LDR to shacking up
September 7, 2010 4:11 PM   Subscribe

Soon-to-be-formerly-LDR: What should I know?

I've got my visa, I've got my flight, I'm packing my bags. After four years of long-distance, I (American girlfriend) am moving in with him (English boyfriend). He just got a full-time job, and I'm starting grad school in the UK. We'll be living at his parents' place (where he is currently) for a few weeks, until we find our own apartment. Prior to this, we've seen each other for a few weeks at a time 2-3 times a year.

We're both enthusiastic about the move, but we're also both new at this. For both of us, this has been our first and only serious relationship. We've been planning this a long time, and I know a lot of changes are about to happen. So, for anyone who's gone through a similar situation: What do you wish you knew when you moved in with your long-distance lover? How did you handle the change from long to short distance? What pitfalls should I be aware of?
posted by Gordafarin to Human Relations (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest: finding your own social life. He'll already have one, because he's from there, so presumably he has friends in the area and whatnot. You'll probably make some friends in your grad program, but figure out what you can do and what you can join and who you can meet and how you can have fun without him, in addition to having fun with him.
posted by brainmouse at 4:14 PM on September 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Congratulations! You're in for an exciting experience. It is essential to give each other breathing room - some time on your own. The instinct is to wrest the maximum possible contact with the other person (because it has been a scarce resource up until now), but that will be unsustainable.
posted by Paragon at 4:19 PM on September 7, 2010

I wouldn't move in together straight away. Sorry, I know you're probably really excited about it after being apart for so long but to go from seeing him a few times a year where it's like a honeymoon each time you see him to actually living together... no.

I speak from experience, I did exactly the same thing, and yes, we're married now but it was a bumpy ride and living together straightaway was a real shock and made me realise how much we didn't actually know each other. Give both of you some space and time in the same town to find your feet, your relationship will be better for it.
posted by Jubey at 4:23 PM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just don't expect everything to be perfect all at once. There are things about sharing a space on a long term basis you're just now going to start working on, and they might take time to work out. Be patient, and spend time alone if you feel like it.
posted by thirteenkiller at 4:27 PM on September 7, 2010

You're going to, very suddenly, have a lot of trivial responsibilities along the 'How was the acitivity you participated in today?', 'Can you remember to pick up those products?, 'Can you just listen to me for a second', 'I wish you wouldn't walk in such a way as to make me have to maneuvre around oncoming pedestrians' spectrum that you didn't have before.

Don't get disillusioned if, after a few weeks, the relationship seems to be a constant argument. You've both had your own way for four years. He doesn't know the way you like things and you don't know the way he likes things. These will conflict and there will be tension:
  • Maybe you always do a lap of the house before you leave to make sure you don't forget things while he just gets up and leaves.
  • Maybe he hates people who put their feet on the table in his house.
  • Maybe one of you turns out to be far messier in their day to day life than they've ever let on.
  • Maybe his best friend is an absolute moron.
  • Maybe he doesn't have a lot of sympathy for homesickness.
  • Maybe you can't sleep with the light on.
  • Maybe you like to study in silence and he likes to play loud music.
  • Maybe you like to be the big spoon.
  • &c.
You'll have seen a few of these already as you see each other a bit, and these aren't things that will damage your relationship unless you're unprepared for them and let them anger you. You'll both have expecations about the other person and what life's going to be like. He's already there, so he already has friends and hobbies and routines. You're both (most likely) going to be disappointed about something, however small, so the most important thing is communication. There's no way for either of you to know if the other is aggrieved unless you share that information with each other.

Remember that you've both been lying to each other for four years. Not really, but there's always a bit of unconscious editing. There's nothing wrong with that.

