Recently, a follower of The Long Haul project sent this great article by Kate Bolick from Elle to our attention, which talks about couples who are married but not living together, or “Living Apart Together” as it’s officially called by the kind of scientific types who spend their lives doing research on stuff like this so bloggers like me can write about it.
The first time I heard of this idea was years ago when I saw Helena Bonham Carter interviewed on some late night talk show. She said that she and husband Tim Burton lived next door to each other, in separate houses. They even maintained this living arrangement after having a son, who shuttled between both houses. I remember thinking the idea was very odd and dismissed it as an eccentricity of a rather unconventional couple of artists.
Fast forward a few years and I don’t necessarily find the idea quite so strange. Here’s why: According to the Elle article, this type of living arrangement was once called the “Fannie Hurst marriage”, named for a short story writer who was “outed” by the New York Times back in 1920 for the fact that she kept a separate apartment from her husband. Hurst’s response to the public outcry to her unconventional situation was this, according to Elle:
Hurst explained that she considered nine out of 10 marriages to be “sordid endurance tests, overgrown with the fungi of familiarity and contempt,” and that by living separately from her husband, she was able to keep her most sacred relationship a “high-sheen damask” rather than a “breakfast cloth, stale with soft-boiled egg stains.”
Perhaps it’s because I’m writing this while Tom is away and I have the apartment to myself, but I can see her point. I love being around Tom and I adore our home together. I dread him going away and hate the thought of rattling around the loft on my own. But then he goes and I’m just fine. I settle into my own rhythm and routine. I have more free time to do little personal projects. I don’t feel guilty that it takes me a few hours after coming home from the gym before I take a shower (I know, I know… it’s totally true what they say about working from home. After the first few days you will not bother getting dressed). And when it’s time to get ready to go out and do something, I felt a tiny bit lighter, more excited, more expectant than usual.
Tom and I have been working together from home and we’ve been working hard. We’ve definitely given in to the inclination to “just stay home” on many nights recently. If we didn’t live together, if we didn’t have a shared living room with all those unwatched episodes of In Treatment and Breaking Bad beckoning to us, would we make more of an effort to go out and have adventures? If we weren’t sharing a bathroom and if Tom didn’t see me in my grungy old robe padding from the shower before I got dressed, would I seem more alluring (it’s hard to imagine anything less alluring than my old robe…)?
Suffice to say, I can see Fannie’s point. By not living together, you can extend (perhaps indefinitely) the romance, mystery and anticipation that usually fades after the start of a relationship.
But if I really think about it, I wonder if by choosing to be in a “LAT” marriage, you prevent yourself from experiencing the intimacy that makes marriage wonderful. The little moments you’d miss if you lived separately, like the other night when Tom sleepily took my hand after I woke up from a nightmare; when one of us walks in while listening to a great song on our ipod and it leads to a spontaneous dance-off; or when it just is nicer to cuddle on the couch with a good movie than any other option.
What do you think? Can you see the upsides of the Living Apart Together arrangement or does it just seem plain weird? Are there other ways to keep your marriage interesting? And does anyone know how the heck these people afford rent/mortgages on two places? As always, love to read your comments!