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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Having Your Freedom and Marrying It Too: Let Them Eat Cake

Living Alone Together

This relationship reminds me of an old Dave Mason album titled Alone Together. How many couples and families today actually live this way now - housed collectively but doing their own individual things.Their jobs and commitments require them to share less time in concert. It is most difficult to say. In fact, no one really knows. One mom shares what it's like to balance work and family life with a husband who works long hours. Check out this mom's story. I bet many of you can relate.
"A few years ago, my husband, Tony, bought out his partner in the restaurant they owned together. It was great news, except for one thing. 'Do you realize I'm going to have to work every day for quite a while?' he said. I nodded, I understood, I was supportive. And we had it figured out: Tony would run the restaurant, and I'd take care of our three kids (then 12, 10, and 4). During my chunks of free time, I'd write.

"Figuring it out—and then actually living it—are not the same thing. Tony left at 9:30 a.m. and didn't return until midnight. Mornings were a blur of getting the kids off. In the afternoons, I orchestrated homework and playdates, and the evenings were spent rushing to music lessons and sports practices. For a full year, I flew completely solo, becoming more exhausted and resentful by the day. Then at dinner one evening, Mary Elena, our youngest, said, 'Is Daddy coming over tonight?' The older two quickly corrected her ('He lives here, silly'), but her words were like a punch.

"'It's like I'm divorced,' I moaned to a pal the next day. 

"'No,' she noted. 'If you were divorced, you'd get a break every other weekend.' She had a point. With new acquaintances, I mentioned 'my husband, who works a lot,' not wanting them to think he was dead, in jail, or living a double life.

"Honestly, it was only through sheer determination that I survived that first year. Now Tony gets an occasional day off. And we've gotten smart about couple time. We manage a Monday dinner or share a laugh as we walk through Home Depot on a Wednesday. Sometimes, late on a Saturday, we go for a midnight drink at a neighborhood pub. I also came up with a mantra: This is my life for now. I joined a book club and started volunteering at church. Simply being with friends lightened my load.

"It defies logic, but Tony and I are happier than ever because time apart makes us appreciate time together. Is our life ideal? Far from it. Is it the best we can do? Right now, it is. And that's good enough for both of us." (Charlotte Latvala, "The Married Single Mom,", 2010) 

Two-Home Relationships Or the L.A.T.

Researchers are seeing a surge in long-term, two-home relationships. They have even identified a new demographic category to describe such arrangements: the "living apart together," or L.A.T., relationship. These couples are committed to sharing their lives, but only to a point.

Hard numbers are difficult to come by; the United States Census does not measure these relationships. However, a survey-based British study published last year by John Haskey, a statistician who heads the Family Demography Unit at the Department of Social Policy at Oxford University, estimated that a million couples in Great Britain are currently in L.A.T. relationships. Other recent studies have found the trend on the rise in Holland, Sweden, Norway, France and Canada.

David Popenoe, the co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, a leading center of marriage and family studies, says that it is clear even from the fragmentary evidence available — "partly what we know anecdotally, partly the fact that every other significant European trend in family life has turned out to be happening in America" — that L.A.T. relationships are on the rise in the United States, too. (Jill Brooke, "Home Alone Together," The New York Times, May 4 2006)

Often, L.A.T. relationships are driven less by maintaining romance than by familial obligations. In an era of increased longevity, many older couples see L.A.T. relationships as a way of avoiding complicated inheritance issues, said Professor David Popenoe, the co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, a leading center of marriage and family studies.

Younger couples often turn to L.A.T. arrangements after failed marriages, particularly if there are children involved. According to widely accepted interpretations of American census statistics, when people remarry after divorce, the new marriages fail at a significantly higher rate — more than 60 percent, versus 50 percent or less for first marriages. (Jill Brooke, "Home Alone Together," The New York Times, May 4 2006).

As much as anything, though, the rise in L.A.T. relationships may be due to a growing unwillingness to compromise, particularly among members of a generation known for their self-involvement.

"In many cases Baby Boomers want to have the freedom to live on their own terms," said the author Gail Sheehy, whose latest book is Sex and the Seasoned Woman (Random House). "As you age, you have more commitments and possessions in your life that you are attached to that the other person may not want to share."  

Professor Popenoe, of Rutgers, acknowledges that living apart makes sense for the elderly and for divorced couples with children. For others, though, he worries that it might impair the ability "to form long-term relationships." 

According to Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University and the author of  The Secrets of Happily Married Men (2005), he most frequent complaint he hears from divorcing couples is that the participants want more time and space for themselves. "I do think this trend helps us realize that alone time is an important element" in romantic relationships, he said.

But, advocates of L.A.T. relationships, like Judye Hess, a family therapist in Berkeley, Calif., see them not only as an indicator of what's wrong in long-term relationships, but also as a potential solution.

"Many people are trying to fit themselves into a very narrow model for long-term relationships that does not work for their personalities," said Ms. Hess, 61. If more people saw living apart as an option, she said, "it might save them a lot of pain and breakups."

What Does It All Mean?

L.A.T.s and living alone together - it's so damn confusing now. I once thought I had but two options - live a single life or live a married life. How wrong I was. And the patterns available... geesh! Carmen Lynch, M.F.C.C., a couples and family therapist in private practice on the Peninsula south of San Francisco, identified these five dominant relationship patterns:

1. Survival Relationships - based on times when partners feel like they can't make it on their own. The choice of a partner tends to be undiscriminating, made out of emotional starvation; almost anyone available will do.This involves relating at its most basic: "Without you I am nothing; with you I am something." The survival involved may be physical as well as emotional, including the basics of finding shelter, eating, working, and paying bills.

2. Validation Relationships - based on a person seeking another's validation of his or her physical attractiveness, intellect, social status, sexuality, wealth, or some other attribute. Sex and money are especially common validators. In response to a sexually unsatisfying relationship, a person may choose a new partner with whom sexuality is central: "I was afraid it was me, that I was frigid or something, but my new lover and I have wonderful sex."

3. Scripted Relationships - based on being "the perfect pair," fitting almost all the external criteria of what an appropriate mate should be like. The marriage involves the couple living out their expectations for the roles they learned they were supposed to play. He has the "right" kind of job and she is the "right" kind of wife and they have the "right" kind of house or apartment or condo in the "right" place. Their families think it's the perfect match.

4. Acceptance Relationships - based on trust, support and enjoyment of each other. And within broad limits, each person keeps an individual identity. But each person has a good sense of which aspects of  personal selves lie outside those limits 

5. Individual- Assertion Relationships -based on the assertion of each person's wants and needs, and on respect for the other person's process of personal growth

(Victor Daniels, "Patterns of Relationships,", 2000)

I don't honesty know if I have survived, validated, scripted, accepted, or asserted. Maybe I've done them all. For 35 years now I have just lived with my wife. I didn't know our relationship and lifestyle had been identified, studied, and critiqued.

To be honest, this stuff scares the hell out of me. Emotional starvation, trust, respect, validation -- being something, being a fraction, being nothing at all. I really didn't realize relationships were comprised of all of this important stuff. For example, I thought marriage was just a fight for the remote control.

Here, all of this time, I thought the process was (1) Make a Call, (2) Hold hands, (3) Smootch, (4) Watch the Submarine Races Together, and (5) See the Preacher. I mean, how will I ever know if I have lived the majority of my life to its fullest? I guess I'll just have to ask my wife.

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