May 4, 2006

Can you be a good couple and desire separate housing?

The NYT reports a trend of couples -- real couples -- who like living apart.
"My last husband would lie around like Al Bundy and expect me to be waiting on him all the time," Ms. Toohey said. "Evelio helps with the dishes and he's grateful for what I do. When we see each other, he takes me out to dinner and doesn't expect me to cook every night or do his laundry. And when I do cook, he appreciates it."

She can take her time putting her 5-year-old daughter to bed, she said, without worrying that there's a husband in a nearby room "competing for attention."
Hmmm... So the idea is that living with a woman ruins the man? How do we know the Al Bundy guy would have been any good if kept at a distance? Or are you going to say it's only possible to be Al Bundy if you've got a woman putting up with it?
[Researchers] have even identified a new demographic category to describe such arrangements: the "living apart together," or L.A.T., relationship. These couples are committed to sharing their lives, but only to a point.
I like the idea, but I'm also skeptical. There are different reasons to want to live like this. Some couples probably just don't like each other that much, or they love autonomy more -- including the freedom not to have to show respect and concern for other person all the time and not to have the other person seeing everything that you do. As the article notes, in many cases, there are children who are not the natural children of the two adults in the current couple. Wanting a love relationship with someone doesn't necessarily mean you want him as a parent for your children or that you want to parent his children. And if both sides of the couple have children, those children don't necessarily see themselves as the Brady Bunch.
"Although social pressures encourage stepfamilies blending, only one out of three stepfamilies survive," [Jeannette Lofas, a clinical social worker, said.] "I always say to people, would you go on a plane to San Francisco with your child if you had a two-thirds chance of not surviving it?"
A strange comparison. Forming a family and then failing produces a breakup, a visible failure. Not forming a family can hurt too, but life goes on continuously, with no perceptible failure point.
[T]he rise in L.A.T. relationships may be due to a growing unwillingness to compromise, particularly among members of a generation known for their self-involvement.

"In many cases Baby Boomers want to have the freedom to live on their own terms," said the author Gail Sheehy, whose latest book is "Sex and the Seasoned Woman" (Random House). "As you age, you have more commitments and possessions in your life that you are attached to that the other person may not want to share."
Oh, it must be a trend. Gail Sheehy has written a book about it. So, yeah, Baby Boomers are selfish bastards. And old folks get set in their ways and don't like anybody messing with them.
Carolyne Roehm, the New York socialite and author, is similarly unwilling to sacrifice control of her space. Ms. Roehm, 54, said she is perfectly happy with her extreme version of the L.A.T. relationship, with Simon Pinniger, 53, a businessman who lives 1,700 miles away in Aspen, Colo.
Uh, yeah. Let's have a guy with a nice place in Aspen. But wouldn't it be better to have several guys, with housing in various quality vacation spots? But it's only a trendy L.A.T. if they are both devoted to each other. Well, that ought to keep her/him from cheating on you. What! You slept with someone else? But I thought we were a L.A.T.!
Ms. Roehm said she is not interested in making compromises to move in together, even if that makes her sound selfish.

"I have my own life, my own identity and want to keep it," she said. "I like having the things I love around me."
Let's hope Pinniger doesn't read that the wrong way.
But the relationship doesn't suffer from the distance between them, she said; after all, she was willing to fly out on a moment's notice when Mr. Pinniger voiced concern about the color of his fireplace stones.
What about the color of his moods -- the ever-changing, delicate human manifestations that only a live-in partner can know? Oh, please, I care about his damned fireplace stones! Did you know my boyfriend has a stone fireplace in Aspen?


tiggeril said...

The hell? I thought it was weird that my parents slept in separate bedrooms because of my dad's snoring.

Joan said...

This is an obvious point, but I can't resist making it anyway: most people who want to be together live together because it makes so much economic sense. If you earn/have enough money, L.A.T. is possible. If you're like most people, the idea of sharing the responsibilities and expenses of running a household is one of the benefits of a long-term relationship.

