As acceptance speeches go, it was certainly different — and memorable. Stepping on to the stage at the MTV Movie & TV Awards to collect a gong honouring her three decades as a singer and actress, Jennifer Lopez started to cry.
Holding the golden award aloft, she didn’t thank her parents or her agents but, rather surprisingly, all the exes who broke her heart and lied to her, who made her the woman she is today.
Through her tears she elaborated: ‘Since you cannot create truth unless you have really lived it, I have a different kind of list of thank-yous tonight. I want to thank the people who gave me joy and the ones who broke my heart. The ones who were true and the ones who lied to me.’
Hardly the cheerful message one might expect from one of the most famous and celebrated women in the world. Yet, did it not strike a chord with many of us?
When Rod Stewart sang in the 1970s that the first cut is the deepest, he was wrong, too. A 60-year-old heart breaks just as painfully as a 16-year-old one
Does the breaking of one’s heart maketh the woman? Was J.Lo subliminally suggesting that behind every successful woman is a line of rotten men who smashed our hearts into a million pieces, destroyed our dreams and made us head off, newly determined, in another direction?
While not wishing to pay homage to the woman most famous for forgettable romcoms such as Marry Me, Maid In Manhattan and Jersey Girl, there is some truth in her thesis. Does the betrayal and decimation of our young hopes and dreams make us stronger? Did our past cheating exes actually define our future? Well, in my case, yes, up to a point.
Thinking of the various boys and men who have added to the layers of my own emotional scar tissue during my 64 years, I can say I firmly believe each one has contributed something to the building of the woman I am today.
When I look back over my exes, my first thoughts are of Derek, my teenage surfer boyfriend. I was sweet 16 and a virgin, as was required in my mother’s strictly Catholic household. He was from the wrong side of the tracks, even though where I was brought up, in Perth, Australia, there were no tracks at all. Sun-bleached blond hair, eyes bluer than the Indian Ocean at sunset, he was a dream come true.
I was a rebellious student at a girls’ school, he was the pin-up at the local comprehensive — and he was mine.
We vaguely dreamed of raising three kids on what would be his mechanic’s salary, me quitting school to be a surfer girlfriend, or ‘skeg chick’ as we called them then, admiring him from the beach. Then, on Christmas Eve, after months of snogging and fumbling but not going any further, as I was a ‘nice girl’, he dumped me for one of my best friends who would — go further, that is.
As I sobbed under the jacaranda tree in the moonlight, a chance presented itself to change my life. I’d always dreamed of becoming a journalist like my dad, so I decided to focus on that.
I finished school, went to university, got a job as a cadet journalist on the Perth Daily News — a job with much better prospects than that of a surfer groupie. And it was here I met Mark, the fellow journalist who was to become the first great love of my life.
When I look back over my exes, my first thoughts are of Derek, my teenage surfer boyfriend. I was sweet 16 and a virgin, as was required in my mother’s strictly Catholic household. He was from the wrong side of the tracks, even though where I was brought up, in Perth, Australia, there were no tracks at all
It was love at first sight for both of us; he was my Bob Dylan, scruffy, broody and clever. Our first date was at the ballet, a performance of The Dying Swan. Prophetic perhaps, as we all know how that ends.
We were inseparable for two glorious years. I could hardly breathe without him by my side. Then we backpacked across the world to London before my — and I thought our — dream of us settling down together back home would begin.
Our last destination before heading back was Ireland, where he bought me a gold Claddagh ring, a simple band with a pair of hands holding a heart and a crown, symbolising loyalty, love and friendship. He placed it on the third finger of my left hand.
As I packed for the airport later, I noticed his backpack was still on the bed. I asked him why. With eyes full of sorrow but no regret, and a steely determination I’d not seen before, he said: ‘I’m not coming back with you.’
‘Perth is too small for me,’ he explained. ‘I need time on my own, to find myself, study French, learn to write, become a great novelist.’
As we tearfully embraced at the airport, I knew he was really saying that it wasn’t our hometown that was too small for his dreams, it was me, too.
Back in Perth, after several months of sobbing, I accepted a job in Sydney, something I would never have done had Mark and I had our happy ending.
And there I met my husband John. Tall, languid, the funniest and most handsome man I’d ever met, he was leaning up against the bar and asked: ‘Fancy coming to a Hall & Oates concert with me tonight?’
After a year living together in Sydney, he proposed, I accepted, we married and set off on our final adventure before settling down, backpacking, again, across the world.
Back in Perth, after several months of sobbing, I accepted a job in Sydney, something I would never have done had Mark and I had our happy ending. And there I met my husband John. Tall, languid, the funniest and most handsome man I’d ever met, he was leaning up against the bar and asked: ‘Fancy coming to a Hall & Oates concert with me tonight?’
