Last edition we reported how a lonely 90-year-old Frenchman put up a sign in his garden after his wife died, saying he wanted to find a woman to share his life – and found one. It can be hard to meet someone new after a divorce or death - and even harder as an expat. GILLIAN HARVEY speaks to three couples who found a new love here
Jane Allan, 66, Gironde
We met online!
I FIRST invested in a French property in 2000 and my (now ex) partner and I each split our time between France and the UK. Unfortunately, as time went on, he preferred to spend time in England, whereas I enjoyed being in France much more – it soon became home to me, and never quite worked for him. In spring 2007, we split up.
In the winter of 2007/8 I felt ready to start a new relationship but realised if I wanted to share my life with someone I would have to go out and look for them.
Living in France, no-one is going to come knocking on your door – you have to put yourself out to meet people. I had already learnt here that you have to be willing to make eye contact, say ‘hello’ to strangers and get involved to be accepted – and my efforts had earned me the nickname La Petite Anglaise locally.
However, although I had made many friends, I knew I’d have to cast my net wider if I wanted to find someone to share my life with, so I decided to try internet dating.
Two sites in particular were very helpful (Be2 and Meetic – both French sites), and I had several dates after signing up.
When you have a lot of life behind you, it is important to accept change and be willing to let another person into your life, so when I chatted online and met potential partners for dates, I tried to keep an open mind and really get to know the person.
Unfortunately, although I met some great men – one who was the spitting image of Barbie’s Ken, and another who was perfectly nice (although boring) – ‘Mr Right’ proved harder to find.
Finally, while online, I noticed a man called Knut – a retired German dentist. Luckily, I speak German, so we communicated in a mixture of German and French and began to write to each other quite regularly.
Our emails soon became phone calls and we used to enjoy regular chats. Eventually, we decided to meet: Knut, myself and Cassis, my little Bedlington Terrier!
As I lived in Normandy at the time and he was in Medoc in the Gironde, we agreed to ‘meet in the middle’ near Noirmoutier. My secretary, Di, lived in that area, so after spending a long weekend together, Knut and I went to her house for lunch (partly so I could seek her opinion!).
At the end of the meal, Di took me to one side and said: “I’ve just spent my lunch watching two people fall in love with each other!”
It was true: we got on extremely well. But with the distance between us, I wasn’t sure whether anything more permanent would be possible.
Two weeks later, my phone rang at 4am – I was terrified, thinking it must be an emergency. But it was Knut: “I think I’m falling in love with you,” he
said. I put the phone down in a mixture of shock and exasperation – 4am is not the time to reveal your deepest feelings! However, eventually I moved to the Gironde and we now split our time between here and a house we have in Germany.
In my view, in order to live with someone new you must make space in both your life and your wardrobe for them. You also have to accept – at our age – that certain characteristics and habits are unlikely to change.
As a dentist, Knut is used to the dental nurse tidying up after him, and carries that into his home-life. I prefer things neat and tidy, but have realised that the best way to avoid frustration is just to accept his messiness and do a bit of picking up myself.
I also think it’s important to “turn the page.” We don’t talk about our exes – it’s all the in the past. And although we have our disagreements, I’d say we’re happy as a couple and might well get married next year.
My advice to someone looking for love would be to make room, be prepared to adapt – and try the internet. Lots of friends wanted to introduce me to men they knew, but it didn’t work. I actively searched to find my man – and voilà!
Jill, 66, Brittany
We met through friends!
I MOVED to France with my then husband in 2001, after taking part in TV’s A Place in the Sun. It introduced us to the Lot and some lovely people.
If I’m honest, I knew our relationship was already on the rocks. We’d sold our house in the UK, and I remember we sat at the ferry terminal discussing our future. We had the money from the sale of our house, no responsibilities – we could have split then and called it a day. But we decided to give France a go.
We quickly made friends and there was a group of us – four couples – who used to meet for dinner regularly. We ran gites – something to tide us over until we were of pensionable age – and things were smooth for a while.
However, soon the cracks began to show and we split in 2005. Whilst our breakup had been mutual, I still grieved for our 40-year marriage.
Around the same time, I received devastating news: Susan – one of my friends from the group – was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 67. She died, and Ed, her husband, was bereft.
Meanwhile, I was in limbo as I tried to sell our home. Luckily, friends had a flat and offered to let me stay there.
Unfortunately, it was in a bit of a state. Ed, trying to keep busy after the loss of Susan, offered to help spruce it up. Inevitably, we grew close, spending weeks together painting and decorating, and I felt myself falling in love.
Even so, I was surprised when Ed confessed: “I don’t want you to move in
here, I want you to live with me.”
Despite the reservations of some friends and family, it felt right. In fact, I came to realise that I’ve never loved anyone like I love Ed: he’s a wonderful man – my teddy bear – and I feel as if I’ve waited my whole life for him. It helped me enormously that I had known Susan and we were friends.
She’s still very much in our house: when you’ve lived with someone for so many years, you can’t shut them out. She’s moved with us. Every anniversary of her death we have a special day, and on her birthday too.
As for advice to others: you have to be open to every opportunity for love, lifechanging
experiences – everything. If you close yourself down, it won’t happen. I couldn’t be happier. Love isn’t just for youngsters!
Derek, 55, St Malo
We had a holiday romance as teenagers!
I FIRST met my current wife Marie- Christine, in 1976 whilst on holiday in St Malo when I was just 18. It was a typical teenage romance – we wrote letters and even visited each other – and it lasted about two years. But things came to a head when she felt ready to settle down and I felt my whole life was still ahead of me.
We eventually split in 1978 when my career in the Royal Navy made our relationship impossible.
In 1990, after leaving the Navy and settling in the UK, I got married.
However, I think there was always a little part of me that yearned for Marie-Christine. We bumped into each other coincidentally several times over the years – for example,
when I was on holiday, or working in France. And my family kept in touch with her mother, so I always had that connection with her.
Then, in March 2000, I suffered an accident at work and was hospitalised. To make matters worse, when my wife visited me in hospital, rather than grapes and sympathy, she delivered a devastating blow: when I left hospital, she would be gone.
Lying in hospital however, gave me time to think about my life. There were things in my past that I felt were “unfinished”, including my relationship with Marie-Christine.
Now, released from my marriage, I resolved to meet up with her again. When we met up in St Malo in December 2000, time fell away and we made up for all those years of
separation. She had also been married and had two sons, but her relationship had ended 1990. Now, fate had intervened and we were both single at the same time.
When my house in the UK finally sold in May 2001, I moved out to start a completely new life in St Malo. I adopted her two boys as my own, and we married in July 2006 (almost 30 years to the day that we first met).
Although we’ve had our tragedies and difficulties, I couldn’t be happier with Marie Christine. We’ve been together for 13 years now – and married for seven.
As for advice, I feel if people really want to find love in France it’s important to learn at least the basics of French and not allow yourself to be stuck in a British “clique.” Expand your horizons and put yourself out to be with others. Mixité is a French word that sums it all up!
How to date safely and securely
1. Do not give too many personal details
2. Never invite someone you have not met before to your home.
3. Meet, perhaps, for a coffee at a mutually convenient venue.
4. Never have too much alcohol.
5. Dress appropriately – nothing too revealing if you are female
6. If a nice stranger in cyberspace tells you a hard luck story give sympathy, but never cash
7. Beware serial daters looking for casual flings and/or sex – check if they are active on several websites
8. Use your ‘gut feeling’, if your date says something that does not add up beware, it is probably not true.