I think it makes a lot of sense for single people with children to keep their romantic lives separate from their family lives -- but most people can't afford to do that.

Finally, comparing a broken stepfamily to a plane crash is bizarre. Obviously losing a parent or step-parent is a life-altering event, but to compare it to a horrific, life-ending event, over which you have no control, makes no sense to me. The commonly bandied-about statistic is that 50% of all marriages end in divorce (which is an artifact of how the data is reported, but we'll leave that for now), so should we think about getting married the first time the same way, a 1-in-2 chance of a violent, fiery death? Yeah, I think some people want us to think that way.

I don't get this glorification of the rich & weird.

Sloanasaurus said...

Yeah it sounds like the people who are living L.A.T. are the same people telling me I need to ditch my S.U.V. and drive a prius.

People who live these lifestyles are leeches. Traditional Marriage provides stability in society. It provides the guarantees that "tomorrow" is predictable. That Daddy won't just leave if things get tough. It provides a base and a shelter for kids and parents to rely on. Our society thrives on the few people that live in these traditional lifestyles.

There is no stability to these L.A.T. relationships. They are a cop out - a permanent non-committed relationship. People who live like this just leech off traditional America. Maybe they pay their economic taxes, but they are living on Social and Cultural welfare.

Anonymous said...

"I have my own life, my own identity and want to keep it," she said. "I like having the things I love around me."

Let's hope Pinniger doesn't read that the wrong way.

Great line Ann!

Joe said...

Exceedingly weird. These seem to be purely relationships of convenience. They are definitely not mad, passionate love affairs, where every moment away from your lover is torture, and which are still possible for people over 50.

CB said...

"The NYT reports a trend"

My BS meter pegs whenever I read those words.

Anthony said...

"The NYT reports a trend"

Heh. And if it's happening among that 0.0000001% of the population that lives an upper middle class and higher lifestyle in Manhattan, it must be an important trend to boot!

Bruce Hayden said...

I have discussed this before with women as a serious possibility. I have been divorced now for almost 12 years, and have gotten used to my freedom and life style. So have they. Part of this is when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed. Yes, you can change, but in my mid-50s, why do it?

In particular, I enjoy my skiing and my computer too much. A week or two a year skiing is just not nearly enough any more. I spent too many years away from Colorado, missed skiing a lot, and don't expect to be able to do so at the level I do now for more than a decade or so more. One friend was bothered by the altitude and the cold. She loved skiing when she could do it, but gave it up over a decade ago for these reasons. She needs to live where it is hot, and I like living where it is not.

Yes, it would be probably be great to fall madly in love at my age, so that I couldn't stand to be away from my love. Indeed, my grandmother did it at 80, and her last 10 years were her best. But what if it doesn't happen? Wouldn't living with someone you love and enjoy being around most of the time be better than waiting another 25 years before true love really strikes?

I should add that I am probably not the easiest person to live with. I think that I am very patient and emphathetic. Others see me as quite intense. And that has been known to exhaust some people.

Ricardo said...

"Uh, yeah. Let's have a guy with a nice place in Aspen. But wouldn't it be better to have several guys, with housing in various quality vacation spots?"

When I was a lot younger, and less wise, I dated a number of stewardesses (flight attendants) who successfully achieved this lifestyle. I didn't realize it during the relationship(s), but I was the "Honolulu guy", while there was also a "Tahoe guy" and a "Vegas guy" and a "Vail guy", etc etc. From a purely hedonistic viewpoint, you can argue that this is the perfect arrangement (for the woman) if you can swing it, but it wasn't that satisfactory once I found out I was "one of several" guys. I then quickly dumped the other person. But since this happened more than once, you can argue that (1) I was a slow learner, (2) there were a lot of women doing this, (3) it must be satisfying to someone, if it's perpetuated, and (4) they were never "mine to dump" since they "belonged" to so many guys.

