Get physical, but stay sensitive
In a new relationship, it’s important to have a good love life, even if you are a little older, but be understanding of each other’s moods and limitations. Someone I know gives herself and her partner a get-out clause from sex by remarking that he looks tired, allowing him to reciprocate. It’s so much more diplomatic than the off-putting ‘headache’ route.
It’s also a clichéd assumption that older women feel more body-vulnerable than men. Males are holding their stomachs in just as much as we are, so do show them some degree of sympathy.
There are other night-time sensitivities to consider. I snore, due to sinusitis, so I’m stockpiling decongestants and trying not to sleep with my mouth open. My partner, Norman, also feels the heat in our double bed more than me, so we’re experimenting with a pair of single duvets.
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Don’t let history spoil the present
We carry a lot of emotional baggage at our age, so blending your lives takes tact and common sense. I’ve trained myself to stop wittering on about the DIY skills of my late husband, Liam, for instance, since no one wants to hear comparisons with their predecessor 24/7. And to avoid a male equivalent of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, I moved a large portrait of Liam from the sitting room to my study.
Keep the relatives onside
We both have grown-up children and/or stepchildren, but our families couldn’t be happier that Norman and I got together. It relieves any anxiety they may have had about us facing a lonely old age. It helps, too, that we have no intention of marrying and potentially complicating inheritances.
However, we are careful to spare any understandably squeamish feelings by not kissing and cuddling in front of them too much, as if our generation invented sex in 1963. I have to watch my step with unsolicited (grand)childcare advice, too.
A shared house should be a mutual home
If you move in together, all sorts of factors determine where that might be. It could be somewhere completely new to make a fresh start, one of you might have a particularly attractive property that you want to share, or someone might need to stay close to a job. It’s vital that your choice is emotionally and practically right for you both.
It made sense for Norman to move into my North London house and let out his smaller property – which he had inherited from his parents and never much liked. He’s now also much nearer his daughter and grandchildren, who live in a flat he owns.
On the other hand, a friend of mine and her boyfriend don’t share a place at all, as they live within a mile of each other. Bear in mind that, if you keep your home but live elsewhere, you can lose some or all of your capital-gains tax exemption when you sell it.
Have a clear-out
I’ve had my loft converted because Norman and I both work from home and need office-space. But when he first moved in, we still had too much stuff to fit into one home. So we got rid of all duplicates – books, CDs, DVDs and kitchenware – and Norman left most of his furniture in the house he is letting out. Nothing declutters a dithery hoarder’s mind more effectively than a move-in; it’s a great excuse to get drastic.
I’m also curbing my feminine tendency to over-decorate so that my six-foot male companion doesn’t get regularly brained by the metal curlicues on low-hanging pendant lampshades in the shape of Persian turbans.
Give-and-take on the domestic front is even more important when your households merge in maturity. Unless you have the backbone of a jellyfish, each of you will bring along plenty of your own ideas, evolved over decades, about how to do things – whereas young people setting up home find that their tastes tend to develop similarly over the years. So compromise is vital to avoid the inevitable conflict between people who might have become as set in their ways as quick-drying cement.
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Try to stay financially independent
Norman and I are lucky enough to be well-balanced in terms of assets: his property portfolio is similar to mine with no mortgages. So for the sake of financial clarity, we are sharing living expenses but nothing else. I paid for my loft conversion, while he is funding his house refurb.
It may not seem romantic, but keeping your money separate can stop (potentially damaging) arguments about spending.
Solicitors advise, too, that if someone helps their partner to pay for major house repairs or improvements, they could then attempt to claim an interest in the property. Legal experts also suggest making inventories of your individual possessions (such as the sleek mega-cupboard Norman bought to compete with my walk-in – no, make that drive-in – wardrobe).
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Be clear about the future
It’s a common assumption that cohabitees don’t have the same rights as married couples over their partner’s assets. But these rights vary pre- and post-death. If one partner dies, no matter what they’ve said in their will, the person left behind may be able to make a claim on their estate, if they were cohabitees or if their late love was maintaining them financially. So consider a pre-nup or cohabitation agreement and a declaration of trust, and have an up-to-date will to make it plain what you’d like to happen after you die.
I’m thinking of changing my will so that Norman can stay in my house for life, should I die first. But we’re leaving our properties to our separate heirs.
With thanks to:
Cheryl Glynn-Baker of Letchers solicitors, and Eric Longley of Prager Metis accountants.