I was the kind of girl who always had to have a boyfriend, as my sister somewhat snidely told me when I was a teen.
She’s right. Twice, those boyfriends became husbands, now former husbands. While I have no desire to marry again, I enjoy the company of men and want a really cute one hanging around.
Just not all the time.
Which is why my former partner of eight years and I had what’s known as a live-apart together relationship, and why my current love and I have the same.
About one-third of U.S. adults who aren’t married or cohabiting are in LAT relationships. While some LATs are young people in long-distance relationships because of schooling or careers, or couples who want to live together but can’t for various reasons, many include women like me — divorced, middle-aged empty-nesters who want nothing that resembles married life.
In my experience, living together is when the problems start. When I married my second husband, his cute Victorian flat was much neater and cleaner than any place I’d ever lived solo, and he managed to shop and prepare meals for himself quite nicely. We talked about who would do what when we moved in together; we both worked and I had a much longer commute. So why did I eventually become the cook, errand runner, house cleaner and, when the kids came, primary caregiver? This type of scenario plays out across the country and world. Suddenly you have dashed expectations, frustration and resentment.
Susan Sarandon learned this the hard way. She and Tim Robbins never tied the knot, though they did raise two kids together. When they split after 23 years, Sarandon said: “I thought that if you didn’t get married you wouldn’t take each other for granted as easily. I don’t know if after twenty-something years that was still true.”
It isn’t just that couples take each other for granted after living under the same roof for a while; they also tend to fall into gendered roles. Women still do the bulk of household chores and child care, and the emotional care-taking that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. No wonder most divorces are initiated by women.
To me, being single again at midlife is the best possible version of single. When I was divorced and flying solo in my mid-20s, I was aware that marriage wasn’t all that, but I wanted to have kids and I felt pressure to couple up, tie the knot and get on with it. There’s no pressure now; there’s just glorious freedom and a chance to have it all — a healthy balance of alone time, friend time and partner time. You just have to remember not to mess it up by cohabiting again.
In fairness, not every woman feels this way. One girlfriend of mine, also a divorced, middle-aged empty-nester, tied the knot again last year. Another just sent me a gorgeous save-the-date card for her second marriage. Another sold her cozy condo and bought a larger pad for her and her presumed life partner before booting him out mere months later, vowing “never again!”
I was somewhat late to this way of thinking myself. When I met my former partner a few years after my second divorce, I still had the familiar love script in my head — date, fall in love, live together, marry, get a house, kids, a dog and a minivan.
Except I already had a house, kids, dog. (I ditched the minivan as soon as the divorce papers were signed.) I still had my preteen kids at home every other week as did he, and I had no desire to meld us into a blended family.
But the love script is persistent.
“Do you think we’ll ever live together?” I’d ask as delicately as I could from time to time, only to get his beautiful smile and a vague, “Maybe.”
By the time the kids went off to college, we could’ve shacked up. But by then, I had been living alone for about nine years, and I liked my freedom. Things that irked my former husband — my numerous paper piles, my distaste for dusting, my fluffing the bed pillows just so — were non-issues. I still had love and sex, plus my precious alone time.
When I met my current partner a year ago, I announced upfront — no marriage, no living together. With three marriages and a few cohabitations behind him, he gets it.
To stay connected, we text throughout the day and call to say good night. Sometimes, he leaves me love notes outside my front door. We probably spend as much time engaging with each other in the four days we’re together as couples who live together but spend a good chunk of their “together” time in front of the TV or on social media. In fact, studies have found that LATs feel more committed and less trapped than live-in couples. When you live apart, you have to actively work on that commitment and trust; it’s never taken for granted. Nor is the sex — nothing amps up desire more than time apart.
My partner and I half-joke about buying three tiny houses — his, mine and ours — on a plot of land one day.
I’m still the kind of girl who likes having a boyfriend around. Just not all the time.