Margaret - a 60-something divorcee - has a new man in her life, but not in her house ...
So you've been there, done that, got the T shirt - that old baggy one you wore to decorate the baby's bedroom before the family dog was sick on it. You dimly remember the daily routine of wedded bliss - up at seven, cook His breakfast, drive Him to the station, clean the house, shop on the way home from a part-time job, cook a meal, fetch Him from the station, eat, watch TV go to bed ... day after day after day. After 20 years he dumped the baggage of marriage and you - and went off with his secretary! You went off your head for a while.
The divorce came and went. A couple of solicitors later (and all the value of the house instead of maintenance because you didn't want a monthly reminder of your plight), you had to take a full-time job, move house and have the old dog put to sleep. Then gradually you felt better. Buying and selling a house by yourself is great evidence that you can cope. Later, taking early retirement, you moved again to the south coast where you remembered spending an idyllic childhood. You are still young enough to make new friends, join things and dig another garden. Phone bills and Christmas cards cost a bomb as you keep up with folk here and back there but you settle into a peaceful routine.
I said to friends, ‘I'm not lonely, just alone.’ But you never know what's around the corner.
It turned out to be a neighbour who stopped his bicycle at the front gate as I was pruning the roses. John, a bit older than me, had been widowed 18 months earlier. We chatted. I went indoors smiling. What a nice chap! We met in town but I refused to join him in a cafe for a drink. I don't know why! Then he brought me a ticket for a play he was in with a local amateur theatre group and I went to see it. John played the lead - brilliantly! I invited him to dinner and wore my best dress. We made the first discovery - he likes white wine, I prefer red.
We saw a lot of each other after that, sometimes in his house just four doors away - and sometimes in mine. We arrived at an easy intimacy and warm companionship. I'll never get married again,’ he says at regular intervals. Our grown-up children and Society seem prepared to accept our unconventional liaison, and friends and family say they are happy that we have so much pleasure in each other's company.
Togetherness is all. We have meals out and meals in. There is fun, discussion and friendly competition: who makes the best scrambled egg, who mashes potatoes the fluffiest, who arranges the best salad? There is pleasure in discovering each other's past - what his mother used to say, what my father did, what experiences we have in common. We are both amateur artists, both enjoy music, both inclined to indulge in arguments!
And all this without the destructive minutiae of marriage. We wash our own smalls, maintain our own homes and mow our own lawns. We do help each other domestically if asked and occasionally suggest that the sofa would look better there or that wall ought to be a different colour but there is no pressure. We are agreed on a determination to remain independent, financially if not emotionally.
As well as sharing life on his boat, in a caravan, visiting London galleries or a cinema, we do our own thing. I take a weekend break in Venice; John goes to Majorca with his son and family. I am involved with a Residents' Association; John plays table-tennis. It's great to have someone to tell about it, though. Holidays together are a special bonus and the photo albums hold the evidence of two on the razzle instead of just one!
This second time round we are free but together. We reminisce about our pasts, pleased to listen to tales of other relationships and the happier side of our marriages; history does not go away. This unusual sharing of two homes and two lives suits us both: we live in the present.
Our cordless telephones just stretch the distance between our houses and we both like boiled eggs for breakfast. As for the future, who knows? Long may the present last.