Life

How To Be In A Relationship Without Losing Yourself

Asking for space can be hard. But in the end, it's probably worth it.
For some people, the idea of spending all of their time with their partner just doesn’t bristle with the same charged romance that animates our favourite love birds on the silver screen.
For some people, the idea of spending all of their time with their partner just doesn’t bristle with the same charged romance that animates our favourite love birds on the silver screen.

Movies, when they’re remarkable, give birth not to children but to ideas: representations of the world that change the way we see it. Sometimes those ideas generate such a strong hold on our imaginations that we begin to lose sight of which one came first: the thing itself, or how the movie tells it.

Take romance, for example. How many of our notions about love were manufactured by the Hollywood studio system? Certainly there’s a singular, triumphant way that it has been imagined on screen: two people fall madly in love and combine their worlds. Suddenly, they share everything: friends, fun, food, families, homes … there comes a point when they may as well begin to share a name (and a body, too).

But for some people, the idea of spending all of their time with their partner just doesn’t bristle with the same charged romance that animates our favourite love birds on the silver screen.

Watch: Here’s why some married couples are choosing to live apart. Story continues below.


Psychologists and relationship therapists alike often agree that time apart, among other things, is
the secret to a healthy and long-lasting relationship. Nearly half of Canadians today don’t think of marriage as “necessary,” and there are plenty of other couples who choose open relationships, or to live apart, or any other arrangement that doesn’t fully align with what we’ve traditionally imagined romance to be.

Some people, as those in the four relationships below, just really need their space — and they all have their own unique, valid reasons for asking for some time away every now and then. Here’s how it works for them:

Marty and Linn: I’m an introvert, she’s an extrovert — we value having our own space

It’s been a decade since Marty Chodorek and his girlfriend, Linn, started dating — ten years of living apart against all the funny, conventional notions of romance.

Most couples move in after less than a year of being together — cohabitation in the U.S. has increased some 900 per cent over the last half century, and is on a similarly steady upward trend in Canada — but for Chodorek, 40, and Linn, 31, giving up their personal space is the last thing either person would ask the other to do.

“We like to joke that being together as long as we have has been helped by always having our own spaces to recharge,” Chodorek says. “We really value having our own space.”

Marty Chodorek (left) and his partner, Linn.
Marty Chodorek (left) and his partner, Linn.

“Recharging” has become a kind of virtue for the couple. They have very distinct personality types and need completely different environments in order to feel at peace. Linn, for example, is an introvert, and her battery recharges when she’s alone. But Chodorek feels energized after spending time around other people, and so their arrangement — living apart — means nobody needs to step on anyone else’s toes.

“Her being able to retreat to her place, and me being able to host people at mine, means neither of us has to make a sacrifice for our needs in a larger sense,” Chodorek says. “In some ways, we’ve reached an ideal state.”

And beyond the needs their personalities demand, there’s also the matter of their careers.

“We like to joke that being together as long as we have has been helped by always having our own spaces to recharge.”

Linn works as a freelance web designer, so her home doubles as an office. The space where she lives is also the space in which she works.

Imagine, as vividly as you can, your partner parading themselves through your workspace, perching on your desk when you’re midway through a business call and asking if you want … pizza. It might be a bit of a distraction.

Chodorek understands the link between mental clarity and environment, and he wouldn’t want to encroach on Linn’s space. “At some point, I think there’s the recognition that your house means your rules,” he explains. “You can take control of your life when you take control of your space, and it’s nice to know that at least you have that under control.”

Virginia Woolf <a href="https://books.google.ca/books?redir_esc=y&amp;id=858oEyeN1N8C&amp;q=to+write+fiction#v=snippet&amp;q=%22a%20woman%20must%20have%20money%20and%20a%20room%20of%20her%20own%22&amp;f=false">once wrote </a>that &ldquo;a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,&rdquo; which is to say she needs space if she is to get any work done at all.
Virginia Woolf once wrote that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” which is to say she needs space if she is to get any work done at all.

Nick and Jared: This is my personal bubble, and yes, it’s off limits

Nick Zgraggen has been with his partner for just over four years now, and as much as they enjoy each other’s company, spending time away from one other — they live together — has been a strengthening force in their relationship.

