living apart together elena's story

Living Apart Together – Elena’s Story

If I had to choose one word to define my lifetime of experience, it would be ‘late’. Everything has happened late or instead, I have arrived later than others to stages in life we regularly associate with younger age. Getting a degree, studying for a PhD, becoming a mother, knowing what I wanted from life or what I wanted to do for a living…all came to me late.

So, I was older when I married, had my child and three months into the marriage we separated. There I was on my own, looking after my young baby with the generous, selfless help of family and friends. A time when I had never felt so happy, so fulfilled, I stopped writing my thesis and regretfully never went back.

living apart together elena's story

Everything was going well, thinking I was in the most rewarding romance ever with my daughter – entirely focused on her and her wellbeing. We led a quiet, simple life, living in our countryside family house, enjoying both mountains and beaches surrounded by friends and family. Essentially, carving a unique mother-daughter adventure spending balmy days taking in long, hilly walks and lazing on sparsely populated beaches during summertime.

living apart together, alicante hills

However, I was acutely aware this blissful vacuum we created would not last forever. After some time, being short of money and having the responsibility of two mouths to feed meant the dreaded idea of finding work was continually niggling at the back of my mind.

It’s true when people declare parenthood as the most complete state in life. But admittedly, for me, the feeling was short lived. After the first few years, life, in general, became more complicated. It’s was no longer just my baby and me.

living apart together elena's story

I had to find ways to deal with school and the complex social interactions naturally coinciding with raising a child. Those interactions leave you exhausted, or at least, they left me exhausted. Despite efforts to avoid getting carried away by our fast-moving world, inevitably I made compromises to resist becoming an island, if only for my child’s sake.

An invitation to a school reunion arrived celebrating our primary school graduation thirty years earlier. Presenting a dilemma as often school reunions do, I accepted with some reluctance because I always felt different from my primary school friends. Ultimately, we followed very different paths in adult life. But my close friends insisted I should go and off I went merely to enjoy myself, conceding to have a couple of glasses of wine.

It just so happened it was the same night when I met the person who is now my current partner! Remarkably, we fell in love soon after and started seeing each other as often as we could manage. He was recently divorced and lucky enough to enjoy joint custody of his children.  Both he and his ex-wife were classmates of mine with two daughters who at the time, were eight and five when my daughter was two years old.

From the day we met, to having the most romantic lunch and embarking on a real, passionate romance; the consequence of being together meant our relationship would become densely populated.

We began our relationship in October 2007, and I met his girls in May 2008. Our meeting came too soon for us all, and the attempt to bring us all together proved to be a miscalculation on my partner’s part. I wasn’t keen on meeting the girls – it didn’t feel like the right time and I could second guess how the meeting would play out and let’s just say despite my best efforts, it didn’t go well.

For many years there were at least five of us in the relationship – me, my partner, his ex-wife, their kids and my daughter, who perhaps because of her younger age, took second place when it came to family decision making. From the day we met, to having the most romantic lunch and embarking on a real, passionate romance; the consequence of being together meant our relationship would become densely populated.  

living apart together elena's story

The years passed and inevitably many discussions around living together took place. But we were never quite ready or confident enough to take the plunge. Within me, there was always a feeling of not being able to achieve an expected goal – to live together as a blended family. I felt guilty for being fiercely independent, and as a result, I saw not being able to do so as my fault – or, in other words, as my failure.

As someone who never minces my words, I felt my strong personality and in some way, my financial independence was to blame for not being able to start a family life where we would all live together. It appeared I was incapable of doing what a grown person was expected to do – what many people do in the same situation. But, to live as a blended family was to endure a lifestyle I knew I did not want, and in effect would mean deceiving myself and the values that have come to shape me.

In challenging times, as my dearest friend used to say, experience and life are fragmented and not absolute. It doesn’t mean when life does not appear ‘whole’ in the eyes of others, it is lacking or incomplete.

I felt challenged to live life onlookers would regard as ‘whole’ or complete or whatever that means. Being complete by creating a blended family? Honestly? Realising my understanding of life experience was influenced by a culture valuing traditional family structures as the pillar of society, I began to feel confused and delusional about the role I should be playing in this world.

In challenging times, as my dearest friend used to say, experience and life are fragmented and not absolute. It doesn’t mean when life does not appear ‘whole’ in the eyes of others, it is lacking or incomplete.

living apart together, alicante sunset

But in an ideal world or a less complicated one people with different interests, priorities or ideas about how to live could peacefully share the same space. However and unfortunately, in my view, there is no such world. Personalities, interests and feelings about all sorts of issues continuously clash in the midst of pressures of everyday life.

People will either compromise too much or argue all the time. In my opinion and I don’t expect you to agree, traditional families are in crisis amid the weight of competing everyday pressures. The concept becomes even more convoluted when both partners have to raise their own children. Bringing up two families together brings further complications emotionally and practically. With children being a lifetime commitment the best option for me is living apart together.

I want and need to take part in the adventure life brings and equally, have precious time to play other, profoundly rewarding roles in a meaningful way. I’ve chosen to live alone with my daughter and meet my partner two or three times a week at most, either at my house or his place.

I have grown to feel very strongly about living apart together.  The arrangement allows me to generously give the best of me to the most important people in my life…

Frequently, we go out as a family when there is something to do together and without making a big deal of it. I have time to devote to my friends, my work as well as the ability to focus on interests that really matter to me. My life is whole and complete now without the added demands being part of a blended family living under one roof brings.

I have grown to feel very strongly about living apart together.  The arrangement allows me to generously give the best of me to the most important people in my life – my daughter, my family, friends, my partner and his family. I never feel unhappy or lonely. My relationship with my partner is alive and strong because we are living apart together.

Sometimes we go on short romantic trips as a couple, sometimes we all go away together, or he will travel with his daughters as I do, with mine. We also try to schedule time for our one-to-one relationship and really look forward to time spent without the kids. Life for us is far richer, more vibrant and runs smoothly this way.

We have found our way to be with each other. Living together apart makes sense, and above all, it works. Rejecting conventional family life with my partner, I can finally say ‘our’ way is a relief for us and is a satisfying alternative from what life may otherwise have been.

Photos published with kind permission from Elena

 

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Elena
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