“But he’s such nice bloke!” everyone protested.
And they were right.
Colin, father of my son, Jamie, was a lovely man, a wonderful friend and a great dad. He still is.
Yet much as I appreciated Colin, I was increasingly unhappy in our relationship. We just didn’t meet on all levels and a vital part of me remained unexpressed and unfulfilled.
But how could I justify wanting to break up with this ‘good man’? Surely it wasn’t worth wrecking a family over?
Life changing miracle
Six years before, Jamie’s conception was a total (and somewhat miraculous!) surprise to us.
Colin and I’d had an easy going relationship for a few years, but by the time the pregnancy test announced its astonishing news, we were edging towards going our separate ways.
Despite the shock, and the complete life change that it implied, we each found ourselves inexplicably delighted about the new life insisting its way into our world.
We were both ordained Buddhists, with overlapping but independent lives as part of a modern Buddhist community in London. As such, we lived and worked in neighbouring single-sex community houses and co-op businesses.
With the prospect of our impending arrival, however, everything changed. Colin dropped plans to move to Amsterdam and I let go of an idea to relocate to Edinburgh. It was an easy mutual decision to stay in London and find a place to live together and bring up our child.
And so we became a family unit. The first couple of years were occupied by establishing a home, changing working arrangements, and adapting to the whole magical adventure of being parents. We were thrilled and stretched by our new lifestyle and adored our wonderful baby boy.
Colin and I got on well, though we were rather like two single parents sharing one home. One of us was always working or leading Buddhist activities whilst the other took care of Jamie.
Certainly we loved each other and were good friends – considerate, co-operative and communicative – but we were not IN love. What little passion we shared before Jamie was born had now dwindled to nothing.
This niggled me more than Colin, a deeply contened soul who didn’t really mind, but it was becoming more and more painful to me. I was only in my early 30s and it felt like part of me was already dying. We did talk about it and had a go at having ‘date nights’ together, but the spark just wasn’t there.
When Jamie was a toddler, I tried to fill myself by taking on a challenging new Buddhist business project. It was consuming, successful and great fun, but it didn’t hit the increasingly big and unsatisfied ‘love spot’.
Once upon a time…
Aged 33, I was asking myself “Is this it? Will I never share my life with a true love who lights up my heart, mind, body and soul?”
What had happened to the wild, free, passionate young woman that I used to be? At university I was firing on all cylinders. I loved my psychology studies, had stimulating friends and sucked up every scrap of life experience. I practised yoga and karate, worked out in the gym and went scuba diving at weekends.
Vividly in love, my boyfriend and I rode around on motorbikes, or got out of our heads and wowed ourselves listening to music. Most of all we relished our time alone, discovering and exploring the delights of intimacy for the first time in our young lives.
Dumbing it down
But from the age of 20, things changed. In the aftermath of my father’s recent death, I found myself compelled to break up from my boyfriend and move away from my family home. After a couple of months of rampant drinking and socialising, I became disillusioned, discovered meditation and dived into a very different life.
After graduation, I moved to London to train for Buddhist ordination. This concentrated my attention on so-called ‘higher spiritual things’ and without realising it, I gradually became cut off from my earthiness, passion and physical vitality.
And although I was never convinced by the teaching, I let myself be subdued by the Buddhist Order’s dismissive view of romantic love. We were encouraged to relegate coupling and having families in our priorities, so a low key relationship with a pleasant bloke like Colin was all I allowed myself to want.
Then, just as I turned 34, something happened.
A friend introduced me to the liberating dance meditation practice, 5 Rhythms. The first time I found myself moving at a class, huge waves of ecstatic joy and release flooded through my body. I was waking up a part of myself that had been asleep for years.
It wasn’t long before I had thrown myself into regular 5 Rhythms practice, and boy oh boy, look out now!
Within 6 months, I’d shed the two stones of excess weight I’d been carrying since I’d become a mum. As this comforting, but numbing layer of protection melted away, the real ‘me’ re-emerged and I became alive to my whole self again.
