As I signed the Valentine to my husband I thought of how differently things could have turned out for us.
It still amazes me even after nine years of marriage that we made it down the aisle at all, but they say the path of true love never runs smooth.
I first laid eyes on my husband Steven when I was 15 years old. It was November 1981.
I saw him standing across the crowded King’s Hall in Belfast, our eyes travelled up and down each other like search lights.
I felt a flip in my tummy and for the first time in my life I was smitten.
I turned to my friend and whispered: ‘‘He’s gorgeous!’’
‘‘I know the guy he’s with’’ she said as she glanced over, ‘‘come on’’, and with that she dragged me towards them. We were introduced, I said hello out of the side of my mouth whilst looking at the floor embarrassed.
For the next 10 years we were rarely apart.
It was the 80s, the decade fashion forgot.
He sported a Magnum P.I moustache and I managed to incorporate leg warmers into just about ever outfit I wore. We swayed to the strains of George Michael’s Careless Whisper.
In 1982 he asked me to marry him in a little boat house on the beach at Crawfordsburn, I was 16, he was 18.
I had to wear the diamond engagement ring he bought me on my other hand as my parents weren’t keen on how serious our relationship had become. They thought I was too young.
They knew our relationship was affecting my school work in a crucial year. I was about to sit my O Levels.
I had begun to get reports back from school with remarks like ‘lately Jackie’s head is in the clouds’ and ‘lacks concentration’.
We planned on running away. We didn’t!
At the age of 19, our relationship hit a bad patch. He was fed up with me never being able to make a commitment.
He wanted to get married, I didn’t. We broke up.
Six agonizing months later we were back together and he presented me with another engagement ring. Yet still I couldn’t make up my mind about a wedding.
Marriage seemed frightening! Then Steven was offered a job in the Seychelles, he wanted me to go with him.
By this time my mother was very ill with a lung disease and I had become her carer. After 10 years together, it was over. Steven went off to pursue his dream of working abroad and I stayed behind to care for my mother.
I never heard from him again, though every time I heard an 80s record my mind always ended up back there with him.
I never forgot my first love. No one ever evoked the same feelings that he did for me. I often wondered how life would have been had I taken another road and married Steven. I wished I had!
Letting him go was a mistake. If only we could rewind the choices we make in life and start again. I was never entirely happy without him.
Then 14 years after our break up I received a letter from him out of the blue.
He wrote that he’d never forgotten me, that our time together had been the happiest time of his life and he still loved me. He asked to see me.
I sobbed with joy yet I couldn’t possibly meet him! Years of being a carer to my mother who now had dementia had left me riddled with panic attacks and agoraphobic, I couldn’t even put the bin out without experiencing abject terror, he would never understand. He’d think I was a freak.
Luckily he wasn’t put off by my apparent disinterest and arrived at my door.
The feelings were still there; instantly we picked up where we’d left off.
Within the year we were engaged for the third time. I lost my mother and he was there to help me through my grief.
His love and belief in me also helped me overcome my agoraphobia.
Twenty-four years after meeting we finally walked down the aisle in 2005.
On our first wedding anniversary our son was born. I was forty, at last life began! Steven was my rock when my father developed Alzheimer’s in 2008, he helped me care for dad and it was his loving support that got me though my father’s recent death.
I shudder to think of what my life would have been like had Steven not had the courage to pen that fateful letter. We were lucky we were able to rewind the choices we made and try again.
Many of us still remember our first love with fondness and wonder what might have been.
Perhaps this Valentine’s Day your first love is still on your mind. Why let the fear of rejection put you off seeing if that love can live again? You may get a ‘nappy’ ending like hubby and me.
My advice is take a chance! That person might feel the same about you too.
If it‘s the real thing it‘s never too late. True love doesn’t have an expiry date.