‘Mental’ secret behind couple’s romance
Maaike Veenkamp and Christian Swann's relationship looks similar to any other couple who've been together for 10 years.
They're engaged; they're in love; they adore holidays together - they've just returned from exploring islands together in Bali.
But there's a key difference: They've chosen to live in separate houses.
"You can literally see the shock on people's faces when I tell them we've been together a decade and engaged for two years - but we don't live together," Maaike tells news.com.au.
Not only that - she has no plans to change things any time soon.
"I foresee us getting married in the next couple of years but not living together for at least another five years because of our career choices," the 30-year-old says.
The public policy professional, who works for Airbnb, has got used to responding to much intrigue.
"It does feel like we're an unconventional couple. I have conversations about it on a near daily basis - people have lots of questions!" Maaike says.
Although she doesn't feel pressured to move in with Christian, she does feel the need to explain herself: "Why we're in the situation, why it's working, our future plans. I put a positive spin on it, though. We're in a very happy relationship," Maaike says.
The couple, who moved to NSW from the UK four years ago, initially lived together for six months when they first arrived in Australia.
"Everyone was like, hooray, you've finally done it!" Maaike says, laughing. Six months later, due to different career locations, she moved out again.
Maaike has stayed in Sydney whereas Christian, 31, a university lecturer, has gone where the work is: initially Wollongong, then Coffs Harbour.
Christian is relieved at how well it has worked out: "Fortunately, the current situation worked out even better than we could've imagined," he said.
The animation in Maaike's voice reveals her enthusiasm for the perks. Friday night is her favourite night of the week.
"I literally run from work to the pub to see him as he lands in Sydney," she says.
Friday nights have become their thing - they always go to the pub followed by a Thai restaurant. They stick to it even if Christian's flight is delayed - and they're never short of things to discuss.
"That Friday is such a fun experience. We count down to it," Christian says. "To everyone in the pub, the way we're chatting probably makes it look like we've just started dating! We spend hours chatting."
Maaike agrees - that Friday alleviates the trickier parts of their arrangement.
"It can feel lonely or that something's missing. You deal with feeling sad or left behind when the other flies away. So I look forward to our fun Fridays all week," she says.
Missing each other is all part of keeping the relationship "fresh and healthy", according to Maaike.
"Not only is it still exciting, but a lot of trust is involved, which has strengthened our relationship. You get to experience freedom and security at the same time."
The freedom allows Maaike to work late and indulge her passion for running.
"I can work as many hours as I want guilt-free, nobody's here waiting. It's added so much value to our life - we have both a country and a city escape," she says.
The couple are also realistic about the drawbacks. It's more costly. It can take military precision-style organisation (their weekends are now fully booked until mid-November), which can be stressful. If they have a work trip, they can go up to three weeks with no quality time together. But both agree strong communication is key, as with every relationship.
"This wouldn't work for everyone," Christian says. "We have relatively few commitments - no kids, it prevents us from getting a dog, and we both have flexible working arrangements from understanding employers."
Counselling psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip says, although slightly more popular these days, this kind of arrangement remains uncommon.
"While it may work, especially for busy high flyers, it doesn't normally work for the average individual," she says.
"When living separately there remains segregation, which is normally not conducive to a relationship. Trust issues can then enter. Family and friends are often simply confused as to the reason for the selected separateness."
This attitude strikes a chord with Andrea Featherstone, 31, who has been with her partner Liam, 33, for almost five years. They live 10 minutes apart - she's in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond; he's down the road in Hawksburn. They met on Tinder.
"Most people think you're mental," she says, laughing. "People I know less well maybe think it's not a successful relationship or assume we're choosing not to because we can't - when really it's the opposite."
Andrea and Liam already tried living together - and decided it wasn't for them after they realised they'd started taking each other for granted.
Liam moved in four months after they'd got together because his apartment lease was ending. At first it went well. "He cooked for me heaps - I said OK, you can stay!" Andrea says.
But after two years together, she knew it was time for a change.
"I felt like we'd skipped the part where we can stay at each other's and date," she said.
They started with a trial whereby Liam stayed with a friend. Something clicked.
"We kind of loved it - so we continued," Andrea said.
That was over two years ago - Luke now lives in his own place. They still see each other on average four nights a week - but now they have their own space to cherish.
The benefits for Andrea, a mindfulness consultant, include independence, not taking each other for granted and the opportunity to pursue her own hobbies, including woodworking, soccer and yoga.
"We both love change and variety," she says. "This keeps things interesting and fun."
Initially, she admits the change to living apart again felt "a bit weird".
"We'd got used to snuggling up at night. I missed him more. But I like missing him. We've both said that," Andrea said.
Convenience can be an issue, but with some organisation and leaving stuff at each other's houses, they've navigated that.
Then there's finances - they both live alone. "It'd be cheaper to live together, but our top priority is a good relationship. That matters more than money," Andrea says.
The advice she'd give to other couples considering living apart is to do what works for them, rather than what everyone expects.
"And only take advice from people who have the kind of relationships that inspire you," she says.
Gary Nunn is a freelance journalist. Continue the conversation @garynunn1