“It hit me that the only way I can exist is by being an individual, first and foremost,” says Zgraggen. “I think solitude is a powerful tool and, when used wisely, can lead people to think about the things they normally don’t get the chance to consider when they’re around the noise of other people.”

For Zgraggen, solitude is a means of self-exploration, and his way of accessing that is to actually go somewhere, to take a physical retreat. As a 21-year-old artist and a student at Pratt Institute in New York City — of all cities, the one with the most ambient noise — and uses his studio as a way to escape everything … including his relationship.

Nick Zgraggen uses his art studio in New York City as a retreat.
Nick Zgraggen uses his art studio in New York City as a retreat.

“I will always have my studio as this realm where I can dictate the boundaries, where I can decide the terms, without having to compromise any of it,” Zgraggen says. Loosely, the space is just for him, and his partner is both sensitive and understanding about this arrangement.

“The benefit with personal space is that I will always know who I am,” Zgraggen says. “And that goes for my relationship, too — I know what I want and who I am, and that’s because I’ve allowed myself the space to figure that out.”

“It’s never an easy conversation to have, where you lay down your boundaries with someone you love.”

The alternative is complete psychological turmoil. “I really can’t function as a sane human being if I’m constantly around my significant other,” Zgraggen says.

Of course, talking to his boyfriend about this wasn’t always so simple. “It’s never an easy conversation to have, where you lay down your boundaries with someone you love,” he says. The purpose of boundaries can be easily misinterpreted, and while Zgraggen is clear on the popular idea that people take refuge in their partners, he’s also aware that the same partner can at times, inadvertently, be a stressor, too.

“Obviously, I love spending time with him. And having my studio makes that stronger, it lets me miss him,” Zgraggen says. “But when I’m there, it helps that I don’t have to think about anything, except for my art and what I have to say.”

Artwork at Zgraggen's studio.
Artwork at Zgraggen's studio.

Krista: Been there, done that, not picking up socks off the floor

She doesn’t call him her “boyfriend” — the word, she says, feels far too “childish” to apply to a 51-year-old woman — but for Krista Janicki, her relationship is working out just fine. They see each other often. They go on dates. They travel when they can. They have a sex life that, if you asked (which, obviously, you shouldn’t), she would probably characterize as “great.” “I adore him,” she says. “I just don’t want to share my space with him.”

Janicki and her partner don’t live together, nor do they intend on doing so anytime soon. Until a few years ago, she had been married for a long time, and though she lived with her husband, she knew that she was somebody who needed a lot of space. “My [ex-]husband would tell me that he’d deliberately leave me alone when I got home from work, for at least an hour, because if he didn’t, I would get cranky,” Janicki says.

Rent in Toronto is only getting higher, and Janicki says it's worth it to hang onto the place that she has &mdash; both for economic reasons and for her own sense of self.
Rent in Toronto is only getting higher, and Janicki says it's worth it to hang onto the place that she has — both for economic reasons and for her own sense of self.

When she met her new partner, she was clear early on — from their second date — that living together wouldn’t even be a legitimate question. “I didn’t want a traditional boyfriend who’d ever want to move in with me,” she says.

This is often how living apart together (LAT) relationships work: after being divorced or widowed, the person realizes how much they enjoy their personal space, and don’t want to rescind it for their next committed relationship.

And Janicki’s new partner is messy enough to provoke the inevitable arguments she’d prefer to avoid. “Whenever you read those lists online about terrible things husbands do, it’s always stupid little things. It’s because people want things the way they like them at home, and the other person isn’t doing things that way,” Janicki says. “Well, we don’t have any of that friction.”

“There’s this weird expectation that when you’re in a relationship with somebody, you automatically become an indivisible unit.”

Instead, what they have, she says, is a relationship that consists only of “the fun stuff.”

“There’s this weird expectation that when you’re in a relationship with somebody, you automatically become an indivisible unit — that you now do everything together, and that people have to invite you to things together,” says Janicki. “But I’m me. I’m not part of a couple. I’m me. I just happen to like spending time with him.”

Living alone, for Janicki, means she doesn't have to clean up after anyone. Everything in her home is her own &mdash; including whatever mess there might be.
Living alone, for Janicki, means she doesn't have to clean up after anyone. Everything in her home is her own — including whatever mess there might be.

