After a significant life event, it’s accepted that a woman will usually change her appearance. First port of call is the hairdresser. A new ‘do’ is how the vast majority of divorcees mark their new marital status.
Then comes a diet and inevitably a new frock or five. If a new man enters her life, there will be sexy underwear a-plenty, too.
Little wonder, then, that a recent survey put the cost of a woman’s ‘reinvention’ post divorce at $13,000.
To my mind, however, $13,000 is a bargain. For in the year or so after I split with my husband, I spent five times that amount.
Almost as soon as the door closed on my husband’s retreating form three years ago, I too headed for the hairdresser. It seemed the logical place to start. Only I didn’t stop at a nice cut and blow-dry: I went for blonde highlights, with a brown tint. Then I had it curled. Then straightened again, as I didn’t like the curls after all. The cost of it all? About $300.
Next, I went on a diet. I bought a juicer for $50, which shortly afterwards I traded in for a state-of-the-art ‘juicing system’ for $99. I signed up to an online Dukan diet programme, bought a shelf of diet books which cost about $100 and then spent what felt like a fortune on smoked salmon and steak.
So far, so standard behaviour for a woman who finds herself single after 13 years with the same man.
But as I saw the pounds drop off my frame, a curious thing happened. I ceased to care about the pounds I was spending. I was a woman on a mission. A woman who just had to re-invent herself, whatever the cost. No wonder by the end of the year I was left with no change out of $65,000 — pretty much all my savings.
It’s a shocking sum by anyone’s standards and many will ask: was it worth it? To which the answer is: Absolutely. Every penny.
I had been with my former partner for more than a decade and had four children (three with him, my eldest by a previous partner). Our relationship broke up for a million reasons, but the main one was a lack of communication on both parts, which led to us becoming increasingly lonely within our marriage and feeling we would be better off apart.
Emerging from the wreckage of this relationship, I took a long, hard look in the mirror and realised that the person I was had to go. This person had grey roots and long, limp hair that didn’t appear to be cut in any recognisable style. She had a lumpy body that hadn’t properly moved in years and dressed like a dowdy farmer’s wife.
This was, of course, an external expression of my inner state.
I had spent years letting myself go and hadn’t really cared about what I looked like.
My self-esteem took such a terrible blow when my marriage broke down that I didn’t like who I was any more and needed to see a new version of myself, inside and out, looking back from the mirror.
First, as I mentioned, was the new hair: highlighted, dyed, chopped to a swinging shiny long ‘bob’, and with a new fringe. A look that was artfully carefree and groomed at the same time.
Instead of visiting the hairdresser twice a year if I was lucky and viewing blow-dries as an unjustifiable luxury, I began having weekly $36 blow-dries and my colour done every six weeks, at around $150 a pop.
After the hair came my clothes. I was used to slouching around in jeans and jumpers and clumpy boots.
I knew that if I ever wanted to meet a new man (and, let’s face it, that is all that’s on your mind when you feel hurt, miserable and rejected) I was going to have to look a whole lot sexier and more stylish than I did. Clothes and high, high heels were needed.
So I went on a buying binge. There is something about putting on designer clothing that makes you feel so special. I am not talking Chanel, but upmarket labels like MaxMara, who make beautifully flattering clothes for about $350. Their dresses made me feel sexy and sophisticated at the same time.
My most expensive dress — a blue wraparound number I spotted in the local designer clothes shop — came in at $500. I baulked at the price, but when I put it on, the soft, jersey fabric clung to the right parts of my boobs and hips and skimmed over my rounded tummy.
I felt very nervous handing over my credit card. How on earth was I going to pay for it? But the first time I went out in it, my best friend’s eyes nearly popped out of her head.
‘You look fantastic!’ It was this type of reaction I needed. Gone was the down-at-heel married mother-of-four.
Here, in the mirror, stood ‘New Me’ — a sexier, sassier, more sophisticated version of myself. Inside, I was suffering from crippling insecurity, but the image I presented to the outside world was the opposite.
Clothes were armour in the battle to transform myself from someone’s dowdy wife to a foxy ex-wife. To a woman who was a mother, but who was also a sexual being. A woman who, one day soon, might be looking for new love.
Several more dresses followed the blue dress day, costing around $3,000 in total. And I didn’t stop at frocks. I needed shoes, handbags and belts to go with my new look.
Everything felt worth it. I probably spent $1,000 on accessories and shoes. It sounds a lot, but every time I put on a pair of beautiful heels, I felt my confidence rise with my height. My reinvention was well on its way, and if I was frittering away money like it grew on trees, so what?
It was cathartic to spend money on myself after years of buying things for the house and children. I did feel a bit guilty about frittering away their potential inheritance, but when I discussed it with them, they were unflinchingly supportive.
The next stage of the reinvention was my body. Four pregnancies and the advancing years had taken their toll. My weight crept up from a slim size 10 to a size 14-16.
