The Hard Stuff

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Hindsight is NOT  a wonderful thing, in my opinion. Sure, it’s 20:20. And yes, sometimes you can learn a lesson from someone else’s mistakes, which is always a win. But when it’s your own mistake, when it’s your life that you knocked royally off course; hindsight is a bitter and pointless pill to gag on swallow.
31st January 2008. At 7.30pm I walked out of the front door of our Victorian first floor maisonette in Southampton with an overnight bag and the keys to the car that Phil and I shared. 10 minutes previously, I had packed said bag, picked up the keys from the bowl by the fireplace and told Phil that I was leaving him. To say he was shocked is inaccurate. He was absolutely floored, visibly winded and utterly devastated. My decision was as unexpected by him as it was by me, I had given it next to no thought and taken no-ones thoughts and feelings into consideration. Not his, not those of my family whose doorstep I was soon to descend on with just the clothes on my back and a toothbrush, not our friends’ and most certainly not my own. Where then, had this life-altering decision come from? This need to vacate my life-a need so powerful I broke the heart of the man I loved with no regard for his well-being-came on very, very suddenly. So suddenly that I was massively ill-equipped to deal with it and so did what we humans have been doing since the dawn of time with great efficiency…I ran away.
There were many tiny moments of sadness and pain and difficulty in the run-up to January ’08. I say ‘tiny moments’ because in our life now Phil and I are facing huge, gaping chasms of impossibility and hurt and we are, in my opinion, facing them brilliantly, not to mention together. The times of hardship in 2007 are nothing compared to life’s challenges now, but at the time they were all consuming. My parents relationship was crumbling before my eyes and the eyes of my then VERY teenage brothers, the family home was like a WWII battlefield at the best of times. In the midst of this, Phil and I moved 60 miles away, to be nearer his work. I felt as though I was abandoning my family for a boy, and the guilt did not sit well. There was genuine homesickness, I missed my friends impossibly and arranging days and nights out around university and clinical experience and time with two sets of in-laws felt like trying to race sloths. In November ’07 I contracted pnuemonia, it was the first time I’d ever been truly ill and combining that with being away from my mum and my best friends was hellish. I was relying solely on Phil, and our relationship suffered. We were far from everyone we knew and loved, he had a new job and was working like a dog to prove himself, I was missing lectures and falling behind in my work, I needed him to cook and clean and work 50  hour weeks…it was a massively tense time. We thought we had made it through unscathed, Christmas and New Year passed without much fanfare, January began.
And a few days from the end of the first month of 2008, I became overwhelmingly tired. I burst into tears at the slightest provocation, stopped eating, went to bed at 7pm and barely spoke a word to Phil for 4 days. I had no idea what was wrong with me, I just knew that there was something.* On the fourth night, bone-achingly exhausted of being so sad, I decided that life as it was obviously wasn’t working. So I would remove myself from this scenario. Simple, no? I gave it exactly NO consideration, I pursued blindly the childish logic of, ‘this is broken. I’ll get a new one.’ But this wasn’t a Girl’s World toy, this was my life. And Phil’s life. Our life. And all I did, what my immature actions did, was break what was broken even more. Almost to the point of no return. But at the time it was my only option. I had tunnel vision.
We were apart for 6 months. In the first fortnight there were tearful conversations, there was frustrated shouting and one remote control thrown at a wall. There was begging and there were accusations, family got involved and friends dtood by, upset and bemused. February to May, for me, was wonderful. My friends and I lived in each others pockets, we went on holiday, celebrated my 21st birthday, we got a cat at home and my parents mellowed, albeit slightly. I kissed some boys. I can say with total honesty and abundant shame that I thought of Phil very rarely and when I did, it was ‘my ex-boyfriend’ that I thought of. I avoided sentimentality, wore my indifference as armour. I played down what had happened, assumed an air of maturity and superiority, I had ‘been through a break-up’, you know. I was fighting, and fighting hard, to be the person who knew what she was doing, the experienced and world-wise ‘heartbreaker’.
In June of ’08, I lost that fight. The weight of my decisions and the full force of what I had done to Phil and to myself hit me like a truck. For weeks I wrestled with the realisation that I was still in love with him, that I had never really not been in love with him. I lay awake at night horrified at the things I’d said, at the person I had been. Slowly, I resolved to make things better. I thought, I wrote lists, I asked my friends and my mum what they thought. I planned, I went on long walks and I readied myself to make a decision. Hindsight slapped me around the face ‘Why didn’t you think things through like this back then? Why didn’t you act like an adult back then?’ Screw you, hindsight. You’re not helping.
I had decided to call Phil and ask him to see me. I was waiting for my nerves to abate just enough for me to pick up the telephone. I was excited but I was realistic. He might have fallen out of love with me. He might hate me-god knows he’d have every right. He might-God forbid-have a girlfriend! I just needed a chance to tell him what I’d learnt, to tell him the things I should have told him 6 months previously. I was ready to beg for that chance, knowing full well that I didn’t deserve it.
As it happened, he rang me. He’d found a bracelet of mine wedged down the back of the sofa and wanted to know did I want it back? We laugh now, he knew that I would want the bracelet back and he knew that he could have put it in an envelope and posted it to me, but he still called to ask. I arranged to drive down to his new apartment the next day to pick it up. I arrived at 3.30pm and I never left.
We went for a long walk, talking non-stop. Both of us talking, not just me. I told him everything I’d needed so desperately for him to know, halfway through it transpired that I didn’t need to tell him, he already knew. In the weeks and months running up to our break-up, he’d sensed that I wasn’t happy. Before I even knew. He avoided the situation because he thought I was unhappy with him and he didn’t know what to do to make it better. Which made perfect sense, if I didn’t know-how in the world should he have done? We talked and talked and talked and when we stopped for dinner, it made perfect sense to have a glass of wine-there was a thrill in the air and I knew I wouldn’t be driving home that night.
I still loved him-I had never stopped. And he had never given up hope. In the 6 months we were apart we matured immeasurably as individuals. Which meant that when we reunited, we were a completely different couple. The basis of our relationship was the same-that initial attraction and the bond you have with the person you fall in love with never goes away, but we were different people. We were better suited to one another. We understood each other in a way we never had before and we realised and respected that it was all down to communication that we were lucky enough to be back in each other’s arms.
So, hindsight. Would I do anything differently? Of course. Knowing what I do now, I’d have tried to verbalise how I was feeling, I’d have asked Phil if he could help me. But would it have made a difference? It might have done. Would we have been the same people if we hadn’t separated? We might have been. We’ll never know and so we refuse to concern ourselves with with ‘What If’. We made it in the end, albeit with a detour. And we’re so much stronger for it. In your face, hindsight.
*This is where hindsight wins, damnit. If we’d known then that my hormones were wildly out of control, we might not have found ourselves in such dire straits! 
Categories: Family, Friends and Relationships, Life Experience
21 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted August 22, 2011 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Incredibly brave and brilliant post, Aisling. I understand you have enormous regrets about how your actions hurt your lovely guy, but I hope you realise the extent circumstance can make us ALL a bit crazy. Find it in your heart to forgive yourself, as well as accepting bus forgiveness.

