Committed But Living Apart, Part 1: Guest Post by Diane Marty
[Bella’s intro: I have been writing now and then about couples who are committed to each other but live apart – not because they have to but because they want to. Usually, I draw from published research. It is also good to hear first-hand accounts from people who have actually experienced this way of living, and I’m happy to have this two-part essay from Diane Marty. It is a bit longer than most blog posts, but I think you will find it to be a good read. Thanks, Diane!]
The End Game, by guest blogger Diane Marty
“I don’t need a wife,” he said, “I need a companion.” So declared the prospective buyer of my truck camper.
Wow! I thought, here’s a man who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Intuitively, I knew he was someone who’d appreciate an equally candid sales pitch. So I was careful to point out the limitations of a pickup camper, suggesting that the lack of a shower unit might not appeal to a lady.
With more candor, he revealed he was a single seventy-four year old retiree looking for a camping rig that could comfortably accommodate two people, had a one-man operational system and could be maneuvered easily. Checking it out, he agreed my rig met all of his requirements.
All, except one, I thought. He still needed a companion. I didn’t. As a seventy-one year old widow, I had chosen an independent course. It didn’t include a side trip into another relationship so why was this stranger’s dilemma making me uncomfortable?
I couldn’t deny his cryptic remark had unleashed a barrage of conflicting emotions within me. He revived my nostalgia for truck-camping, something the sale of my rig was supposed to put to rest forever.
When he said he was buying my rig to take it on a camping trip to Alaska, I felt the magnetism of his adventurous spirit and my approval of his blunt demeanor soared. As mutual vibes of attraction crackled over the invisible wires connecting us, my sense of tranquility exploded.
Here was a kindred spirit, albeit a virtual stranger, who, with boldness and honesty, had aroused my dormant passion for different experiences. Most tempting was his implied invitation to share that passion with him and most disturbing was my instant willingness to consider it, should he make his intent more explicit.
And explicit he was from the very start of our relationship, which began with a dinner date and an exchange of personal histories a week after he purchased my camper.
Over the ensuing six months, as we acknowledged our mutual attraction and compatibility, I remained wary whenever the talk turned to the kind of relationship each of us wanted at this late stage of our lives. He had made it clear that remarriage was not on his radar screen. Cohabitation was definitely not on mine.
I did not want to entangle myself in a relationship that included a living-together arrangement whether it be in his home or mine. I had no desire to share ownership of a home which would undoubtedly involve at least a partial surrender of control over my own living conditions. I also had a fondness for occasional solitude and my own space.
Thus, I made my case for remaining single and continuing to live singly in my own home and he accepted my preconditions for entering a committed companionable relationship with him. Our continued dual dwelling situation appealed to him as soon as he realized that neither of us feared being alone or living alone and both of us expressed a desire to continue to engage in our own long-established friendships and activities that already existed apart from our blossoming twosome. He did not want to give up his time and activities with “the boys.” The freedom to continue to nurture my own single relationships was equally as important to me.
After all, I had come to cherish my second singlehood with its unrestricted freedom to make any social connection I wanted to. Widowed after a successful forty year marriage, I was healthy, financially secure and lived independently in my own home. I relished the complete freedom widowhood granted me to make my own choices without duty or obligation to anyone. The power to control my own destiny was a personal asset I refused to surrender or share.
Moreover, I couldn’t deny or avoid the challenges I faced in my family interactions should I choose a lifestyle contrary to conventional values and my own moral code. For my generation, the “Silents” or “Pre-boomers,” as we are categorized, living together without benefit of marriage was unconventional and remains contrary to our Catholic upbringing no matter what the age or maturity level of the individuals involved.
So, when the possible ramifications of such a choice battered their way through the fog of my own flattered ego, I knew I had to confer with trusted relatives and friends before I could ever commit to a long term intimate separate-dwelling relationship. I expected to encounter consternation over my desire to live as half of a devoted couple who would live apart.
My discerning process began with my first hurdle. I had to tell my three grown kids I was dating. I expected skepticism; I didn’t anticipate condemnation.
