Living Apart Together

Living separately — and loving it. Why some couples choose to maintain separate households even after marrying or committing to a long-term relationship.

Once upon a time, people fell in love, got married and set up a house together. Or even if they opted to skip the official marriage vows, the idea was to integrate another person into your life by living together.

But this, it appears, is so 20th century.

Growing divorce and separation rates combined with more people delaying marriage until they’re older have led to more couples opting to maintain separate households even after marrying or committing to a long-term relationship.

Researchers have even identified a new demographic category for such arrangements, calling it the “Living Apart Together” or LAT relationship.

One in 12 Canadians “live apart together” according to Statistics Canada. And while LAT arrangements are most common for 20-to 29-year-olds, 44 per cent of people in dual-home unions are aged 30 or over, with 14 per cent in their forties and 11 per cent over fifty.

While some LAT couples like the romance of “eternal dating”, for others this attempt to balance independence and intimacy may be influenced by familial obligations.

“In an era of increased longevity, many older couples se LAT relationships as a way of avoiding complicated inheritance issues,” Professor David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University told The New York Times.

Family obligations tend to affect younger couples as well. Many turn to LAT relationships after a failed marriage, particularly if children are involved.

And given that two households are more expensive than one, it might be expected that LAT relationships occur more often among people who are financially secure. Yet in other cases, there may be social subsidies or income transfers supporting lower income people who do not live with partners, such as widowed seniors or parents of young children.

In the Statistics Canada survey, the 50-plus age group indicated they were most likely to stay with a LAT relationship and not eventually cohabitate. This may not be entirely surprising as the Boomer generation is known for self-involvement and a certain unwillingness to compromise. And older people, in general, tend to be more set in their ways.

“In many cases, Baby Boomers want to have the freedom to live on their own terms,” said Gail Sheehy, author of Sex and the Seasoned Woman. “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.”

But isn’t a part of intimacy connected to learning how to live and cooperate with a person and at times, giving selflessly?

While Professor Popenoe acknowledges that maintaining separate residences may make sense for older or divorced people, for others he worries that it might impair their ability “to form long-term relationships.”

The trend toward unconventional relationships is even more prevalent in Europe. The Institute for Social and Economic Research in the United Kingdom predicts that one in five Brits will never marry. And Australian studies indicate that about 25 per cent of Aussies will never marry.

And according to The New York Times report, a million couples in Great Britain are in LAT relationships, with the trend also on the rise in countries such as Holland, Sweden, Norway and France.

By Cynthia Cravit.