I was widely mocked for putting sex with my husband in the diary. But, trust me, it works!
We asked six writers if romantic love is the key to a happy marriage. Here’s what they told us
SOMETIMES i wonder if i could sue for having been at the receiving end of misleading information in my teens. Back then, i was assured by magazines and movies, books and friends that i’d know ‘true love’ when i encountered it.
i thought that my heart would beat faster, skies would clear to blue, i’d dance down high streets without getting run over by traffic and the whole wide world would start looking surprisingly like a rom-com set. Forty years down the line, 20 of them in comfortable cohabitation with the father of our two kids, and it’s Yeats to whom i look for a quieter kind of romantic wisdom.
i’m now ‘old and grey and nodding by the fire’. He wisely wrote that true love is not about fleeting beauty, but rather the soul, its sorrows and even a partner’s ‘changing face’. i am in step with emma thompson for claiming we must take the notion of romantic love ‘with a
massive pinch of salt’. The oscar winner, 63, who has been married to actor Greg Wise for 20 years, says: ‘Long-term relationships are hugely difficult and complicated. If anyone thinks that happy-ever-after has a place in our lives, forget it.’ She means that fuzzy fairy tale so many fall into blindly, and I agree.
For two decades, I penned an agony column where the words ‘soulmate’ would appear in every second missive, and I would frequently start my reply with the crushing assertion that I don’t believe in soulmates.
I think the hardest job we have is to translate early lust, physical and mental, into lasting love — this is something far less instinctive but it is what cements you together and carries you through the trials and tribulations of life.
What I believe in is choice, chemistry and then loyalty, forgiveness, tolerance, kindness, respect and the ability to step beyond your own desires in order to fulfil someone else’s. Last week, I was widely mocked for admitting that I schedule sex, as advised by a wise therapist friend who told me that making intimacy a regular date may sound ‘unromantic’ but is far better than hoping for spontaneity to propel you when familiarity sets in. What author Caitlin Moran describes in her unique vernacular as the ‘maintenance ‘s**g’.
I won’t apologise or feel embarrassed to admit that’s how I stop the physical side of my marriage from falling by the wayside.
It’s a perfect example of the difference between romanticising a relationship by expecting desire to remain fixed and constant, or electing to work on desire that fluctuates, because you love someone.
of course, we all need the memories and remnants of early lust to draw on when those primitive desires seem out of reach, but we also need the self- discipline to accept our choices and make the best of them, not look constantly to greener pastures. Real love changes shape and form over years together, and sometimes needs a helping hand to get it back on track, while romantic love, left to its own devices, just fizzles out and leaves us empty-handed.
despite the assertion that the best things in life are free, I beg to disagree. The best things in life are the things you earn for your efforts, and top of that list is a good relationship.
Anyone can meet a stranger in a bar and feel a palpitation, but holding that same hand 40 years on and marvelling at how much you’ve survived together is, for me, the definition of true love. That is no accident.
TRUE ROMANCE DOESN’T WITHER — IT’S IMMORTAL
LADY Antonia Fraser, 90, best known for her historical biographies, has been married twice and has six children. She lives in London.
TOWARDS the end of a dinner party to celebrate the opening of a new Harold Pinter play, I was disappointed not to sit next to the playwright himself.
He looked full of energy, with black curly hair and pointed ears like a satyr.
Before I left, I went over to him. ‘Wonderful play, marvellous acting, now I’m off.’
He looked at me with his amazing, extremely bright black eyes. ‘ Must you go?’ he said.
It was January 1975 and I was married with six children. I thought of home, taking the children to school the next morning, doing the supermarket shop…
‘No, it’s not absolutely essential,’ I said.
Now, nearly 50 years on, I consider this the supreme romantic moment of my life. We were the last guests to leave at 2.30am when Harold, also married with a child, gave me a lift home.
I offered him coffee. I actually gave him champagne.
He stayed until 6am with extraordinary recklessness, but of course the real recklessness was mine.
We embarked on an affair that resulted in 33 happy years together — 28 of them married.
The romance never wavered. When we first moved in together, he filled the house with flowers: arrangements in the hallway, the drawing room, his study, my study and the bedroom.
