THIRD TIME LUCKY

FOR OUR ‘HAPPY EVER AFTER’

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - RELATIONSHIPS ETC - It took three (bro­ken) en­gage­ments to the same man for Melissa van Maas­dyk to feel ready to com­mit to mar­riage. Here she ex­plains why…

Why get mar­ried? I can think of sev­eral very good rea­sons to­day, but th­ese eluded me in my early 20s when I re­ceived my first pro­posal, on a beach at sun­set with Phil Collins play­ing on a por­ta­ble tape deck. Well, OK, I lie. One good rea­son was sit­ting be­side me: a gor­geous, funny, in­tel­li­gent man, a ver­i­ta­ble Prince Charm­ing. Glenn and I had been dat­ing for four years, hav­ing met when I was just 20 while study­ing at univer­sity in Cape Town. We’d clicked in­stantly and em­barked on a care­free ro­mance that played out in stu­dent bars, vine­yards and on beaches – with pic­nics a strong fea­ture, be­ing both ro­man­tic and cheap. Now we were liv­ing in Jo­han­nes­burg and re­vis­it­ing one of our favourite hol­i­day haunts. It was a per­fect mo­ment with what should have been the right man – but it was the wrong time. Although I adored Glenn, I wasn’t ready to har­ness my­self to any­one – even Prince Charm­ing – be­fore I’d dis­cov­ered who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.

So I said no, ex­plain­ing that it was more about me than us and that I needed to fol­low my heart in terms of work op­por­tu­ni­ties (I’d re­cently com­pleted a mas­ter’s in trans­la­tion) be­fore set­tling down. But he said he was pre­pared to wait and, in­stead, we com­mit­ted to liv­ing to­gether in un­wed­ded bliss.

We moved from Jo­han­nes­burg to Lon­don when Glenn took up a po­si­tion as a cur­rency trader there. As a Bri­tish cit­i­zen he didn’t need a visa, while I worked in a cou­ple of dead- end of­fice jobs – posts that my two-year Com­mon­wealth visa al­lowed. We rented a tiny flat in Baker Street and had fun ex­plor­ing our new city to­gether, which only brought us closer. As my visa ap­proached its end, we dis­cussed get­ting mar­ried so that I could stay in Bri­tain with him and ap­ply for more ex­cit­ing jobs. We hadn’t made any firm plans, how­ever, when I went back to South Africa for my sis­ter’s wed­ding Top left: Melissa to­day. Top right: Melissa and Glenn in 1987 in Durban, South Africa, shortly after meet­ing for the first time. In Canada, 2010, above, and, right, in Cape Town, 2013

I ADORED GLENN, BUT I WASN’T READY TO HAR­NESS MY­SELF TO ANY­ONE BE­FORE I’D DIS­COV­ERED WHO I WAS”

