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Anna Pasternak on love, life and writing

Anna Pasternak with husband Andrew Wallas. Picture: Rob O'Connor

Anna Pasternak with husband Andrew Wallas. Picture: Rob O'Connor

  • by RUTH WALKER
 

SHE’S prepared for the backlash, but with her 20-year search for true love now at an end, Anna Pasternak is ready to share her secret, discovers Ruth Walker.

What the world needs now is not more love, insists Anna Pasternak, it’s more truth. So, a confession. I was expecting the author, journalist and great niece of Boris Pasternak to be bonkers. Certifiably nuts. This is, after all, a woman who responded to her six-year-old daughter’s bike accident, not by cleaning the blood from the little girl’s gashed knee or holding her while she cried, but by running into the garden and letting out a primal, blood-curdling, scream.

She seems to scream a lot. And sob. And throw tantrums. She’s a bona fide drama queen, jealous of other people’s success and paranoid about her own apparent lack of success. Now 45, she has had a series of disastrous relationships, a failed marriage and a period of single parentdom. In fact, in her 20-year search for True Love (capitalised throughout her book to show, one supposes, its importance in the grand scheme of things, but we’ll give it this treatment only the once), she admits to attending ‘soul retrieval’ workshops on Mull, shamanic rituals in Mexico and thrown out half her clothes to ‘make space’ for The (wished for) One. She stuck a photograph of a waterfall on her fridge to symbolise being ‘in the flow’, for heaven’s sake.

So when we speak, she rather disappoints me by being perfectly sane. She’s bright, articulate, thoroughly charming and quick to laugh at herself. And while I may not agree with everything she says – I don’t plan on burning sage in my home anytime soon to remove stale energies, or placing crystal birds in strategic corners to symbolise true love; “even I at times find some of the more spiritual concepts difficult to get my head around”, she admits – much of it makes sense.

Pasternak’s great-grandfather was the artist Leonid Pasternak, while Great Uncle Boris won a Nobel prize for Dr Zhivago. For her part, she is probably most famous for her book Princess In Love, about Princess Diana’s affair with Major James Hewitt, and for her searingly honest confessional newspaper pieces that include accounts of her search for love and her experience of divorce and of motherhood (“Sorry ... But My Baby Bores Me”).

Then in the summer of 2010, friends Ray and Marie Butler – who run Penninghame House in Dumfries and Galloway – fearing she was in the midst of a breakdown, introduced her to 56-year-old therapist Andrew Wallas. The pair started a relationship that autumn – complicated by the fact he was married at the time – and wed a year later.

Call Off The Search is their account of the arguments, obsessions, jealousies, rage and the brutal, awful honesty that, incredibly, haven’t killed their relationship stone dead but, they say, made it stronger. And how the rest of us can achieve the same level of connectedness with another person.

As a child, Pasternak was a “huge romantic”. She told anyone who would listen that one day her prince would come, much to her friends’ amusement. “But I was a product of my generation, and my mother saying, ‘Never rely on a man, make yourself financially independent, have a career’.” Her mother and father divorced during Pasternak’s early 20s. “I became the defended, independent career woman who was less in touch with her longing. That always made me feel unfulfilled.”

And while she may be brave enough to admit it, she believes that, deep down, the rest of us are no different. “Whether or not you call it true love, what we all crave is a connectedness. I think there are mystics and nuns and monks who can achieve a level of personal fulfilment without a relationship because they have a profound relationship with themselves or the god of their understanding, but I believe we’re all searching for the same thing. We all have an inherent longing.”

It was hardly ideal, then, that Pasternak’s search led her into the yurt, and arms, of a man who was already married with a family. “They both knew there had been a lack of intimacy there for a very long time,” says Pasternak, slightly awkwardly, about her husband’s split. “I think any divorce is painful because, no matter how dead a relationship is, you mourn the loss of your dream. But as far as divorces go it was incredibly amicable and very swift.”

His children did not give the new wedding their blessing – “I think it was very sudden for them” – though she says they are now coming to terms with their father’s new relationship.

Two years though. It doesn’t exactly qualify a person as an expert. “Nothing qualifies us in terms of longevity,” she agrees, “and we are not in any way setting ourselves up as experts or preaching about relationships. What we are doing is saying, ‘This has been our experience.’ We think we have found something which creates a deeper level of connection and intimacy, which brings more fulfilment, but it’s not easy to get there and it’s not easy to sustain.

“Nothing gives us a right to write this,” she adds. “What we are saying is that we are honest enough to tell other people our experience in the hope they will maybe be helped by that.”

And have the fights stopped? Hell no. “We’ve argued about what is the healthiest granule of salt size,” she laughs. “We had a massive fight over whether we should have a visitors’ book in the house – it became a huge thing.”

One episode in the book recounts her throwing an enormous strop when she failed to receive a loving text from Wallas while she was away on a spa weekend with a girlfriend. “That is so shameful,” she says now, “it’s pathetic. Yet that was the truth of how I felt.”

They even clashed on their wedding day, and she says her entire wedding outfit, including the underwear, was thrown at her husband-to-be in anger in the run-up to the big day. But she believes couples who claim they never fight do not have a healthy relationship.

“What does more damage is what is unsaid rather than what is said. While we are not advocating some of the blazing rows we’ve had, what we definitely are advocating is that if you want a healthy relationship you have to have the courage and the confidence to tell your truth.

