“Perhaps men and women should live next door, and just visit now and then.”
A friend of mine put it best a few years ago, in defense of having moved in with her boyfriend of two months, “It’s simply not economically viable to be single in New York.” And I could see her point: it’s often remarked upon in the media how quickly couples come to cohabitation in this town. But things can sour nearly as quickly: even under the best of circumstances sharing can be a real strain.
There is a solution, albeit an expensive one, and one I’ve encountered only here in New York City: the two-residence couple. I’m not talking about pre-moving in together couples, but those who have made a deliberate decision to not share the same place. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were one of those couples: she lived her entire adult life in Turtle Bay, in the townhouse she’d moved into in 1932. Tracy remained married to a wife he could not divorce, and lived elsewhere, though not with the wife.
Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were the most celebrated New York two-household family. On opposite sides of Central Park, his the East and hers the West, they would wave towels out their windows while talking on the phone together. They stayed together for some ten years, but never officially co-habitated: she disliked his polyester-blend sheets, and he, despite having fathered several of them, didn’t want to live in a household full of children. After Woody and Mia broke up and he married Mia’s daughter Soon-Yi, the Allens moved to a town house a block and a half in from the park — perhaps to escape the all-seeing eye to the west.
I’ve always held the side-by-side model as my own personal ideal, with all the autonomy of separate apartments, and all the convenience of a coatless commute. If the Allen/Farrows wanted to get together one of them had to get dressed and take a taxi (I can’t imagine either on the 86th Street cross-town bus). I got the idea from the smartest woman I know (and one of the least conventional), who never succumbed to the urge to share her abode. She deigned to share her brownstone with her husband, but only if he took the apartment below hers, without building a connecting door or stair. They created two little worlds inside of one, staying slim by tromping up and down the stairs, enjoying each other’s company instead of bickering about what color the carpet should be or who left dishes in the sink. They had a “secret” phone line, to apprise one another of their goings-on and impending arrivals. I was young when they set up their together/apart household, and it resembled nothing so much as that childhood fantasy of living next door to your best friend, forever.