We’re getting married BUT LIVING APART
It sounds absurd. But LUCY CAVENDISH and her fiance are joining a growing number of older couples who refuse to set up home together . . .
THIS December i am getting married. On my 50th birthday, myself and Ed, my partner of the past three- and- a- half years, will be saying ‘i do’ in front of an assortment of our friends and family.
We’re not having a big, glamorous do — we’re both too old and too strapped for cash to have a huge bash. it will be a small, slightly bohemian party, but it will be heartfelt and meaningful. We have both moved on from youthful grand statements and the rose-tinted glasses of first love.
Ed has been married before and i have had long-term partnerships but this is my first wedding, so we are, i hope, more realistic and honest, less starry-eyed (in a good way).
Which is why, after spending two nights of marital bliss together over my birthday weekend — our blended family of six children being looked after by well-meaning aunts, uncles and nieces and nephews — my new husband and i will part ways.
We will do what we have done every Monday since we got together in 2013. He will go back to his life and i will go back to mine. Every week, after our weekends together, he packs the small travelling suitcase he comes with and sets off for Cambridgeshire, where he works and lives. He is a builder, currently in the process of renovating a beautiful Grade ii-listed building, and he lives on site.
After he goes, there is barely any trace of him left in my house. He leaves no possessions behind and i leave none at his, not even a toothbrush. if you walked into my Oxfordshire family home tomorrow, you’d have no idea he even existed.
This is the way we both like it and, up until recently, i didn’t find it at all odd. i have a life. He has a life. i have four children (ranging from the age of 20 down to just nine) and life is hectic.
in many ways i have never wanted him to be part of that domestic drudgery. i have, in short, loved feeling as if i am on a permanent date and never having to ask him about whether or not i should wallpaper a wall, or why doesn’t he put the top on the toothpaste?
But, let’s be honest, it’s also to do with the fact that we are both far too set in our ways to live together. i do love him, which is why i am marrying him. it’s just that, given i’m older than i once was (and less able to adjust to living with someone new) we still don’t intend to live together once we are married,
it was only after we announced our engagement and people kept asking me when he was moving in that i began to realise not everyone views relationships in the way we do. There’s not one person who didn’t comment on our plan to live apart.
i don’t see what living together has got to do with being married. For as much as i want to be with Ed, i certainly don’t want him constantly at my home. Post wedding, he will be working, while i will be getting three out of four kids to school (my eldest will be home from university but will, no doubt, be slumbering).
On Monday evening he and i will have a quick chat on the phone, a run- down of the day, then i will cook dinner for the children and head to my local Youth Counselling centre where i work as a therapist.
Ed will cook himself dinner and probably settle down with a newspaper and do a crossword. i know, because he is a creature of habit. in fact, i’d say we know each other almost better than people who live together because living apart means you have to be good at communication.
WE’VE also got to the age where it’s far too much effort to go off chasing other people. We are happy as we are and, anyway, living together doesn’t prevent infidelity. i know many a couple whose husbands have lived entirely clandestine lives. it’s the knowing of each other that’s important, not how much time you spend together.
i also know plenty of people who cling to anyone, however unsuitable, through fear of being alone. i respect the fact my husband-to-be can function quite contentedly without me. it means that, when we see each other, it’s because we want to be there, rather than because we’re avoiding the pain of the void.
in fact, when we decided to get married, it never occurred to me that Ed would want to live in my frantic domestic whirlwind fulltime. He dips in and out but he has his own life, too. Now his own daughters are grown-up, why on earth would he want to finish work and then deal with the endless cooking, laundry, fights, complaints, homework?
it’s not that he doesn’t care for my children or feel part of their lives, but it is me he is marrying, not me plus them, plus my house, domestic chores and endless worries about the state of the roof. To give him his due, he did get the roof fixed for me, but it is important for me to know he doesn’t feel that by marrying me he has to become my Other Half in every way.
