up, less than three years after our wedding.

I now knew that a wedding isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning, and it’s the marriage that matters. I understood that trust has to be gradually nurtured, not assumed. Nick had always made me laugh and I’d mistaken that for intimacy — now I realised that laughter can disguise fundamental incompatibility, but not for very long.

For several years during my 20s I was a single mother, lucky enough to have a successful career as a writer and, more importantly, a hugely supportive family. 

Tom and I lived in a flat above a shop, and during that time I developed a drive and resilience I didn’t know I had.

I wasn’t put off marriage, but in future, I knew, I had to take my time. That’s what I did when I met Stephen.

Both in the media, we met through work in 1996, were friends and colleagues first and gradually fell in love. We married in 1999, when I’d just turned 29.

I had a seven-year-old son, three young stepdaughters, a huge mortgage on a huge new house, and a very demanding freelance career. However, we were adults, ready for the challenge, and we wanted our wedding to reflect our hopes for the future, after a difficult decade.

I don’t regret either of my previous marriages . They made me who I am and brought many wonderful things to my life. Flic is pictured above at her second wedding

I don’t regret either of my previous marriages . They made me who I am and brought many wonderful things to my life. Flic is pictured above at her second wedding

Our invitations were funny mock-ups of magazine covers and I wore a dark purple velvet, floor-length frock with a tiara — in those days, my look was all about the drama.

We were married by a registrar at Manchester Town Hall. I arrived in a white stretch limo and walked up the aisle with all the children to a Motown track — the wedding slightly delayed because the groom’s pack of friends were all hung over and missed their train.

I was annoyed, and had snapped at Stephen on the phone earlier. But I put it behind me as we partied with 100 friends and family in a hired room, lit pink, while the Happy Mondays boomed out. It felt important to serve blingy champagne to impress guests with our knowing cool, and to inject a little irony — we were still young enough to find wholehearted declarations of love slightly embarrassing.

Our relationship lasted for 18 years — until after the children had all left home, and I count it in many ways a success. We loved each other and tried very hard to keep all the balls in the air. Our 30s were a dance contest where the aim was to be the last couple on the floor, regardless of exhaustion.

We hosted parties and dinners for our many friends, we travelled for work, we took the children to three different schools each day and on exciting holidays, we started businesses, we opened an award-winning shop — and we never, ever stopped. Until in 2014, we did.

Nothing terrible had happened, just the bald, sad phrase ‘irreconcilable differences’, otherwise known as ‘growing apart’. And despite many attempts to keep it going, our carousel eventually ground to a halt.

I was in my early 40s and felt sick at the idea of another marriage ending. I had learned how to trust, how to share my life fully, how to make sacrifices — but I didn’t know how to set boundaries or make space for myself.

I would sit silently on resentments until they grew into rage, then it would all blow up. I’ve now learned to speak, rationally, when I’m upset —before it’s too late.

I’d also thought I could take on everything the world threw at me.

Gradually, I realised I couldn’t any more — and I no longer wanted to prove myself. I wanted peace.

It was a painful, protracted break-up and afterwards I thought I might be alone for ever. It wasn’t a terrible prospect — I had a lovely grown-up son, two cats and a rented flat in Bath. I also had dear friends and family, my health, a career . . . I’d be fine.

I met Andy that year, via a close mutual friend. Having expected a long period of singledom, instead I suddenly fell in love. We navigated a long-distance relationship between rural Argyll and Bath for two years, before I moved to his remote West Highlands cottage to live with him in 2016. I missed (and still miss) my family and friends, but I have never been happier in a relationship, or a place.

Andy proposed on my 50th birthday, during lockdown, and I had no doubts about saying yes.

I realised people might think I was insane to do it all again, that I didn’t understand the point of marriage, that I’d carelessly left a long trail of bad decisions and broken hearts. Who was I to make promises I’d proved I couldn’t keep twice before? But now, I knew I could.

This time, there was nobody I wanted to impress with the wedding. This would be for us and our nearest and dearest, a celebration of love after two very dark pandemic years.

It was Andy’s first wedding, so while I might happily have scuttled off to Gretna Green with minimum fuss, there seemed no reason to force him into an under-the-radar, muted event.

Instead, we decided to get married in the beautiful country garden, owned and tended by his dad for many years, beside the holiday house Andy owns and rents out.

Somewhat insanely, we catered it ourselves — a huge hot and cold buffet for 50 — but as neither of us is rolling in money and we both love cooking, it seemed sensible. And we already knew how well we work together. 

But while I may have been exhausted from the DIY nature of our wedding, as friends messaged asking ‘are you nervous yet?’ I was surprised to find myself telling them I was fine: calm, relaxed, happy.

I bought my ivory day dress on eBay for £7.99 and had it altered, and I hired my evening dress for £170 — a glittery green £1,600 Vampire’s Wife frock I could never have afforded to buy. My best friend did my hair and my son’s girlfriend did my make-up. 

My mum made the wedding cakes, and I decided I’d give my dad the day off for once — Tom and the dogs would walk me up the aisle, and I’d make my own speech.

Of course, there were little disasters — the marquee wasn’t up till 6pm the night before, and we had to draft in our friends to help lay the tables. The huge trout I was poaching fell apart and had to be covered up with cucumber slices hastily cut by my dad. 

The costly sides of ham and beef were forgotten and I ran out halfway through dinner to the garage to fetch them . . . but none of it mattered.

We had a humanist wedding — we read each other poems and made our promises without a hint of doubt. There was live music from a dear friend, and all the people we love watching, and happy for us. For the entire day, I didn’t stop smiling.

So what have I learned this time? That eight years is long enough to know you’re with the right person. That an argument can just be an argument — it doesn’t have to curdle into resentment.

That I’ve finally found a person who accepts me exactly as I am, as I do him, who loves me simply, without agitating for change or improvement. That a happy relationship doesn’t feel like work. 

And that it doesn’t matter that I’m two dress sizes bigger than last time, that the hired soup bowls didn’t get unpacked or the extra bread was forgotten.

Most importantly, I now know myself and what I need — I’m not trying to force myself into a shape that doesn’t fit, or hiding from pain in a whirl of activity.

I don’t regret either of my previous marriages . They made me who I am and brought many wonderful things to my life. But as I enter my 50s, at long last, it really is a case of third time lucky.

Some names have been changed.

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