“In a sense, what one fights about is pretty irrelevant – whether we have Camay soap or a blue carpet or a grey carpet; it’s really not about the carpet or the soap, it’s about the fact that we feel if one of us moves forward to the other, we’re losing a sense of ourselves. Most rows are essentially about loss of identity or control.”

Writing the book was Andrew’s idea, she explains, and even before they got involved romantically, he had raised it with her. “I thought that was completely ridiculous so dismissed it,” says Pasternak. “Even when we came back from honeymoon and he said, ‘Right, we’re going to start writing the book now,’ I thought it was absurd. When we sat down for the first day of writing, I did it to humour him. I thought he would see it was untenable.”

Writing together, she says, proved an incredible bonding experience. “Now it’s coming out though, we feel quite exposed. There was a part of me that thought it would never get published, which made me even more honest. There’s no way anyone could read that book and think we wrote it from a position of ego because we exposed ourselves to such a degree we can barely read some of it back.”

In the book, they address their own personal revenge stories, their feelings of sexual jealousy, and issues such as ‘Is it OK to tell your partner you hate them?’ “No-one is talking about the real, raw nitty gritty of trying to achieve greater levels of intimacy in partnerships. And so one of the things I’m most proud of for myself and Andrew is the level of raw honesty that is in there. There is an authenticity.”

It’s not all hair tossing and hissy fits however. Pasternak describes the sense of pleasure she gets from such simple things as folding her husband’s jumpers and taking some time away from work to establish a home together.

Is she a feminist? She hesitates. “If your definition of being a feminist is a woman being equal to a man, then yes. If it is hardening yourself, masculating yourself to achieve in a man’s world and looking down on men and saying, ‘I don’t need a man, I can survive without you,’ then no.”

But she must be prepared for a backlash. Some of the theories in the book are a little, er, retro. “I absolutely expect a backlash,” she smiles, “from the point of view that I’m somebody who’s saying the most profound happiness I’ve had in my life so far has come from a true partnership with a man in which I’ve taken on a more traditional role. I really, genuinely enjoy folding Andrew’s jumpers. Now, if someone had said that to the 26-year-old me I would have gone into a form of revolt and said, ‘What a pathetic thing to say, what a surrendered woman, that’s disgusting’.”

Any backlash, she says, will come from misunderstanding what she’s saying, “which is I truly believe that behind every hardened feminist – to use that definition in a slightly derogatory way – there is a woman who is looking to be loved and saved by a man, but we daren’t say it.

“It does sound desperately retro and I do not see myself as a 1950s surrendered wife; I actually see myself as more evolved than that. I have allowed those feminine qualities to come forward – the nurturing qualities, the being more vulnerable, more open, receiving. Do I feel weaker because of those? No, I feel stronger. When a woman is in her true power, that is intoxicating. I’ve been strident, I’ve been very bossy in the past, I’ve been ambitious and I have definitely changed hugely through this marriage, hopefully for the better. The difference is now I don’t put my career first; I don’t feel the burning thing in me is to have achievement, because that in a way was always a compensation.

“Rabidly independent career women, I think, are often compensating for the lack of a healthy relationship and in my 20s and 30s that was my experience.”

That doesn’t, however, mean she’s given up on her career. She may use her married name on the cover of Call Off The Search, but work continues apace. “For me, there is a greater fulfilment in putting the relationship first but that is not to say I would be completely fulfilled without career recognition.

“I deliberately didn’t call myself Pasternak on the book because it is about partnership and, while I created a career as Anna Pasternak and if I write things separately – I’m writing about Boris Pasternak as Anna Pasternak; the same with my journalism – we’re hoping to write another book together and I would be Anna Wallas for that. In every area of my partnership I have taken Andrew’s name.”

So does Anna Pasternak, the hard-working writer who still craves recognition and respect, fear this book might not be taken entirely seriously? “I oscillate. At some times I have fears about the exposure. Do I fear being ridiculed? Not really. Do I fear people not understanding the book? Not really. The most important thing is we wrote it to give people a chance to have better relationships.

“I can honestly say whatever criticism we or I receive, however ridiculed – and, God, there’s enough for people to ridicule – if we are able to help some couples feel less alone or to have the courage to speak to each other in a more authentic way, that’s worth it.

What about the singles though? Is living without a partner really so bad? “It depends who you’re married to,” she laughs. “If you’re married to someone wonderful like I am then being single is bad but then if you’re not in the right relationship then, no, it isn’t.

“I think the most important thing in terms of being happy and fulfilled as a single person is that you’re honest enough with yourself about how you feel. I think the most difficult thing about being single is if you’re trying to put a brave face on it. If, deep inside, you’re longing not to spend New Year’s Eve alone, that’s really sad. But equally, if you’ve tried relationships and can say, ‘You know what, I really do love my dog and I absolutely adore lying on bed on my own reading, I have great friendships and love my career,’ of course that is possible.

“Happiness is about your level of honesty with yourself. It’s the subconscious stuff we’re not telling ourselves and our partners which is ruining our lives. The world doesn’t need more love, it needs more truth.”

Twitter: @ruth_lesley

Call Off The Search by Anna and Andrew Wallas is published today by Cadogan, £16.99

 

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