Gwyneth Paltrow has caused quite a stir this week with the revelation that she doesn’t live full-time with her new husband, Brad Falchuk. But really people, this should not be earth-shattering news. Several of my neighbors and a few of my colleagues have this arrangement, and none of them are Hollywood stars or mega millionaires– but they are all over the age 45. So while young newly weds are not likely to sign up for keeping separate homes (and perhaps that is driven more by financial reasons than anything else), it’s not surprising for those of us that are older and more set in our ways to want to keep a little space that is all our own– especially when you have step family dynamics to contend with.
If you can suspend judgment for a minute, allow me to be brutally honest: It’s hard to share a bed, especially with someone that tosses and turns, has nightmares or snores, or simply hogs all the blankets. I don’t know about the rest of you, but a good night’s sleep is a necessity for me to be able to function (and not be crabby) the next day. Then there is the issue of cleanliness. I grew up in a house where cleanliness is next to godliness, and while I am no where near as OCD as my mom, the surest way to piss me off is to leave a mess within plain sight or in common areas. Next, we all have different eating habits, and while normally I would say what you eat is your business, that’s not exactly the case with someone you live with– because their unhealthy habits will inevitably concern you, and if you can’t stand the smell of something they like such as coffee or hot sauce in my case, then this can be a real irritant. Another sore point can be learning that your significant other has failed to cut the umbilical cord, and still needs to talk to his family every day, or worse is completely enmeshed with his/her ex. But by far the greatest source of frustration is that not everyone feels the need to carry his/her own weight when it comes to finances and division of labor with chores, and while most of us will gladly go out of our way for our own children, that same level of generosity does not necessarily apply to other adults or their children.
Now, notice how none of these things matter when you each retain your own safe space to retreat to at the end of the day? If you don’t feel like having company at the end of a long day, or you just want a good night’s sleep you can just head straight to your own place and meet up with your partner the next day. There’s no pressure to be neat, eat at a certain time, or even agree on what will be on the menu 7 nights a week when you still have your own pad. And on your nights alone, no one cares how long you talk to friends or family because there’s no one there to pass judgment. If you have kids, you can have your nights or weekends alone with them, sparing them the pressure of playing The Brady Bunch family 24/7. The most liberating part of all, however, is that you don’t have to argue about how much you save or spend on things if you do not merge your finances, such that each person remains solely responsible for his/her own financial well-being without dumping their problems on their partner’s lap.
I will admit that years ago when I first heard of the concept of living together, but in separate homes I thought the idea was silly. But with time, now at a different stage in my life, my view on this has drastically changed. Especially for those of us whose DISC score for independence is off the charts, if you can afford to keep your own place, don’t allow yourself to feel guilted or pressured into conforming with the “norm” of living together. This is 2019, and who says old social norms are the best way forward? In fact, I know from 21 years of helping couples with divorce that living together does not promote the healthiest scenario for love. Maybe the way to ensure love lasts, especially in the 21st century or at least for those of us over 40, is to allow each person to retain his/her own space, and over time we will prove that to be in a committed relationship you don’t really need to be together every night of the week. What you really need is mutual respect, trust, and transparent communications, something many families under one roof lack.
Together, but separate–not only are Gwyneth and Brad far from crazy, and they are far from alone.
By Regina A. DeMeo