Now initially this wasn’t a problem post-split, because as every divorced person knows, losing weight on the Divorce Diet is easy. You feel so terrible you can’t be bothered to eat and the pounds drop off.
But when it started coming back on a year later, I did the Dukan diet, cutting out carbohydrates and living on prawns and quail’s eggs.
I also decided that losing weight is pointless if your body stays flabby. So I joined a gym, for $40 a month, and got a personal trainer, costing an extra $20 per session, in an attempt to find my long-dormant muscles.
As I discovered, once you start looking at your body with a critical eye, it’s hard to stop.
My attention then turned to my teeth. They were not that white any more and my front teeth were quite wonky. I paid to have them whitened at the cost of $500 and am now in the process of having a brace fitted, which will cost me several hundred pounds more.
It’s a lot of money, but in a few months a sparkling white, straight-toothed smile will beam back at me from the mirror. I’ll be one step further away from the unhappy, snaggle-toothed person I used to be.
In addition to splashing my diminishing cash on my appearance, I’ve also been nurturing the inner me.
I have always enjoyed yoga, but as a married woman I never had the time to go to classes. In the midst of my misery yoga seemed to be the only thing that calmed me down and made me feel things weren’t utterly dreadful.
I developed an expensive yoga addiction, going to sessions five times a week at a cost of around $50 — which I rationalised at the time as a small price to pay for my sanity.
Of course, the next thing I had to do was actually to go out and show off the results of my makeover.
Twice a week I paid for a babysitter at $10 an hour, and petrol or the train in from the Home Counties to London, where I would splash another $50 on dinner with friends. I was easily spending $200 a week on socialising, without even trying.
I also worked out that, if I was ever going to find a new partner, I needed to have things to talk about. In the past, my married self would happily witter on about the children, talking about them for hours with their father and/or friends.
But single mothers can’t do that. I invested $200 in box sets — Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Good Wife — so that I’d be up to date with popular culture. I went to the cinema to see the latest releases. I spent hundreds on books.
I also decided to explore new career directions. I have always been interested in helping other people (and understanding myself, if at all possible) so a year ago I began training one day a week as a counsellor, a course that will cost $6,000 for two years. Then there’s the weekly therapy sessions I have to undergo in order to compete my studies. Over the first year I estimated that cost me $2,000.
But it wasn’t just my looks and mind I wanted to change.
My compulsion to reinvent myself included my actual house — the very bricks and mortar. Many women move once their marriages are over, forced to sell their homes in the divorce settlement, but I was lucky and stayed in our four-bedroom cottage.
This was great as it meant the children’s lives remained more stable, but still I craved somewhere ‘new’. So I turned my attention to transforming the marital home into something ‘mine’ rather than ‘ours’. I started off small, picking up a new set of mugs from John Lewis. Greeting each morning as a single woman, with a coffee from a different mug, seemed life-affirming.
Then there was a change of bed linen at $200. It is very cathartic to sleep in fresh sheets unsullied by your ex.
Clothes were armour in the battle to transform myself from someone’s dowdy wife to a foxy ex-wife
But then I saw $150 lamps and $300 rugs and $100 cushions and — why not? — fluffy towels and robes. A few teaspoons turned into an entire new set of cutlery. I changed the $75 wine glasses, bought a $120 blind for the bathroom. It all added up of course.
I have always loved wallpaper and my ex hated it, so I had my bedrooms wallpapered in a beautiful floral Zoffany design at $60 a roll, all put up by a friend.
I also decided to make a structural change to the house, separating my ensuite bathroom so it became a family one — mainly to stop the children barging through my bedroom whenever they wanted to use the loo.
At $25,000, it took the last of my savings, but my bedroom fills me with joy every time I go into it. And, of course, should there ever be anyone in my bed, in the (hopefully) not too distant future, at least we will have some privacy. The last expense on the list has proved the most difficult — dating. In many ways, everything I had done to re-invent myself has been part of the process of getting to this stage. The New Me now goes out on dates, but not many, because it’s so expensive. Not only is there the petrol and the clothes and the hair and manicure, pedicure and waxing that needs to be done beforehand, there’s also the expense of it in other ways.
Singles evenings cost $30 a night. Online dating can cost about $20 a month. I like to pay my way on a date so half a meal and half a bottle of wine can come in at $40 if not more. Then there’s the childcare.
I am now nearly three years into my single life and I am enjoying it. And I am busy these days, often working seven days a week, trying to replenish the family coffers.
My reinvention is pretty much over, and it doesn’t really matter to me if I meet someone or not. I am happier and more confident and, in time, the romance will come.
There are those who will say reinvention comes from within; that my self-esteem and confidence would have come back without having to blow $65,000 in the process; that spending money doesn’t heal a broken heart.
To this I say: well, money might not heal a broken heart, but it sure does help!