The long goodbye

Some old flames just won't die down. Hester Lacey reports on the lovers who can't move on

FELICITY KENDAL'S autobiography White Cargo, published last week, doesn't mention playwright Tom Stoppard, even though they were partners for eight years. She refuses to be drawn on their relationship. "I love many people and Tom is one of them," was as far as she ever went publicly. They never lived together, though they were rarely long apart. The couple split up last week, and are reported to be not speaking to each other. A friend diagnosed the situation as being one where they "couldn't live with each other but didn't want to live without each other".

On-off relationships, old flames that won't die down, partnerships that limp along despite some fundamental flaw, are not uncommon. Richard, 29, has had a similar experience: a relationship that didn't develop along the conventional lines of settling down and becoming a couple, but wouldn't fizzle out. For five years, he has been in sporadic touch with a girlfriend he knows he won't settle with permanently. "We met on a work trip, clicked immediately, and saw a lot of each other for 18 months. But when it came to living together, she drove me mad. She was untidy and impractical, and useless with money. In the end we split up. But we carried on seeing each other even after I had met someone else." The relationship now, he says, is not exactly romantic, and not exactly platonic. "I see my old girlfriend whenever she's in town, we go on what is basically a date. My current girlfriend, who is likely to become my fiancee, would probably hate it. She doesn't mind us meeting for a drink but would be horrified at our endless rehashing of the relationship. But there is something about my old lover that I don't want to give up. I think we will always see each other in some way or other."

Natalie, 34, has also found that breaking up is hard to do. "I was married when I met him, and fell head over heels quickly. Our 'affair' ended a few weeks after it had begun - we quickly discovered we weren't suited. But 10 years later, here we still are. I am still married and he is in a relationship, we both have children. Things have developed into something much more affectionate."

Over the years, she says, the relationship has been through many different phases. "It's years since we slept together, but the sexual attraction is strong - hence the frisson. But the truth is we wouldn't make it as partners - we're too similar, perhaps." She now appreciates her old lover's friendship as much as any romantic attraction, but says, "It is my belief that these relationships are never entirely comfortable. If they were, they would just turn into normal relationships."

There are other examples of relationships that won't disappear tactfully: Charles and Camilla, for example; or Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; or Miles and Anna in This Life, who couldn't give up the meaningful glances even when he was at the altar.

Sentimentally cherishing the embers of an old fling is really a matter of self-delusion, believes Suzie Hayman, agony aunt, Relate counsellor and author of You Just Don't Listen (Vermilion pounds 8.99). "It's easy to build a fantasy, to think 'If only I'd stayed with so-and-so my life would be all different'. But you only remember the good bits of old relationships, and when you only see someone sporadically, it's always a series of high points, you never have to deal with the boring bits,"

Her advice on dealing with an old flame is to extinguish it - particularly if other partners are involved. "Splitting your affections is always dangerous and by fixing your mind on a fantasy you are cheating your partner and yourself."

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    BI Manager - £50,000

    £49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

    £48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

    VB.Net Developer

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

    SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game