Our second summer of love – 33 years after meeting! We all know of couples torn apart by the pandemic. But says YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN, others were driven back into each other’s arms, as her and her husband reveal in this wonderfully life-affirming confession
- Yasmin Alibhai-Brown met Colin at Bristol Temple Meads railway station in 1988
- Journalist says lockdown made them relearn how to appreciate each other
- They spent time looking at old albums of photos taken in their 33 years together
One Friday morning in cold January, just after the alarm went off, my husband Colin whispered tremulously: ‘Without you, I couldn’t get through this. I love you more than I can bear.’
Throughout our three decades of marriage, Colin has always been openly affectionate. But since the advent of Covid, I’ve noticed there have been more of these spontaneous moments — and there is something different, urgent about his tone.
It reminds me of those very first days when we fell in love and were scared fate would intervene and snatch it all away.
I realise that the past 18 months have taken their toll on countless couples — some have reached the end of the line. But we have become closer. Neither of us could have ever anticipated this Covid dividend.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and her husband Colin (pictured) revealed how they relearned to appreciate each other during lockdown
While it is wonderful finally to go to parties again, to lunches and dinners out, museums, cinemas and theatres without restrictions, I hope we appreciate the power of that time spent together — just watching box-sets and movies on TV.
We’ve relearnt how to appreciate each other. We dance. We hug and kiss, say sweet things every day. We fancy each other. We want each other.
This is a tale of reawakening and attraction, love and passion between two people from totally different worlds: me, an immigrant from Uganda and Mr Brown, a working-class Englishman from Brighton.
No dating agency would ever put us together. I’m hyper-emotional and intense, free-spirited, fairly anarchic, an outspoken journalist; Colin is open-minded and artistic, and also rational, scientific, particular and pragmatic. I was raised a Shia Muslim; he was a choirboy but his parents were uninterested in Christianity.
A chance encounter at Bristol Temple Meads railway station brought us together and here we are, 33 years on, still the closest of friends and lovers. And we’ve grown even closer in the past 18 months.
Perhaps it is the heightened awareness of our own vulnerability and mortality in this harrowing time. Perhaps we are unbelievably lucky. (I hope writing this won’t jinx the precious relationship).
Research by law firm Richard Nelson LLP found that Google searches for ‘I want a divorce’ rose by 154 per cent during the first lockdown and, by December 2020, searches for ‘quickie divorce’ had risen by 235 per cent compared to the same month in 2019.
Spending days and months in a nuclear family bubble has made some partners claustrophobic and carping; fault lines get magnified, small disagreements amplified. I’ve read stories about devoted couples rowing for no good reason. I know a few myself.
Yasmin recounts meeting Colin back in April 1988, when they were both booked to appear on the same BBC TV debate on racism and discrimination. Pictured: Yasmin and Colin after their first meeting in a taxi queue
We’ve rowed too, of course. Always have. I tend to shout; he is stonily stubborn. We do often exasperate each other. But astonishingly, there have been far fewer fights and fallouts over this period. And much more understanding and harmony.
There has always been an intellectual connection between us. When we met back in April 1988, we had bee`n booked to appear on the same BBC TV debate on racism and discrimination.
I was not in a good place. My soon-to-be ex-husband had left the family that January. At 39, I was feeling unlovable, unattractive, unwanted, brittle. My woollen culottes, baggy jumper and red knitted beret made me look old-fashioned and pathetic.
In the taxi queue, Colin asked if he could share the ride. His hair was brown and unruly, his eyes blue and kind. He looked like an amalgam of Paul McCartney, Sean Bean and Tony Blackburn.
As we waited for the BBC debate to begin, we introduced ourselves and chatted. He knew my work. I realised I owned Black And White Britain, a thick report he had written for Mrs Thatcher’s government. I’d always imagined the author to be a grey-haired, wise Afro-Caribbean, not such a young and trendy white chap.
We sat next to each other on the train back, had a drink at the Paddington Railway Hotel. I had become deeply mistrustful of men but this stranger made me feel safe. He spoke softly, sensitively.
The months after that were messy and painful. Divorces always are. Colin and I met each other three times, once at a conference, and then at a bar in the Young Vic theatre in South London.
One day that summer, I invited him to lunch. He tells me the sight of me delicately rolling chapattis made him fall in love. He kissed me. I left flour handprints on his linen jacket. There was no going back.
Yasmin said before lockdown, family life was run like a small business and familiarity had bred complacency. Pictured: Yasmin and Colin with their daughter
We married in December 1990, and partied at that same Paddington hotel which was owned by someone in our mosque, who let us bring our own food and drink.
My mum’s friend made delectable Indian dishes for more than 250 guests who were asked to provide a bottle of champagne each. The fabulous wedding cost £1,500. Vera and Jena, our widowed mums, were blissed out.
On December 7, 2020, our 30th anniversary, Colin wrote this in a card: ‘So pleased I took that taxi. What a journey it’s been. I’ve never wanted to be anywhere else.’
Time has flashed by so fast. My son grew to love Colin. I had a daughter at the age of 43. Jobs came and went, there were times of deep sadness and immense joy as loved ones died and grandchildren were born.
Before lockdown, the demands of modern life sucked up time and energy. There was little room for introspection or reflective conversations. Family life was run like a small business and women were the key workers. Familiarity bred complacency.
These days, however, we have freed ourselves from oppressive routines. Colin still does all the techie stuff, repairs and flat management and I still run the household, but it all feels less fraught. We aren’t fighting the clock or constant fatigue and are not rushing anything.
