With four children from a previous marriage, CIARA McQUILLAN never expected to fall in love all over again, but life is funny that way. Here, she shares the story of how her new blended family got started.


Ciara McQuillan on how she started her modern blended family

As the saying goes, there’s nothing quite like young love. It can be exciting, intoxicati­ng and sometimes it lasts forever. And sometimes it doesn’t. No one ever envisages falling out of love with their chosen one, but the reality is that it happens, and when it does, it can be devastatin­g and often feels like your life has hit a wall. But hearts mend and people move on, and when that happens, finding love the second time around can be even more exhilarati­ng than our younger selves could have dared to imagine. Love at any stage in our lives is to be celebrated, even if our lives don’t go to plan, as so often can happen.

For me, it had been a long road. When we met, we had both come from broken marriages, both had teenage children and both had grown accustomed to being single. After 15 years in my previous relationsh­ip, making my first foray into the dating world was intimidati­ng to say the least. I had married young and become a mother at the tender age of 21, so most of my formative years had been spent in a relationsh­ip. I was single for the first time since my late teens, and although occasional­ly lonely, I had good

friends and four children to keep me occupied. I wasn’t planning to fall in love, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and once we met, it didn’t take long for me to realise that this was someone worth going out on a limb for. Luckily, he felt the same, and so when he asked me out on a date, I somewhat hesitantly said yes, both excited and terrified at the prospect of where it would lead.

Dating was not a concept I had been familiar with, except via American TV programmes – I had often thought it so grown-up of the teens on these shows going on dates. Irish people didn’t date, or at least none of those in my circle of friends growing up did. We hung out – we never dated. But this time was different. Our first outing was to the cinema – on reflection, a safe (if somewhat boring) choice. He couldn’t realise he didn’t like me if we didn’t have much of an opportunit­y to talk was my very naïve reasoning. But he called a couple of days later and so we went out again, and this time we talked. More outings, dinner dates and even picnics followed, and it was a revelation; although, it felt strange at first. Sitting across the table from a man I knew little about felt slightly wrong and pulled me totally

out of my comfort zone. It had been a long time, and I was overtly aware of that. But gradually, it began to feel normal; and after a while, even natural. Chatting came easily to us, and I felt like I knew everything and yet nothing about him. Pretty soon, weekends were spent exploring each other’s interests and getting to know one another inside and out. For a while, I even convinced myself that I enjoyed hiking as much as he did, but that novelty soon wore off. His appeal, however, did not.

Our relationsh­ip progressed, and when we felt the time was right, we met each other’s respective families. It was a nerve-wracking time for both of us – meeting a new partner’s children is so much more daunting than meeting the parents, but they didn’t appear to hate me as I had assumed they would. Despite all the teenage angst we were surrounded with, the children seemed happy for us, and we mostly all got along. I wasn’t going to try to be a second mum to his children, and my children didn’t want a second dad. My kids were, however, happy to see me with someone who cared about me, and after eight years together, we decided to take the plunge and move in together, children and dog in tow. My friends considered us to be slow starters. I considered myself cautiously waiting for the right time; and when it came, I recognised it instantly.

We began house hunting in earnest, determined to find the perfect place to set up home together. We didn’t just want to move in together – we wanted to make our own home, and that meant finding a neutral space that we could make our own. It took a while, but eventually we found what we thought to be the perfect place. On signing day, we celebrated with a bottle of prosecco in the empty house, devoid of furniture or children. It was an exciting time, and the future seemed full of possibilit­ies that we could never have previously imagined. Our first few weekends were spent on outings to Ikea buying knick-knacks to decorate our new home with, followed by lazy afternoons on the couch arguing about where to put said knick-knacks.

And so we settled into domestic bliss, if there is such a thing. Of course, there were hiccups, a learning curve if you will. Both being a tad older and more set in our ways, it took some time to adjust to living together. With seven children between us, we were a blended family 2.0, and accordingl­y, some mayhem ensued. Our distinctly different tastes in television viewing was a bone of contention I had never seriously considered, and to this day can still be the subject of friction. Compromise became our best friend. But it turned out my instincts were right at the beginning – he was worth taking a chance on.

Everyone’s tale is different, of course. Not everyone waits eight years to take the plunge. Another friend moved in with her new beau within a year of meeting him. It just felt right to them. She had left a particular­ly difficult relationsh­ip some years previously and longed for the stability and comfort of someone to come home to each evening. Both she and her new partner had young children, and that came with its own challenges; as did a disapprovi­ng ex-husband. Navigating the minefield of shared parenting with a bitter ex can be harrowing, especially when doing it alone. Luckily, her new partner had his own experience of that situation and was able to be supportive to both her and her children, with whom he has developed a hard earned bond. After five years together, they married in the company of 75 family and friends before welcoming their own addition to their new family some months later. After a rocky road, she finally feels that she is in the right relationsh­ip for her. She has no regrets. With two beautiful children from her first marriage, how could she? But she also has no regrets about leaving an unhappy marriage to allow herself to find happiness in a new relationsh­ip. In her own words, “life is just too short”.

As for me, at my insistence, my partner and I continue to go on regular dates. I still have absolutely no interest in hiking, but that doesn’t appear to be a deal-breaker. I consider it a good sign that to this day, holding hands sends a slight shiver through me, in a good way. I used to refer to our relationsh­ip as our second chance, but I was never good with numbers or putting a label on things. Let’s just leave it at “we’re happy”.

“With seven children between us, we were a modern blended family. My instincts were

right – he was worth taking a chance on.”

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