The faraway nearby
February 8, 2018 12:10 PM   Subscribe

You live near but not with your long-term partner, with whom you have a loving, stable marriage-like commitment but no plans for future cohabitation. How do you coordinate your lives together, especially if they're super-duper intertwined? What do you keep at each other's houses? How do you navigate the low-key logistics of plan-making together? Give me your advice, tell me your tales and anecdotes!

My partner and I have been together for six years, and have lived together for nearly five. For entirely positive reasons, I'm moving to a charming apartment about two miles away. Help us figure out how couples who live nearby, but not together, do it. We're in our late thirties and early forties. No kids, no pets, no inclination toward either. We share a lot of mutual friends and mutual interests, and we're both good at being independent but enjoy spending much/most of our time together. We've already disentangled location-specific finances like the electric bill and renter's insurance, but I'm not fully moved into the new place (and notably don't have a bed yet), so we haven't started working out many/any of the less obvious kinks of living apart after so many years of cohabitation. We assume we'll each spend a couple nights a week at the other's place, cook for each other a little less often than we have in the past, and otherwise spend less "working in the same room without talking to one another" time together, which I'm frankly looking forward to.

I'd love to hear about long-term couples who don't cohabit, but have otherwise entwined lives. What are the rhythms and routines of your lives together-but-apart over the years? What do you keep at each other's places? If you've lived with your partner before but don't now, how do you coordinate ordinary life together when your lives are already super-duper intertwined, but now slightly less so?

(To head off any speculation re living separately as the precursor for a breakup, it's not; we're in an intense, expensive housing market and it made financial sense for us to cohabit once we felt seriously committed. We've been sharing a 1br for the past five years, but both of us work from home half the week, so we often end up spending a lot of time in each other's presence but not actually engaging (much less engaging meaningfully). When the opportunity to live separately, affordably, came up, we both jumped at it. We're not particularly invested in traditional relationship models, so this feels like a healthy, sustainable next iteration of our relationship, though it's bound to introduce a few wrinkles we haven't discovered yet.)
posted by tapir-whorf to Human Relations (14 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Duplicate toiletries and other staples (device chargers, etc.), and a couple of changes of clothes & shoes, as well as maybe a nice outfit, in case you want to go out to a nice dinner or a party or something without going back to your/their place. Basically make it so you can have basically everything you need for your day to day without having to plan or carry more than what you normally do (laptop bag, purse, etc.).
posted by rhizome at 12:33 PM on February 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

If part of the move is because of working from home so often, why not treat the second home like an office for a while? It eliminates a lot of the costs of having two homes and you can still do all of those things like cooking and hanging out together and not worrying about which house has those shoes you wanted to wear tomorrow.
posted by raccoon409 at 12:43 PM on February 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I also really love living by myself and having my own space, even if it means I won't always have the shoes I want to wear tomorrow close at hand (or, er, foot).
posted by tapir-whorf at 12:45 PM on February 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’d probably have a lot of overlap, so we’d both feel more like we had two homes than separate places nearby. I absolutely see the value of less crappy time spent simply near each other (and am jealous of your new situation) but you might want to have everything you need for a loungy weekend at the other’s place.

I had a couple-hours-apart long distance deal going for a bit. It was important we both had nice clothes at the other’s, maybe a backup pair of shoes, but otherwise an overnight bag handled it.

You are 2 miles apart though, so you’ve really got nothing to worry about. If you forget something, you’ll go get it. If you realize you need a duplicate, you’ll pick one up. I’m sure you’ll learn as you go and it’s low-stakes distance to fix it.
posted by OrangeVelour at 12:46 PM on February 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

My bestie and her partner have never lived together but raised a whole child together, living around 3 miles apart, and that child is now 20 years old so this can of course totally work. Unless he has a work outing or whatever, he goes to her house every single night after work for dinner, and then shoves off home if he's going home. It's very rare she stays at his; maybe a few nights a year.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:48 PM on February 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

We did that, but the apartments were in the same building. There were really no downsides. We ended up using the smaller apartment when we wanted to have a dinner party, or out of town visitors who wanted to stay. This was wonderful because we could keep that apartment neat enough to be ready for guests fairly quickly.
posted by BibiRose at 12:48 PM on February 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

One logistical thing I would recommend is that you keep equipment for activities you do together at one place or the other. Like if you both snowboard, keep the snowboards at one place or the other, don't each keep your own snowboard at your own place.
posted by mskyle at 12:51 PM on February 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

It's not really like two people always living in two distinct places and coming together when they want to. Because after all those years in one apartment your previously shared home of 6 years is still probably going to feel your home while the new apt. is only yours, with your partner a guest in it. If I were your partner I might get to feeling weird that they were the only one ever in guest mode (while you are always just going from your new place to your shared place.) So I think it's important that since there's no way you can really totally extricate the feeling of home from the first place, consider making sure the partner has a big say in stocking, decorating, messing up the new place. Even if you sleep there and they sleep at the old one.
posted by velveeta underground at 1:06 PM on February 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

When Mr Corpse lived near each other but not together, I would find it frustrating if I called when I was getting off work, asked "should I come over tonight?" and he was ambivalent. I wanted him to say "yes! Of course! Please come over!" But, many many years later, I recognize that sometimes one really is ambivalent about if one's partner should come over: either way is fine.

