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Relationships

Why you should date my ex

Modern matchmakers: Exes Whakarongotai and Damien Nikora are helping each other find love again after their loving, 21-year marriage came to an end four months ago.

By Cloe Willetts
When most couples split after being in love, they don't sit side by side on their phones showing each other who they want to date. But Whakarongotai and Damien Nikora aren't your average pair.
When their 21-year marriage came to an end four months ago, they went public by listing each other's best traits online. They labelled it, 'Why you should date my ex.'
"We wanted something to celebrate our completion as a couple," says Whakarongotai, 40, who met Damien, 42, when they were young Mormons living in Hamilton. "We wondered how to tell people and he came up with the idea because that's his style – something out of the box!"
Damien, an accomplished fashion photographer and videographer, says for the last six years he and naturopath Whakarongotai knew things were changing. "We have different outlooks on life,"
he tells. "We came to the conclusion we're going to grow a lot better, and a lot faster, on our own."
Loved-up on their wedding day two decades ago.
But there are no hard feelings between the parents of son Nazareth, 20, and daughter Opal, 18. They've changed their status to best friends. And after a loving and loyal marriage that included living in Australia, travelling and starting Goodness Hunters – a mission to document people around the globe doing positive things for the earth and others – they closed this chapter on a high.
On a Sunday they posted their letters at the same time. "It got competitive. I wrote mine, then she wrote hers and so I rewrote mine," laughs Damien, who is creating a sustainable swimwear line. "I'm an amateur on Facebook and hers went public, while mine went to one person."
In their long letters he called her "a wonderful woman", and she described him as "freakin' awesome".
Of course, there were some interested singles.
Whakarongotai laughs, "One guy said he'd fly from Invercargill to take me on a date. But he also said his ex-wife would call him a sex god, so that was a no." The gentle-natured mum has gone on Tinder and before her first date, she even showed Damien!
"As a family, we'll always have each other's backs," she says. "The first date was a big deal. I met him for hot chocolate and didn't know my son was there with his friends for the two and a half hours. But that was just the first one!"
Damien, who is living in his van, is more hesitant to date. When they married he'd never kissed another girl. "I'm way too insecure," he grins.
"I have a massive scar on my stomach from being born with my intestines on the outside, and a few things I'm shy about." This includes losing a testicle during the operation. But being a sickly child is why he now lives fast. He doesn't want any regrets.
"I'm a high energy guy who likes to sprint through life," he says. "If I aim for something, I'm going to go and get it."
The "best friends" with kids Nazareth (left) and Opal.
Damien, whose photography is a career as well as a hobby – is often overseas on shoots. He likes to travel by van, jumping off cliffs into water and spending hours taking pictures of models at the beach.
Whakarongotai prefers to take things slowly. "I go with the flow and am happy not doing something if it's too hard," she laughs. Her new passion is expressive dance, which she's started teaching, and she adores good food. She likes spirituality, deep conversations and living by the bush in Northland – alone for the first time in her life.
It was after leaving church 13 years ago that the pair started forming their different outlooks. "If we met each other now, we'd know pretty quickly we don't fit each other," Damien says. "But I still love her and mean everything I wrote on that post."
Whakarongotai wants a man who likes similar things to her and sees the positive in the world – plus a great smile and good arms. "She forgot to mention she wants someone taller than me too," Damien teases.
His heart's set on finding someone unafraid of new challenges. Ideally he'll meet a woman he can travel with and photograph, to combine his loves.
"One of the problems of travelling with Whakarongotai is she has to pee in a toilet, so I'd need to drive 15km to find one," he laughs. "I want to spend time with a girl who can just go in a bush!"
The pair agree seeing each other move on isn't uncomfortable. Damien says, "The only awkward moment is figuring out what to call each other, instead of accidentally saying 'Babe' after 21 years."
Whakarongotai admits that along with lots of happiness, their relationship also had its downs. She wrote, "No-one is perfect, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I'm talking truth about his pros and if you want to experience the whole package, I'll let you discover the rest."
Damien smiles when his ex says she's already become a better version of herself.
"I love seeing her blossom into the woman I always saw her to be," he says. "She's just doing it at her own pace and you can't help but be proud of her."
Why you should date my ex-husband:
  • "He has epic communication skills and is straight up no matter what, so when you hear the good stuff, you know it's for real!"
  • "If you love to laugh, you'll get plenty of pleasure. He's not afraid of looking stupid or doing dares. But please note his fave jokes are the driest I've ever heard."
  • "I enjoyed his arms, his body, his love, his kindness, his consideration and his smile."
Why you should date my ex-wife:
  • "Saying she's kind is an understatement. She's hassle free and honest."
  • "She's in self-discovery mode. It's a super special time for any man to step in and encourage her growth."
  • "If you have good ears, an honest heart and value her opinion, you'll be just fine."

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