“So, what are you and ‘J’ going to do?” a friend asked recently.
‘J’ is my boyfriend and we do a lot of things, some of which are not appropriate to discuss publicly.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you ever going to get married or live together or something like that?”
Oh, that question. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. ‘J’ and I have been in a committed monogamous relationship for almost eight years (although we had a year of non-monogamy early on), and he lives in his house and I live in mine. Neither of us wants to get married — we’ve both done that, and I’ve done it twice — and we’re not sure we want to live together either.
Our relationship doesn’t look a relationship is “supposed” to look, and so people feel uncomfortable about it.
“Why don’t you want to live together?”
After all, isn’t that what people who love each other do at some point or another?
Relationships used to be that way, but why do we think they have to be? And once you’re divorced with kids, there are many compelling reasons not to have your relationship look like that.
Early on, when his and my kids were young, mashing two families together seemed, well, scary. I know people do it all the time, creating their own versions of the Brady Bunch to various degrees of success. But since 60 percent of all second marriages end in divorce, and since the stepfamily situation often creates a mess for everyone — you, your former spouse and your new spouse and his/her new spouse, as well as the kids — and since second marriages don’t necessarily lead to marital satisfaction, why would I want to marry again?
Oh sure, we could have lived together. That’s not the message I wanted to send to my kids, however. Plus, the idea of putting them through another split was too painful to even think about if it didn’t work out; one divorce for kids is more than enough.
Now the kids are gone so we have no excuse. It’s just that we don’t want to. It’s not to say that sometimes I don’t long to come home to what seems familiar — someone to share stories of our day over dinner and a warm body to snuggle next to every night instead of just three or four. There are many, many pleasures that come with living with someone, which, between my two marriages, I did for nearly 20 years. And then there are the not-so-pleasurable things that come from living with someone for years.
We start to get annoyed by their habits — you know, the ones they always had, the ones we used to find “charming.” We complain that they’re not doing their share of (insert child-care, cleaning, yard work, laundry, etc., here). We get upset because they’re spending too much time (insert on the computer, watching sports, playing video games, hanging out with friends, shopping, etc., here). All of those things lead to disappointment, maybe resentment, so we stop having sex. And we start taking each other for granted.
And you don’t have to married to take each other for granted, as Susan Sarandon discovered after splitting from Tim Robbins after 23 years of living together and having two children with him:
“I thought that if you didn’t get married you wouldn’t take each other for granted as easily. I don’t know if after twenty-something years that was still true.”
But, marriage, the institution, doesn’t make us do or not do anything; the people in the marriage are responsible for how they act. Taking each other for granted is not part of any marriage vow as far as I know.
Maybe it’s the living together part.
A new study seems to confirm what ‘J” and I already know — couples that live apart feel happier in their relationship than couples that live together, and feel more committed and less trapped. When you live apart, you actively work on that commitment and trust; it’s never taken for granted.
Of course, I had a role model — my mother, a marital renegade. At age 50-something, she left my dad, dog and our cozy home in Queens, N.Y., to buy a condo in the Miami area and start a career and a new life independent of my dad, although they remained married for 61 years. For about 10 years, until he joined her in Florida, they lived apart.
So when people ask me, “Are you ever going to get married or live together or something like that?” I guess I’ll have to continue to answer, “Something like that.”
We’re free to create the relationship we want. I’ve created mine — have you created yours?
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