Together apart

Relationships can take many forms. Couples aren’t married, and live in separate homes. Couples live together, but aren’t married. Couples get married, and live together. Couples are married and live together, but one member feels like a single parent because the other isn’t around very much. And here’s a couple (via AisleDash) who are married, but live apart in the same city.

In a recent article in Self magazine, Judith Newman describes her 14-year marriage, during which she and her husband have never lived together (although he does spend the night at her apartment three times a week or so, and they have twin sons). She cites some statistics from the US Census Bureau (2006) that 3.8 million married couples in this country don’t live under the same roof, so apparently this couple’s not as unique as one would think – it’s officially known as “living apart together.”

It’s an interesting account, and it got me thinking:

For most people, keeping separate homes would be a much more costly arrangement, but due to peculiarities related to their living in New York City, this couple actually saves money living apart. Not that this is their main reason for doing so, but it’s a factor.

But aside from practicality, Newman claims that the reason she and her husband live separately is that apart from their love for each other, they have nothing in common (emphasis mine). They have very different habits, interests, likes and dislikes. Their relationship takes the expression “I love you, but I just can’t live with you” to a different level; most of the time, couples in that predicament just end up getting (often amicably) divorced. Given that, it’s commendable that they’ve found a way to make this work, although she acknowledges that they probably fight at least as much as, and maybe more than, couples who cohabitate (married or not).

I think having “alone time” is very important for individuals, and that some time apart benefits every couple, but I have my doubts that large amounts of it are really good for a relationship. If you and your partner are lucky enough to have a big enough home to allow each of you a room (or at least a space) of your own, I think that’s a great advantage – but spending the majority of your time there probably isn’t one, as far as your partnership is concerned.

Also, having been in two marriages and through one divorce, I’ve really come to believe that – like it or not, and popular music notwithstanding – love is not all a couple needs, unfortunately. I believe that for a relationship to grow and last, a couple needs commonalities. Having shared interests and hobbies is a big plus, but more important are shared values, and compatible worldviews and life goals. Living together day to day is one important way to help develop the commonalities between people and help them take root, since I think that sort of companionship is one reason couples want to be couples in the first place.

I don’t think living together is a requirement of couplehood by any means, but I’m not sure I understand going so far as to marry – and have children with – someone with whom you don’t want to share a home, and all the aspects of life that are part of that. Having said that, though, I have believed for quite some time that no one really knows what goes on in a relationship except for the people in it – and sometimes they’re not sure themselves. Separate married lives work for Judith Newman and her husband, and apparently many other people as well – but I don’t think that would work for me, and I really don’t think I’d want to try it and find out. Would it work for you?

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  • Stephen and I have a very close relationship, with a level of intimacy that some would undoubtedly find claustrophobic. It’s how we both like it. A marriage where we have nothing in common but our affection for the other would not suit me at all. I need time together, reams of conversation, the opportunity to touch and kiss a dozen times a day. I like having him around! ๐Ÿ™‚

    However, when we first contemplated living together, we also seriously discussed the possibility of having a second place — a bachelor apartment would have been optimal — where either of us could go for time, space, privacy, when needed.

    In part this was motivated by the extreme numbers of children who inhabit our coupledom. I could vacate when his kids overwhelmed me; he could do the same with mine.

    But in part it’s because, despite our high intimacy needs, we are both private people, with strong needs for solitude, too. (Who says people are internally consistent??)

    The reason we didn’t do this, in the end, was strictly financial. There is simply not those several hundred dollars a month extra to maintain a second domicile.

    But there are days when I’d really like one!

  • Pam

    What an interesting post! For me, I have to admit, there comes a point where serious coupledom involves living together. If intimacy and conversation have to be planned around one of us “coming over” to the other’s place, if I can’t just grab a hug when needed or ask for his help with a scary bug in the shower, if the warmth and comfort of sleeping together isn’t ultimately part of the package deal, if we each have our own separate set of financial and household trials and issues instead of sharing the load, then I think for me that there wouldn’t be enough benefits to the relationship to make actually BEING in one instead of just being single worthwhile, if that makes sense. We realized about 6 months into our relationship that although we were maintaining separate residences, we hadn’t slept apart in 3 months, and sat down one night and said ‘why are we doing this?’ We were both scared of living together – it had taken us each a lot of work to get our lives as single people living alone back on track after the end of our previous relationships, and in some ways moving in together seemed like undoing all that hard work. But we haven’t regretted it for a moment, and our house is a home because we make it together. I like it that way : ).

  • Great, thoughtful comments here – thanks for weighing in.

    One reason I don’t think I’d want an arrangement like this is that the last few years of my first marriage were kind of the opposite – living separately in the same house. No thanks…

    I really do think that it’s a freak of the rent-control legacy of New York City real estate that the couple in this article finds it cheaper to live separately. But MaryP, I can definitely see the appeal of a “bachelor apartment” like you and Stephen discussed, as well as how finances prevent having it; since we’re effectively supporting one-and-a-half households until my stepkids grow up, it’s not an option for us either. And I do know what you mean about needing those periods of solitude along with your closeness – it’s not contradictory.

    Pam, my husband and I moved in together a year before we got married because we were about the same as you and your boyfriend – except for the nights he has his kids, we were always together at either his place or mine, and it wasn’t making sense. But at that time I’d been single longer than he had, and I know what you’re saying about having put all that effort into getting yourself “back on track” as a single, and then feeling like you were giving it up.
    But I haven’t lost the person I grew into during those years, and at this point, I don’t think I will – like you and your boyfriend, I’m glad we made the leap.

    And like both of you, I really like knowing my guy’s right there with me!