Add greater longevity — living longer requires more money to bankroll retirement — and more women in the workforce to the reasons some married couples are living solo. "Many women left work for their kids, then got back into the labor market," says Deborah Smith, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "They may now be in professional positions where they have to work longer to be vested in their pension or move up the ladder."
Whatever the reason, there are more options today. "Our image of life as climbing a ladder and reaching a certain point and then gliding over to retirement is very out of sync with reality," says Ellen Galinsky, cofounder of the Families and Work Institute. "Reality has different paths along the road: People are going to work, stopping work, starting a new career, losing a job, moving laterally instead of moving up, or working in different places. The national workforce is changing, and that's the new normal."
Betsy Bogin, 58, a Cheshire, Conn., realtor, spends one week a month, six months a year, working remotely from Gold Canyon, Ariz., where her semiretired husband, Martin Goldfarb, lives. During that time, Bogin and Goldfarb, married 34 years, take turns traveling to see each other and are apart one weekend and two full weeks a month. Bogin loves the job and the income it provides, while Goldfarb, 63, an airline transport pilot who owns and operates a charter business, loves the outdoor winter activities in Arizona, from hiking to golf to rowing crew.
While Bogin is not ready to retire and leave colleagues and close friends in her small Connecticut community, it's her two frail parents, ages 93 and 94, who make a move west out of the question, at least for now.
"It's great that Marty and I don't have to have the same dream to retire at the same time," says Bogin. "We talk to each other as many times as we ever did and sometimes even watch the same TV program at night with each other!"
Yes, Skype, text messaging, cellphones and email make it easier to stay connected today, but it's still not the real thing. Living apart can be lonely, difficult and expensive, although two salaries with benefits usually offset added living costs. "I rely on Marty for stability in hard times with my parents, even though he's here less," says Bogin. "I'd much rather have Betsy with me than 2,000 miles away, but she's on a different career timetable and taking care of her parents," says Goldfarb.
Some couples may not admit it, but find having their own space and time to themselves can be freeing. Frances Moseley moved to Washington, D.C. — where she grew up — for 14 months to work for the Red Cross, while her husband, Bud, stayed in Boston as an executive search recruiter.
"Of course I missed Bud and he missed me, but he travels a lot anyway," says Frances. "I could schedule evenings with friends without checking Bud's schedule first. I didn't have to hang up my clothes and I could watch TV until 4 a.m. if I wanted!" They originally thought that Bud would relocate to his firm's D.C. office after six months — maximum. But the timing was off for selling their Boston condo, and Frances' job subsequently ended.