The rise of ‘living apart together’ – and why I’ve stopped doing it

I know it could all be over by springtime. But I think this time I’ll stay

17 January 2015

9:00 AM

17 January 2015

9:00 AM

I’ve never lived with a man I didn’t marry: Tweedledee, 1979–1984, and Tweedledum, 1984–1995. (The names have been changed to irritate the pair of them.) So when I left my second union and moved to Brighton to chase the man who is now my third (and hopefully final) husband, I was keen to establish and keep separate households. I was quite pleased to find that not only was I having a blast seeing Daniel while maintaining a maverick social life (he didn’t want to be in a swimming pool full of drunken, shrieking girls’n’gays any more than I wanted to be in a room full of game-playing, beer-drinking men) but was apparently part of a growing social phenomenon.

A 2005 study from Oxford University found that the UK had two million ‘Living Apart Togethers’ (Lats — unfortunate name, making us sound like some tardy, overpriced beverage); poster children for this trend soon emerged in the somewhat wearyingly eccentric Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, who lived in two adjoining townhouses in north London.

They were, truth be told, a welcome replacement for and distraction from the previous holders of the honour, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, whose Lat union had started out so bravely. As the New York Times had it, in 1991: ‘They are not married, neither do they live together; their apartments face each other across Central Park. When they began to date, they would wave towels out the window as they spoke on the phone, delighting in saying they could see the other.’

O tempora! O mores! What began as a brave new sunlit experiment, a stroll in Central Park, a dream of artistic and personal freedom and fidelity, ended in swerving, perving and tears before separate bedtimes when Woody made free with Mia’s daughter — a young woman, one notes, who despite her tender years and empty pockets broached no silly modern concepts such as Latting when she bagged Allen.

Woody Allen and Mia Farrow
Woody Allen and Mia Farrow Photo: Getty

That both Farrow and Bonham Carter (who has now separated from Burton) were somewhat indebted to their boyfriends for work in an industry which is not kind to older actresses adds an additional air of retrospect-ive desperation to both set-ups. Were semi-detached relationships what either of these women wanted, or a compromise they made with more powerful men insistent on their own ‘space’?

I’m certainly not looking for my husband to give me a job, though it doesn’t hurt that he is, by trade, a grammarian — probably the most rigorous grammarian in both East and West Sussex. (Once he punctuates one, one stays punctuated.) As a Swedish journalist once said to me with the forthrightness which is a feature of her countrywomen, ‘How convenient for you! Like a prostitute being married to an STD doctor.’ But in our 20th year together, I’ve finally moved into his flat in a gorgeous seafront square. I’m not smug; for all I know it could be over by springtime. Who’s to say whether the nigh-on two decades of hell-raising, mickey-taking and five-star sun-chasing that have made my life with Daniel such a riot will stand the test of the badly rinsed coffee cup (mine) or the atmospheric ashtray (his) — those mute witnesses of household banality which put romance in the dock daily and find it guilty of going awol?

85th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton Photo: Getty

But luckily, I’m not keen on romance; I prefer fun and sex, and from what I’ve seen romance is often the bed-wetting enemy of both. Surely my dearth of female trouble, added to the separate bedrooms and bathrooms, will work towards ensuring that we get along.

And the fact that I am a lark and Dan is an owl. I have only two speeds; full-tilt and stock-still; when I’m not up all night, I’m in bed by sundown, whereas Dan works regular hours and then likes to enjoy his leisure time at leisure. I do like to burst upon my husband as a revelation each day, as Saki put it, and the different hours we keep ensure that we are not permanently in one another’s way.

I thought I’d like it, but in my second week here, I’m loving it. And if it doesn’t work out, I can move on in the springtime — to Tel Aviv or Tenerife, chasing the sun, or maybe just around the corner, though I’d still be keen on staying married. But I have a feeling that this time, at long last, I’m going to stay.

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Show comments
  • Malcolm Massiah

    (Once he punctuates one, one stays punctuated.) He sounds dreamy lol

  • hdb

    Oh the choices and dilemmas! Most of the couples my age that I know can hardly afford a two bed flat
    on their combined incomes, let alone the luxury of having a place each. Perhaps Julie can replace Taki if he ever decides to give up High Life?

  • montague_stjohn

    I hope they don’t pay Burchell for this tripe.

    • Shorne

      Of course they do because they know people like you will read it so you can whine afterwards.

  • jennybloggs

    Is this the relationships forum of Gransnet? Thought it was The Telegraph.

    • James Magna

      You’re a very confused old dear indeed. It’s in fact The Spectator.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    To me, this “living apart, together” thing is probably something to do with the way eg many children find and eak out for themselves the most personal space from some otherwise restrictive context. There’s a place for us..somewhere a place for us.

    Of course many people will think such behaviour is technically destructive because rather than building on what the general majority is supposed to be doing, these upstarts are spoiling everybody’s expectations.Which seems even worse when people who do the “living apart together” thing are famously rich thus apparently free…but only because so many lesser mortals enjoy the same whale of a time seemingly living as they do on their respective taxpayer funded benefits. Then of course the living apart together thing becomes something seriously concerning., even seriously concerning business.

    Me , I think this author comes across as just another one of these nouveau rich class of persons who desperately seem to want to be as common people are, or even sleep as common people do. Perhaps she’s modelling herself on that old pop song.

  • David

    That was horrible reading, the narcism almost jumps of the page slaps you in the face. Its like the last days of Rome, I’m sure this women will die sad and lonely and only has herself to blame.


    Amused by this though it surely=triumph of hope over experience …good luck to her though ?!

  • Intonsus

    Why do people wish to share their immoralities and personal lives in this manner?

    And, Mrs Burchell, ‘Lats’, does not make think of any sort of drink, but of the corner of the Scout camping-ground known as ‘Latvia’, after the lats to be found there.

  • edithgrove

    I read this instead of reading about Camilla Swift’s sublimation of her sexuality into horseriding and the bloody kill, thinking this would be less depressing. It wasn’t. Both are equally depressing and similar in their attempt at jolliness and inconsequentiality as Europe heads into civil and world war. Was there ever a world when this sort of writing, either one, might have seemed worth the trouble? 1967 comes to mind, I don’t know why. Can do better.

    • Tom M

      Yes Edith I had a deja-vu moment like that with this article as well. The film set in 1913 of a world about to come to and end called “The Shooting Party” sprung to mind.

  • Frederick

    Lighten up! What a buch of miserable barstewards, I quite enjoyed that article.

    • edithgrove

      Ah please, we tell her when she’s done well. I usually only listen to who’s moved in with who stories in the laundrette, and then only during a long drying cycle. I’d hoped for something better on a Sunday morning, that’s all.

  • Living apart together is simply to describe a bit on the side I’m afraid.
    Rationalising away the inferiority complex that being such bestows is harmless though. But drinking oneself to obesity as a consequnece of being a LAT is not.

    It’s a bit sad.

  • Sharon Hyman

    LAT Is an unfortunate name – which is why I invented a new one for the film which I am directing on the subject – Apart♡ners. I think the main idea is that there is no one-size-fits-all way to love. For some, it involves cohabitation, for others living apart. Whatever works for you is right – good luck! PS If anyone is interested in my film, here is the website. http://apartnersthemovie.com

  • Nele Schindler

    Brilliant writing. All green with envy over here.

  • Guest

  • Silas_Tomkyn_Comberbache

    She writes well.