Lesley Garner
Lesley Garner
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Everything I've ever
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Everything I've Ever Learned About Love

Love versus Space: the New Infidelity

The end of love in the twenty-first century is space. Somehow
it’s supposed to be less insulting to need your space than it is to criticise
your lover. It’s not that I find you boring, it’s just that I need my space.
It’s not that I don’t fancy you since you put on 10 kilos, it’s just that I
need some space. It’s not that our marriage is over or that I don’t want
children, it’s just that I need some personal space to sort myself out.
And once sorted out, how many lovers, wives and husbands return tothe narrow confines of the old relationship? Precious few.

Space is the new empire, the new nunnery, the new great excuse.
It’s where people retreat from love when they don’t want to hurt someone,
but they end up hurting them anyway – especially if their abandoned
partner suspects that space is just another name for the fitness instructor
or that new girl at the office. Which it shouldn’t be, by the way. Everyone
recognises space as the neutral retreating ground. So space is the perfect
way to avoid the explosive confrontation that would happen if it really
were the fitness instructor.

This is what happens if the need for space gets too desperate.
It starts off small and ends up huge. It begins with a night on the sofa and
ends on another continent. Space goes from a weekend away alone to a
job in another town. Space grows from the garden shed to divorce. If the
one you love suggests they need more space, especially if it’s a unilateral
move, you may not have a crisis on your hands, but it’s a warning to pay

In an attempt to neutralise its power, space comes built into
relationships these days. How many marriages now begin with Kahlil
Gibran’s words on love, from The Prophet:

Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls…
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of the lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

These words seem to offer a more manageable pattern for a
contemporary relationship than the words of the Christian marriage
service, with its challenging talk of “for better for worse, for richer for poorer”, and its promises to forsake all others. There is nothing there
among those solemn words about negotiating space.

Space does have a lot to be said for it. The judicious use of space
keeps many relationships going. Space is where you can sleep without
being driven mad by snoring. Space is where it is permissible for one
partner to go on a painting holiday while the other partner goes fishing.
Space is what everyone needs to breathe and recharge. Space, in the right
proportion, is what renews energy, appreciation and affection for the
other. Space is good because people can choke to death from too much

So how can you tell good space – the stuff that allows you to
breathe – from bad space, the kind that will simply take your breath
away? Good space is negotiated. Bad space is stolen. Good space ends up
with two people being pleased to see each other. Bad space just turns into
more and more space until your spacious lover disappears over the
horizon completely. So when the one you love says they want more
space, it isn’t necessarily the beginning of the end. But it could be, as
Winston Churchill said, the end of the beginning.

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