People choose not to cohabit for various reasons. They may live far apart geographically, and love their respective homes too much to move. Or they want to remain near kids/grandkids. A huge issue for older adults is lifestyle, and feeling that each partner’s long-standing habits might not mesh well under one roof.
How we choose to live is as personal as our food and clothing preferences — perhaps more so. And while marriage or living together is still the norm for most couples, there’s another living arrangement that’s raising interest, if not eyebrows: LAT, or living apart together. The relative oxymoron may be especially appealing to seniors — and to reverse mortgage professionals, for whom one couple could yield two potential HECMs.
As someone who once conceived the idea of side-by-side houses conjoined by a Great Room where a couple might meet for a meal, or when both decide they want to spend time together, LAT appeals to me as one creative solution to being partnered without necessarily sharing the same dwelling 24/7.
Such an arrangement might have been viewed askance a few decades ago. But now it’s gaining currency, particularly with those who say they’re “set in their ways”, yet are in a long-term relationship. And by the time people retire, many care a lot less about what others think than they did in their younger years.
Janice Handler, a retired lawyer in her late 60s, and husband Norman Ilowite, 85, have been LAT since they married in 1978. Ilowite spends most of his time aboard a 40-foot yacht; his wife lives in a two-bedroom apartment she purchased in 1993. They spend weekends together on the boat and winters in her apartment and, while Handler doubted the arrangement would work well at first, she now says she’d choose it again in a heartbeat. With an eye on her husband’s age, however, Handler avers they may need to rethink their LAT arrangement in the near future.
Another couple, in their 70s, has always been avant-garde: after meeting at a youth group 48 years ago, they finally wed in 2007. And while they’ve been happily LAT the entire time, as they age they say they might consider a single roof if one of them becomes seriously ill.
Key factors that affect the LAT decision
“U.S. society has yet to recognize LAT as a legitimate choice. If more people — young and old, married or not — saw LAT as an option, it might save them from a lot of future heartache,” says Jacquelyn Benson, assistant professor in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Missouri. Discussions about end-of-life planning and caregiving can be sensitive to talk about; however, LAT couples should make it a priority to have these conversations both as a couple and with their families. Many of us wait until a crisis to address those issues, but in situations like LAT where there are no socially prescribed norms dictating behavior, these conversations may be more important than ever.”
While it’s true that many older adults who’ve already been in a long-term marriage and are now divorced or widowed may not want to merge their lives so completely again at this stage, for some, the issue may be as simple as not wanting to change your surname if you remarry.
A 93-year-old Australian woman consistently refused her beau’s proposal for two decades, thinking taking his surname would be disrespectful to her deceased husband. When she learned she could keep her own last name she finally said yes, much to her longtime love’s delight. And since she had already convinced him to move to her town so the pair could be together, it’s a safe bet their years as a LAT couple might conclude with the wedding.
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