How we stay together: 'Don't follow the rules'

Names: Tutti and Paul Bennett
Years together: 44
Occupations: artist/musician and fashionista

When Paul Bennett arrived for his second date with his now wife Tutti on a Sunday morning, she opened her door wearing just a nightie and with a face covered in cold cream. Standing on the doorstep, dressed in his houndstooth suit, Paul was surprised. “I was so shocked. That was that thing about it – she was so different.” Tutti says it was a test for their promising relationship, “Because I thought he needs to see me ugly.”

Now in their 70s, the quirky Sydney couple met at a party in 1976. Paul vividly remembers the moment he saw Tutti across the crowded room. “It was if the heavens opened and there was lightning,” he says. He elbowed his way across the room to declare: “I don’t know who you are but I have to take you out.”

Tutti was bemused by the man with the 70s curls standing in front of her. But then: “I thought, I’m going to marry this guy. It was instantaneous.”

Their first date was at a Spanish restaurant in Sydney’s Paddington, where they danced and drank red wine until 2am. “It was the most amazing date,” says Paul. However, after a few months, Paul got cold feet, fearful of commitment, and broke it off. “As soon as I hung up, I knew I’d made the biggest mistake of my life,” he says. A few weeks later, he convinced Tutti to meet up with him once more. Everyone in the restaurant watched as he begged for forgiveness and applauded when she relented.

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They decided to visit her parents in Bathurst, where Paul planned to ask her father if he could marry Tutti. After lunch he plucked up his courage. “[Her father] said, ‘Tell me, how much are you making?’ ‘I make $8 an hour,’ I said. He said, ‘Well that’s not enough. No, you cannot marry my daughter. You go away and get a much better job [then] you can come back and ask me again.’”

Only after Paul got a well-paid job as an art director in an advertising agency did her father agree: “Once I got the job, that was the clincher.”

Tutti and Paul Bennett

‘It was if the heavens opened and there was lightning,’ say Paul of his first sighting of Tutti. Photograph: Tutti and Paul Bennett

Being married didn’t change the couple’s relationship much, although Tutti jokes: “I just had more crockery to throw at him when I was angry.” The couple had a fiery relationship: “I remember getting out of the Mini Moke one day in Lindfield and saying, ‘Fuck off. I never want to see you again.’ It was very volatile,” says Tutti, “but also lots of love”. Paul nods: “I admired her strength when I first met Tutti, but I don’t think I was ready for the volatility.”

Yet they kept coming back together. Paul describes it as a “cosmic connection”: “It was definitely meant to be and never to be cast asunder.”

The couple have many shared values and interests, including art, music and design. Being Jewish is also a strong part of their connection. “We [have] an ethic that was absolutely in step with each other,” says Paul. “ And Judaism is very much into education, cultural activities in music and art, and those kinds of things. We certainly have that in common.”

They didn’t plan to have children. “We had such a great life together. We went to movies, art galleries and concerts, and we had the freedom of fabulousness,” says Tutti. But four years after they were married, Tutti fell pregnant with her first daughter. Although the early years were trepidatious – “I was a bit petrified about a baby. I had never held one, I didn’t know what to do,” remembers Tutti – they settled into a routine.

Despite having grown up in quite different families, they had a similar approach to parenting. “Pretty much. I was the boss,” says Tutti. Paul agrees: “It was also a time where the man worked, and I was building our own agency. At the time I was working around the clock, but I always came home for dinner even if I had to go back and finish.” Tutti adds: “Basically we had a very happy home life, like we always have had … The fact is no life is perfect. Everybody has fights and up and downs.”

One of the sources of their arguments was Paul’s strong-willed mother, who never warmed to Tutti. “My mother created [problems] because she was so pro-me,” says Paul. “it meant that she was very competitive as a woman.” He tells the story of when Tutti was giving birth to their first child. “[Tutti] was rushed to hospital and I went with her. Then my mother rang the hospital to see how I was going. That’s how much of a Jewish mother she was, [asking] ‘How’s my boy?’ ” He laughs at the memory: “I [had] fainted dead away. I had more nurses than Tutti.”

Tutti says she blamed him to some extent and they argued about it, but she tried to make it work. “I wanted our kids to know what it was like to have a grandmother, because I had never had one. Every year at Christmas time when the holidays were on we would take the kids up and have a holiday with her. I did my best, because my mother had always said, ‘Whatever your mother-in-law is like, try to get on with her. It will make your marriage much easier.’”

Tutti and Paul Bennett's wedding.

‘I just had more crockery to throw at him when I was angry,’ jokes Tutti. The couple on their wedding day. Photograph: Tutti and Paul Bennett

Another issue was their different ways of dealing with money. “Paul and money were just useless together,” says Tutti. He’d grown up in a home without much money and so he didn’t value it. Tutti was more sensible, handling the family finances and managing the creative agency they had built: “I didn’t want to do it, but someone had to do it or we’d go broke.”

But their marriage became strained when Paul became deeply involved with religion and spirituality. “I always felt that I don’t quite fit the mould [of being Jewish],” he says, “so I became a spiritual seeker.” It started with an interest in new age self-help gurus like Anthony Robbins and Eckhart Tolle, before he became interested in Buddhism and the Theosophical Society. He admits he took the idea of “service over self” to extremes and invested significant amounts of family money in his pursuits.

Things came to a head. “The marriage was about to break up,” says Paul. “We got to such a bad state, and me still being in absolute denial of everything. [Eventually] I realised I’ve taken myself out of the family because I’m so absolutely enshrined in spirituality.”

The family went into therapy together, with Paul realising how his spiritual quest had affected everyone. For all their difficulties, Tutti didn’t want to leave: “I’ve always really loved Paul, number one. Secondly, I’ve always really liked him, though I didn’t like him that much at that time.” And she wasn’t going to quit: “I just had to fight [and] I was determined to win. To fight this religion that he had created for himself.”

Unfortunately there was another challenge ahead: in 2012 Tutti was diagnosed with breast cancer. Paul was astounded by how she handled it: “Tutti getting breast cancer made me love her a bit more. I saw a person who was so absolutely stoic. I couldn’t believe how she coped with losing all her hair, having to go to the clinic and get chemo. She turned it into a party.”

Tutti agrees, remembering how she and a friend would talk and laugh through their chemotherapy: “[We] laughed so much and so loudly that sometimes we almost got turfed out and got yelled at.” Although she was shocked and upset at the diagnosis, she knew she could handle it. “Having cancer is not a big deal if you don’t make it a big deal. I was grateful that it was diagnosed. I didn’t want Paul or my girls to feel sad. [And] people told me how fabulous I looked with a bald head.”

Tutti and Paul Bennett

‘I think having a sense of humour, laughter, joking, being a little bit rude and naughty. Being naughty is always good. Not following the rules,’ says Tutti of staying together. Photograph: Tutti and Paul Bennett

For all that they’ve been through, the couple are still happiest together. Paul reaches for his Buddhist learnings when asked how they stay together: “The Dalai Lama said make kindness your religion. I do think that’s a wonderful lesson, that if one can simply be kind and understand that we are here to [treat others] the best way we can. After 44 years of being with Tutti, I don’t see it as duty at all. I see it almost like an amorphous relationship where we’ve sort of merged. We are one and the same.”

Tutti scoffs at his philosophical answer. Although she agrees with the idea of kindness, she has her own view of enduring relationships: “I think having a sense of humour, laughter, joking, being a little bit rude and naughty. Being naughty is always good. And not following the rules.”

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