London - Wandering on to the patio at a friend’s 40th birthday, I pull my husband, Martin, towards me and nuzzle my face into his neck, inhaling his aftershave like a lovesick teenager on a first date.
Of course, I’m far from a teen - we’ve been married for 23 years, tying the knot two years after meeting through mutual friends.
So what accounts for my frisky, romantic mood? Well, it could be the cocktails. Or the fact that on this balmy evening, the air is thick with the grassy scent of summer. Or the fact that Martin, a 49-year-old chartered accountant - still so handsome after all these years, with his thick, floppy hair and a physique honed by cycling - looks especially dashing in his crisp shirt and chinos.
But it wasn’t any of the above. The catalyst for this unrepentant Public Display of Affection was the sight of a newly divorced friend hovering on the margins of the lawn, clearly adrift without a partner by her side.
Not that I’m territorial about my husband - I’m not one of those insecure wives who arm-locks her spouse at the first whiff of another woman’s Decree Absolute. Quite the opposite. I like to be around freshly minted divorcees and actively encourage them to come for dinner or drop in for coffee.
And my reasons are unapologetically pragmatic. Watching an ex-wife navigate a party teeming with couples is a frank reminder that her fabled grass isn’t any greener - all fresh starts and new opportunities - it’s just more grass. And it looks markedly less lush than my carefully tended lawn.
Most importantly, it sparks a reflex reaction to slip my hand into Martin’s and squeeze, reminding myself - and him - how much I still love him after all these years.
Louise Tyler, a relationships counsellor who runs the Personal Resilience clinic in Cheshire, agrees: “The aftermath of divorce is incredibly painful. Witnessing this first-hand can encourage couples - especially those dissatisfied with their marriage - to do everything they can to make it work.”
That’s why I’ve no truck with the so-called domino-divorce effect - the notion that if a close friend or colleague splits up it triggers other break-ups within their social circle.
I realise this herd mentality seems endemic. Indeed, one US study estimated that if the marriage of someone close to you breaks down, your own chance of getting divorced is as much as 75 percent. The hypothesis being that close proximity to divorce makes you question your own marriage, and helps remove the stigma of deciding to walk if you’ve had enough of your own spouse.
But, for me, a divorce in my social circle acts as a clarion call to count my blessings, and focus on strengthening what I have.
Before I go on, let me be clear that I understand there are some insoluble marital problems, such as domestic violence (whether physical or emotional) or serial affairs, that make it impossible for a couple to remain together.
However, in recent years I’ve been shocked by the number of friends and colleagues who decided to get divorced simply because they felt a nebulous disaffection towards their marriage. Or as one old friend told me: “I was fed up - and couldn’t face another 40 years of this.”
And so she disposed of her husband - an amiable, witty chap - tossing aside their lovely home and their life with their three children like a scrunched-up Kleenex.
Did she think that a dashing fighter pilot or heart-meltingly handsome white knight would be immune to leaving his socks on the floor or dozing in front of the telly after a long day saving the world? I’ve interviewed plenty of high-profile men over the years - and it’s clear from talking to their wives that they snore as loudly as the rest of the male population.
But my friend went on to discover this the hard way, as I learnt a couple of weeks ago. She told me that after hurling herself on to the dating scene and kissing a few frogs she thought she’d found a prince - significantly solvent, ruggedly handsome, with children who had left home. And so my friend raised her hopes only for them to be dashed on the altar of his insecurity, commitment phobia and good old-fashioned male selfishness.
Now she’s back in the ring, with tales of an unseemly scramble with other divorcees to nab an eligible bloke - or one who at least has his own hair and teeth. Just listening to her made me long to be at home, curled up on the sofa with Martin.
Yet still there are plenty of women who regret, despite having manifest domestic stability, “settling” for anything other than turbo-charged sex or starry-eyed romance.
Little wonder a recent survey of family lawyers revealed that the most popular cause for divorce was that couples were simply “no longer in love” and had “grown apart”.
I remember the very first divorce in my social circle. It happened several years ago, crashing over our group like a tsunami. I was just so shocked that, after raising three children very close in age, this couple could come out the other side - then throw it all away. Neither had a specific reason. It just seemed that a once robust relationship had shattered into boredom, resentment and frustration. They hinted that having married in their early 20s and spent 15 years together, they felt there was a new world out there, waiting for them to enjoy.
Did I feel envious? After all, I was also married in my early 20s, and in over two decades since then there have been times when I’ve felt restless or frustrated by domestic life.
On days when my husband nags me about forgetting to lock my car and the children squabble endlessly, I think of the young, bright, fancy-free woman in my head who yearns for romance and freedom. But then I tell myself - and it’s not always easy - she is still there. And she can work hard to indulge those feelings. She just needs to do so with the man she loves.
Anyway, such restlessness is balanced by those moments when you walk into a cosy house and see all the people most precious to you, curled up on sofas like puppies.
But there are other ways my divorced friends help consolidate my marriage too. Living in a close-knit community, where the dining room table is the heart of our social life, the break-up of a couple elicits a rush by us smug still-marrieds to “take in” one partner or the other for a home-cooked meal. Often we’re invited out to dinner where one half of a divorced couple is on the guest list. Looking across the table, I slip my hand into Martin’s and think: “I never want to become someone else’s good deed.”
Deep down, I suspect women who get divorced don’t enjoy their ‘freedom’ as much as they claim. Research this year found that, even in the age of the pre-nup and the fault-free divorce, almost half of divorcees believe their lives are damaged by the stigma.
But these hapless, disorientated, newly divorced friends spur me on - to slip into a new, slinky dress; to have my hair freshly styled; to recognise that, however frustrating my husband’s peccadilloes, they’re no more so than any other man’s. Or, for that matter, my own.
So when I spot another ex-wife, I see her not as a threat, but as my Plimsoll line - the secret to keeping my own marriage afloat. - Daily Mail