Lois Peacock had never heard of the term “live apart together” when she and her husband of 58 years, Gordon, decided to spend part of every week separately—she in their San Francisco home and he in their Penngrove home.

There was no big discussion about it either. “It just happened,” she says.

Actor Gillian Anderson lives apart from her partner, the writer-producer Peter Morgan. "If we did, that would be the end of us," Anderson told the Sunday Times. "It works so well as it is – it feels so special when we do come together." © Kevin Winter/Getty/AFI

But it was clear to her that when he retired from his OB/GYN practice in 2000, staying in San Francisco was not going to make him happy. He wanted to live full time in Penngrove, a sprawling property with olive trees, grape vines, and orchards that they bought as a vacation get-away in 1997.

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“It was obvious that he was finished with living in the city,” she says. “He grew up in the country, in North Carolina.”

But Peacock, long retired from her role as executive director at Bay Area Health Ministries, didn’t want to give up the decades-long connections with friends and her church in San Francisco.

Spending several days apart and getting together for a long weekend every week seemed to be a perfect way to honor both their individual needs as well as their marriage.

“I know I would not be happy full time up there. I would have to make a life there and why would I do that now, at age 86?” she says. “I think Gordon likes it, too. He can eat when he wants to eat, not when I prepare meals. He can have his TV uninterrupted for as long as he wants.”

The Peacocks are just one of the growing numbers of couples across the country and the world who are embracing what’s called a “live apart together” (LAT) relationship. Dutch journalist Michel Berkiel first deemed the lifestyle “LAT/lat,” a Dutch word meaning “stick,” in 1978, but the acronym only started catching on the English-speaking world in the past two decades. It’s defined as two people who are in a committed romantic relationship, are seen by others as being a committed romantic couple, and who live in separate places.

While it’s hard to know how many people are in LAT relationships, it’s estimated that about 10 percent of adults in Western Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia live apart from their romantic partners. Britain may be the country with the highest population, with nearly a quarter of people statistically defined as “single” actually have a romantic partner who lives elsewhere.

But no matter how many people live apart from their partner, social scientists say the LAT phenomenon is growing. And for some very good reasons.

What does LAT look like?

According to numerous studies, LAT relationships can offer the same kind of love, commitment, intimacy, and stability as couples who live together have while also allowing each partner a sense of independence. There aren’t many types of romantic arrangements that can do that.

As social psychologist Samantha Joel writes, LAT couples often experience more passion, idealize their partners more, daydream about their relationship, and report more loving feelings toward their partner than couples who live together.

“In choosing to live apart, my husband and I are really choosing to honor our individuality and honor each other’s personal growth.”
―Lise Stoessel, author of Living Happily Ever After—Separately

The LAT lifestyle is particularly popular with people like the Peacocks, in their 60s and older, in part because they often have their own homes and established communities, prompting researchers to conclude that the LAT lifestyle is an alternative to cohabitation and marriage for older adults.

Berkeley therapist psychologist Judye Hess, a Baby Boomer, has lived apart from her romantic partner for more than 24 years. It’s worked well for them—they are a few minutes’ walk from each other—but Hess acknowledges that couples who chose that lifestyle often face judgment and stigma.

Sharon Hyman, a Montreal filmmaker in her 60s who’s making a documentary on LAT relationships (whom she cleverly calls apartners), and who has lived apart from her romantic partner for more than two decades, has heard it all. “You’re just friends with benefits,” is a typical comment.

“It’s been more than 23 years. Those are some benefits!” she writes in a first-person essay for Today. “I don’t know too many casual daters who are the executors of each other’s estates and have each other’s powers of attorney.”

Many people don’t understand why couples who love each other wouldn’t want to share the space. After all, isn’t that what couples do—and “should” do?

Yet Hess and fellow North Bay therapist Padma Catell say they have worked with way too many couples struggling with trying to fit into what they call “a very narrow model for long-term relationship that does not work well for their personalities.”

Lisa Lubin and her partner, Chris. © Courtesy of Lisa Lubin

If couples believe there’s only one way to have a happy, healthy long-term relationship, and they repeatedly can’t make it happen, it “leads to a lot of pain and to repeated feelings of failure for one or both of the partners.”

That’s what Lisa Lubin, an Emmy Award-winning producer, told me while I was researching for my forthcoming book on live apart together relationships. Lubin reunited with a high school friend 13 years ago, when they were both in their 30s—she was living happily in Chicago, and he lived in New Jersey. His children were still young and things were tense when Lubin, who never wanted to be a mother, visited him.

After trying to make it work for a few years, they thought they weren’t compatible, so they broke up. But they were still very much in love. When she had an aha moment—“We don’t have to live together!”—they got back together. They still live apart from each other, but Lubin moved closer to him during the pandemic.

When are boundaries good for couples?

Sometimes it isn’t personalities that don’t mesh well, it’s lifestyle.

When Hyman and her romantic partner first met, living apart in their two modest rent-controlled apartments made practical sense. “Our schedules were completely opposite — he was up at the crack of dawn, working 10-hour days, sometimes six days a week,” she writes. “I have a more flexible schedule and often work late into the night.”

But when he retired recently, they didn’t feel a need to change anything although they’ve been considering moving into a duplex, living separately but in the same building.

