Call it attachment coupling: the idea of a couple spending every moment together. It’s what a rogue Buddhist teacher and his then-wife attempted to do a few years ago, gaining some publicity and infamy with their pledge to never be more than 15 feet away from each other. Christie McNally and Michael Roach lived together in a yurt in the middle of the Arizona desert, ate from the same plate, lingered outside of bathrooms (while the other used them) and read from the same book. They claimed to be celibate and would spend three years at a time in total silence. Their marriage was an exercise in patience and sacrificing one’s own selfish will to create the strongest possible bond.
They’ve since divorced.
The entire story is a fascinating, tragic (and slightly grisly) one. There were other mitigating factors (including but not limited to accusations of the retreat being a cult), but it still raises the question: Could any relationship possibly bear such constant togetherness?
I know that the co-reading alone would drive me to a divorce lawyer. Have you ever tried to read the same book as someone else, at the same time? Torture. Beyond mere reading, I think that a reasonable amount of “alone time” is necessary for any relationship to prosper; the question is, how much “alone time”? Too much time apart while trying to keep things alive via long-distance can corrode even the strongest relationship; too much togetherness, and people start getting stabbed in yurts (yep, that happened). Clearly, mileage will vary from couple to couple.
Granted, in the early stages of infatuation, it’s tempting to want to spend all your time with this new, enchanting person. That initial discovering process is thrilling and addictive. But it’s important to remember that each of you was attracted to the other as individual — a person who is not you, and who has his/her own experiences, tastes and perspectives. It’s hard to keep charming someone with daily dinner anecdotes if that person was present for all of them, in the same cult session.
On the other hand, it’s easy for us old marrieds to inadvertently re-enact the 15-foot experiment — especially if there’s a baby in the picture. In the first few days of our daughter’s life, my wife was in so much pain that the three of us were essentially confined to a single hospital room. It was our own yurt (confession: I love that word). My short escapes to the outside world to get food or other supplies were a needed release, allowing all of us to reset a little.
Remember that tried but not-so-trite saying: absence makes the heart grow fonder? Tried, yes — and true. I’m all for putting the “two” in “together”, but perfect unity just ends up being single-minded.
Paul Beer is a Toronto writer, actor and comedian. You can follow him on twitter @pauldanielbeer.