Maybe Your Wife Should Move Out?
A look at "living apart together" and the ways it could bring you closer together—or tear you apart.
Remember when you had a boyfriend or girlfriend in high school that you hung out with on the weekends? Maybe you had the same lunch period and you held hands the whole time? Okay—how about dating like that again, except you're an adult with your own home and your own responsibilities, and you're involved in a long-term committed relationship or marriage?
I get that this seems unusual, and to most of us in the US, it isn't incredibly common, but this sort of relationship is growing in popularity and it's called LAT, or "living apart together."
I recently had a reader reach out and ask if I could talk about this topic. I asked them if they were currently living that sort of lifestyle, and though they responded that they are not, they admitted that after living alone for some time, they couldn't imagine living with a partner again. Dude—same.
The idea of LAT has it's obvious intrigues, and also a few blatant flaws:
Personal space is all yours in an LAT situation. Need alone time? Great—go home. Hang out in your underwear, eat Cheetos in bed, and fart in peace—no one's judging (expect maybe your cat.) Call your S.O. because you want to tell them to turn their TV on so they can see that Impractical Jokers rerun they've been missing, and then go to sleep to the sound of no one else breathing your air.
You're Alone (or worse, with roommates):
This type of lifestyle only really works if you're okay with being alone, or living with roommates (to help with bills and whatnot). When you go to sleep to no one and wake up to no one, most of the time, you may tend to get a bit lonely. Feeling like you need attention would force you to have to actually call someone up and say, "I need attention" versus ye ol' heavy-sigh-and-slump-onto-the-couch method.
When you see someone 24 fucking 7, you're bound to run out of things to talk about. Living on your own, and not seeing someone for 24, 48, 72, or however many hours you choose, allows you to get some time to bulk up some life experience so that you can have something to talk about when you see each other. Did that old man wave to you while you were watering your plants? Did Roger see? Nope, cause Roger lives at his apartment and can't see you from there, so go ahead and tell him about that nice moment you shared with the old dude.
Now, if you're not the chatty type, or if you're someone who forgets things, or someone who omits things you deem unnecessary, you may end up causing a riff in the waves of your relationship. If someone called and invited you to a party two weeks in advance, and you forget to tell your partner until the day of the party when you show up to pick them up—you might piss some people off. Also, if your partner is the jealous type, and you don't remember to tell them that your coworker stopped by to drop off something you left at work, accidentally bringing this up later may result in a "why didn't you tell me" thing, which will turn into a "you didn't tell me on purpose because you're screwing this person," kind of thing.
Which brings us to a big ol' CON on this whole LAT thing—trust issues.
*cue sirens blaring* *red flags are flying*
If you or your significant other has any sort of trust issue, LAT isn't for you. The separation wouldn’t allow you to keep tabs on where your partner is, what they’re doing, and who they’re talking to, and that would eat you alive (also if you are that type of person, seek therapy and learn how to trust again because that’s no way to behave.)
An interesting point that I’ve come across while studying LAT is the fact that people who are engaged in maintaining a relationships whilst living elsewhere are more likely to be in their committed relationships for all the right reasons. If you aren’t living with your partner, you won’t experience the stuck feeling that comes with moving in with someone. Breakups are inevitably easier because they’re no packing up and moving out and re-splitting expenses, you just show up to get your box of things and you’re done—hassle free breakups. On the flip side, if you aren’t living with your partner and you don’t depend on them to help you cover financial aspects of your life (rent/mortgage, cable bill, etc.), then you are engaging in this commitment for more of the right reasons and how you feel about your relationship is based on how things are going, how you feel about the other person, and how much you enjoy spending time with them.
This also erases the sort of things that are expected of us when we move in with someone. Who’s taking out the trash? Who’s doing the dishes? Who’s walking the dog? When you live alone, it’s all you, baby. You’re doing the chores because they’re your chores to do and no one else is obligated to help you clean up your own messes. That’s not to say that your S.O. can’t come over and help you clean and sort out which junk you’re going to try to sell at a yard-sale, but they’re not responsible for all the mini Hershey bar wrappers stuffed into the empty coffee mug on the floor—pick that up, by the way.
Too Close to Love You:
Living with your partner can bring out the ugly side of everyone. If you don't have to deal with the mess they leave in the bathroom sink after they brush their teeth, or the way their hair literally coats the floor like a human shag carpet, are you inclined to love them more? Or at least resent them less?
Living apart allows for you to not develop as long of a list of things you can’t stand about your S.O. The socks on the floor are yours, and the spices in the cabinet are arranged just the way you like them, and you hopefully never have to see them trim their nose hairs because they’ll be doing that in the privacy of their own home. Over the years, people tend to get incredibly comfortable with one another, which is great—feeling like you can be 100% you while in the presence of a loved one is a beautiful thing—but some things are best left unknown, like those morning shits you can hear from the living room.
It is true when the all-knowing “they” say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Instead of being up each other’s asses all the time, you’re allotted your own personal spaces to just exist on your own and so when you do see each other, it’s time only spent doing fun things: going out to eat, seeing a movie, having sex, taking a glassblowing class together, whatever floats your boats. More time for romance when you’re not still upset about how many alarms they have set to wake up in the morning.
There are a few roadblocks that have popped up while I’ve been thinking about the LAT lifestyle.
Obviously you’re going to want to have sleepovers, so is it best to make a schedule? One weekend here, one weekend there, one weekend alone? I’m not sure. Those sorts of things would have to be sorted out by you and yours.
As far as pets go, just keep your respective creatures at their homes and have a friend or a neighbor look after the dog/cat/bird while you’re not home for a weekend. Or bring the dog/cat/bird with you if you must—though that seems way too stressful.
Actually yeah, just leave the animals home.
Understand this isn’t a long distance relationship. The idea of LAT is that you both live relatively close to one another—close enough to grab a drink after work or maybe a coffee over lunch breaks, but not as close as like, say, the same apartment building.
But What About the Children?
For couples that share children, or for couples that have children from previous relationships, the LAT life seems to work out just fine. In an article from TIME that looks at Gwenyth Paltrow’s relationship with her husband, Brad Falchuk, relationship expert and therapist Rachel Sussman talks about how blended families can benefit from the LAT life:
“When you have young kids, it’s not always easy to fully blend a family,” Sussman told TIME. "Cheaper by the Dozen can glamorize or make it seem easy to blend families, but it can be complicated. And couples who blend families need to be aware of that, and be willing to think outside of the box.”
While you’re home on your own you can spend time with your kids from your previous relationship without worrying about the pressures of “who’s getting enough attention” at all times. Of course blending families and all being together at once is going to happen, but sometimes kids might just want a weekend with their mom one-on-one.
After looking into all of this, I can say I see the definite benefits an LAT life can bring. I can also see why these sorts of arrangements would fail. Enjoying the peace and quiet of your own space is far easier in a large house than it is in a one-bedroom apartment. Hell, maybe you just want a whole house to yourself nine times out of ten, and that’s okay too!
So, just remember, absence make the heart grow fonder.
Also remember: Who will toss you a toilet paper roll when you’ve run out and the new package of toilet paper is in the closet?
Something to think about.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss this topic further, email my advice column at: [email protected]
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