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'I'm now with my best friend, my partner and soul mate'

By Karen Ireland

I was married for 19 years before we split up. In a matter of weeks, everything I knew and was familiar to me changed. I had to get used to a new home, raising the boys on my own and being single again.

My first outing as a single woman was six weeks after my marriage break-up. A night out with a crowd of girlfriends, many of whom were at various stages of a similar journey. But I left the bar early in tears that night as everything felt alien. I didn’t like being out without the security of someone waiting for me at home and if a man so much as looked at me I almost jumped out of my skin.

The bar scene just wasn’t for me. I enjoyed meals out with the girls and a bit of dancing but felt very exposed in a bar.

However, I also knew that I didn’t want to be on my own and one day I’d want companionship again.

Six months into singledom I was home alone one Saturday night after turning down invitations for a girlie night out. The boys were at their dad’s and I realised I was lonely.

An ad came on TV for a dating website and I was curious. Perhaps the three or four glasses of wine I’d had egged this curiosity on.

I logged on, followed the instructions — not really thinking too much about what I was doing, when a message flashed up.

At first, I just enjoyed the communication. By nature I’m a talker so I enjoyed chatting to people and finding out more about them.

Then one asked me out on a date. I hadn’t been on one of those for 21 years and wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but I found myself arranging to meet for coffee.

Extremely nervous, I got my sister-in-law to follow me in her car and watch me go in. I texted to say he was there, didn’t have two heads and she could go home. I felt confident alone.

The coffee lasted about 40 minutes and we exchanged pleasantries about work and family, but to be honest, my heart was pounding so hard I could barely hear the poor guy and couldn’t wait until it felt like an acceptable time had passed before I could get back to my PJs, bed and a good book.

Despite this, I found myself logging on again. I spent the next few weeks enjoying conversations with a few men, some of whom were in England and that felt safe as I knew I wouldn’t have to meet up with them.

It was good company on those nights the boys were away. But, after talking to one local guy for a few weeks, I wanted to dip my toe in the water again and try another date.

This time we met in a bar and as usual I was there about 20 minutes early sitting with butterflies in my stomach. When he turned up, it turned out we knew a lot of the same people and had grown up near to one another.

I chalked that one up as a pretty good experience. While I felt no attraction to him I enjoyed his company enough to go on a second date.

We agreed there was no spark and to remain friends. I never saw or heard from him again. But I did go on a few more dates.

Some good, some not so good. Once I turned up for a walk in the park, saw ‘my date’, realised his profile pictures were more than a few years old and turned my car away and sent a text to say I wasn’t feeling well.

One guy asked me what I was looking for and I said — it all. I want the full package; a partner, a best friend and a soul mate.

I knew if I was to settle down with anyone again it would be for all the right reasons and the person would be the right one.

Setting out on another date, which I wasn’t particularly looking forward to in a bar, as usual I checked in 20 minutes early.

As I was ordering a drink, I got chatting to a guy who was there watching the rugby — and we talked so long I didn’t realise the time and suddenly half an hour had gone by and I knew my date was somewhere in the building.

But I wanted to continue the conversation with this guy so I persuaded him to do a flit with me and we left, heading to another bar nearby. We continued our ‘chat’ for another four hours.

Afterwards he walked me to my car where we talked for another hour. It was 2.30am when I got home with the biggest smile on my face.

At most I had found someone who finally pricked my interest again and at worst I knew I had definitely found a new friend.

The next morning he texted and I was excited. We had so much in common and we texted on and off all day before meeting for our first official ‘date’.

I was so nervous but this time it was because I had high hopes and expectations. I knew I liked this person and I wanted it to go well.

Yet again we found ourselves the last ones in the restaurant and the staff clearing up around us.

And still there was more to say as we sat in the car for a further hour again.

This was different — the spark was there, he made me laugh and was easy to talk to, but more than that we’d both been hurt so we were fiercely protective of what we had and each other.

That was two years ago this month and we are still together. Now I’ve found my whole package — my best friend, my partner and my soul mate.

I don’t regret my experiment with online dating. I made some good friends but there are some scammers out there and one guy did ask me for money, so I hit the delete button.

I liked that I could control who I talked to and when — in the end it indirectly brought me the one.

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