Staying together after moving out
October 4, 2010 7:51 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I have been together for six years and living together for three. I want to move out, but stay together. Is this even possible?

We've been living together for three years now, and it has generally been awesome - we're compatible as roommates, we still have great sex, and we actually like each other. However, the marriage issue has started to come up. I want to marry him, and he wants to marry me - "someday." That sounds like a non-answer. If he said something like, "I want to marry you, but not until (x concrete thing happens)," I would feel a little better about it. As it is, I'm not convinced. It's not like he isn't interested in marriage - I would be fine with that - he definitely wants to get married, sees it as a precursor to other things he wants (buying a house, having a family, etc.) But I'm starting to wonder if he actually wants to get married to me.

So, our lease is expiring in a couple of months, and I would like to move out. I don't want it to be a big dramatic ultimatum thing, I just think there are some good reasons to do it:
1. I always thought of living together as a test to see if we're compatible. After three years, it's pretty clear that we are. Test over.
2. I worry that he is staying with me because it is more convenient and cheaper - that I'm someone to split the rent and housework with.
3. I don't want to "slide" into getting married, and I feel like that's a serious risk if we keep living together.
4. If he isn't ready to marry me after five years, he clearly still has some stuff to figure out. How can he figure it out if I'm around all the time?

So, MetaFilter, am I being totally unreasonable? If you were my wonderful and charming boyfriend, would you freak out or be okay with this? Have any of you stopped living with a significant other but continued to have a healthy relationship?
posted by wavetothearctic to Human Relations (59 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
If you were my wonderful and charming boyfriend, would you freak out or be okay with this?

The only person who can answer this question is your boyfriend. If you think you're ready to marry him, then you should be discussing everything you brought up in your question with him. If you're not doing that, moving out to force the issue is just passive aggressive manipulation.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:55 AM on October 4, 2010 [13 favorites]

I think this is a very reasonable and good idea. It's like the "why buy the cow" thing, except not sexist or trying to keep you guys from premarital relations. The relationship will last if it's meant to, and fizzle if it's not.

My boyfriend (of shorter duration than yours) and I scaled back the amount of time/nights we spend with each other from every day to just on weekends. It hasn't been an awesome thing (we like being together), but it has definitely not been a bad thing. It's just a thing.

I say do it.
posted by phunniemee at 7:59 AM on October 4, 2010

Personally, if I were your boyfriend, I would see it as a big step back, if not an ultimatum.

Whether you want to use this so as to force him into a decision, that's your business, but at the very least, I wouldn't expect things to continue well (if at all) after ending the cohab.

In the alternative, you yourself could propose to find out what his answer is.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:00 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would see you moving out as a precursor to us breaking up, and it would make me question the future of our relationship, with a heavy skew towards there not being a future relationship.

Ask him where he sees you being in 3 months time, 6 months time and a year's time. Explain clearly that the lease is up in a few months and you feel that it would be a good time to either set down some concrete roots (getting engaged or something) or to part ways. But you want clarification, not "someday", and you're not prepared to go into another year's lease without some kind of clear explanation of where you're going as a couple, whatever direction that may be.

How he handles this will be a good guide to how he sees your relationship. He might view you as marriage material, in which case it's about time he showed you that, or he might think of you as a roommate and be stringing you along, in which case it's a good time to part ways.

Have this conversation with him ASAP to give both of you a chance to handle the new info. Don't let it get to the point where you move out to somewhere new because you don't think the relationship is going somewhere and he assumes that he's going to be moving in with you.
posted by Solomon at 8:09 AM on October 4, 2010 [26 favorites]

I think all of your points seem valid, and you should communicate them to your boyfriend. It's very likely that his feelings will be hurt by your wanting to move out, but if you're not interested in living together without marriage anymore, you shouldn't do it just to avoid hurting his feelings.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:09 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm really struggling to answer this question, possibly because I don't quite understand the cultural connotations you are holding with respect to living together vs. getting married. You say:
I worry that he is staying with me because it is more convenient and cheaper - that I'm someone to split the rent and housework with.
like this is a bad thing - like people who are in love but unmarried shouldn't enjoy the benefits of cohabiting unless they have concrete marriage plans. And that's fine, but it's worthwhile to consider that your boyfriend may have different values.

