Love & Sex

Why More Couples Want to Live Separately

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You can Skype your husband. Do you really need to see him?

Remember in Sex in the City when Big and Carrie decide to live apart on certain days of the week? It was portrayed as a bad omen portending the end of whatever particular incarnation of their relationship they were muddling through at the time. But would you prefer live away from your partner? Would you prefer to live apart from your spouse? Apparently, this is a growing trend in the US, with the number of married couples choosing to live apart growing from 1.7 million in 1990 to just over 3 million today. That's over 3% of all married couples.

Though the numbers doubtlessly reflect the number of couples who live apart in different cities— the tumultuous economy and lack of jobs in any one city might explain some of the rise—there seem to be instances where couples living in the same city just plain don't really want to look at each other all the time, and so they retain separate residences. Also, the divorce rate still hangs out above 50%, so perhaps some less-optimistic individuals see more value in keeping a separate residence.

I'm not looking to get married anytime soon, but I think there's a lesson to be learned here around cohabitating with your significant other as well. Nearly five million couples were cohabitating in the United States in 2005. Sometimes the motivation is to "test drive" your coupledom before you make the big commitment (60% of couples who cohabitate are married within five years), sometimes (especially here in New York) it's an effort to minimize expenses, but oftentimes it seems couples move in together because that's what they're supposed to do.

The idea that if you like and love someone, then you ought to want to see their face every morning and night is a powerful cultural narrative. But as gender roles continue to shift—now both men and women are equal partners capable of paying their own rent thank-you-very-much—the number of folks living independently while in a relationship is sure to rise.

Independent living arrangements within a committed, long-term relationship radically re-imagines what it is to be "serious" or "married". It's possible that this scenario will continue to play out more and more often. Technology has effectively bridged the gap of distance; we can call, Skype, text, and sext our way to digital intimacy. With all the ways that we tend to keep in touch with our significant others—texts throughout the day, reading their status updates and tweets, maybe a little gchat at work—it's no wonder that couples desire more space. In the 1950s, when men went off to work and women cared for the home, the only time a couple had to communicate and spend time together were evenings after the man returned. Now that we virtually interact constantly, maybe it's not such a bad idea for some couples to hold on to their physical independence.