Plus, you're going to be with his parents for a while, which may make things difficult. If he's smart, he'll do something really really shitty to you very early on. You'll get angry with him for a couple of days and his Mother will take your side, allowing you to bond over your mutual disdain.
posted by doublehappy at 4:35 PM on September 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

Also, as Paragon mentioned above: give him space and give yourself space. If he asks for space in the first few months, it's really important that you don't feel upset or rejected.
posted by doublehappy at 4:39 PM on September 7, 2010

Listen to brainmouse. Don't listen to people who seem to think that their personal and idiosyncratic experience, good or bad, can apply to you. brainmouse is focussing on the more concrete issue that you're a socially isolated immigrant with almost no support network whereas he is a native with a massive one. THIS is where I'd have done things differently, speaking as somebody who also emigrated to make an LDR a live-in one. My partner had amassed a ton of friends and had family in his city as well. I had zip. I wish to hell that I'd put more effort into getting to know people who would or could become "MY" friends. I didn't and it was only after we moved to a new city together (for my job) 2000 miles away (same country though) that I began to sense that we were socially equals and that I could have my own social life without constantly having to be his guest.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:46 PM on September 7, 2010

Make a life for yourself. It's tempting to do the whole "loved up 24/7" thing, especially as you have been apart for so much of your relationship. But you're clearly both people who have their own lives (otherwise your LDR wouldn't have lasted this long), so you need to make sure that you create that for yourself in the UK too. Particularly as he's likely to have an existing social life all set up. That's not to say that you won't become close friends with some of his friends - you will. But you need your own too.

Think about the activities you enjoy at the moment, and get straight into finding those in the UK. Running club? Stitch & Bitch? Art gallery membership? Live music?

Develop your own social circle. Your fellow grad school students are a good starting point. Few will be from the place that you're studying. So be the person who creates social events - a regular Wednesday evening drink or a Friday lunch - and invites everyone you meet along. If you get involved in other activities as above, don't be afraid to ask people to meet up.

You don't say where in the UK you'll be based. Londoners, for instance, have a reputation for being unfriendly. I wouldn't agree with that, I'd just say that they can be reserved. But if someone makes an effort to become friends, then generally they'll reciprocate (particularly if you are showing a committment to sticking around long term - which you seem to be). You might just need to try a bit harder than you would otherwise expect. Up north, you're less likely to find this to be a problem.

The whole generic "moving in with someone" - lots of posts here and elsewhere on AskMeFi which you will find helpful.
posted by finding.perdita at 5:12 PM on September 7, 2010

Londoners, for instance, have a reputation for being unfriendly. I wouldn't agree with that, I'd just say that they can be reserved.

But London also has a somewhat more extensive embedded support system for American expats than, say, Grimsby. (Just don't cocoon yourself too much.)

It's going to be difficult to untangle "geographical culture shock" from "relationship culture shock", but they follow similar patterns, and it can be problematic if one feeds the other, That's to say, when the honeymoon phase of being in a new country starts to end, you might feel inclined to take it out on your boyfriend -- not because he's to blame, but because he's the one within range when the fish-out-of-water anxiety kicks in.

The student environment's going to be a good buffer in that regard: take as much advantage of it as you can.
posted by holgate at 5:44 PM on September 7, 2010

I was in this situation last year. It actually went more smoothly than I thought! Still, here are my thoughts. YMMV, you may not have the same pitfalls, but here's what I wish I'd known.

1. Nthing the make your own friends thing. I moved to my boyfriend's city and it was nice at first because I had this instant social group! But it was awkward in some ways because it was a bunch of people who'd been friends for years, aaaaand then this random new person. It can be hard to get really close to a group when it's already very tight-knit and you are a sudden new accessory.

2. Corollary to #1: resist the urge for constant togetherness; be willing to do things apart from each other. Make sure your new grad school friends have a chance to get to know you as an individual and not just as part of a couple.

3. I found living with a significant other to be way more interaction-intensive than living with friends or family. It's a big change from maybe talking once a day to being around each other for hours every day and it can seem very demanding. I recommend establishing early on that you are allowed to ask for "alone time" and lock yourself in a room alone for a while. Nothing personal, no hard feelings.

4. Be explicit about expectations - about cleaning, time management, whatever. You may have very different styles when it comes to these things. Assuming that things will work the way they did in your family home and being angry when they don't = problems.

