I value my freedom as much as I value love and commitment.
For eight years, I was in a relationship that upset a lot of people.
“So, are you and James ever going to get married or live together or something like that?”
It’s a question I heard a lot during the time James and I were together. Although we were in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship, he lived in his house and I lived in mine. Neither of us wanted to tie the knot—we’d both done that, twice for me—and we weren’t sure we wanted to live together either.
And that was the problem for many people. Our relationship didn’t look like a relationship is “supposed” to look, and so they felt uncomfortable about it.
“Why don’t you want to live together?”
It’s a good question. After all, isn’t that what people who love each other do?
Sure, back when people had few choices. They fell in love, got married and lived—or attempted to live—happily ever after, under one roof. But we have a lot of choices nowadays. And once you’re divorced with kids, as I am, there are many compelling reasons not to follow that script.
Early on, when James’ daughter and my two boys were young, mashing two families together seemed, well, scary. I know people do it all the time, creating their own versions of the Brady Bunch to various degrees of success. But since 60% of all second marriages end in divorce, and since the stepfamily situation often creates a mess for everyone—you, your former spouse, and your new spouse and his/her new spouse, as well as the kids—and since second marriages don’t necessarily lead to marital satisfaction, why would I want to marry again?
We could have lived together, of course, but the idea of putting my boys through another split was too painful to think about if it didn’t work out; one divorce for kids is more than enough.
But more important, we really didn’t want to. We both valued our freedom as much as we valued love and commitment. Choosing to be an “LAT” couple—living apart together—was able to give us that.
And we’re not alone—about a third of couples who aren’t married or cohabiting are in LAT partnerships for a variety of reasons.
It’s not to say that sometimes I didn’t long to come home to what had always seemed familiar—and a warm body to snuggle next to every night and to share stories of our day. There are many pleasures that come with living with someone, which, between my two marriages, I did for nearly 20 years.
And then there are the not-so-pleasurable things that come from living with someone for years. We start to get annoyed by their habits—the ones we used to find “charming” when we first started dating. We complain that they’re not doing their share of child-care, cleaning, yard work, laundry, you name it. We get upset because they’re spending too much time on the computer, watching sports, playing video games, hanging out with friends, or shopping. We miss having time alone. All of that leads to disappointment and frustration, maybe even resentment, so we often stop having sex.
Isn’t that odd; we finally have what we wanted—someone to love and love us back—and we start taking each other for granted. And we don’t have to married to take each other for granted, either, as Susan Sarandon discovered after splitting from Tim Robbins after 23 years of living together and raising two children: “I thought that if you didn’t get married you wouldn’t take each other for granted as easily. I don’t know if after twenty-something years that was still true.”
But, marriage, the institution, doesn’t make us do or not do anything; the people in the marriage are responsible for how they act. Taking each other for granted is not part of any marriage vow, as far as I know.
Some recent studies seem to confirm what I already know—couples who live apart feel just as happy, maybe even happier, in their relationship than couples who live together, and feel more committed and less trapped. When you live apart, you actively work on that commitment and trust; it’s never taken for granted.
Except even living apart doesn’t guarantee longevity. There are no guarantees when it comes to love, married or not, under one roof or separate. As it turns out, James and I ended our relationship more than a year ago, and I am now in a new one. And yes, we live apart.
So when people ask me, “Are you ever going to get married or live together or something like that?” I guess I’ll have to continue to answer, “Something like that.”
I’m OK having my relationships upset people because they don’t look like what they think a relationship “should” look like. Are you?
Vicki Larson is an award-winning journalist and co-author of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” (Seal Press, Sept. 28, 2014). A version of this story ran on her blog, OMG Chronicles. Keep up with her take on marriage, divorce and relationships there, on Twitter and Facebook.