Newly single, I suddenly feel happy again

At my parents’, with the children, I feel protected by the familiarity of the house and my family

The children and I set off for a holiday in the early morning. The smell of alcohol on R’s breath is so obvious to him and me that we skip the goodbye kiss and settle for a wave. I always look forward to going to my parents’ house, and this time I feel both very young and very old.

When we arrive, I sit in the back of my mother’s car with the boys. I am suddenly 12 years old again, but I don’t mind. My daughter sits in the front so she won’t fight with her brothers.

I feel young because I can’t afford to pay for a long taxi ride. I am, as usual, broke and this is not so much embarrassing, as it is disappointing. In my teenage years, when my dad would ferry me to and from parties or friends’ houses, I would think: “When I’m 20, I won’t need lifts. I’ll be loaded and I’ll get cabs everywhere.” I’m way past 30, but I’m still not rich enough for any of that.

As soon as I enter my parents’ house, I feel old. Old, because I have separated from R and arrived with our children as a newly single parent. I don’t feel like the child of anyone, because surely my recent decision is the stuff of grownups.

I drag my suitcase inside, and glance at the photograph in the hall of R and me on our wedding day. I wonder if it will still be there next year, or – if we are still separated – when it will be put away for ever.

“You’re here!” My sister S, who is also visiting, bounds towards us with her children, and we hug. It is so wonderful to be together and the children run into different rooms, immediately picking up where they left off. I scoop up my baby niece and don’t put her down for a very long time.

I feel protected by the familiarity of the house and my family. The drill here is so reassuring, the loose routine so appealing compared with the recent long stretches of structureless school-free days that I’ve had to plan back in London (and I’m a dreadful planner).

Here, I will wake very early some mornings, leave the children to sleep and walk the dogs along country paths with nothing but nothing – save the flora and fauna – for as far as the eye can see. I will enjoy the kind of solitude that I have been craving.

At home, I have lovely friends and neighbours, for which I am grateful. Yet as evening nears, I find myself carrying out all the mundane but necessary tasks on my own, with no one for company apart from the children. Night after night, it becomes isolating and tiresome. It is a miserable kind of loneliness, and come 8pm, I’m often crying out for the presence of another adult: someone to talk to as I sweep up the detritus of a busy day; to eat dinner with; someone with whom I can sit down and enjoy the last peaceful moments of a day’s end. I am so lucky to have that here.

When we are together, my sister and I talk about memorable periods of our childhood. Here, we have the aid of photographs, books, toys – there is even the odd bit of graffiti on furniture (amusingly, my eldest son spots the words “I HATE IT ALL” etched on an old dressing table of mine, and I have a vague memory of scratching them on to the polished wood with a compass from my maths set, in one of my more expressive periods of adolescent malaise).

Most major things that have happened – and that I’m reminded of when I’m here – have always seemed fairly recent in my mind. But now I realise they occurred 10, 20, even 30 years ago. I was a baby of the 70s, a child of the 80s. The photographs that my children ask me about – “Is that really your hair, or did you wear a curly wig then?” – seem not just ancient to them, but to me also.

Later, with most of the children in bed – and my sleep-shy daughter sharing chocolate and watching Don’t Tell the Bride in the living room with her grandpa – I sit with my mum and sister in the kitchen. We drink wine, eat pudding, and talk. I rock my niece in my arms, as warm, compact and pleasing as a freshly baked loaf. A single fat tear rolls down my cheek, and I wipe it away before anyone notices (and my mother asks if I’m depressed). It makes me think that I haven’t experienced happiness like this in a very long time.

Exhausted, we clear up and go to bed, saving further talk of unsuitable underwear and the events of the past year for another evening. It is hard to pinpoint exactly how everything can suddenly feel so right and good again. It’s very dark at night here, and I will sleep well, cheered by the thought of an army of my favourite people at the breakfast table in the morning.


