Next month, my partner and I will have been together for 17 happy years. We are closer than most couples I know and still have a relationship full of surprises, passion and fun.
Just a couple of years in, we decided never to get married or have children. Most people have come to terms with this over the years but many still struggle with the fact that we also don’t live together.
We still have friends who say things like “when you meet the right person you’ll want to live with them”. Some of these have been married and divorced in the time we’ve been “having our little semi-detached relationship”.
We never made a specific decision not to live together, it just never seemed like the right time to change things. We go on lots of holidays – 45 countries in 17 years – and spend almost every weekend together. I go to hers most Friday evenings and leave most Sundays.
Yes, I do the travelling and she does the hosting. The last time she came to my flat was about 8 years ago and in our entire relationship, K’s been to my home less than a dozen times. I could have a secret family in my home and she’d never know.
To put it bluntly, her home is much nicer than mine so why should she slum it?
My partner lives in a wonderful modern apartment in a converted factory in trendy Camberwell; I live in a slightly musty 1960s-built council flat on a creaky concrete estate in Tooting.
K’s block has only 13 flats in it and in the eight years she’s lived there, her neighbours have included: a Tory cabinet minister, Roald Dahl’s grandson, a guy who wrote a very popular book on information design, a famous photographer, the leader of a fringe political party, a couple of actors and an accomplished journalist.
There are 87 flats in my block and I’ve lived here for 26 years. In that time, to my knowledge, my only notable neighbours have been an infamous rapist, a steady stream of drug dealers and a family that went to Syria to join ISIS.Camberwell and neighbouring Peckham are vibey and interesting. There are new places to hang out in almost every week. Going to K’s flat each weekend is little bit like going on holiday. It’s like Airbnb with Benefits. Every time we see each other, it’s date night. We get all of the good bits of relationship without any of the ‘wallpaper’.
I know that for many there’s great comfort in waking up to the same face looking back at you every morning. For me this would be hell – even though K has a lovely face.
When we argue, we both have an escape route. The pressure valve of being able to say “I’m going home” is probably a major reason that we have survived for so long. I also love Tooting. It’s a mix of established Asian, transient migrants and middle-class first-time buyers who couldn’t afford Clapham.
My partner before K and I lived together in a single room on the infamous Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham. For the life of me, I can’t imagine how we coped during arguments. I have a vague memory of turning my back in bed as a sign of annoyance but that was about it.
I also like that with no kids, marriage or housing to unravel, our relationship is deliberately fragile. This is unnerving and I totally understand why most people hanker for the security of piece of paper or shared offspring.
I personally like the fact that K can wake up tomorrow and decide she doesn’t want to be with me anymore. It keeps us both on our toes and the fact that she’s decided not to do this, despite the relative ease, means she must genuinely want to be with me (or at least that’s my thinking).About a year after K moved into her current flat, I decided that maybe this living apart idea had had its day. I brought over a few more of my clothes and decided we should try to make a go of living together. It made financial sense. The problem was I made this decision unilaterally and didn’t discuss it with K. About five days into my experiment, she suddenly said, “Have you moved in or something?” When I came clean about my scheme her response was short but resolute: “No, you bloody well haven’t!”
Life is ever-changing and nothing is set in stone. It’s possible that we could live together at some poin. If one of us gets ill and needs daily care we will move in together. If we ever move abroad, it would be slightly odd to look for two homes. Of course, we might just change our minds tomorrow – but I doubt it.
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