The man who convinced me to swap single for settled

The man who convinced me to swap single for settled: She was the ultimate girl about town – Now, with a joint mortgage and a puppy, HANNAH BETTS confesses she’s a late convert to domestic bliss

  • Hannah Betts, 47, says she adored her single period and relished independence
  • She told how meeting Terence, 44, changed her views on relationships 
  • She claims prior to being with Terence she believed she would always be single
  • The pair met at a party in 2014 but didn’t embrace coupledom until 2018
  • Hannah spoke about adjusting to life together in a flat in South London 

New Year’s Day 2018 found me festering beneath a pair of dark glasses recovering from a glamorous party I had stumbled across the night before.

Once able to move, I headed back to my minuscule, rented apartment stuffed with books, scent, slap and clothes. There was no one to remark upon my whereabouts, no one to answer to, and I could wallow in solitary domestic bliss until 2018 felt bearable (some time round about March).

In contrast, next year — tomorrow — I will be forced out of bed at the crack of dawn by a tall, energetic man and a small, still more energetic dog, both of whom will be expecting exercise. Indeed, as I write, this dashing chap is waving from the garden, our garden, as he plays with a puppy, our puppy, and picks me a winter rose.

It’s all a bit giddying, as if I have suddenly been catapulted into some implausibly romantic midlife romcom.

To say that my life has changed in the past year would be understating it. Moreover, this has happened not at 25, nor even 35, but at 47 — after an extended single period that I was cheerily convinced might last for ever.

Hannah Betts, 47, (pictured left) revealed how she embraced coupledom with Terence, 44, after an extended single period which she was convinced could last forever

For five decades, I have been an ‘I’. Over 2018, I became part of a ‘we’, a change in pronoun that leaves me faintly mortified. Coupledom, a state that I have always professed to despise, has hit hard. Who is this woman and what has she done with the real Hannah?

Because I adored being single. Indeed, one could say I was professionally single, celebrating the lone state in a series of newspaper articles until I became its ageing poster girl.

I loved the swaggering camaraderie of this reckless existence, the drama and narrative potential: from the highs higher than any high should be, to the lows that made one feel eviscerated, yet alive.

I relished my independence, the privacy and lack of scrutiny that came with my adventuress’s life. If anyone asked what I was doing that evening, or with whom, I considered it the height of impertinence. Not for me the suburban rectitude of predictability and routine.

A friend informed me I was ‘ideologically single’ — and she was right. And yet in 12 short months, flirtatious texts have been replaced by those dreaded questions: ‘Where are you?’ and ‘When are you home?’

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Of course, in reality, it’s taken more than a year. I met Terence, now 44, at a Christmas party in December 2014. I was 43 and 90 days sober (fuelling my wild life with booze was becoming a bit of a problem) with no idea what to do at a bash if I wasn’t drinking.

He was a man with his cab light finally on, as they would put it in Sex And The City; ready to embark upon a relationship in a way he hadn’t been before. Either way, it — we — stuck, in a way that felt curiously self-evident rather than the merry dances I’d led before.

For the first three years of our relationship, we were beset by crises that made moving in together impossible: parental illness and death, not least.

Thus it was only in 2018 that we finally embraced full coupledom as part of a cohabiting unit.

Much as we adore each other, it wasn’t an easy decision for either of us: you don’t get to be single in your 40s without cherishing your freedom.

Hannah (pictured) and Terence who met at a Christmas part in December 2014 began sharing a flat in South London this year

However, living on different sides of the capital, with a lack of shared space, condemned us to a life forever dating — a curious situation in a relationship that had from the outset appeared so rock solid.

We weren’t ships that passed in the night, we were docked alongside and it was time to build a life together — a home. Doing it any faster would have killed me. Where Terence has taken to being in a long-term partnership like a duck to water, my shock has taken a while to settle down.

Witness our mortgage meeting in June this year, at which the bank chap asked us to define our relationship from a drop-down list that included: ‘married’, ‘single’, ‘engaged’, ‘divorced’ and the like. Caustically, I inquired whether there was the option for ‘occasional sex’. In the end, we plumped for ‘No response’, my eyes wild with panic.

Three months later, we went from what is known as Living Apart Together (LATing) to sharing a flat in South London.

Not only this, but we threw ourselves in at the deep end not merely with late-onset cohabitation, but builders, decorators, and a new puppy — Pimlico the blue whippet — or my peri-menopausal emotional support dog, as I like to refer to her.

I had forgotten quite how hardcore puppydom can be. When people refer to Pim as our ‘fake baby’, I feel like responding: ‘Less of the fake’, given that the first few weeks we had her saw us up every 90 minutes to assuage her howls.

Within 24 hours of her arrival, I had gone from sporting a frock and heels to a gnawed puffer jacket, stuffed with dog biscuits, teamed with old-lady shoes.

Washing became something that happened to other people, leaving me a riot of scratches, dog snot and dry shampoo.

At one point, I showed a neighbour my picture in the paper. ‘Yes, you do look a bit like her,’ he chuckled. Maybe it’s a blessing that my social life, previously my only life, vanished overnight.