Throughout our relationship, he wrote me poems on yellow notepaper and I have kept them all.
After Harold’s death in 2008, I was touched to find in his desk almost every note or message I had written him over our married life.
So, as much as I admire Emma Thompson, I do not agree with her that ‘romantic love is a myth’.
Neither do I believe that romantic love necessarily withers, replaced by the humdrum reality of married life.
I have always been intensely romantic — since early childhood. The trouble with romantics is that they tend to gravitate towards other like-minded people in the end.
My first husband, Tory MP Hugh Fraser, was dashing rather than romantic.
I was 23 when we met at a New Year’s ball and he was wearing a kilt. ( Now a kilt is a very romantic thing.)
I admired his cavalier nature, his high spirits, his essential decency and kindness.
I even admired his detachment, although his lack of emotional intimacy — he once told me he preferred families to individuals — was with hindsight probably what doomed us.
I was happy in our marriage. We went on to have six children (I now have 20 grandchildren and seven great- grandchildren) — but I suppose, deep down, I had always been looking for romance.
The magnetism between Harold and me was just that. Far from diminishing over time, I believe romantic love is immortal.
I STORMED OUT IN ROWS — BUT COULDN’T STAY ANGRY FOR LONG
BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD OBE, 89, best-selling novelist, was married to her film producer husband, Bob, for 56 years until his death in 2019. She lives in New York.
I DON’T agree that there is no such thing as romantic love. But, being fair, I think we can also call it instant sexual attraction.
Two people see each other across a room, they want to get to each other as quickly as possible, they meet, make a date or even leave together. Finally, they end up where they want to be: in bed together.
It’s afterwards that the tricky part starts. They get to know each other, discover if they are compatible and, if not, eventually part. If someone is lucky, as I was with my husband Robert Bradford, then romantic love grows into a genuine abiding love.
We met on a blind date in London in 1961, and I was instantly smitten with this handsome, extremely charming man.
We were married for 56 years and it was a wonderful marriage. We shared our dreams, our ambitions, I helped him every way I could with his career as a movie producer and he managed my career, turning me into the bigname writer that I am today.
If you’re with a man who pleases you, who loves you, who takes care of you, who listens to you, then that’s a great bonus in your life. It was in mine.
Mind you, we had our disagreements, and we each sometimes stormed out of the room alone. But pretty soon I always thought, ‘oh what the hell, it doesn’t really matter’, and I’d return to the room and talk to him normally. Bob did the same. That’s the power of love.
If you meet a man who fulfils so many other desires in you, you don’t really miss the romantic love which brought you together in the first place.
When Bob died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2019, I was devastated. I have realised over these last few years how much he loved me, how much I loved him.
He was my best friend, my champion, my guiding light in my career, the husband who never missed an anniversary, who came home with gifts of jewellery, flowers, a book he knew I wanted to read. Beautiful
The magnetism between Harold Pinter and me was true romance. Far from diminishing over time, it never wavered
LADY ANTONIA FRASER
expressions of romantic love that still lingered 58 years since our eyes first met and he walked across the room to sit next to me.
■ Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Man Of Honour (HarperCollins) is out now.
I’VE NEVER FELT ROMANTIC ABOUT MY HUSBAND
JULIE BURCHILL, 63, columnist and author, has been married three times and lives in Brighton.
I CAN’T bear Emma thompson — but I do find her useful as a kind of ‘contra-barometer’. Whenever I’m not absolutely certain what I think about an issue (admittedly pretty rare) I Google her opinion and, sure enough, my own thoughts instantly crystallise as the polar opposite of what she believes.
So I was slightly unsettled to find myself nodding at her assertion that ‘romantic love is a myth’. Because I’m not a romantic person at all; I’ve never believed in the One, more the Queue — you work your way through the people you fancy for as long as you’re attractive enough to get them, and, when the music stops, you stick with the one you’re with.
I’ve never married for romantic love, either; my first husband was my best mate but the sex was dull (five years), my second husband was great in bed but too pessimistic to make a great partner (ten years) and with my third husband (a whopping quarter of a century), I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the best of both lust and friendship.
