The First One
So there we were, as a gay couple, now absorbed into the social life of the apartment block and invited, by our lovely neighbours, for drinks with the government Minister for the Arts and his charming wife.
With gin and tonic in hand we were introduced to her and about to indulge in the usual small talk one expects to have on these sort of occasions when out she comes with “So tell me Roger, how did you two meet?”
Our hostess, standing just a few feet away descended on us like a hawk and said “Well that’s a long story isn’t it, Roger” and promptly steered the lady away.
Well actually it wasn’t a long story at all, though it wasn’t exactly Barbara Cartland stuff either, for in truth we met in a public toilet! He was already in there, and I followed him in. It was lust at first sight; the meeting of our eyes being actually the second stage. Yet where else could we have met in 1969, life was different then. Grindr didnt exist in those days, even if it been spelled correctly. We often thought later that a blue plaque should have been erected on the wall of that toilet in honour of our love, but it wasn’t, and so we had to be content with naming our weekend house ‘Pinner Green Cottage’. “How quaint!” said our straight friends. “How hilarious!” said the others, in the know.
Thus began almost three decades of Valentines cards and the development of a relationship which carried with it most of what you would expect to find in any one, gay or straight; and, of course, there was one time the ‘conversation with the flying plates’ too.
The happiness didn’t last, of course. Nothing is forever. There had to be an end and the end began with the development of his Alzheimers. He forgot so many things, even the ability to speak out loud, but after 8 years of decline he still remembered me, and kissed me. He could still mouth the words of the song ‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine’ and on one day in March, when he came into the house, I kissed him and said “I don’t want to lose you yet” but only a few days after he got lost and that really was the end.
The Second One
I realised that, in spite of the pain, I was still in love with love and went in search of it, though this time public toilets were obviously not the best answer; in any case they were closing them down. No, my world was now more sophisticated and I decided to advertise in the gay press. To my amazement I had 20 replies some of which turned out to be mighty strange and some of them containing just a pack of lies about the sender. I quickly learned that telling the truth was the surest start for any successful relationship. Additionally, like the Pinner Green experience, there remained that element of risk. All relationships carry that burden.
One of my contacts lived refreshingly close to my town and we eventually decided to meet. This time he invited me to his house for dinner. I had read of the most dreadful things happening to gay men in such situations and I was scared. I made sure that someone close to me, knew what I was doing and off I set. Later on we recounted to friends how that evening worked out. It seemed that he was as anxious as me, and had left a letter upstairs giving details about me, just in case I turned out to be the mad axe murderer of Margate.
Thus began 7 years of our growing together. There were holidays spent together; the happy times when we shared our stories with others, as couples do; the times of being there for each other, when the chips were down; and finally, tragically, the seeing through to death and our saying farewell to each other, as most couples are likely to have to.
The Third One
I had been so in love twice now and I told myself that this had got to be the end of ‘that sort of thing’. Love brought just too much pain; best concentrate on cultivating self love instead, which seemed to be less risky and less time consuming too. Travel, culture, volunteering all filled the gap and there was also be the possibility of the occasional ‘fling’. Doing all that was surely quite enough for one life. Yet, to be honest, I knew, deep down, that, even though I was filling in time and achieving an element of happiness, I was not experiencing the real purpose of life, which, for me could only be discovered in loving and being loved. So off I set, once more, to find Mr. Right (what an idiot, eh?).
The internet was now my resource and a new world of discovery opened up. What did I discover? Firstly that so many of my contacts seemed to be seeking a carbon copy of themselves and were surprised at their consequent lack of success. That some had set ludicrous standards from others and that they were certain to be disappointed. I joked with all my partners that their trouble was that they weren’t as perfect as me, but some guys clearly meant it. Then I realised just how out of the closet I had actually become and that no relationship, however exciting, was going to force me back in. I remember telling one perspective lover that I felt like Archbishop Cranmer’s wife, who had to be hidden in a cupboard, when priests, like her husband, were forbidden to marry. Yes, I did also discover some who smelled money, and would have put up with anything if a pound or two was on offer. And then there were those who declared that age would be no problem for them, and then discovered that, actually, it was – you can’t have a partner who can remember the Coronation, can you? Finally, and perhaps most significantly there were those who would only pursue a relationship so long as it didn’t involve any possibility of making seriously deep changes in their own circumstances.
And then HE came along! I fancied him, the first time we met. He was totally unlike me. His experiences were not the same as mine. He hadn’t been to university. He didn’t have money. He didn’t have many interests the same as me. In fact we didn’t have much in common at all – mind you we can both snore for England!!! Yet we bonded. We discovered something about relationships, namely that they don’t magically just work, you have to work at them to be successful, and that is exactly what we have done. The end result is love which, has not been the immature variety of the cheap magazines, but is as St. Exupery puts it ‘love does not consist in gazing at each other – but in looking outward together in the same direction’.
So what is this love like? It is the discovery or the re-discovery that you are not two individuals together but that there are two of you who have become one. It is the action of two people making up for the vulnerability and fallibility of the other. It is two people sharing the same burdens. It is the joining of two separate remembrances into a new joint one. It is the creation of a united approach to other people and other things. It is the bestowing of freedom on the other so that the relationship is not confining but liberating. It is the rejoicing in the exploits, experiences and happiness of the other. It is the ability to smile at yourself and accept how ludicrous your responses can be. It is that feeling of safety as you mould yourself into each other’s arms. It is the joint fundamental realisation that nothing is forever, and that nothing is more important than the present.
I never thought that I would find that love again, but I did and I love you for it Nigel.