shhh... it's a secret

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To Cohabitate or to Not Cohabitate?

That apparently, is the question.

When I first watched the movie Frida, one thing about Frida Kahlo's relationship with Diego Rivera really struck me. (Okay, well, a few things struck me, but I am only going to write about one thing here.) Kahlo and Rivera were married, but they did not cohabitate. In other words, they maintained separate residences. Often times they lived adjacent to each other. To be honest, the first time I heard about this, I was intrigued, but we are talking years ago so I quickly forgot about this. I recently (as in within the last four months) discovered that another famous couple also chose to maintain separate domiciles, Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton. I am a huge fan of their work, and when I heard they did not live together, I was again intrigued.

I proceeded to do a little research, and I discovered that not only are there millions of couples out there who do this, but there is also a term for it. It is called "Living Apart Together" (LAT), and it is a concept that is said to have originated in the Netherlands. Couples cite numerous different reason for choosing to live apart. Some LAT couples do so because of their jobs. Some do so because they have children from a previous marriage and combining households would be disruptive. Some LAT couples, like Kahlo and Rivera, live apart in order to pursue extra-marital affairs. And some couples just do it because they do not like the thought of living with someone else.

 These two were not about to give up their
whoring ways for anyone.

Let me explain why this whole LAT thing has me so intrigued. I lived with someone, off and on, for six years out of our nine year relationship. During those six years I learned more about the other person than I ever wanted to know, I gave up more of my personal space and time than I ever wanted to give up, and I had to compromise more than I was comfortable with in regards to decor, routine, and lifestyle. Of course, at the time, I was not aware of any of this. It was not until moving out that I had such a revelation.

I have never considered myself to be a selfish person, however, I have always known that I am a very private, introverted individual. I enjoy my alone time and I require a lot of it. I like the freedom of being alone. I like the freedom of being able to pick up my art supplies at 2 o'clock in the morning and drawing for three hours while in bed. I like the freedom of being able to hop in the car and run to the grocery store or the bookstore on a whim. I like the freedom of being able to eat a quickly thrown together dinner at 9 pm while reading a book, watching TV, and listening to the latest album I downloaded. Living with someone else makes this very difficult to do. Plus, I'm an insomniac, and being an insomniac and living with someone else do not work well together.

I am also a very visual person, and having things around me that I find to be visually pleasing makes me happy. It is very difficult for me to live with someone whose own style contrasts greatly with my own. As an artistic person, aesthetics is very important to me. To cohabitate with someone(s) who has little regard for colors, shapes, patterns and style, is highly aggravating. And to sacrifice my visual pleasure because of someone else's lack of taste is something I am not necessarily willing to do.* 

Some people argue that when you marry or just commit to another, you should then gather up your two separate lives and create a new, joint life together... as a couple. And you will then live happily ever after, together, forever. But of course, not without a lot of work. And not without some arguing and disagreeing and compromising. Once upon a time, I believed this as well, but as I venture through my journey of self-discovery, I am beginning to believe this less and less.

 See what these two have to say about their living
arrangements: Mr. and Mrs. Mad Hatter.

I have always maintained the philosophy that the most important thing in life is to be happy, regardless of what that entails. In my opinion, if you are happy, then your life is fulfilled. Call me naive, or just plain stupid, but I would rather be happy in life than living to just "make things work". I don't necessarily believe that one needs to make numerous compromises and give up parts of themselves in order to commit to another person. In fact, I think life would be better for everyone if people didn't feel forced to compromise and reluctantly sacrifice the things about them that make them unique individuals.

When people first meet, they meet as individuals. Throughout the dating process, people are more than willing to make some sacrifices in order to get to know each other. They go to dinner, they go to shows, they rent movies and cuddle on the couch. As time goes by, their lives become more and more entwined with each other. In a perfect world, the two individuals will mesh perfectly together with very little disturbance to their lifestyles. In reality, many couples give up a lot of who they were as individuals for the sake of the relationship. In my opinion, this is one of the most damaging things that can happen to a relationship.

