He’s an Albanian-American introvert with Buddhist leanings. I was raised an Orthodox Jew. I’m somewhat loquacious and politely Canadian. How the two of us ended up together in Montreal as a couple is both baffling and amazing. The stuff of movies, one might say — befitting, since I am a filmmaker. But unlike the traditional trajectory of Hollywood movies, where the protagonists meet, fall in love, move in together and marry, we wrote our own ending, one that involved living happily ever apart.
We are what I call apartners — committed partners who live apart. And we are about to celebrate our 23rd anniversary.
People often ask why we don’t live together. The truth is that there is no one answer. In the beginning, when David and I met, our schedules were completely opposite — he was up at the crack of dawn, working 10-hour days, sometimes six days a week. He works in the aerospace industry and was often on deadline. I have a more flexible schedule and often work late into the night.
For us, living apart made sense. We both lived in modest, rent-controlled apartments and really enjoyed having both time together and alone.
As time passed, it became increasingly clear that David’s temporary time in Montreal was going to become permanent — with me. We were in love, we were in this for the long haul, and we were also happy to live 15 minutes apart. Even though we have our own spaces, our lives are completely intertwined. I look at it like we’re a Venn diagram: We’re each a complete circle on our own, but then we have our overlapping part. That overlapping part is our life together. And that’s finite. That’s forever.
I’ve heard all the skepticism — “You’re just friends with benefits!” — to which I reply, “It’s been 23 years. Those are some benefits!” I don’t know too many casual daters who are the executors of each other’s estates and have each other’s powers of attorney.
Then there are those who confide in me, “Had I known this was an option, maybe I wouldn’t be divorced now.”
Our relationship is no different from any other committed, lifelong relationship — it just happens to operate from two separate addresses.
David and I have been through everything together — illnesses, deaths, the highs and lows of life, and we are always there for one another. What more can someone ask for?
I see apartnering as a fluid arrangement. There are times we do live together — when one of us is ill or recovering from surgery, for example. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were under curfew for months and I didn’t feel comfortable being alone, so he stayed with me then. And since David has retired, we’re looking into moving into a duplex, with me upstairs and him downstairs. So we’ll still be apartners, but in the same building. A new adventure.
David is a very important part of my world, but he is not my entire world. Living separately allows me to have my needs met by others in addition to David, including friends and family. I feel that expecting one person to be your everything is setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s also unrealistic and puts tremendous pressure on a relationship. There are so many other people who enrich our lives. I’m a big believer in community. People in the past lived in villages or extended family groups, and I feel that a primary relationship should ideally exist within that framework.
We have found that when you take away mundane things in life — who’s going to do the dishes, pick up the socks off the floor? — and focus on what’s really important, you can focus on what is really important in a relationship — support, care, intimacy and companionship. By having our own spaces, I feel that David and I are actually more present for each other. Of course we still sometimes argue, but when we do, David and I can take a timeout from each other. We have space to cool down and reflect and come back together in a healthier and more constructive manner.
For me, the best part about being apartners is having the time and space to recharge my batteries. That can only be beneficial for any kind of relationship. If my batteries are depleted, how will I ever have the energy to devote to anyone else?
I’m not advocating that being apartners is right for everyone. Not every couple is meant to live apart. But, not every couple is meant to live together, either. There is simply no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all way to love. My intention with my upcoming film is to show that options exist.
Life is hard enough. If you can find someone who makes you feel loved and will stand with you through all the hardships, try to find a way to make it work for both of you, no matter what society dictates. We made it work, and for that, I count my blessings every day.
As told to Rheana Murray
Sharon Hyman is working on a documentary called “Apartners: Living Happily Ever Apart,” that she plans to release in 2022.