And we’re not alone. According to a 2013 study, Living Apart Together, funded by The Economic and social Research Council, one in ten people in Britain today has made this growing, and increasingly acceptable, lifestyle choice, a phenomenon identified as living apart together (LAT), whereby couples who regard themselves as firmly committed have separate homes through choice or circumstance.
in the study couples who saw themselves as together for the long haul were divided into categories. Thirty per cent were LATs out of choice, where one or both partners preferred to live apart: others cited ‘constraint’, meaning they might have liked to share a home, but circumstances made it difficult; and some were ‘ situational’, regarding their choice the best they could make in their circumstances.
i think Ed and i are a real example of how modern, middleaged relationships can work. if we were all a little more brave, isn’t it true we’d all like more space and time to ourselves? i see long-married couples who either bicker constantly or have become so bogged down by domestic drudgery they no longer speak.
Who wants to spend their lives co- ordinating diaries along the lines of, ‘isn’t it your turn to do the football run/cook the dinner/ feed the dogs?’ That doesn’t mean to say Ed doesn’t do these things, but by choice. it is not
the bedrock of our relationship. This freedom means I feel so much more alive, young and enthusiastic with him. Our relationship is a treat. I like going on dates with him or meeting him for a sneaky glass of wine on a Friday evening. We have so much to say to each other.
Relationship therapist Maria Curry thinks there are many couples who might like to follow this model of living apart together. ‘It’s hard to “blend” families and, if this works for a couple, then I think it is to be encouraged. It is about taking responsibility for the family as a whole.’
She also thinks it works well for older couples in general. ‘ In terms of couples whose children have left home and wish to stay together but live their own lives, this form of separate living can work very well. It isn’t about separating or trying to meet someone else. It’s about listening in an honest and genuine fashion to what you both want.
Relationships that work can be fluid in this way. We don’t all have to stick to societal norms.’
On days when we don’t have the children to look after, we do lovely things together. FOR
Ed’s birthday I hired a small, cheap but beautifully kittedout shepherd’s hut and we spent the weekend cooking outside and walking the dogs round the Dorset coast. We’ve spent two holidays together on a barge. We had Valentine’s Day in Suffolk. We have fun, we talk, we curl up together, we discover new places and things to share.
I’ve been on the planet for half a century — him slightly more — and I have got used to it the way it is. I like to go to my yoga class, I like to stack the plates a certain way in the dishwasher. I like seeing friends, scenting the house with incense, eating at odd times, having a sleep in the afternoon. I am a woman of habit.
This is because, by 50, most of us have life in place as we like it, especially if, like me, you’re a mother. The children have got used to it being me and them; this is time we have come to treasure. It’s important to me that we can still be our own unit and my husband-to-be respects that. He knows they need the firm base of my steady maternal love.
They don’t need to see us cooing away every night. They need to know that they have access to me, that we can all spend time together and mess about and sometimes my husband will be there and sometimes he won’t. In the past I have found that it is the enforced intimacy of coupledom that strikes a death knell. I have enough domesticity in my life without taking on any more. I don’t want to wash his socks, iron his shirts, cook dinner every night. I want to talk and laugh and eat and have fun.
Of course, Ed and I wonder if we can sustain it. In truth, we have no intention of this going on forever. One day, when the children are older and less dependent (or gone entirely), I imagine we will sell up and find our own place together.
We don’t want to live separately all our lives, especially as we get older and possibly more dependent on each other. We look forward to the time when we have our own house, just the two of us, reading our books side-by-side in front of the fireplace. This is our dream. But right now, as soon as we sit down, some child comes in and demands something and we have to get up and go again.
It is much easier to have a relationship if you are both under the same roof. But our part-time life together gives us both support and emotional nourishment, while also allowing for the fact that we both like our own space.
It is such a treat to see Ed every weekend. I can’t wait for those Friday nights when he reappears and off we go. I know it may seem curious to others but, for me, it makes utter sense.
Shunning convention: Lucy and her husband-to-be