We settled in a tiny flat in South London, got jobs and were having so much fun we decided to stay for a year or two.
This was to be the sojourn before we headed home to start our family. I wanted five kids and to be a stay-at-home suburban mum.
That dream ended when, picking up his jacket which he always threw on the sofa, out tumbled a membership card to a private drinking club with a woman’s face on it. So that’s where he’d been all those nights he came home so late!
That evening we went to see Madame Butterfly at the Opera House and in the final act, the death scene, I took his hand. We didn’t say anything, just looked at each other, and in some strange way we both knew it was over. Yes, again the heroine — obviously me — dies.
No one in our family had ever divorced, so for six whole months I didn’t tell my family we’d broken up. Paralysed with grief and shame, I didn’t go back to Australia, I just worked and survived and slogged through the long and painful divorce.
Yet, had our marriage lasted, I would never have made the life I love in England. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing in a lovely little cottage on the edge of Hampstead Heath, have made friends so dear I could not bear to part with them, have lived and loved and worked in the greatest city on earth.
But while J.Lo is right in one respect — I, too, have a lot of thank-yous to make to those who broke my heart and inadvertently changed the course of my life for the better — it would be disingenuous for me to sit here, po-faced, playing the perennial victim.
For I’ve broken a few hearts and caused as much pain in my 64 years as J.Lo has in her 52. I’m ashamed to say I have lied and I have cheated — albeit only ever briefly, and I always left when I found another, not that that makes it any better.
I have exited relationships with great haste, causing much pain, which to this day I still deeply regret. I balk at J.Lo’s portrayal of women as victims, as hapless creatures, voiceless and powerless. We are not victims, we make choices, sometimes very bad ones.
Yet, had our marriage lasted, I would never have made the life I love in England. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing in a lovely little cottage on the edge of Hampstead Heath, have made friends so dear I could not bear to part with them, have lived and loved and worked in the greatest city on earth
After my marriage ended, I fell in love with a truly wonderful man. We had six gorgeous years together, got engaged, built a home and I was happy. Then the financial crisis hit and life got tough. We drifted apart and the inevitable happened; I fell for the flashing smile and empty promises of a shyster.
I wonder sometimes how my ex-fiance’s life and mine would have worked out if I hadn’t been seduced by a worthless advertising executive. My fiance was heartbroken and, desperate for me to change my mind, he made a photo album of what our wedding would be like, the ancient Yorkshire church bedecked with roses and peonies, my favourites.
It didn’t work. I still left him. And it was only because of his graciousness and the deep love we once shared that we were able to remain great friends. He’s now happily settled with someone else.
One lesson our break-up did teach me was to be more careful with other people’s hearts, and to stop and work at a relationship rather than ditching it, as love does not present itself to you very often.
As for terrible exes, how often have we turned a blind eye to the bleeding obvious: that our partner has fallen for someone else, that they’re cheating on us? Looking back, I defy any woman who has been betrayed not to admit they saw the signs yet ignored them. Even the savvy J.Lo must have seen it with her horrible exes.
One more recent partner whom I did love deeply convinced me he was only living in the annexe of his palatial matrimonial home until the divorce was finalised, as his wife was so fragile, that’s why he always had to come to mine.
His marriage was over, he told me, it was loveless and sexless. I was his queen and we’d reign together for ever.
There were many lovely holidays travelling across the world to far-flung places which, looking back, I now realise were chosen so that we were unlikely to be spotted. I was complicit in the deception.
When he explained away a large bite mark on his stomach several inches below his navel as having been inflicted by his dog, I knew he was lying. His pet pooch was a very small border terrier. That bite was inflicted by a person, not a dog, and in the throes of passion, not anger, and by a new girlfriend, not his betrayed wife.
Yet for how many months had I suspended disbelief and believed him? Too many. That was as much my fault as his. Yes, he was a bad one, but I was the dumb one.
It was only when a friend sent me a picture of him and what turned out to be his new, much younger, blonde girlfriend, now wife, walking hand-in-hand down the street that I had to face up to the truth. Did it hurt? Like hell. My only consolation is that, as a serial philanderer, I know he’ll cheat on her as he did me, and his first wife.
So what have I learned from this long life of love and loss?
Had I settled down in Perth with Derek, I’d be a mechanic’s wife — no shame in that. Without Mark (who has yet to write his great novel) I’d never have met my husband John, nor come to live in London, so thanks to both of them. When Derek ditched me, I thought my heart could never be broken like that again. I was wrong.
When Rod Stewart sang in the 1970s that the first cut is the deepest, he was wrong, too. A 60-year-old heart breaks just as painfully as a 16-year-old one.
That’s another thing I’ve learned from all this heartbreak, received and inflicted: hearts recover, they fill up again with hope.
Today, I’m single, but still I haven’t given up on love.