I could no longer deny my desire to have a ‘proper’ relationship again. Before long, I said to Colin that I thought it was only a matter of time before I met someone else. And I did.
Sebastian was a smouldering Spanish guy from the 5 Rhythms class. We found ourselves drawn together in dance and then afterwards in the bar. A week or two later, we arranged to meet at a dance party and connected with a kiss.
And so began the most furiously (and I use that word decidedly) intense relationship I’ve ever experienced. A torrent of passion erupted through me – a decade’s worth of repressed energy expressing itself all in one go.
Both men knew about each other as I kept everything sensitively honest. Sebastian was understanding, and Colin and I agreed that we’d continue living as a family while I explored having a boyfriend ‘on the side’.
It wasn’t long before that just didn’t feel right anymore. As synchronicity would have it, we were moved into a three bed house while some repair work was done on our home, so at least Colin and I now had our own bedrooms. But when it was time to return, I just couldn’t fit myself back into that old mould.
Prompted by me, we decided to separate, made much easier by the availability of a small flat just four doors away.
Colin moved into the flat and Jamie and I back to the bigger maisonette. Jamie could stay with Colin a couple of nights a week, and otherwise, run freely between homes via our back gardens. Apart from living under two roofs, it seemed nothing would be much different as we continued to co-parent between us.
Although the practical arrangements were uncommonly smooth and Colin and I continued to be extremely calm with each other, the actual separation was a lot harder than anticipated.
Firstly, and mostly, it was agonising breaking up Jamie’s secure family unit. It just felt wrong at an instinctual, maternal level. The anguish I felt one bedtime as Jamie sobbed “I want my daddy” was almost too much to bear. Grief and anguish seared through me. Was this too much of a price to pay?
Most of my friends and family were shocked and upset at the news of our split. They posed the question that I’d been asking myself for years – couldn’t I just sacrifice my personal happiness for the sake of keeping our family together? Afterall, Colin and I weren’t actually falling out. Their understandable concern hit a nerve of doubt, but it did make me realise I was long past that reasoning now, even if I wasn’t 100% sure.
Within a month of separation, the emotional impact started to catch up with me. First of all, I hurt my back which laid me up for a few weeks. This meant I had to drop out of another new business I’d just taken on. And so I found myself to be a broke, unemployed, single parent in emotional turmoil.
Cleaning up the mess
After all the moves and changes I felt exhausted, disorientated and insecure. I missed Colin’s companionship and my relationship with Sebastian took a different turn now that I was a properly available. It became apparent that this highly charged relationship was severely limited.
Sebastian was nowhere near capable of partnering me in the ways that Colin had. The ensuing fights were just as furious as our loving, and my hysterical ferocity shocked me. I really had taken the lid off of my raw emotions in recent months and there was much to be understood and integrated.
Fortunately, I had some tools at my disposal – meditation, 5 rhythms and psychosynthesis counselling. I also had my amazing friends and family standing by, including Colin who proved once again what a decent guy he is.
Knowing ‘the only way out is through’, I dived deeply into my inner world and embarked upon a healing journey. The grief was immense – perhaps catching up with a lifetime of loss and separation – and many a day I sat before my meditation altar bawling my eyes out.
In one meditation, I ‘saw’ the grief and loss being experienced by millions of ordinary people throughout the world every day just like me. The immensity of this threatened to tear me apart, but I couldn’t hold it at bay. My heart and soul shattered and was replaced by the most exquisite, compassionate solidarity with every single living being in the universe. It was one of those moments that changed me forever.
Finding myself again
Somehow, that moment helped me turn a corner, and oh so slowly, I began to reconstruct.
I let go of trying to make a partner out of Sebastian, and after a failed job interview, of getting my working life back together just yet. If I was honest, I was still exhausted and didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do next. Crucially, I gave myself permission to stop, and not know, and just BE for a while.