I used to cook every day, partly because Colin had a long commute back from his workplace and got in around seven-ish. Mr Brown now joins me in the kitchen, and is turning out delectable tagines, chocolate fondants and perfect souffles!
Oh, the joys of slow living and loving. The heart is quieter than before, feelings are purer, deeper towards the precious other.
I am more acutely aware of how much Colin means to me and how much I need him. In long marriages, days come and go and we can take each other for granted. But during lockdown, each day together felt like a gift.
Yasmin said they’ve spent a lot of time going over their early years together (pictured) and reigniting the spark by looking at old albums
We have spent a lot of time in recent months going over our early years together, the fun times, the dark periods, our fears and hopes.
Looking at old albums takes us back, reignites the spark.
We’ve also taken the time to do things together. Colin is an outdoors man who loves to go hill walking and wild camping. I never saw the point. He bought me walking boots this year and now I go for long walks in beautiful parts of the country, a new delight.
The back part of the garden, once a rubbish dump, has been turned into an exquisite wildflower meadow, with fruit trees and vegetable patches at its edges.
As millions of Britons have discovered, these simple things nourish life and love, revitalise relationships.
Unbound from timetables and constraints, we can be spontaneous. I wish more people could appreciate how much a long-term partner that you love and trust can fulfil and affirm you.
Bodies and faces change, intimacy is different from when we were in our 40s and 50s, but, if you are lucky, the passion burns on. Yes, even when you are over 60.
For Valentine’s Day, I made a cheesy (in both senses of the word) heart-shaped pizza and tried to pipe ‘soulmate’ over it in mayonnaise. It looked a mess, but the message hit the target and we had the best home-made, romantic evening ever.
Intellectual affinity is also essential for a long and happy partnership. He loves poems, reads them out aloud. I share bits of books that are making me mad, sad or ecstatic. On walks we talk, at home we talk, in bed we talk about ideas, history, science, literature, politics, more politics.
Yasmin, whose previous marriage had few lively exchanges, said she now feels fulfilled and truly alive. Pictured: Colin and Yasmin
These conversations can be fiery, at times explosive. The outbursts show we are not yet dulled by age or circumstance.
In my first marriage there were few such lively exchanges. That was a relationship of the heart, not the head. You need both to feel fulfilled and truly alive. I feel fulfilled and truly alive. After I die, I want this poem, When You Are Old by W.B. Yeats read out at a memorial ceremony.
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face…
He’s the one.
SO, WHAT DOES MR BROWN HAVE TO SAY?
When lockdown first started, I worried how being cooped up together would affect our marriage.
Would we irritate each other? Get under each other’s feet?
I wasn’t fearful about feeling bored but about becoming boring. With nothing new to say, I soon dried up during Zoom cocktail parties with friends, but thankfully that didn’t happen with Yasmin. We’ve always had a deep intellectual connection and now there was so much going on in the world there was even more to talk about.
That said, I must admit that this renewed interest in each other came as quite a surprise to us both — and a huge relief.
Colin said the renewed interest in each other during lockdown came as quite a surprise and a huge relief. Pictured: The couple in their early years
In our culture, people often think that spending too much time with your family spells trouble — think holidays, Christmas and men in retirement.
But right from the start, Yasmin and I were both aware that actually the opposite was happening to us.
We’ve always been very close and have never been afraid of saying ‘I love you’ — but like many people, we’d been chugging along and taking a lot of things for granted, including each other.
The paradox for Londoners like us was that what we missed over the past months was the bustle and chaos while also enjoying the quiet. It’s the same in our marriage. Life has been less exciting without the hurly-burly but it has also been nice to have some calm time together.
With the realisation that you actually want to spend more time with each other comes a stirring of that first flush of love.
Without my commute into the office, we quickly got into a routine of pausing for lunch together and going out for a walk. We made a conscious effort to vary the timings and location of our routes — to avoid getting stuck in a rut — and started little projects. As Yasmin mentioned, we worked on the garden side by side and I took up cooking, which went down very well.
There’s that funny thing that happens between two people who have lived together so long — a kind of overlap develops between you so you can’t quite tell where one person starts and the other person ends. That overlap between us is stronger than ever. Our feelings for each other have certainly intensified.
Colin said he had a profound realisation that having a companion who is completely understanding of his feelings helped him to get through
When in January I told Yasmin that I couldn’t have got through it without her, it had been a really stressful time in all kinds of weird ways that no one could have predicted. I woke up that morning with a profound realisation that having a companion who is completely understanding of how I feel about things had absolutely got me through it all.
I said I loved her more than I can bear and it was a really deep feeling. I continue to think it.
Yasmin has described this period as the reawakening of a love affair and I wouldn’t disagree with that. It wasn’t something that crept up on us, it struck us quite early on and it just got stronger and stronger.
These days we cook together, go for walks together and just hang out with each other when we’re doing different things. That is a definite shift from before when we just got on with life without thinking of being together as much as possible.
I’ve come to feel more keenly than ever that Yasmin is the most interesting person I know.
In some ways that’s why our marriage has flourished in lockdown — who wouldn’t want to spend their time with the most interesting person they know?
And the physical attraction is still very much there. You certainly can’t fake that.
In fact I’m slightly nervous about the return to normality.
Back in the office, I think it will feel like I’m missing my girlfriend. Perhaps there is no better proof that these past 18 months have refreshed and reinvigorated our 33-year relationship.
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