We're married, but do we have to live together?

I love my husband, but I need my own place.

Published December 8, 2005 11:34AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I've been married for seven months to a great man. I'm 43, had never been married and was very happy being single. I enjoy my solitude and autonomy and didn't think I was cut out for marriage, which was fine by me. Then this man came into my life ... totally loving, accepting of my idiosyncrasies, a great partner in every way. I didn't exactly feel fireworks, but I'm mistrustful of fireworks anyway. With him it was a more gradual awareness of the quality of person he was, the way that he loved me and how lucky I was to have someone like him in my life. I approached the relationship with openness and made a very thoughtful decision to share my life with him.

So, I moved out of my little home in an inner-city neighborhood, which I loved. We got a house together that is close to the university where's he's in graduate school. I'm not happy living in the charmless neighborhood and if I'm honest with myself I'm not happy sharing a home with anyone.

I don't want out of the relationship or marriage. I just want to go back to living by myself ... seeing each other several times a week as we did before. I want to be able to come home from work and have the house to myself sometimes, not have him always be there. My husband is open to some unconventional ideas and under different circumstances I would broach the subject. However, shortly after we married he decided to go back to get his PhD and so financially we can't afford to keep two separate residences right now.

I've had friends tell me this is just a normal adjustment period. If that's the case I'm willing to work at making that adjustment. I also realize that there are sacrifices involved in building any good relationship. I'm making the sacrifices with a pure heart and I'm still not happy, but then I wonder if I need to look at it over the long term. When I get to the end of my life will I be glad I made the sacrifices necessary to build something beautiful with someone?

We do have separate bedrooms, which has helped some. And if I wanted to do more things with my friends or independently he'd have no problem with that. But my gut is telling me that's not the issue and that I'm just not cut out to live with anyone; that I'm always going to need to have my own place to be deep-down-in-the-core happy.

I guess I'd like a little more clarity on the relationship between love, sacrifice, autonomy and happiness.

Reluctant Cohabitor

Dear Reluctant,

If you need your own place to be happy, then I would encourage you to look for a way to have your own place and remain married. Since you can't afford it now, you will have to wait until you can afford it. But I suggest that you trust your instincts on this. It's a workable alternative to cohabitation for some couples, as this article in the San Francisco Chronicle points out.

As to the philosophical problem, I, too, would like a little more clarity on the relationship between love, sacrifice, autonomy and happiness. But I cannot really think about that right now because there are people in the kitchen. Well, not exactly in the kitchen. There is no kitchen anymore. There used to be a kitchen. Now there is just an area. In that area, people are working with a radial arm saw and a nail gun.

So I am having trouble thinking.

That's my problem. But my problem relates to your problem: My job is to cultivate thoughts, to grow them from little niblets into fully developed structures. The thoughts take time to develop. They need to develop uninterrupted. They're delicate crystals built in the air, each part suspended by an act of consciousness; they're precarious, like data in RAM, if you will: A crash, or a power outage, or any interruption of the system that holds them in crystalline suspension, and the whole thing falls down and you have to start over.

So if there are people around it can be hard to do the job.

Not everyone is a writer by trade. But many people have the same problem: Identity, or consciousness, or well-being, can be a delicate crystalline structure as well; any interruption and the identity crashes. Consciousness becomes muddled. There are people who are not writers who nonetheless live in the imagination, whose identities and sense of the world are precarious structures. They read books and think about the ideas in the books. Or they wake up from a dream-filled sleep and want to think about the dreams, which hover on the edge of consciousness. So even having to say hello to another person in the morning can make the whole thing collapse.

Such people can find it difficult not to have control of their own space.

I'm not complaining. I don't think you are complaining either. You're just trying to face the truth and make adjustments. We make these choices. We ask people with nail guns and radial arm saws to come into our area and make it better. We fall in love and move in with someone. We borrow large sums of money and promise to pay it back. We worry the people we live with. They want to talk to us about paying the money back, and we want to live in our little world of precarious crystalline structures.

I'd better go into the office now.

But I say this from the heart: Trust your instincts. I believe you can find a way to have your own place and also have the love of your life near you.

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