Excuse me, madam, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but who do you sleep with? I mean, even if you have a significant other, do you actually, you know, share the same Slumberland, sip from the same Teasmade, and fluff up the same floral-print valance at the start of each day?
Apologies if you think you’re in a Dick Emery sketch. You remember: the one featuring the comedian in drag as a sexually frustrated spinster that concluded with the punchline: “Ooh, you are awful... but I like you!” I don’t want any more detail, madam – that’s between you and your other half – but if you’re one of those who doesn’t share, then you’re part of a thing, a trend, a vogue-ish movement. Sociologists call it “living apart together” (LAT) and it’s just been given some serious celebrity endorsement.
In an interview in the Sunday Times, Gillian Anderson, star of The X Files, The Fall and currently Sex Education, revealed how she and her partner, the scriptwriter Peter Morgan, don’t just have separate beds but separate homes.
Yesterday Brian Cox – famous Dundonian, great Shakespearian, brilliant at cannibalistic serial killers and also cannibalistic media moguls – admitted that while he lives under the same roof as his wife Nicole Ansari, each has their own bedroom.
New show for Channel 5?
Then came the “Ooh you are awful” kicker: there’s also a room that they “tryst in”. “Is this true?” gasped the woman from the Guardian. “He has a shag room?”
“Yeah! We do,” said Cox, the Golden Globe-winning star of Succession. “It’s basically her room and I’m allowed to visit occasionally, heh heh heh!”
Two celeb commendations for living apart together in 24 hours? I bet Channel 5 are hard at work on a lifestyle show – working title: My Wife Next Door – even as you’re reading this.
There could be even more latitude for LAT if my snap-poll around this office is a reliable indicator. “I might fancy that,” was a typical response, “and I think my wife might be even more enthusiastic. Right now when I drop a sock she tidies it away in the spare room. She’s trying to tell me something...”
It is reassuring indeed that stardom offers little insulation against such mundanities. Anderson is one of the most glamorous women on screen and yet she’s not immune to them. My wife is not just one of, but the, most glamorous woman in my house and doubtless she can relate to Anderson’s remark about how the actress can “see a pair of trousers left lying on the floor at my partner’s place and step over them not feeling it is my job to do something about it”.
Separate but conjoined
As Anderson extols the virtues of LAT, she stresses it isn’t a fad to be picked up and dropped like big disco collars and abstract expressionist home decor (these are definite trends for 2020; I looked them up). LAT works for her out of necessity. “My partner and I don’t live together. If we did, that would be the end of us,” she said. “It works so well as it is [and] it feels so special when we do come together.”
LAT is also practised by Gwyneth Paltrow, who helped mint the phrase “conscious uncoupling”, and Brad Falchuk. Meanwhile Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton, when they were together, used to inhabit separate-but-conjoined houses linked by a chanderliered tunnel so they could see each other when they wanted and give the other one space when that was required.
Celebs are nuts, of course. For the rest of us, choosing to sleep in separate beds has been called “the last relationship taboo”. But is it? Different beds has traditionally evoked sighs of pity or concern and sometimes a judgemental reaction. Maybe this is old-fashioned. The world is changing fast: more fluid, more blended. People can’t so easily be put in boxes anymore, never mind beds.
It’s a trend and a thing anyway. In 2018, one in seven Brits were cheerfully sleeping separately and I bet it’s more now. And if you’re among them then you’re not so different, so very different, from the home life of our own dear Queen. Last year it was revealed that HRH and the Duke of Edinburgh headed off to the Land of Nod from their own four-posters. Bang on the money as usual, the most recent series of The Crown features a scene where the Duke announces he’s going “orf” to bed only for the Queen, with a saucy look, to promise to be “up in a minute”.
The upper classes like separate beds, according to Prince Phillip’s cousin Lady Pamela Hicks, author of a biography of the Queen, because “you don’t want to be bothered with snoring or flinging a leg around”.
Or pacing about because of insomnia. This was Burton’s problem as Bonham Carter saw it. Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford says successful LAT couples achieve a balance between independence and emotional commitment and she’s got a buzz-word for it – “individuation”.
Could you do it? Would you want to? Men may dream of shag rooms and women of chandeliers and of course it can be the other way around.
But if your nocturnal existence is anything like that of me and my darling wife then you will be inveigled into threesomes and sometimes foursomes by having to share the bed with a two-year-old or the toddler’s big brother who is still getting the hang of sleep. Then it’s a race to claim the latter’s abandoned and too-small bunk where, tossing and turning in the half-light, you will gaze at posters of favourite Scottish footballers – John McGinn, Andy Robertson – and try and remember what a good night’s kip was like, with or without conscious flinging of a leg.