We're Married But Never Moved In Together. Here's Why It Works For Us.

"When we got married, we had seemingly perfect couples tell us we were doomed because we were doing it 'wrong.'"
The author with her husband Wayo in 2019.
The author with her husband Wayo in 2019.
Courtesy of Susanna Maddrigal

My husband Wayo and I clicked the instant we met. You know that magical moment when eyes lock and everyone else blurs into the background? That was us ― a fairytale romance. Well, kinda. Let’s just say there were a few kinks, starting with he was on a date with someone else that fateful night we met. And, though we ended up getting married in 2017, we still haven’t moved in together. Let me explain.

I was coming out of a messy divorce when I first encountered Wayo at a charity event. Though we hit it off instantly, I found it strange he kept interrupting me to announce he was on a date. Fearing the wine caused him to confuse my cordial friendliness for flirting, I stepped away to talk to another group of people and he followed. Again, he announced he was on a date and, since I still hadn’t seen this woman, I commented that it’s trendy to date ghosts in October. It was dumb, but I didn’t care. It was not long before I caught myself smiling while talking to him ― laughing even. In fact, at one point I laughed so hard I accidentally spilled wine all over my shoes and, out of thin air, two beautiful women appeared to wipe up my mess ― that’s how I met Wayo’s date.

She was glamorous while I was just a middle-aged klutz who had no interest in playing games. Wayo invited me to join them for dinner and I, of course, declined. The more I resisted, the harder he pursued. It wasn’t until my single 70-something-year-old friend with a ranch full of cats pointed out I was going to end up just like her if I didn’t give this handsome fella a chance. The crazy cat lady was right. So I told Wayo I had no interest in playboys. That’s when he informed me he had dropped his playthings the night after we met to exclusively be with me. In his words, he had waited his an entire life to fall in love.

Wayo was unlike anyone I had ever met before. Every word he uttered seemed to be kind, open and true. I had come from a cobwebbed world of sticky manipulations and here was someone who made being together easy. No ulterior motives. No schemes. He was just refreshingly honest. Everything fell into place in such a perfect way, a part of me braced for it all to sour as affairs of the heart so often do ― at least for me, anyway.

Turned out I was right to be concerned. It wasn’t long before our whirlwind romance twisted into a tornado. On the morning of our first Valentine’s Day together, we discovered a very stinky surprise. My ex had not only broken into Wayo’s car and stolen everything in it, but had also packed it full of raw shrimp. That’s right ― raw shrimp.

It was indefensible. And most important, I felt it was my fault for having such an ex. Left with no other choice, I gave Wayo an out by letting him know I did not blame him if he decided to run for the hills. Crazy exes are justifiable deal killers. But that following year on Valentine’s Day, Wayo proposed to me in Costa Rica. The year after that, after I bungee jumped off Victoria Falls, we tied the knot in Africa. But, unlike most married couples, we never moved in together. Not yet, anyway.

The author and Wayo at Victoria Falls on their wedding day in 2017.
The author and Wayo at Victoria Falls on their wedding day in 2017.
Courtesy of Susanna Maddrigal

Is it weird? Sure, if by weird you mean not mainstream. Most people meet, get married and then move in, though not always in that order. And if we’re being honest, there was a time when not following that exact succession was considered scandalous. We never set out to break any molds or rewrite societal norms, we just chose to create our own life’s journey with each other instead of following any particular script.

Of course, you’re probably wondering how this all works since my husband lives a solid four-hour drive north from where I reside. Right now we are both where we need to be to thrive in our careers. We have never actually had a conversation on the nuts and bolts of how our relationship would work, we’ve just been winging it. And so far, we’re still flying together through blue skies, storm fronts and everything in between.

What started out as a temporary inconvenience has now turned into our way of life. Wayo’s job is far more flexible than mine, so he’s the one who commutes the most, but even still, we never actually cemented any rules outlining when and where we spend our time. Though we talk on the phone several times a day, we typically only spend about two weeks out of the month sleeping in the same bed.

Most, if not everyone, finds our situation questionable. We get it. Truth be told, many of our friends didn’t think our unconventional union would survive more than six months, yet, here we still are ― together, just not together all the time. It’s really not that different from couples whose jobs split them apart. And that got me to thinking, shouldn’t marriage be defined by those who entered into it? The terms should be set by us, not “tradition.”

Let’s face it, marriages are as unique as the people in them. For example, there are those who’ve lived together for over 30 years yet never married. Does that make their union any less legitimate or loving? I know of a couple who divorced only to reunite after they married and divorced other people. In their case, they didn’t realize how perfect they were for each other until they recognized that different isn’t always better. So why not redefine marriage in a way so genuine, it’s perfectly customized for our imperfect lives?

