On my thirty-second birthday, as I sat at my mother’s dining room table in front of a large cake, thirty two candles threatening to ignite my beard should I lean too far forward, I realised that the only ambition I had left in life – the only dream I hadn’t given up on – was to be married.
Or at least in some sort of steady, loving relationship.
A long term partnership with someone whose ying was a close match to my less than melodic yang.
But even this, this last naive expectation of life, was looking increasingly unlikely. Every candle on that cake was some sort of burning epitaph to just how utterly rubbish I was when it came to affairs of the heart.
There had been relationships in the past – of course there had – but I’d kind of ‘fallen into them’, by accident. And after the ladies in question had tried, and failed, to mould me into the kind of man they actually wanted, those relationships had withered and died. There hadn’t been an ‘accidental relationship’ for a while. Colleagues no longer described me as an eligible bachelor. Some had started to question my sexuality.
So as my family launched into a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ I decided there and then that the prospect of being single for the rest of my days was unacceptable.
Something had to be done.
* * *
Around that time there was a TV show called ‘Would Like to Meet’ where a team of experts would take some hapless individual and turn them into a heartthrob or a man-magnet. It very quickly became my favourite TV show. I’d watch it avidly from one week to the next hoping to pick up some tips. And the conclusion I came to was that I too could do with a similar makeover – albeit without the entire viewing nation of the United Kingdom looking on.
So over the next few weeks I tracked down Image Consultants, and contacted one. Back then, Image Consultants mainly worked for corporations, re-styling senior corporate executives who might otherwise look less than sharp in the boardroom, but I had surprisingly little problem persuading my consultant of choice to broaden the scope of her client base to include one sad and lonely thirty-something guy. She took one look at me, threw away every item of clothing I’d acquired in the previous decade, and in an afternoon gave me some much needed va-va-voom, in the wardrobe department.
And once I’d been completely re-styled, I looked around for a flirt coach.
These days, you can barely move for self-styled relationship experts and flirt coaches but back in 2003 I could find just one. And she ran courses.
I took several hundred pounds from my savings, and booked myself on a ‘flirting weekend’. Nervously, I took my place in the front row, and when instructed I turned and introduced myself to the stunning blonde sitting next to me.
“I’m Peter,” I said.
“I’m Kate,” said the blonde.
Then she smiled.
And I was smitten.
The course wasn’t that much of a success, in that it didn’t teach me how to flirt. Not that it mattered. My strategy had worked, somewhat differently but infinitely better than I’d hoped. On the Monday evening Kate and I had our first date. By the Tuesday I’d officially found myself a girlfriend. A few months later I found myself on one knee. And a year to the day after we’d first met, I found myself married.
And when she died in my arms just two years later, I was heart-broken.
* * *
People rarely ask me how Kate died. It’s just not the sort of question they feel comfortable asking. Most assume she must have had cancer – that we’d have had some warning. We didn’t.
I’ve learnt since that sudden deaths like Kate’s (a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage) are surprisingly common. Kate had a weak part in her brain, probably since birth. It could have happened at any moment. It was almost inevitable.
I learnt too that after the shock comes the guilt. Every cross word, every nasty thought, every lie – they all come back to haunt you. And amongst the demons that were queuing up to torment me was the realisation that I still wasn’t happy, and maybe I never had been. There had been happy moments, of course. Quite a lot of moments. Most of them in the previous three years, and most of them down to Kate, but they were moments none the less. And I wanted to be happy all the time. Not just occasionally. Not just for a moment.
Something had to be done.
* * *
And so I decided to tackle the problem in the only way I knew how: by making lists, and coming up with a strategy.
“So what,” people ask, “is in this… ‘happiness strategy’?”
I tell about my ‘Now List’, my ‘Wish List’, how I set myself yearly goals, and how I make sure I actually achieve them.
I tell them how I’ve taken back control of my life, decided how I want it to be, pointed it in that direction, and given it a kick up the backside.
I tell them how I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had. Smiling more than I ever did. How there’s love in my life again. How I think Kate would be proud of me. And that I can finally say, I’m happy.
PETER JONES started professional life as a particularly rubbish graphic designer, followed by a stint as a mediocre petrol pump attendant. After that he got embroiled in the murky world of credit card banking where he developed ‘fix-it-man’ superpowers.
Now, Peter spends his days – most of them, anyway – writing. He is the author of three and a half popular self-help books on the subjects of happiness, staying slim and dating. If you’re overweight, lonely, or unhappy – he’s your guy.
Find out more about Peter Jones, his books, speaking engagements & workshops, at peterjonesauthor.com
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SONIA MARSH SAYS: Peter, When I read your story, I saw a movie. It captures all the emotions that are part of being human, and at the same time, ends on a positive note. I am so glad you shared your amazing story, and can show others how you overcame the loss of Kate.
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