My only son’s dubious response and precautionary words were no surprise.
“Be careful, Mom. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about widows being taken,” he cautioned. Then, in an accusing tone, he continued, “Dad left you well set; he took care of you. How do you know this guy’s not just after your money?”
Though I accepted his legitimate concern for my welfare, I chafed at his condescending attitude. My youngest daughter’s blatant refusal to even discuss my evolving new relationship disturbed me more.
When her bemused forty-one year old sister casually mentioned that I’d been asked out on a date, the younger daughter erupted.
“What? This is not funny!” she declared. “I can’t imagine Mom with anyone else but Dad! I don’t even want to hear about it.”
Apparently, though it had been four and a half years since my husband’s passing, this daughter still considered me very much married and therefore not free to enter a new relationship. Her reaction was particularly irksome because I had made it clear that I had no intention of remarrying and my new companion would not be moving in with me.
Then, after a month of steady dating, I took a preplanned trip alone to visit siblings on the East Coast. During my visit, I shared my new experience with old friends as well as family.
When I discussed my disappointment with my children’s response to my new companion with five of my sisters, four with grown children, their unanimous advice bolstered my spirits.
“Give them time to get used to the idea,” they said. “They’ll come around in time.”
But I wasn’t at all sure that time was my ally. After all, a relationship begun at ages seventy-one and seventy-four would realistically have a shorter future than one entered into in one’s youth. I was impatient for the quick approval of those closest to me.
Consequently, my sister Judy’s experience was particularly encouraging. Divorced after four children and a thirty-five year marriage, she is involved in an ongoing seven-year loving and committed relationship with a man that includes separate living arrangements—each has continued to live in their own place—and recently in different States—yet they maintain and enjoy a committed relationship.
Finally, most heartening and most worrisome of all the comments I heard on that trip, were the remarks of my ninety-nine year old college mentor, a Roman Catholic nun. She squinted her eyes and furrowed her wrinkly brow as if puzzled by my concern for my children’s response.
“Don’t let your children stand in your way. It’s time for you, now. You raised them. Your obligation to them is done,” she said, as she raised both hands and slapped her knees once, punctuating the finality implied by her words.
At that moment, I visualized those hands snipping that last straggly thread of duty I struggled with to always put my children’s wants ahead of my own. Without hesitation, she verbalized exactly what I thought but lacked the courage to express. A few moments later though, her parting remarks tempered my reassurance.
As I left the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary retirement home, she hugged me and with an expectant sparkle in her faded blue eyes, she said, “Be sure to let me know the wedding date, now.”
Her assumption was characteristically spontaneous. As a Roman Catholic nun, she lived by a strict rule of conduct and she never wavered from it in all of her ninety-nine years. In conjunction with her underlying expectation, she naively presumed I would naturally choose the course of action compatible with Catholic tradition.
Despite the majority of strong go-ahead signals from friends and relatives, my cautious nature urged me to consult widows who were currently living as half of an unmarried committed couple who were living apart. Did they have a problem disengaging from the anticipations and judgments of family, friends and outside cultural attitudes? How much did keeping their own home and living apart while engaging in a committed long term relationship contribute to the success of their relationship? [Part 2 is coming soon.]
About The Author: Diane Marty is a retired English teacher who taught English and Expository Writing in high schools in California, Wyoming and Michigan. She has attended several writing conferences in her quest to hone her Creative Writing skills. Her essay, Doomsday, was published in the 2008-09 Bear River Review and her short story, On Resurrecting Sleeping Dogs, was also published in the 2010 edition of The Bear River Review. Diane is a widowed grandmother to seven grandchildren and she lives in Dowagiac, Michigan. She also wrote the essay, “Second singlehood: A time to blossom.”
Camper image available from Shutterstock.
DePaulo, B. (2014). Committed But Living Apart, Part 1: Guest Post by Diane Marty. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 30, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/single-at-heart/2014/01/committed-but-living-apart-part-1-guest-post-by-diane-marty/