Fiona McCade: You’ve got mail, dear

Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton sparked an online row over shared e-mail. Picture: Getty
Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton sparked an online row over shared e-mail. Picture: Getty
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Fiona McCade is bemused by the negative reaction to the news that some couples share everything, including an e-mail address

One day, many years ago, when I was young, free and single, I found that a letter addressed to me had been opened by a person or persons unknown. Long story short, the phantom letter-opener turned out to have been my then-boyfriend. Soon to be my ex-boyfriend.

I was outraged. Plates were thrown, I think. There was definitely yelling. How dare he? Who did he think he was? What on earth possessed him? I have no idea how he – or even if he – defended his actions, but the relationship had no chance of survival. He had crossed a line I hadn’t even realised was there. He had done something utterly unacceptable; he had broken my trust.

Fast forward a few years and the girl who turned into Godzilla at the sight of a paper-knife had turned into a married woman, with a shared e-mail account. Fast forward to today and I still share an e-mail address with my husband.

In fact, I share just about everything with my husband. If his phone needs answering, I’ll pick it up. My mobile answerphone message tells people to call him if they need to get hold of me urgently, because he’s always the person most likely to know where I am. And the post? Well, we both have carte blanche to open whatever we like, if we like. There are no secrets; there’s absolute trust.

So, when Cate Blanchett revealed that she shares an e-mail address with her husband, the playwright Andrew Upton, it seemed perfectly normal to me. OK, I’ve been entertaining myself, wondering what combined address an Oscar winning actress and a distinguished man of letters might use:, maybe? But such cosy domestic togetherness is nice, isn’t it?

Not necessarily. The negative online reaction to this innocuous snippet of information has surprised me. No matter that Blanchett says: “We work together and it’s a way of synchronising our lives. I can see what he’s up to – it’s not that I don’t trust him.” And even less matter that Upton “hates e-mails” and prefers that his wife deals with his correspondence. The internet judges are deeply suspicious of such behaviour.

Most of the armchair critics accuse Blanchett of “control-freakery”. It’s “a recipe for disaster” some say, while questioning the individuality of both husband and wife. It has been suggested that Upton must surely have a secret e-mail address of his own, to escape his interfering spouse. Either way, the overwhelming opinion is that trust is lacking between them, or else why would they feel the need to keep checking up on each other?

I don’t see it like that. I see two people with nothing to hide, who have total trust in each other. They have been happily married for 16 years and the arrangement works for them. Since when was freedom defined only by the right to conceal?

I realise that not everybody feels comfortable with this level of openness, but that doesn’t mean that people who embrace it should be slated, or their motives questioned. It sounds to me like the Blanchett-Uptons have decided, as many couples do, that they share a life, so why not share everything in it? For example, if you already have a joint bank account, then a joint e-mail account is no big deal. It’s a state of mind as much as anything, but one which not everybody can comprehend. I just wish that people wouldn’t disparage something simply because they can’t understand it.

I know several couples who share an e-mail address. Given that these people are computer literate, not to mention the ease with which anybody can set up myriad separate accounts, this can only be described as a lifestyle choice. It’s not necessary – apparently it’s not even particularly normal – but they happen to like it that way.

As far as my partnership is concerned, having access to each other’s various forms of communication makes life easier to manage. We still have the shared e-mail, but now – due to increased work commitments – we also have our own accounts. It makes no difference; we still have all the requisite details and passwords, in case we need to check each other’s mail.

Many’s the time I’ve received a frantic phone call from some remote location, asking me to e-mail some document to some recipient or other. I’m not my husband’s secretary, but I am his friend and sharing facilities helps me to help him. He does the same for me. If we were a business team, I’d expect us to be transparent in our dealings, so I can’t see why this should be any different when people happen to be in love. Either way, we’re in this together, so what’s the use of hiding anything?

When my ex-boyfriend deliberately trespassed on my privacy, he actually did me a favour. He showed me that he wasn’t the one for me. After I met The One, I realised that the only thing I really wanted to hide from him was the online Amazon confirmations for his Christmas and birthday presents.

But still there are people who can’t imagine how such an open arrangement could ever work. Like my ex-boyfriend, for instance. For years after I got married, he regularly sent flirty little e-mail messages to the shared account, signed with lots of kisses, apparently oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t the only one reading them. Whenever these appeared, I would smile. My husband would smile. Then one day, when I was far away and deliberately avoiding all electronic devices, my husband cheekily decided to reply for me. He told my ex that I was away, but not to worry; as soon as I got home, he’d happily deliver those kisses on his behalf.

It’s worth noting that since then, my ex has only sent me the most impeccably upstanding and tasteful communications. This might be because of what my husband wrote to him or, who knows, perhaps his wife checked his “sent’”folder?