We’re single in France – and loving it!
Whether by choice or circumstance, some find themselves living the single life in France. Gillian Harvey speaks to four expats who love their life in France as singletons
The nightlife is a bit slow
Luke Prior, 28, Bussière-Poitevine, Haute Vienne
Luke moved to France with his wife, Chloe, in 2011 on an ‘extended honeymoon’ - but things did not turn out as the pair had planned.
“We’d both been working in bars seven day weeks before we married,” said Luke, “and when we came over here in the winter, moving into a caravan on the site of the property we planned to renovate, it was very intense.”
Sadly, the change of lifestyle, teamed with the stress and financial strain of renovation led to the couple splitting the following year. “We finally sold the house this year, but didn’t recover the cost of renovations as it wasn’t finished,” said Luke.
However, whilst the marriage did not survive the move, both Chloe and Luke have remained in France. “I love life here,” said Luke. “I’m happy in myself and love walking in nature and swimming in rivers.
“I also love the free time I have to pursue hobbies such as wine and cider-making and foraging. I don’t miss the UK at all.”
Luckily for Luke, his mother, who is also single, moved out to join him in 2013; the pair now share a house: “I left home at 17 so it does feel a bit weird,” said Luke.
Despite living in the fairly rural area of Bussière-Poitevine, where he runs a brocante, Luke has also established a healthy social life. “The nightlife is a bit slow, but there are things to do if you look,” he said. “I’ve made lots of friends since I’ve been here; some are neighbours and others through work.
“There’s nothing I miss about England, and I’d never go back. I’m far happier living in France!”
I thought I was coping well at the time
Susan Griffin, 60, Dordogne
Having holidayed in France for 30 years, Susan, 60, and husband Kelvin had long dreamed of retiring to the Dordogne, and in 2010 it seemed as if their dream was finally coming true.
“We used to camp on a small farm in the village of Le Coux et Bigaroque,” said Susan, “and when we found out a couple were selling their home just next door, it felt like fate.”
Luck also seemed to be on the couple’s side when their house in Kent sold quickly. But things took a turn for the worse in August 2010 as Kelvin, then 56, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died just two months later in the October.
In shock, and not knowing quite what the future held, Susan decided to move alone to France the following March.
“I thought I was coping well at the time, but really it was a complete blur,” she said. “The house was in need of total renovation, and I lived in a caravan in the barn for a year. However, my neighbours were wonderful and so welcoming and helpful – even organising the renovation work for me!
“People say that I was brave to come alone, but this had been our dream for years and it really gave me a purpose.”
Despite living in a small hamlet, Susan also lives a full life. “My house is now finished, and I have a small gite which I let out, and a 12 acre garden which I have to maintain,” she said. “I’ve also made some lovely friends – of many nationalities – and belong to a local French choir. “Yes, I sometimes feel lonely, but there is always something to do.
“Sometimes, in the summer, when I’m in the swimming pool at midnight under the stars, I realise how lucky I am. My experiences have taught me to appreciate people and life more. I cannot see myself returning to the UK. France is home for me and I feel content and settled here.”
France move was meant to be a new start
Caroline Roxburgh, 38, Niort
When Caroline moved to France in 2005 with her then husband and children Rupert (now 12), and Leo (now 10), it was with the hope of saving her marriage. “We’d had a few problems,” said Caroline, “and moving to France was meant to be a new start.”
Sadly, however, things did not go as planned and, although the couple had another child in 2009, Pollyanna (now six), they separated in 2010.
“The divorce was difficult, and the first year on my own was hard,” said Caroline. “However, I have now learned to love and appreciate my life here.”
Despite initially feeling overwhelmed with life as a single mother in France, Caroline soon began to find her inner strength. “Suddenly you realise you’re quite capable of doing lots of things,” she said. “It’s very tiring but it’s also quite nice being able to please yourself and make your own decisions.”
Whilst she has struggled to build an active social life, Caroline has good friends whom she meets for coffee, and has met others through her French class.
She also has plenty of hobbies to keep her busy. “It can be quite a lonely existence,” she admitted. “But I love reading, walking, films, baking – of course having pets here is so much easier, I love exploring new routes with my dog.
“In England it would still be hard to have a social life as a single mum but here in France, it’s almost impossible to go out in the evenings,” she explained. “But life will change as the children grow more independent - and life is good.”
I won't be rich, but as a parent I'm going to be better than in England
Ian Wallace, 47, Vendée
When father of two, Ian, split with his wife in 2010, moving to France seemed a natural step. “My parents had moved here in 2005,” he explained, “so it was a bit like coming home.”
Having been granted custody of the children, Ian had a few initial problems in getting the UK authorities to agree to his move. However, once here, the children – Kezia, now 14, and Nathaniel, now 10, settled in well. “They were bilingual after three months,” said Ian.
Ian, whose French is still an “ongoing project,” is now self-employed, working in landscape gardening and running a gite – as well as building a house.
Five years on, and the three generations still live together, in a large house they have built to accommodate all their needs. “Because the house is large,” explained Ian, “we have independence and space; and a quality of life that we’d never have been able to afford in the UK.”
Despite his single status, former lecturer, Ian has managed to form a healthy social life. “I play cricket in Maille cricket club,” he said. “And I’ve had a few girlfriends over here – both English and French. The difference is, living in quite a remote area, you have to seek out a social life; and you have to be prepared to travel.”
One of the main factors contributing to Ian’s happy existence this side of the Channel is his ability to focus on his children. “I’m not going to become rich here but as a parent I’m probably going to be far better than I was in England. When I worked as a lecturer at a college in England I spent very little time with my kids. Here, I can see them grow up.”