• The fallout after separation can be tricky to navigate. (Getty)
Monogamy can be a tough gig. When a long-term relationship breaks down, it can make big waves. As a dear friend, Ian Rose gets caught in a rip.
Ian Rose

10 Nov 2017 - 2:42 PM  UPDATED 10 Nov 2017 - 2:52 PM

So Jack and Jill have finally split. Or at least they’re having one of those trial separations. Which is going to be a test for us all.

Jack and Jill are friends of ours, lovely, big-hearted people. Married with two little boys, eight and two. They’re not really called Jack and Jill, and their sons aren’t Bert and Ernie, but this is what we’ll call them.

It’s always been one of those turbulent scenes, their union. Open displays of lust and hostility, the latter far more frequent. Jill’s default communication mode the irascible holler, Jack’s the belligerent mumble.

When a long-term relationship falls apart, there are ramifications, ripples, fallout. I don’t just mean with kids who might factor.

Still, that they love one another is plain to anyone with eyes in their damn head, so this comes as a shock. 

When a long-term relationship falls apart, there are ramifications, ripples, fallout. I don’t just mean with kids who might factor. 

(Though however carefully this stuff gets explained, however amicable and pragmatic the arrangement, they’re bound to be scared and confused. I know I was, aged five, when my mum told me she and my dad didn’t love each other anymore and that he’d be moving out. What the hell did that mean, and could this be happening because I kept my room in such a mess?)

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It’s going to be tough on Bert and Ernie, for sure, but children are resilient, they get on with it, take the rough with the smooth, shared custody-wise. Those regular bribery treats sure can soften a blow.

Other lives are sent discretely out of whack, too. Family, friends. For other long-term couples in the crashed relationship’s orbit, pointy questions get raised. 

For instance.

Are we truly happy together, or just afraid of being alone? Is a short-lived spark, followed by the slow-burn fizzle of muted discontent really the best we can hope for? Is monogamy a natural condition for our species, or an ideal that society forces on us, to the detriment of our wellbeing?

Frankly, life is stressful enough without this kind of inconvenient reflection.

Then there’s the whole taking sides minefield to navigate.

They’re good friends of ours, Jack and Jill, it’s natural they should turn to us as confidantes. Natural, too, that in the heat of a subsequent row, they might refer to counsel we’ve offered, observations we’ve made, one on one, as friends, misquoting us to make a point, to land a moral jab.

Is monogamy a natural condition for our species, or an ideal that society forces on us, to the detriment of our wellbeing?

So that in my heart-to-hearts with Jack or Jill, I feel I’m walking a tightrope between trusted advisor and potential judas. 

Because we talk about it, of course, my partner of thirteen years and me, the conversations we snatch (between kid-cajoling and household drudgery) tend toward Jack and Jill these days, and can be a minefield themselves.

“She said you can’t expect to stay in love with someone all these years. But Rapunzel (please note, names have been changed to protect the innocent) said that’s not right, that she’s still in love with Hansel, and, well, we’re still in love, aren’t we?”

My partner is looking at me as she asks this, but one eye is on the dismal job I’m making (again) of the dishwasher-stack.  

“Yes,” I respond, looking her straight in that eye and deftly repositioning the pasta dish as I do so, “we’re still in love.” 

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Sounds perfectly plausible. And I find that I mean it, whatever it means.

I want this woman to be my companion for life, not some Dr Who deal, good for three or four seasons. If being in love means being profoundly grateful and wonderstruck that someone this good would opt to be with me, then, hell yes, I’m in it, I’m head over heels. Not that I’m, you know, riding the crest of some unending oxytocin wave. That would be exhausting.

Then suddenly, an alternative future flashes before my eyes. A future in which we split, the kids end up hating me, I rent a room in a houseshare, lie about my age on Tinder, then give up on dating as more indignity than it’s worth and die alone, my corpse undetected until whichever (hopefully by now grown-up) child drew the short straw turns up to take me to lunch for Father’s Day, to find me rotting in urine-encrusted tracky-daks…

“I am completely in love with you,” I repeat. And we have a nice cuddle by the sink.

Ever the romantic, I hold out hope that Jack and Jill can sort it out. That true love is truly a thing, and endures. A world in which they’re together makes more sense to me than one in which they’re apart, and it’s hard enough to make sense of the world right now, as it is. Plus I know it’s what Bert and Ernie would prefer. The wisdom of children, and all. 

But I know this is not about what I, or even Bert and Ernie, want. It’s about what’s right for Jack and Jill. 

And if they decide that this is it, this is the place where their paths diverge, I can only wish them happiness and offer both my friendship.

But if they discover, on being apart, that freedom empowers them, allows them to be better parents and people, that the single life and some extra time to themselves gives them a renewed sense of purpose, even joy, that they feel emancipated, unburdened, more themselves than they have done in years, that they were right, after all, and lifelong monogamy is a sham, a hoax, a bum steer... 

Well, it might be best all round if they’d keep that to themselves.

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