Are you worried that he "doesn't really love you" and sees you as a roommate that he gets to sleep with? If this is the case, it seems reasonable to me for your boyfriend to interpret moving out as an ultimatum or at the very least a "test" - and who likes tests?

I think Solomon's answer is really solid - it's not unreasonable to ask him what his future goals are, to lay out your future goals, and to plan accordingly.
posted by muddgirl at 8:12 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Your points in order:

1. This is not logical. You are compatible to live together, so you should now live apart? Huh?
2. If you move out, you will still worry that he is staying with you because it is convenient, that is, because he hasn't found anyone better.
3. Do you really think you might "accidentally" get married?
4. Why do you think "you being around" would stop him from figuring anything out?

Your reasons seem somewhat flimsy. What if you move out and three years later still no proposal?

If I was your boyfriend I'd think that you were either getting ready to dump me (by moving all your stuff out), or issuing an ultimatum without having the courage to say so explicitly.

I think that if you move out, it will be an ultimatum whether you like it or not, so you may as well make it clear to him.
posted by emilyw at 8:14 AM on October 4, 2010 [19 favorites]

I think there are circumstances under which you can do this - let's say, you moved to a new city and stayed at your boyfriend's house for a month while you looked for a place to live. But not three years.

The problem here isn't going to be solved by moving out, I don't think. The problem is that you want to take your relationship to the next level, and he doesn't seem to want the same thing.
It's like you said - you think he does want to get married but you're not sure that he wants to get married to you.

I hate to say this, because it's not what you're asking, but I think what you need to do is break up. It is okay to break up for reasons other than "girlfriend/boyfriend is terrible and we fight all the time". I had two friends who had been together for 7 years and broke up because they realized that neither of them wanted to get married to the other person. They were great friends and truly cared about the other person. But their relationship just wasn't going anywhere.

It is okay to break up with someone because you want to get married and they don't. But I have to ask - do you really want to get married to *him*? You say you do but I'm not seeing undying love and devotion reflected in your post.
posted by micawber at 8:19 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I lived with a long-term boyfriend for just over a year (after practically cohabitating in college) when I decided I wanted to move out. It was to "give myself some space" and all that, but honestly it was because I wanted to break up but wasn't quite ready to. We stayed together about another six months before breaking up.

He was hurt, and even the extra six months was too long. We should have just broken up when I wanted to move. Rip the band-aid off, and all that.

If you want to move out, your first conversation with him should not be "I want to move out." First, talk to him, formally, in a "We Need To Talk, This Is Important To Me" way, about the marriage thing. Make that discussion the ultimatum-y one -- a timeline, some sort of milestones, some sort of plan that's like "unless X happens, we will probably get engaged within Y years...". Then, depending on the outcome of that, you can talk about moving out. But I think these two issues are separate and they should not be linked in your first conversation.
posted by olinerd at 8:19 AM on October 4, 2010

I agree that it is a form of ultimatum. I don't think, however, that an ultimatum is a bad idea. If your goal for dating is to find someone to make a family with, there is a point at which you need to pull the plug on a relationship that is not taking you where you wish to go. I'm assuming you're female, and a woman's best reproductive years are finite. You can only waste so much time on someone who isn't on board with your goals & timetables, if for no other reason than that finding the next candidate & developing an appropriate relationship with them takes a fair amount of time. Cold? Maybe. But I've been in post-relationships where I've looked back and said, WHY did I waste 5 prime years on this? It cuts down on investable time later.
posted by Ys at 8:20 AM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]

Just moving out without having this conversation with him comes across as seriously passive-aggressive. If you can't communicate about your feelings and worries and concerns then you have a bigger issues going into a marriage than where his biological clock stands and why.
posted by kryptonik at 8:22 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

When I first read your question, it read like the Fabian Defense from 30 Rock. It sort of seems like your boyfriend is "winning" the relationship - he gets to live with you without firm marriage plans. So, you're "retreating" to get him to either make a mistake or marry you.

