Fabulous’ Features Editor Eimear O’Hagan left her city life and high-flying career for rural bliss in the countryside, all in the name of love. Here, she explains why…
Last weekend over breakfast, my boyfriend Malcolm announced, with a glint in his eye, that he had a surprise for me. A romantic mini-break? I hoped. Or maybe he’d finally caved in to my pleading for a Mulberry handbag.
Oh no, it was nothing like that.
“I’ve bought us two piglets to rear in the back garden,” he announced proudly, a huge grin on his face.
Laughing out loud at the thought of myself mucking out a smelly pigsty, it struck me just how dramatically my life has changed in the past month.
These days you’re more likely to find me walking down a country lane than tottering across a cocktail bar. And unless I want to drive over an hour to the nearest city, my shopping sprees (oh, how I miss you Selfridges) are limited to the
local village butchers, post office and grocery shop.
My daily wardrobe of shift dresses and skyscraper stilettos for my job as Fabulous’ Features Editor has been put away, replaced with jeans and wellies.
So why would someone like me – a true city girl – give up a job thousands of women would kill for, my own flat in one of the loveliest parts of London and a social life filled with parties and best friends for a cottage in rural Scotland?
Because I’ve fallen in love.
Almost two years ago, I went to a friend’s wedding as a single girl, met a boy, and the rest is history.
But while most people’s courtship consists of midweek dinner dates, cosy nights in on the sofa and fun weekends with friends, from the beginning Malcolm and I faced a huge challenge to make our relationship work.
Living 400 miles apart, both with busy jobs, we could only see each other at weekends, leading to us spending hours in airports and on planes and trains, just to snatch a couple of nights with one another.
It involved planning, a lot of effort and huge expense on both our parts, and it was exhausting, both physically and emotionally, with my heart breaking every time I had to say goodbye on a Sunday night. But there was no doubt in our minds it was worth it. We both knew we had something very special.
But we also knew that for us to have a future, one of us would have to move. And with Malcolm the partner in an established business in the Scottish Borders, and a country boy who would have been suffocated by city life, it
had to be me.
In some ways it was the easiest of decisions. No more goodbyes, no more travelling and life as a normal couple for the first time in our relationship – waking up together, having dinner and just enjoying being with each other without the clock ticking.
But it was also the hardest decision I’ve ever made. The Scottish Borders aren’t exactly awash with glossy magazines, so I’ve halted the career I worked hard for and gone freelance, writing and editing from home.
I’d hoped one day to become the editor of a magazine, but that is now unlikely to happen. And I’ve swapped the buzz of the office for a desk in our spare bedroom, with a view of rolling fields instead of the London skyline.
As well as parking my ambitions at the age of 30, and swapping one lifestyle for an extremely different one, I’ve also had to deal with other people’s reactions to my big change.
My mum, Joan, 56, a charity director, and my dad, Pat, 58, an architect, both back my decision. My mum was part of the “have it all” generation: women told they had to have high-flying careers and the perfect family life. She pulled it off with aplomb, juggling a role in the NHS with running a home and raising me and my younger brothers, Fionntainn, now 26, and Deaghlan, 25. But I saw first-hand how hard it was for her, and the pressure she was under.
Like me, she feels now that maybe not everyone can have it all. Sometimes you have to choose, and she supports my choice.
The majority of my friends are delighted for me. They see how in love I am, and how happy Malcolm makes me.
But some women have been less enthusiastic, particularly some of my London friends, who greeted my news with a mixture of horror and disbelief.
“Are you joking?” one said to me incredulously when I told her. “How can you give up your career and your life here for a man?”
I think some see me as a betrayer of feminism. That, by choosing my love of a man over my ambitions and future opportunities, I’ve committed some cardinal sin against womanhood.
But surely feminism is about choice? Women in the past didn’t have one, but now we do. And why should anyone dictate what choice is the wrong or right one? Only I can know what is right for me, and that in itself is empowering.
Malcolm, a 30-year-old builder, is a breath of fresh countryside air after my years of dating overconfident city boys who think bragging about the size of their latest bonus is the way to impress a girl.
Handsome, kind, honest and totally unaffected, he makes me laugh every day (especially when he serenades me badly with soppy love songs), loves me best in my PJs with no make-up on, and when I’m with him I feel safe and completely loved.
I was smitten from our first date at his house – we had a delicious meal, not out at a swanky restaurant, but all cooked by him and eaten in front of a roaring log fire – and knew quickly this one was a keeper.
Still, if you’d told me two years ago I’d be learning to make jam and my neighbours would be a flock of sheep, I’d have honestly laughed in your face.
Malcolm’s lived in the countryside for four years, and is totally immersed in rural life, spending his weekends fishing, hunting and walking his border collie, Corrie. While I’m a born and bred city girl, originally from Belfast, and have
always relished the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life.
I moved to London in 2005 to pursue a career in journalism. Fiercely ambitious, I threw myself into my work, first as a writer at two national newspapers and then moving to this very magazine, where I eventually rose to be Features Editor.
From the stressful times when we were trying to meet pressing deadlines, to partying with the A-list and even flying on
a private jet to New York to live like Carrie in Sex And The City, I have loved every single minute of it.
No one, not even my family or closest friends, could have imagined I’d walk away from all of this.
I studied at Edinburgh University, so have plenty of friends this side of the border, and moving meant I would finally have a normal relationship with Malcolm, but despite this I thought long and hard before I resigned from my job.
Was I really prepared to give up my ambitions for my relationship? The resounding answer in my head was yes.
Even though I loved my job more than anything and had dedicated myself to it, no matter how hard you work, or how much time you give to a profession, in the end it will never hug you after a really hard day, or tell you it loves you,
or build a future with you. And for me, I realised those things are more important.
That’s not to say leaving my job was easy. I shed many tears clearing my desk, saying goodbye to colleagues who have become firm friends and walking out of the office where I’d had so much fun for the final time. And after packing up my London flat into a removal van, Malcolm and I drove up to Scotland, with me sobbing sporadically as we headed north, further and further away from my life in the city.
It’s scary leaving behind one life for another, and as someone who’s always stuck to a safe and plotted path, it felt like I was stepping into the unknown.
Was I crazy giving up my job? Would I regret it and feel resentful towards Malcolm further down the line?
While I might have had these thoughts in my head, in my heart I knew what I was doing was the right thing for me. And for us. And I have no regrets.
I don’t want to climb to the top of the career ladder, only to find myself alone, having lost the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Happy ever after
This way I can still have a career – and I’m determined to make it a successful one – and a life with Malcolm.
I’m not naive. I know there will be days when I miss the glamour and buzz of my old life, when country living feels too quiet and staid, and I long for a stressful day in the office and a night on the tiles with my great friends there.
But sitting in front of a roaring fire with Malcolm, in our cottage, talking about our future and enjoying just being together, I realise that nothing can compare to what I have now.
Given it all up? Personally I think I’ve gained it all.
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