A new kind of love: Living apart together

A new kind of love: Living apart together


Retirees Joyce Huber and Bob Dolliver are among the growing number of adults who are in committed relationships but live apart.

They're known as LATs, which stands for "living apart together," says University of Missouri Extension gerontology specialist Jacquelyn Benson. She studies LATs 60 years and older.LATs live in their own homes, sometimes in different ZIP codes and time zones.

Still, they're committed, monogamous, intimate, romantic partners. Huber, 73, and Dolliver, 80, have been together apart for 12 years.

"We felt at our age, it (marriage) really wasn't necessary," Huber says.

Their children find comfort in knowing that their parents are not lonely. Friends tell them they have the best of both worlds. They've cared for one another through broken bones and strokes. Declining health and end-of-life decisions are part of discussions LATs have. It's a new take on the old "'til death do us part."

They pursue their separate interests most of the week, "We've learned each other's differences and learned to respect them," she says. "There's no real conflict," he says. "The partnership, the working together is the core."They keep their love alive with daily phone calls, scheduled meals and weekends together.

Aging baby boomers often struggle for a label when introducing their partner. In their "golden years," they're uneasy calling their partner "boyfriend" and "girlfriend," and "friend" is too ambiguous.

"Labels and terms were really difficult for them to work through," Benson says.

The term "LAT" remains unfamiliar in the U.S. European countries, where the arrangement is more common, have words to describe the LAT partner. Cohabitation rates for adults 50 or older more than doubled from 2000 to 2010, according to a 2012 study by Bowling Green State University researchers, Benson said.Baby boomers experienced high rates of divorce during middle age.

Remarriage rates declined but interest in forging new romantic partnerships remained, she says.

This potential trend in the U.S. follows Europe. As many as a third of European adults over 50 are in a LAT relationship. U.S. rates between 1996 and 1998 are significantly lower. The General Social Surveys show 6 and 7 percent for men and women age 23-70 respectively.

More recent data in California suggest rates up to 13 percent.Benson says LATs give many reasons for their lifestyle choice. Reasons appear to differ by age, she says.

Most young LATs live apart temporarily for financial reasons, educational pursuits or jobs. They might be in transition from steady dating to cohabitation or marriage.

Older LATs cite other reasons such as independence, separate finances or wanting to remain close to aging parents, adult children, grandchildren and friends. Some may have jobs in different cities prior to meeting. They may also want to avoid inheritance issues for their children.

Others find the arrangement keeps the sparkle and sizzle in a long-term relationship. It keeps monogamy from becoming monotonous. LATs can focus solely on each other when they are together, rather than on mundane tasks such as taking out the trash or balancing the checkbook, Benson says. "It is a way to balance intimacy and their desire to maintain autonomy and independence."Older LATs can be compatible despite different housekeeping habits, hobbies and routines. "They don't have to be exposed to their partner's 'warts,'" she says.

Benson said the study of older adults in LAT relationships is in its infancy. She said there are virtually no published studies in the U.S., but numbers are likely to increase as baby boomers retire.

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