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Do You Ever Really Get Over A First Love?

A part of me still holds on to the fantasy that maybe, just maybe, he was the one that got away.

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illustration of lady and kids looking at couple ahead of them by abbey lossing
Abbey Lossing
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I met Paul in a London pub while watching the 1998 World Cup. As tensions rose so did our mutual attraction, and although England would ultimately lose to penalties, I’d met the love of my life. Within a week of dating I knew Paul was the one and that we would marry and have a family together. Our first date never ended, and three months later I moved into his Hammersmith apartment.

Prior to meeting Paul I wasn’t all that interested in getting married, and as a child of divorces (yes, plural) I most certainly did not want children. Growing up with a single mother and an unfaithful father meant we went without a lot, and I had no plans for a repeat scenario. But Paul insisted that he would never leave me, never hurt me and always adore me. And adore me he did.

A week after I moved in Paul proposed. And I accepted.

We would regularly take sick days from our respective jobs if the other had a day off. If we could have, we would have spent every second of every day together. Paul would finish his shift as a junior chef and wait while I polished silverware and closed out my tables so that we could ride home together. Friendships fell to the wayside, but we didn’t care — we had each other and that’s all we thought we needed.

We wed in late 2000 with a simple ceremony in the presence of only our closest family and a spatter of friends. On his insistence I took his last name: “You have three brothers, of course you’ll take my name,” he said, and I went off the pill. I was happier than I’d ever been, but on more than one occasion a friend or family member had questioned my husband’s controlling. I laughed off their preposterous remarks and doted on my love. Then I became pregnant, we were offered our own restaurant, and I received a book deal.

As I struggled with severe morning sickness and baby brain, I put my writing career on hold to help make my husband’s restaurant dream a reality. Then I started to notice some cracks. I caught Paul in a few lies — ones that he expected me to enforce, that were mostly related to work — but soon he was lying to me. As I nursed our premature baby, pumping and bottle-feeding in an endless cycle, he got overly friendly with a waitress and I insisted we get counseling.

By this stage Paul was irritable and resentful. He stopped answering his phone when I tried his number at 3 a.m., 4 a.m., 5 a.m. When he was home he’d spend hours scrolling internet porn. Six months later I became pregnant with our second child and things seemed to get back on track, until I caught Paul trying to instigate an affair with a stripper. I packed his bag, took it to the restaurant and threw it into the kitchen where he was finishing dinner service.

At our 20-week scan the doctors noticed an abnormality: a potentially life-threatening condition that meant our child would need immediate surgery if he made it to full term. I was allocated a grief counselor, but instead of discussing my unborn child’s condition we discussed my marriage. She diagnosed my husband as a successful sociopath — someone skilled at hiding their behavior behind a wall of charm — with narcissistic qualities, and warned that I did not want to raise my children thinking that the way their father treated me is how you should treat women.

Eighteen weeks later I gave birth to a healthy baby boy and let my husband come home. I was too tired to fight it, and we settled into some sort of normality. But the cracks remained — as did the lying and the porn. Somehow, I managed to overlook it. Then I caught him in a full-blown affair. Our children were 4 and 2. We were trying for a third. I threw him out again, this time for good.

It has been 11 years since I left Paul, and 10 since he married his mistress and started a new family. I’ve dated some, and no one has ever come close to how I felt about Paul. No one has looked at me the same way or made me feel weak at the knees the way he did. My confidence is shot and my trust issues have trust issues; however, I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever get over Paul. I loathe him more than I ever loved him, but he was once my entire world. I know that he was wrong for me in so many ways, although a part of me still holds on to the fantasy that maybe, just maybe, he was the one that got away.