Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were one of Hollywood's favourite couples... until they weren't. Despite their 'conscious uncoupling' in 2014, they have remained great friends.
I met Noel* through mutual friends when I was 21, when he hosted us during a visit to China in 2007. We clicked, and decided to see where this could go. A lot of our dates took place over Skype, and after a year, we officially became a couple. In 2009, Noel, who was training to be a pilot, lost his job. We saw this as an opportunity for him to find work in Singapore, so we could finally be together.
But things got off to a rocky start. As a foreigner in Singapore, he could not apply to be a pilot with Singapore Airlines as only citizens and permanent residents were eligible.
It was the only airline he wanted to work for, so he obstinately refused to apply for any others. This meant he had to put his dreams on hold and look for alternative job openings. The perfectionist in him could not deal with this setback. He would complain about being discriminated against, and lamented that he would not be happy till he secured a job as a pilot.
He was often insufferable, and nothing I said could lift his mood. Things between us weren’t perfect, but when Noel proposed, I accepted. A part of me suspected he was doing it to increase his chances of getting permanent residency here, so he could get a job. But I pushed it out of my mind, and we got married in 2010.
Things only went south from there. Noel continued to be bitter and sullen, and at the same time, other cracks were beginning to show. He was uptight about money, and began finding fault with everything I did.
I finally threw in the towel seven months into the marriage, after he snapped at me to ‘be quiet, or else’. I told him to pack his things and move out. I was so exhausted from having to tiptoe around his toxic attitude, and resentful that I’d tried so hard to inject some optimism into his life, yet received nothing in return. So filing for divorce and going our separate ways was a huge relief.
We didn’t see each other for a year and a half. In that time, I dated someone new, but things didn’t work out. I admit I felt empty and longed for companionship, and reaching out to my ex-husband crossed my mind. I had heard that Noel was still single and working in Singapore. I decided to take a chance and meet him for a catch-up.
I was surprised at what I saw when we met. Noel had got a job in sports entertainment, and was visibly happier. Without the negativity, I found him to be good company. We began to hang out once or twice a week, enjoying deep conversations over meals at restaurants.
When we were apart, we constantly texted about what was going on in our lives. He also began inviting me to gatherings with his colleagues and friends. None of them knew that we’d once been married. It felt like the early days of our relationship. I toyed with the prospect of giving things another go, but ditched the idea when I found out his contract was expiring soon, and he had no intention of staying in Singapore. Still, we continued to spend time together. I realised that without the pressures and expectations that came with marriage, we could actually be really good friends.
In 2013, Noel left for the United States to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot. Our communication slowed, but we would still check in on each other once in a while. We exchanged travel photos, and he would update me on his training progress. When he graduated from the programme and went back to China to become a full-fledged pilot, I was happy for him. One day, Noel texted out of the blue: ‘Do you remember why you used to get frustrated with me?’, adding that he was having problems with the woman he was seeing, but could not put a finger on the cause. This came as a surprise because Noel never wanted to hear how I felt when we were together. I was touched by how much he now valued my opinion.
I knew his idiosyncrasies and blind spots better than anyone, and wanted to help him. By now, I had moved on entirely. Noel was still important to me, but strictly in a platonic sense. I worried that he was sabotaging his relationship and was at risk of losing a good catch.
So I delicately laid out the grievances that I speculated his current girlfriend would have. I felt like I was getting through to him in a way I hadn’t been able to when we were married. From then on, Noel would consult me over text every time he fought with his girlfriend, and I would analyse the situation for him.
Later this year, I’ll be heading to China with my husband – whom I married in 2014 – for a holiday. Noel and I have arranged to meet up, and it will be the first time we’ve seen each other in a long time. More than just catching up, I intend to embrace my role as his unofficial love coach and have a heart to heart with him about this woman in his life.
Looking back on our turbulent relationship, I’m amazed to see how far we’ve come. Our friendship has truly grown stronger over the years. Now the occasional cockpit photos I receive from Noel always bring a smile to my face, knowing that he’s happy doing what he loves.
*Names have been changed.
This article was originally published in the September 2017 issue of Her World magazine.