Living apart together
Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter attend the UK premiere of 'Dark Shadows' at The Empire Leicester Square on May 9, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
NOOoooooOOOOO! That was the sound of my brain when I saw the headline that long-term partners Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton had moved in together after previously living separately in adjoining houses. Continuing my well-documented habit of being emotionally devastated by celebrity news that has nothing to do with me, I felt personally betrayed by this report given that I have a long-held fantasy to become rich enough to be able to move in next door to my partner (preferably connected by a tunnel for added whimsy.)
The practice is called “living apart together” and refers to couples who live at different residences.
Research has shown that seven to nine per cent of adult Australians fall into this category. For some this is because they are not yet at a moving in stage in their relationship, for others financial or work situations keep them apart, but for those like Bonham Carter and Burton it’s due to a preference to keep their own separate spaces.
I can definitely see the appeal. Just think about it. Being able to decorate without making any compromises due to differing aesthetics. Sleeping diagonally across the bed. Being able to enjoy complete silence or conversely watch SBS PopAsia as loud as you desire. Feeling lazy and just eating an entire dinner of whatever is left in your cheese compartment with no-one to question the nutritional intelligence of that decision. In short, bliss. The whole concept really does seem like an optimum meld of the independence of single life and the support of partnered life. If you have a slight introvert or control freak streak you’ve probably daydreamed about it also. Now I realise it doesn’t always work out (Mia Farrow and Woody Allen were a LAT couple), but enough smart, creative women like Margaret Drabble and Arundhati Roy have had successful stints in LAT partnerships to make me think for certain personality types there is value in the concept.
Exactly how entwined does your life need to be with your partner’s? I’m a big advocate of trying to make an effort to live at least some part of your life untangled from your partner’s, because I think it can be easy to lose your identity in a long-term relationship if you don’t make a vigilant effort to continue cultivating your own individual interests and friendships. When we’re young we’re told it’s important to find our own pursuits and passions, and I don’t think that’s something that should ever stop just because you’ve partnered up.
I’m always genuinely curious to know how much other couples share with one another, since I know I occupy somewhere fairly far along the somewhat separated end of the spectrum. We only just moved back in together after a year of living apart. Though we have many shared social circles, we also each have friends who we consider “his” and “mine” and hang out with without the other’s company. And I’ve had people express surprise that after eight years together my partner and I still don’t share a bank account and instead simply split bills.
I once had a colleague whose life was so entwined with her partner’s that THEY SHARED A SINGLE EMAIL ADDRESS. My rather aghast reaction was “You know you can get more addresses for absolutely free, right?” but she claimed that she liked being able to see all the emails he received and vice versa. Personally I can’t even keep on top of my own offers for penis enlargement and discount Cialis so I definitely have no interest in reading another person’s inbox. I also met another friend of a friend who told me that if he or his girlfriend saw a sweater or t-shirt they liked would be sure to buy two in both their sizes so they could dress in matching outfits. Now, if that’s what works for you I say go for it – be resplendent in your identical Snuggies! But I do feel the ethos “We share everything” is sort of held up for the gold standard for couples’ behaviour, so I liked having Bonham Carter and Burton as role models for those of us whose idea of “togetherness” needs a bit more breathing room (even if we aren’t all fiscally fortunate enough to have a house of one’s own.)
Luckily my sadness over the merge has been allayed, as when I properly clicked on the link to the report I discovered that the move is only temporary while one of their houses is being renovated. Bonham Carter has rather hilariously described her new living circumstances as “surprisingly OK” so only time will tell if they’ll stay in the same house or return to being neighbours. But Helena, if one double residence with adjoining tunnel does end up going on the market you’ll be sure to give me first dibs, right?