Montreal·Personal Essay

Together, apart: Love in the time of corona

Carolyn Marie Souaid and her apartner have their own flats in the same building — an especially good thing during this global pandemic.

Carolyn Marie Souaid and her mate live separately, an arrangement that has its perks

For a decade, Carolyn Marie Souaid and Endre Farkas have been apartners — they come and go from each other’s places, dine together, sleep together, but don't live together. (Submitted by Carolyn Marie Souaid)

Yesterday, when I thought I was helping out with dinner, my mate exploded. I had poured what appeared to be our usual dressing into the salad. Turned out it was a special marinade for the turbot he was preparing to fry, one that had taken precision and patience to make.

He barked at me — had I thrown anything out, like his marinade? Sheepishly, I tried to explain but couldn't hold back my laughter. The cuss words flew fast and furiously from his mouth.

Generally, Endre is a patient man. A calm man. But this put him over the top.

We ate in silence, the turbot dry, the salad awash in soy sauce and lime. I sensed his need to stew, and my being there was not going to help matters. After clearing the plates, I grabbed my phone and took off, up a flight of stairs to my place.

It's a good thing we have our own flats in the same building. And it's been an especially good thing during this global pandemic. I had my doubts at first, about the extra expense, about our commitment to the relationship, but not now.

We are what Montreal filmmaker Sharon Hyman calls "apartners"— committed mates who live apart, usually by choice and not only because of jobs in different cities or difficulties cohabiting with children from a previous union.

It's an arrangement that is gaining popularity, thanks to the shifting attitudes around what constitutes a relationship, the increased autonomy of women — personal and financial — and the erasure of the stigma surrounding women who live on their own.

In March, when the news broke that Canada was going into lockdown, nobody had the faintest clue what it would look like. Facebook posts of Italians singing from their balconies were romantic images of human resilience in the face of adversity. Taking their lead, we opened our windows to the city church bells ringing in solidarity.

As the honeymoon phase of quarantine-imposed togetherness came to an end and it became clear that the pandemic wasn't going away anytime soon, news outlets surged with stories of couples struggling to manage childcare and workplace responsibilities, and a rise in mental health issues and domestic violence. 

Endre and I have been apartners for nearly a decade. Writers both, we needed a Room of our Own, a quiet, comfortable place to be without interruptions or another presence. This year, the privilege of having separate spaces not only helped alleviate the stress of forced confinement, but also provided unexpected benefits.

Endre has a compromised immune system, putting him at greater risk if he contracts the virus. In the beginning, when we were all hyper-vigilant about sanitizing our counters ten times a day,

I didn't want to do anything to endanger him. I hardly went out. We ordered our groceries. When they arrived, he disappeared into his study while I emptied the boxes, disinfected and repackaged the food for safe consumption. Afterwards, at my place, I threw my clothes in the wash and showered thoroughly.

In October 2010, the two apartners purchased a pied-à-terre in the same condo development, one floor apart. This is a view of Carolyn's condo. (Submitted by Carolyn Marie Souaid)

Whether or not this cleansing ritual had any scientific merit, it made me feel that I had safely expunged any nefarious germs I might have picked up.

The second flat was also practical when I started experiencing headaches and a suspicious tickle in my throat. During that time, we didn't touch a whole lot or whisper sweet nothings into each other's ear.

What we did, instead, was talk late into the night about cabbages and kings — art, politics, and the world — before retiring to our own beds. Though my symptoms did not turn into COVID, this escape hatch appealed to the germaphobe in me. It allowed us to sleep soundly — apart. And that, arguably, is a version of romance.

Living as apartners during a global pandemic reduces the anxiety of coupledom. When we're together, it's because we want to be. We share the day in new ways, having our cake and eating it too, as my mother used to say.

Mornings, after breakfast, we exercise to a tranquil soundscape, keeping our minds clear and our bodies limber. Then it's the Great Divide, me at my place writing or drawing or watching a favourite Hollywood film, he at his with his nose in a book or practising a new Tai Chi form.

The time apart helps us better cope with the small annoyances — a sink full of dishes, an overflowing hamper — and the bigger ones that can ruin a meal.

Or a relationship.


Carolyn Marie Souaid is the Montreal-based author of eight poetry collections and the acclaimed novel, Yasmeen Haddad Loves Joanasi Maqaittik (Baraka Books, 2017). She works for Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, the school board that serves the Inuit of Nunavik.