Women are often drivers of live apart together relationships, which is why they have been called the “gender revolution continuing into old age”—a nod to the fact that Boomer women have been on the forefront of restructuring family life in the past few decades.

Living apart from their romantic partner is a way that women can avoid the gendered caretaking and housekeeping they often do and typically are expected to do. LAT is especially attractive if the women had lived with male partners before and perhaps did the bulk of childcare as well.

“I don’t want to take care of anybody. I want to take care of me,” Rhoda Nadell, a long-divorced resident of Montreal told the Globe and Mail in 2019. “You want to be friends and get together, when I say it’s okay to get together? Fine. But to be in a relationship where I have to answer to somebody else? Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again.”

The article, titled “The new reality of dating over 65: Men want to live together; women don’t,” garnered more than 500 comments, mostly from women. Many reiterated what a 2007 study of single, widowed, and divorced women aged 60 and older who were actively dating revealed—they were so protective of their freedom that they were “willing to be lonely before sacrificing independence.”

Mary Chase is not lonely. After a long-term marriage ended, Chase, a writer and media producer in her late 70s, didn’t want to re-create that dynamic. But she needed to live with others to afford pricey Marin County rents. Plus, she wanted to feel part of a community.

Mary Chase and John Tyler. © Lindy Woodard

Rather than cohabit with her boyfriend of 16 years, she rents a house in Novato with three other women, all aged 50 and older. Her romantic partner, John Tyler, lives a quiet life off the grid on the Central Coast—property he did not want to leave. They travel back and forth in their Teslas on the weekends. 

It’s the “best of both worlds,” she says.

One of the biggest concerns about LAT relationships is that it’s only for the wealthy. Of course, people who form romantic relationships were already living separately when they met, perhaps solo, or with family members, or with friends, like Chase. Nothing really needs to change once they decide to be a committed couple.

True, living together might help them save money, but a romantic decision shouldn’t be confused with a financial decision. And only looking at the financial savings of cohabiting doesn’t take into consideration other costs, such as the psychological cost if you have to live farther away from your family and friends.

There are cost-benefits to everything, Debra A. Neiman, a certified financial planner and principal of Neiman & Associates Financial Services tells me by phone from her Massachusetts office. “There’re two lenses, a financial lens and an emotional lens. Minimizing the [financial] cost may not always be the best thing for the couple emotionally.”

Can we balance freedom and commitment?

As much as the LAT lifestyle is popular with Third Agers (those in the last third of their lives), it also has fans among people who have children from previous romantic partnerships and aren’t eager to try to mesh their families into a Brady Brunch-like arrangement.

It’s one thing if stepfamily conflicts are resolved by the end of a TV sitcom episode, it’s quite another thing to make it work in real life.

“Trying to fully blend families can be hard,” says Mandi Kreitel, who lives in Alaska with her children 360 miles apart from her husband, who also has children from a previous marriage. In addition to having different parenting styles—“I’m definitely a disciplinarian; he’s definitely more fun”—they each share custody with their former spouses, making moving in together or even moving closer to each other a challenge.

But even if custody isn’t shared with a former partner, or there isn’t a former co-parent, many parents don’t want to move their children away from their schools, neighborhoods, friends, health care providers, and perhaps extended family.

Louise, who prefers to just use her middle name, doesn’t have children but her boyfriend of nearly four years has a young daughter from a previous marriage. They live across the street from each other in Novato and while they spend a lot of time together—usually at his house because his daughter’s things are readily available—Louise is thankful that she doesn’t have to do any hands-on parenting. She can enjoy time with them and then retreat to her home, which is cleaner, quieter, and less chaotic, she tells me.

Although some women in LAT relationships do some “mothering” of their partner’s children, they do it on their own terms, and not every day, according to one study. That removes a lot of pressure.

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The LAT lifestyle is also attractive to same-sex couples, especially gay men. Although many same-sex couples want a LAT relationship for the same reasons as heterosexual people—different sleep schedules, levels of cleanliness, a desire for solitude and autonomy—one study found that some gay men were in an open relationship and having separate living spaces helped them practically and emotionally. For other same-sex couples, it was a way to maintain privacy about their sexual relationships, especially to unaccepting family or in parts of the country where LGBT stigma is still strong or parts of the world where it’s illegal.

A few couples have looked to LAT arrangements to save their marriage and avoid divorce, which is often expensive. Lise Stoessel was one of them. When she realized her marriage wasn’t working for her, even after years of counseling, she told her husband that she wanted to try living apart as a way to salvage their partnership, which she details in her 2011 book, Living Happily Ever After—Separately. It’s been 15 years and both of them are happy.

“In choosing to live apart, my husband and I are really choosing to honor our individuality and honor each other’s personal growth and honor each other’s path and giving each other space to be who we are and who we want to become,” she tells me. “It’s so much less constrained.”

Will the LAT lifestyle continue to attract more converts? Once people realize they have options on how to shape their romantic relationship in a way that honors their goals and values, it just might.

“People haven’t looked at alternative ways of being in relationships or being married,” Beverly Hills therapist and relationship expert Sherrie Sims Allen, who lived apart from her husband for five years, tells me. “I like that it’s coming out of the shadows.”

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