When you give up your hobbies, your lifestyle, the things that make you happy, you become an entirely different person. You are no longer the individual that your partner met and fell in love with. Over time the magic, the excitement, the novelty disappears. There are numerous tips and guides out there that advise couples on how to recapture the magic and excitement in their relationships. Instead of trying to recapture something lost, how can couples prevent the loss in the first place? What is it about committing to someone for the long-haul that creates mundane relationships and complacency?

I know what did it for me. For me it was getting to know the other person too well. It was getting to know all the little details, bad habits and annoyances of the other person. It was about hearing all the same stories over and over and over again. It was experiencing the same things as the other person, living the same life and then having nothing new and exciting to talk about. It was about giving up the things that make me me. It was about feeling obligated, through no fault of the other person, but just by being in a relationship, to do everyday things together. All the time. It was the obligation of eating meals together. The obligation of finding things to do on the weekends together. It was the suffocating, confining, panicky feelings an introverted loner feels whenever they have to spend a majority of their time with other people, regardless of who they might be.**

Things didn't work out quite as well for this famous
LAT couple.

I admire the LAT couples of the world. I am envious that they can afford to maintain separate living quarters, but more importantly, I envy their ability to recognize the importance of preserving their relationship by preserving their individual lives and happiness. And if by doing so they have to live apart, I applaud them for their strength, confidence and trust in each other to make it work. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera being the exception, of course. Their relationship was so destructive and toxic, I do not believe anything could have really helped their relationship to succeed. But maybe that worked for them. Different strokes and what have you.

Further reading:
Living Apart Together by Carrie Sloan

* This came off as sounding extremely pretentious. I apologize for that as I am very much not a pretentious person. Although at times I have my moments. It's just that I know what I like and I love what I like. And having personal preferences is not something I will apologize for.
** Or maybe I just wasn't ready. Maybe twenty-two was too young to move in with someone and make that kind of commitment. Maybe I didn't get the chance to live enough life as me before attempting to create a life with someone else. We may never know.


Sara Louise said...

A good family friend and her husband lived next door to each other for years. They would have dinner together and go out on dates, and they really enjoyed their time together. Her house with perfect, in lovely whites and antiques. His was like a frat boy house with a huge television, bar and lots of sports decor. The back doors were always opened and you just kind of walked in and out of each house almost like they were connected by an outdoor hallway. I always loved the setup and if I win the lottery, I'm buying my husband a house next door (and his bathroom can be as messy as he wants it!)

One Blonde Girl said...

@ Sara Louise- How cool. I'm curious as to what everyone thought of your family friend and her husband's arrangement. I think LAT is such a brilliant idea. I would love to have an entire house that reflects my style and not someone elses.

Writing Womb said...

A lot of my friends have this type of relationship and they are really happy people, and have very fun and healthy relationships! amen to everything you wrote, it's like you get in my brain and write down what i have been thinking for my whole life...are you sure we aren't related somehow? it's truly uncanny!
right now, although i crave love and all that, i prefer my own company and i haven't met a guy who would want a long term lets live apart relationship. i too like to spend a lot of time alone and when that happens, guys always think a. you are cheating on them or b. you are mad at them and then they just bother you even further to try to prove their first suspicion or try to ease over whatever guilt they feel! it's soooo intrusive and puts me on edge like i have to justify why i need some alone time...ugghh!
i lived with someone for 5 years and most of the time, it was just boring and brutal and i had to find excuses to escape so i could be alone for 5 fucking minutes...i think i love the idea of love and relationships more than the actual act.
this was a great post and i thoroughly enjoyed reading it

McGriddle Pants said...

Its a really interesting concept. I know I could never do it. But it sounds like you are more private than I am.

From the sounds of it, I think you really weren't ready to move in with someone. I think the patience, and knowledge of not actually being obligated to do EVERYTHING together comes with old(er) age. My boyfriend and I hang out a lot, but even together, we do things seperately.

But like I said, very interesting reading! Great blog! :)

DateMeDC said...

They say that the next big trend in house design is dual master bedrooms. A gay couple I know lives like that -- not quite the same thing as total separate residences, but you get the gist.

