INTRODUCTION: CRACKED BUT NOT BROKEN
“What I love best in life is new starts.”
– Karl Lagerfeld
“How did you end up in Switzerland?” is a question that if every time I heard it I got one franc, I would be a wealthy woman. The answer is simple. People come to Switzerland for either love or work. I came for love.
But, my, my, how life changes. Never in my wildest dreams did I think when I decided to say goodbye to my family and friends, and my budding career in the fashion industry, and packed my belongings to move more than 4,000 miles from New York City to Geneva, Switzerland, that I would end up like this.
This is 40-something: mother of two gorgeous little humans; and divorced. At times, I often felt like the universe was laughing at me. You see, the first thought I had upon arriving in Geneva was that this must be a terrible place to be single! Why I thought that, I have no idea. I was very much attached at the time. So when after ten years of marriage my happily ever after came to a screeching halt, that thought instantly came back to me. Little did I know just how true those words would prove to be.
Geneva is a lovely place but, in my opinion, the natives are not the most welcoming. When I first arrived 15 years ago, I found it incredibly difficult to meet people. You have to belong to some sort of group or something. I was definitely the odd woman out. I was not working and, therefore, I had no real direct contact with people. It was unchartered territory for me, being someone who has always made friends so easily. Never one to back down from a challenge, I found things to do so that I could at least interact with other humans. I am an only child, so I am quite capable of being on my own but it is one thing to enjoy some time to yourself and quite another to be forced into solitude. I didn’t move to Geneva to become a nun.
I realized I needed a common thread to link me to other people. I signed up for an intense French course that was four hours a day, five times a week. That was great for several reasons: apart from merci and au revoir, I knew zero French; I was meeting people; and I was learning to master one of the four official languages of my new home.
I also joined a tennis club, got involved with Democrats Abroad, and a bunch of stuff that I probably would never have done in the States but I ‘wasn’t in Kansas anymore’. I had to put myself out there as sitting alone in the house all day was not an option. My ex traveled constantly for work so it was up to me to find and build my tribe in Switzerland. With a little luck and a lot more effort, I did just that. And things were all good, that is, until they weren’t.
Rewind to my days as a New Yorker, where I had not one but two jobs. I basically had no days off. Who needs sleep? I was young and carefree. I was doing what I loved, working in fashion. I was employed as a stylist (which was a very cute way of saying sales associate) at the now defunct 5th Avenue icon, Henri Bendel. Okay, that was not my dream job but the money was decent, I met tons of people, and the employee discount was insane. My closet runneth over. I got some fashion treasures while working there and some of them I still have to this day. There is no greater satisfaction than, after two babies and 15 years, being able to fit into the gorgeous pale pink Temperley London dress I bought while working there. Working at Bendel’s allowed me to pay my rent, put food in my stomach, and put fashionable clothes on my back.
However, it was my second job as an assistant stylist at a small independent magazine that set my soul on fire. My boss, Stan, took me under his wings and showed me the good, the bad, and the ugly side of the career I wanted. I loved every minute of it.
I have always worked one way or another in fashion, from modeling (many moons ago), sales, and visual merchandising, to buying, but I was most passionate about the jobs that let me express my creativity. Styling was perfect for me and I was a natural, according to Stan. As time went on he would let me do entire shoots on my own. He took me everywhere with him and I was grateful. The connections I was making were priceless. I found myself in some of the top designer showrooms to pull clothes for our shoots and for some of Stan’s personal clients. There were endless events, fashion shows, and parties, and Stan always allowed me to be his plus one. Eventually, he didn’t feel the need to chaperone me anymore and he would just let me go by myself. I loved it! It was at one such event where I met an agent who asked me if I were interested in being represented by them. I was ecstatic.
That was the moment I had been waiting for the entire time I had been living in New York. But with all things, timing is everything. The prior week, I had decided to leave New York and follow the man I loved to Switzerland. I never mentioned this to anyone, until now. Some things you just have to figure out on your own. I have no idea what my life would have been like if I had stayed in New York and, honestly, I never think about it. I made the decision to follow my heart and I have zero regrets.
It became a joke amongst my family and friends that I was moving to Switzerland for an early retirement at the sweet age of 27. It is true, from an outsider’s perspective, that I lived a life that most people would describe as a fairytale. I did not need to work. I lived in a nice house in a great neighborhood. I traveled to far and flung destinations on the regular. I did not want for anything.
When we finally decided to make it official and get married, it was a lavish affair. We got married in one of my favorite places on Earth, Positano on the Amalfi coast. Our nearest and dearest joined us for what was essentially a four-day wedding extravaganza, complete with multiple wardrobe changes, vintage boats, live music, ridiculous amounts of incredible food and wine, partying in ancient grottos, and a phenomenal fireworks display. It was incredible.
Fast forward four years and I had settled nicely into my roles as a wife, and a mother of two young and high-spirited little boys. I had succeeded in creating my tribe in Geneva and life was good. As our family grew, we moved into a bigger house and hired a live-in nanny. Other than that, things were still the same. We didn’t let the kids change our lifestyle. They adapted to it.
