Don't We All Want to Live Apart From (Or at Least Less Suffocatingly Together With) Our Spouses?

The houses belonging Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, which were connected by a bridge.
The houses belonging Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, which were connected by a bridge.
Photo: AP

Here is the marital advice that a consultation with an “intimacy” counselor to the staahs can get you: The imprimatur to live apart from your significant other for the health of the relationship. This was the non-traditional guidance that Michaela Boehm reportedly gave Gwyneth Paltrow, who made headlines earlier this month with the news that she lives separately from her husband Brad Falchuk, spending only four nights a week under the same roof. Well, today, The Daily Beast interviews Boehm, who herself lives apart from her husband and explained, “I am a believer that the more space is taken between people, the better or stronger their erotic bond can be.”

Advertisement

The media frenzy over Paltrow’s recent announcement follows a spate of trend stories in recent years about what sociologists have preciously dubbed “living apart, together.” The coverage of, and resulting conversation around, living apart reliably gawks at these arrangements. Weird. Oh-kay. Huh. But there is also, unmistakably, the intrigue and envy.

Advertisement

Back in 2003, O Magazine published an essay with the title “The Occasional Husband,” in which a writer contemplated the pleasures of living apart from her husband four months out of the year while he taught as a professor in another state. At the time, the best argument for the arrangement felt like a woman’s escape from life within a family sitcom: “I don’t do anyone’s laundry or dishes,” the author wrote. “I don’t have to consider the question ‘Have you seen my glasses?’ at absurdly short intervals.” Fast-forward to 2017 and Glamour profiled “happily married couples who choose not to live together,” instead emphasizing the joys of independence.

Over the years, the concept has in the New York Times alone inspired a Modern Love column, a trend story, and a hearty debate on the opinion pages. Frequently, celebrity examples are invoked: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo famously lived in separate houses linked by a bridge. Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton similarly connected their houses with a spiral rooftop staircase.

These recurrent “apart, together” stories, which necessarily tend to focus on people with aspirationally unusual means, tell us less about a significant demographic trend than they do about a broader vicarious, wishful interest in the idea of HAVING SOME FREAKING SPACE GOD DAMN IT. We all want more time, more separation. That might mean a fantasy of separate houses or neighboring apartments—or just a little corner of a room untouched by that other human being with whom you share a bed and exchange farts every night. The middle-class manifestation of “living apart, together” is just the “she shed” and “man cave,” trends that communicate in over-the-top gendered stereotypes the sometimes suffocating, self-destroying effects of cohabitation.

These effects are not just bad for the soul, but also for boning, says Boehm. “It’s all very wonderful,” she told The Daily Beast of living together, “but one day you’ll be sitting next to each other on the sofa in sweatpants, eating chips, watching Game of Thrones. No one wants to get it on after that, right?” I might disagree, but point generally taken.

Advertisement

The observation that cohabitation can be a bummer not just for any sense of individuality or autonomy, but also for one’s sex life, isn’t unique to Boehm. Therapist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, has written extensively about how the prosaic realities of domesticity can kill sexual desire, how “love seeks closeness, but desire needs distance,” how our construction of romantic intimacy “reduces the sense of freedom and autonomy needed for sexual pleasure.” As she wrote in her book, “[T]oo much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. Then there is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter.”

If you’re rich, you can forgo the reams of marital advice books and complicated work of creating separation within a too-small shared home and just go ahead and buy another one. You can build a literal bridge.

Senior Staff Writer, Jezebel

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

angryfeministlabelaccepted
RiotPunkGothGrrrl

Okay, so no? I don’t want this. My partner and I aren’t married, which maybe has something to do with it, but we’ve been living together for five years. We both have our own friends and social lives outside of our relationship, but both friend groups get along well together, too (mostly). When one of us needs time alone, we take it. We also have Sunday night check-ins, where we sit down together and talk about problems we have, things we need but aren’t getting, things we have but don’t want, etc.

As far as passion, while there might (?) be more when you live apart, we found that just doing new things together serves the same purpose. We’ve taken ballroom dancing classes together, knitting classes (we’re both women, but men knit!), yoga classes, Judo classes, we’ve gone hiking (neither of us are sporty, so just walking uphill on dirt can be challenging), and a ton of other stuff; we take turns picking the activity—usually once per week—and we do that activity a minimum of 4 times before we quit unless we both hate it. The key is that it’s new; while the timing may be scheduled, the activity exists outside of our routine

The point of all that? The rush of doing something new together not only acts as a bonding activity, it transfers that thrill, that newness, to other areas of the relationship, or at least it has for us. It’s also been invaluable when it comes to finding new interests and developing new skill sets— I never learned how to swim when I was little, but now I can! Also, we made out behind the community center after, so Happy Pride Month, conservatives! Nyah!

Anyway, all of this is just to say that, while living apart may be one way to keep the passion alive in a long-term relationship, it’s not the only option. And the part in the article about having no space in our apartment that’s untouched by the other? It’s one of my favorite things; I loving seeing reflections of both of us everywhere I look. Again, though, we’re both women, so we clean up after ourselves without having to be told to. That shit helps.