But her past sounded fascinating. Like my aunt's friend, when Katherine had a serious operation in , it was me who stood and watched as she disappeared down the long corridor on the way to the operating theatre, holding tightly to the rings she always wore and fearing I might lose a very dear friend. But I had a model. When Kitty died it was her friend Mabs, not her family, who followed her coffin and wept for her loss. In the same way Katherine is my confidante, supporting me when things go wrong, sharing day-to-day concerns and celebrating my successes. Singleness in England , is published by Manchester University Press. Our families are very important to both of us and the inevitable conflicts of love and loyalty have to be included in the friendship that Katherine and I share. Yes she was single, but she was also at the centre of a network of family and friends that seemed to be as sustaining emotionally as many marriages.
But the question that is never asked is, "Are you friends? A friend of one of my sons at one time said, "I see your Mum's become a lesbian now. My beloved aunt Kitty, a single woman, shared a home and a life with another woman, Mabs, for more than 50 years. Of course, we had to make compromises. This gave them a good cover story, one which I can't use even if I wanted to. Photographs of her younger self did not fit the spinster stereotype: We still have separate studies as well as bedrooms and have had to learn how to give each other space and adjust to different daily rhythms. We have both learnt to adapt to and develop complementary relationships with members of each other's families that enliven and extend our shared and separate lives in different and important ways. However, by the time I reached 40, I needed a different focus in my life. Perhaps like singleness, divorce and widowhood, it suggests a lack, an absence and possibly a failure. Then in her 80s, she was regarded with a mixture of admiration, pity and exasperation, and by me with a secret fear that I might end up like her. However, we both greatly enjoy leisurely shared breakfasts at weekends, with eggs from our own hens, holidays together, discussing each other's work and celebrating with each other's families. I remembered my great-aunt Norah, an archetypal spinster who lived with my family in the s. I, too, found models for our relationship. We laughed at her eccentricities - she was a theosophist and vegetarian, her nutty rissoles were legendary. In the same way Katherine is my confidante, supporting me when things go wrong, sharing day-to-day concerns and celebrating my successes. Nona and Lilla's early 20th-century friendship and lifestyle appeared closer to Helen's and my relationship than many others we have encountered in 21st-century Britain. Like my aunt's friend, when Katherine had a serious operation in , it was me who stood and watched as she disappeared down the long corridor on the way to the operating theatre, holding tightly to the rings she always wore and fearing I might lose a very dear friend. The answer then and now is no. This was not always because women who lived together were lesbian but to do with their fear of stigma or being pathologised as frustrated spinsters who used other women as a poor substitute for men. We rarely notice that an explanation is required of our "strange" status of friendship, whereas the newly married are instantly joined together and consequently receive cards and invitations addressed to both parties. We are not a couple but I am now no longer single in the sense of being on my own, and we live in a relationship that has no name. Women in Norah's situation, and friendships like Lilla's and Nona's, were much more common in the s and 30s, partly as a result of the greater numbers of women than men in the population after the first world war. My family has grown used to the arrangement, as has Katherine's large extended family, including her elderly parents, three brothers, and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. Helen Like Katherine, I was aware of fears surrounding relationships between women. These things were not so easy to accept when we first set up house together in
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