I loved to travel and I was not going to let having small children stop me. My kids had their passports before they could even hold their heads up for the pictures. In fact, in each of their photos you can see my hand gently around their neck propping it up. With their passports ready, it was just a matter of throwing some diapers, a change of clothes, and some bottles into a stylish diaper bag: Marc Jacob for baby number one; and Louis Vuitton for little brother; and we were more or less ready to go.
I had no problem adjusting to the European holiday mindset, which means that people take time off from work to travel and enjoy life. Once the kids started school that meant even more vacation time. We went regularly to our apartment in Washington, D.C., and visited New York whenever possible. We always spent summer in one of the fashionable Mediterranean islands: Mykonos, Ibiza, Sardinia, or Bodrum. Winter is a ghost town in Geneva as everyone flees the city for the mountains, and we were no different, opting to rent a chalet in the oh-so-chic resort of Gstaad. Another great advantage of living in Geneva is that we are in the center of Europe. With the airport being a short 20-minute ride away, traveling to the other major European city capitals is effortless. We are truly spoiled for choice. The only problem is deciding where to go.
With the dust settling on the toddler years, read finally getting an entire night’s sleep, I was able to take stock of my life and what was really going on. My boys were becoming increasingly independent, whereas I was craving mine. I needed to work, to do something. Before moving, I had always worked. I got my first job at the age of 15, when I had absolutely no need for it. I worked at the only place that would hire me, KFC. Yes, that one. Since I was so young I could only work seven hours a week, which meant I worked a couple of hours one day after school and five hours on Saturdays. I loved it. I had my own money, plus I was still getting an allowance from the parental units. I was low key ballin’ for a 15-year old. I felt free, grown, and independent. I began to question why I was not feeling like that at 37. I decided to use the skills I had and start my own business, Le Détail. I became a personal shopper and stylist, definitely two things I know how to do well, shop and pull together a look.
As with most things in Geneva, it was a slow process but, thanks to social media and what is called in French, bouche à oreille, I began to get clients. I even became somewhat of a regular on the local English radio station, WRS, that had a popular show called The Style File. It was loads of fun being on the radio. I met some delightful people and even had strangers, upon hearing me talk, stop and ask if I had been on the radio, because they recognized my voice. Talk about almost famous! The best part about doing the show was that the host, Hansine, would always set me on a style challenge and I was always game. I was not overwhelmed with clients and that was okay. My main job was still Mom but I relished in my newfound independence. I was not just wife of, or mom of, I was me or almost me again.
By nature, growth is uncomfortable; however, most of the time it is manageable; sometimes it is not. You can grow together or you can fall apart. You guessed it. My marriage fell all the way apart. As I tried to spread my proverbial wings and was met with constant resistance, I began to feel stifled and trapped. I was. I had to ask myself some hard questions and face up to some difficult truths. A golden cage is still a cage and I wanted out. Deciding to end my marriage was the hardest decision I ever had to make. Actually, it took me several years to do it. I know, I know, 40 is the new 30, but this was my life and not just a trendy hashtag you use on your birthday. I was no longer the fiercely independent young woman I had once been. I was a kept woman, a mother of two, and an expat. I was a bon-a-fide Stepford Wife! Honestly, I didn’t know if I had it in me. Did I have the courage, the strength, the coins, and the confidence to start over and live life on my own terms? The more I thought about it, the clearer it became, and the answer was, HELL YEAH! I chose myself and proceeded to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It was brutal, ugly, and disgusting, but as you can see or read, I lived to tell the tale.
I took the time I needed to get myself together before even entertaining the idea of dating. Honestly, I was not that hopeful, remembering how difficult it had been to make and keep a female friend. I knew I had my work cut out for me. Okay, so I was ready to dip my toes in the modern dating pool but how? Where? I already knew from experience that just going out would not lead me to Mr. Right or even Mr. Right Now. The Genevoise are notorious for keeping to themselves when they are out. It is as if they have a collective do not disturb sign hung around their necks. Once again, I lacked the essential ingredient: a community. I worked mostly from home, so that work was not going to bring any potential suitors my way. I had less than zero male friends, another dead end. The few women I knew were still married or divorced like me.
The dating landscape had definitely changed since last I was single. There were no dating apps back then. In fact, there weren’t any smart phones. Add to the fact that I was in another country. There were so many obstacles in the way, namely language. I thought my French was decent but have you tried being flirty in French? That is something they did not teach in my lessons. Maybe they should start a class for divorced foreigners, Flirting 101, and for the more studious among us, Pillow Talk 202. Dating in the digital era seemed to be a sink or swim kind of situation and I decidedly did not want to sink so I dove in, all the way in. What follows is my attempt to chronicle my (mis)adventure as I re-entered the dating scene a lot older and somewhat wiser.
 word of mouth