I never saw it coming: the breakup. Sam* and I had always been the kind of couple that felt impenetrable. We'd survived time apart, stressful periods with our families and a prolonged stint in hospital (him).
He was the first partner who had ever bought me flowers and the last person I ever thought would hurt me – until he started up a relationship with a new colleague and ditched me. Just like that.
If you'd asked me what the future held, I'd have told you "Sam and children". So when the end came it felt as though my future had been ripped away.
So when I first heard that Paul Hollywood, UK TV's blue-eyed baking bad boy, had left his wife Alex for 24-year-old Summer Monteys-Fullam, I empathised. Sam's new girlfriend may not have been 29 years his junior, and the story might not have played out in front of the nation, but the betrayal was just the same. When the person you love leaves you for someone else, you're automatically recruited into an exclusive society; think The First Wives Club, but without the pastel suits. And, like Alex Hollywood, I was forced to sit back and watch it all unfold.
I also felt a pang of recognition when, this week and two years into their relationship, Monteys-Fullam left the Bake Off judge after he reportedly asked her to sign an NDA.
Of course, time heals many things, but even the passing of weeks and months can't heal your heart quite like the schadenfreude of watching your ex's new relationship - the one that blossomed under your nose - crumble.
I first heard about Jessica* a few months after Sam had started a new job. I spotted a photograph of his colleagues on Facebook, all having drinks. He told me in detail about the other people in the picture. But when he got to Jessica his finger hovered for a second, as if he were trying to remember her name, and then he muttered, "Yeah, she's nice". An uneasy feeling settled on my chest.
Three months later, as I scrolled through his friend's Instagram profile, I saw a picture that forced my heart to a shuddering stop. Sam wasn't the main focus of the image, nor was he tagged in it, but he was there in the background, beaming broadly, and leaning towards another woman. I couldn't see her face, but I knew from the haircut that it was Jessica.
"We need to talk," I texted, hoping that it would incite guttural fear in him. Instead he replied, "I wanted to talk to you, too, actually".
A few hours later, he told me he just didn't feel the same way anymore. Though I still had rage about Jessica coursing through me, I begged him to stay. We were stronger than this, surely?
We weren't, and two weeks later they updated their relationship status on Facebook.
The new couple wasted no time in filling social media with snapshots of mini-breaks and posts professing their eternal love for each other. Within a year they had moved in together. Our relationship, which I had always thought of as unbreakable, had just been the prelude. I had no choice but to lick my wounds and accept that I had been "the one before the one".
A year later though, friends began to tell me they'd seen the couple arguing on nights out. There were rumours of complaints from neighbours over their furious arguments. I was hooked.
Unlike our relationship, which had faded quietly away, theirs imploded. It unravelled at catastrophic speed; it burst into flames – and I was watching it burn.
There is something humanly and unapologetically delicious about being party to the disintegration of a love that destroyed the sanctity of your own – something Alex and I undoubtedly share.
I checked their social media accounts and those of their friends daily - looking for the cracks. I didn't want him back, but I couldn't stop my lip from twitching when I saw she'd gone abroad with a pal, captioning the imagine:"'I'll always have my girls". A few days later Sam's relationship status disappeared.
It was a joy that I felt unable to share. I pretended not to care when friends regaled me with salacious stories, and I made sure that all my scrutinising was done in the 'private mode' of my browser.
For a year I had wondered what it must be like to be loved more than me, but suddenly I felt as if I was back in control. I'd pieced my life back together. They were at the beginning of what I knew to be a long and despairing road.
It wasn't as simple as the word "schadenfreude" suggests. Yes, I was deriving pleasure from someone else's misfortune, and yes, I enjoyed imagining Sam alone in bed at night. But it was also the realisation that I could finally free myself from the narrative of the scorned woman that they had created for me.
Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argues that to feel envy is human, but to enjoy other people's misfortune is diabolical – I disagree. The idea of reveling in someone else's pain is not a nice one, but when they have already caused you so much pain, it's hard not to. And my internal fireworks at their split isn't actually hurting anyone. Why shouldn't I use it to put myself back together?
Like Alex Hollywood, anyone who has been in this position will know, only too well, the sleepless nights, the 'what ifs' and 'why nots' that rack your brain. We deserve some joy, however dark, after all that.
I will always defend any woman who, like a phoenix, is able to rise from the ashes – and if those ashes are the cinders of her ex's next relationship, so be it.