This question is never easy to answer at any age, but it is now the focus of a documentary about people who are choosing not to live with their new partner, if they even decide to continue having what we have currently been referring to as a relationship with “a significant other”. Since my arrival four months ago, it is a topic of conversation that has also unexpectedly been brought up in my first meeting with different residents of the Comox Valley. It is time for a community conversation.
This idea of not living in a traditional relationship first showed up for me after I visited the Comox Library and read an article in Inspired 55+ Lifestyle magazine by Pat Nichol entitled, One Size Does Not Fit All.
She asks the following question, “If you had a choice of how you lived with a partner, what would it be?“
For previous generations, there was a choice. In the 19th century, husbands and wives often had their own bedrooms. This option is still a possibility; some for a matter of comfort, others so they don’t murder each other before dawn. If you have ever had a partner who flailed wildly while dreaming or sounded like a 747 getting ready for take off, this may be a viable option.
Another increasingly prevalent possibility, especially among people who have been on their own for a while and are comfortable with their own space, is the concept of LAT Living Apart Together.
Let’s say, for example, we meet, date and decide a committed relationship is something we both want. Where do we live? My apartment is just fine for one, but not for two. I really don’t want to give up the possessions that bring me joy. How about you? Wait a minute… I am not about to give up my special chair and my bed is mine, mine, mine. Plus, your building does not allow pets.
Do we give up on our relationship? No! Why not try something that has had favour in Europe for several decades and has been gaining popularity in Canada for the past five to 10 years? We each keep our space and, several evenings a week, we have a meal together, we run away on weekends or travel to places we both wish to see.
Benefits: we get to deal with habits on a part-time basis; the relationship stays fresh and is more exciting; we have less to argue about; and we both get to maintain the sense of self we’ve nurtured over the years.
The documentary I mentioned at the beginning of my column is called Apart*ners: Living Happily Ever Apart, by Sharon Hyman, who has been studying this concept since 2015. She also contributed a very interesting guest post to Psychology Today entitled, “I want you. I need you. I just don’t want to live with you.”
Here is an online excerpt:
I’m a filmmaker, a Canadian, a former Orthodox Jew, an aspiring free spirit. He is a musician, an engineer, an Albanian-American with Buddhist leanings, a functional grownup. We have been dating for almost two decades and no, we do not live together even though we reside in the same city. We are what I call Apartners – committed partners living apart. And we are in good company – it is estimated that almost 1 in ten North American adults are in an Apartnership. And yet we are not accounted for in census forms and there is still a stigma attached to our relationship choice. But that is quickly changing, as divorce rates soar and people seek new ways to make love last.
People often ask me why I don’t live with my partner. To which I reply, why would I?
I was looking for a confidante, a companion, a lover. And maybe someone to go to Prince concerts with. What I wasn’t looking for was a roommate. That I had in college, when I lived with my best friend Naomi. Those were among the best years of my life. And when she married and moved away I was actually afraid to live alone.
But then a funny thing happened. I discovered that I loved it. Loved the silence (when my neighbours weren’t blasting REO Speedwagon) and the solitude (on the off days that I actually liked myself). I loved the time to reflect and create, to work and think, and to spend time with friends and family (ok, friends).
So when I met David, we were two individuals who came together to share part of our lives. But we were not each other’s entire lives, a notion promoted by popular culture which I feel leads to unrealistic expectations. We were like a Venn diagram, with overlapping parts.
And I just did not see how living together would add to the equation – in fact, I could see how it might subtract. And math was never my strong suit.
David wakes up at the break of dawn for work, and goes to sleep at dusk. I am a night owl who is at my most productive in the wee hours of the morning. (And by productive I mean I can win online Scrabble games).
David is an introvert who needs copious amounts of time alone. (I once told him about a meditation retreat where you are to remain perfectly silent for thirty days and he asked, oh, is that supposed to be hard?) I am a shy extrovert who likes to be with people but needs time alone to recharge.
The truth is, I usually don’t want to see anyone every day, not even myself! So living alone and being in a committed relationship suits me just fine.
As we all know, relationships are just about impossible. I don’t care how many studies are published that reveal the secret to happiness – the real secret is, relationships are impossible. Between what I am projecting onto you and what you are transferring onto me and my deep-seated needs and your unconscious feelings, it is a wonder any couple lasts five minutes together.
It doesn’t matter how many mindfulness courses you take. I am mindful of the fact that relationships are impossible.
So if you could find any way to make a relationship work, I am impressed. But you will likely have to be creative with your solutions, and they might fly in the face of societal expectations.
For me, one of the ways that works is having separate abodes.
Yes, David and I still have arguments (I always say relationships are like a bloodletting – if you want to learn the worst parts about yourself, just fall in love). But rarely do we fight about him leaving his clothes on the floor or me not washing the dirty dishes. Nor do we squabble about finances, a sore spot for many couples. And when I am irritable or he is crabby, we are able to take the space we need to figure things out.
Okay. Now here are my thoughts about the above information. It seems to me that intimacy in a relationship comes from the closeness and constant presence of the other partner. This is also why long distance relationships have great difficulty during the weeks following a reunion after many months apart. Ask any military family with one partner deployed and most of them will concur that this repeated aspect of active duty can create an insurmountable gap between couples as their lives are lived primarily apart. This is often not recognized by our society as another sacrifice the men and women in uniform make daily to serve our country.
Also, what message are we giving the next generation about our ability to communicate with, share and respect another person we say we love, when we cannot even spend more than a couple of days at a time in their company? Where is the openness of heart and the acceptance of the other as a unique and different individual? How tolerant will our society and community be if we continue this trend of living apart?
What are your thoughts? Feel free to share them in the comment section below.
Please check out the following links to read the complete articles and visit the documentary website:
Apartners Live Happily Ever After – in Places of Their Own, online article by Bella DePaulo in Psychology Today
One Size Does Not Fit All by Pat Nichol in Inspired 55+ Lifestyle magazine
The Documentary, Apart*ners: Living Happily Ever Apart, by Sharon Hyman