FINDING LOVE After the worst has happened
Four years after losing her husband and daughter in a boating accident that left her terribly injured, Victoria Milligan is looking to the future. She speaks frankly and with some humour about the difficulties of dating again in midlife when you are carry
In the early days, it never crossed my mind that I would date again. Nicko and I had been together for 16 years and were very much in love when he died. I thought those emotions and feelings of attraction were gone, never to resurface. And who would want to take me on?
Everything changed for me that May bank holiday in 2013 during a family break in Cornwall. Happily married with four healthy children, it felt like I was living the perfect life. But then came the most terrible speed boat accident – you may have read about it at the time – in which Nicko and our eight-year-old daughter, Emily, died. I lost the lower part of my left leg, and my three surviving children also suffered injuries.
My initial feeling was one of shock and numbness. The only way of coping was by taking one day at a time and setting myself small, achievable goals – the future was too bleak to contemplate. I focused on looking after my traumatised children, learning to walk again and adjusting to my new life as a widow and single parent. I was terrified of my grief, but I knew I had no choice; my kids had lost one parent and I was determined they were not going to lose me too.
The children all felt differently about the idea of me meeting someone else. My
youngest, Kit, now nine, just wanted everything put back together again in a childlike way. He would ask, ‘Mummy, when am I going to get another dad?’ His friends would talk about their dads and what they had done with them at the weekend and he felt left out. My eldest, Amber, 16, was also keen for me to meet someone, but Olivia, 14, was, and still is, more reticent, and doesn’t want anyone to upset the special bonds the four of us have worked hard to create. I have explained to them that if I do meet anyone special, he will never replace their father. Nicko will always be their dad.
As time went on, I really missed being part of a couple – the support and love you get from a partner, having someone to cuddle up to on a Sunday afternoon or simply to tell about the silly things that had happened that day. About 18 months after the accident, those dormant feelings of attraction started to awaken. My girls had a lovely (and very handsome) music teacher who came round to the house on a Saturday morning. I loved the fact that he had known Emily and could tell me stories about her, things she would say in her lessons with him and songs she had enjoyed playing.
I found myself really looking forward to seeing him and making an effort with my appearance. In time, we became close – much to the embarrassment of my girls, who couldn’t believe I was dating their teacher. He was, and is, a lovely man, and I will always be grateful to him for making me feel attractive and feminine again.
Becoming physically close to someone new after 16 years is a huge deal. I had carried four children and had the stretch marks and C-section scars to prove it. Not only that, but part of my leg was missing and my body confidence was definitely not what it was. But being an amputee has turned out to be my hurdle to overcome with men, not theirs. They do not see it as an issue, perhaps as it doesn’t impact on my life. I am as mobile as I was with two legs, and I keep my prosthetic on for everything (yes, even for that…) and only take it off to sleep. The greater hurdle for men is the trauma and grief I have experienced. They feel a huge amount of pressure – I have been through so much and they do not want to hurt me further.
It’s only really in the last 12 months that I’ve been dating again. I wanted to be in a good place before starting a relationship, not to rely on someone else for my happiness. I don’t like the phrase ‘moving on’, but I think that what happens with grief is that the pain becomes lessened as your life expands around it. I am also acutely aware that my children are growing up and will leave home. I don’t want to be on my own for ever. But how do you go about meeting someone again in your 40s? The whole dating landscape has changed since I was last looking 20 years ago. My other problem was that, after the accident, my friends were my support network. They still are, so I socialise with the same married couples that I did when Nicko was alive. I hoped one of my friends might set me up on a blind date, but no one did. Their contacts were all too fat, bald, unfunny, they said... I thought perhaps they could let me make up my own mind?
I tried dating apps, but they were rather terrifying. Swiping left if you like someone – based purely on their looks or their hobbies – I found myself wondering if I’d have swiped left on Nicko. It made me realise you could miss out on the love of your life just because they’re not into skiing or you don’t like the look of their teeth.
My first Tinder date was with a man who said in his profile that he worked in a London hospital. I was hoping for Mcdreamy from Grey’s Anatomy, but he turned out to be at least a decade older than his profile picture and had clearly been nowhere near the operating theatre. The second seemed more promising, with some amusing text banter. But in person he was decidedly unfunny, and having said he was the Director of an Exterior Services Company, he was in fact a patio heater salesman.
As it turns out, dating is exhausting. Added to that is the expense, the babysitters, the blow-dries, the taxis, the tops. Earlier this year, I decided to outsource my problem by joining one of the high-end dating agencies. Though I met some interesting men, there was no one special.
As I write, I haven’t met Mr Right, though I have been out with a few Mr Right For Right Now. But I have discovered cocktail bars I never knew existed, tried salsa dancing and gin tasting. In pushing myself far beyond my comfort zone, my self-confidence has grown, and I’m learning more about what I’m looking for from a partner. If all else fails, I’ll remember my son’s advice: ‘All you need to get a nice boyfriend is to cook nice food and be funny.’ Maybe it will turn out to be that simple…
Victoria: ‘I’m learning more about what I’m looking for from a partner’
Victoria was living ‘the perfect life’ with her family (from left): Emily, Nicko, Olivia, Kit and Amber