I have come across guys who found themselves in similar unmarried polygamous situations (one girl, dating many guys) who DID like it, because the girl wasn't underfoot all the time. But personally, if you're a guy and looking for a real relationship, this is NOT the right way to go. It may solve some of the housing issues, but it creates even more emotional issues.

Maxine Weiss said...

The legal definition, and for tax purposes, I think you have to be domiciled at the same tax address. So, on paper, they have to live together, I think. ????

Can you have separate addresses, legally, for years, and then claim spousal support for those years?

Wish I knew family law, or any law!

The opposite of this whole thing would be a married couple that lives like brother and that legally still a marriage?

In Teri Hatcher's new autobiography (only the deepest reading for me!) she says she didn't get physical with hubby on the honeymoon.....(interpretation: he's gay?) ahem....and so they weren't really married until the deed was done????

Very troubling.

Peace, Maxine

Bissage said...

In some states it is grounds for divorce to have lived "separate and apart" for two years.

Just saying.

word verification: erypscxd. Made my heartburn go away!

Meade said...

What makes "a good couple?" How does having a cohabitant make a woman any happier? And doesn't cheating occur no matter what the legal status of the relationship? I don't see how this reported "trend" hurts anyone. The traditional notion of romantic love is probably far more damaging to society than realistically and honestly living apart together.

Maxine Weiss said...

Tell that to the IRS, when filing joint tax returns.

I don't think they'd see it quite the same way.

Peace, Maxine

Bissage said...

"The traditional notion of romantic love is probably far more damaging to society than realistically and honestly living apart together."


Joe said...

I think of Nick Cage in Moonstruck, when he talked about how love does not make you happy, it ruins your life and tears you apart. But that, paradoxically, is what makes life worth living.

Meade said...

bissage: You know -- "first comes love, then comes marriage..." Show me a bitterly contested custody battle and I'll bet you'll also have a couple who got married primarily because they were "in love," with the ones who came later "in the baby carriage" paying the highest costs of the couple's impetuousness.

maxine: I didn't get the impression that any of the people in the article are asking for any of the tax benefits of legal matrimony (though I don't doubt they enjoy the tax benefits of owning mortgages). In fact, for the most part, they sound as though they've all experienced the pains and injuries of previous failed marriages and wish to avoid repeating them. Can you blame them?

Ann Althouse said...

Ricardo: If you weren't married, how was it "polygamy"? The only question is whether you were lied to. I'm not recommending lying, just comparing lifestyles. Why is a LAT relationship better than something even less committed? It seems to me that once you're going to live apart, you ought to compare it to the other options. I suppose one answer is that people are too jealous -- as you describe -- to have multiple long-distance relationships, or to tolerate a partner who has them when you don't.

A LAT relationship might work well if you have a sexual relationship but can't really tolerate the person's behavior round the clock. Better to extend the good times then to destroy the relationship with too much togetherness.

Maxine Weiss said...

Meade: Right, but can you imagine, an IRS Auditor comes to your door to check-up on your status.....and your only explanation is:

"The traditional notion of romantic love is probably far more damaging to society than realistically and honestly living apart together."

I don't think they're gonna accept that.

Of course you can always...., quickly, run into the bedroom and rumple the bedspread, hurriedly plop a second set of pillows make it at least look as if there's a man around the house!

Peace, Maxine

Bissage said...

Meade: I take your meaning to be that stupid, immature and selfish jerks deeply wound their children. I couldn't agree more.

But, to me, that kind of dynamic has little to do with "the traditional notion of romantic love."

To me, the words "traditional" and "romantic" connote "orderliness."

Maxine Weiss said...

Ricardo: A little helpful hint from sweet little me:

Get a ring!

If you, and all these other guys, want to mark your territory, colonize, flag, etc... you have to do the jewelry thing. At the very least, a good stick pin?

No jewelry, no exclusivity.

Laws of the land.

Peace, Maxine

$CAV3NG3R said...

Maxine: Get a ring!

If she can't be faithful without a ring, she won't be faithful with one. I like that the same people who disdain a cheater who is a man, are also those who say 'get a ring' to a man involved with a cheating woman.

