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Non-Traditional Marriage

Dear Jim:  I’m 64 and have been a widow for ten years. Last summer, I met a wonderful man, “Carl,” at a lunch club for widows and widowers. We fell in love almost immediately, and we’re now talking marriage. The only thing is: Carl doesn’t feel we need to live together after we’re married. We’re both homeowners---in fact, we live only a mile from each other---and either one of our homes is big enough for both of us. But Carl would like to continue the kind of relationship we have now, even after we’re married: seeing each other for lunch and dinner nearly every day, staying overnight at one house or the other several times a week, going away together occasionally on weekend trips, etc. To tell you the truth, I’ve been alone so long I’m not sure I want to share a house with someone 24/7. But it also sounds a little crazy, like it wouldn’t be a “real” marriage. Plus, we’d be spending a lot of extra money maintaining two homes when one would do. What do you think? (“Beth”)

Dear Beth:  In a purely financial sense, you’re correct: it would be a waste of money to have two homes. You would have double the taxes, double the insurance, double the maintenance and utilities, and---if you don’t own your homes outright---double the mortgage payments.

But you would also have double the space. And space, literally or figuratively, is what Carl seems to want. Like you, he’s comfortable with the daily routine he’s developed in his years of living alone. It sounds as if he’s successfully adapted that routine to allow you to be in his life, and it also sounds as if there’s no other woman in the picture or any other troubling reason for his not wanting to live with you full-time.
My feeling is that what Carl wants is unusual but not “crazy.” In fact, it may be perfectly rational. He may fear that sharing a house full-time would destroy the romance you have now, or cause one or both of you to become irritated with the other person’s habits. Maybe he likes the idea of staying up late a couple of nights a week to read or watch TV without keeping you up. Or maybe he likes to linger over the morning paper without having to make conversation.

Of course, if you’re truly uncomfortable with Carl’s idea, you shouldn’t get married to him. But if your main concern is how it would look to others, don’t let that bother you. There are all kinds of “unconventional” marriages out there, and sometimes people with “traditional” marriages are secretly jealous of couples who allow each other more freedom and alone-time.

And getting back to the money: the two of you are evidently living comfortably already, so your standard of living shouldn’t be compromised if you were to get married but keep your separate homes. And now would be a bad time to sell, anyway, if you don’t have to. It’s entirely possible that at some point down the road Carl may feel differently about all this, and by then one of you might be able to sell your home for a decent price. Until then, enjoy the unconventional life!

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