I write this week from a large and comfortable room in South Wales. The Union are playing on the stereo (it sounds weird to say iPhone plus non-Apple brand portable speaker unit) and my brother and his girlfriend are divvying up the days chocolate purchases (while playing with the kids’ toy gun) as my mum looks over our map of castles. There is a crate of tourist literature but we all seem incapable of going beyond the map that surely by now we could each draw from memory.

It’s a very different holiday from my last trip to Wales.

Three years ago the fiancé and I were in a no man’s land of relationship. He was sleeping on a sofa in the conservatory of the house he shared with his wife and I was simultaneously telling my girlfriends that yes of course he was clearly still sleeping with his wife and telling him that of course I understood that while he and her were over, he didn’t want to leave his kids. It sucked. I lied to everyone (because I believed him when he said he and her were over and because I didn’t understand how it was taking so long to move out). I had just turned 26 and being madly in love with a thirty something with kids made no sense to me.

It was stalemate. I refused to let the relationship move forward in terms of plans. I plan everything and rather than discuss one-day-in-the-future I was booking a train trip across Siberia. We were on different life paths and in such circumstances you need a hell of a lot more than just love.

The fiancé wasn’t able to put down a deposit on a house but the situation was tearing us apart before we’d put down any foundations. My departure day was fast approaching and the walls that were invisible when I was on the other side of the world were suddenly blocking any potential view of a shared future when we were able to meet for coffee.

He decided to move out and stay with his sister for a few weeks and the day he moved out we went to Wales. I cannot for the life of me remember how we settled on Wales. I think perhaps it was so impersonal to us both that it felt like running away and escaping.

It’s a funny way to build a future. Day one of our first minibreak was arguably the worst of his life. Not only did he stop living with his sons but I was offering no guarantees of anything. I wanted him to leave because it was what was right for him. I’d discuss a future together once he’d lived his new reality. Still, I was unbelievably happy. Although I was about to leave the country, I felt validated. Sometimes they do leave their wives.

I cooked for him. We had the run of the B&B and decided not to go out. I cooked meatballs at a professional range oven and chattered away; trying to make up for meeting him online, for unwittingly making him fall for me and for inadvertently turning his life upside down. A big challenge for a miniskirt and a bowl of pasta. It was a bittersweet trip but it was enough. We built foundations on sandy beaches and a game of Connect 4 but it was something. Finally there was something real.

I knew we were returning to roughly the same area when my mum booked a week in a country house for my brothers and I but we have literally been retracing our steps. I had largely forgotten the last Wales trip since upon my subsequent return from the Far East we started laying better foundations so it has been strange to be feeling what I can only describe as ghosts of a relationship that never was.

You see, that first break nevertheless felt a little sordid. I felt hidden away like a dirty secret. Just because we were finally officially single (to this day I don’t really believe you can be truly separated if you still live together), it didn’t deny that we weren’t when we met. We each knew that this was something special and as such we needed to do things right; I am nobody’s mistress (I am far too egocentric).

In Tenby we wandered, lost. I remember standing and looking at a half demolished building and a strange melancholy settling over us both. Returning this week I bought a coffee table for our living room and noticed how pretty the town is. I see how scared and uncertain I was by comparison with my confidence of today. Then I wondered whether I even knew the man I was with or whether I was simply projecting my wants onto him. Today we made the same joke (my brother: “that was a joke”) simultaneously.

I suppose I’ve come full circle. It has taken my return to appreciate what has changed. It was another six months before I would move to Gloucester but since then we’ve not just got engaged and bought a house together but I’ve become a stepmother (my eldest stepson referring to me as such for the first time this month). The children are the key. Last time they were the elephants in the room that I couldn’t appreciate my lack of noticing. This time they are the centre point of my thoughts and I can only now appreciate how different the lives of my fiancé and mine were.

And I thought I was just coming to look at Castles!

* Subtitle kindly provided by the beautiful Rachel Brislen





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