Moving on from married life meant a whole lot more than just repairing my feelings – I had to learn a whole new set of DIY skills too.
The day I left the marital home a huge weight lifted off my shoulders – only for another one (the garden fence in my new house) to come crashing down. Two weeks later, the boiler gave up the ghost, the car developed an oil leak and the front door began resolutely refusing to shut.
It was a rude (and expensive) awakening to the realities of single life for the completely impractical woman I was back then. For 24 years, you see, I had been married to a man who ‘did things’. Under his capable hands, cars spluttered into life, hot water appeared where there had been none before and locks clicked seamlessly into place.
You hum it, I’ll play it
My role in the relationship was clear-cut. I was the person who broke things (three shower doors in my last house) and was despatched to B&Q to wander aimlessly through the aisles in search of whatever elusive part I’d been sent to find. I made encouraging noises while DIY projects were taking place, brewed endless cups of tea and listened smugly while friends lamented about their hopeless husbands.
I was incapable of doing things not because I am an airhead, but because for most of my adult life, I had simply never had to do them.
My role in the relationship was clear-cut. I was the person who broke things.
Even simple tasks like changing a light bulb conspired to defeat me in those difficult, early days. On one memorable occasion, I smashed the glass and got the bulb stuck in the light fitting. “How did you even do that?” said my teenage son, who’d been sent up the ladder to try and rectify the situation. “And by the way, this blood had better wash out of my T-shirt.”
Have you read the instructions?
It was clear that things needed to change, which is how I came to find myself one night with a willing friend and the contents of a flat-pack desk spread out over the living room floor. “We can do this. It can’t be that difficult,” she said, spreading out the instructions (something no man would ever do) and meticulously laying out all the component parts.
Three evenings and several bottles of wine later, it was mission accomplished. Well almost. There was the small question of a door panel which clearly should have been attached at an earlier stage of the process. Life, we decided, was too short. No-one would notice.
DIY isn’t the challenge. Frankly, my attitude towards money could only be described as adolescent.
While girl friends with a practical leaning are indeed your allies in a ‘newly-single-after-a-quarter-of-a-century’ situation, Other People’s Husbands (OPHs) are also an option. The OPHs in my life were very willing to help (well at first anyway), fitting curtain poles, fixing blinds and making sure I knew where to turn the water off.
“You realise I’ll probably have to have sex with him tonight now,” said one friend wearily, having loaned her partner to deal with yet another of my domestic dramas. OPHs, however, are not a tenable, long term situation. People might start to talk.
I’ve learnt a few basic skills myself, but am lucky enough to have now found an alternative solution in the shape of my two late-teen-and-early-twenty-something sons, who have inherited their father’s DIY skills, as well as his irritated tone when yet another cupboard handle/tap head/door knob inexplicably comes off in my hand.
Financial planning? What’s that?
DIY isn’t the only post-separation challenge I’ve had to get to grips with. Financial awareness also very quickly emerged as something of a development need. Not because we’re broke, or because I’ve never had to budget or make financial decisions before. But because frankly, my attitude towards money could only be described as adolescent. A new dress from Zara? Just shove it on the credit card. Friday night take-away? It’s been a hard week, we deserve it.
That’s all very well if there’s someone else to fall back on at the end of the month when the numbers don’t quite add up. But the realisation that it was me, and only me, who was suddenly responsible for putting food on the table and keeping a roof over our heads, hit incredibly hard.
I can’t tell you how many nights I lay there unable to sleep because I was mentally adding up the monthly outgoings and worrying about what on earth would happen if the freelance work dried up or clients didn’t pay on time.
But if I’m being honest, I wasn’t just anxious, I was also ashamed. Ashamed to have reached my 50s and still be behaving like a child whose paper-round money is burning a hole in their pocket.
Enter my concerned girl posse, who once again did their best to help me get my s**t together and grow the hell up. “You can’t possibly spend that much, you’re on a budget now,” wailed one friend, when during a girls evening out, I mentioned the admittedly eye-watering cost of my latest haircut. The resulting debate (now known as ‘hair-gate’) split the room – between those who understood the rejuvenating qualities of a visit to the salon for the recently separated, and those of a more frugal nature who clearly thought I’d lost the plot.
Learning new skills
“What you need is a spreadsheet”, said one of my more sensible friends, who turned up one evening to tut-tut over my lack of knowledge about exactly how much my electricity cost and to ask why I was still paying a monthly subscription for an X-Box game which no-one had played for at least a year.
I wasn’t just anxious, I was ashamed to have reached my 50s and still be behaving like a child.
Reader, you will be pleased to hear that after this long overdue wake-up call, I have now joined the ranks of the financially mature. I read the money pages in the weekend press, have switched to a new mortgage deal while the going is good and even spent a happy evening last week, switching energy suppliers and renegotiating my mobile and broadband bills.
£800 saving, in case you were wondering. Who knows, there might even be enough money enough left over for a visit to the hairdressers this month.
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