Since it tends to pop up in conversations, I’m assuming most of you already know my husband and I have been living 200 miles apart for the past 17 months. If this is news to you and you are like most people I know, there are probably at least a few questions running through your head, the first of which is likely to be something about the health of my marriage. Good news: Despite what the church mothers at my mother-in-law's church think (secret divorce), we’re happily married. Celebrating 7 years next month, actually. But my job is in Portland and his job is in Tacoma. So now, assuming all of this information has not completely blown your mind and you’re still paying attention, how about this tidbit that makes most folks’ mouths drop open: this is not our first time living apart, it’s our third. In fact, in the 10 years we’ve been together, Mr. MIHM and I have spent a total of 2 years and 9 months living in separate states. Yes, I said states. The first time was 12 months with him in Washington and me in Virginia (approximately 2,700 miles distance) – I tackled my first year of grad school while he finished up his undergraduate degree; the second time was 4 months with him & Monkey in Washington and me in Texas (approximately 2,200 miles distance) – I completed my clinical internship at a children’s hospital in Dallas while he & Monday set up shop in Tacoma, where I was supposed to join them post-internship…until my husband visited me and fell in love with DFW, as I had; and now there is the (relatively) short distance of 144 miles that we take turns traversing almost every weekend. As one of my friends joked, at least we’re headed in the right direction, with the miles apart getting smaller each time.
So guess what? Although all of my friends and families are co-habitating with their spouses (as far as I know), apparently, Mr. MIHM and I are not alone. Apparently, there is a name for couples who are together but live apart, whether due to jobs or by choice: Living Apart Together, or LAT for short. So how does one use that knowledge in conversation? As a noun, like, “My husband and I are LAT-ers”? Or is it more verbish, as in, “My husband and I LAT due to our careers”? I’m not really sure, but it seems worth doing some casual research. Another term I’ve found for people in our situation is being in a Commuter Marriage, and more than 3.5 million couples in the US do it. My husband and I join the ranks with traveling salesmen, migrant workers, the incarcerated(!), and soldiers on deployment.
Anyhow, I bring all this up not to impress you with my research skills or wow you with statistics (although, I’m hoping you love statistics as much as I do), but to share some of the benefits Mr. MIHM and I have found in living apart while still being together. Yes, believe it or not, despite the many obvious (and sometimes overwhelming) negatives, there are some positives to be found!
1. When we are together, we are more likely to focus on being together
Because our time is limited, I try not to make other plans on our family weekends. When you hardly get to see your family, even running errands (finding new sneakers for Monkey, going to the dry cleaner, grocery shopping) can make for a fun afternoon. And, as my husband just relayed via text message (it's a Tuesday, after all), "Freshness. Feeling like you're dating again, at times." Indeed, we have been on many more actual dates during the past 17 months than probably the entire 5 years we lived in Texas. Makes me feel like we're going to have to try harder when we're co-habitating again!
2. Less wife/mommy (or husband/daddy) guilt on the weekdays
When I need to work late unexpectedly or have work events in the evenings, it doesn’t affect my family in the same way it did in Texas. When one of my childhood friends hosts her monthly weekday knitting nights, I can RSVP without wondering what my boys have going on that evening. When I feel like knitting a baby hat and watching Ugly Betty DVDs until I’m ready to go to bed, I do. Yes, it’s lonely. But it’s also led to me attempting to have a social life and to indulge in things I may not have time for when we’re all living together.
3. More appreciation for helping out around the house
I got to spend a week with my boys in October. One day, while my husband was at work, I washed, dried & folded five loads of laundry. He was thrilled! In September, my husband spent a long weekend with me in Portland. While I was at an all-day Saturday work event, he scrubbed my bathroom & kitchen until they were sparkling. While these tasks all fall within our usual division of labors when we’re living together, it really makes you appreciate the other person when you no longer take that task being done for granted. As I brush my teeth over my currently less-than-luminous bathroom sink this evening, I will think fondly of my dear, sweet husband and his exemplary sanitation skills – and I can only hope he will feel similarly the next time he runs out of clean undies!
4. Less dancing around the issues
Family weekends are somewhat of a microcosm of our regular family life when we all lived in the same home. We still share the joys, the sorrow, the happiness, the anger – but in shorter face-to-face chunks. For me, a people pleaser and avoider of confrontations by nature, this means that I have had to step up my communication game. It’s a lot harder to go to bed angry with your spouse when you know he has to go home the next morning. So we say what we both need to say, I cry, sometimes we yell – but is generally gets worked out within a few hours. Or at least we can agree to disagree for the moment and to try and work it out more in-depth via Skype or telephone over the next week.
5. Week-long foreplay
I know, I’m pretty G-rated on this blog but, hey, we’ve been together 10 years and we have a 7-year-old. Clearly, we’ve been having sex. And, although living apart limits the frequency of our rendezvous, it has also led to an increase in sexting, suggestive emails, X-rated phone calls – in other words, an increase in long-distance foreplay. The drawback? I have to be careful not to let anyone rifle through the photos on my Blackberry. The benefit? Use your imagination, dear reader, and imagine me with a big smile on my face when I say that!
So what about you? Have you ever lived apart from your spouse and/or have you ever wanted to? Do you have friends or family members who LAT due to jobs or by choice? What do you think about this living situation? Since it’s a weekday, I’ll have plenty of time to read your reply after work tomorrow ;-)