5. I found out when I moved in with someone that I'm way crankier in the mornings than I ever realized. Whoops. Be prepared for the fact that flaws you never knew about (in both of you) are going to come out.
posted by mandanza at 7:56 PM on September 7, 2010

After three years of distance, when we moved in together I found that we actually communicated LESS than we had before, because as a long distance couple we talked every night for between 30 minutes to 2 hours. This was exactly counter to what I expected and was difficult for me to deal with at first. Even now (three years later) I feel like he forgets to tell me about things because he assumes we've already discussed them.
posted by little light-giver at 9:08 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even now (three years later) I feel like he forgets to tell me about things because he assumes we've already discussed them.

Bear in mind that these lapses might be a function of 'being a man'. I get in trouble for this all the time in my current never-been-long-distance-relationship. This is why explicit communication is necessary - it's easy to assume that your significant other, long distance or otherwise, can read your mind, or thinks mostly the same way.
posted by doublehappy at 10:41 PM on September 7, 2010

Be very careful in those first weeks living with his parents. You are in fact not living together; you are a houseguest and this is not your domestic front. Do not attempt to stake territory, routines or boundaries until you are in your own home.

Having made this same transition years ago, I would nth what everyone else says about having your own friends, and also point out that is harder to do as an adult than you might think. I like my own company and was fine with just one or two friends but that doesn't seem to suit most people.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:54 AM on September 8, 2010

Right, from your previous questions it appears that you're moving to London. It's great here (really, it is!) and it appears that you're already thinking through the potentially sticky bits. As I see it, there are a few areas to be aware of: moving in with your boyfriend, general British culture shock, and UK university culture shock.

I think that previous responders have nicely covered things to think about with regards to moving in with your boyfriend. Having moved in with a British boyfriend myself, I'd add that sometimes he may not understand why you do things a certain way (and this can be on a slightly different level to normal moving in together adjustments). He also might not get why some of the cultural stuff is overwhelming: after all, it's completely and utterly normal to him! It can be the little things that prove especially jarring - he's not going to understand why--damnit!--you really want graham crackers for your pie crust when surely (or so he thinks) digestive biscuits would be perfectly fine. Normally, they would be fine but it's possible this conversation happens on a day where you're particularly homesick or frustrated with queues or have had a particularly infuriating cross-cultural interaction...

As a number of people have said above, Londoners aren't known for being particularly friendly and they're certainly not immediately friendly in a North American sense. Again, even if you rationally know this, it can be a major adjustment. Definitely definitely definitely join groups or even a sports team (no, really - this is how I made almost all of my friends and I'm not even particularly sporty). I've made wonderful, warm, generous friends here--some of the best friends I've ever had, in fact--but this has certainly required a substantial investment of my time. Enjoy the company of your boyfriend's friends but do make sure you find your own.

Regarding finding a flat - it might be worth thinking about moving in to a share house (ie - with flatmates). There are a couple of benefits to this. First, it's cheaper - you'll be able to live in a far nicer place and area than if you were living on your own and you'll be able to save up money for travel. All of continental Europe is very easy to access - take advantage of this! Second, it means that you'll automatically meet other people and, by extension, their friends. You don't need to be best friends with your housemates, clearly, but it will mean that someone else will be there to talk to (especially important during any time of adjustment). I know that this isn't really typical in North America but it is quite normal in London and, in fact, it's definitely something I'd advise seriously considering.

If you have any questions about details of living in London (or anything else for that matter), definitely drop me a message. I'm happy to talk all about being a PhD student in London!
posted by lumiere at 4:08 AM on September 8, 2010

There may be some helpful comments in this old Ask.Metafilter thread.
posted by pharm at 7:37 AM on September 8, 2010

Thank you all so much for the advice. I have tried to anticipate the pitfalls as much as I can but these comments have brought up some issues I hadn't thought about before, so I will keep them in mind. For people giving region-specific advice, I will indeed be studying in London, but not living there - I'm commuting from Reading.
posted by Gordafarin at 9:02 AM on September 8, 2010

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