I know it sounds like a cliche, but I mean it. If I remind you of the witty ‘Sex and the City’ spinster stereotype, it’s because I’ve become rather skillful at carving the crap off the truth. At 35, after two marriages and having met more time wasters than I care to acknowledge, I think I qualify to give some advice. Men are not princes – they are men. Prone to mistake and every inch of them will not be perfect, so if you’re anywhere between teenage and middle-age and your guy looks too good to be true, then he probably isn’t.

Listening to your intuition is a good way to start. Even in sweet-talk there are hints of what men want. Others hide them, more insidiously, in intelligent conversation. If you look for clues in how men treat you, you’ll get a real idea of where you stand. And if you’re not in a good position at the start then it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be. Men give the crown to their queen, they don’t make a real queen sweat for it. Getting to the top of their ego will be like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, only you’ll be too tired to enjoy the view.

Men don’t fool us, ladies; we fool ourselves.

It’s very simple. Follow the rules. If a guy is taking his time with you, cross him off the list. He’ll always come back if he’s serious – but they often aren’t. A guy who really wants you won’t risk you being snapped up by someone else, unless they get a kick out of keeping women on their toes or are incredibly arrogant – and you don’t want any of that.

Let’s get this straight. Men are not shy when they REALLY want a woman. Men fight wars and play big games. If he treats you like a frog, then you are NOT his princess.

Ask yourself these questions:

Do they ask for your opinion?

Do they care about what you think?

Do they share emotion with you?

If all they do is tell you how attractive you are, you are as much fool’s gold to him as he is to you.

In their behavior there is always the CLUE. And trust me, it’s a BIG ONE.

This is a photo from my first wedding. I was just 24 and thought I could wear green and get away with it. I didn’t feel like the typical bride and I’ve always hated convention. It makes me smile because the photo is blurry – unlike my memory of the day. My memories of the day and everything that followed are still vivid.photo-wedding

My marriage ended just a year later, and I thought it was the end of my life. I would lie to say that it was a truly horrible year – after all, the evil lies in the fact that bad things are not ALL bad. There were good things, like trips to the cinema and holidays and laughter. And bad things, like an abortion and another woman.

What I want to share with all those young girls out there looking for love is the ugly break.

Because that’s what it was – nothing like the amicable separation I fooled myself with. It was ugly and vicious and unfair and heartbreaking. But the worst of it is that I lived for far too long thinking that I deserved it.

It’s funny how clear they are, the memories. To this day I can’t listen to the rustle of the waves without feeling nauseous. I remember sitting on a beach with no idea of what to do or where to go. Divorce was an ominous thought. He had promised me eternal happiness and a good life and another baby – in the place of the one he begged me to abort.

I know we all get the ‘sack’ at some point. Some are dumped on trains and buses, at home or in parks or more commonly at parties. I was dumped on a beach in Costa Brava, in the bright July sunlight, a day after my birthday.

My birthday was as sweet as it should be for any young woman – with flowers and coffee in bed and a gift of gold and sapphires under my pillow. And yet the next day it was all over – all the niceness just meant to make the blow harder, like the cigarette one smokes before a firing squad. Not only a goodbye, but complete destruction.

He timed it well. The break came right before a huge family event, in a culture where, ten years ago, the stigma of divorce was still strong in our middle-class background. In fact, we were meant to fly back home. Only that I flew alone.

And that wasn’t the end of everything. Over the next few days, my credit cards were canceled. My flat mates, whom I’d been close to, started asking when I’m moving out. The house contract was in my ex’s name. I felt cornered, humiliated and homeless. With no family, friends of my own, savings or a stable job, I had no choice but to go back to my parents and live comfortably in a dull town ever after.

Only I didn’t. I stayed. I don’t know what I was trying to prove. Maybe the fighter in me was protesting to the unfairness of it all. Or maybe I made the decision in a moment of insanity, against all odds and logical reasoning.

So I found a job. I made friends. And I wrote books.

The divorce papers were the last blow. The things written there utterly heartbreaking. Just ‘lawyers talk,’ he said, to get things moving quickly. I don’t know what should be more insulting – that he served me such an obvious lie or that I believed it.

I kept those papers. Not because I wanted to – but they’re something I have to show for the rest of my life. Looking at them is staring into the depths of a horrible ¬†water. Almost mesmerizing, like watching something hideous unfold before you. Their purpose is to remind me what I mustn’t forget.

I suppose I should feel lucky that I kept some luxuries – like I said, neither divorce nor marriage are all bad. But since I received no compensation, it would be only right that I keep the nice pans and the flashy Prada phone.

It’s somehow astonishing that the girl who wept over losing the comfort of a tiny shared flat in a not-so-nice part of London now owns her own in affluent West London. Even better, she shares it with a man who’s never been to Neasden.

What you must remember in your dark time is that you aren’t the dirt others throw at you. You have to dream BIG, and you have to play BIG. Modesty is rewarded in fairy tales, but life is completely different. Too many princes who’ve got the croak, for one. ¬†And it’s not always about fair play.

Life doesn’t always give you what you want, but it gives you what you need. Embrace change, because it might be the only way that you’ll meet someone wonderful. When you let go of your expectations you’ll discover the joy of following life on its terms. Why walk in circles when life plants you exactly where you need to be?

When I met my now husband, our relationship developed into something far more meaningful than I’d ever experienced. Nothing like the first marriage that lacked the complexity and depth of true love. Like scuba diving after learning to swim in a pool. It takes courage to plunge into the depths of love, knowing that you might never emerge.

Without sounding too pompous, it’s really nice wearing real gold after having fake gold taken from you. My engagement ring is more expensive than I’d dreamed. But the true gem is the man who held the box down on one knee on a blustery February afternoon in Paris.

Four years before, I was wondering how can LOVE ever find me in all that hate. Then suddenly time whooshed forwards and I was in Hatton Garden sitting on a velvet stool at one of the finest jewelers in London. And I’m sharing this to show you that life can be that perfectly amazing. Don’t give up on it. Don’t ever think it won’t get better.

Sometimes, to grow, to change, to heal, to start again, all we need is LOVE.




Gabriela Harding