We were old when we met. Asanga – Pete, Albert variously – was almost 70 and I was almost 60. And we lived five hours apart by car. Holy non-matrimony, that’s quite a trip. From West London to North Wales. And now I’m nearly 70 and he’s nearly 80 – we’re still doing it. And relishing the difference.
Honestly, it was a nightmare to step into this relationship. At least for me. I can’t speak for Asanga but I’d been on my own for 17 years (apart from various mad, bad and dangerous carry-ons with unavailable men – from the drunken difficult psychotherapist to the charismatic alcoholic /would-be property developer, more likely to be found eating the carpet, let’s call them the classics) whereas he’d been married for 30 years. He was more used to a solid relationship.
Asanga found it difficult to comprehend my anxiety levels. Oh – they were so there. Especially when my family were around. For a woman who never wanted to be married (and still doesn’t) and lived her life amid squats, hippies and punks plus has never really been employed; I turned incredibly conformist when it came to this relationship. I was constantly anticipating disaster of an erotic or embarrassing kind. And to give him his disaster credentials, Asanga did live up to my expectations. I won’t go into all the details. But there was the time that he managed to use the bidet – no one actually used it, it was a throwback from 1970s new housing aspirations – and break it in my mother’s Yorkshire abode. I was beyond mortified.
And I absolutely hated that he didn’t know, understand or seem particularly interested in my vivid personal history or vast web of friends – my lumbering baggage. And equally, I abhorred having to get to know him. There was so much of it – on both sides. I’d always wanted to connect to someone who understood my roots and all their little rootlings. That was a part of that woodland, my particular wood.
However – thank heavens – I did love being transported to heavenly North Wales. I’d drive (and still do) my mother’s golden Fabia down his track and wonder at this little piece of earthly paradise full of oak and ash nestled behind Pentrefelin. I still do. Something happens to me as I arrive – a dropping down. Well – it does now. In previous years, we’d have a fight as soon as I got there. To bridge the gap and then we’d have to find a route through. We practised a lot of vulnerability-revealing in those days. It was hard work but good practice, ultimately. We discovered alleys through conflict.
There is so much to negotiate when you live together and yet apart. And there is so much richness too. I love being alone and with someone. It suits my psyche especially now I’m 69. I don’t want to be with another person all the time. But I relish the web. There is such freedom here for me. And for Asanga. We can have the best of both worlds. Well, we can now that we’ve been doing it for so long.
Phew, we are now familiar with the long bags that we drag behind us. Although we are always learning new aspects of each other, misunderstanding and trying to find understanding. Take this week. Here is a small example. Asanga is called Asanga because it’s Sanskrit for aloneness and the spiritual healer, Osho or Bhagwan gave it to him. Sannyasins are not big on boundaries because they are so great at being without boundaries which can be wildly exciting and it can make life feel very unsafe for people like me who are insecure. This is a minuscule example. A FB friend of his, an older woman, also an older sannyasin, responded to Asanga’s climbing post by commenting ‘Great Shape’. It was a comment about his body, his physical shape, she liked it. To me, that was going over a boundary. She knows he’s in a relationship and she decided to not care. I wasn’t majorly upset, just a little putout.
Asanga and I have had a lot of tooing and froing about this kind of issue. Examples more serious than this one but all along a similar line-crossing. Either by him or other women. I’ve often felt that because he’s not insecure in this way, I am being too much. This time – and we have done a lot of personal work on it – I messaged Asanga and wondered if he would act around it. In the past, he would have been, defensive and then claim it was absolutely fine. This time, he understood. He messaged her privately in a good way, then she took down the comment. O the simplicity and calm that I yearn for.
For me, that was a huge action even though it wasn’t. That action made me feel so seen. My love for him instantly deepened.
And we’re still driving 240 miles to see each other. There is no regularity about it. Sometimes it’s every two weeks, often we meet in other places – I love being on neutral terrain with him so that we can relinquish our territorial attachments, especially me, I’m forever clearing his belongings into the study, mind you, I do live in a small flat – like Ilkley in Yorkshire, Bristol – although next, I am going up to North Wales for a month. And he will stay here in July for a week because we’ve got two weekend festivals to go to – Silver Sky Festival, then Womad.
I enjoy the feeling of organic endeavour between us and that it’s not regular but is dependable. We trust each other. We’re in contact every day, mainly messages on WhatsApp and photos of what we’re up to. That’s the safety of the web that I feel holding me/us. We don’t talk much, maybe once a week. But since our energy wanes in the evening, one of us might cancel. Often me. I just don’t feel like talking on the phone when I’m at home alone. Or anywhere else for that matter. And I love that it’s okay.
I appreciate that he’s having a good time in N Wales as I am in London. We’re interdependent rather than dependent. It’s taken me a long time to get to this place. And of course, we’re lucky that we’ve both got homes that we own, and are financially stable independently. Neither of us spends much money. Asanga is frugal, my mother was frugal. And – as long we have occasional splurges on travel and a delicious meal out – I’m content to be careful in this way. Money and how we as humans spend it, and what we feel comfortable about spending is such a hugely fascinating topic.
And we are both getting older. We’re aware of it – we’re talking about death and dying. Although not especially at the moment, it’s spring! The question came up not so long ago – what will we do if one of us can’t drive anymore? The answer is that we’ll adapt. If Asanga became unable to drive, I’d be the one who did all the driving, or perhaps I’d move up there for longer periods.
It’s good to be prepared and talk but you can’t be prepared for everything. Going with the flow is one of those hippie things that we can both do. As a family, we the Rouses, learnt when my mother first got Alzheimer’s – she died in 2018 – that it’s important to be organic in terms of finding solutions. My mum moved in and out of different stages – at first, she could be at home with a little extra help and occasional companions to take her out – then it came the time for her to have more care and she moved into a residential home where there was a daycare centre. The daycare centre was so good – mum was ready there and waiting every day, she loved playing games and being sociable. It reminded her of her cruising days. We kept on the paid companions to take her out and about when we weren’t there. Neither I nor my sister lived near Ilkley. Eventually, she moved to a nursing home nearer to us. It was an ever-changing scenario where we tried as hard as we could to fulfil her needs as well as see her as much as we could.
Although I hope our experience in our older years is different to that of my mother’s (in terms of getting Alzheimer’s plus she didn’t have many friends), I know one aspect will be the same. We will be organic around what happens to each other. Fortunately, Asanga has a daughter who lives with him – her boyfriend comes to stay – and that is also a boon for me, because I know he has company and support in maintaining his large four-bedroom farmhouse and 14 acres of land. There have been times in the past when I’ve thought that he’s crazy to keep it on, but he’s almost 79 and he’s still doing it! And it’s gorgeous so why not? He’s happy in his wildland. I’m also very happy about his wildland when I’m there.
I also have a son – who’s 35 – and he lives in London with his partner. We’re very close. I’m not a grandmother yet, but I might be one day, and if I am, I’d like to be relatively nearby. Another reason that Living Apart Together suits me.
I also have to confess that I’m a sucker for anticipation and the ritual of preparation. I’m already thinking about what to take to Wales when I go very soon. I’ll be working there this time – I did that in lockdown too – and Asanga has cleared out his office (formerly a dumping ground for every discarded item) for me. I am touched.
What will the future bring? We’ve really no idea. But I have confidence that we’ll roll with it.
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Choosing To Live Apart – how does that shimmy down as we get older
A truly honest picture of how we adjust for love.