Does absence make the heart grow fonder?
Retirees Joyce Huber and Bob Dolliver are among the increasing number of adults who are in committed relationships but live apart.
They’re known as LATs, which stands for “living apart together,” said University of Missouri Extension gerontology specialist Jacquelyn Benson. She studies LATs 60 years of age and older.
LATs live in their own homes, sometimes in different ZIP codes and time zones. Still, they are committed, monogamous, intimate, romantic partners.
Huber, 73, and Dolliver, 80, have been together apart for 12 years. “We felt at our age,” marriage “really wasn’t necessary,” Huber said.
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 “till 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,” Huber said.
“There’s no real conflict,” Dolliver said. “The partnership, the working together is the core.”
They keep their love alive with daily phone calls, scheduled meals and weekends together.
Older LATs often struggle for a label when introducing their partner. Many aging baby boomers are uneasy calling a partner “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” and “friend” is too ambiguous.
“Labels and terms were really difficult for them to work through,” Benson said. The term “LAT” remains unfamiliar in the United States; European countries, where the arrangement is more common, often have words to describe LAT partners.
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 said.
This potential trend in the United States follows Europe. As many as a third of European adults over 50 are in a LAT relationship. U.S. rates between 1996 and 1998 were significantly lower. The University of Chicago’s General Social Surveys showed a rates of 6 and 7 percent for men and women age 23-70, respectively. More recent data in California suggest rates up to 13 percent.
Benson said LAT couples give many reasons for their lifestyle choice. Reasons appear to differ by age, she said. Most young couples live apart temporarily for financial reasons, educational pursuits or jobs. They might be in transition from steady dating to cohabitation or marriage.
Older couples cite 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. They might also want to avoid inheritance issues for their children.
Others find the arrangement keeps the spark and sizzle in a long-term relationship. It keeps monogamy from becoming monotonous because LAT couples 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. “It is a way to balance intimacy and their desire to maintain autonomy and independence,” Benson said.
Older LAT couples can be compatible despite different housekeeping habits, hobbies and routines. “They don’t have to be exposed to their partner’s ‘warts,’” Benson said.
Benson said the study of older adults in LAT relationships is in its infancy. She said there are virtually no published U.S. studies, but numbers of LATs are likely to increase as baby boomers retire.