I always called Eric my “boyfriend”.
Since I was already in my very late thirties when we got together and he had thirteen years on me, the decision to use the non-PC terms “boyfriend and girlfriend” when we talked about each other was a bit odd.
We knew that, but first we slipped into it casually and then we realised it felt right for us and we made it deliberate. And it felt true: almost every time I saw Eric it felt like “a date” in the exciting way that a date was when I was a teenager—when “boyfriends and girlfriends” was how everyone talked.
A couple of years into our relationship Eric signalled to me that he needed to speak seriously to me. It happened to be February 14th.
That particular Feb 14th started badly, due to the theft of Eric’s Satnav earlier in the day. He told me about that quite early in that day. I had bought him that Satnav for the previous Christmas and was a bit cross with him for leaving it visible in his car. Not that it was his fault that it had been stolen, of course. I knew that. But I was cross. Which wasn’t a good start to a Valentine’s Day evening.
When he joined me in my local, Eric got us past the tension of all of that straightaway by just saying “sorry” as soon as we met. All my crossness disappeared immediately. That sums up (one aspect of) Eric very well: that he would have the humility and graciousness to apologise for something that was not his fault because he sensed it would make another person feel better.
The evening continued with drink and food and laughter and then Eric went a bit serious and said that some people were asking him if they should be picking out their hats for our wedding! Which, he said, had prompted him to think, and although he loved me very much he wanted me to know that he had thought this through carefully and he did not think that we should live together.
I’m feeling quite tearful as I write about that conversation now, but at the time I felt gratitude and love and almost a sense of relief, because I loved him very much too but I had already also been thinking that we would not do well as housemates.
In my experience there are few men that bother to even think about the course of their relationships, let alone express their thinking in useful words. Even fewer would think so unselfishly as to risk losing a person they love at the moment by honestly but riskily proposing an unconventional course for their future together. I am so glad that Eric took that risk and also that it was right for both of us to adopt the way of being together that worked for us for the rest of Eric’s life.
From then on, for more than eleven more years, almost every time we met was special and planned and included sharing of new news that we were both keen to hear about each other. As well as sharing some great holidays together where our similarities and differences made the whole experience new and special for us both. We were as lucky as two people can be in having that combination of depth and freshness in a relationship.
I know many people thought it odd that we didn’t live together, but I also saw recognition and even envy on many people’s faces when I described how not living with the person you love can make you treasure and appreciate them all the more.
Not living with Eric meant I lost a lot that I now really feel the loss of. But I’m crap to live with and Eric and I both knew that we wouldn’t have made a great job of trying to live together. I’m pathologically untidy and mildly-moderately depressive. He had fewer faults than I do, but he would leave wet towels on the bed and ask what had just happened in a whodunit on the telly just as a new key piece of evidence was being conveyed… Yes, he wasn’t perfect!
We would have found living with each other as irritating as most people who love each other do. So the arrangement we had, “boyfriend and girlfriend”, was right for us, and kept our love alive and lively.
We disagreed quite often. We were not always in tune. But Eric kept me sane, laughed at me, took me seriously, fancied me when I felt ugly, made me laugh at myself and told me that I deserved indulgence when I was being hard on myself.
I look back on our thirteen years together as the best and happiest of my life.