Is living apart the new being together? Quite possibly, if a new university study is anything to go by.
It is a detailed look at a social phenomenon which has been dubbed ‘living apart together’ – that is to say, couples who form relationships but do not move with one another. Apparently an extraordinary nine per cent of British adults are involved in such relationships.
‘LATs’ as they have been dubbed are spread more or less evenly round the country and found in all sections of society, according to the report, entitled Living Apart Together: uncoupling intimacy and co-residence.
There are other surprises lurking in the statistics. Only eight per cent of LATs do so because of their jobs. Eleven per cent of LATs are over 55!
What’s more, two thirds of LATs live within ten miles of each other and the vast majority (86 per cent) are in daily contact.
So what might be going on? At first glance you might assume that LATs are simply still at the ‘getting to know each other’ stage in their relationships and simply not ready to move in together. But one of the researchers, Professor Sasha Roseneil, insists that is not the case.
“Most people in LAT relationships have a strong sense that they are a couple, and many are in long-term relationships to which they are deeply committed.”
In a deeply committed relationship but not willing to move in together? Not so long ago, that would have been a contradiction in terms, but nowadays it seems to make sense to many people – particularly, it seems, those who already experienced painful breakups.
To quote Professor Roseneil again:
“Nowadays very few people settle into a life-long relationship in their early twenties and stay with their partner “until death us do part”. People have complex relationship histories, and they often carry with them the emotional legacies of divorce and separation.”
‘Living together apart’, to use to that inelegant phrase, is, it seems, a way to enjoy a relationship whilst keeping its riskier elements at arm’s length. It’s so much easier to call it quits when there is no property to split, no house to sell, no marital money to wrangle over. You just stop seeing each other, feel sad for a little while, and then go on your way. For people who have been through a painful breakup or two, that must be a very attractive proposition.
Professor Roseneil is clear about this motivation.
“For some people, more or less consciously, living apart together is a way of dealing with the messiness of intimate life today, protecting themselves, their children and their homes from some of the distress that they have previously experienced when a cohabiting relationship breaks down.”
Most of us enjoy a huge amount of freedom when it comes to our relationships and romantic lives in the 21st Century. Long gone for most are arranged marriages and expectations of lifelong commitment. But with freedom can come uncertainty, confusion and risk.
Almost none of us manage to get through life without acquiring a few emotional dents, some more than others, and few of us are keen to rush back into situations which have made us unhappy in the past. But we all need friends and we all want to be loved. Living together apart is clearly one way to square that circle for a surprising number of people – even these are relationships with absolutely no legal foundation.
Professor Roseneil optimistically declares: “We would like to see LAT couples have the right to ‘opt in’ to legal recognition – for protection in case of separation or bereavement – and to be taken into account by those providing personal, health and social care services, such as relationship counselling and family support.”
It’s a nice idea but I can’t see it happening any time soon: not when we’re still waiting for the government to introduce a proper cohabitation law in this country!