There was only one thing I felt capable of doing apart from looking after Jamie, and that was volunteering to teach a lunchtime meditation class at the Buddhist Centre one day a week. That simple oasis of gentle giving proved to be my salvation. Whilst dwelling there, I rebuilt my self esteem and innocently sowed the seeds of the beautiful, fruitful life that was to follow.
A vision takes shape
It took me about a year to figure out what next. I didn’t push it, just stayed with what felt okay, even if I didn’t understand why. As well as the meditation class, I eventually did some consultancy work with a colleague’s community development agency a day or two a week. I carried on dancing and hung looser to my Buddhist commitments. That was plenty.
During that time, the inspiration to move to Devon started to murmur within me. I’d recently visited Totnes to attend 5 Rhythms workshops, then one of my closest friends had moved there. I was captivated by this ‘alternative capital of the UK’ and all the fascinating things that were going on. And the countryside was simply stunning. What a great place for Jamie to grow up.
Colin and I once discovered that there was one place in whole of the UK where we’d both be happy to live – the west country.
This was a vital part of the equation now, as there was no way I wanted to put distance between Jamie and his beloved, hands-on, doting dad. And so when Colin indicated that he was willing to move to Devon too, it was game on.
And so we moved to Devon, Colin and I living near each other and continuing to co-parent Jamie between us. The story of this time is told in another chapter, suffice to say here, the first year was demanding, emotional and unsettling, especially for Jamie, but it was also an exhilarating adventure, and obviously the right move.
A whole new life has been created here with amazing new friends and local family (my sister and Colin’s mum and dad all moved here too), the fulfilment of my vocation with the founding of Thrivecraft, and most of all, meeting a life partner beyond my wildest dreams – one fabulous Cornishman, Mr Patrick James Edgecombe.
As I’m writing this, Pat, now my husband of 10 years – timeless soul mate, compelling true love and more than ideal match – is washing the supper dishes in our kitchen. Jamie, aged 19, is upstairs in his room chilling out after college before his driving lesson tomorrow.
I’ve just been texting Colin who lives nearby with his elderly mum (now widowed), checking that its okay to share our story in this article. Colin hasn’t had another partner since we split, remaining content with work, friends, and interests. As well as looking after his mum, he continues to be a fantastic dad to Jamie and a good friend to me. We’ll all be together on Christmas day as usual – Pat, Jamie and I, Colin and his mum, Pat’s mum and sister.
The Truth Will Free You
So, in answer to myself and all my concerned friends and family who once wondered if splitting up with Colin was worth ‘wrecking a family’ for – it has proved to be a great big “YES!” The family has not been wrecked, it’s just that part of it has been dismantled so that a bigger, better family could be reconstructed on stronger, truer foundations.
It took me a few years of periodic, low-level guilt to be absolutely convinced of that. But it was finally dispersed a year or so after moving to Devon when Colin and I had a big heart to heart. Enough time had gone by for us to be able to really see that our split had been the right thing, not just for us but for Jamie too.
Okay, we didn’t manage to stay together in one household, but we have taught Jamie the greater value of honesty, courage and truth in relationships. Each of us has become more ourselves – more expressive, more creative, more fulfilled – and Jamie now has the benefit of both his dad, his step dad and all his extended family. Plus, crucially, a mum that is alive to herself on all levels.
It is said that we teach more to our kids by example than by any other means. If my choices and actions have helped instil in Jamie the permission to be fully himself, follow his heart and not to compromise in what he wants from life, then I consider my job as a parent well done . The stakes are sometimes high, but the truth will set you free. We can always rely on that.
Maggie Kay, the Inner Wisdom Coach and founder of Thrivecraft, helps you awaken your own inner wisdom so that you can answer questions, solve problems and make the best decisions in your life, relationships and business.
High Stakes is an extract from my autobiography in progress – ‘Guided by Love’ by Maggie Kay.