‘What do you mean, your ex-ex-boyfriend is still living with his ex-girlfriend?’ said my friend Sarah, pulling a disgusted face. To summarise the many questions that followed, this bosom buddy of mine dared to ask me to explain why I was now referring to The Builder as my ‘ex-ex-boyfriend’, and why said ex-ex-boyfriend was still living with the girlfriend he was going out with before he met me. Talk about impertinent.
Sometimes my married friends give me absolutely no leeway for how complicated modern romance is. They have no idea what singletons have to cope with in this godless age. The last time they were single, women used to be ‘courted’ or go on ‘dates’, or get ‘marriage proposals’.
Nowadays, romance is a jungle, a war zone, a no-man’s-land strewn with moral boundaries and broken-hearted people panting from the effort of crossing lines they swore they never would.
Naturally, as any other singleton will understand, I don’t want to call someone with whom I have rekindled a defunct relationship ‘my boyfriend’ because that would be humiliating. So The Builder is now my ex-ex. As for the rest of it, well, as I explained to my friend:
‘It’s no big deal. I’m fine with it.’
‘Hmm,’ said my friend.
‘What do you mean hmm?’
‘I mean hmm.’
‘No, you don’t mean hmm, you mean I’m an idiot. You mean: who goes out with a man who’s living with his ex-girlfriend? I know your hmms. That was definitely a judgmental hmm, not a nonchalant hmm.’
‘Well, I just think it’s a bit weird.’
‘Look, they were together a long time. When they split up, it made sense to go on sharing a house. It’s the modern way. Virtually all couples who break up carry on living together now. There’s an acronym for it.’
‘Really? What is it then?’
Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of it. And I’ve been trying to think of it ever since. After some frenzied Googling, I’ve established that there is something called ‘Living Apart Together’, whose proponents are referred to as LATs. But that is quite the opposite of what my ex-ex-boyfriend does with his ex-girlfriend.
LATs are couples who are together, romantically speaking, but living at separate addresses, for practical, financial and/or spiritual reasons (‘I just so need my space’, and so on).
Couples who have split up but continue to live, claustrophobically enough, under the same roof because they can’t afford to divide things down the middle, or, as in the case of my ex-ex and his ex, because they can’t be bothered to, are called Separated But Living Together, or SBLTs. Not a very satisfying acronym. Not an acronym at all, really.
In my defence, I would say that I have tried to persuade my ex-ex that this is not a reasonable way for him to carry on. But he insists that when renting a room in your house it is a case of better the devil you know.
My ex-ex’s ex is the perfect tenant because he knows all her bad habits and has well-rehearsed techniques for coping with them. Anyway, they only bicker when they’re both in the house at the same time, so they have hit upon a system whereby their paths rarely cross and all rows are conducted by extremely rude text message.
Every time I complain about this set-up, The Builder and I set a deadline whereby he will stop sharing his house with his ex-girlfriend and start living with me, his ex-ex-girlfriend, but we haven’t quite got round to it yet.
I would like to say this is all his fault, but I know it is partly mine. I confess, there is something comforting about sending him home to his ex-girlfriend when I’ve had enough of him.
I admit that a bit of me enjoys saying silently to myself ‘go on, clear off, let her deal with you’ when he is getting on my nerves. Maybe I’m a terrible person, but if this is the only way I can successfully conduct a long-term relationship then I feel I should give it a go.
The basic routine is that we chug along happily for a few days and then when I’m fed up with all the soap suds in the sink, I pack him off home to the one before me who tells him off about the things she doesn’t like in a rude text message, whereupon he comes gratefully back to me.
It might be a bit of a stretch to make this state of romantic being into a catchy acronym, however. I like to think of myself as a DAMWISLE (Dating A Man Who Is Still Living with his Ex).
But I wouldn’t argue too much if you called me a SWAMTAH (Silly Woman Allowing a Man to Take Advantage of Her).