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Rebranding polyamory does women no favours | Julie Bindel

It’s not my business how many partners people have, but let’s not pretend that this will bring sexual equality to relationships

Polyamory is the latest subversive and a la mode sexual practice to receive extensive media coverage. It appeals as a subject for to those interested in alternative lifestyles, but also attracts commentary from some deeply unpleasant folk who have trashed it alongside gay marriage. “What next?” ask the bigoted opponents of equal marriage. “Polygamy and marriage to your brother/cat/hedge trimmer?”

It is neither my business or concern as to how many sexual partners anyone has at any one time, and I genuinely could not care less how folk organise their relationships. But the co-opting and rebranding of polygamy, so that it loses its nasty association with the oppression of the most disadvantaged women, is as irresponsible as suggesting that because some women chose to enter high-end prostitution as a social experiment, all prostitution is radical and harmless.

Caroline Humphrey, a professor of collaborative anthropology at Cambridge University, has argued in favour of the legalisation of polygamy because, according to a number of women in polygamous marriages in Russia, “half a good man is better than none at all”. While polyamory is not the same as traditional polygamy – which has been practised for centuries under a strict code of patriarchy in communities where women and children have few if any rights – the co-opting of the sanitised version will further normalise a practice that is anything but liberating for women in this arrangement.

There is also the assumption that polyamory is an invention of a set of too-cool-for-school hipsters, who have recently discovered that exclusive couple-type relationships are so last season. However, it was radical feminists in the 1970s onwards that developed the notion of non-monogamy as a way to challenge patriarchal heterosexuality. The definition of polyamory as “ethical non-monogamy” currently doing the rounds sticks in my craw. Non-monogamy was deeply ethical. One could have as many sexual partners as desired but everything was honest and above board, with no one being deceived.

The type of non-monogamy radical feminists developed and practised involved no men. We were all lesbians starting off on a fairly equal playing field. Some of us involved with leftwing politics had previously been witness to or victims of men who had sexual access to as many women as they wanted, while women waited for her one partner to get round to paying her attention. In the meantime, women were pitted against each other while the men played a subtle game of divide and rule, and there were plenty of women to do the washing, childcare and provide emotional and sexual support for these oh-so alternative men.

The women were not necessarily any more sexually liberated than their married, monogamous sisters; in fact they would quite often complain of being treated far worse than a wife. It not only gave men permission to sleep around, but left women experiencing dreadful feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem and lack of confidence.

Elisabeth Sheff, a US-based sociologist who has studied polyamorous families since the mid-1990s, found that “despite the pronounced importance of gender equality to polyamorists”, it is not unusual for men to be drawn to it because they believe that it will lead to sex with lots of women. The modern proponents of polyamory tend to ignore gender dynamics as if patriarchy and the sexual inequality that it produces has disappeared. Many also forget that its practice today, unlike polygamy, is the choice of overwhelmingly white, affluent, university educated and privileged folk, with too much time on their hands.

My scepticism about polyamory is not about being anti-sex or stuffy, and I wish good luck to those in relationships, for love, sex or whatever, with five, six or 20 other folk. But let’s not pretend it will bring on the revolution any time soon. A true sexual revolution will have happened when there is consent and equality in every sexual encounter. Until then, polygamy is simply another way in which to have relationships under a system that gives significant sexual power to men over women.


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Telling the children about our separation

It’s finally time to speak to the children about R moving out, and it’s a million times worse than I imagined. I don’t know why I pictured a calmer, less emotionally charged scene

It’s Saturday morning and we’re lying in bed listening to the radio. It is lovely, the kind of thing that rarely happens, and I’m already nostalgic for these times that won’t exist when we are living apart. The boys are watching television downstairs, and their sister is still sleeping.

“When shall we tell them?” asks R.

“I think we should speak to them separately,” I say. Our middle child is the most likely to take the news of our separation the hardest.

I think my daughter – with her previous outbursts of rancour and confusion at my hesitation about leaving R, despite him drinking again – will probably be relieved that I have finally come to a decision. And the youngest barely talks in proper sentences, so it’s difficult to see if we should tell him at all.

“OK. Well, I’ve got to go to work in a couple of hours and I don’t want us to break the news, make everyone cry and then bugger off,” R says.

