A few years ago, I interviewed Doug Sohn as he prepared to shutter Hot Doug’s, his nationally recognized hot dog and sausage shop in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood. In his early 50s at the time, he decided to close his wildly popular restaurant simply because he wanted to move on to something else before running the shop became “work” for him.
I also interviewed his girlfriend for the story. They’d been together for 17 years and were childless with their own homes on opposite sides of town. Of course, they spend nights and weekends at each other’s places, but they were adamant about maintaining their own space. During conversations where the other person wasn’t present, they both passionately insisted that they would’ve broken up years ago had they gotten married and moved in together.
I was married when I interviewed Sohn (who, ironically, told me, “Eeeee…don’t do it” when I told him I was engaged, before giving me lunch on the house), but I never stopped thinking about his arrangement with his partner. Now that I’m on my own again, it’s always at the top of my noodle: is partnership without cohabitation the move?
Think about it: we don’t want to live with most people forever. We rake and scrape for a couple decades precisely so we set our children up to move the fuck out of the crib. We enjoy our friends’ company once or twice a week but would rather not wake up to those niggas every day unless they’re paying rent (and even then). And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather stab myself in the urethra with a heated pipe cleaner than live with my parents as a 30-something man.
These are the people we love more than anyone else in the world – what makes a romantic partner any different? Marital cohabitation became a thing when average life expectancy was only half of however old Morgan Freeman is and all hands on deck were necessary to tend to the acreage and pigs and shit.
If there’s anything most married people understand all too well, it’s that familiarity breeds contempt – the lifetime of interminable romance that you expected after a childhood full of happily-ever-afters from the inkwells of Walt Disney Studios eases not so gracefully into the reality of staid monotony and a desire to take a grown man’s life over dirty draws that somehow wind up just outside the hamper.
I, too, am guilty of the contemptible bullshit: Because I’ll likely always possess the capacity to become a 7-year-old at the drop of a hat, I delighted in dropping those silent murder farts while sitting on the couch with my wife…watching her face in anticipation until the moment it hit her nostrils. In hindsight, I realize that this innocuous yet inadvertently invidious behavior could only push the needle toward resentment.
I’d wager that it’s familiarity that makes most long-term marital sex about as exciting as a C-SPAN binge. A friend of mine says his wife never gets naked around him unless they’re having sex…if she’s in the bathroom naked brushing her teeth or whatever, dude gets kicked out. That seemed nuts to me at first, but then I think about what it’s like to have blood rushing to your nether regions at the mere sight of your partner’s naked body in the beginning, only for that to devolve into the quotidian, non-stimulating sight of them crouched on the toilet peeing with the door open as they rub the morning boogers out of their eyes.
I understand that marital non-cohabitation gets touchier when it comes to raising children, especially since two pairs of hands are better than one when you have a newborn keeping everyone the fuck up in the middle of the night. Otherwise, what’s the big deal about children bouncing between the homes of two parents on a regular basis? My parents divorced when I was very young, and I never felt like my childhood was hindered by the fact that I couldn’t gather around the dinner table with my immediate family like The Waltons – all that mattered to me is that I felt loved and cared for by both parents.
I admit that one of my favorite parts of being married was coming home knowing my partner would be there – there’s certainly a sense of comfort there. The corollary there is that home became the worst place ever when things between us were a shit show. But now, the way my single life and its myriad habits are set up, I’m nowhere near as eager to live with another partner the way I was in my 20s when I was looking for my wife.
I’ve encountered a surprising number of women who are interested in marriage but also pretty insistent on having their own space if they get hitched – most of them are a little older (read: not 20-somethings), are established in their careers and are of substantive means. They like their homes a certain way and don’t want to spend their days worried about cleaning up a nigga’s urine droplets from around the toilet rim.
It makes sense when you consider that the days of women needing to be hitched to an earning man are quickly falling to the wayside. Just like the days of folks hopping into marriage in their 20s are going away. So, considering that the connubial Way of Things is undergoing a significant paradigm change, maybe this is just another thing that shocks your system when suggested but actually has some merit in practice.
It’s not like the institution of marriage in America has been a rousing fucking success.