My space

The upside of living alone together

My Space
The upside of living alone together

In the ’70s, love may have meant never having to say you’re sorry, but it may start to mean never having to say you’re sorry about painting the dining room fuchsia, hanging the art you like or drying your lingerie in the bathroom.

Are you keen on companionship but having trouble imagining sharing your space with anyone? Join the club–the Living Alone Together (LAT) club, that is. LAT types consider themselves to be in a committed relationship – with or without the marriage certificate – but take delight in having (or are forced to have) a dwelling separate from their partner’s. Virginia Woolf gave credence to the idea of having a room of one’s own, but that just seems so 20th century now. How about an apartment, a house or a city of one’s own?

While the LAT phenomenon is not yet topping the statistics charts (as of 2001, when Statistics Canada first collected the data, eight percent of Canadians over the age of 20 were in LAT arrangements), it says something that it’s now considered a category worthy of our attention.

Likewise for the U.S. and the U.K.: a 2005 report by Britain’s Office for National Statistics found there were roughly two million people between the ages of 16 and 59 living apart together (about three percent of the U.K. population). In the United States, a 2006 population survey found that 3.8 million people were living without their spouses (approximately one percent of the current population).

Julia Perry and her partner, Wolf Hengst, have found living in different cities works for them. They’ve been in a committed relationship with one another for eight years but have lived in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, for nearly the past three. “It does offer that luxury that you always feel like you have your own little space or your own life outside of the life you have in your relationship,” says Perry. Another perk? “There’s always that kind of electricity that happens when you haven’t seen each other for a couple of nights,” she says. “I’m like a teenager it’s, like, three more sleeps, two more sleeps….” (Perry and Hengst typically spend weekends together in one metropolis or another.)

And the distance between doesn’t have to be profound, either. Cases in point: Woody Allen and Mia Farrow once lived on opposite sides of New York City’s Central Park, and Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre resided in separate corners of Paris.

Not surprisingly, active and busy careers have helped invent some of these modern arrangements. Perry and Hengst lived together for four years in Toronto until Perry was transferred to Los Angeles for work, where she lived for 18 months. Then, she landed her current job as director of publicity for the 20th Century Fox Film Corporation in New York, a plum position she couldn’t pass up. Hengst, who recently left his post as president of worldwide hotel operations for Four Seasons Hotels, has traveled for work about 60 percent of the time that the couple has been together, jetting off to, say, South America or Singapore.

“It’s wonderful to have a partner who supports your work,” says Perry. “And you do those things because you think it’s best not only for you as an individual but, in the long run, it will be great for you as a couple. I think in modern couples you want your partner to feel like they’re contributing to society, they’re doing something that they enjoy because that makes them happy.” And we all know what being happy individually can do for a partnership. “Those are the things that keep our relationship fresh and sexy.”

Perry’s weekday evenings are often spent attending premières or special events, and she admits, too, that her non-domestic arrangement works well with the demands of her schedule: “It’s nice to be able to have the freedom of not worrying about your partner sitting at home.”

Not to mention not having to negotiate decor – Perry’s apartment in midtown Manhattan is considered “theirs,” but it’s her tastes that dominate. “I definitely made the New York apartment my own. It’s considered ours, but I didn’t feel it had to be a reflection of both our personalities.”