Ode to Valentine's Day: living separately while bonded

Back when I was in my early 30s, and trying to figure out a way that I could remain with my second husband (and childhood sweetheart) whom I loved dearly, I came up with the idea of living separately. “I’ll just get a tiny apartment that that I can retreat to whenever I want. With enough space around me, I’m sure I won’t feel suffocated and will be able to remain married to you.” His response was predictable: “Either you’re married or your not.”

Mine was a need first voiced in public by Virginia Woolf in wonderful little 1929 memoir, A Room of One’s Own, that my generation of feminists considered one of our foundational volumes. (Googling that phrase now, I come across an actual foundation with that name!)

In private, I had felt that need ever since I was a girl, forced to room with my sister Marnie. I desperately wanted a room of my own. Since I didn’t get it, I became adept at both snubbing Marnie and drowning out the noise of seven boisterous siblings while reading Walter Farley horse books — unless of course, I was out of the house entirely, galloping my horse Goldie on nearby trails.

So, my plea to second husband Dick was heartfelt — and not taken seriously as an actual possibility. And you know what, I still feel that if he had been more trusting of the efficacy of giving me more “space,” that I would have gladly remained married to him. On the other hand, that our paths took different directions is just fine, too. Since our two-year get-together in our 30s, Dick has been married to the same woman, a good friend of mine, for over 30 years. We are all tribal.

With Jeff, my fourth husband for 12 years until he died in 2003, we had two places in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, one a 20-foot diameter yurt in the village of Kelly, and the other our office with a bedroom in it 15 miles away in Jackson. We’d come and go, sometimes together, more often separately. I tended to remain at the office during the week, he stayed there most weekends. Both of us were prickly souls, growing irritable when in each other’s company for too long, and yet we shared the same values and depended on each other for companionship. In this attitude towards our marriage, I am reminded of the poet Rilke: “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.”

(For more on our life together, see This Vast Being: A Voyage through Grief and Exaltation. For my post-Rilkian view of love now, see A Discourse on Love.)

These days, and on this Valentine’s Day, I live alone, with plenty of space to roam. And, as Shirley MacClaine said in a recent interview, her advice to women who live alone and feel lonely, “Get a dog!” She repeated it several times, “Get a dog! Get a dog!” She’s right. I’ve discovered that, at least at this point in my life, what I need is companionship and bonding. My dog Shadow is the perfect companion — always present and loving, interested in each new day, enthusiastic, in the moment, and loves to lie with his belly on my lap.

And guess what? I just read recently that the comforting neurochemical oxytocin is manufactured in the brains of both dog and master when they are together.

So my hat’s off to Lise and Emil Stoessel, who have managed to carry off that feat of paradoxical living: aloneness and togetherness, all at the same time.

Thanks to opednews.com.

A Love Story with an Unexpected Twist

February 13, 2012

by Meryl Ann Butler


Cover art for book (detail, matted.) by Artwork by Lisi Stoessel

Married for 27 years, Lise and Emil Stoessel celebrate Valentine’s Day like many other couples – with romantic moments over dinner, holding hands and an exchange of heart-felt gifts.

Then they’ll share a goodnight kiss, as Emil drops Lise off at her townhouse before returning to his home, five miles away.
The Stoessels keep their marriage together by living apart.


Cover art for book by Artwork by Lisi Stoessel

Lise Stryker Stoessel (http://www.LiseStrykerStoessel.com) is the author of “Living Happily Ever After — Separately” (Nov. 2011, Brandylane.) Her book shares the true tale of the Stoessel’s storybook courtship: he was her Prince Charming; she was the enchanting maiden. Their early, intimate conversations revealed their many parallel perspectives, particularly in their beliefs about raising a family and health-conscious lifestyle choices.


Smile Works mug. by Photo Credit: Lise Stoessel

Also, they were both pottery artisans, and their hobby gracefully entwined into Smile Works, their pottery business. “Smile” is an anagram of sorts, of Lise and Emil’s first names, and an affirmation of the joy they shared.


Stoessel Wedding by Photo Credit: Beth Agresta

Their fairy tale wedding was celebrated among loved ones in a romantic, candlelit chapel. Within the year, baby Susanah arrived, joining Lisi and Julie, Emil’s two girls from his former marriage.
But it was not long before it became clear that the lovebirds had each expected something very different. The “smiles” turned to frowns as their lives devolved into a sad but familiar tale of a marriage gasping for air.

Even as daily life got more and more distressing, divorce did not feel like an appropriate avenue, for a variety of reasons. Their concerns were primarily for their three girls, and the high emotional cost of rupturing the family.

Another sobering consideration was the financial cost of divorce, relative to their frugal budget.

So, faced with a marriage that was too uncomfortable to stay in, but unwilling to divorce, they struggled, year after year, feeling powerless and trapped in a commitment of unholy matrimony.

They were hardly alone in their discomfort. An estimated 40%-45% of all marriages end in divorce. (See Resource section for links to additional info.)

Fighting the Dragon by Artwork by Lisi Stoessel.

Then, one day, in a flash of inspiration born from her yearning for peace and balance, Lise had the idea for an experiment that ultimately saved her marriage, her family, and her soul – the radical notion of staying married but living separately.

“Living Happily Ever After — Separately” is Lise’s recounting of her family’s fruitful transformation as they left society’s conventions behind in order to claim their unique brand of wellbeing.

Arielle Ford, author of The Soulmate Secret, and Wabi Sabi Love (Jan. 2012), calls Stoessel’s book an “enlightening and useful book (that) offers an alternative approach to marriage in the 21st Century.”

Lise weaves her story with touching humor, poignant revelation, and valuable insights for anyone negotiating the rocky terrain of modern relationships.


Lise in the tulips. by Photo Credit: Elizabeth Stryker

Whether your marriage is grasping for a life preserver, or you are simply interested in the value of creative responses in interpersonal relationships, you’ll find that this book opens up a magic purse filled with gems of wisdom.

Lise reveals:
* how a marriage can be transformed
* benefits of a less traumatic, less expensive alternative to divorce
* ways to begin to appreciate the good in one another again
* how romance can be rekindled
* that each partner can remain true to self while also dancing their part in the relationship
* practical advice on how to make the decision that is right for you

The proof is in the concluding: Lise invited her daughters (all grown by this time) and her husband, to each contribute a chapter’s worth of their own thoughts and insights, and these offer a rich and multi-faceted perspective of the family’s experience.


Lise and Lisi. by Photo Credit: Jack Higgin

And Lise completes her petite, but powerful, book with a useful, “how-to” guide to living separately.

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