My car crash love life (… and why I will never regret one single, wonderful minute of it)
Some say love at first sight is a romantic – and dangerous – myth.
That it is silly to fall head over heels for a stranger, reckless to give your heart to someone you know nothing about.
And yet, 33 years ago, in a newspaper office in Perth, I did just that. In fact, I fell in love without even seeing his face.
Blooming: Amanda Platell on her wedding day in 1984
It was 1979, I was a cadet journalist on the Perth Daily News and I walked into the newspaper office to be met by a row of journalists’ backs, all clad in suits and with their heads down, hard at work over manual typewriters.
Among them I spotted a young man with no jacket and scruffy blond hair.
He was singing as he worked and jigging a little bit. I walked up and stood behind him, listening to the song — the Beatles’ When I’m 64. I fell instantly, deeply, cart-wheelingly in love, without even seeing his deep blue eyes.
Well, I don’t still need him and I no longer feed him, but three decades on, part of me still loves Mark — and bitterly regrets our break-up. I was reminded of him this week as I read a study which revealed that people’s biggest regrets in life are not that they haven’t climbed Everest, or become millionaires, but about relationships — lost or unrequited love, failed or discarded affairs.
That certainly rang true for me. While I am immensely proud of my career, and am fortunate enough to have a wonderful family and close friends, I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes in love. Of course, some relationships have caused me more regret than others. Thoughts of Mark often creep into my mind, even after all these years.
Love was not enough: Amanda with second fiance Christopher, whom she never married
My sweetest recollection is waiting
for him on my verandah on a hot Perth summer night, wearing a white
cotton frock that billowed in the breeze and listening to Bruce
Springsteen’s Drive All Night — which is exactly what he was doing to
get home to see me.
regret That after three of the happiest years of my life, when he said
he ‘needed some space’ I didn’t give him any, didn’t trust that he loved
me as much as I did him, didn’t know then that real love could survive
such youthful angst — and instead flounced off in a huff.
Driven by pain, pride and revenge I quickly found another boyfriend, married on the rebound — and lived to regret that too.
My husband’s wanderlust — he had a lot of lusts I hadn’t counted on —
meant we abandoned our plans to settle in Sydney and raise a family and
instead had an adventure. We backpacked across the world and ended up in
London in July 1985, on the day of the Band Aid concert.
Little did I know then the only Band-Aids I’d need would be for my broken marriage. My husband taught me how careless a person can be of someone they purport to love and how utterly faithless. The warning signs were there just a week into our Indonesian honeymoon.
I’d been struck by the most ghastly Bali Belly and couldn’t even get out of bed. We were staying in some 2-a-night dive called the Bamboo Den when he plonked an empty bucket beside the bed. There was no running water or loo, no mobile phones and I couldn’t speak the language. He was fully dressed. I asked what he was doing and he said: ‘I’m off to have some fun. There’s no point in both of us having a bad day.’
Do I regret knowing them No. Do I regret loving them Never. And I have certainly learnt from my mistakes…
That gesture told me everything I needed to know about him and was a painful precursor to the reality of our marriage. In sickness and in health, the vows we’d made just weeks before, felt pretty empty, as all of them would prove to be. The last time we met, months after our divorce, he admitted he’d felt emasculated by my job. That was the first time he’d even said it was a problem. It certainly wasn’t when he was unemployed and I was paying all the bills.
‘I couldn’t stand living in your shadow,’ he said. ‘So try casting one of your own,’ I thought, and never again went out with a man who was so insecure. But along with regret has to come acceptance and a realisation that when you’re young — I was just 26 when I married — you do silly, impetuous things.
And even though I regret my marriage, a terrible thing to say, I gained a lot from it. Without my husband, I would never have left Australia and found the wonderful life I’ve had in the UK. For that I will be eternally grateful to him. And without him I would never have met Christopher, who was the second great love of my life — but also another big regret.
This time it wasn’t eyes meeting across a crowded newsroom, but across the deserted suburban street in South London where I lived after my divorce. He was the handsomest man I’d ever seen, standing in faded Levis and workman’s boots, covered in building dust. I thought he was one of the lads working on the house being renovated, he thought I was a secretary, as I always wore a suit and left promptly for work at 9.30am.
Hope for the future: Amanda still hasn't given up on meeting 'The One' despite her failed relationships
He was in fact a property developer and I was the deputy editor of the Today newspaper. I walked into my office on the day I saw him and told my friend: ‘I’ve just met him.’
‘Him who’ he asked.
‘What’s his name, who is he’
‘I don’t know, we’ve never even spoken.’
But I was right and we embarked upon a six-year love affair, got engaged — and should have lived happily ever after. Yet Christopher shared one thing with my ex-husband and probably most unmarried men in their early 30s — a fear of commitment. He also didn’t want to have kids, a real problem for me, as then I still thought I could.
I was thrilled when he finally asked me to marry him, after five years. He turned up at my office in London’s Docklands in the middle of the day, proposed and handed me a large oblong box.
‘How on earth am I going to get a ring that big on my finger’ I thought, secretly delighted. Opening the box I discovered a Rolex watch. ‘Who proposes with a bloody watch’ I thought. Yet instead of asking him to exchange it for a ring, I foolishly took it as a subliminal sign that he didn’t really want to marry me. And as the months went by with no mention of the actual wedding, I began to cool. Instead of turning to each other to work through it, we turned away from each other, until, finally, I left him.
After the break-up, Christopher sent me a fantasy photo album he had painstakingly composed of what our wedding would have been like. It included his adorable nieces as the bridesmaids (the pictures taken from a previous wedding); my father, giving away the bride; the ancient Yorkshire church we had visited and fallen instantly in love with; the house where we would have lived and then us, the happy couple.
That beautiful book became a veritable album of regrets, a lamentation for our lost future. It’s 20 years since we separated and now, both in our 50s, we know we missed our chance at happiness. If only I’d realised then that a watch could be as much of a commitment as a diamond ring, and if only I’d known that the big impediment of his not wanting children would have been inconsequential — as I couldn’t have them anyway. My life is littered with such ‘if onlys’.
Yet part of the absurdity of these regrets is that they imply our mistakes are a waste of time, and that unless a love affair lasts a lifetime it is a failure. All relationships are seen through the prism of the fairytale ending — which, as most of us know, is a rarity.
I may regret how my relationships ended, but I wouldn’t have missed a single moment of the years I spent with the great loves of my life. Do I regret knowing them No. Do I regret loving them Never. And I have certainly learnt from my mistakes. From Mark I learnt the folly of false pride. From my husband that a man’s fidelity cannot be assumed and that men without a sense of their own self-worth make lousy husbands. From Christopher that diamonds aren’t a girl’s best friend, a loving man is.
All important things that I will remember when I meet the next love of my life. So — despite the broken hearts that these relationships have caused — I think that Edith Piaf got it right when she sang: ‘Non, je ne regrette rien.’