    I'm prone to running away from things too…when stuff gets out of perspective it's hard to know whether you're being rash or simply saving yourself. Sam jokes that now we're married its too complicated for me to walk out…it certainly forces me to have a cooling off period I didn't have before, that's for sure.

    I am licking your face! Bravo for being gutsy enough to go back and put the pieces back together.


  2. Posted August 22, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Bus forgiveness is that very special brand of extra forgiving (FU predictive text!!!!)

  3. Posted August 22, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I second Penny, you are incredibly brave. It takes a lot of courage both to admit you were wrong and learn from that, and tell the world about it. I second Penny, too, on the fact we are all a bit crazy. And also, sometimes you have to do something really stupid in order to grow up and learn a valuable lesson. I am so incredibly glad that your lesson ended up with you marrying the love of your life.

    I also feel that things would be different if you hadn't done what you did. If you hadn't learnt how to communicate and process your feelings the way you did, you may not be able to cope as well as you are with what your relationship is facing now.

  4. Posted August 22, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I would type a longer response but I can hardly see for tears. Incredibly moving post Aisling. The lump in my throat tells me so x

  5. Mahj
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Erm wow Aisling, this is such an honest and beautifully written piece. Thank you for sharing what was obviously a difficult time for you – but with a happy ending. I loves happy endings I do!


  6. Posted August 22, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I can only agree with Penny, Crysta and Lucy. To write a post like that takes a lot of guts and can't have been easy. Thank you for being so open and honest – it's why I love AOW so much.

    And that photo of you both at the end? Beautiful. Here's to a lifetime of happiness and love for you and Phil. Cx

  7. Esme
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    All I can say is that I sure am glad that Phil called you about that bracelet! It really seems to me that you are just grateful for where those actions brought you and I hope that you are able to continue to build on that incredible bond you have during these hard times. Sending hugs x

  8. Posted August 22, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Clearly you were meant to be together. You and your husband are one of the most, if not THE, most gorgeous couples I have ever seen. xx

  9. Posted August 22, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    It's funny how sometimes you have to take a bit of a detour to get back to where you were in the first place, and to really appreciate it, but I guess that's life. This was incredibly moving, Aisling, thanks so much for sharing it with us.

  10. Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I am very, very proud to write with you, A. Monumental f-ups, and all.

  11. Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    So brave of you to write this. And I'm very happy you sorted things out x

  12. Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    As my Nana says, 'what's for you, won't go by you' and even though you had to break both your hearts to get where you are, those mended hearts are probably all the stronger for it.


  13. Fee
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I think we have all done things that we are massively not proud of but we're not all brave enough to put them out there in such an open and honest way – Aisling, I am so glad you got your happy ending!

  14. Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    A very well written post. I hope your current troubles clear up soon.

  15. Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink


    Brave, wise, lovely lady. I wish all your troubles would just bugger off.

  16. Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    There have definitely been a couple of times over the past 9 years where I've come close to driving the boy away because I was so unhappy with other none-relationship-based things (or was on the verge of cracking up and had to seek help). Sorry you had to go through the crap to come out the other end and hope all's OK atm.

  17. Posted August 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I feel like I've stepped into a story from a romantic film where everything always ends gloriously.

    I often stop by AOW and read but have never posted before *waves*. I felt compelled to reply to this.

    Beautiful words, beautiful story and I wish you and your Phil all the best of everything for your future.

    Rachel xx

  18. Posted August 22, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    It's such a shame that we have to go through the crap to appreciate the wonderful parts of life. Especially for you Aisling, here's hoping the fates take the troubles as read from now on. Thanks for such a beautifully written post. And here's hoping that bracelet is mounted on a red velvet crown jewels-esque plinth x

  19. Frankie
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Aisling,

    A similar thing happened to us. I got unhappy, we both got unhappy, and instead of seeing a way to fix it we abandoned ship. We were apart for 3 months (but constantly in touch during that time) and because of this time we KNEW we were meant to be together. And the next year we got married!

    It's so good to read your thoughts on your time apart – I look back on our blip with sadness and regret, but hubby always says it's the best thing that could have happened as made us stronger and ultimately very very happy.


  20. Posted August 22, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant post and I am so glad you are so happy now.
    Your writing is brilliant and I love reading it.
    Alex xx

  21. Posted August 30, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Gorgeous words for such an emotional journey.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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