Avery: With age comes the confidence to ask for space, and explore an open relationship

“I think it’s really easy to get worried about any semblance of distance, or being separated from one’s partner — to have that become a point of insecurity,” Avery* says. “But actually the thing that makes distance possible and welcome is closeness — being able to come to a point where there’s enough communication and mutual understanding that allows you to ask.”

That communication and mutual understanding, too, comes with time and maturity. Avery, who is now 25, has been with their boyfriend for three years now, but for a long time, they weren’t completely confident in what their desires or boundaries were.

<a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2019/04/08/open-relationships-study_a_23708333/">A UBC study</a> from earlier this year found one in 10 Canadians want to be in open relationships.
A UBC study from earlier this year found one in 10 Canadians want to be in open relationships.

“When you’re in your early 20s, it’s hard to know exactly what you’re about, and the conditions in which you thrive,” Avery says. “Some people never figure that out, and they end up underselling themselves in terms of their complexity as people.”

Avery’s boyfriend is nine years older than they are, and the age difference has lent the relationship a particular rhythm — being older, he’s already learned his pace and his needs — that allows them to maintain their own lives. They’re able to take time away from each other without feeling guilty. They can travel separately, or work in the same room without speaking. “I have a better sense of my own boundaries now,” Avery says.

“It’s about understanding that your partner is a complex human being who’s had an entire life before meeting you.”

This sense of freedom and boundaries has extended into their sex lives, too. Though primarily monogamous, Avery and their partner have experimented in different ways with opening up their relationship. Every weekend, they discuss how they felt about the last week.

“I wouldn’t want him to miss out on any experiences, in the same way that he wouldn’t want me to miss out on any,” Avery says.

“I think, really, it’s about understanding that your partner is a complex human being who’s had an entire life before meeting you. They have their own needs, and those aren’t needs that stop just because they’ve met you.”

Watch: Myths about being in an open relationship. Story continues below.

Annie: Part-time relationship? There’s an app for that

In the fall of 2016, Annie Cox was out strolling at a local park, thinking about five wishes from a list she’d created for the things she hoped to bring into her life. No.3 was romance.

“I couldn’t have a full-time relationship, given my lifestyle,” Cox explains. She had busy personal and professional lives, and couldn’t imagine making time for a whole other person’s life. “What I immediately thought was, ‘Well, if I can’t have a full-time relationship, why can’t I have a part-time one?’”

The phrasing felt strange — “part-time” — but the idea made sense. The only problem was that she’d never used a dating website before and, upon searching, couldn’t find one that offered what she was looking for: a “living apart together” (LAT) relationship, in which she could date someone, long-term and monogamously, who wouldn’t demand all of her time and wouldn’t want to live with her. “That’s when I decided to create Apartner.”

Cox says that when Gwyneth Paltrow announced she and her husband, Brad Falchuk, <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/gwyneth-paltrow-brad-falchuk-living-apart_l_5cfe8ae0e4b04e90f1cd3cb6">had been living apart</a>, searches for the term, &ldquo;living apart together&rdquo; quadrupled.&nbsp;
Cox says that when Gwyneth Paltrow announced she and her husband, Brad Falchuk, had been living apart, searches for the term, “living apart together” quadrupled. 

Apartner is an LAT dating app that connects “people who want to engage in a committed, monogamous relationship without having to compromise their independence or personal space.” For the most part, research has found that LAT couples tend to be over the age of 50.

There’s no shortage of famous examples in LAT dating: Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton lived in separate London homes, right next to each other (before splitting up), in the aughts; Victoria and David Beckham reportedly have their own designated spaces on a shared property. Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick count ample time apart as having made their relationship stronger. “I know this sounds nuts, but we have lives that allow us to be away and come back together,” Parker once said.

“Some people just want to live by their own rhythm.”

Cox says that when Gwyneth Paltrow announced she and her husband, Brad Falchuk, had been living apart, searches for the term “living apart together” quadrupled.

“Some people just want to live by their own rhythm,” Cox says. “They want that independence and personal space — the autonomy that comes with not having a partner around all the time.

“They don’t want to have to ask for permission, and in LAT relationships, they don’t have to.”

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