CAN MEN AND WOMEN RE­ALLY JUST BE FRIENDS? WRITER ALLEGRA HUSTON EX­PLORES THE POS­SI­BIL­ITY

Fol­low­ing the end of a 14-year re­la­tion­ship, Allegra Huston has no de­sire to live with a man again. So what should she do about Gabriel – who’s not quite a lover but more than just a friend…

Woman & Home - - Contents -

Iam writ­ing this while on hol­i­day in france with a man i love, and the three 14-year-old sons we have be­tween us. (i have one, he has

two.) when we checked into our last airbnb, the host had pre­pared four bed­rooms for the five of us. when we asked for a fifth to be made up, she was baf­fled. we raise more eye­brows by not sleep­ing to­gether than if we did.

i could have lied and said gabriel is my brother. but we share our lives more closely than any brother and sis­ter that i know; the depth of af­fec­tion, and the fo­cus on each other, is that of a love af­fair. So i didn’t think of that. and “friend” isn’t the word ei­ther. the best word i’ve f found to de­scribe gabriel is my ally.

It’s been four years since we met – our sons joined the same foot­ball t team – three-and-a-half since my long r re­la­tion­ship with my son’s father ended, a and about two-and-a-half since what i r re­mem­ber as the first “we”: we could go to the house of friends for n new year’s, gabriel said. I’ i’m not sure he no­ticed the “we” but i marked it: the as­sump­tion that we would cel­e­brate hol­i­days to­gether. since that time, we go out as a cou­ple on a case-by-case ba­sis: to din­ner or to the movies.

We are two of a kind in the town where we live: we’re both writ­ers, both have com­plex, bo­hemian back­grounds – the chil­dren of partly amer­i­can par­ents brought up be­tween the two con­ti­nents – and share a broad cul­tural land­scape. he has an aca­demic’s mind and a fan­ci­ful imag­i­na­tion, and is one of the best-read peo­ple i’ve ever met; i’m a dilet­tante, full of ran­dom bits of in­for­ma­tion but far more lit­eral-minded. we’re com­ple­men­tary: he gen­er­ates some­thing out of noth­ing; i or­gan­ise, de­velop, em­bel­lish, pol­ish.

Love with­out sex

Still, many peo­ple who know us find it hard to be­lieve that we can be as close as we are and not be lovers. my fam­ily knows he’s my close friend and ally, and some of them are maybe a lit­tle baf­fled, but are happy i have some­one in my life i can rely on. so why aren’t we lovers? there are no moral or phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers in the way, and nei­ther of us is gay. if i had been sin­gle when we met, i’m sure it wouldn’t have been long be­fore we fell into bed. but i wasn’t, so friend­ship was all that was pos­si­ble. if we changed the ground rules now, we’d have too much to lose.

when you bring pas­sion into play, ev­ery­thing is more charged. the highs are higher, the lows are lower. what may have been mildly ir­ri­tat­ing in a >>

Our fo­cus on each other is that of a love af­fair

friend can build into a deal-breaker be­cause if you’re monog­a­mous, a lover is al­ways on trial. is this the one?

you don’t have to break up with a friend in or­der to make a new friend, but a lover is ei­ther in or out – at least, for me. though i’ve stayed friends with some exes, i’ve never been able to make the “friends with ben­e­fits” thing work. prob­a­bly my monogamy switch is set too high.

i can’t help it. that’s the fac­tory set­ting.

I can be my­self

What Gabriel and I have feels rare and pre­cious. it has to be pro­tected. we value and trust each other. best of all, we feel seen, each by the other. In­stead of feel­ing the old strain of want­ing to look good in a lover’s eyes, with him i am en­tirely my­self. we bring out each other’s best selves. he sees me as val­or­ous (his word); i find in him a moral clar­ity that shows me true north. it’s like hav­ing a strongly rooted tree nearby that i can hold onto when things get stormy – or i can breathe

out and feel him steady be­hind me. he gives me shade. I en­joy the way his thoughts, like leaves, play in the breeze.

He brings me fire­wood unasked, and cuts the grass around my house. i lend him my car when his breaks down. We live barely half a mile apart, and we go in and out of each other’s houses unan­nounced; we speak on

the phone sev­eral times a day.

He kisses my fore­head when i’m wor­ry­ing about some­thing; now and then we even hold hands. we have shared dreams for the fu­ture; we feel like we’re in this to­gether. But we’re both at an

age where we’re not look­ing for a mate; hor­mones aren’t driv­ing us to re­pro­duce. sta­bil­ity is what we want from each other, not ex­cite­ment. we’re play­ing the long game.

Gabriel is a hand­some man: he’s tall and slim, with dark hair and green eyes. i based the char­ac­ter of mi­ca­jah in my new novel, say my name, on him, a love story be­tween a woman near­ing 50

– as i was when i wrote it – and a much younger man. Mi­ca­jah is how i imag­ine gabriel would have been at 28. The Novel is in­ti­mate and explicit – but it’s

not about gabriel and me. in fact, i doubt i could have writ­ten it if i’d been in the throes of a love af­fair my­self. be­ing in love suf­fuses your con­scious­ness. it hi­jacks your thoughts and your en­ergy.

what’s un­usual about our al­liance is not its qual­ity, but sim­ply that we’re open about it. one friend,

who has al­ways made a spe­cial­ity of fall­ing pas­sion­ately in love, con­fessed to me that her cur­rent, happy re­la­tion­ship is more about af­fec­tion and com­fort and shared liv­ing than it is about sex­ual pas­sion – in other words, that it’s like the one i have with gabriel. an­other, who shared a house with a man be­fore end­ing up sleep­ing with him, told me she thought it was so­cial pres­sure that sent them to bed.

sex per­me­ates our cul­ture so com­pletely that it’s al­most shame­ful to con­fess that it’s not al­ways that im­por­tant. sex is some­thing we’re sup­posed to do well, with imag­i­na­tion, en­ergy, and flair. it’s be­set with ex­pec­ta­tions. and ex­pec­ta­tions are

the root of dis­ap­point­ment.

Ro­man­tic ally

Don’t get me wrong; this is not an ar­gu­ment against hav­ing sex. i cer­tainly don’t in­tend to be celi­bate for the rest of my life. but i’m com­ing to be­lieve that split­ting the roles of sex­ual part­ner and ally might be a re­ally good idea. sex­ual in­ter­est tends to wear off with time, and your eye starts rov­ing. but true al­lies are hard to find.

i’ve lost count of the newly di­vorced women i’ve over­heard in cof­fee shops, ex­ult­ing about how won­der­ful it is to be sin­gle. stud­ies show that men past mid­dle age have bet­ter health and longer life ex­pectancy if they’re mar­ried; for women, it’s the op­po­site. i told gabriel this, and he laughed hard: that shows, he said, that the men are suck­ing like par­a­sites on the lifeblood of the women. one of the things i love about him is that he is in­stinc­tively a fem­i­nist.

we’ve talked about what might hap­pen if gabriel or i hooked up with a lover. it’s a pos­si­bil­ity, and of course it would be a tricky ad­just­ment. we’re hu­mans, not an­gels. but what i know is that there would be a ground of un­der­stand­ing be­tween us that our al­liance would sur­vive. w&h

What Gabriel and I have feels rare and pre­cious

Say My Name

BY ALLEGRA HUSTON (HQ) IS OUT NOW. ALLEGRA WILL BE TEACH­ING A MEM­OIR WRIT­ING WORK­SHOP IN MAL­LORCA FROM 22-27 OC­TO­BER (DE­TAILS AT ALLEGRAHUSTON.COM).

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