Moving out makes sense, but if I was your boyfriend, I'd view it as either a slow-motion breakup or a passive-aggressive marriage ultimatum.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:24 AM on October 4, 2010

If you were my girlfriend, and we had lived together for three years, and then you decided to move out, I would interpret it as you ending the relationship. And if you didn't explicitly say as much, I probably would.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:25 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Most people don't just live together to see whether they can, but because they want to. It's not like you run the test, see the result, and then say "ok, that's finished!"

If I lived with my girlfriend for three years, and then she said "I want to move out because I think you just see me as someone to split the rent with and have sex," I'd assume that either she no longer loved me, suspected I didn't love her, or both. Also that she wanted to break up with me.

You say he "isn't ready to marry you." Really? Have you asked him? Explicitly? Sure, he's saying "Someday," but for plenty of people - many of whom are male - if you're living together, and happy, there's no great incentive to get married. Now, clearly you and he are on different pages here. Fine. But nothing in your post implies that your boyfriend does not want to get married, only that he is in no great rush to. This need not be the kind of mega-dramatic ultimatum that "I'm moving out" amounts to; it can just as easily be you, as a rational adult, talking about this with your rational adult boyfriend. If, after six years and three of cohabitation, he actively does not want to marry you, that's another matter. But it's not clear from what you've written that that's the case. It looks to me like you've discussed "marriage," in general, but he doesn't have anything driving him to actually propose. That's a very different animal than "he just sees me as cheap rent and good sex."
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:27 AM on October 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Right, just to be clear: I would not move out without having this conversation with him first. I'm just trying to figure out whether this is reasonable at all.
posted by wavetothearctic at 8:27 AM on October 4, 2010

To be a little more direct/explicit: I think while pure reason may make that course of action seem like an option, in reality, I think that very, very few people are capable of seeing "After three years, I want to move out" as anything other than "I want to break up," regardless of whether it is or not. I certainly wouldn't interpret it any other way.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:28 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sort of between Ys's answer and the previous posters, I honestly would just lay the actual ultimatum on the line: when your lease is up, either the two of you make plans to get married or you split up.

Because that's really what you're saying here.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:29 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

The whole thing sounded totally cool and reasonable to me. I don't see an ultimatum at all.

If you want to do this, discuss it and do it.

You're right. If after 3 years you are ready to go down the aisle and your guy isn't... that needs to be addressed in some fashion. Living separately sounds like it could be refreshing. And if the relationship doesn't survive this new experiment, you are both left better off in the end.

It's only an ultimatum if he chooses to see it that way.

You deserve to feel comfortable and fulfilled every day, not like you are ticking days off a calendar... waiting... waiting.... for what? The next phase of your life to start??

Approached correctly, this can be a great next step.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 8:31 AM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]

However, the marriage issue has started to come up. I want to marry him, and he wants to marry me - "someday." That sounds like a non-answer. If he said something like, "I want to marry you, but not until (x concrete thing happens)," I would feel a little better about it.

Huh, it seems like you guys had talk about marriage, he said "Someday" and now you're ready to move out. That seems like you're jumping the gun a bit. Do you know why he's saying someday as opposed to giving more concrete answers? It really sounds like you need to talk to him so that he understands you're concerns.

Speaking as a guy, I would take you moving out, yet still wanting to continue the relationship as a step backwards, especially if that was the starting point, as opposed to having one or several discussions about the subject. It would probably feel as if you were giving up and looking for other options as opposed to staying and trying to work things out. Marriage involves two people working together, rather than one making unilateral decisions.
posted by nomadicink at 8:34 AM on October 4, 2010

Agreeing with most of the other answers: this sounds like an ultimatum, the beginning of a breakup, or both. A third interpretation is that you're looking to cheat - obviously that's not your intention, but it's how some people could read into it.

When do you want to marry him? You could propose to him, but if you're not comfortable doing that, talk to him about a timeline. You can make plans toward marriage before or without being "officially" engaged.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:40 AM on October 4, 2010

I think what you're really trying to say to him is, "Propose or lose me." Which is a perfectly valid thing to say.

