When David proposed to Claire after 12 years together, Claire had one question. Would he want to move in? Luckily the answer was no and the now the married couple continue to live happily, apart
Christmas Day 2012 will go down in history in our family. For it was not only the day David asked me to be his wife, but it was also the day that our extended family saw first hand just how our relationship works.
David handed me a small gift and asked me to open it in front of our son, Jay, now six, as well as my other sons, Lee, now 20, Billy, now 18, and Max, now 15, and various aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews. A full house, all witness to the proposal.
I unwrapped the paper and saw a blue Tiffany velvet purse. Then David knelt before me and presented me with a sparkling diamond ring as he asked if I would marry him.
But my first words after his proposal were not yes, as you might expect.
My first words were: ‘I don’t have to live with you, do I?’
That was the moment that our family still laugh about – the moment they understood what David and I are all about.
But the best part of the story was the look on David’s face. The thought of us moving in together just because he was proposing hadn’t even crossed his mind.
‘God no!’ he said. And with that, I accepted his proposal and wrapped my arms around him. I couldn’t wait to be his wife, but living together was absolutely out of the question.
David and I might not have followed the normal route into marriage, but who wants to be normal? This set up works for us and had worked for us for 11 years before we married, so changing anything seemed absurd to us.
We spent the rest of Christmas Day chatting about wedding plans. Come the evening, David went home, just as he always did.
David’s flat is seven miles from the house where I live with my three older sons from a previous relationship and Jay, my son with David.
What makes our relationship work is trust. I know couples who have lived together for years but they don’t trust each other like we do. We don’t live separately because David wants to be free to have affairs or anything silly like that. People think he has his own place just so he can cheat on me. I trust him and I don’t need him under my roof to know he’s not a cheater.
We live separately because if we lived together, it would ruin our relationship.
Society, and many of our friends and family, might have expected me to give up my independence and my routine but what society doesn’t realise is that we’d ultimately give up our relationship if we lived together.
David will admit it himself – he’s complex. It’s his way or no way. I can cope with that trait if I don’t have to live with it – and I’m sure I have traits he’d rather not live with too.
I wouldn’t want to change David and I love everything about him, but if we lived together we’d quarrel and then we would either have to change or we’d have to break up. And I just married him – breaking up is the last thing I’d ever want to do.
But as we announced our engagement, friends seemed desperate for us to finally conform and move under one roof.
Just because we’d got engaged, it didn’t mean we wanted anything to change. Just as it hadn’t after we had Jay.
Admittedly, when Jay was born, we did talk about it. Jay was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and we thought it would be best for him if we lived together. David stayed over a lot in those early days.
But at five weeks old, Jay started sleeping through the night and David started going back to his own place. It was all very well David returning to his house, but I was being left with full responsibility for our baby.
That’s not what I signed up for – if we were going to live apart, David wasn’t going to act like a bachelor while I dealt with every night shift.
So I bought him a cot to take home and told him that although I didn’t want to live with him, he was going to have to do his share of the nights.
And we were soon arguing over who would get to have Jay for the night.
Now Jay goes to David’s a few times a week, which is perfect as I get respite and Jay gets quality time with his dad.
He runs around packing his bag and telling his half-brothers he’s off to his Daddy’s house. David’s just bought him some fish and Jay loves watching them swim about.
On the nights they are at David’s, I pour myself a glass of wine and watch my favourite TV shows. David’s a National Geographic kind of guy, I like Corrie. Our differences don’t rub each other up the wrong way because we don’t put ourselves in situations where they matter.
Financially, we’d be so much better off if David moved in here. He wouldn’t have to pay off a separate mortgage and pay separate bills. We’d be able to get by running just one car.
We’d be able to afford a foreign holiday every year. But we would lose who we are and what makes us work.
Whenever David comes over, there is such laughter in our house. But like me, the boys never assumed that just because David and I were getting married, he’d move in.
I’ve been married twice before, David has been married once. We both know what it’s like to put your finances in one pot and we don’t like it, even if it does cost us more this way.
Nearly every day from the proposal to the wedding 18 months later, someone asked if getting married meant we’d move in together.
But our answer was always a categorical no – we passed the stage of feeling we need to explain ourselves but people still found us fascinating, asking how we make it work.
By the time I’ve given them my reasons, I usually got told that our decision sounded like a very good idea. Some people even tell me they wish they could do it themselves.
We married on the 19th July 2013. Our day had a blue and yellow theme, the colours of the Down Syndrome Awareness campaign.
We spent our first night as man and wife in the honeymoon suite of a hotel and had to share a bed. As usual, it was a disaster. It’s impossible to sleep next to David, he’s so spread-eagled. And he snores.
I’ve never stayed over at his place but David occasionally stays at mine. I’ve taken to putting him in the spare room when he does. We make love – of course we do. We’re just creative.
David is a fireman and works odd shifts and I’m a full time mum so sometimes he’ll pop over during the day… After 13 years together I still feel excited when I see him.
David can be who he is and I can be who I am and we can do what we do best – laugh, have fun, enjoy each other. We’re not dragged down by the day to day problems of life.
We are always delighted to see each other and don’t get annoyed by the little things that can weigh a relationship down, like teabags in the sink or an overflowing bin.
We don’t fall out over anything – I can’t remember the last time we squabbled.
We’re not holding on to our independence, we are holding on to our relationship. Our marriage works just perfectly living apart, together.