I thought my friend’s uncle was the coolest person I’d ever met. He wore sunglasses no matter what the weather was—and whether or not he was indoors—and seemed to constantly have a hangover. But, most importantly, he and his wife had not one, but two apartments in London. They both spent time in their separate apartments during the week and then, on the weekend, would go to their shared cottage by the sea. I was sure that they were as cool as a couple could possibly be—but now it turns out they were just ahead of the curve.
More and more couples are choosing to have separate living spaces. One study found that 39 percent of adults over 50 who were partnered, but not married, were living apart. This trend, called living apart together (or “LAT”) is on the rise—especially among older adults, according to Laura Funk, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Manitoba. Rather than nesting and building a life together, couples are opting to keep their separate lives—and homes—as they enter into a romantic relationship. Here’s what you need to know about LAT couples and how you can tell if it’s right for you.
Why Older Adults Are Leading the LAT Trend
The over-50 set seems to be leading the LAT movement. Although it may seem counterintuitive to see seniors and older adults leading a relationship revolution, it makes a lot of sense. Older adults are often getting into relationships after being divorced or widowed—or maybe they’ve never been in a relationship before. In any of these cases, they’ve had a long time to set up their life just how they want it. And let’s not forget, they also grew up in an age of stifling, dated gender roles—so a little freedom can go a long way.
For many of them, they feel like they’ve been through the traditional relationship model, they’ve made their lives their own, and they don’t want to give that up—but they still want an intimate and romantic relationship. The seemingly obvious solution is to get into relationships where both partners can keep their homes, their finances, their routines, and, ultimately, their independence. It's a life of having your home decorated just how you want it, dealing with only your mess, having your own sleep schedule, and always getting the good coffee mug. When you think of it that way, it seems pretty appealing—and you might start to wonder why more people don't join the LAT ranks.
Does It Work for Everyone?
First, there are a few good reasons that LAT might not work for you. Not the least of which is that you need to be able to afford two homes, which might not be possible for many younger couples. You also may still be starting your life together, raising your kids together, or feeling like you're still building your relationship—even if you’ve been together for years. But that’s not to say that LAT can’t work for younger couples. If one of you has a job that leads you away, if one or both of you need a lot of personal space and time to recharge, or if you simply feel that your relationship benefits from missing each other and then reconnecting, LAT might be the answer. Not everybody needs to feel like their lives are totally entwined.
But You Need to Be Aware of the Risks
LAT can be a completely healthy, happy relationship setup, but like any arrangement, it comes with risks. If you get the feeling that you or your partner are intrigued by LAT as a stepping stone to simply breaking up or getting divorced, then you obviously have larger issues to deal with. You also need to be a couple who’s very secure in your trust for one another. When you’re living together, there’s a certain amount of day-to-day contact that just happens—when you’re not living together, you might feel adrift.
So if you’re interested in trying a LAT lifestyle, start small. You may want to try staying in a hotel room occasionally before you move towards renting a second home—and definitely before you purchase one. Try to be honest with yourself about whether this arrangement makes you happier, makes your relationship stronger, and seems sustainable.
On the other hand, if you’re getting into a serious relationship, LAT is a good reminder that moving in together doesn't have to be a relationship milestone—or part of the relationship at all. One of the great parts about modern dating is that there’s less of a societally enforced one-size-fits-all approach and more of an opportunity to make your relationship work for you. If you love your partner and want to start a life with them, moving in together doesn't necessarily have to be a part of that.
LAT may be on the rise among older couples, but it's easy to see why it would be appealing to all different age groups. It's a chance to have your independence while still maintaining a meaningful romantic connection. It might not be for everyone, but it's nice to remember that you can shape a relationship to fit your life—rather than the other way around.