COLUMBIA, Mo. — Perhaps love and marriage don’t go together like a horse and carriage after all. A new study finds that older Americans looking for love are latching onto a new trend that tempers the demands of a committed relationship, a phenomenon known as “Living Apart Together,” or “LAT.”
Spurred by a divorce rate that has doubled among this demographic since 1990, many older singles — often divorced or widowed — have taken on “an intimate relationship without a shared residence.” New research was conducted upon the increasingly popular relationship arrangement among those 50 years of age or older.
According to Jacquelyn Benson, a researcher at the University of Missouri who is entrenched in the topic, LAT has long been an established phenomenon in Europe. Only in recent years is the trend reaching the United States en masse.
“What has long been understood about late-in-life relationships is largely based on long-term marriage,” Benson explains in a release. With marriage rates amongst older Americans declining, she argues that “if more people— young and old, married or not— saw LAT as an option, it might save them from a lot of future heartache.”
LAT couples want independence, but should still discuss end-of-life care
For their study, Benson and another researcher interviewed adults who were at least 60 years of age and in committed relationships, yet didn’t live together. From their interactions with this demographic, the two researchers found that there were a number of motivating factors for a LAT-type relationship.
A major theme seemed to be independence— older couples wanted their family and finances to remain separate from their partner. A stigma revolving around living together and not being wed at an older age also played a factor; many expressed that describing their partner as a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” would feel awkward.
Benson, who is continuing her research, points out how she hopes to help discover and resolve issues pertaining to LAT arrangements and late life imperatives, such as end-of-life planning and caregiving.
“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,” she says. “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.”
The study is published in the journal Family Relations.