My parents had a nasty divorce and the effects stayed with me for years. So when it came to choosing the father of my children, I wanted someone who would be a good ex – just in case. I found Niel via the Friends Reunited social network in June 2002. I was smitten. He moved in the following February and we got married in September 2004.
Our marriage got off to a tricky start. We’d planned to move to Cheltenham straight after our honeymoon, but Niel’s company asked him to stay in London at the last minute. We were immediately separated – miserable. In 2007, we had our first son, William. I raised him on my own in the week, with Niel returning at weekends to help.
I got used to being on my own. In fact, it was only when we were living together in Cheltenham – two years after our second son, Joe, was born in 2010 – that we realised our marriage was over. We’d become accustomed to doing things separately.
After our split, we stayed married, but rented a property nearby and took turns staying there. That only lasted six months – neither of us wanted to be in an expensive rented flat. We needed space, though, so for a few months we spent weekends in hotels while we dated other people. But we realised we were throwing good money after bad, especially as we were still best friends. We’d always had separate bedrooms anyway – Niel’s a snorer – so we decided to live together. Oddly, it worked.
Initially, we kept our love lives private, but eventually began to exchange horror stories and joked that things were so bad out there we might end up together after all. While other couples threatened divorce, we threatened remarriage.
When I met my now boyfriend, Ian, I knew he had to be happy with our unusual setup. I explained the situation early on, saying it was unlikely to change unless one of us won the lottery – and perhaps not even then. Luckily, Ian understood – he’d gone through a divorce and was raising his two sons. It was just as important to me that Niel was happy with Ian. So, soon after that, I drove my husband to meet my boyfriend at his local pub and deposited him there for the night.
Four years later, we’re one big family: Niel and I with our two boys, and Ian with his two. We spend Christmases and days out together, and even formed a bubble in lockdown.
For the first few years, Niel and I were in Cheltenham and Ian lived nearby. Then, just when we thought our situation couldn’t get any more unusual, Ian and Niel moved in together.
Two years ago, Ian moved to Scotland to care for his brother. Niel and I were set to join him up there once our eldest had finished his GCSEs. We’d planned – and still plan – on pooling resources and buying a house in Scotland to accommodate all of us: Niel and I, William and Joe, Ian and his boys, Ian’s brother and my mum.
Then Niel, who was preparing to retrain as a teacher, chose to train in the Scottish system. It then made sense for him to live with Ian while he did so: Ian had space and Niel needed somewhere to live. And so last summer my husband and my boyfriend moved in together. I love it. I’m still with the kids in Cheltenham, and get reports from them both on the quirks that wind each other up. I’ll think: “That drives me mad, too.”
At the moment, when Niel comes down to visit the boys, we switch places and I go north to see Ian. Our plan to all move in together has been delayed as William wants to finish his A-levels in England. I hope to move up to Scotland once he has completed his education.
Niel and I have no plans to divorce. I don’t want there to be a legal piece of paper that says Niel and I are no longer a team; we’ll always be a team. That said, I’d love to have a marriage of sorts with Ian. I’d want Niel to officiate, Joe to give me away, and William to be part of my bridal party. All our friends thought it was crazy at first, but once they saw our dynamic it all made sense. Some have even reached out for advice when contemplating their own separations.
I don’t know if Ian and I could ever live like a normal couple. For the two of us, and for us all, there’s definitely strength in numbers.
As told to Chloë Hamilton
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