Monday 27 January 2020

'Living with my husband nearly ended my marriage'

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Stock image

Julie Burchill

On reading the words of the actress Gillian Anderson at the weekend, talking about why she chooses not to cohabit with her boyfriend, The Crown creator Peter Morgan, I felt the shock of recognition.

"If we did, that would be the end of us. It works so well as it is, it feels so special when we do come together."

She went on: "It's exciting... there is nothing locking us in, nothing that brings up that fear of 'Oh gosh, I can't leave because what will happen to the house, how will we separate?'. I start to miss the person I want to be with, which is a lovely feeling."

Regrettably, I am what was once called a bolter, leaving two husbands and two children by the age of 35. Flighty I may be, but I'm hardly a fly-by-night; my first marriage lasted five years and my second 10 years.

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However, I find it amazing that I've now been with my third husband for a whopping 25 years - a quarter of a century! And much of this, I believe, is down to the fact that for 20 years of them we have lived apart.

One of my favourite writers, Saki, wrote thus: "No really provident woman lunches regularly with her husband if she wishes to burst upon him as a revelation at dinner. He must have time to forget; an afternoon is not enough."

I like to entertain and be entertained by my closest companions, and it's a tried and true formula of the scenery-eater to leave the audience wanting more.

In her book Mating in Captivity, the brilliant psychotherapist Esther Perel has written definitively about the paradox of how we crave intimacy from our romantic partners, but we then struggle with feelings of suffocation. I've always found it odd that we start out coming from one family (with our parents) and then go on to construct another based around who we're having sex with. No wonder we can go off it.

Some people attempt to revive the frisky face of stranger-danger by pretending to be other people and picking each other up in hotel bars. But this can't change the fact that come the morning after, you'll still be squabbling over who takes the recycling out.

So despite previous experiences, I was prepared to forget the past and give it a go with the third one as I'm so keen on him.

When we got together, it seemed an obvious choice to live apart; with an age gap of 13 years, my idea of fun was cocktails and spite with girls and gays, while his was beer and Nintendo with like-minded lads. Even after a decade, when I heard his key in the door, I would jump up and run to greet him, like a semi-detached Stepford Wife.

This worked well until five years ago, when I burned through all my money and had to sell my lovely loft. My husband's flat was just across the road in a lush seafront square - it wouldn't be the end of the world if I gave cohabiting one more try, surely?

But from the word go, there were warning signs I should have stayed on my side of the street. I love open windows, he prefers a full-on fug. There was my preference for banging house music versus his for the psychedelia noodling of Frank Zappa; my pescatarianism compared with his enthusiasm for frequent fast food. Above all, I am a super-lark - someone who gets up happily at five in the morning and is ready for bed by nine - whereas my husband is a night owl.

Towards the end, it felt like we were mismatched flatmates rather than a married couple; as an only child and very keen on my own company, I started to feel, strangely, that a part of me was missing. By the end of last year, I was financially able to move out again - and within a few months, we appear to have been restored to our previous playful state. He says he misses my singing most and my snoring least; I love the sensation of missing all of him followed by the excitement of seeing him in the flesh.

There are now apparently around two million LAT (living apart together) couples in Ireland and the UK alone and if you can manage it financially, I'd definitely advise giving it a go.

Curiously, having been burned once, I still believe we will end up living together when we're old and decrepit; it seems contrary, when you're in a weakened state, to cling stubbornly to your solitariness when you'll end up having to ask professional strangers for help anyway. But until then, I'm giddy with excitement at having my own little flat just for me once again.

Two may well live as cheaply as one - but independence is a pearl beyond price. © The Daily Telegraph

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