"I love you... i just can't live with you"

Woman&Home - 2009

When Elaine Kingett found love again in her fifties, the next step was to move in together – or was it? She shares her story

This had to be the right decision. We loved being together, we lived miles apart and I'd always planned to downsize when my kids went to Uni. Why not sell up and move in with this marvellous man I felt so lucky to have found after the death of my husband and six years as a single parent of three teenagers? I relished the opportunity to build a new life in a new place, based on our joint family histories. I was eager for an adventure.

I'd missed sharing my life with a partner. I missed someone to share my bed every night – not just for sex. A hand to hold, a chest to lay my head on, a foot to stroke with my toes, and warmth for when the winds howled and the bills added up in my head. And of course, we agreed sensibly, it would be much cheaper living together.

"You're so brave," my Brighton friends chorused when I told them my plans.

But it didn't feel brave, it felt natural. After all, wasn't that what you were supposed to do? You meet, you fall in love and then you live together. Happily, hopefully. We all like to be tucked up under the same roof with the one we love, don't we?

Well actually… no. Some of us would run a mile. Lots of us wouldn't risk upsetting our hard-won, independently operated apple carts. Granted, my three children thought I was mad. My 18-year-old gap year daughter hit the roof.

"It's meant to be me that leaves home, not you!" she spluttered indignantly. "We won't have a family home any more and Cornwall's so boring!"

My sons agreed: "What are you going do down there, Mum? It's just not you.”

I stuck my fingers in my ears, my worldly goods in store and dreamt of log fires and sandy beaches. But our relationship changed as soon as I moved in. To my dismay, I couldn't hack the house rules – rules that Martin and his wife had established over 30 years of marriage, with the birth of two children at the same address. And rules that provided the reassuring structure for him and his daughter after Mum had left.

He liked a TV in the bedroom; I preferred the dog. He liked local radio; I loved Radio 4. The list seemed endless. He liked dark colours; I yearned for white walls. Were soft furnishings going to drive us apart?

"Living together can make people unkind to each other," novelist Dame Margaret Drabble was quoted in the Telegraph. She lived separately for many years to her husband, biographer Michael Holroyd.

Soon the petty things began to annoy. The water I left on the bedroom floor, the light I left on in the kitchen became grit in their shoes and in me, this turned to anger. Sure, I loved him and stroked his shirts in his wardrobe when he was away, but at 58, I refused to be told when or if I could have the bloody lights or heating on. Especially as I was contributing financially.

And why did I offend so much, when I tried so hard to slip seamlessly into another family's life? Maybe because suddenly his girlfriend/lover had unintentionally assumed the role of "wife", with all the connotations and flashbacks that can entail if a marriage has turned to ashes.

Perhaps as a widow I was less sceptical – I'd been lucky. I had no experience of deception or rejection. The pattern of our long-term relationships and their dissolution had been so different and we had only that format to draw upon. Initially our differences – he an old-school, rural romantic with an interest in rocks and trees, and me a hyperactive, extravagant city cynic who loved pubs and clubs – excited us and we smugly celebrated our seemingly extraordinary compatibility. But living together spotlighted our previously opposing ways of life, exposing doubts.

And our adult children, how did they respond? Mine wanted me back in a house that had designated space for them, with Kingett family photographs on the dining room walls, our memorabilia sitting side by side with his on the sitting room shelves and freedom for them to come and go without asking permission.

His 25-year-old daughter, still living at home, tried to ignore her father's tantrums with the temperamental Drama Queen who had taken up residence in her parent's bed. Was the problem our mutual fear of commitment? Of letting go? Of falling not in love, but out of control? Whatever it was, our naïve idea of Happy Step-Families saddled up and rode off into the Cornish sunset.

I decided to move out. While he was away working and his daughter on holiday, I packed my clothes. My heart sank at the neatly piled plastic crates and bags I'd brought from Brighton a few months before.

"I don't know why you're leaving," he said as I heaved a pot of my late Mum's geraniums into the back my car. "We don't have a problem with you being here”.

Once again, friends remarked, "How brave!" Alone in my rented cottage on the cliffs, I kicked the dog off the bed, cuddled the pillow and wished it was him.

"You're just scared of being on your own," chanted the Furies. No, I wanted him and only him. But I felt such shame, such guilt at messing up my children's lives. I'd run off to Cornwall like a lovestruck teenager and now I was 300 miles away with no job, no space for them to stay and no landline.

And was our relationship just about sex, as so many dismissively pronounced, as if that was so inconsequential at our age? No. True, the chemistry between us warrants a Nobel Prize for Physics, but it was about so much more. I was looking for a best friend, a companion. I wanted what I had before.

After two weeks away in London, ferrying my kids and their possessions from their summer

rentals into their university halls, I rang Martin and suggested a walk and a polite swap of remaining personal effects. I'd forgotten a dressing gown and any excuse was better than none.

I spent far too long deciding what to wear, greeted him coolly at the door, and then my idiot, guileless dog rushed forward, leapt all over him and acted out the uncontrolled love and delight that I was desperately trying to keep wrapped up under my M&S cardi! The walk was civil, I resisted the urge to leap upon him and we parted saying one thing with our hearts and another with our heads.

It was a Sunday night a couple of weeks later when he rang. We'd been sitting alone on our respective sofas weeping over the final episode of Tess Of The d'Urbervilles. This time when he came over, he stayed. In later life relationships we crash together at vastly different emotional stages. Even if we equate chronologically, we cannot be in the same "space". I've learnt so much about the man I fell in love with and, importantly, I've learnt a lot about myself.

I'm surprised to realise how much my needs have changed. Living alone inevitably made me stronger and more independent and, for now, Martin and I have decided to live apart, gingerly sidestepping potential confrontations and trying to establish a framework for our relationship that's based not on preconception but on our love and commitment to each other. Apparently, it's a new social trend, LAT – Living Apart Together. How fashionable! I feel like Helena Bonham Carter.

Hopefully, one day Martin and I will live together. But for now, I've decided to stay in Cornwall in my tiny coastal cottage near Penzance. I'll build a life that suits me and a home that's a haven for my friends and children, whether or not I have a partner.

And that really does take some gumption, as my mother would say. It's probably what I should have done all along.