I was 10 years old when my parents divorced.
Divorce proceedings had been a long, bitter battle and mud had been flung by both parties. The legal process began when my mother, older sister and myself fled the family home while Edward, my father, was away on business. We moved into a half house rental that came with shabby furniture, dusty drapes and decrepit carpet. The stairs creaked, it was gloomy in winter and stifling in summer.
Our dog was boarding elsewhere and I missed my confidante and partner in crime. But my sister and I were thrilled to discover a secret manhole in the bedroom wall upstairs. It meant we could spy on our landlord’s family in the other half of the house. My mother, Simone, was unaware of our activities.
Moving stealthily across the wooden struts in the attic, we peered through ceiling air vents and observed how the other half lived. Mrs Blackman was a gifted seamstress and I loved watching her create stunning gowns. I was amazed that adult voices were never raised in anger, and Mr Blackman’s doting tenderness towards his wife suggested he was still madly in love with her. After we’d been invited to the Blackman’s place for a delectable afternoon tea, it seemed plain wrong to keep spying on them, so I turned my attention to other nefarious activities.
Months later, Simone won a solid divorce settlement and we moved back into the family home with our dog. The first thing I did was climb to the top of my favourite tree and breathe in the smell of pine. Then the dog and I resumed our free-ranging of the neighbourhood. I was ecstatic, but little did I know that my father, Edward, was planning a comeback. Despite being an incurable womaniser, he’d never wanted a divorce. For Edward was a man who liked his domestic comforts.
Après divorce, Edward launched a campaign to seduce his ex-wife. First up was the delivery of an enormous, expensive vase of dried flowers, along with a few tender but manly words. He flattered and wooed Simone right up until Christmas, when she invited him to move back in. Permanently. I couldn’t understand why she’d do such a thing. My mother loathed dried flowers, so why had she succumbed? Was she crazy? Or still in love with him? Had she only ever wanted to punish him for his numerous infidelities?
However it wasn’t long before Edward decided there were more advantages to being a bachelor about town than a pistol-whipped divorcee. He bought himself a two-seater Mercedes sports car, found another lover and moved in with her. Fate had decreed that a younger woman would become the second of Edward’s three wives.
Well before I got to university I’d decided that marriage was a dodgy proposition. My mother’s taste in men remained unchanged and my father’s second marriage was heading for the rocks. As Casanova wrote, Marriage is the tomb of love. The philosopher Alain de Botton believes our problems with contemporary love originated with the 1850’s Romantic movement. The Romantics popularised the idea that every single one of us has a soulmate waiting in the wings. But de Botton also believes we are shaped by our families and how we first experienced love. We seek the same type of love we’re familiar with. We choose our pain.
But I was cynical beyond my years and had no desire to follow in my parents’ footsteps. Rather than dreaming of floating up the aisle in a white wedding gown, I imagined myself living a wild untamed life, preferably in a chic Parisian loft. My imaginary lover was a brilliant, devastatingly handsome artist. He possessed charm, a flaming intellect and spoke several languages. Why? I wasn’t bilingual and it was imperative that my man could order food in Swahili and Russian, so we wouldn’t starve whilst traversing the globe.
To date my Parisian loft hasn’t manifested but I haven’t given up hope. I’ve had relationships with creative, intelligent, sexy men but have never been tempted to accept an offer of marriage. I’ve become a bolter, as in a horse who runs away or bolts. Use of the word was popularised in the 1940’s by Nancy Mitford’s comedic novel, The Pursuit of Love. The protagonist’s mother is called The Bolter because she’s a free spirited, serial monogamist with the talent to move on swiftly without rancour.
Frankly I think the term bolter should be revived and revered.
For we’re now living in the era of online ‘dating’ sites where superficiality, objectification and narcissism have become normalised. Say what you will about bolters, but when we are in love we are fiercely loyal and prone to altruism. And it is only the eternal quest for freedom that makes us bolt.
Note: names have been changed.
Lesley Truffle’s new book, The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte, is published by HarperCollins Australia and available now.