Weekend couples spend their workweek apart, meeting only on Saturdays and Sundays. Photo: IC
When Qiu Tao, a 39-year-old product manager, finishes work in the evenings, he goes home to his apartment. This would be nothing out of the ordinary if he were single, but he is not. Qiu has been married for three years, and he only sees his wife on the weekends.
No, his marriage is not on the rocks, nor is he planning a divorce, there is just not enough hours in the day to make it home to see his wife, rest and be on time for work the next day during the workweek.
"It takes me four hours to commute to work and another four hours to get home," said Qiu.
His workplace is about 40 kilometers to the north, outside the heart of Beijing in Changping district, and his home with his wife is about 70 kilometers in the opposite direction in Fangshan district.
Qiu has been commuting to see his wife on the weekend for almost as long as they have been married.
He and his wife are not alone. In fact, their lifestyle mirrors that of many young Chinese couples living in big cities across China in recent time.
Couples who lead the "weekend together" lifestyle are called bantang fuqi or "half-sugar couples," a term that was accepted by the Chinese Ministry of Education in 2007.
Nowadays, topics on "half-sugar couples" or "weekend couples" are trending online. On Tianya, a popular online forum in China, a post on weekend couples has been viewed more than 136,000 times and got over 1,000 comments from couples sharing their personal experiences.
While the distance afforded in a weekend couple arrangement can rekindle romance, experts caution that the lifestyle is not for everyone. Photo: IC
Forced by circumstance
Qiu did not make the decision lightly. Wanting to keep his wife's company, he got up for work at 5 am and arrived home after 11 pm every day just to see her. After two weeks, he was exhausted.
"Getting on a crowded subway train once or twice a week is not that bad, but doing it twice a day seriously weakens my happiness. Sometimes I even had a difficulty breathing," said Qiu.
He does not get off work until 7 pm, which puts him in the middle of rush hour on the subway.
Also, despite his enormous effort, Qiu hardly saw his wife.
"I left for work so early that she would still be sleeping, and when I get home late at night, she would already be asleep," he said.
Not seeing any point in persisting to return home every day, Qiu figured it might be better to live by himself in a place near his workplace and see his wife on the weekends.
His wife was not too happy about the idea at first. She did not like that they could only be together for two days a week and worried that the arrangement would jeopardize their relationship.
Also, a good friend of hers, who had gotten a divorce as a result of not being able to see her husband often, was in her ear about it.
"She told my wife that it was very likely for spouses who did not often spend time together to become more independent and even get used to life without the other," he said. "My wife was afraid that we would end up not needing and loving each other."
But since his wife works in Fangshan and moving house to a location halfway between both their jobs would be next to impossible in the current housing market, they were out of options.
At first, neither was used to not seeing the other on a daily basis, but they soon got the hang of it. Three years later, they are still married, and he still commutes to see her on the weekend.
"It is neither candy nor poison to us," said Qiu of their arrangement. "It is just something we have to do until I find a job near our house."
The preferred lifestyle
All smiles, Lin Yue finishes a phone call with her husband, whom she just spoke to for more than an hour.
"He told me that he misses me a lot and cannot wait to see me," she said.
Lin and her husband are a weekend couple by choice. Five years into their marriage, the couple's romance had started to lose some of its sparkle, but luckily for them, everything changed with one business trip.
A white-collar worker in her 30s, Lin was sent to Japan on a business trip by her company. While she was away, her husband began calling and texting her several times a day, and at night they would video chat.
"We just had a lot to talk about. It had been so long that we felt that close," she said. "Absence does make the heart grow fonder."
Surprised and delighted that they had rekindled that spark, Lin brought up the idea of being a weekend couple to her husband when she returned to Beijing.
"I thought why not keep having some kind of distance after I come back to Beijing?" she explained.
Her husband agreed. He rented an apartment elsewhere in the city, and the two decided not to sleep in the same space unless it was the weekend.
"Sometimes we go out for a quick lunch or dinner together, but we do not stay together unless it's a Saturday or Sunday," she said.
Although it seems that they spend less time together, Li said they make better use of their time together now.
"He used to be the kind of man who seldom confesses his feelings, but after we had started to give being a weekend couple a try about half a year ago, he became way more romantic," said Li.
She added that whereas previously he would "either play video games or sleep whenever he had time," now, he cherishes the time he spends with her.
"He often offers to cook for or with me, watch a movie and go to parks together or even tries to surprise me with nicely arranged activities," she said.
"Almost every minute is of quality, though we are not spending as much time together. It's like we are going through our courtship days all over again."
Not for everyone
Du Ning, a marriage counselor in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, urges couples thinking about becoming a weekend couple to thoroughly consider its possible influence on their marriage before they try it.
She said although the idea sounds fashionable, it is not for all couples, as to put it into actual practice, couples first need to have the money for two apartments and trust each other.
"If they do not trust each other very much, being separated five days a week can make things worse," Du said.
She conceded that for couples whose affection had started to fade, being a weekend couple for a period may help them rekindle that new and sweet feeling from earlier in their romantic relationship but said it depends on their emotional foundation.
"If couples have a solid emotional foundation, being separated makes them miss each other; if not, they may drift even further away because of a lack of communication," said Du.
Long-term separation might make it easy for couples to get used to being single and living alone, which can lead to extramarital affairs and divorce, added Du.
"Blindly following others may bring couples a marriage that has no 'sugar' at all," she said.
Lin and her husband are enjoying being a weekend couple, but they might reconsider it soon. A couple they know got divorced recently after living as a weekend couple for around one year.
"They used to be the perfect couple in the eyes of many; I never expected that those two would get a divorce," she said.
"We never thought of ever calling our current arrangement as a weekend couple to a stop, but we may soon, for the sake of keeping our marriage safe."