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

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Front Page -

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.