The problem with not getting married, I am increasingly realising, is that you cannot get divorced. There is no mechanism for separating when you are simply co-romancing with someone. The builder boyfriend and I are not even cohabiting. We simply pop round to each other’s houses as the fancy takes us.
Not that I am complaining, necessarily. After a lot of stops and starts we are currently rather happy. And this is all very fine and dandy. But every now and then a dread panic grips my heart and I think, ‘Hang on a minute. What if I ever want to get out?’
We’ve been together on and off for three years now. It seems like only yesterday that we met. He was the blond, rugged chap in beige breeches unloading a big white horse from a lorry and I was the train-wreck of a singleton approaching her forties, faffing about in the stable yard trying to tack up my pony, no doubt having some sort of crisis. We got chatting, eventually, after he’d fought off all the teenage girls. He offered to try to sort out a few of my decorating problems, and throw me in a set of wardrobes and a boiler cupboard. And three years later here we are.
We’ve broken up a fair few times. I’ve referred to him variously as the builder boyfriend and the ex-builder boyfriend. Sometimes I’ve had to resort to the ‘ex-ex builder boyfriend’. It’s all a bit embarrassing. But whatever you think of it, whatever ‘it’ is, it seems to be enduring. Even when I have flounced off and we have been apparently separated — or, as Rachel and Ross from Friends used to call it, ‘on a break’ — we have never really stopped talking.
After a while, the separation always ends the same. We realise we have seamlessly joined the not being together with the being together. Without even knowing it, we have drifted back into our old familiar ways. One minute I’m telling him I can’t possibly go on with this. I don’t want to be in a relationship. Now I’m too old to have children, there’s no point. And he’s yelling, ‘Oh what is the matter with you? Why do you keep throwing everything up in the air all the time?’
A few weeks pass and before I know what’s happening he’s saying, ‘What are we having for dinner? Shall I pick up that moussaka we like? Have you got salad?’ And I’m saying, ‘Yes, I’ve got some salad in. But you’d better get more tomatoes. Oh, and we’re nearly out of olive oil.’ And then I think, ‘Damn! How did that happen?’ How did we get from ‘Goodbye. It’s all over for good this time’ to ‘Get some more olive oil’?
The reason, I have concluded, is that we are not married. If you are not married, you cannot separate properly. If you are not married, you can’t throw your toys out of the pram with any kind of official status. There is no process overseen by lawyers which gains momentum until you can’t go back. If you are not married, you don’t have a bit of paper to rip up. If you don’t have a ring, you can’t pull a ring off and throw it at the wall and swear to never wear it again. Sans ring, sans title, sans bit of paper, sans lawyer, you have to go on and on indefinitely. You have to work through all the problems and bear with it.
Lordy, but the unmarried are a saintly lot. Not for us the hot-headed transience of the married folks, with their … year itches (fill in as appropriate), and their running off with other people. Affair? Chance would be a fine thing. You can’t have an affair if you’re not married. When you ask someone to run away with you for a dirty weekend when you’re single they just laugh. What’s the point in that?
I recently took to wearing a diamond ring on my engagement finger just to see what it did for my allure and I proved my theory absolutely right: men threw themselves at me. As soon as they thought I might be taken they couldn’t hold back.
But I’m not really interested in all those shenanigans, truth be told. For all his faults — and the fact that being with him is a bit like living in the back of a black cab listening to a cockney geezer going ‘and another thing!’ from dawn til dusk — he has a good heart. And he does look after me.
You can keep your flash rings, and your flash ceremonies, and your flash arguments ending in a small fortune being spent on lawyers. The builder boyfriend and I are happy being a boring old unmarried couple.
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