Jewish World Review May 17, 2006 / 19 Iyar 5766
LATs: It's all about me
Just when you think America's "all about me" culture has peaked one finds out there is so much more room for more "me."
So it is with the new trend more and more Americans are apparently adopting from our friends in Europe: "Living Apart Together" or LAT relationships. Such arrangements, all the rage across the pond, are now increasingly popular in the United States.
These are long-term, "committed," openly sexual/romantic relationships between a man and woman. Only, the players live permanently apart. Sometimes these folks are even married to each other, but most typically they are simply determined that they will not marry (or marry again) ever.
What they all share is that they don't want to share each other's "space" or lives.
This is no return to courtship.
"Home Alone Together" was the title of the recent New York Times spread chronicling (and overall, it seemed, cheering) this rising trend here. Still, writer Jill Brooke put it this way: "As much as anything ... the rise in LAT relationships may be due to a growing unwillingness to compromise, particularly among members of a generation known for their self-involvement."
Gee, do ya think? Dr. Scott Haltzman, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University, is author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men" (Jossey-Bass 2005.) He told me that historically, "marriage was less about the two individuals involved than what they created when they came together." Now, he laments, there's an overwhelming sense of "what can marriage do for me?"
That's a tragedy, because one of the beautiful things about marriage is precisely that it calls us or should call us to a sense of "other," of connecting to and living for something bigger and more important than just ourselves, of learning to sacrifice and give and share and live and receive in a way that makes us human.
When it's "all about me" we deny ourselves a real chance at humanity. After all the ultimate "all about me" animals are, well, animals.
Haltzman told me he believes LAT relationships aren't just a trend here they reflect the ongoing disintegration of the nuclear family in the United States.
Even some of these LAT folks may not be quite sold on the idea. NYT writer Brooke quotes Marvin, an investment banker in Chicago, as saying of Laurie, his LAT girlfriend of eight years, "I am as devoted as any husband to her ... " (Laurie wasn't as thrilled at their LAT arrangement at the beginning, but she's come to accept it.)
Memo to Laurie: he's not as committed as any husband to you because HE'S NOT YOUR HUSBAND! Duh.
On the other hand, the sad truth is that today our sense of marriage is so "all about me," so transient, Marvin wouldn't have to be particularly committed to her, nor she to him, even if they were married. Sigh.
I agree with Haltzman. LAT relationships are a symptom, not a cause, of a much larger problem. David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, agrees that LAT relationships are no innocuous trend, but a growing and unwholesome bellwether for our culture. He told me that on our long-term march of modernity people seek ever less encumbered "selves." We seek "freedom" to be who we want to be in every way. Only here's what should be obvious, he explained "freedom" carried too far breaks down what we ultimately rely on for security, connection, permanence, intimacy, care of children, and even love itself.
So can these willful, permanently separate, overtly minimalist relationships be true relationships? Answer: No.
Yeah, yeah, folks will argue with me, "it's not your business" "you don't know what's going on with these people." Sure, there can sometimes be extraordinary or extenuating circumstances involved. But in the main that very response speaks to a sense of privatization of "relationships," that says I don't really have to "relate" at all because the way I connect to other humans isn't about "them" or "us" it's only about "me."
Well okay, but that's how the animals live.
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