Countin’ the Ways

Despite being twice-divorced, I remain a hopeless romantic. Stories about couples who’ve been married for 60-70 years or couples who die within hours of one another always make me warm and tingly.

My paternal grandparents were a couple like that – they were married for over 60 years, and for the first 14 years of my life, I was totally unaware they had ‘proper’ first names, as my grandfather always called my grandmother “Dearie”, and she always called him “Sug” (short for sugar). I thought they were just some weird southern names, and upon discovering their real names were Anna and Edward, I have to admit I much preferred their pet names for each other.

I yearned to be a part of a couple like that. To live with the same person, sleep with them, grow old with them, watch the lines form on their face, to know their smell like your own. I entered both my marriages with the idea that it would last forever, but a lack of ambition in Husband #1 (he was totally uninterested in working, and at the time I had two jobs) and the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Husband #2 (a decent, sweet guy, until he took a drink) ended those hopes, though I tried hard to make them both work. Especially the second marriage, cause I absolutely adored my in-laws.

But it was not to be, and at 32 I found myself divorced for the second time. I went through a brief period where I felt like a failure, but soon bounced back, telling myself that not everyone was meant to be married, and perhaps I was one of those people.

Neither divorce made me bitter towards men. I like men – I much prefer them to women. I find men are more direct, less prone to playing the little games women tend to play with each other. But this presented another problem, because according to society, it’s impossible for men and women to have a platonic relationship. Which created another problem in all the relationships I had following my second divorce, because I absolutely refused to give up my male friends for the ‘new’ guy. Those friends had been there before the new guy, so why should I give them up? And if I’d wanted a relationship with any of my male friends, then wouldn’t I have pursued that – wouldn’t I have been in a relationship with one of them?

My parents – being from the old school – thought my attitude bizarre. My mother didn’t see why I needed a guy friend if I had a boyfriend, my father was convinced I had been ruined by women’s lib and the feministas, and both of them wanted to see me married like my sisters. Me being me, I disregarded their thoughts on the matter: I continued to live my life my way, convinced I could have both.

These days, I have both. Perhaps because I’m older, and have been through more? Perhaps because my current partner of five years has the maturity, is secure enough in himself and possesses the trust all my previous partners lacked?

I don’t know, but I think it’s because we share the same definition of what love means for us. It’s not about sharing the same house – we don’t live together. Which some of our friends find strange, as we’re together a lot. However, we recognised at the beginning of our relationship that we’re both people who need a lot of space. Hence he has his house, and I have my house, and we know when we’re together it’s because we want to be.

For some people, love means a ring and a marriage certificate. And that’s cool – I’m a firm believer in “different strokes for different folks”. But for others – especially people my age who’ve been divorced forever and have grown to love living alone – it’s no longer necessary. We’re totally committed without the traditional, societal, trappings, creating a definition of love that works for us, who we are.

When I was fighting to remain in the UK, my solicitor, his family, my family and our mutual friends were all like, “Why don’t you get married?” “They’d let you stay if you were married”.

But they were all missing the point. We had something that worked for us. And given all the furore over sham marriages, why would we want to get married in the middle of the fight when we had no desire to do so – why was our relationship considered less valuable, less valid than any other couple’s because we weren’t married or living together? Why were we being asked to prove our commitment – our love for one another – by doing something we didn’t want to do?

Love should not – at least to my way of thinking – be about a shared address or a piece of paper. Paper can be burned – just look at the divorce rate! Love should be about the willingness to have your partner’s back through the bad times – J not only stuck with me through the four years it took me to win my case against the Home Office, he helped to pay my solicitor. We’ve been through three redundancies together, the last two mine, and we were both emotionally and financially supportive of each other in those situations. When he cries on New Year’s Eve (the day his mom died) I cuddle him. When I have a nightmare – which I’m prone to – he gently wakes me up, reassures me that all is well, and holds me until I fall asleep again.

For me, for us, love is about the little things. I hate to sew – I’d rather bin a blouse than sew the button back on. J sews everything – buttons, trousers with ripped hems – for me. I wanted a pond in my garden, but 15 minutes after trying to dig the hole for one, I threw in the towel – not cause I wanted to, but cause I didn’t possess the strength. Guess who dug the hole for the pond for me?

I am terrified of all insects…slaters, flies, worms, centipedes, and especially spiders. J won’t kill them, but if they come in my house, he gets rid of them for me.

He hates to hoover, so when I’m at his house, I hoover for him. But the thing that really does it for me, is ironing. I hate to iron – one of the first after-school jobs I had as a child was ironing clothes for my next door neighbour Mrs Russell – she had a family of six, and paid me $2.50 per basket. J hates ironing, too, but I’ll iron for him.

That’s love.

Counting the ways

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