“My ex-husband and I dated for a decade before we decided to get hitched in 2011. He wasn’t favoured by everyone in my life, including some of my family members, but I felt I had to see the relationship through since we had been together for so long.
Our marriage was turbulent at best. I guess the red flags had always been there, I probably just refused to see them. My super-controlling ex had me under his thumb for the most part of our union that I completely lost myself when I was with him. He was also physically abusive.
While I had put up with such mistreatment for many years, once my baby came into the picture I know I had to re-prioritise my life. I didn’t wish what I was going through on my own worst enemy, which meant I definitely didn’t want it to happen to my own flesh and blood.
On hindsight, I know I should have walked out on my ex-husband a long time ago, but my tipping point came when one of our altercations ended up with me sustaining facial injuries.
I reported him to the police, packed my bags, picked up my baby, walked out and never looked back.
It was easy for the courts to give me full custody of Alexander based on my ex’s sketchy past. The last time my little boy saw his father, he was 1½ years old. That was almost five years ago. My ex hasn’t even bothered to reach out to see his son ― not that I want him to.
“My tipping point came when one of our altercations ended up with me sustaining facial injuries… I reported him to the police, picked up my baby, walked out and never looked back.”
Picking up the pieces of a failed marriage is arduous on anyone, even more so when you have a baby in tow. Alexander was solely my responsibility from then on ― I had to take care of every single one of his needs.
The thought of having such a huge responsibility was terrifying, but I knew I had to do it. My child needed me and it was my duty to provide him with as normal a childhood as possible.
What kept me going was having a career that I absolutely loved and was good at. It gave meaning to my life and a means to provide for myself and my kid. Being financially independent also meant I could give my son the life I had always dreamt for him. I was also lucky enough to have my mum, sister, brother and aunts around to help with taking care of Alexander.
Once I had set up a support system for myself and Alexander, the next thing to do was to help myself heal from the trauma I went through. Being happy again meant I could be a happy mother to my son. At that point, though I was laughing on the outside, I didn’t feel the same way inside. So, I pored over self-help books and worked with a counsellor to help me get my emotions back on track.
Life began looking up for both Alexander and myself. Friends and family encouraged me to open my heart again to someone. I tried to date casually, but since I didn’t meet anyone I really liked, I decided to leave love in the back-burner for the time being. Nothing wrong with being a career-focused single mum, I thought to myself.
A year later I got a random text from an old family-friend Mateen. We first met when I was 19 years old. In the past decade, we had met randomly at functions. I knew he was also, like me, coming out of a marriage.
In his text, Mateen asked me what I was up to that week. Coincidentally, it was the eve of my birthday and I was literally hiding at home and wallowing in self-pity. When I told him how I planned to ring in my birthday, he immediately shut down my plans and said he would come around to take me out.
I was taken aback at his thoughtfulness. ‘Why not?’ I asked myself. He was a good guy and I could use a night out.
How did a random text turn into a lifelong commitment? Read on to find out!
Mateen and I hit it off immediately. We bonded over our shared divorce experience, but we also had so much more in common. As a senior vice-president of HR for a logistics company, Mateen was as motivated and career-focused as I am. We were also social creatures and loved checking out new haunts with friends. Plus, I’d found someone who enjoyed throwing theme parties, just like me. What were chances of that happening?
On the days when life got too heavy for me and I just wanted to retreat back into my shell, Mateen would step in and yank me out. He helped me find myself again.
We knew we were compatible and there was definitely something more than just friendship there, but since we had both been burned before, neither of us wanted to jump the gun. I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t using him as a rebound. So, we took things very slowly and worked hard to earn each other’s trust.
However, my biggest concern was Alexander ― he was my priority ― and how he was going to take to Mateen. My little boy had been growing up without a father figure all this while. What if he didn’t adore the new man in my life as much as I did? What if they didn’t get along?
After giving it much thought, I nervously invited Mateen to meet Alexander at his third birthday party. Turns out I shouldn’t have worried that much, because they got along famously.
Mateen, who also has a son, had lost out on watching his little boy grow up because of the divorce, so it felt like he was being given a second chance to re-live those moments with Alexander. I think they both needed each other.
“It felt like he [Mateen]…was being given a second chance to live those moments with Alexander. I think they both needed each other.”
That was almost three years ago. It took me a while to let Mateen fully into the little bubble that was just Alexander and myself. Since then Mateen, Alexander and I have hung out a lot. We’ve even done short trips together. I love watching them interact. There’s even a boys’ trip to Switzerland in the works!
Last September, Mateen and I threw a massive house party. We invited all of our friends and family. Mateen even had relatives from Malaysia fly down for it. In the middle of the party, all the lights went off and out came little Alexander carrying a candle and a ring. Mateen got down on one knee and asked me to marry him ― and I said yes!
After going through the harrowing experience that was my first marriage, I never thought I would have ever found love again. Now, I can’t imagine a life without Mateen. The silver lining is that I will carry all the life lessons I’ve learnt from my first marriage into my second.
As Mateen and I start planning our wedding, there’re just a few things I want to say to mums who stay in a loveless or abusive marriage because they are afraid of being alone. Don’t sell yourself short. Better things await you, but you have to take that leap of faith first. You won’t know until you’ve given it a shot.
Also, don’t assume that every man or woman will be just like your ex-spouse and don’t give up on love. Keep an open mind and heart so that you can let love in, which usually happens when you least expect it.
And when it comes to kids, know that they are your responsibility and priority, always. Let your date know that you have a child early on. Should the relationship take off, don’t put too much expectation or pressure on your new boyfriend or girlfriend to make it work with your children immediately. Take things very slow. If it’s meant to be, everything will fall into place eventually. I am a living testament of that!”
Shivani Priyadarshini, 35, a regional marketing manager in an IT company, is mum to Alexander Aarya, 5.
Photos: Shivani Priyadarshini