In 2006, more than half of the participants in a British Social Attitudes Survey agreed with the statement that members of a couple “do not need to live together to have a strong relationship.” Nearly two-thirds agreed that “relationships are much stronger when both partners have the independence to follow their own careers and friendships.”
Among couples – including committed and even married couples – a nontrivial percentage are “living apart together.” These dual-dwelling duos include many who are in the relationship for the long haul, but they are not in the same home. The article reporting the results of the British survey (reference is at the end) estimates that 10 percent of British adults live apart from a partner.
For quite some time, we have been familiar with “commuter marriages” maintained by couples who have to live apart because of job requirements. Those arrangements strike me as a lot less interesting than the more voluntary ones – the couples living in separate homes not because they have to but because they want to.
But why would couples choose to live apart when living together is more expected, more romanticized, and more affordable?
In the British survey, respondents were offered only four reasons to endorse as to why they chose to live apart: “I prefer not to live with my partner,” “My partner prefers not to live with me,” “We just don’t want to live together” and “We both want to keep our homes.” Nearly half of the survey participants chose at least one of those answers. (Those who said they were living apart because they had little choice in the matter described constraints such as job locations, university locations, or responsibilities for caring for an elderly relative.)
Referring to reasons offered by participants in other studies of committed couples living apart, the authors noted that by maintaining homes of their own,
“…they can experience both the intimacy and satisfaction of being in a couple, and at the same time better continue with important pre-existing commitments and identities that living together might otherwise preclude, such as caring for children or dependent parents, maintaining personal social networks, keeping cherished houses or possessions, or simply avoiding the problems they feel might result from living together.”
I think these are all intriguing reasons, but did you notice what is missing from the list?
It is the desire or need for solitude. I wonder how many coupled people live apart not because they cherish their home only as a possession, but also as a place where they have their own time and their own space. In survey research in which participants simply agree or disagree with the statements that are presented to them, there is no opportunity to learn about motivations that are not included in the list of statements.
In my new project on 21st century living arrangements, I will be asking dual-dwelling duos to tell me, in their own words, why they chose to live apart. At a time when many people who do not typically live together are choosing to move in together (e.g., aging boomer friends, members of newly-forming multi-generational households), here are people who typically do live together (committed couples) who are choosing instead to live apart.
Reference: Duncan, S., & Phillips, M. (2010). People who live apart together (LATs) – how different are they? The Sociological Review, 58, 112-134.
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