The "moving out" idea is your way of hiding from yourself the much more serious ultimatum you actually want and need to hand down. You don't feel up to saying, "Propose or lose me," so you're saying "Propose or I'll move out (and our relationship will probably deteriorate until you finally lose me)."

I think you should bite the bullet and decide whether you want to marry him, and if so, ask him if he wants to marry you now. Or if not, when. And if the answer is no, then you can start talking about moving out as a way of making clear to him that you're not kidding.

But that is what you're really talking about. Moving out is just a stalking horse here.
posted by musofire at 8:49 AM on October 4, 2010

It does sound like an ultimatum.

I feel that in many situations, ultimatums are called-for. You feel like you are waiting around for him, right? That you feel you need to know where you stand? Ultimatum time.
posted by gaspode at 8:53 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm with jbenben - I don't think this is crazy or totally unreasonable but obviously that's the minority opinion here, so I suppose it's unlikely your boyfriend will also think it's reasonable, and that's all that matters here, right?

But I think you could throw the idea out there in the context of a larger conversation that starts like this:

"Hey boyfriend, I am feeling less and less like we have a deliberate relationship-thing going on, and it feels like we are getting lazy and going through the motions, to the point where I was even daydreaming about us living separately again. I'm not saying that I want that to happen, but it crossed my mind because it sounds like it would make us be honest about where we are going. I think we need to have a talk about what the future looks like..." etc.

I absolutely sympathize with the mild panicky feeling of a relationship that feels like it's stalled but there are no major signs of incompatibility or discrete problems. It's hard to confront that feeling without trivializing it, but you also don't want to be the one who starts the intense 'where are we as a couple?' talk because that somehow makes you the anxious/needy/demanding person, and no one wants to be that person (note that I'm not saying you actually are any of those things, just that it might feel like that in your shoes). Maybe living apart would be the impetus for working out those feelings in a gradual and intentional way between you two, or maybe it would just be the last nail in the coffin. Again, his opinion on this is the only one that matters, but he needs to be willing to step up to work through this with you in some way, whether that means you moving out or not.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:02 AM on October 4, 2010 [13 favorites]

I think you're trying very hard not to give an ultimatum, which is why you're considering this convoluted move. And I understand the impulse there -- you don't want to get married to somebody who doesn't really want to marry you.

How to put this... in the end, of course, what you want is to be married to somebody who is happy being married to you. It kind of doesn't matter how you got there. And there are plenty of people -- perhaps skewed towards men -- who are perfectly happy unmarried but who would also be perfectly happy, perhaps even happier, married. Their general inertia and lack of urgency doesn't really say anything about whether or not they'd be happy being married.

Now, you don't want to blindly jump into marriage, nor do you want him to. It's entirely possible that he does have real concerns about your relationship, that he suspects that he wouldn't be happy married to you. The two of you together need to try and figure this out.

This is where the ultimatum comes in: you say to him that you really want to talk about getting married, on a finite timescale. Say that you'd like to have a series of conversations, over a series of weeks, until you come to a conclusion one way or the other. (If he doesn't agree to that, well, then you may want to break up. But I think this is unlikely.) Then, bring it up, make those conversations happen. Try to dig deep with both of you, figure out what the idea of marriage means, how you each view the relationship, how you view your future, etc etc.

Make it safe for him to express himself, give him time to figure out what he's thinking and to let that evolve as he sees your needs. This is the best possible way you both can figure out what will be right for you. Good luck!
posted by wyzewoman at 9:07 AM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]

It would make a lot more sense to talk about your mental timetable with regards to marriage without the implicit or explicit threat to your relationship that you living apart actually is.

I mean, seriously? "Living together works and makes us happy so I won't do it anymore unless you promise to marry me"? If you have issues with your relationship, which you clearly do, tackle those issues or end the relationship. Living together is not your issue, not being married is your issue.

Tell him you want to marry him, if you do, and ask him what he believes is a reasonable amount of time to wait. If he says he's not ready, ask him what you - as a couple - need to do before he can be ready. Would you being "engaged" make you feel more secure? What if it's a long engagement? Because that's what an engagement without a wedding date set actually is: "someday". Being partnered and living together and talking about getting married eventually: also "someday". Would one bother you more than the other?

