Being together, while living apart indefinitely. Each having one’s own place of residence, while committed to each other. Is it possible to do this and still have a committed, emotionally close, fantastic relationship?
Many experts, as well as people who live this very scenario, say yes. And that further, for some it can even enrich your relationship.
Our culture puts the pressure on following a pretty one track, linear script for how romantic relationships are supposed to go. Boy meets girl/girl meets boy (unfortunately, a lot of people still have trouble including other types of love in this picture). Generally assuming they click/hit it off/feel mutual attraction, as well as share similar values and interests, they start dating. If all goes well, down the road, the topic of living together usually arises. Then they move in together, joining their lives to a major degree.
Frequently, this is followed by engagement and marriage (though it’s becoming slightly more accepted to live together without the destination of marriage in mind). And finally, kids are a common end goal to the trajectory.
Then, they should live happily ever after. Monogamously, of course- as this is the only moral, authentic, and truly committed way to love and be in a relationship, so our society says. And even if not the happiest, staying together is a badge of honor because god forbid, the two decide at some point that their relationship has reached its conclusion or is no longer functioning. This is deemed a dismal failure.
Above all else, happy or not, staying together is what’s “right.” The measuring stick for determining the success and merit of a relationship: its longevity. Though the exception being if someone cheats. Then, game over with nary a thought otherwise. Otherwise though, this is the trajectory a relationship is “supposed” to follow in our culture. Queue curtain falling. The end.
Is this really the only right way to have a relationship, though? And further, is it always the happiest way? For some people, it is. For many, many others, it isnt. Their own needs deviating in one area (or more than one) from the narrow given script. Yet, people often ignore these inner needs and instead, stick to the slim picture we are offered as being the only picture. Because that’s just “what you do” and “how it is.”
This can result in many negative outcomes, from being internally miserable, to undercurrents of dissatisfaction, frustration, and contention within the relationship, to the connection between the two people crumbling as a result of one or both going through the motions which in fact, go against their deepest desires and needs.
Why though? Why is this model the only “correct,” “right,” or “valid” way to have a romantic relationship?
Some common judgments for anything that looks to be outside this contained relationship picture…
— If you live together but never marry, you are “noncommittal,” “lazy,” “not really in love,” and rolling with “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.”
— If you dont want children, you are “selfish,” “flaky,” “bound to regret it,” “unnatural,” “sure to live a purposeless life,” and “going against what it means to be an adult” (though females get this especially hardcore, as it’s our “natural, maternal instinct.” Thus if they dont want this, something is “wrong” with them).
— If someone isnt monogamous, they are automatically a “player,” “promiscuous,” “noncommittal,” “unfaithful,” “untrustworthy,” and “not really in love with their partner.” When in reality, studies have shown that people who have an arrangement other than monogamy are not necessarily any less happy, any less committed, or less in love than those in monogamous relationships. Some may be, of course. Just as many though, this is not the case for.
As we all know, a plethora of people in monogamous relationships cheat, and/or are not happy. Therefore, neither monogamous or non-monogamous is automatically indicative of depth of love, commitment, or happiness of the couple. Both scenarios have positives and both have pitfalls. Both have strengths, both have risks.
— If two women are in love, or two men, often times, they aren’t even acknowledged at all. Or, are viewed with judgement, disdain, dislike, or even hatred. Why is love deemed valid, real, or right only between a man and a woman?
— And further, beyond the scope of purely romantic love, can’t two female friends love one another deeply? Can’t a person love their pet with all their heart? Can’t two brothers or male friends feel strong love for one another? Of course. So why then is romantic love relegated to such a narrow vein? Love is love. Regardless of gender, platonic or romantic, even species aside.
— And one more, the basis of this whole article: why must two people who are in love, live together? Whether eventually, or ever?
A relatively new book, “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone” by Eric Klinenberg was one of the first books to touch on or even introduce such a topic. The books main focus discusses the rise of people actively choosing to live alone in general. He touches on health benefits and the shocking personal joys of such. He also includes people who have partners they love and to whom they are committed, yet both people prefer having their own living space, and actively maintaining such.