So, I recommend having good communication in that regard so nobody's feelings get hurt. Maybe scheduling it ahead of time would be work.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

Since you asked broadly for people's experiences in similar situations...

My fiancé and I have lived together off and on for the entirety of our relationship, no kids, one cat (he lives with me full-time). Our situation is entirely career-driven: I work in a tiny niche of tech for a company where travel is involved, while he is a wildland firefighter and gets stationed half the year in places nowhere near an airport that I would hate to live in.

It's normal for us to live in different states half the year, and the other half we recombine domestic items & live together happily until he takes off for fire season again. I prioritize where to live during his working half of the year based on what I want/need, and how easy it is to visit him when he suddenly has a couple days off.

We make it work by communicating a ton, staying flexible, discussing the tradeoffs ahead of time and settling on what works for both of us. (I am also a person who loves roadtrips/traveling and will happily drive a LONG distance to visit my partner, so this works very well for us.)

We keep in touch every day we're apart, we live and travel with minimal belongings, and stash some of our things at each other's places. We're also keeping most of our furniture & other non-necessary items in long-term storage until our careers settle down -- who knows when that's going to happen!
posted by Snacks at 2:32 PM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't know that this is going to be particularly illuminating, but my uncle and his partner lived happily and intentionally separately for years (this has since changed because of medical unpleasantness, not relationship issues). They met when they were in their 50's or 60's, so that changes the dynamic a bit -- but they both had well established lives and careers, and figured they'd drive each other crazy if they lived together. My wife and I visited them, and my uncle let us stay at his place, he was openly excited to "sleep over at [his] girlfriend's house" for a few days (jokes about toothbrushes and everything). It was cute, and clearly something that worked well for them.

I agree with the response upthread that you should avoid falling into having "our" and "mine" places -- either you each have a "mine" or you both have two "ours".
posted by so fucking future at 7:26 PM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Be ready for the chores to double. There are two households now that you’re both spending time in and have to clean up.

My fiancé and I have two places about 15 miles apart, and this makes sense for us financially, commute-wise and for a number of other reasons. They’re both “ours” and as we switch between the two homes each of us has, at some point, wound up doing dishes and cleaning at place 1 only to traverse to place 2 and need to do more dishes and cleaning.

Losing stuff. I just had to drive an hour round trip to get keys I left at place 1 right after I arrived at place 2. Hopefully your shorter distance will make this way less painful.

Be ready to have to justify it to others with a simple answer. People don’t see this as a standard living arrangement and ask all sorts of questions, including being pushy about telling your what you should do with your own finances (“but you would save so much money if you lived together!” Etc).
posted by slateyness at 9:49 PM on February 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

The search term you may want is "living apart together." (Disclosure: I run the subreddit of that name.)

My partner and I have been living like this for the 7+ years we've been together. Here's what makes it work:
* no arguments over stupid shit like doing the dishes or laundry or vacuuming
*we are both very introverted and need a LOT of alone time
* not being afraid to say "I need some time alone now" or "you shouldn't come over tonight" or even "I'm kicking you out" -- this was hard at first, because it felt like a rejection sometimes, but then I realized that I totally understand that feeling in myself, too. This has gotten way, way easier over the years. There's basically no baggage attached to "hey, I need alone time tonight" anymore
*I have birds and he has a cat

We have some routines we have fallen into over the years that bring me a lot of comfort: Friday and Saturday night I spend at his place, since he has a lot of trouble falling asleep in another bed. We do breakfast Sat and Sun morning, then spend the rest of the day at our own places working on our own things. I usually cook dinner and he comes over Sunday night. And once during the week we usually meet for happy hour and dinner after work.

It's funny, at first we had a lot of our friends and family asking if we were ever going to move in together. I find that when I explain all the great things about living apart together, some of them seem almost envious. I had to really disentangle my feelings about cohabiting being the "correct" next thing to do; it doesn't make our relationship any less serious or committed that we live apart.

The unfortunate wrinkle is that living in Austin, it's already much more expensive to live separately, and one day we may not be able to afford it. Till then, I'm going to enjoy it!

Feel free to MeMail me, too.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:18 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just spent more than half a year living between my own place and my boyfriend's, we were a 10-minute drive apart and work similar schedules, but I have a 6 year old so I'd be at my place with him and then at his place when my kid was with his dad the other half of the time. Boyfriend had a cat and then we adopted a dog so I ended up going to him versus him coming to me 90% of the time.

Agreed you need to make it so you can comfortably exist in both places, if you're going to sleep over at each other's places it's no fun living out of a bag regularly, or wondering if you have the work clothes you need two day's out.

Also agreed on the chores doubling, do what you can to agree on who does what and where/when so that you don't feel like you're doing dishes for yourself then going over and doing more (unless that doesn't bother you).
posted by lafemma at 9:39 AM on February 9, 2018

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