Why I know what it’s like to break-up ... and then make-up

As some spec­u­late that An­gelina Jolie and Brad Pitt might yet find a way to re­unite, Jo­hanna Thomas-Corr re­veals how after a furious split with her boyfriend, she sur­prised her­self by get­ting back to­gether with him

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - MY VIEW -

It seems An­gelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have “paused” di­vorce pro­ceed­ings, only 11 months after an­nounc­ing their split. In the ab­sence of an of­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion ex­plain­ing their pre­cise rea­son­ing, we can only spec­u­late as to why. Was there a lit­tle parental guilt-trip­ping on the part of Vivi­enne, Knox, Mad­dox, Za­hara, Shiloh or Pax Pitt-Jolie? Did the sight of Pitt pos­ing dole­fully in a Bot­tega Veneta sweater in GQ Style mag­a­zine prompt a change of heart in Jolie? Or was it Pitt’s con­fes­sion that “every mis­step has been a step to­ward epiphany, un­der­stand­ing, some kind of joy”?

Re­ally, it’s none of our busi­ness — at least un­til one them sub­mits to a lengthy con­fes­sion/fash­ion shoot. But the out­look for the cou­ple might not be so bad and, as with Gwyneth Pal­trow and Chris Martin’s “con­scious un­cou­pling”, there might be some­thing adult in this paus­ing busi­ness. Con­scious re­cou­pling, per­haps?

Or­lando Bloom and Katy Perry look to have done some­thing sim­i­lar, judg­ing by the pic­tures of them canoodling at a gig this week. Prince Wil­liam and Kate Mid­dle­ton were on and off and then on again and now look at them. And, of course, there’s the ro­man­tic hope that Bri­tain might some­how de­cide that liv­ing on its own in the North At­lantic is no fun and con­sciously re­cou­ple with the EU. We’ve changed! (And, erm, we also can’t af­ford the di­vorce bill).

We can find plenty of cau­tion­ary tales of ro­man­tic U-turns in celebrity his­tory (not least Richard Bur­ton and El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, who were mar­ried from 1964-1974 and then tried fruit­lessly again from 1975-1976) as well as in lit­er­a­ture. The sec­ond-chance plot­line taps into fun­da­men­tal questions of hu­man na­ture: can peo­ple change? Is for­give­ness truly pos­si­ble?

Think of Jane Eyre, who takes back the bigamist Mr Rochester in a dream­like rec­on­cil­i­a­tion after she wan­ders the bar­ren moors de­vel­op­ing a more ma­ture con­cept of ro­mance, while back at his Gothic manor he is blinded, maimed and hum­bled. Thank God it usu­ally takes less suf­fer­ing for es­tranged cou­ples to come to their senses.

But of­ten re­turn­ing to a bro­ken re­la­tion­ship is por­trayed as a cop-out, a way of pre­serv­ing a dull sta­tus quo — a woman goes back to her pas­sion­less hus­band be­cause she’s fright­ened of so­ci­ety’s judg­ment (see Anna Karen­ina) or a man goes back to his love­less marriage be­cause he likes the com­fort (see Nino in Elena Fer­rante’s Neapoli­tan nov­els).

Per­son­ally, I can vouch for the ef­fi­cacy of split­ting up from a phi­lan­der­ing part­ner, curs­ing their very name, in­sist­ing to your friends that there’s no way on God’s Earth you’d get back to­gether with such a pa­thetic loser — and then get­ting back to­gether with them.

