My girlfriend moved from Northern Ireland to Glasgow in the summer of 2021.
We both have children from previous relationships, and living together would've been too much.
While my kids miss my girlfriend when she's not around, her daughter gets to remain an only child.
When my girlfriend and her daughter relocated from Northern Ireland to Glasgow in the summer of 2021 — a move made solely to be nearer to me and my four kids — to take our relationship to the next level, the obvious thing would have been for them to move in with us.
We have a biggish house, and while it would have been tight, it wouldn't have been unprecedented. The seven of us lived together happily enough during the pandemic for several months on end. My partner's dog even joined us for some of the stays.
And yet, that's not what happened. After three years of negotiating the peaks and troughs of a long-distance love affair, we opted to keep at least some of that distance intact. We now live in the same city, but in different homes. We chose to put our children's needs first, while still being able to enjoy each other's company when we want to.
In my previous relationship, we cohabitated
Before I met my girlfriend, I had been in a 19-year relationship, married for almost 14 of them. My ex-husband and I moved in together relatively quickly. I had been cohabitating, in other words, for a very long time. I knew what could happen to desire in the face of too much familiarity, the ways in which couples can, through constant exposure, begin to take each other for granted. I didn't want that again.
Second marriages are meant to be the triumph of hope over experience. But experience is what helps us make those second marriages better; it offers hope. While my girlfriend and I are not married, we are in a committed partnership that feels a lot like marriage — emotionally. Practically, less so. Living apart creates a very different reality around day-to-day life. We have our own houses to tend to, as we see fit. We have our own financial dances to do.
The separateness is a lifeline for us because we are incredibly different creatures. My girlfriend's kitchen is often teeming with dirty dishes, I am constantly cleaning as I go. She is a pet lover whose animals are allowed free range in the bed, on the table. I have a serious aversion to dog hair. The list could go on and on and extends to our kids as well.
We put our kids first
My girlfriend's daughter is an only child. She is used to quiet and the kind of life that swirls around her movements alone. My kids, as a quartet, are constantly talking, jockeying for position, fighting for attention. Yes, step-siblings spending time together influences them all in positive ways, but it can also inevitably cause tension.
Living apart allows us to uphold the distinct parenting values we each champion and to not have to compromise them in the name of treating everybody the same.
There are certain things we miss out on by not living under the same roof. Our kids aren't able to be parented in quite the same communal, intensive way they would if we were all in the same house day and night — and my children miss my partner when she's not here.
Nor are we able to relieve some of the burdens adulthood is prone to dumping on our shoulders and share the weighty load of domestic chores and decision-making, though we try to do this as best we can from a few blocks away.
But what we gain, right now, is worth more than that. We have space to remain our independent, authentic selves, to cultivate the romance we feel so lucky to have found, as lovers and not roommates, and the opportunity, always, to keep choosing to have each other around.
Lauren Apfel is a cofounder and executive editor of Motherwell, and is working on a hybrid memoir about compatibility.
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