In the end, only you can know if he means it, and only you can know why you have your doubts in terms of whether he wants to get married in general or to you in particular. If my partner moved out because I hadn't given him concrete dates as to when I wanted to marry him (and since we are in the "someday" phase, I can relate) I would take it as a sign that it's not ME he wanted to marry, he just wanted to get married to SOMEONE. Since, you know, if it was me he wanted to marry he'd keep living with me and working on being together, rather than leaving because we're not married yet. It would sound to me like he'd be prioritizing the timing over the relationship, with the when being more important than the who.

That is the opposite of your stated intent, but your actions, were I your boyfriend, would make me feel incredibly inconsequential and interchangeable.
posted by lydhre at 9:08 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

If I'd lived with someone for three years, who'd decided to move out (whatever the reason), I'd assume that my ticket to Dumpsville was already on the way.

I'm pretty sure your boyfriend will think the same thing. The expiration of the lease is an excuse. If it was me, I'd already be very worried.

I wouldn't propose marriage in this situation, because I'd be afraid you'd reject it. I'd expect that you'd view any proposal on my part as a ploy to get you to move back in.

Advice: You should communicate your expectations with your guy in a brazen, blunt way with no innuendo, hint, or ambiguity of any kind. Communicate directly your expectations and desires. Let him now outright, in the most loving, but direct way possible, where he stands, what is expected of him, and what you want. I'm sure he's continuing on like always, thinking he's on solid ground. You're telling us he's kind of on thin ice. He should know that.
posted by phoebus at 9:09 AM on October 4, 2010 [7 favorites]

It makes a big difference whether you've discussed marriage in general or specific terms. My wife and I lived together for a few years before we got married, and we would talk vaguely from time to time about what we would do "if we got married." After a few years the "if" started to turn into "when." When we notice that, we decided to get hitched.

Have you proposed to him? It seems to me that would be a much better "ultimatum" than discussing moving out. Talking about moving out sounds like a passive-aggressive way to get him to propose.

BTW, sliding into getting married worked pretty well for my wife and me. But we were happy with the status quo ante. It sounds like you're not.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:10 AM on October 4, 2010

I can't really see how you could spin this as anything other than a big dramatic ultimatum thing (or at least a weird passive-aggressive ultimatum thing). It is an ultimatum, isn't it? You either want him to pledge his passionate, undying love and marry you or you want to break up, unless I misread you. I don't see anything in your question to suggest that what you actually want is to continue in a relationship with this guy, but without living together. That's just a ploy to try to get what you want. Instead, I'd suggest telling him what you want directly. If you suggested what you are suggesting to me, I would think you don't really respect me as an equal partner in the relationship.

Your specific reasons:

1. I don't understand this one on its own. If you enjoy living together, surely you would want to continue living together. If you don't enjoy living together, then getting married is not a good idea. There isn't really a middle ground, so there must be something else going on.

2. I think this is meat of your problem. It sounds like you aren't satisfied with the relationship. What makes you think that your partner is only with you for convenience? Is it him, is it you, is it something that has changed between you? If you aren't happy with the relationship, then either try to fix it by talking to your partner or end it.

3. You want to get married, but you don't want to slide into getting married. It sounds like you want something to be different before you get married. Figure out what that is and then work with your partner to change it. I think this is pretty much the same issue as number 2.

4. It sounds like you and your partner have things to figure out in your relationship. If you tell your partner that he needs to figure things out and then you move out, that seems like it could only be an ultimatum and it doesn't seem like a respectful way to treat your partner.

