Cross Country Checkup

'Apartners' in crime: Why more Canadian couples are choosing to live separately

While living alone is an unwilling choice for some, it's a growing trend among Canadians — even those in committed relationships. As living alone together becomes more common, some Canadian couples are consciously choosing to live apart.

For some, it's an unwilling choice. For others, it's a way to get much-needed space

Sharon Hyman, left, and David Demetre have been together for 20 years — and have lived separately for most of it. (Submitted by Sharon Hyman)

For Sharon Hyman, living separately from her long-time partner offers the "best of both worlds" — solitude and intimacy — while avoiding the less-appealing parts of sharing a home.

"It's not easy living with somebody and it's really lucky if you're compatible," the Montreal-based filmmaker, 56, said.

"I don't have to worry about cleaning up after him and he doesn't have to worry about me being too loud."

Hyman, and her 63-year-old partner David Demetre, have been together for over 20 years and live a short drive from each other. They see each other four times a week and most weekends.

The pair are among an increasingly common group of couples who live apart, together (LAT) — but Hyman prefers to call themselves "apartners."

Living solo is a growing trend in Canada. Statistics Canada reported last month that single-person households have doubled in the last three decades with growth led by those 35 to 64.

Though for many, living alone is an unwilling decision, like those separated from partners by divorce or illness. For others like Hyman, it's a conscious choice, whether single or attached.

"I really enjoy my own space," Hyman said. "I enjoy just having solitude and getting to see friends and family and having my own life."

Statistics Canada reports that 20 per cent of couples, 25 to 34, live separately from their partners. (Shutterstock)

Not 'real' couples, say critics

Hyman isn't alone.

The number of Canadians who live apart together rose from six per cent in 2006, to nine per cent in 2017 and more than a third made the decision to be apart.

University of Manitoba sociologist Laura Funk says that even though it's more common among younger Canadians, middle-aged folks are often choosing LAT partnerships.

"There may be — especially after something like a divorce or widowhood — more preferences now, particularly among women, to remain in separate households even though they have a loving, committed relationship with a new partner," she said.

When I'm applying for a bank card or whatever I still have to technically write that I'm single.- Sharon Hyman , filmmaker

In a 2016 study, Funk found that couples choose LAT relationships for reasons similar to Hyman: a desire for their own space.

But while non-traditional relationships are now more accepted, LAT relationships are still stigmatized.

"They [study participants] often said, 'Others don't recognise us as a real couple and that's frustrating,'" Funk said.

Technically single

Public perceptions aren't the only barrier for LAT couples to overcome, however.

Hyman, who's producing a documentary called Apartners: Living Happily Ever After Apart, says that finances are a big consideration. The "apartners" maintain two separate households — each with their own monthly payments.

She also argues that governments and businesses must consider LAT relationships in the same way they do single, married and widowed people.

"I've been in a committed relationship for 20 years, and yet when I'm applying for a bank card or whatever I still have to technically write that I'm single," she said.

Demetre, left, and Hyman first started dating circa 1999. (Submitted by Sharon Hyman)

Funk offers an alternative consideration for LAT couples: "How can they sign up for a Costco card ... when they have separate residences or addresses?"

Two decades on, Hyman and Demetre are thinking about making a big step in their relationship. Demetre has recently retired and is looking to make a move.

"He's finally looking to possibly move five minutes away," Hyman said laughing.

"That's a big milestone."


With files from Samantha Lui

About the Author

Jason Vermes

Digital Associate Producer

Jason Vermes is an award-winning digital and radio producer for CBC Radio’s Day 6 and Cross Country Checkup. He has previously worked on As It Happens, The Current and Spark, and reported on accessibility & disability for Accessible Media Inc. You can contact him by email: jason.vermes@cbc.ca.

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