“Earlier in my post-divorce life, I thought marriage would never happen again for me. Having exited a painful one, I had no desire to enter another. Why would anyone want to repeat a difficult experience? I felt that my heart would never be as trusting as it once was. I had lost my faith in marriage. I wasn’t sure it was the best custodian of love. And I still feared how the wife identity could sabotage me. I was content to sit to the side and let others have their turn at giving the institution a whirl.” – Sarah Hampson
In the first part of my interview with award-winning columnist and author Sarah Hampson, we chatted about the origins of her Generation Ex divorce column in The Globe and Mail and how she openly shared her personal experiences to write Happily Ever After Marriage: A Reinvention in Mid-Life.
The book’s final chapter ends with Sarah peering wistfully out an airplane window, pondering romantic love while thinking of those she has both loved and has yet to love. It’s a poignant moment, given the emotional journey she takes her readers on, but without a postscript, it does leave one wondering if she found love again.
As it turns out, about a month before the release of her book, Sarah met British-born, Toronto-based artist, designer and photographer Mark Raynes Roberts. But I’ll let her tell the rest of the story.
What events led up to meeting Mark?
I was in the final throes of writing the book in the early part of 2010. I’d revamped my career to become more financially secure and stable, going from freelance to being on staff at The Globe and Mail. And by then I had been on my own for almost nine years, with a couple of relationships and a few dating skirmishes here and there. But I’d been pretty much celibate for four years and was at the point that I wondered if I’d ever have sex again, let alone meet anyone and fall in love.
A very good friend of mine said, “I’ve been collaborating on a project with this British artist and I think you might enjoy meeting him.” I said, well okay, but not right now because I’m too busy with the book.
Weeks later, I was throwing a dinner party for someone I knew who was retiring and as I was putting together the guest list, realized that I needed to add single men. So my friend said, “Come on, just invite Mark. It’ll be fun. No obligation, just meet him.” So I said fine, fine, fine and I invited him to come.
What do you remember about your first meeting?
When Mark arrived at the door, this little voice in my head said, “Pay attention. He’s interesting.” And he was interesting, and also a very thoughtful, lovely human being. We had a few moments to chat, but because I was hosting and looking after guests, we didn’t get much chance for conversation. At one point during the party, my friends followed me into the kitchen and joked “Gee, do you want us all to leave?” They were so funny, the way they were giggling, but they could see the attraction was there.
The next day, Mark phoned to thank me and invited me to his place for dinner. I had to go out of town on business that week, but we made a date for the following weekend. Just before I left to go to his house, I took a look in the mirror and that little voice in my head said, “Your life is going to change.”
What made Mark different from the other men you’d dated?
I responded very much to his gentle humanity and I think I was just struck by his goodness. Previously, I had been hurt by the feeling that I’d given my life over to someone who didn’t treasure it enough to want to do the fair emotional thing with me. So I know I could never have married again if I couldn’t on some very deep level trust his goodness.
Mark and I got married almost two years after we met and we’re coming up to our fifth wedding anniversary in December. When we decided to get married, I said to my father, “If I think too much about it, I can think of a million reasons why I don’t feel ready to do this, but if I listen to my heart, this is the right thing to do.” And my father simply said, “Now is the time to follow your heart.”
Why did you decide to get married again and not just “shack up?”
I suppose it’s because we both believe in marriage. We wanted the institution of marriage because we both respect it and had been disappointed by it. I think part of it, too, was that I wanted it for my sons. I’m not saying I got married for the sake of my children, but I do think that I wanted to demonstrate to them that it’s not that I don’t believe in marriage, but sometimes you get married to the wrong person. And you can survive that. I think I wanted to prove that to myself too.
I remember telling myself that I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and not know what it’s really liked to be loved in a marriage. Of course, I was loved by my family growing up and I know that my children love me, but I remember envying people who had marriages with a calmness and a serenity about being together, of understanding each other really well. I remember feeling that I didn’t not want to know what that was like.
How is marriage different this time around?
Sometimes I say to Mark that one of the ways I know our marriage is so good is that there’s no double-think. I never have to analyze “Why is he saying that? Where’s he going? Why did he do that?” My first marriage was often like that and privately, I’d think there must have been something wrong with me. Double-think knocks you off your centre; it’s is like being in the middle of a knot trying to untangle the threads of it and never reaching the end. That’s one of the things that makes a marriage work; you just trust that the other person will do the right thing.
It’s not as though we don’t have little worries now and then, but I can say that after five years of marriage to Mark, I have never been happier. And it’s a calm, domestic happiness. Part of it may be the stage of life we are in. Being in our fifties, we have a different perspective of what we look for in a partner and how we define what makes us happy.
Do you have any dating advice to offer the newly-divorced?
One of the things that helped me most was being more self-aware. At times I felt as if I needed somebody else to anchor my life to make it better when what I actually needed was to take the time make things better for myself first.
After my divorce, I had an on-off relationship for 18 months that wasn’t so great. Looking back now, I can see that he was totally the wrong person for me, but at the time, part of me felt like I needed to be with someone in order to feel more secure. I remember thinking that I needed to take a step back from a relationship and start fixing what was not quite right in my own life. For me, that meant going from freelance to a salaried on-staff job that provided more financial security and helped me to rebuild. Once I did that, I felt more at ease with the whole dating thing.
Now that you have remarried, can we expect a sequel to Happily Ever After Married?
I don’t think there will be a follow-up, but you never know. There was a period in my life when writing the column and the book felt like it could be helpful to others and I didn’t mind using my personal experiences as a leaping-off point because the details were generic enough to resonate with a larger audience. It was about me and yet, it wasn’t about me, so that gave me the freedom to write about it. It’s funny, but now I have a sense of privacy and protectiveness about the happiness I’ve found. I’m not sure I want to mine my own experience again for a book, but as I said, you just never know.