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Friday, November 09, 2007

Living Apart Together

This Life column from Day and Night in today's Irish Independent

I was reading an article last week about Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and the piece inevitably turned into an examination of the state of her marriage to Bill. According to the writer's sources, the past seven years have been the finest of the Clintons' marriage, precisely because they spend so much time apart. The journalist argues that there's something about the pacing and spacing, and the coming back together again that is perfect for their relationship.

Of course, Bill and Hill's admittedly odd relationship probably shouldn't be taken as any yardstick against which to measure your own, but what's interesting is that the former (and possibly future) First Couple appear to be believers in the modern relationship concept of 'Living Apart Together' (LAT).

The average LAT couple is firmly committed, but both partners live in separate residences, sometimes by circumstance (i.e. work) but mainly by choice. Research has shown that many of these LATs tried cohabitation and found it to be a disaster. But the distance and independence provided by this new arrangement proved to be the saving of their relationship, be they married or in a civil partnership. And lest you think this is some mad fantasy or loopy theory of mine, British records show there are some 2 million such LAT relationships in the UK alone.

Now I should state at this point that I've never lived with someone I was involved with, so this is all the view of an inexperienced, semi-objective outsider. I might not know the ins and outs of living with someone personally, but I sure have seen others do it, a lot of the time with not very pretty results.

Some might call the LAT style cynical, pessimistic and unromantic. Others like me view this arrangement as practical and an appropriate reflection of the way men, women and society itself has changed.

I think we've established by now that this generation is the most independent, privileged and, frankly, self-involved this country has ever seen. It's a largely positive consequence of success, better education and increased opportunities. There's no huge pressure to get married or shack up, and, increasingly, little desire to either. All of that's not going to change anytime soon, so why not embrace this change and customise our relationships accordingly?

When people have so many options, and such hectic lives, relationships can be seen as suffocating and prohibitive. How many have perished because they appeared to run counter to that sense of independence that (most of us) cherish so much and work so hard to preserve?
Take actress Helena Bonham Carter and her partner, the director Tim Burton. They have been in a relationship for five years and have a son together. Yet they live in their own homes right next door to each other. Both cannot praise the situation highly enough.

And who's to argue with them? Just think of the advantages. How many arguments have been resolved after the couple give themselves "some space"? Well, with LATs, you both have your space so you are not wrecking one another's heads. You don't have to fight over what to watch on TV, who is and isn't doing their share of the housework, the other's dreadful taste in music, or pets and boorish/annoying friends. If one of you is in a mood, just slip back to your place, saying goodbye forever to the concept of 'walking on eggshells' around each other because your stuck together in the same place.

Both partner’s freedom would keep that vital spark in a relationship, if it's done right and, if, of course, both want it to work. Surely it’s worth a try if it does away with that fatal relationship ennui? By getting closer with distance, LATs might just save modern romance as we know it.

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