Just when you think America’s “all about me” culture has peaked – one finds
out there is so much more room for more “me.”
So it is with the new trend more and more Americans are apparently adopting
from our friends in Europe: “Living Apart Together” or LAT relationships. Such
arrangements, all the rage across the pond, are now increasingly popular in the
These are long-term, “committed,” openly sexual/romantic relationships
between a man and woman. Only, the players live – permanently – apart. Sometimes
these folks are even married to each other, but most typically they are simply
determined that they will not marry (or marry again) – ever.
What they all share is that they don’t want to share each other’s “space” _
This is no return to courtship.
“Home Alone Together” was the title of the recent New York Times spread
chronicling (and overall, it seemed, cheering) this rising trend here. Still,
writer Jill Brooke put it this way: “As much as anything … the rise in LAT
relationships may be due to a growing unwillingness to compromise, particularly
among members of a generation known for their self-involvement.”
Gee, do ya think? Dr. Scott Haltzman, a professor of psychiatry at Brown
University, is author of “The Secrets of Happily Married Men” (Jossey-Bass
2005.) He told me that historically, “marriage was less about the two
individuals involved than what they created when they came together.” Now, he
laments, there’s an overwhelming sense of “what can marriage do for me?”
That’s a tragedy, because one of the beautiful things about marriage is
precisely that it calls us – or should call us – to a sense of “other,” of
connecting to and living for something bigger and more important than just
ourselves, of learning to sacrifice and give and share and live and receive in a
way that makes us human.
When it’s “all about me” we deny ourselves a real chance at humanity. After
all the ultimate “all about me” animals are, well, animals.
Haltzman told me he believes LAT relationships aren’t just a trend here _
they reflect the ongoing disintegration of the nuclear family in the United
Even some of these LAT folks may not be quite sold on the idea. NYT writer
Brooke quotes Marvin, an investment banker in Chicago, as saying of Laurie, his
LAT girlfriend of eight years, “I am as devoted as any husband to her … ”
(Laurie wasn’t as thrilled at their LAT arrangement at the beginning, but she’s
come to accept it.)
Memo to Laurie: he’s not as committed as any husband to you because HE’S NOT
YOUR HUSBAND! Duh.
On the other hand, the sad truth is that today our sense of marriage is so
“all about me,” so transient, Marvin wouldn’t have to be particularly committed
to her, nor she to him, even if they were married. Sigh.
I agree with Haltzman. LAT relationships are a symptom, not a cause, of a
much larger problem. David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project
at Rutgers University, agrees that LAT relationships are no innocuous trend, but
a growing and unwholesome bellwether for our culture. He told me that on our
long-term march of modernity people seek ever less encumbered “selves.” We seek
“freedom” to be who we want to be in every way. Only here’s what should be
obvious, he explained _ “freedom” carried too far breaks down what we ultimately
rely on for security, connection, permanence, intimacy, care of children, and
even love itself.
So can these willful, permanently separate, overtly minimalist relationships
be true relationships? Answer: No.
Yeah, yeah, folks will argue with me, “it’s not your business” “you don’t
know what’s going on with these people.” Sure, there can sometimes be
extraordinary or extenuating circumstances involved. But in the main that very
response speaks to a sense of privatization of “relationships,” that says I
don’t really have to “relate” at all because the way I connect to other humans
isn’t about “them” or “us” _ it’s only about “me.”
Well okay, but that’s how the animals live.
(Betsy Hart is the author of “It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover
Parenting is Hurting Our Kids _ and What to Do About It.” She can be reached at
www.betsyhart.net or betsysblog.com.)