Loving couples living apart together

You love your partner and your partner loves you, but neither desires getting married or blending households; you're committed to each other in an exclusive, intimate relationship, but have separate addresses and bank accounts. Some couples have been doing this for years, but there's a relatively new term for this arrangement: Living Apart Together, often referred to as LAT, and it's a growing trend, especially among couples who are well into adulthood.

It's a particularly convenient way of life for companions in their Act 2 years who own real estate, have grown children and all the accoutrements accumulated over decades of living. In an LAT relationship, no one gives up his or her home, finances don't become entangled and there's a little more "me" time for each partner, without worries about an Oscar/Felix situation evolving into a messy vs. neat showdown.

After Ed Jockers, 89, of Baldwin lost his wife of 50 years, he joined a bereavement group. When the six-week program ended, the group of eight men decided to continue meeting. "It's going on 15 years," said Jockers, who noted that each of the men has since found a mate. How many are LATs? "Every one of them, except for one guy who got married," says Jockers. "The rest are all 'keeping company.' "

Peter S. Kanaris, a couples therapist in Smithtown, says of the trend, "We are encountering LAT couples more frequently today. It is an alternative lifestyle that has found more social acceptance than in the past."

Autonomy with intimacy

The LAT concept has a particular appeal to older couples, Kanaris says. "Mature people that meet sometimes have long-established routines and patterns that can cause friction in a relationship if cohabitation is compulsory." The arrangement is successful for some because it "respects autonomy while allowing for intimacy. The key for it to work is that it is mutually desired," he says. "The couple must have good communication and make time for emotional and physical closeness. Acceptance by family and friends also helps it to work."

Of course, there are disadvantages to living apart. If one partner falls or doesn't come home because of a problem, the LAT partner may not immediately be made aware. There's no one to share the household chores, and if a health issue arises that requires hospitalization, a strict policy of "family only" can be invoked, cutting off the unmarried partner.

But the LATs interviewed for this story say the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Living Apart Together, they say, is a convenient way to love and enjoy a partner without squabbles over finances and families.

Changing times and attitudes have also made being a devoted couple with no legal ties easier these days. "If it were 20 or 30 years ago, people would think differently of it," says Ken Sparks, 77, of Deer Park. "Nowadays, there's no awkwardness of not being legally married."

Sparks and Harriet Morosoff are both widowed and have been together for 16 years. Both enjoy traveling. "We try to get away at least two times a year," said Sparks. "Maybe 30 years ago a woman would be embarrassed to check into a hotel together; that's not the case."

Morosoff, 74, of Massapequa Park said LATs are "very common these days. I know quite a few couples in the same situation." It's such a nonissue, she's rarely asked why she and Sparks don't marry or live together. They keep separate houses because they each enjoy their homes, neither wants to move and both are financially secure enough to maintain separate residences.

Dual dwellings and separate bank accounts can be a formula for romance. "This living arrangement keeps our relationship fresh," says Morosoff. And at holidays, they have the best of both worlds. "Our being different religions lets me share his Christmas and Easter, while he takes part in my Hanukkah and Passover."

Criteria for a successful LAT relationship? Logistics are important; those interviewed lived close to their partners. They should both be financially independent and an independent nature is also important; this isn't a lifestyle for someone who doesn't want to be alone, but rather an arrangement to optimize personal time in order to pursue hobbies, friendships or social groups to complement couple time.

Jockers met his lady friend through a church-sponsored widow/widowers club. "I spotted Joyce [Hadley] and we hit it off," he said. He took her to the Norman Levy Park and Preserve in Merrick, a former landfill site. "So the joke became that I took her to a dump on our first date!" Apparently, the location wasn't an issue; they've been a couple for 11 years.

Valuing time apart

In addition to the time they spend together, they enjoy their time apart. "It's convenient. Joyce is a very social lady and belongs to a lot of clubs," says Jockers, who plays golf and sees his buddies when he's not with Hadley.

Each is included in the other's family get-togethers, and both are loved and accepted by all. One of Jockers' sons calls him daily "and the last thing he says before getting off the phone is, 'Tell Joyce I love her.' " It's one big happy family, sans marriage certificate and a shared residence.

The legalities of a second marriage can sometimes complicate matters for those who have their own retirement funds, real estate and families from past marriages, in addition to intricate inheritance issues. Things can get thorny over a cash inheritance, the family antique clock, Mom's pearls or Dad's car. Living together poses similar concerns. But if there's no consolidation of households, there's no problem.

"I'm not on any of his papers, and he's not on any of my papers," explains Hadley, 77, who lives less than 5 miles away from Jockers in Oceanside. "It just makes it easier. We both have big families, we both have big houses. What's mine belongs to my kids, what's his belongs to his kids."

And keeping things separate now may help to avoid difficulties later. "We have each other and look after each other," Hadley says. "If anything goes really wrong, we have each other's families to consult." End-of-life decisions will be made by their respective children.

The LAT relationship also works for Steve and his friend, Laura, who didn't want their last names published. A 67-year-old widower who retired in 2007, Steve uses his time alone to pursue artwork. He paints, works in origami, collage and Adobe Photoshop. "Marriage didn't work out that well for me," said the Bay Shore resident. "Maybe there is some reluctance to go back into that situation." He views marriage as a way to establish a family and he's already raised his children, so there's no reason to exchange vows again.

Steve and Laura spend Wednesday nights and weekends with each other. If something comes up on one of their scheduled together days -- Laura does face painting shows and Steve likes to work in his studio -- they "invoke elasticity." This arrangement not only ensures scheduling freedom, it also fuels desire. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then the LAT relationship rules!

"The whole relationship is like this elasticity. You're not seeing each other for some time so there's this tension that builds up," Steve explains. "I think about Laura, we trade emails and then you get together, the elasticity brings you snapping back together. So it's part of the vitality and enjoyment of the relationship."

Children can be another key element in the LAT equation. Laura, 59, of Bohemia, is divorced with kids. Within the first year of dating Steve, both had adult children return to the nest. "Whatever arose for us as parents," Laura says, "by being separate it was easy for each of us to be supportive."

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