My hus­band and I first started go­ing out when we were 18-year-old stu­dents. This lasted for a cou­ple of years be­fore he went to St Peters­burg as part of his univer­sity course. We vowed to stay faith­ful. A few months later I found out that he had cheated on me with a Russian girl but nev­er­the­less as­sumed that he could waltz back into my life on his re­turn. Uh-uh! I promptly started go­ing out with a gal­lant med­i­cal stu­dent, which en­raged my ex be­cause I in­sisted I was now in love. It all got a bit messy, with nu­mer­ous sub­plots in­volv­ing Russian es­pi­onage, a brief gay fling on his part, and some email hack­ing on mine. A friend of mine sent him a trea­sur­able one-word email be­gin­ning with ‘C’ — it was not ‘cow- ard’. Ba­si­cally, ev­ery­one hated ev­ery­one for a bit — and (al­most) all of them were in­vited when fi­nally I mar­ried the orig­i­nal boyfriend. Why did I take him back when he’d been so un­re­li­able and im­ma­ture? Well, the gal­lant medic dumped me, in­sist­ing that I was clearly not over my ex. And over the course of at least a year that same ex, who had been so care­less with my af­fec­tions, won back my trust. He took his own flaws to heart and tried to do some­thing about them, work­ing his way through re­gret and hu­mil­i­a­tion, as well as the sus­pi­cions of friends and fam­ily.

It was a steep learn­ing curve. He won ev­ery­one over — ex­cept me. It was only once he truly be­lieved he’d lost me and yet was still pre­pared to support and love me that I took him back.

On the night we fi­nally de­cided to give it an­other go, dur­ing a tor­ren­tial sum­mer down­pour, there was a tragic ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing one of his fam­ily friends. Some­where in the shock and trauma of that night we recog­nised what was im­por­tant, how easy it is to lose some­one you love. And we re­ally didn’t want lose each other.

One of the hard­est as­pects of re­cal­i­brat­ing a bro­ken re­la­tion­ship is the risk and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in­volved — specif­i­cally, that pe­riod when you test whether it’s likely to work for a sec­ond time and won’t just be a re-run of past mis­takes.

You’ll likely have to hide this ro­man­tic ex­per­i­ment from your friends and fam­ily (and in Brangelina’s case, the Press). Dur­ing my brief win­dow of de­lib­er­a­tion, the re­la­tion­ship felt much too ten­der to ex­pose to ev­ery­one’s scru­tiny so I kept it se­cret. Ly­ing to loved ones (“Of course we’re not get­ting back to­gether!”) was just about prefer­able to sab­o­tag­ing the trust that my part­ner and I had built up again. But you can only sneak around for so long, es­pe­cially if you have chil­dren. The high emo­tional stakes are one rea­son why Hol­ly­wood loves a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion drama — the pos­si­bil­ity of de­vo­tion that both en­dures and evolves is hugely se­duc­tive. And there’s some­thing thrillingly trans­gres­sive about get­ting back with your ex. Of course, when you have chil­dren, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion truly is com­pli­cated. To give that glim­mer of false hope and then dash it is more cruel than split­ting in the first place. My hus­band and I be­gan our sec­ond re­la­tion­ship when we were both 23 and child­less. Brad Pitt is now 53. Scep­tics won­der whether you can re­ally change — at least enough — at that age. Still, I have mar­ried fam­ily friends who broke up in their late for­ties be­cause they couldn’t see eye-to-eye on some pretty fun­da­men­tal sub­jects — pol­i­tics, re­li­gion, bring­ing up their chil­dren, for starters. Four years later they got back to­gether. They have had to over­come so many dif­fer­ences, their marriage is an in­spi­ra­tion to me. More re­cently, two friends of my own age who were mar­ried but had been sep­a­rated for a year told us they were giv­ing their re­la­tion­ship an­other go. It was the best news I’d heard all year. Per­haps at a time when we con­tem­plate the painful fall­out of sep­a­ra­tion from Europe, what many of us crave is a happy rec­on­cil­i­a­tion story, where both par­ties re­alise that they value im­per­fect unity over iso­la­tion. “Man, I never thought Brexit would hap­pen,” said Brad Pitt, no less, just be­fore his own split. “In the sim­plest terms, what brings us to­gether is good, and what sep­a­rates us is bad.” Even if we can’t stop Brexit, there may be hope for Ex-Pitt.

He tooks his own flaws to heart and won back my trust

ES­TRANGED: An­gelina Jolie may have had a change of heart over di­vorc­ing Brad Pitt

SEC­OND CHANCE: El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor and Richard Bur­ton and (above), Or­lando Bloom with Katy Perry and Kate Mid­dle­ton and Prince Wil­liam

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