and dis­cov­ered that I wasn’t per­mit­ted to re­turn to Bri­tain so close to the visa’s ex­piry date. I had be­gun job-hunt­ing at home when a huge bunch of teacup-sized red roses ar­rived with four sig­nif­i­cant words writ­ten on the at­tached card. Miss­ing him ter­ri­bly and se­duced by the ro­man­tic de­liv­ery of the mes­sage, I said yes im­me­di­ately. But a cou­ple of weeks later, I re­ceived a pro­posal of a dif­fer­ent kind – an of­fer to work as a French-English trans­la­tor and sub- edi­tor for a lead­ing women’s mag­a­zine. It was my first chance to ap­ply my de­gree to a de­cent role and I knew I had to ex­plore its full po­ten­tial. But it wouldn’t have made sense for Glenn to move back to South Africa at that for­ma­tive point in his ca­reer and, after much heart-search­ing, I sug­gested we break off the en­gage­ment while con­tin­u­ing our re­la­tion­ship long- dis­tance. How­ever, see­ing each other only a cou­ple of times a year while try­ing to main­tain phone con­tact across dif­fer­ent time zones made it too hard to keep things go­ing – so I de­cided to break it off com­pletely. Although I was used to us liv­ing apart, I hadn’t re­alised how much I’d miss pick­ing up the phone and talk­ing to Glenn about any­thing and ev­ery­thing. Sev­eral times I was tempted to call him but I’d heard from friends that I’d re­ally hurt him so I didn’t think this was fair, espe­cially as I was happy to be sin­gle, free and in­de­pen­dent for the first time since I was 20. I was en­joy­ing my im­mer­sion in ‘mag­a­zineland’, see­ing girl­friends, at­tend­ing arty events and dat­ing. Then, around eight months later, Glenn called to say he was be­ing trans­ferred back to South Africa. I rather bru­tally told him I hoped it wasn’t on my ac­count as I wasn’t sure we were right for each other any more. It was a heart­less thing to say and even some of my good friends told Glenn that he de­served bet­ter. But I had al­ways worried that we didn’t re­ally want the same things. On a prac­ti­cal level, for ex­am­ple, he didn’t share my in­ter­est in the arts and go­ing to for­eign movies, while I didn’t see the point of af­ter­noons spent bar­be­cu­ing and watch­ing rugby on TV. I was also pretty sure that I didn’t want chil­dren and wasn’t con­vinced he shared my views. We had dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes to love and mar­riage partly be­cause of our dif­fer­ent parental models. I saw my mother com­pro­mise her in­ter­est in cul­ture and travel – and her am­bi­tions to own a cof­fee shop – and set­tle for do­mes­tic­ity when she mar­ried. I wit­nessed her be­com­ing re­sent­ful at hav­ing to re­lin­quish her fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence to a man with a more con­ser­va­tive ap­proach to money than her. Glenn, on the other hand, re­mem­bers his mother be­ing happy in the role of wife and home­maker and his fa­ther be­ing de­voted to her for nearly 70 years. It was thus straight­for­ward for him – you fall in love, com­mit and live hap­pily ever after – but more com­pli­cated for me. Some­how, my care­less re­jec­tion didn’t put him off. Con­vinced that I was The One for him, on his ar­rival in Jo­han­nes­burg Glenn in­vited me out to din­ner – and I re­alised I still had de­cid­edly un-pla­tonic feel­ings for him. We started dat­ing again – gin­gerly at first, then, one night, after a movie, in­stead of tak­ing me home, he took me to a favourite ho­tel where he’d booked the pent­house suite, cham­pagne, the works, and…well, who wouldn’t be per­suaded that he was a keeper? Se­ri­ously, I be­gan to re­alise that our dif­fer­ences were, in fact, com­ple­men­tary. I bring a spirit of ad­ven­ture and un­pre­dictabil­ity, while he is grounded and wise and makes me laugh with his dry sense of hu­mour. We moved in to­gether and, a year later, be­came en­gaged for a sec­ond time. Glenn pre­sented me with a beau­ti­ful di­a­mond that he’d in­her­ited from his grand­mother, and this time I knew I wanted to be with him. Friends and fam­ily were thrilled that we were fi­nally go­ing ahead. I wish I could say that the di­a­mond was swiftly trans­formed into the sym­bol of com­mit­ment for which it was des­tined – but di­verg­ing ➤

➤ ca­reers soon caused trou­ble again. Glenn was of­fered an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity back in Lon­don – within days of my ac­cept­ing an ex­cit­ing job as the deputy edi­tor of a food and life­style mag­a­zine. Since nei­ther of us wanted to pass up on th­ese open­ings, we de­cided to break off our en­gage­ment again un­til we were ready to set a date. This set tongues wag­ging: a few peo­ple be­lieved that if I truly loved him I would take my chances in Lon­don. But, hav­ing seen how un­ful­filled ex­pec­ta­tions can erode love, I didn’t want to have any rea­son to blame Glenn if things didn’t work out for us there, and he un­der­stood. I’m sure some­one else would have given up on me by this point but one of the things I love about Glenn is that he’s self-as­sured enough not to care about what other peo­ple think.

So the di­a­mond was rel­e­gated to my sock drawer while I threw my­self into the new role. This time round we spoke on the phone al­most daily and tried to see each other more of­ten un­til, a year later, I con­cluded that a job was a cold bed­fel­low com­pared to the warm and won­der­ful man wait­ing for me. Aware that he was un­likely to pro­pose to me again I de­cided to take things into my own hands. I had the di­a­mond set in an en­gage­ment ring which I at­tached to a pair of boxer shorts em­broi­dered with ‘Will you marry me?’, booked a flight to Heathrow and pre­sented it to him over belli­nis be­side the Thames. Nine years after that first pro­posal I was ready to com­mit heart and soul to the re­la­tion­ship and I was elated when his an­swer was yes.

Back in South Africa, I set about plan­ning a wed­ding, look­ing for­ward to all the things brides tra­di­tion­ally want: the dress, the flow­ers… Just over two months be­fore W- day, how­ever, prepa­ra­tions came to a screech­ing halt while I was on a travel as­sign­ment in Thai­land. I was ly­ing in a bath on a deck over­look­ing a gleam­ing moon­lit bay and phoned Glenn to say that I wished he was with me, upon which he an­nounced that he couldn’t go through with the wed­ding. He said that he’d been think­ing about us as the day drew closer and a few past hurts kept resur­fac­ing, as well as my se­rial in­de­ci­sion. He wanted to go into mar­riage be­liev­ing it would be for ever and he didn’t think I loved him enough. I as­sured him I did, with ev­ery fi­bre of my be­ing – which now felt like it had been plunged into a bath of ice cubes – and asked if we could put it on hold for a week or two while he thought about it. When I got back home, puffy- eyed, I stopped the in­vi­ta­tions go­ing out and with­drew from a fea­ture on un­usual mar­riage pro­pos­als for which I’d agreed to be in­ter­viewed by another mag­a­zine, know­ing I couldn’t bear to see the ar­ti­cle in print if my worst fears ma­te­ri­alised.