We call down the stairs for our older son to come up with his brother. They come into the room and one plays on the floor with the laundry basket, while the other climbs into the middle of the bed, nuzzles into his father’s armpit. “Strange Hill High‘s on the TV. Can you hurry up, please?” he says. I begin, and it is painful from the start.

“You know that Daddy had a break last summer, to try to sort things out? Well, things haven’t really gone to plan,” I say.

I wait, hoping that R will step in, and luckily, because I hate myself for breaking such horrid news, he does.

“When you come back from your holiday, I’m going to be living in a different place, just around the corner.”

“You mean you aren’t going to live here any more?” our son says, slowly working out what we have known for days. A lump in my throat begins to form, and the solid ledge – an imaginary line that stretches across my diaphragm and suppresses all of the emotions that I find too visceral to deal with – gives way. I don’t want to let my son see how sad I am because I’m afraid that if I allow myself to cry properly, I won’t be able to stop.

R, whom I have only seen cry once in our relationship (he sobbed emphatically as he gave his speech at our wedding reception), continues: “Yes, darling. Mum and I are going to be living in different houses soon. But I will still see you lots and you probably won’t even notice that things have changed.”

Our son doesn’t buy this at all.

“But it won’t be the same. I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to go, Dad.”

He is sobbing loudly and our youngest stops throwing underwear across the floor and looks up.

“Is there anything I can do to make you stay? Is there anything at all I can do? Anything. Please.”

This is a million times worse than I imagined. I don’t know why I pictured a calmer, less emotionally charged scene. He is saying things that children are scripted to say in films. It seems unreal. And both R and I feel helpless, hopeless. No, there is nothing you can do, I say, digging my fingernails into my arm to pinch the pain away. I’m listening to his pleas, remembering the powerlessness of being a child. We lie there, four of us by the time we’ve hoisted our youngest on to the bed. We wait for something to happen and I wonder if there is anything we can do to stay together like this for the whole day.

All I can do is hold our son and stroke his head, as I did when he was a baby. R takes his free arm, the one that is not jiggling the other boy up and down like a farmer on his horse, and he takes my hand and squeezes it.

Our daughter walks in and she’s cross with all of us. “What’s the matter? Why are you all crying?” she asks.

“Come here. Sit on the bed,” says R softly.

“God, no. You’re just going to tell me that you and Mum are getting a divorce. I’m going for a shower,” she says.

“I know you’re angry at both of us, but …” I begin. But she’s already left the room and I hear the slam of the bathroom door.

“Just leave her. We can talk to her later,” says R.

I want to call a friend and tell them I’m having a breakdown so I can stay in bed all day and cry. Or book a babysitter so R and I can spend a few hours together walking around, as a couple, in case we never go back to being one again. I’m scared to let R go. But I really must.


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Should you offer your lover a wad of £10 notes instead of a worthless kiss? | AL Kennedy

The application of ‘commonsense’ capitalism in your personal life will demonstrate just how sane and workable it is

As a human being, I have noticed that human beings believe odd things. Taking myself as an example, if I’m having a bad day and my gentleman of choice hasn’t replied to a text within a nanosecond, he is undoubtedly (in my head) down a well with broken, non-texting arms, dead, or has decided to never contact me again. I know this is crazy and therefore work round it. On good days, I can realise he’s busy, in the shower, or otherwise unable to placate my desperately needy mindset.

To take another example, on Monday dozens of people who were in love and gay got married in New Zealand. I believe that probably no one should have to be married to me. But I also believe the multiple ceremonies were a beautiful thing and not, as the Family First lobby group believes, “an arrogant act of cultural vandalism“. As a progressive and Guardian reader, I respect other people’s beliefs. But I also believe that, when other people’s beliefs harm others or themselves and aren’t based on fact, I’m allowed to point this out. It’s not an expression of disrespect, it’s more that I want reality to stay as real as possible, because without it I end up inside my own delusions and we know how unpleasant that can be.

