It’s a long read though, but I enjoyed it, lol. The Dyson’s on the blink again. I think something’s got stuck, but I’m not sure, and I’m not about to take it apart. I’ll wait until my ex-husband, Jim, comes home.
For Jim is simply brilliant at fixing electrical appliances, and I’m not. On the other hand, if I need someone to haggle for a back-of-lorry bargain (a new Hoover, perhaps?) I’d ask my partner, Mal, since charming birds down from trees is his speciality.
Jim, the father of my three children, is an illustrator and works from home. Mal is a writer, and also
works from home. The same home.
That’s right. We all live together, in a three-and-a-half-bedroom cottage in a chocolate-box-pretty village south of Bath.
Calm down; I’m no bigamist, and we’re not part of some polygamous cult. My life may sound exciting, but it isn’t.
I’m a respectable divorcee in my late 50s, and a one-man woman. Of sorts.
It’s just that my ex-husband Jim — ‘our ex’, as my partner Mal affectionately calls him — is also our best friend. And lodger.
I know. This isn’t normally what happens after a divorce and, frankly, our living arrangements leave many people
But the truth is, I don’t know how other women get by with just one man to delegate the chores to.
The advantages of two men about the house are obvious, even if I do spend half my life putting toilet seats back down and fishing used teabags out of the sink.
It’s been this way, off and on, since Jim and I broke up seven years ago.
We’d been married for 25 years, had three children, renovated our London home and moved to the country.
Like many couples struggling to make a living, financial strain did what financial strain often does — and we grew
For a third party to slip into a marriage there already has to be a crack, and ours yawned as widely as the Avon Gorge.
By 2009, although we had yet to formally put an end to our marriage, my relationship with Jim had run its course.
Meeting a charming Irishman on a business trip on a five-master clipper cruise of the Mediterranean was, you could say, the coup de grace.
Mal, I soon discovered, is impossible not to like; funny, warm, kind and clever, with a lively past that makes my own seem staid and uneventful.
He’d enhance anyone’s life; a musician as well as a writer, he had the perfect timing to arrive in mine just when I was ready for a big romance.
At the end of the five-day trip we knew we had to be together — and I was faced with the task of returning home and unstitching the tapestry of a marriage on the rocks.
After the initial shock wore off, I suspect Jim felt as relieved as I did that we’d made a decision to part.
Like so many other couples struggling to stay married, it had only been the depressing prospect of poverty that was sticking the remaining shards of our marriage together — we were forced to live together, even if no longer as man and wife.
We’d had separate bedrooms for the last decade of our marriage, and we no longer snuggled on the sofa after dinner, or crept across the corridor to each other’s rooms.
Meanwhile, Mal and I continued to see each other, our feelings growing ever stronger.
With the wheels of my divorce from Jim in motion, we were desperate to live together.
But there was a problem — as impoverished writers, Mal and I couldn’t afford to rent anywhere else while I had to contribute to the mortgage on the family home, and neither Jim nor I wanted to sell our family home, which we reasoned would be our children’s inheritance.
We hit upon a somewhat unorthodox solution.
As there was no immediate need for Jim to move out — he had the generosity of spirit to want me to be happy with Mal; while Mal had the tact to stand back, ever so slightly, when Jim and I were in a room together — we agreed that we would all remain under the same roof until Jim decided it was time for him to rent a place of his own.
At first, my children, aged 19, 18 and 11 at the time, raised their collective eyebrows, but none of them put forward any serious objection, largely because suddenly their parents weren’t yelling at each other any more and their mother was looking happy.
We settled into a cheery modus operandi; we may have been odd, but we were family.
When Mal moved all his belongings into the house, it was Jim who hired the van and helped him lug his stuff up three flights of stairs.
If it were not for the fact I spend all of my working week in an office, and that Mal works from a garden studio, it might have become claustrophobic.
But in truth, we only really spend time together in the evenings, with either Mal or Jim doing the cooking for all three of us.
Jim’s evening meals are served with Michelin-star precision. Mal’s, on the other hand, are rustic and mostly brown.
But as long as I’m not required to cook after a day at work, I’m happy either way.
Indeed, rather than Jim getting in the way of any romantic meals between Mal and me, I’m often the one who slopes off to the sofa with my laptop after dinner, leaving them chatting away for hours at the table.
For they have a huge number of interests (as well as the obvious — me) in common.
