The transition from lover to friend is full of painful pitfalls

9 Feb

By Leonie Frieda

12:01AM BST 18 Jun 2005

The transition from lover to friend is full of painful pitfalls

A few months ago, my boyfriend and I called it a day, went our separate ways, decided to draw a line in the sand, took a breather… Does a cliché ease the sadness? Probably not, but at least it oils the wheels of conversation, making others feel less awkward.

Blessed with a friendship that predates our romance, Andrew and I have decided that we want to re-knit those treasured old threads. The decision to split up was mutual so, in theory, the next bit should be easy – but the transition from lover to friend is fraught with subtle nuances, and there are plenty of trip-wires that can make you stumble and fall.

How can this be happening to me again, I ask myself. I was so careful – my heart was like a guarded citadel – but he waited sweetly and patiently until I was persuaded to lower the drawbridge. We had clear rules from the beginning: this union would be based on love and we would owe each other nothing but constancy. I never asked him where he was, and he never asked me.

My broken marriage had left me determined never to need anyone again or to offer up a series of hostages to emotional fortune. No letters this time, none of the bric-a-brac of a love affair that might leave me stricken when it inevitably came to an end. I did not even have a picture of him on show in my apartment.

Nor did I take a single photograph during our five years together (after being a virtual Patrick Lichfield during my marriage). He, on the other hand, photographed me asleep; he had us photographed together; he took pictures everywhere we went. He was emotionally open-hearted and open-handed, and I was Ebenezer Scrooge. None of this freed us from grief at the end, though.

I had learnt to lean on his unfailing kindness and his chirpy, energetic optimism. His touching ethos that no day is too long, no potential adventure too far away to be worth attempting, contrasted sharply with my fundamental distrust of enthusiasm. My languid response to all innovations or excursions tended to be: “Darling – what on earth for? Don’t you see I’ve done absolutely everything there is to do already – so there’s hardly any point in leaving London.” But then I’d go anyway, and rarely regretted it.

We split up on the night of my homecoming from a four-month business trip to the States. A few hours later, I was too tired to care about anything and fell asleep at my desk. When I awoke, my face had been bruised into alphabetical shapes by the keyboard – you could have played Scrabble on my forehead. More bizarrely, my legs had turned overnight into tree trunks; it turned out that I had slept so heavily that my circulation had all but stopped. My feet tingled and, annoyingly, one of my arms had gone dead.

I crawled to bed and slept for three days and nights. On regaining consciousness, I was surprised to discover that my arm was still a dead weight, though the rest of me was shaping up nicely. The GP explained that heavy sleep had left me with a charming condition called Drunkard’s Palsy (why do my complaints have to have such vulgar names?), which involves a severed or bruised radial nerve. My arm would recover, he said, but that could take anything from six weeks to 12 months. Not the best time to break up with your boyfriend, perhaps.

How do you muddle through a summer full of engagements, both professional and social, with your ex? Most of them were impossible to get out of. Besides, we had agreed that we would always be friends, and now we had to put this new relationship to the test before either of us was really ready.

At least there was no time for agonising, because we had to launch straight into one event after another. Thankfully, it was all much easier than we could ever have hoped – though we must have confused quite a few people by always arriving and leaving together (we are close neighbours). Almost immediately, we slipped into our old roles at book launches, dinner parties, speaking engagements.

For a while, it looked as though we ran the risk of spending too much time together, but after a while I stopped intellectualising and so did he, and we did what felt right. I knew things were back to normal when he called around to say that we had an invitation to Buckingham Palace, and then slipped me something that looked like a coupon from the back of a packet of Frosties.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to the offending item.

“Er… the invitation?”

“Yup, sure, and my name is Cleopatra – chuck me the real one, there’s a love.”

He had hoped to keep our beautiful invitation from the Lord Chamberlain and pass off the parking voucher as mine. Something I didn’t care much about now assumed huge proportions – I wanted that invitation! I started kung fu-ing around the house, trying to catch him, but he disappeared. A nervous giggle in the coat cupboard gave him away.

A few Bruce Lee moves quickly had him flat on his back on the floor. Yes! One thick card – “The Lord Chamberlain is Commanded by Her Majesty, etc” – was now secure in my pocket. I had forgotten how much I had missed our Tom-and-Jerry knockabouts.

Since then, life has resumed almost normal proportions: I go to some parties alone and we sometimes go together. This weekend, we are speaking at the Althorp literary festival – only, Andrew is interviewing me, so I am a little apprehensive about what he might have planned (but only a little). Eighteen months ago, I would have been too scared to read the lesson in church. Gradually, however, I have been encouraged, loved, coaxed and convinced back into self-belief – never my strong suit – and the landscape of my life has vastly changed.

He always publicly declared his pride in my achievements, and I am sad that I never did the same for him – though it is usually not my way.

Now, just this once, would anybody mind if I told him that I will never be able to thank him properly for his contribution to rebuilding the broken Leonie? Thank you, Andrew, my beloved.



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