The author and Wayo taking a cooking class in 2017.
The author and Wayo taking a cooking class in 2017.
Courtesy of Sylvia Guerra Fortuin

Regardless of how a coupling is defined or logistically plotted out, a partnership can only work when there’s unshakable trust and open communication. That may be easier said than done, but it gets easier with practice ― lots and lots of practice.

Living four hours apart would never be possible if either Wayo or I had pretended to be OK with it when one of us was truly not OK. Thankfully, we were both brutally honest with our expectations, wants and needs from the very beginning. It’s also crucial that neither of us is jealous or has trust issues. I think the fact we were both in our 40s when we met allowed us to explore, know ourselves and understand what we want more than perhaps if we’d met when we were younger.

Wayo and I are fiercely independent and perfectly comfortable taking separate excursions with our friends. I have taken off to Australia, Fiji and New Zealand without him and he’ll periodically go out of town without me. Most find this unacceptable, but for us it’s perfect to be with someone who understands the need for friendship and space. We’ve been warned that this behavior will open us up to being cheated on, but the fact is cheaters are going to cheat no matter what the conditions. We are both of the mindset that we have no control over one another. For us, getting married meant being monogamous so if one should stray, we both understand that action will bring an end to our union. I don’t want to be with someone who isn’t willingly committed to me, and my husband feels the same way. Knowing this allows us the freedom to enjoy each other fully as best friends should. Marriage is hard enough without the added pressure of making it one size fits all.

Sharing space and time with another human being is agreeing to share head space, mood swings, dramas, quirks, families, pets, jobs, hygiene and so much more. Wayo’s pantries and refrigerator are pure chaos whereas anyone who’s opened a kitchen cabinet in my house might consider my obsession with organization to be the work of a psychopath. On the seldom occasion that Wayo and I do happen to argue, he’ll purposely move things around in my fridge just to drive me crazy. I’ve warned him this tactic could put his well-being in danger. Living separately means I know things will be exactly as I left them when I return home at the end of the day and I love that. Wayo does try to adjust to my way of doing things by washing a dish immediately after he’s finished with it, but I can see it’s uncomfortable for him; and I, too, try to be less stringent by pretending to ignore the collection of glasses he leaves on his nightstand, but it’s not easy (and if I’m being honest, I start tidying up the moment he falls asleep).

Even though we’re like aliens from different planets, we’ve sworn to love each other forever and that love exists despite our differences, and, I believe, is even stronger because we choose to accept each other exactly as we are. Sure, I’m sometimes wishing for a magic wand to bippity-boppity-boop him into my idea of tidy perfection and, yes, he’s disappointed there’s no remote to make me more laid-back, but none of that stuff matters. We have each other, we have lives we love and we have found a way to share all of it without driving each other crazy or compromising who we are.

The author and Wayo in Reykjavik, Iceland, where the couple renewed their vows in 2018.
The author and Wayo in Reykjavik, Iceland, where the couple renewed their vows in 2018.
Courtesy of Kristin Maria

Seeing how different we are from other married couples can be intimidating, and I admit sometimes I wonder if our partnership is “good enough.” I worry about this most often after some dumb fight we’ve had that usually leads to questioning all my life’s decisions but I’ve learned that comparing our marriage to others and trying to live up to other people’s standards does not work.

When we got married, we had seemingly perfect couples tell us we were doomed because we were doing it “wrong.” I even had a close friend tell me my marriage wasn’t a marriage at all because it didn’t fit into his narrow view of what one should be like. Never mind he’s been married four times; he acted as if our choice somehow personally insulted him. Ironically, many of these couples are no longer together. Many of them have dealt with strings of affairs while others live in perpetual misery by continuing to lie to each other, the world and themselves. That’s not to say that traditional relationships can’t or don’t work. Of course they do! But we know what works for us and, though Wayo and I sometimes fight and we have tough times ― just like any two or more humans trying to make a relationship work do ― but we’re still happily creating our ever-after four years later.

At the end of the day, we keep choosing each other whether we’re chatting over our morning coffee in the same room or over the phone. A true happily ever-after is never perfect or always happy. But it is lasting. And it lasts because it inspires us both to be better by being honest, understanding and caring enough to care enough. No two relationships are alike, and for Wayo and me, what we have now not only works, it allows us to be ourselves and support each other without the pressure to try and be or live in a way that just isn’t us. We simply embrace what is.

Will we one day move in together? Maybe. When it feels right. But for now, we’re too busy living our lives and loving each other just the way we are. It’s not always easy, and it isn’t like the marriages of any of the other couples we know, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s who we are ― together, apart, and everything in between ― and we love it and each other. And that’s what really matters, right?

Susanna Maddrigal, author of “A Cat’s Tale,” former advice columnist for Ask Susa and founder of MADD Media, writes about how she and and her husband have been together since 2014 and, though they have yet to move in together, it seems to be working great for them.

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