And I literally laughed out loud at your caption under the Kahlo/Rivera pictures.

MeredithDuck said...

It wouldn't be for me, but I can totally understand why some couples would choose to live this way. I'm not much for being alone, at least not for extended periods of time. I would be okay without a partner, but I would have to have some sort of roommate. And they'd have to be okay with me coming in their room ever so often to cuddle.

Salt said...

Well weren't they a lovely couple (Kahlo/Rivera).

Personally I would never be able to do this. Then again, I don't really have to. Even though we live in the same place, my husband and I are very much individuals. It's ok for me to go places without him and vice versa. When we are home, it's ok for us to be in separate rooms doing our own thing. I guess we would sort of be an example of the couple that meshed perfectly.

I have been in the other kind of relationship that you described and felt entirely smothered. Obviously that didn't work out, but I also feel like there IS that perfect person out there for everyone that they can have that non-disruptive mesh with.

Maybe I'm just an optimist, I don't know. Either way, this was a great post.

Stacie's Madness said...

ok, after having TWO, count them, TWO failed marriages...I don't know if I'd ever marry again, however this LAT...sounds perfect....simply PERFECT.

One Blonde Girl said...

@ Writing Womb- Do I even need to say it? Our brains must be connected on some sort of cosmic level. Or something. I'm sure we're not related. If we were, chances are you would find fault with just about everything I believe and/or say. Glad you enjoyed the post.

@ McGriddle- I'm thinking so too, although I often feel like I was more of an adult at 22 than I am at 30. We'll see. Thanks!

@ DateMeDC- Interesting. Yeah, well, if you know anything about the Kahlo/Rivera combo, I wasn being kind.

@ MeredithDuck- LAT isn't for everyone, obviously. That roommate thing sounds like an episode of Friends. I can just imagine it...

@ Salt- Uh, yes, lovely. That's exactly the word I used when I selected the picture. What a great looking couple, those two are. Optimist or not, kudos to you and your husband!

One Blonde Girl said...

@ Stacie's Madness- That's what I'm saying... said...

I am alllll for this!!! I think it's such a good idea. I'm an insomniac too and I want to rip my boyfriend's head off when he falls asleep the second he hits the pillow.

I have a friend who's been married for 15 years and her and her husband have separate bedrooms. Seems to work well for them.

Erin said...

Fascinating idea! I often say that if I'd lived with my husband before we married, we never would have gotten married. That commitment has forced us to work through all of the annoying shit.

Midwestern Mama Holly said...

You had me at Frida... my all time favorite artist. Ever.
She and Diego had some kind of relationship, but in the end it was a love story for the ages.

I think this LAT would have been good for the starter husband and I.

With this husband, I would miss him too much. He is the better half of me. Not to say there arent times I could do for this. Especially when I am picking up all the trails of left behind things.

One Blonde Girl said...

@ hiphophoppie- Ooh... people who can fall asleep that quickly really burn my biscuits.

@ Erin- I hate annoying shit.

@ MMH- As tumultuous as it was, their story was touching. Starter husband? I didn't even knew they made those? Is that some sort of mail-order thing?

Lindsay said...

1. Have you ever been to Frida's house in Mexico City? I visited last year and it was awesome. They had this little oasis hidden behind what looked like a random door on the street. There were so many rooms to go to. If you got bored with any one room, you just go to a new one. Love it.

2. I didn't know Helena Bonham Carter was Mrs. Time Burton. Shame on me.

And 3. I sometimes worry I like TOO much alone time and I also feel like relationships are a compromise and an obligation. Eesh. That sounds horrible I bought my own condo last year, and it's basically pink and sparkly and girly. I assume that one day I will live with a dude, and I'm not sure he's going to appreciate my silk and crystal tufted princess headboard. Oops.

One Blonde Girl said...

@ Lindsay- 1. I didn't even know that was possible. I gotta go! 2. Gee, and I thought I was out of touch. 3. Um... yeah, you might have a problem there, but hey, in the meantime it is all yours. Enjoy it!

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