Why are these people assumed to be less committed, less in love, or less good for each other than people who live together? That seems an unfair, shallow judgement to draw. And in fact, it actually an incorrect assumption.
I dont know about you but I have several friends, many of whom I would call very close ones, who I love and thrill at spending time with. These are people with whom I revel in their company, and often do so for hours at a time. I look forward to seeing them every time we meet. I miss them when it’s been a while since having seen them. I feel joy, anticipation, and just love being around them. Yet for most, I wouldn’t want to live with them.
Both because after spending several hours with a friend, I like being able to retreat to my own space (this is nothing personal, I feel it with everyone, even my favorite people in the world. As an introvert, love my own company), and because I imagine with some of said friends quirks and particular traits in combination with mine, we would clash in living together. That it might even eventually ruin our friendship in some cases.
This is not indicative that because I cannot live with this person, I shouldn’t be friends with them. Have you ever thought in such a way? That, well, because I wouldn’t wish to or couldn’t live with this person, I guess we cannot be friends. Of course not. Thus, why then must this be given criteria for a romantic partner?
Space in relationships, emotional, and even sometimes literal space and breaks in time together, is one of the very things that keeps it alive.
This circles back to my point of couples living together or not. For many individuals as well as couples, they very much want to live with their partner. If this is the case and it’s the right thing for both people, then this is a great thing. I am not rallying against or disputing such.
For a not insignificant number of people though, while they might enjoy living with a romantic partner, they might also be just as happy (or even feel better) living on their own.
And for these people, this is where I am challenging the mindset in our culture that living together is and must be a given for all romances.
Why does it indicate something wrong with a relationship if someone prefers living apart from their partner? The answer: it doesnt.
Some potential benefits of maintaining separate living arrangements can include:
— Personal space easily accessible when needed
— Varying sleep needs or schedules dont have to be disrupted or disturbed
— Differing social desires and needs can be more easily maintained and/or not infringed upon
— Keeping the relationship exciting, novel, absence continues making the heart stay fond.
— Not taking one another for granted
— Self-expression not an issue, as one can decorate their own place to their own whims
— Being able to maintain one’s own preferences, such as the temperature, décor, sound (music or not), you choose when people come over to visit or not, you decide whether to leave the dinner dishes in the sink for a night or clean the up right then, to have a pet or not (and which type), etc.
Some drawbacks can include:
— Social stigma or disapproval. Though ultimately this doesnt matter one iota, it can be hard not to let yourself care about it
— Might potentially result in paying more money, as opposed to if the two of you split one rent
— Potentially less close knit, day to day, moments and shared history
— Sometimes missing your partner and wishing they were there, when maybe they aren’t or can’t be
— In growing older, it might be nice, and even necessary (both physically and emotionally), to have a live in companion and partner as you move into elderly years
Any and all life situations, relationship styles, career choices, and experiences all have positives and drawbacks. Therefore, regardless of what “society says,” there is no “right” choice or way to be with regards to living with a partner or not. Both options have great aspects, as well as bummer ones.
The ultimate takeaway is this:
You do not need to live with someone in order to love, be committed to, or to remain closely connected with them.
You certainly can. But you do not need to.
Eli J. Finkel, Professor of Social Psychology at Northwestern University and the author of “The All or Nothing Marriage,” agrees. “For some couples, living apart while being together is a way to play to and maintain the strengths of the relationship without succumbing to its weaknesses. It makes time together special, rather than mundane and habitual.”
Proximity and support are not the same thing.
Loving someone and living together are not synonymous with each other.
Ultimately, the choice to live together or not shouldn’t be decided on because that’s “just what you do.” (Which sadly, is why a lot of people do it). One should do so only if it feels truly right for them, and is something they deeply desire.
If not, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a romantic couple while choosing to live apart, nor does it mean that because you would rather not live with your partner, that the relationship is “wrong.”
Instead, it’s important to have the courage to live a life that feels right and best for you, not in an attempt to mirror what society approves of. To live in such a way that feels authentic, true, and the most awesome for you. If this means living apart, together? Go for it!