Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 29, Tuesday February 28, 2006



Special Feature

Living apart: For better or worse?

At one time or another most married couples have had some experience of living apart. The reasons could vary from children's schooling, pursuing studies, job demands, to taking care of elderly parents and service and corporate transfers. The physical separation can play havoc with relationships as both sides learn to live by themselves, at the same time women learn to be the sole caregivers for young children as the two homes are maintained.

Many case studies illustrate the ups and downs of long distance marriages. Says a New York- based journalist and student, whose husband lives three hours away, “I have to admit that I feel more independent when I am by myself. I don't have to worry about whether I have food at home, whether someone is waiting for me and so on. Still, if I had a choice I would definitely not want to live apart. Living separately has been quite stressful for both of us. We would not willingly do it again.” However, she tends to look at the brighter side of the situation, as she says, “ It is not easy for either of us to lead separate lives, but it is a temporary situation and we know that we'll be together after I'm done with my studies in four months.”

Other couples also do a balancing act between different demands. In their ranks are Dilruba S Chowdhury (Rubina) and her businessman husband Ataur R Chowdhury. While she manages the family's garments business from New York and rears two children of 17 and 7 years, Ataur is a frequent traveler to places such as Manila, Shanghai and the Netherlands. It's often tough going for Rubina. “Life in New York is hard and one has to fend for oneself entirely--be it the business or bringing up the children,” she asserts.

For Monita, stationed in New Delhi, it's by no means a cakewalk either. With two young girls and a family enterprise to manage, she confronts situations such as the adjustment of the children to new schools, their missing their father and her circumscribed movements in the evenings on account of the lack of safety in the city. The one thing that keeps her going is the hope of being reunited with her husband soon.

A greater sense of independence has been reported by both men and women when they live apart. Women agree that house keeping and managing the niggling details of life is that much easier when they are on their own. Likewise, both men and women find that they can easily get back to old hobbies, develop new ones and catch up with old friends. . Says a corporate manager, “ Definitely there is more time for oneself. Also I am able to undertake activities which married life does not allow time for - in my case sports, some photography, more time for books, independent travel, e.g. during Eid I went and met two school friends whom I hadn't seen for 12 and 22 years. What's more, I can work late in the office without guilty feelings.”

However, the downside is the impact on children in such a situation. Suddenly the young ones find themselves with a single parent--usually the mother--and terribly miss their father. Also couples living apart tend to put in more time in the office, which is not a healthy trend.

The saving grace is that couples develop a greater appreciation of each other when apart. Minor irritants don't seem to matter as much while husbands and wives become better companions and more flexible in their attitudes. Which goes to show that the oft repeated cliche of 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder' might have a spark of truth to it after all.

There is a coinage, Living Apart Together (LAT) for couples in the West. These are people who are in committed relationships but choose to live alone. Perhaps the most famous LAT husband-wife team was Hollywood actor Mia Farrow and director Woody Allen - both had homes in New York but did not live under the same roof. Other celebrities who at one point or another opted for this way of life are British novelist Margaret Drabble and her husband, writer Michael Holroyd while Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had a part of Paris between them. Movie stars also tend to opt for such a lifestyle.

By Kavita Charanji


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