Quite a while ago, politicians noticed that in our drive to produce more enlightened times we do try to respect each other and our beliefs. Because politicians can be very bright in dark kinds of ways, they worked out that, if they based their policies on belief, rather than statistics or observable, repeatable phenomena, we would have to respect them as men and women of conviction. Even if their convictions were wrong and dangerous and took us into unlawful conflicts, or unwise and cruel fiscal policy decisions. (Some politicians even came to believe it was OK to torture someone to death, if the torturer didn’t believe their actions were going to be fatal.) Many politicians are now the political and intellectual equivalent of homeopathic remedies – they do us no good, and may even keep us from the help we need. I believe this is not a good thing.

Most of our politicians also embrace the faith-based economic system we call capitalism. Those of you who have actually read Adam Smith, rather than what the Adam Smith Institute said about Adam Smith, will know that, yes, he did believe competition was a good thing that could reduce prices. But he also believed manufacturers could fix prices artificially and harm consumers and so would require regulation. He also believed an individual (he was big on the individual) could be “led by an invisible hand” to make as much money as possible for his good alone and still benefit society. So someone behaving like a sociopath could accidentally do good. (In Smith’s day, he was bound to be a he, rather than a she.) He stated that he believed someone can sometimes inadvertently help society by pursuing self-interest and sometimes inadvertently harm society when he’s not. So he made a name for himself by stating the blindingly obvious. Sadly, the invisible-hand thing sounded really cool and inadvertently led to the foundation of a cult. Smith’s invisible hand has inappropriately touched hospitals so they’re not about healthcare, transport companies so they’re not about transport, the BBC so that it’s not about broadcasting, schools so they’re not about education and so on.

Aid to the starving or any manifestations of love can be reframed as doing inadvertent harm to the feckless or the inhabitants of Bongo Bongo Land. And I mention love, not because I’m a doe-eyed Guardian reader, but because it’s a worthwhile and beneficial emotion and just try applying “commonsense” capitalism in your personal life if you want to see how sane and workable it is. After your next night of love, try rolling over and offering your partner a wad of valuable £10 notes, instead of your worthless kiss. Yeah… There are other value systems. They get other things done. Good things.

Since Thatcher, we are supposed to believe that only the profit motive will make things work – always, in all circumstances. Because of the invisible hand. In our current form of capitalist faith, this belief is firmly wedded to the belief that human need is unlimited and will drive everything along just fine. If the invisible hand of unlimited need holds the invisible hand of unlimited greed firmly enough, all will be well. Which is just bizarre.

We know the market is a huge casino with subsidiary interests in tax evasion, law evasion and the concentration of profit into increasingly unwieldy and undemocratic, semi-visible hands. And yet we’re expected to believe it can cure all ills and the word of people devoted to being as wealthy as possible and outrunning the odds. And when the risks go toxic everyone else has to help out the true believers, otherwise it will look as if the invisible hand doesn’t work.

We also know that pinning our progress to unlimited human need is in every way unhealthy. My gentleman of choice should not, for example, be forced to soothe my insecurities at all hours. I may be massively needy, but even I don’t need a slave – which is what someone who served my unlimited need would have to be. In fact, he’d have to be an army of slaves. All manner of research shows that human beings tend to be happy when they have enough. Too little, they’re unhappy. Too much, they’re differently unhappy. Enough is – wild coincidence – enough. Advertising, planned obsolescence and marketing on the addiction model all foster our unhappy need in the hope that our consumption can become unlimited and support the insupportable market. Whenever there are job losses, or attacks on unionisation, or workplace safety, or pay reductions, or the flat-out removal of pay, we are told – by the true believers – that unlimited need will bring forth more industries and jobs and more consumption. The invisible hands will meet and shake and do magic.

Except that is, of course, deeply crazy and too big to work round. Without change, we will continue to live inside interconnected delusions to our great harm. Unlimited need will inevitably exhaust limited resources, while more and more de facto slaves work harder and harder for fewer and fewer bloated consumers. And the invisible hands will meet and shake over a wasteland then disappear. That’s what I believe.


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