My first love dumped me for my bestie out of the blue, says MAFS’ Mel Schilling

THINKING back to my first love always conjures up the sickly sweet scent of Brut 33.

The year was 1987 and I was 15 years old. Stuart and I had been passing notes for weeks at school when he finally asked me to be his girlfriend.

Thinking back to my first love always conjures up the sickly sweet scent of Brut 33

I was giddy with excitement. With his permed mullet, he looked just like Jon Bon Jovi, and I was infatuated.

I was so shy back then that we mostly communicated through friends. After six months, he dumped me out of the blue and I was heartbroken. However, I was desperate to stay friends with him and even pretended I didn’t care when he moved on with my best pal.

Though it was incredibly painful at the time, that experience set me up for how brutal the modern dating world can be.

After leaving school, I studied psychology at the University of Melbourne and worked in the corporate sector, training people in leadership positions. Typical clients were women in their 30s who were doing well in their careers but having a bad time dating – as was I!

There’s no luck in dating — you have to make your own. Dating coaching wasn’t really a thing in Australia at the time, so I came up with a strategic approach to help women find love: treat it like your career.

You wouldn’t turn up to an interview without having read the job description or thought about where you want to be in five years’ time. You’d never say: “I’ll just leave my career up to chance because things will work out.” So why do that with love?

While I was gaining success as a dating coach, I was struggling in my own personal life. Throughout my 30s, I thought I was putting myself out there by being on dating websites and talking to guys in bars.

But looking back, I see that I was self-sabotaging. I’d pick guys who were emotionally, and sometimes geographically, unavailable.

Like lots of my clients, I dated bad boys, commitment-phobes and Peter-Pan types who never wanted to grow up. I started questioning if I’d ever find love. But then I met Gareth.

Gareth, now 49, and I connected on eHarmony in 2008 when we were in our late 30s, and he instantly saw through my tough-girl persona.

As I was based in Victoria and he was hundreds of miles away in Adelaide, we spent six weeks sending essay-length emails and daily texts before our first date. I tried to call him once during that period, but I couldn’t understand a word he said as he has such a thick Northern Irish accent!

I had butterflies from the moment I saw him. I did everything that I would advise against on our first date — I told him my whole life story, including some of the worst guys I’d been out with, in a high-pitched voice because I was so nervous. At one point, he leant across the table, put his hand on top of mine and said: “It’s OK, you can relax. You don’t need to prove anything.”

Like lots of my clients, I dated bad boys, commitment-phobes and Peter-Pan types who never wanted to grow up. I started questioning if I’d ever find love. But then I met Gareth.

I knew he was The One because our conversation just flowed. After 10 years, I’ve still never been bored by Gareth. Frustrated? Yes. P**sed off at times, too, yes. But never bored!

When I was 40, I sadly miscarried our first baby at 12 weeks. We tried again for a year before conceiving our daughter Maddie, now seven, through IVF. I burst into tears when I first heard her heartbeat at the six-week scan. I’d never felt love like it before.

Now, when I put her to bed at night, I put my hand on her heart and feel it beating. It takes me right back to that first ultrasound. 

Growing up, I fully believed in love at first sight — but being a matchmaker on the show has changed my opinion. In my job, I get a bird’s-eye view into these relationships and it’s taught me that respect is everything.

A couple who respect each other can argue and make it out the other side. One that doesn’t will break down immediately. Love means feeling completely seen, accepted and supported yet challenged. It’s more than just physical attraction. 

  • Watch Married At First Sight Australia, Monday-Thursdays, 7.30pm, E4.

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