‘Right relationship, wrong time’: What I've learned by rekindling an old romance in midlife

·6-min read
Benifer are together again and Kate Mulvey is backing them all the way - MEGA/GC Images
Benifer are together again and Kate Mulvey is backing them all the way - MEGA/GC Images

So it's official – Jen and Ben are back on. Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have rekindled their love affair after they broke off their engagement over 20 years ago. The Hollywood couple have even made it “instagram official” with a photograph of them smooching on a luxury yacht in St Tropez. “This is forever,” Jennifer cooed, and I for one am with them all the way.

You see I too, at the ripe old age of 57, am rekindling the romance I broke off to Domenico, the man I met when we were both in our 20s.

At first glance it may seem more like a Mills and Boon novelette than gritty real life and I’ve already been told I’m “chasing lost youth” and “it’s just a midlife crisis”. Actually no. Re-romancing in midlife is perfectly logical.

Jennifer is reported to have said “maybe it was the wrong time, right relationship” and I couldn’t agree more. That's the thing about liaisons that rekindle in midlife: they have the benefit not only of hindsight but also of maturity.

When I met Domenico in 1990, we were both young and headstrong. We sparked from the first time we set eyes on each other at a friend’s beach party in Italy and he asked me for my number. We were inseparable. But, after a year, the long distance relationship started to feel oppressive – the romance of all those flights back and forth to Sicily where he lived wore thin.

Then at a friend's wedding, Domenico said why didn’t we just tie the knot and be done with it. He could tell by my crestfallen face that I wasn’t thinking anything along those lines. I loved him, I just wasn’t ready for marriage.

It went downhill after that. The cuddles and romance morphed into evenings spent in silence, while everything about the other started to grate. He sulked, I shouted.

In the end, the constant arguing became too much. One morning, as I packed my bags for London, we knew I wouldn’t be coming back.

So why, as a middle-aged woman, do I want to embark down love’s memory lane? Do I want to go through that heartache again?

The truth is, I never forgot Domenico. When mutual friends told me he had got married years ago, I was surprised at how upset I felt. Maybe in the back of my mind I thought we would get back together again.

Kate and Domenico
Kate and Domenico

So in April last year, when he pinged me a message on Facebook – “Ti riccordi di me, bella?” (do you remember me, beautiful?) – my heart missed a beat. We started chatting on the phone. He told me he was divorced with a son and a daughter. I commiserate, but inwardly I was whooping with joy.

At first I put my feelings – my impulse to press the ex button – down to the loneliness of lockdown. But something propelled me back to Domenico and soon we were chatting for hours about the lost years.

I told him I never had children. How I regretted it, but at least I didn’t have to get up at dawn to cheer them on on a freezing rugby pitch.

He could tell I was covering up my upset and consoled me, telling me how I would have been a great mother. I could feel his deep warm voice enveloping me and, for the first time in years, felt the comfortable embrace of support.

It felt so much better than when we were younger. It was like the thrill of a new romance with familiarity and warmth sprinkled on top

This is the thing. Unlike relationships which have reached their end game or slipped imperceptibly into indifference, young loves haven’t had the chance to decay. It is as if they have been preserved in aspic and return to us – albeit rounder in girth – as older versions of themselves, without having to deal with the in-between bits. All those irritating mannerisms; slurping good wine, or that noise they make when they eat.

We’ve spoken about where we went wrong, but I am more keen to learn new things about him. How he misses his children and the way his face lights up whenever he talks about them. Not to mention his newfound love for Netflix thrillers and fancy beers.

I certainly never expected anything like this in my 50s. It feels great and wonderfully peaceful.

We have yet to meet. Even though we have face-timed each other and sent recent photographs, nothing compares to meeting an old flame in the flesh. It will be exciting and hugely nerve-wracking. He has a feeling of me based on how I was back then. At 57 my body has changed – I may be slim, but everything is heading south. I find myself ridden with doubt. But then he is older too and probably in a similar frame of mind.

Will we fare better this time? The middle-aged me has learnt to step back should a tension arise; I have realised that things mustn’t always veer towards the satisfaction of the self. He has learnt to be tolerant and a bit more aware of my needs. He knows not to call me in the evening if I have migraine and not to expect coherent sentences on Zoom before I have drunk my morning coffee.

As I await our re-meeting in person, I’m struck that re-romancing an old flame is actually quite easy. There is a shared landscape to revisit and build upon. But on the other hand, I know we can’t start where we left off. This is a new relationship, albeit with someone I’ve loved before. It’s time to build fresh memories and emotions.

The key, of course, is that we don’t fall back into those negative patterns of old. I know I need to dial down the neurosis and he has promised not to make me suffer his three-day sulks.

We’re determined to make it work. As soon as the quarantine restrictions ease in Italy, we’re going to meet in person and I can’t wait. Only time will tell if our history together will prove to be a hindrance or a help. I am quietly hopeful. Perhaps this time, we’ll make it all the way to the altar.

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