I love you – now go home

The next time your part­ner in­ex­pli­ca­bly leaves dirty laun­dry around the house, re­mem­ber that some hap­pily mar­ried cou­ples don’t have to deal with that. Meet the ‘apart­ners’.

Glamour (South Africa) - - Contents - Words by CADY DRELL

How liv­ing apart can strengthen your re­la­tion­ship

i’mpretty sure my last live-in re­la­tion­ship would still be in­tact if we’d just had sep­a­rate bath­rooms. Af­ter five years, lit­tle di er­ences in our pref­er­ences and rou­tines started se­ri­ously get­ting to us: we worked op­po­site hours, and he liked to shake o stress by go­ing out a lot with other peo­ple, while I liked to re­treat to our co­coon-like bed­room and binge on Net­flix shows. In the end, com­pro­mis­ing on what we wanted just to share space made us feel like we’d stopped grow­ing as in­di­vid­u­als. Once we broke up, I won­dered if I’d ever rec­on­cile my need for se­ri­ous alone time with the fact that be­ing with some­one means be­ing with them.

So I was in­trigued when my friend, Esihle Dlamini, 29, re­vealed that she and her hus­band live in di er­ent apart­ments. This ar­range­ment, she ex­plained, gives her space to pur­sue her work and hob­bies, and helps them bet­ter un­der­stand what’s ac­tu­ally go­ing on with each other. “We en­joy this idea that there is a space we each have to our­selves that no­body else is go­ing to en­ter for a pe­riod of time,” says Esihle of her mar­riage. “I don’t think it re­ally forces com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

Turns out, this ar­range­ment is kind of a thing. So­ci­ol­o­gists call it ‘liv­ing apart to­gether’, or LAT, and it’s dis­tinctly di er­ent from the phe­nom­e­non of com­muter re­la­tion­ships, in which cou­ples live apart for their jobs but typ­i­cally see an end date to this. LAT cou­ples are fully com­mit­ted, even mar­ried, but they specif­i­cally choose not to live to­gether.

While there hasn’t been a ton of re­search on this phe­nom­e­non, the Cen­sus Bu­reau re­ports that the num­ber of spouses whose part­ner is ab­sent from the house­hold has dou­bled to over three mil­lion since 1991. Re­search also sug­gests that LAT is more com­mon among younger peo­ple, for rea­sons that range from want­ing more au­ton­omy to just lik­ing their own place and choos­ing to keep it.

As ap­peal­ing as it be­gan to sound, I was still scep­ti­cal that LAT is the cure for re­la­tion­ship list­less­ness. So I called Ju­dith New­man, an au­thor who has writ­ten about this life­style based on her ex­pe­ri­ence liv­ing apart from her hus­band, John, for al­most 25 years – a jour­ney she touched on in her book, To Siri, With Love (Quer­cus; R290). She says they dis­cov­ered early on that his fas­tid­i­ous­ness and her de­sire for chil­dren (he wasn’t ini­tially so sure) made liv­ing apart a choice. Keep­ing two sep­a­rate places, even with kids, would ac­tu­ally give them more space. And, she adds, it’s made their re­la­tion­ship pos­si­ble. “Some peo­ple get mar­ried or start to live with each other, and all of th­ese qual­i­ties they find won­der­ful rub up against the ones that aren’t sup­port­able on a day-to-day ba­sis,” she says. “If they didn’t have to do that, they’d prob­a­bly be very happy to­gether.”

Eli J Finkel, psy­chol­o­gist and au­thor of The All-or-noth­ing Mar­riage

(Pen­guin Put­nam; R473), agrees. “For some, LAT is a way to play to the strengths of the re­la­tion­ship with­out suc­cumb­ing to its weak­nesses,” says Eli. “It makes time to­gether spe­cial, rather than mun­dane and ha­bit­ual.”

For Esihle and her hus­band, hav­ing two apart­ments a few streets away from each other was in part a prag­matic de­ci­sion made when they were dat­ing. “He moved from an­other coun­try, and we felt it was im­por­tant that he have a chance to build up his own life and his own friends,” says Esihle. “And part of do­ing that was get­ting house­mates.” That way, she ex­plains, “We could both have our own in­de­pen­dent uni­verses as well as a shared one.” Though she’d co­hab­ited in other re­la­tion­ships, this ar­range­ment works well for them. “Even if he doesn’t sleep at my house ev­ery day, we’ll still meet for a drink on the way home or grab a co‡ee,” she says.

But keep­ing a LAT re­la­tion­ship strong also re­quires some se­ri­ous self-aware­ness. “If I’m just lonely and need some­one, I’m go­ing to have to pick up the phone and say it,” says Esihle. “I can’t just slam dishes while I’m cook­ing din­ner and hope that some­one no­tices. Which I’ve done be­fore!”

Is LAT a for­ever ar­range­ment? Many of the cou­ples I spoke to don’t know. Af­ter all, how re­al­is­tic is it that you’d keep sep­a­rate places if you start a fam­ily? Esihle says they’ll deal with that con­ver­sa­tion as it comes up. “We don’t take any­thing for granted in terms of talk­ing about fam­ily plan­ning and how it’s go­ing to hap­pen, and where and how we want to raise our kids,” she says.

When Ju­dith and her hus­band had kids, their boys grew up liv­ing pri­mar­ily at her house; her hus­band would stay over un­til they were in bed, head home and then come back in the morn­ing to make break­fast. “Prox­im­ity and sup­port are not the same thing to me. I would not have been able to have the fa­ther that my chil­dren adore in their life this way if we had lived to­gether, be­cause I would have killed him,” she says.

Sur­pris­ingly, the most con­sis­tent is­sue cou­ples face is judg­ment. Esihle has felt the scrutiny, too. “Peo­ple who essen­tially watched us grow up can, in one breath, tes­tify to our abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate and love each other de­spite the dis­tance,” she says. “And then, in the next breath, say, ‘This makes ab­so­lutely no sense. How can you take care of each other if you live five streets away?’”

But for the peo­ple I spoke to, liv­ing apart is more than just one gi­ant com­pro­mise. It’s also a way to be more mind­ful about all the lit­tle de­ci­sions they make in their part­ner­ships. “We’ve al­ready kind of aban­doned sta­tus quo,” says Esihle. “With other re­la­tion­ships, we felt like we were on a fixed track.” And get­ting o‡ that track in favour of choos­ing what re­ally, truly works for you and your part­ner? That sounds free­ing. And if it works, well then, I may never have to share a bath­room again.

“Liv­ing apart is more than just one gi­ant com­pro­mise. It’s also a way to be more mind­ful about all the lit­tle de­ci­sions they make in their part­ner­ships.”

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