Maxine Weiss said...

You are underestimating the power of jewelry to a woman.

It doesn't have to be a ring. A good bracelet, earings, a brooch.

It doesn't represent the same thing to a man.

Although, wars have been fought over returning an engagement ring.

KCFleming said...

Ah, the modern form of having a mistress, paramour, or "a little on the side." In the modernized version, however, both parties desire the other to remain a merely occasional plaything. This creates an intemittent pairing more a destination than a relationship; a friendship both narrow and shallow.

Paul Johnson's Intellectuals records numerous such liaisons amongst the intelligentsia left. It's often the result of having been an only child (or effectively so), ever after unable to sublimate one's ego for another.

ganzo azul said...

I've lived alone for the past twenty years. I sometimes wonder if I'm capable of sharing space with another. And, for the time being, I can afford not to.

A few years back, I considered buying a home with my then boyfriend. We weren't out of the driveway when it became apparent we couldn't negotiate our differences. Every article of clothing he owns is on his bedroom floor. Weeks go by with the same dishes in the sink. His cats are not declawed and have shredded his couch. There is never a time when the television is not on, even when he's playing his electric guitar or a cd is blaring on his stereo, it's on. I, on the other hand, prefer a clutter-free environment and haven't owned a television in 20 years. I love the quiet.

He makes me laugh, we travel together, he's a great cook, he used to give foot rubs with apricot oil. There is something to be said about having someone in your life and not living with them. Although we are no longer an item, we still contemplate buying a duplex together. (Of course, we'll struggle over the terms of our non-partnership partnership agreement.)

CM said...

I'd be concerned if this were a trend for couples across the board -- because it does seem like a problem if our society has become so individualistic that we can't stand to live together any more. But, as others have observed, all the couples described in the article are older and most are divorced. If I were in my 50s and used to living my own life, I could see wanting companionship and commitment without a huge lifestyle change.

reader_iam said...

Back in the '70s, my parents had friends, a married couple, who bought a duplex (side-by-side rowhouse type) and each took "a side." Their kid had a bedroom on one side (with some toys) and a playroom on the other (with a pull-out love seat in it). I babysat sometimes (both/either side).

My dad, while noting that he could see some attraction in that setup, said that if he and mom bought such a thing, he thought a better idea was to stash his kids (then teen-agers) on one side, since they were the ones causing the disruptions in our family.

Ahem. LOL.

Ricardo said...

"I suppose one answer is that people are too jealous -- as you describe -- to have multiple long-distance relationships, or to tolerate a partner who has them when you don't."

Ann: That might be one answer. But I think that another answer is that ANY relationship (including LAT) can work, as long at the two (or more) people are on the same sheet of music in terms of designing and implementing the relationship. Getting and staying on that same sheet of music is the problem, even between well-meaning people. It seems to me that even honest relationships are often are like the "Peerless case" in contracts, where ambiguity is present, and where neither party is smart enough to even know there is a disagreement in the terms of the agreement.

And I called it "unmarried polygamy" only because I couldn't think of a better description. I know it's not real polygamy.

And despite my little "human interest story" above (which I put in here only to illustrate another side of the LAT story), I actually agree with what seems to be one of your conclusions, that LAT's can serve a constructive purpose for individuals who desire the distance for whatever reasons.

Maxine: "Get a ring". Although there are probably many instances where (as you say) a man could mark his territory and hold someone by giving them a ring, do you really believe this is the right way to hold someone? Do you believe people can even be held? Our divorce statistics would suggest otherwise.

Brendan said...

I'm confused. Are we talking about married or unmarried couples here? If unmarried, then where's the story?

I'm Full of Soup said...

what no quxxxo comments today? He must be at a loss to turn this into political issue.

And I loved th commenter who said must be a trend, if .00000001% if Manhattan rich are doing this.

altoids1306 said...

