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Amy Schumer, and a long winter nap.
October 30, 2014
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SexPlusSanity: Couples Who Live Apart, Together
Sonya JF Barnett explores the world of couples who love each other, but don't share a living space

My partner, “The Man,” snores. It’s loud and disturbs me enough that I haven’t really had a good night’s sleep in years.  He’s also got a built-in furnace that’s always working overtime (great in the winter, not so great in the summer), and he weighs a tad more than I do. So, when he’s dead asleep, sprawled in the middle of the bed on his back, my sliver of mattress becomes less and less of a comfort.

When he asks “How’d you sleep?” every morning, he giggles when I say “Meh, you were LOUD.” When I tell him he wouldn’t budge when I tried to turn him over, or that I had to get up to sleep in another room, he feels enough remorse to offer up his own moving to another room that night. It’s a routine we go through pretty much every day.

Despite starting off many years ago as young lovers, sleeping so intertwined that one small movement could affect our whole nighttime dynamic, now that I’m in my 40s, a good deep sleep is much harder to come by. Snoring has gotten louder, my ability to sleep through it has gotten thinner. Not that it’s all his fault. Age has seen my sicknesses intensify. A cold that I could shrug off in a couple days in my twenties now lasts two weeks with coughing fits so harsh, I often think I’m going to suffocate to death. That and sniffly allergies means I’m not the best sleeping buddy at times, which makes me feel guilty at bothering The Man, in turn adding to my stress and fatigue. All in all, a pretty lovely cycle of zombie-eyed doom.

I remember watching I Love Lucy as a kid with my mum and always wondered why Lucy and Ricky slept in different beds. They weren’t even comfortable looking – just stiff single blocks separated by an apparently immovable nightstand. For a few years I thought Americans really slept that way (I later assumed that Lucy and Ricky must’ve been kinky seeing as she got pregnant, so maybe they did it on the kitchen counter). But that image of separate beds stuck with me.

I’ve been fantasizing about having my own bedroom for some time now (Really, it’s me fantasizing about my own queenly “wing,” but small steps)  The Man is often gone for weeks or months at a time due to production schedules, so I’m offered a glimpse of what it would be like. A queen-sized bed all to myself, whichever sheets I choose, no more sound of loose change dropping from pockets all over the hardwood. Also, ALL THE PILLOWS. 

Extend that a bit to eating whenever I want and keeping a pretty tidy house, and it’s with a tinge of sadness that I anticipate my lover’s return to the homestead. Yes, I’ve miss him per se, but our daily routine not so much.

I’ve hinted a few times over the years that maybe we could have our own rooms. “You know SoAndSo? They’ve had to sleep apart the last little while because he’s under super stress and isn’t sleeping…” I’d say holding my breath for the answer.

“Ach; I could never do that. I’d miss you too much.”

A few months or years go by before I revisit. My latest query was more desperate. I NEED SLEEP, DAMMIT. So I posited the question again, stating that me wanting a good night’s sleep is not exclusive from me loving him. He begins to understand that one third of my life should be taken more seriously.  

I had been reading about famous couples in non-traditional setups and my wheels began turning. Writer Fannie Hurst and musician Jacques Danielson lived in separate apartments, Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived in a two-dwelling house joined by a bridge, filmmakers Helena Bonham-Carter and Tim Burton also had two conjoined houses until the birth of their twins.

What finally caught The Man’s attention was an article on one of his favourite pulpy authors, the late Robert B. Parker. After 25 years of marriage, Parker and his wife decided the marriage wasn’t working and formally split. Two years later, they realized that they did genuinely love each other, and the result was buying a house to split into two apartments, living as a monogamous married couple. They were together like this for another 26 years until he died of a heart attack, her having found him at his desk on her daily check-in. This is my new idea of romantic.

Delving further, I discovered there’s a formal term for this type of relationship glory: LAT. Living Apart Together couples have, over the past couple of decades, become more recognized as a legitimate relationship. They’ve broken into statistical analysis just enough to be included into StatsCan numbers: as of the most recent study in 2011, 7% of Canadians over 20 are LAT. Though the younger side of the scale sees couples eventually wanting to cohabitate, the closer they get to 60, the less likely they are to choose to. I’m 40, so you can see where I’m headed.

There are many reasons why some couples decide on LAT. There are ‘commuter couples’ who work in different cities; those with other familial obligations like children or elderly parents; those who are restricted by financial means (younger adults who cannot afford to move out of their parents’ homes); but there is also a substantial percentage of those who just need some of their own time and space, and are much happier for it.

Critics of this type of arrangement say that wanting to live apart together is a sign of the end– that it works only to create emotional distance, eventually eroding the relationship.

Rubbish.

The Man and I have been together for over 16 years, and us both being self-employed much of that time means that we essentially spend 24 hours, 7 days a week together. Though we are still crazily hot for each other, working in the same home-office removes the “how was your day, what did you do?” re-connection conversation that most couples have at the end of their own work days. Time has become quantity over quality. Throw in household obligations and my own OCD that I can’t think straight if the house is dirty, and things get a bit lacklustre.

In interviewing some couples across Toronto that are LAT, there is a definite common denominator: being apart means having the opportunity be an individual, and having a strong sense of self that isn’t sleep deprived works to strengthen the relationship, not weaken it. Those interviewed have been in long term, committed relationships (over 5 years, some over 10, one couple almost 30) and find that LAT works best for all involved.

I recently took a “me” vacation, checking in to a small, minimalist condo that had everything I needed and nothing I didn’t. Small kitchen, bed next to floor-to-ceiling windows, walk-in closet, sparse bathroom. The Man and I texted or chatted almost every day and he came to visit me for ‘dates.’ I loved every second of it.

What’s not to like about being the master of your own space, and getting the lusty attention that one usually only gets at the beginning of a fresh relationship? And oh, how I slept.

With divorce rates hovering above the 40% mark in Canada, we need to renegotiate traditional modes of relationships and come up with more creative ways of living together. If that means living apart together, so be it, peanut galleries be damned.

So it’s not merely the fact of needing to sleep in different rooms. As the obligations of life – house-cleaning, laundry, cooking – and work stress pile up, romance and mystique get diluted. Though we have three floors of a house to traipse through and fill with stuff, we really don’t need them all. I now fantasize of our family unit of three living between 2 small condos where our wee man can pass between anytime he pleases, or even a Robert B Parker-style house; the Man responsible for his own place and I for mine. Without having to clean up after another adult, it would leave me more time to decompress from a stressful day and prepare for a hot date. Surely there’s nothing wrong with that. 

————

Sonya JF Barnett, also known as “The Madame,” is the founder of an erotic arts community called The Keyhole Sessions and the co-founder of SlutWalk Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @KeyholeSessions

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