Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton’s Split Killed My Dream of Never Cohabiting with My Partner
I really thought they had it all.
I’ve never truly processed Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton’s split. You’d think such dramatic behavior would be reserved for their children or anyone who knows them in real life, but it’s because processing that breakup would mean contending with the dissolution of my romantic ideal: The concept of a lasting, committed relationship without complete cohabitation.
Much has been made over Bonham Carter and Burton’s living situation — it’s perhaps the most memorable detail about their relationship, which says a lot about a partnership in which one person repeatedly paired the other off in onscreen romances with Johnny Depp. Bonham Carter and Burton began a relationship after he directed her in the 2001 film Planet of the Apes, and he subsequently bought the house next door to her in north London. The Telegraph noted that “the couple’s decision to live in separate houses next door to each other has long raised eyebrows but the two insist their ‘relationship is enhanced by knowing we have our personal space to retreat to.’”
As someone who grew up first sharing my bedroom with family members and then college roommates until I was 22, my eyebrows were certainly raised, but only in admiration. I didn’t get my own room until I could finally afford to move into a two-bedroom apartment with a friend after I got my first post-grad job — and as an introvert with an extreme need for quiet time, let’s just say that I still have a complex about having personal space.
“My house looks like something out of Beatrix Potter, but if you go over to his house, you’re in a totally different place,” Bonham Carter once said in an interview. “He’s got slime balls and dead Oompa-Loompas lying around, and skeletons and weird alien lights.”
In 2011, Burton and Bonham Carter made the move of linking those adjacent homes via a walkway, which Bonham Carter described rather practically: “I did not have room to house children, put it that way. I lived in a cottage. And I did always think, ‘God, wouldn’t it be ideal if Mister Right lived next door because then I’d have room to put the bedrooms in?’ So what was Tim’s house is basically the family house and I kept my bedroom and my kitchen.”
It sounded like a win-win: Having your partner right there when you need them, with the knowledge that you could feasibly stomp off to your own quarters when you got into a tiff.
Then, three years later, my dreams of a quirky relationship with a literal boy next door were crushed when Hollywood’s most eccentric power couple announced their split. They were said to have broken up amicably, and to have continued to be friends and co-parents to their two children. But to put it lightly, I was wrecked, even if Bonham Carter and Burton themselves seemed, true to the nature of their public personas, pretty chill about it.
“[If a relationship] isn’t forever, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure,” Bonham Carter told The Sunday Times. “The important thing is that you have to allow the other person to grow. And if they’re not going in the same direction, however heart-breaking, you have to do what is right for that growth. It’s hard to do something forever because life is very short.’
As mature as that outlook is, their breakup was a nail in the coffin of my dream of having it all: a long-term partner and a room of one’s own. If even they couldn’t make it work, would I ever find someone who could make space for me and my eccentric needs? Rationally, I know Bonham Carter is right, and that no one — famous or not — is responsible for validating my concerns about how I function in my own relationships. But to this day, I refuse to think too long about their breakup, lest I’m sent into a tailspin.
The only real consolation is that Bonham Carter kept both of the houses after she and Burton broke up, and that they really do seem to be on great terms. I, meanwhile, will probably be discussing their breakup with my therapist for some time to come.
Breakups That Broke Us is a weekly column about the failed celebrity relationships that convinced us love is dead.