“Hey, can we talk about getting a place together?” I asked Mark one Sunday afternoon as we strolled arm in arm along a tree-lined street. The For Rent sign I spotted on a charming Craftsman house, along with the fact that my rental cottage was being sold out from under me, seemed reason enough to blurt out a question I often thought about but didn’t ask. I must have been bolstered by the fury I felt for being forced to leave the home where I had just become myself again.
He really had no idea that we had been falling in love all along.
I’d thrived inside those ocher walls, embracing my freedom after sending my son off to college and returning to California where I could let my hair down again. Letting go of daily motherhood meant I could swap overseeing homework for all the things my heart was longing for. It just happened that what I was longing for at the time was to be with my dear male friend who had just left his marriage.
Remarkably, my return and his divorce occurred at the same time. Once I was here, and he was free, we hung out a lot. We cooked, we laughed, we shared stories and secrets. We slept like spoons in my crooked bedroom with the leaky ceiling. Celebrating my 50th birthday with the guy I had crushed on since my 20s left me giddy with delight as I delivered kisses held back for decades.
Love and Reluctance
From the beginning Mark had been adamant that he wasn’t interested in another serious relationship. He had chosen a comfortable home for just himself when he quit his marriage, proving he was leaving for solitude and not to live with another woman.
“We’re not a couple!” he would adamantly state that first year, unaware that he was hurting my feelings. Yet, his actions spoke louder than words.
He introduced me as “his best friend for thirty years,” after which he would launch into the story of how close we were since meeting at a gig he played in 1982, days after I moved to San Francisco. He would tell how we had kept in touch for years after I moved back east in 1991. If they were still listening, he would tell how I had returned from Chicago just as he was getting divorced and that we were weaving our emails to one another into a book. “It’s one helluva love story,” he would say, as if just realizing that for the first time.
He really had no idea that we had been falling in love all along, that all this time together hanging out laughing, making love and sharing our hopes and fears is true love when you add it to one helluva friendship.
But I knew. Somewhere inside of me I had always known we would be together.
The Sweetheart Treatment
Then one day he introduced me as his sweetheart. Without discussion or disclaimers, it was simply the truth. No declaration of titles or change of Facebook status. The way grass seeds and dirt finally become a lawn, we had grown into a couple.
For as long as I’ve known him, this Cancer crab man has sought solace in his shell.
So, after nearly two years I thought being forced to leave my rental was a sign that it was time for us to share a home. I hated the feeling of loss I felt every time he left on Sunday night, kissing me like he was going off to war. The space he had occupied filled up with silence and the rooms felt twice as cold without him there.
When I saw that Craftsman house and asked if we could talk about living together it felt like the next step for us.
“Absolutely not,” he answered, without hesitation. “I like living alone.”
Though taken aback and a little embarrassed, deep down I wasn’t surprised. We exchanged a few words about it, then let it go, an uneasiness following us back to my place.
“I gotta go,” he said when we got there, gathering his things and dashing off without having dinner.
His call later that night settled my nerves, but I knew whatever longing I had to build a life with this man would have to be satisfied in separate dwellings, with no promise of a shared home in our future.
Coming to Terms With His First Love
For as long as I’ve known him, this Cancer crab man has sought solace in his shell. “Nothing personal,” he would say, meaning it, as he left his phone off for the evening or disappeared alone into the mountains for a day or three. Solitude, it seems, was his first love.
Over time I learned that seeing solitude as a mistress to be jealous of was a perspective that only hurts me. Any suffering over his choice to be alone instead of cuddled up next to me every night was my doing, not his. Acceptance, not persuasion, would free me from my frustration.
I said goodbye to my beloved cottage, found a gorgeous apartment overlooking the water and settled in.
We’re One of Those Couples Living Apart
And the truth is: I like it.
I’ve grown content in my own cozy hutch where every object is put just where I like it. It turns out the cold emptiness of my cottage had more to do with a lack of good heating than his absence.
We’re a couple in every way except the ones that tend to bring conflict to relationships.
We spend our weekends here and I often spend a night at his place during the week. He has coffee for me there and my cupboard is stocked with Earl Grey tea for him. A pair of his pajama bottoms hangs on the back of my bedroom door. “It’s all one place,” he says, at home where ever we wake up.
My mornings begin when the sun comes up, not to an alarm like the one that goes off beside his bed at 4:30am. I love the evenings I’m here alone watching The Voice, sometimes with just a glass of wine for dinner. He doesn’t even own a TV and makes elaborate meals every night.
And when Friday night comes, ah . . .
“Hey, baby,” he says through a wide grin as he walks through my door, taking in the room filled with music playing, the smell of dinner cooking, and me. His leather duffle bag is slung over one shoulder and laptop bag over the other. He’s moving in for a time.
He drops his bags and kisses me. A third-date kiss, long and hard, looking in my eyes with the promise of passion. He hasn’t seen me in a few days and you would think it was weeks.
Yeah, I love not living together.
We’re a couple in every way except the ones that tend to bring conflict to relationships. We share vacations, but not bank accounts; a toothbrush holder on each of our bathroom sinks, but not closet space; holidays with family, but not the raising of one together. In a crisis we are at each other’s side.
Accepting that he can love me without wanting to live together has opened the door for me to enjoy our separateness. We are partners who live apart. Apartners. Once in the early days of our relationship, he hugged me tightly and whispered, “You feel like home to me.” Maybe home isn’t really about the place we live after all.
Lisa Lucca is a memoirist and essayist writing about the messiness of living true to who you are. She co-authored You Are Loved…an email memoir with her partner, Mark Mathias, an epistolary story of their lifelong connection. She is currently finishing her memoir, Out of The Ordinary: A Memoir of Love, Sex, and Parenting.