Tale of the long distance lovers

Many young professional couples are choosing to live apart. How does it feel to be together and separate at the same time?
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ROMANCE WAS definitely over. No more blissful weekends away, no stolen moments between hectic working weeks, no sweet whisperings over the telephone. Just three hours of traffic on the M3, a spot of road rage, and a sketchy map to the pub where my partner would, apparently, be found.

Who, out of choice, would live apart from their partner? In fact, more people than ever before. Many are graduates and professionals, unwilling or unable to jeopardise careers or leave jobs to live with their partners.

A long-distance relationship can cost you dearly - double rents or mortgages, sky-high phone bills and fares. Not to mention the emotional toll of living two separate lives. Judy Cunningham, director of operations at London Marriage Guidance Council, says: "When do you learn about the ordinary things? Your lives apart feel more like real life than the time you spend together."

Another casualty of separate lives is your own time alone. Weekends are your only chance to be together, so you leave no space for yourself. "You have very little choice, you're thrown together and forced to do something when you may be so stressed out you just want to collapse."

However, Cunningham concedes that separate homes can suit some couples perfectly. "Some genuinely don't want to make a home together - and it works extremely well, providing that's how they want to stay: as weekenders." But what if you don't want to live out of a suitcase, snatching time together, forced to be jolly from Friday to Sunday? "Compromise," advises Cunningham. "Do it and review it every three to six months and then decide - what's more important, your career or being together?"

Ottalie Stevenson, 30, and Andy Preston, 32, have commuted across the Atlantic for one of the three years they've been together. She runs her own textile business in London, he's a stockbroker in New York. Distance gave them focus; they got engaged and Andy plans to leave America for England. They see each other about twice a month.

"We've had a strange relationship, together then apart," says Ottalie. "Andy proposed one year, but I wasn't ready, so he decided he had to go. I wasn't sure about marriage until he left for New York - then I realised how much I missed him. I want an ordinary life now - I'm dying for mundane things, like watching television and not having to talk, and knowing he's not leaving tomorrow.

"We speak on the phone three times a day - which is probably too often - and then, when he's here, I want to discuss things in more depth.

"Now I want to get on with life, get the Sunday papers delivered, have kids. We've had our fair share of romance and fast living - we won't lose out, just live another lifestyle."

"I find the fatigue a strain, but I enjoy weekends, regardless," says Andy. "There's no time for friends or family, though. Ottie thinks, 'I've only got you for two days, you're not allowed to see your mates'.

"I think, for Ottie, it's been useful - her priority in the past has always been her business. There's no financial strain to our lifestyle. I'm extremely well paid. I can pick up the phone, fly over to see a client and call in to see Ottalie."

Suna Erdem and Firat Kayakiran, both 28, have lived apart for 11 months, after four years of living together. He's a journalist in Istanbul, she moved to London to take a job as a television producer. They married eight months ago and set a deadline of one year apart. Money permitting, they try to see each other once a month.

"When we've been apart, it takes time to adjust," says Suna. "We don't run into each others' arms at the airport, it's more like 'who is this person?'.

"We've set ourselves a deadline to be together, otherwise we may drift. I'm less introspective now, more alert to what's around. When you live together, you focus inwards."

"If we've been apart too long, the person you see doesn't fit what you imagine and you see changes," says Firat. "When you live together, you know each other so well - it took us nearly two years to learn about each other. If you're away, there's a danger you might forget all this, and have to start from the beginning again.

"People assume after we married, we'd be together. But I don't feel under pressure. Neither of us are ready to compromise our careers - our relationship is strong enough for us to live this way at the moment. But if I felt Suna was stressed or threatened, I would drop everything to go to her."