Names: Maxim and Toby Boon
Years together: 12
Occupations: Editor and media executive
If there’s a significant recurring character in Max and Toby Boon’s story, it’s Jackie Collins. Yep, she of the deliciously trashy Hollywood bonkbusters. The late author’s name first came up when the couple got together in 2008, when Toby confessed he was a fan. So Max read as many of the pulpy novels as he could and, although he wasn’t quite as enthralled, the books became something they’d chat about: the outlandish plots, the over-the-top characters, the crazy antics.
So it made sense when the couple married in 2012 that, mixed in with poetry and glorious music, there was a reading from Lucky, one of Collins’ most popular books, in which the titular character describes the emotions of falling in love. Toby remembers the registrars at their civil ceremony raising an eyebrow: “I’m sure they have seen everything [but] you could see them pause for a moment.”
And then, after the author died in 2015, Toby scored the bronze panther statue that sat on Collins’ writing desk in the online deceased estate sale. It now sits on the couple’s bookshelves in their Sydney home and while Max jokes he still doesn’t know exactly how much his husband paid for it, it’s much more than a piece of memorabilia: “Jackie Collins has become this exemplar of the way you first accept, then engage, then absorb, then embrace all of the peculiarities of the other person.”
The couple first met briefly in their early 20s as part of a wider friends group. Then a few years later, they reconnected via an LGBT social media site. At the time Toby was living in London while Max was in Manchester so they were limited to a long-distance relationship.
It was almost an old-fashioned courtship, sending each other letters, cards and books with inscriptions, and it created a solid foundation for their relationship. “For some people, long distance is a very problematic thing because if they’re not immediately with you, it’s easy to forget people, get distracted by other things. But for us, the way that we connected with each other was on this rich emotional level. It wasn’t just about going and doing things, having dinner, activities and proximity. It was about the bedrock of our relationship. It was something that had actual longevity that had something that was beyond the norm, beyond what we found anywhere else.” Toby agrees: “We had to make it count.”
When they finally met up again in London, there was an instant connection. Toby remembers the moment vividly. “I walked up the steps to the tube station, and he was waiting there at the top. And I don’t think I had felt nervous about going on a date or meeting someone for a long time. Even before I got there, I was kind of buzzing, and then it was like it was instant. And we fell into it so quickly.”
Even though they lived miles apart, they kept things going, making the most of the time they had together. Toby remembers being snowed in on one of his trips to Manchester, leaving him unable to return to London – much to his delight. “[I remember] being so excited that I didn’t have to get on a train. It was maybe only the third or fourth time we’d ever been together, and [having] the feeling like the universe was on our side.”
They’d been together for two years, both scrambling up their respective career ladders, when they decided to move to Australia. They’d made mostly sensible life choices until then and this was a chance for an adventure together. “I don’t think it’s anything I would even have considered subjecting myself to, but with Toby, it was just the most liberating, amazing, and fun thing,” says Max. “And it was the first time we’d lived together [and] it was just a very easy thing. And [he is] my best friend, so it was just hanging out with my best friend.”
It wasn’t all fun and games. They lived in a house share in Sydney’s Surry Hills with “some colourful characters”. Far from home and relying only on each other for support, it was a testing time. “If our relationship hadn’t been meant to be, I don’t think it would have weathered … living in Australia that year,” Max says. Fortunately it had the opposite effect. “There was no hiding. And when you’ve just got yourselves, so every small thing from every debt that we’d ever wracked up to any mistake we’d ever made, or fib we told on our CV, or anything like that, suddenly is there and is very real. You deal with it, or you realise that you don’t care about any [of it],” Toby says.
At the end of that year, they decided to get married. Although Max had drunkenly proposed to Toby early in their relationship, Toby wanted to do things properly. So he proposed to Max one afternoon in Sydney’s Centennial Park. “It was one of our last days, and we’d gone for a picnic in the park. We went up to the top of the hill and that felt to me like the place where we were really fully committing. We’d got to the end of this incredible magical experience – but it felt like we had a bigger adventure ahead of us.”
The couple returned to England and were married in London in 2012. Their wedding was fun, “homemade” and very family-orientated. Making that commitment was important to the couple, because it made it real for everyone, says Toby. “There’s nothing more concrete than standing up in front of people and getting a piece of paper with your name on it.”
Toby remembers a family member saying it was only when he saw them married that he realised their relationship was just like everyone else’s – and that mattered. “It meant for me that our relationship was seen and recognised as being as valid as my brothers’, as my cousins’, as my parents’. And I like to think that maybe that changed a few people’s viewpoint who were there, seeing us that way.”
Although same-sex marriage was not legalised in the UK until 2014, civil partnerships had been in place since 2004. When Max and Toby married in 2012, there was plenty of discussion around SSM and they remember the “wild hysteria about the unhinging of society and the erosion of traditional values”.
That’s one of the reasons why, when they returned to Australia a few years later, before this country had legalised it, it felt demeaning to go through it all over again. Max remembers how demoralised he felt. “When you’re ticking a form, you [had] to tick single or defacto. It sounds small, but it’s not. It’s devaluing of a person. You are stratifying who is worthy and who isn’t.”
Although the 2017 SSM debate was distressing, the couple were grateful their experience could bolster the wider community. “Us being able to say from firsthand experience, to share our experience of our wedding during that time with friends of ours was very meaningful. It made me feel an added dimension of gratitude about our relationship and the kind of freedoms that we were afforded … That was a very emotional thing to be on the frontline of.”
Because of the long-distance start to their relationship and other times when they’ve been separated by geography, the couple have learnt to guard their time together from stress. That means they don’t spend endless hours examining the minutiae of their relationship. “That’s not us. We roll with things a lot of the time,” says Toby. “How our communication has changed has been learning about how each of us fits into the roles in our relationships and whose strengths are where and whose weaknesses are in other places, and getting that balance right. And also learning actually when there are things that we do need to share or be open and talk through.”
When they have to resolve something, they try to do it quickly. “That has meant that the big structural pieces of our lives, we have learned to manage more effectively and efficiently, and in time that didn’t encroach on our time together because it was more important that we spend that laughing, or eating, or going out.” Their time together is precious. “That is time that I would rather spend hanging out with him and laughing with him,” says Toby, “because he’s my best friend, I would rather spend [my free time] with Max than anyone else.”
They argue occasionally but avoid major confrontations. Instead they deal with small irritations along the way to avoid them building up. It’s something they’ve learnt from Toby’s parents. Says Max: “Your dad is quite good at being a bit passive-aggressive, and your mum will roll her eyes at certain things, but it’s all done in this way, which fundamentally understands that there doesn’t need to be a war.” Toby says he’s adopted his parents’ coping mechanism because the idea of upsetting Max is upsetting in itself. “If we have a big fight, I’m going to be upset, but he’s going to walk away upset, and I hate seeing him upset or angry about something.”
Their secret to staying together is allowing the other to be themselves, Max says. “The times where I’ve felt the most comfortable is when we’ve allowed ourselves to expose the least glamorous parts of our lives.” Toby agrees, joking: “I actually said to Max, ‘Thank God, I found someone who has the capability to be as lazy as I do’.”
And they rely on that shared sense of humour: “No one makes me laugh as much as Max does. I think we make fun of each other. People that don’t take themselves too seriously, that’s when there is just a joy. People who have the ability to laugh at themselves, and we get to do that an awful lot. So laugher and laziness,” he concludes. That – and a love of Jackie Collins.
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