Everybody does their best to find happiness. This LAT business, while clearly a silver-medal to marriage (to me at least), might be all that's realistically possible for these people. It's a lot better than nothing.

This arrangement also neatly side-steps quite a few thorny issues to, like division of assets, parenting, housework, etc.. In any case, I think we should encourage society to accept different living arrangements, because clearly marriage isn't working in urban environments, and we need to do something to bring up birth rates.

Marghlar said...

My wife and I are right now facing up to the possibility that we might have to do this for a while for career reasons. And we are both really annoyed and sad about the prospect.

I don't get doing this as a choice (at least personally). Sharing a home is one of the best parts of my marriage. I frankly have trouble believing that most people who do this sort of thing truly view their partner as a partner, and not as a fashion accessory -- the lodge in Vail, e.g.

Jennifer said...

Brendan: I think the story is that they never intend to live together.

Marghlar: I hear what you mean.

Between field problems, deployments and training, my husband and I live separately a good 50% of the time.

Sure there's some autonomy that I miss a little every time he comes home. Sure the reunions are fun and romantic. But, what I miss the most is just rubbing shoulders with him on a daily basis.

The only situation that I can understand this making sense in is when children are involved. It's not easy to move in with a stranger - no matter how close that stranger is to your parents. I can see how some parents would prefer not to introduce the difficulty of step-dom to their daily life.

Alan Kellogg said...

Locally we've got an L. A. T. couple. Christopher Boyer (KGBfm and Jill Underwood (NBC utility producer). She loves him passionately. He's fond of her. But, he values his autonomy too much for them to live together.

Chris is one of the regulars on the Dave, Shelly, and Chainsaw Show on KGB (6:00am - c10:00am PDT Monday through Friday), and Dave has called Boyer on his BS many a time. (Dave Rickards is the fellow who 'broke' the story of the shuttle Columbia landing at Montgomery Field here in San Diego some years ago. An airfield in the Kearney Mesa area that can't even handle small jetliners.)

Sean E said...

I have had serious, even intimate, relationships with women where neither of us had any immediate interest in living together, let alone getting married. Of course, I quaintly referred to it as "dating". Turns out we were LAT! Good thing the NYT came along to make me realize how cutting-edge I really am.

"Show me a bitterly contested custody battle and I'll bet you'll also have a couple who got married primarily because they were 'in love,..'"

Contrasted with all the happily married couples who married for money? Is the point supposed to be that love is a poor reason to get married, or ...??

Meade said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Meade said...

Yes, Sean E., that was my point.

I'm referring to legal licensed marriage. Beyond protecting the welfare of minor children and the spouses who sacrifice career and earning power in order to rear those children, does the state have any compelling reason to make the living arrangements of two adults any of its business? I can't think of one.

Meade said...

I think I might have skipped over this excerpt 3 year agi when I read the linked article. I'm grateful now for a new opportunity to learn selflessness, giving and forgiving, and the orderliness of romantic love suggested by Bissage in his comment above:

"One of the challenges of marriage is to learn how to live with a person and integrate that person into your life," he said. "By living apart, you are losing the opportunity to gain that level of intimacy and cooperation." That scenario, he added, assumes that other people's needs are an imposition. Marriage presents an opportunity to learn selflessness as well as giving and forgiving, he said, whereas a long-term romantic arrangement that doesn't involve cohabitation "glorifies individual needs."

The most frequent complaint he hears from divorcing couples, Dr. Haltzman said, is that the participants want more time and space for themselves. "I do think this trend helps us realize that alone time is an important element" in romantic relationships, he said.

Ann Althouse said...

I love you, Meade.

Unknown said...

I read that Carolyne, as part of her divorce settlement from billionaire Henry Kravis in the 90's, was permitted for several decades going forward, to timeshare Weatherstone so long as she does not remarry. I don't know if she still gets a monthly stipend or form of alimony from him, but I am sure that there is some sort of very lucrative financial reason for her to not marry or leave Weatherstone lest her ex husband and his current wife take total access of the property that belongs to him, not to her.