Hannah (pictured) says before she and Terence began living together they were regularly complimented as a couple by strangers 

Matters were not helped by the fact that, due to constant builder presence, Terence and I had to occupy one room in which we had to eat, sleep, work, store all our possessions and house said pup. It felt like one of those medieval huts in which a family of 12 occupied wattle-and-daub squalor. All we lacked was a cow.

Before we moved in together, Terence and I were forever being told we were ‘too cute’ by strangers, so ecstatically happy did we appear. Since we moved in together, well, not so much.

To be sure, we have had our moments of mortgage advertisement-style domestic bliss, all loving grins over mugs of steaming tea. However, much more of it has conformed to what one might refer to as Late-onset Cohabitation Hell. When you come together in your youth, you bend towards each other like willow trees. When you join forces in middle-age, you crash down upon each other in the manner of blasted oaks.

For a start, there is no escaping the other party, especially if one is setting up house in a matchbox-sized residence. I am a depressive night owl, whose introversion means that I crave time on my tod. Terence is a spritely lark, so blithe he sings, babbles away constantly, and executes little jigs. He is all energy, while I have none.

On the first night in our new home, I developed a gesture I didn’t know I had in me: both hands planted despairingly on my head, face caught in agonised horror, accompanied by the plea: ‘Dear God, please stop talking!’

Lately, this has been supplanted by the line: ‘I have a headache and you’re it.’

For someone who has had complete control over her environment for 20 years, it feels like living with a 6ft 4in hurricane. Feeding him is like lobbing food into a bottomless pit: all meals requiring supplementary carbs, followed by cheese and crackers, plus a Bourbon biscuit and Kit-Kat course.

Mounds of detritus mass in his wake — in sinks, bathtubs, across floors. Where I am an obsessive-compulsive-disorder-riddled control freak, so he is a destroyer of toothbrushes, shrinker of soap, purchaser of tasteless budget tomatoes, leaver open of doors, ringer of baths, and advocate of nipple-freezing cold.

Suddenly, I am infantilised by having to ask permission for every move I make, not least throwing things away, which is apparently a highly politicised act. For Tezzer doesn’t bin things, be it the towels he took to prep school (already heirlooms inherited from his grandmother), bits of string from the Seventies or broken radiators.

Hannah (pictured) describes cohabiting as feeling infinite with endless cooking, cleaning and having to discuss dull topics 

Of course, I boast rather a lot of stuff myself, not least my hundreds of books, bags and shoes. However, very little of this dates from before the Great War.

As for his collection of ship pictures (I tend to swap the P for a T) and Steptoe and Son lamps, let’s just say that a good deal of stuff is now in storage.

Bringing two middle-aged lives together means colossal numbers of mugs and plates, particularly with both sets of parents deceased; each of us loving our own china, while secretly trying to smash the other’s.

And who knew there would be so many chores? Packing, unpacking, repacking, dog walks, dog dirt, skyscrapers of washing up and so many trips to the bin. Single life is small, self-contained. Cohabiting life feels huge, infinite, both of us either working to pay for the thing, or endlessly cooking, cleaning and having to discuss the dullest things.

Where once we talked about Proust and politics, now it’s all lavatory cleaner and paint shades. Terence has gone from lover to beleaguered fellow labourer. As for the first time I heard him break wind, reader, I won’t burden you with it; suffice to say, I made it clear I do not want to be in a farting relationship.

I, too, have my faults, of course, not least what he savagely referred to as my ‘medicalised needs’, as in the lament: ‘The state of the bath is triggering my OCD’; or, ‘If you don’t get rid of that lamp, I will kill myself.’

So, yes, it’s proved challenging, and, doubtless, there are challenges to come. I think of our situation less as a happy ending than as an elaborate work in progress. But, then, surely all the best relationships are?

Hannah (pictured) says she’s gained a family by becoming a couple and it’s the most radical thing she’s done in decades

Life’s only constant is change. This is a tricky enough state of affairs when it applies to one individual; add another into the mix and continual adjustments will prove necessary.

Still, one night recently we finally found ourselves chore-free — Terence reading aloud a novel, me lying under a blanket by the fire, warm dog snout in my ear — and I found myself thinking: ‘So this is why we’re doing this.’

In its quiet, pedestrian way, it was the most radical thing I’ve done in decades: domestic conformity at pushing 50.

For, while we started off with separate living rooms for sanity’s sake, I do appear to spend an increasing amount of time in his. Different as we are, we complement each other pretty well.

I seem to do more cooking. But I don’t resent this on feminist grounds, as he does more clearing up — plus he gardens and bakes bread. He’s funny, so could never bore me, and, while I’ve missed my ability to race off at any moment to see friends, I’ve not missed my partying life because there’s something interesting going on at home.

We’ve not only become a couple, but a family — and it turns out I rather wanted one, if it could be on our own terms.

And so tomorrow morning, on the first day of 2019, I will be up (relatively) early, (relatively) bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a family dog walk.

I will be wearing make-up — I will never renounce powder and paint. However, I will be teaming it not with stockings and heels, but the aforementioned puffer and gumboots.

I will have enjoyed a solid night’s sleep. Hell, I may not even have made it to midnight. If my old self could see me, she would shake her head. Yet there I will be: muddy, middle-aged — and really rather enjoying it.

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