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…

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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,

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