They’re the same age, are both fans of Radio 4 panel shows, and get animated over sightings of birds (of the avian variety).
They use the same catchphrases, and are prone to singing snatches of the same baffling songs from their Fifties childhoods.
As a result, it’s often me who heads up to bed before either of them, desperate to escape their male bonding.
Jim sleeps in the room that used to belong to our second son.
But as all the rooms in our house have been repurposed on numerous occasions, this hardly feels like a demotion.
Jim goes to bed early and rises at an ungodly early hour, whereas Mal and I like to sleep late and rise late.
Sometimes it feels like we’re putting in different shifts, which makes it far easier to share our small bathroom.
That’s not to say living with two men has always been a garden of roses and, in the early days, a lot of people disapproved of our set-up.
Many were censorious, feeling that I was having my cake and eating it. I was taking advantage of Jim’s good nature, they thought.
Many, I suspect, would have been far happier if Jim had been angry and bitter, and we’d become estranged.
But if they felt I deserved my comeuppance, it soon came. In 2013, Jim met a new partner and moved in with her. I wanted him to be happy, but gradually we saw less of him.
I wasn’t jealous, but it was wildly inconvenient — especially when in 2014 I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and was admitted to hospital for an operation.
In a Hollywood tearjerker, this might have brought us all together. The reality could not have been more different.
Relations between both sides collapsed, and I barely saw Jim for over a year.
The fact we were estranged at a point in my life when his friendship would have meant so much was something neither of us could have ever foreseen.
If someone asked me what was the worst thing about 2014, it wouldn’t be the six months of chemotherapy; it was the loss of my best friend.
Thankfully, that’s behind us now.
Three weeks ago, Jim moved back in. What happened between him and his partner is their story; the bizarre thing is the way the intervening years simply fell away as soon as he phoned to ask if he could come to stay.
Maybe I was relieved — I’d hurt him by leaving him; he’d hurt me by not being there when I needed him.
And both Mal and I couldn’t be happier he’s back living with us.
Maybe our lifestyle is unusual; maybe that’s why it works.
I’ve never stopped caring about Jim, and there has never been a day in which the unexpected sight of him hasn’t inspired a rush of affection.
I’ve known him since my mid-20s, and we have three decades of shared experience — living life to the full in North London in the Eighties; holidays before and after children; three childbirths (and three miscarriages); friends’ weddings; family celebrations and funerals.
What do you do with all those memories, if the split is acrimonious? Do you just bury them, along with the family pets in the garden?
Obviously, you can be deeply fond of an ex, but if they don’t get on with your new partner then all you have left is a pile of photo albums. But, luckily for me, Jim and Mal have always got on.
With Mal’s blessing, Jim and I were able to recycle our relationship from used-up marrieds into something more akin to siblinghood; Jim’s like the big brother I never had. And our relationship has strengthened.
When my mother fell ill, I was on another continent and it was Jim who sat with her on the day she died.
If my car breaks down, I’ll call Jim before I call the AA. And as he knows the vagaries of our house better than anyone, he’s the first person I’ll shout when a pipe leaks.
The kids never have to worry about splitting themselves in half at Christmas, since we are always all together on high days and holidays.
Admittedly, two men are not always better than one. During one festive trip to Devon, there was a misunderstanding over whether Jim or Mal was bringing the turkey on Christmas Eve.
Turned out neither had, and heavy flooding made a dash to the shops impossible.
Fortunately, Mal had brought corned beef for the dogs as a treat.
We frittered the beef for Christmas dinner; I’m not sure who was least impressed, the kids or the dogs, who had to make do with tinned dog food.
Mishaps aside, now Jim’s back, I’m not sure how we survived these past two years without him.
Already, he’s replaced the roof on the tree house and shored up the pergola.
Jim’s presence is a bonus when the kids are home. With their dad in the house, Mal feels able to duck out of those family events he once would have felt obliged to attend.
And for Jim, being able to hang out with his children at home is infinitely preferable to dad-dates in pubs.
We know Jim will get his own place eventually. Mal will probably help him move in, and when he does, we’ll take him prosecco, fish and chips.
We’ll do anything to help him, because that’s what he does for us. We’re just three old friends, looking out for each other, and I can’t imagine life without either of them.
On my left hand I wear an engagement ring from Mal; on my right, an engagement ring from Jim.
Neither mind me wearing the other’s ring. Did I mention they were both exceptional men — and that I am a very, very lucky woman?