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Friday, June 09, 2017

LAT: Not for Mature Audiences Only

Written by  Janan Broadbent, Ph.D.

I recently learned a new acronym: “LAT,” or “Living Apart Together.” It reminded me of a quote from Katherine Hepburn: “Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” Setting aside the gender reference, what does this trend to be in an intimate relationship but not living together say to us in this culture? How acceptable is it? How widespread is it in all age groups and minority populations? There is not much research on these questions.

In the early 1950s, cohabiting was a rarity, although I believe there was a gender factor: Two women in one house was a lot more acceptable as roommates, and less so for two men. Then, living together in anticipation of marriage became palatable. After all, there was the prospect of making an honest person (!) of one’s mate. By and by, norms relaxed and cohabiting and marriage equality became reality. This is not true in every corner of the country and in fact, European cultures are way ahead of us in this regard.

A recent article in Business Insider (Businessinsider.com/more-older-people-in-america-are-embracing-living-apart-together-2017-5) remarks that as a greater number of individuals are divorced or widowed, people want to have relationships but the complications of property and family life have created a need for a different lifestyle. As the population gets older in general, and as norms about cohabiting change, we may see more creative ways of maintaining a household.

Add to this the fact that one accumulates more assets as one gets older, and complications arise. Further, we develop habits that we do not wish to change as being independent becomes more salient. Think of an early riser who likes to go to bed early as well. Pair that person with a night owl who thinks of waking up well into the morning. Voila! Immediate conflict if each wants the other to conform to them. But…separate residences and problem solved.

The researchers in the piece above point to another issue: Language and what to label the partners. In the younger days, we used Boyfriend-Girlfriend; then came “SO” – Significant Other – eliminating the gender factor, and then emerged the generic “partner,” which may serve as the most appropriate term for LAT couples.

Having confronted the labeling issue, we can then get into the more difficult aspects of such connections: Finances. This is a matter that should be dealt with whether you are younger or older. How are bills paid? What if one works and the other is retired? How would assets be handled in the case of death? Once the legal ties such as in marriage are made null, there can be several ways of planning caretaking and asset-allocation. Never forget that factual matters have emotional ties. It is really beneficial to discuss these so you can avoid disappointments and hurt feelings.

I think it says a lot about the evolution of our society as we become accepting of all kinds of configurations in terms of gender and living arrangements. Whether you are a young adult or an older person, we should have the freedom to choose how we want to live and connect.

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