But it’s never been romantic with Dan — I associate romance with soppiness, and neither of us is soppy.
Of course, familiarity is the enemy of excitement, but if you’re lucky, friendship and lust can change into something far better than soppy old romance anyway.
If I think of a couple who ‘work’, the Prince and Princess of Wales come to mind. there’s something attractively brisk about them. In public, they rarely touch — unlike the ghastly Sussexes, high on their own supply of amour fou.
I can’t help suspecting that thompson’s bossy finger-wagging is a case-specific issue. I do believe that ‘ normal’ people can experience romantic love that turns into lifelong devotion.
But in general, the idea of romance always gave me what youngsters call the Ick; I never day-dreamed of getting married as a girl, but of getting divorced. I was such a strange, sophisticated adolescent that my parents’ devoted marriage and indeed the very stability of my home life made me feel suffocated — I wanted to live a tempestuous, torrid life, like the women I read about in my favourite book, Valley Of the Dolls. and, to some extent, I did.
So for professional show- offs such as Emma and me, yes, lasting romantic love may well be an impossible dream — because what mere mortal can ever compete with the fascinating creature in the looking glass?
ROMANCE IS TAKING THE RUBBISH OUT EVERY THURSDAY
AUTHOR Jessica Fellowes, 48, lives with her husband Simon, 64, and their 12-year-old son in Oxfordshire.
IF YOU’D asked me in my 20s, I’d have said Emma thompson sounded like an embittered older woman.
Romantic love, or the quest for it, was a pretty major occupation for me at the time.
But now in my 40s, and having been with my husband for 18 years, I feel rather more pragmatic. those dizzying endorphins of early romantic love are necessary to bring two people together, but they overpower rational thoughts. Romantic love is dangerous when it is given transcendent qualities: ‘ He/she makes me feel like this, ergo they must be the One!’
this is when we see friends skip off down the road with someone completely unsuitable, and all we can do is wait for them to come back, hearts broken.
Experience has taught me that a romantic spark can be felt with any number of people. Often it comes down to timing. ‘ forget Mr Right,’ said Ruby Wax. ‘Where’s Mr Right now?’
When I met my husband, there was giddiness and romance, sitting up into the night talking, planning a life together.
there were lots of reasons for us not to get together, too: he’d been married before, there were children, and, at 31, I felt too young for the situation.
We broke up a few times — those rational thoughts getting in the way — but in the end, romance won out.
yet we also recognised in each other a fundamental kindness and seriousness to commit and make it work.
It has been, I believe, those qualities that have kept us going, more than romantic affinity.
that’s not to say romance isn’t part of it. It’s just that romance is shown in small, kind gestures: by taking the rubbish out every thursday, or bringing cups of tea to bed with the papers. I buy my own flowers, put it that way.
But seeing my husband means I’m home, and for me, that’s the most romantic feeling of all.
TEN YEARS ALONE, I MAKE ROMANTIC GESTURES TO MYSELF
VERONICA HENRY, 59, is divorced with three grown-up sons and lives on the North Devon coast with her miniature Schnauzer, Zelda.
THE irony of being a romantic novelist who has been single for nearly ten years — no, not even a quick fling — is not wasted on me. How can I possibly write about happy endings if I don’t have any romance in my own life?
But the truth is, I am probably the most romantic person I know — it’s just that at 59 I no longer pin the notion on having an ‘other half’.
I certainly don’t think romantic love is a dangerous myth. So many wonderful, creative things are inspired by the search for romantic love — books, films, music, fashion. and the downside has a huge impact, too.
think of all the break-up songs, the make-up songs.
true, there’s nothing like the dopamine hit of falling head over heels, but that intoxicating cocktail isn’t always sustainable. Sometimes you have to accept the magic is gone, and you are better off apart. If that does happen, all is not lost. these days, I recognise that the most important love of all is love of yourself.
Without that, nothing works, but it’s up to you to make yourself feel loved by spoiling yourself from time to time.
that’s why these days I make grand romantic gestures to myself. I buy myself flowers, or indulge with a steamy bubble bath and fresh bed linen — I don’t care if I’m sliding between the sheets on my own, I still wallow in the luxury.