"So, what are you and 'J' going to do?" a friend asked recently.
"J" is my boyfriend and we do a lot of things, some of which I'm much too discreet to discuss publicly. I needed clarification.
"What do you mean?"
"Are you ever going to get married or live together or something like that?"
Oh, that question. It's not the first time I've heard it. "J" and I have been in a committed monogamous relationship for almost eight years (well, with a year of non-monogamy early on), and he lives in his house and I live in mine. Neither of us wants to get married -- he's done it once and I've done it twice -- and we're not sure we want to live together either.
Our relationship doesn't look like a relationship is "supposed" to look like, and so people feel uncomfortable about it.
"Why don't you want to live together?" After all, isn't that what people who love each other do?
Relationships used to be that way, when we had little choice. But since there are so many ways to be a couple now, why do we still think they have to be that way? And once you're divorced with kids, there are many compelling reasons not to have your relationship look like that.
When his and my kids were young, mashing two families together seemed, well, scary. I know people do it all the time, creating their own versions of the Brady Bunch to various degrees of success. But since 60 percent of all second marriages end in divorce, and since blended families often create a mess for everyone -- you, your new spouse, your former spouse and his/her new spouse, as well as the kids -- and since second marriages don't necessarily lead to marital satisfaction, why would I want to marry again?
Oh sure, we could have lived together. That's not the message I wanted to send to my kids, however. Plus, the idea of putting them through another split if things didn't work out was too painful to even think about; one divorce for kids is more than enough.
It's not to say that sometimes I don't long to come home to what seems familiar -- someone to share stories of our day with over dinner and a warm body to snuggle next to every night instead of three or four a week. There are many pleasures that come with living with someone, which, between my two marriages, I did for nearly 20 years.
And then there are the not-so-pleasurable things that come from living with someone for years.
We start to get annoyed by their habits -- you know, the ones they always had, the ones we used to find "charming." We complain that they're not doing their share of (insert child-care, cleaning, yard work, laundry, etc., here). We get upset because they're spending too much time (insert watching sports, on the computer, playing video games, hanging out with friends, fussing over the kids, shopping, etc., here). All of those things lead to disappointment, anger, maybe even resentment, and so we stop having sex. And we start taking each other for granted.
Don't think cohabiting gets you off the hook, either; you don't have to be married to take each other for granted, as Susan Sarandon discovered after splitting from Tim Robbins after 23 years of cohabitation and having two children together.
"I thought that if you didn't get married you wouldn't take each other for granted as easily. I don't know if after twenty-something years that was still true," she told The Telegraph in 2010.
But, marriage, the institution, doesn't make us do or not do anything; the people in the marriage are responsible for how they act. Taking each other for granted is not part of any marriage vow as far as I know.
Maybe the problem is living together.
A new study seems to confirm what "J" and I already know -- couples who live apart are happier in their relationship than couples who live together, and they also feel more committed and less trapped. When you live apart, you actively work on commitment and trust; it's never taken for granted. You have time for yourself. And because sex whenever you want it isn't as available to you as it is when you live with someone, you don't let too many opportunities to actually have it pass you by.
So when people ask me, "Are you ever going to get married or live together or something like that?" I guess I'll have to continue to answer, "Something like that."
We're free to create the relationship we want post-divorce. I've created mine -- have you created yours?
A version of this story appears on Vicki Larson's blog, OMG Chronicles.