Two's a crowd

As more and more couples choose not to move in together, the terms of commitment are being redefined.

Sarah Goldstein
May 5, 2006 12:29AM (UTC)

"Home Alone Together," an article in today's New York Times Home & Garden section, looks at the rising trend of couples in long-term relationships who live separately. "Living Apart Together" -- L.A.T. for short -- is the new term for Woody-and-Mia-style couples who want to be together, but don't want to cohabitate.

L.A.T. doesn't mean 30-somethings are afraid of commitment. In fact, the article implicitly critiques the idea that a truly happy adult relationship requires that you live with your partner. The Times reports that although "hard numbers are difficult to come by" -- there is no L.A.T. category on the U.S. Census -- "a survey-based British study published last year estimated that a million couples in Great Britain are currently in L.A.T. relationships," and figures are on the rise in Holland, Sweden, France and Canada as well.


David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, told the Times that "partly what we know anecdotally, [and from] the fact that every other significant European trend in family life has turned out to be happening in America," we can infer that "L.A.T. relationships are on the rise in the United States, too."

And what is the demographic group of L.A.T.ers? Well, the Times spoke almost exclusively to couples older than 45, many of whom had been previously married. According to the Times, one of the reasons many couples choose not to live together is because blending families with children from previous marriages is often complicated and many people don't want to try it. Another reason for the increase in these relationships may be "a growing unwillingness to compromise." Gail Sheehy, author of "Sex and the Seasoned Woman," has opined that "as you age, you have more commitments and possessions in your life that you are attached to that the other person may not want to share."

Unfortunately, the whole critique falls short because other than one offhand mention by a New York socialite, it fails to mention that many couples live together out of economic necessity. (Though the Times had a smart piece (subscription required) last August looking at the unprecedented number of young couples who are moving in together to save on rent.) One half of an L.A.T. relationship said, "You can't put a dollar value on being your own person." Alas, you can -- and, indeed, must -- put a dollar value on housing costs.

Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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