MY GREEK ODYSSEY
After a disastrous love affair seemed to dash her dream of living on an Aegean island, Jen Barclay decided to give it one last try…
The rustic Aegean idyll that mended my broken heart
Ispent my 40th birthday not on a romantic weekend away, but weeping after yet another break-up. Everyone
knew seemed to have settled down and started families — why not me? Something had to change. I swore off relationships for half a year, cut down my busy working week in publishing to four days, and begged my boss for a month away on a Greek island. I needed time to think. I’d been fitting in with other people’s goals for too long. Rather than waiting to meet the right person, I should work out what I wanted next in life.
I’d had a special connection with Greece since I was a teenager. The previous year, I’d been on holiday to Tilos, a tiny, remote island with a population of just 500 people, and had fallen for its wild, steep hills and oleander flowers, secluded coves with pink sand and clear blue water, and the warm welcome; no ugliness, no noisy traffic. The Greek sun and vibrant colours made me feel alive.
I’d thought of living in Greece before but had always compromised for work or someone else. Now my job involved spending a lot of time alone at a computer, finding and editing new books for a publishing company — would it be possible to do that from Tilos and make my life happier?
So I tried to prove it could work. On Tilos, I woke up to dazzling skies and swam across the deep-blue bay at lunchtime. After working on my laptop, I could go for a walk or lie on a warm, fragrant terrace with a glass of wine and a book. I went snorkelling and held octopus and starfish. I felt rejuvenated. I went home with my mojo back and a plan for the future. Then I met someone.
I’d known Matt vaguely for a couple of years through mutual friends. But when I saw him after returning from Tilos, something was different. We talked until the pub closed, and two days later he surprised me with a message saying he loved me and wanted to get to know me better. It was easy, comfortable. He was two years older than me, and solid, dependable, caring.
We shouldn’t spoil our friendship by getting involved, he said, unless we were serious about making a go of it. When I decided I was, he took my breath away by buying a factory nearby, so he wouldn’t have to work abroad so much, which is what he’d previously been doing. That was commitment, I thought. Within months, we were engaged and trying for a baby. He was great with my friends’ children, and my family liked him and saw I was happy. He made good money from his business and properties (he owned an apartment, which he rented out, and co-owned several properties abroad) and treated me to dinners and gifts.
I took him to Tilos and he, too, fell in love with the island — and, with typical impulsiveness, made an offer on a beautiful house with a view of the sea. He planned to pay for it by selling his business, then we could both work freelance. As we waited for the sale to go through, we saw my doctor and started on a programme of fertility tests. After a year of trying, I was relieved that the first results looked promising.
The sale of Matt’s business took longer than expected for legal reasons, he explained, which made him stressed; and we weren’t able to access his apartment as the bank had taken it as security against a business loan. It was where he’d stored old family photographs and personal items while he was travelling. I felt there was a part of him I didn’t know — his parents had died, he had no other close family and few friends — and although I believed it wasn’t his fault, I privately decided I wasn’t going to rush into marriage until he’d shown me those things from his past. Then his purchase of the house on Tilos fell through because of the delays, but we continued with our plans to move there by renting a house instead.
Spring 2011 was an exhausting rush of letting my flat and shipping our belongings to Greece. On my frenzied last day at the office, Matt went shopping for clothes and a computer for our new life; I was happy that he was excited. We were to meet that lunchtime for the final fertility results.
That’s when it happened. I called to ask where we should meet, and he was in tears. ‘I’ve been lying to you, Jen,’ he said. He didn’t own a business,