Can Living Apart Help Keep You Together?

Category: Culture

Author: Aria Vega

Buying a house by myself is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. For starters, being a homeowner wasn’t part of my life plan. The 2008 housing crash remained a haunting specter, and then the pandemic scrambled the market again before I could reconsider. But when an unlikely sequence of events dropped me on the doorstep of a cozy rural cottage, I decided to take a chance on it.

It really is the perfect house for me. It’s got a solid foundation and a renovated interior, so it doesn’t need any work. The location is great, with kind and close-knit neighbors and dreamy street foliage. The fact that it’s fun-sized and has no stairs makes it fully accessible for me. But a completely different benefit occurred to me first: Now I don’t ever have to live with a partner!

I gathered early on that there might be downsides to permanently co-living with a life partner. Growing up, I always had friends whose parents slept apart because of someone’s snoring, or conflicting temperature preferences. Then there’s the money — cohabitation usually means combining finances, and conflicts over spending are a reliable predictor of disharmony in relationships. How many divorces might be avoided if more couples considered de-cohabitating first?

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Perhaps being so introverted is what compels me to ponder this. Regardless of my relationship status, I love a solo venture to a bookstore or a bar, and all social contact leaves me needing time alone to recharge. Growing up with my own room, I didn’t notice this disposition until I lived in shared college dorms. There I struggled under even ideal circumstances, like when my roommate became my on-campus BFF. I still longed for the ability to close a door between us at night and to have full control over the sensory landscape of my resting space.

That’s when it first occurred to me that the unwritten rule of moving in with romantic partners once things get serious may not necessarily suit me. Fortunately, it was around this time in the 2010s that celebrities were starting to shift taboos around unconventional marital living arrangements by being forthcoming about their experiences and desires, and being celebrated for it. Turns out ‘living apart together’ is a thing.

LAT Trailblazers

There’s a famous quote from actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg that periodically goes viral on social media. In a 2016 interview for The New York Times, Goldberg, who has been married three times, stated in no uncertain terms, “I’m much happier on my own. I can spend as much time with somebody as I want to spend, but I’m not looking to be with somebody forever or live with someone. I don’t want somebody in my house.”

The self-assuredness of that response still feels so refreshing, hence the longevity of that final phrase in our internet lexicon. Goldberg’s openness to love, coupled with her refusal to center her life around it, feels revolutionary in the midst of a culture that continues to put romantic love, and subsequently marriage, on a pedestal.

But there are as many ways to approach a marriage as there are married people. Though most lack their own viral soundbites that neatly sum up their perspectives, there are quite a few pop culture figures of the past and present who have openly engaged in atypical arrangements. In the 1930s, the married painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived and worked in twin houses connected by a bridge in Mexico City.

Then there’s supermodel Ashley Graham and her husband Justin Ervin, married for over a decade, who live on opposite coasts of the United States, but reportedly never go longer than two weeks without seeing each other. This might all sound like a celebrity trend that only works well for people with busy, lucrative careers that involve tons of travel. But you don’t need custom architecture or a bi-coastal lifestyle to make this work for you.

from Giphy

In fact, there is indeed a group of everyday people leading this charge: older women. For many widowed and divorced baby boomers who find love again, the women seem significantly less eager for (re-)marriage and cohabitation than their male counterparts. They cite fears of being locked into the gendered role of caretaker after a lifetime of doing so for children, parents, and prior spouses, as well as a desire to maintain their independence.

Unfortunately, not everyone who might want to explore this lifestyle can, because the added expense of running two households is a real factor. As record inflation persists, the cost of essentials like food and housing spirals ever upward while wages stagnate. That leaves a lot of people in a tight squeeze and eager to cut costs wherever possible, particularly young folks struggling to forge independence. Those in this demographic are especially prone to prematurely cohabitating with partners out of economic necessity. What’s best for our relationships is often frowned upon by capitalism.

Where the Magic Happens

Living alone for the first time in four years has totally settled it for me: this is my natural state. I love waking up to nothing but my own heartbeat, and letting the dreams linger. I love coming and going without letting someone know, splurging without hiding shopping bags, and eating a second dinner because no one is looking for leftovers. Leaving a sink full of sex toys after a romp is just satisfying on a cellular level.

Guilty pleasures aside, there is a deep sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from being a young queer Black woman tackling first-time homeownership solo. I work really hard, but in return I get profound contentment. I worry I might lose some of that if I chose to give up my independence. Besides, with its triple-digit square footage and single bathroom, one disabled broad and her tiny tabby cat feels like an ideal occupancy quota for this particular house.

Which is why my current relationship has me questioning just how long I’ll want to be here. When your partner already feels like home, all of the creature comforts and symbolic victories can lose some of their luster. Truly, I’ve never been so happy to see someone as soon as I wake up. I get it now — why people risk it all for this feeling. What if my ‘natural state’ is really just a comfort zone?

It gives me so much joy to see more of us becoming aware that when it comes to intimate partnerships, there is no single approach, or even a default one, that guarantees happiness. It’s absolutely okay to have our convictions about the best path to your bliss, whichever way you lean. Just as long as you’re willing to abandon it to take a chance on something beautiful.

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