The week that fol­lowed was both the most ex­cru­ci­at­ing and the most valu­able of my life be­cause it made me re­alise I had taken Glenn’s love for granted and I didn’t want to lose him. We’d agreed not to speak dur­ing that time but I waited for the phone to ring and felt ill with anx­i­ety. I re­sorted to a tarot read­ing which yielded The Fool, a card that rep­re­sents an end to some­thing and a new be­gin­ning – did this sig­nify an end to our re­la­tion­ship or a new be­gin­ning as a mar­ried cou­ple?

The fi­nal hours be­fore his call at the des­ig­nated hour on that Satur­day night were like wait­ing for a jury to de­clare whether I’d live or die and when he said that he couldn’t imagine life with­out me I cried with re­lief and hap­pi­ness. Two months later, at the age of 33 – and 13 years after meet­ing him – I al­most sprinted down the aisle to marry him.

We’ve now been hap­pily mar­ried for 16 years but I still don’t re­gret break­ing off the first cou­ple of en­gage­ments as I’m sure we’d be di­vorced to­day if we’d wed ear­lier. I re­main con­vinced that one of the keys to a successful mar­riage is to feel ful­filled when you tie the knot rather than ex­pect­ing it to ‘com­plete you’ or be some sort of panacea. This might en­tail dis­cov­er­ing one’s vo­ca­tion, travel, sex­ual ex­per­i­men­ta­tion… ul­ti­mately know­ing what makes you tick so that you can give and take in the re­la­tion­ship while re­main­ing true to your­self.

Glenn agrees now that we were both too young to set­tle down when he first pro­posed and he’s glad that he gave me those ex­tra years to ful­fil my ca­reer dreams. He loves that I’m my own per­son and we’re best friends as well as part­ners.

As we’re both strong in­di­vid­u­als, we re­tain our own in­ter­ests and some con­trast­ing be­liefs but have also adapted be­cause we want what’s best for each other. I be­lieve that some of our dif­fer­ences have en­riched our lives too. On an emo­tional level, his mel­low char­ac­ter bal­ances my more neu­rotic tem­per­a­ment. And on a su­per­fi­cial level, he be­lieves he was miss­ing a cul­tural side (although he still draws the line at opera), while I’ve be­come sportier and more out­doorsy (if re­main­ing im­mune to the ap­peal of rugby).

I don’t know if there’s an ideal mar­riage­able age but my three sis­ters all walked down the aisle in their 20s and into the di­vorce courts in their 30s. My youngest sis­ter had a very good re­la­tion­ship with her hus­band un­til, bat­tling to re- es­tab­lish her ca­reer after hav­ing their first child, she found her­self fi­nan­cially de­pen­dent on him and this af­fected the bal­ance of their part­ner­ship. Now self-re­liant, she says that she can’t imagine ever get­ting mar­ried again.

Since Glenn and I de­cided not to have chil­dren, we haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced the chal­lenges par­ent­hood presents but there have been com­pro­mises, such as the fact that my ca­reer has been stop-start as we’ve moved around the world with his job. Yet be­cause I fo­cused on my work so sin­gle­mind­edly ear­lier on, I’ve been happy to sit back and en­joy the jour­ney with him, as well as the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore new cul­tures and write my de­but novel. The story, not sur­pris­ingly, re­volves around a com­mit­ment-pho­bic pro­tag­o­nist who loves her boyfriend but has no in­ten­tion of let­ting love and mar­riage scup­per her ca­reer. Be­liev­ing ca­reer suc­cess will pro­tect her from the ro­man­tic dis­ap­point­ments that her mother ex­pe­ri­enced, she risks her re­la­tion­ship to keep her job, set­ting her­self on a rocky but trans­for­ma­tive emo­tional course.

In fic­tional love sto­ries, mar­riage of­ten rep­re­sents a happy end­ing. For me, it marked the happy be­gin­ning of our real love story be­cause it was fi­nally about us rather than me. n Melissa’s de­but novel Love Ap­ples is pub­lished by Lulu, from €4.99, avail­able from ama­zon.ie The cou­ple in Dubai ear­lier this year

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