I don't see anything in your question indicating why you would like to live apart from your partner, other than to try to get him to do things or change. Work on what you actually want and don't bother with this moving out business.
posted by ssg at 9:11 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

you also don't want to be the one who starts the intense 'where are we as a couple?' talk because that somehow makes you the anxious/needy/demanding person, and no one wants to be that person

what? if after six years with someone, you can't broach this topic with them for fear that they will think you are an anxious/needy/demanding person, then you have deeper issues to deal with. jeez. i hate statements like that, as though wanting to know how things stand with your significant other makes you a needy and/or demanding person.

you want the relationship to move forward. you feel that your boyfriend is fine with the status quo. and it does sound like he is (tho we don't know since you haven't actually asked him what his intentions are). some ppl could go on like that forever. some ppl are fine with it. if you are not fine with that, then you need to talk to your boyfriend about it and about setting goals for your relationship so that both of you can feel satisfied/happy with where it is/where it is headed. what you also need to think about is what you would do should he give you an answer that doesn't work for you. are you going to move out and still continue to see him despite differing goals for your relationship? are you prepared to break-up with him so that you can begin to pursue a relationship with someone who does want to get married to you?

in a way this is an ultimatum (and that isn't necessarily a bad thing) but in a way, it's not. just because there are no glaring problems in your relationship, that doesn't mean you should continue to live with someone, as others here have said. you want to be married at a (semi) definite point and if your boyfriend isn't on board with that, then you need to decide whether you are okay with that or move on.
posted by violetk at 9:24 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I want to add that I think marriage is sort of a red herring here. Ssg is right; this is about the day-to-day, and just talking about whether or not he's ready to marry you might not get to the core of the issue.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:28 AM on October 4, 2010

Best answer: I sort of did this. As we were both preparing to move across the country (together, to the same city), I explained to my boyfriend that even though we had been living together, I saw it as a precursor to marriage and since it didn't seem like we were getting married anytime soon, I thought we should have separate places after we moved. I explained that I still loved him and wasn't trying to issue an ultimatum, it's just that I had always thought of living together as something you do while, or maybe just before, you're engaged. I wasn't comfortable just living together as an indefinite thing. He wasn't that happy about it, but he agreed and didn't make an issue out of it as we rented our separate places.

I say "sort of" because I stayed at his place the first night and then just never left. We did end up getting engaged later that year, and sometimes we joked about my empty room in my own place. I didn't intend for that to happen, but I guess even though in principle I felt like we should be on our own, I didn't actually want to be apart. (Not saying this will/should happen to you -- just my experience. I think you could make this work if you think your boyfriend can accept it and if you frame it as your own issue and not as a a problem with him or the relationship.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:31 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you have a stable relationship at present, why do you want to push the marriage thing? Or more precisely - What do you expect marriage will bring to your lives that you currently lack? If you answer anything but "one more legal document to file away", one or both of you will end up sorely disillusioned.

Now, if Uncle Sam's stamp of approval means that much to you, he'll probably give in and say "yes" just to make you happy. But if he means anything to you, why would you want to force him into it?

Put bluntly, society no longer demands that you get married to legitimize your relationship. So why bother?
posted by pla at 9:36 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this sounds like a reasonable plan and doesn't sound like an ultimatum. It does sound like you're clear about what you want and have good reasons to take this step. I think if you explain yourself clearly first, give him some time to think about it, and then go ahead if nothing changes, then you'll have done a sensible thing. You're not saying you want to break up with him, just do a bit of a shake up and put yourself in a better position if the two of you continue to point in non-aligned directions. I'm sure it will be a wake up call for him and he may interpret it as step 1 in getting dumped, but if the relationship continues after that, that will answer that. But you being clear-minded and deliberate about this may jar something loose in his head. Or it may not. And if not, you're in a better place. I hope things work out!
posted by Askr at 9:51 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think there is anything wrong with your plan. I've come across many successful examples of people (right here on Metafilter), who have had to give loving, but firm, ultimatums before impressing upon their partner how important this particular issue is to them. Ultimatums are not necessarily manipulative or passive-aggressive. They are often the exact opposite of those things-- especially in a scenario where one party cares deeply about a subject, and the other party is either oblivious to that fact, or is too relaxed to engage with the issue seriously. (But another option is simply to propose to him, which also raises the issue directly and seriously.) Good luck.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:43 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is it more important that you be married or be with him? Mind you I think it is perfectly okay to say that whomever you are with, you want to be married to eventually.

And I'm fine with ultimatums. I want X out of a relationship, it is a dealbreaker, can you provide it to me? If not move on.

I suggest a full on ultimatum. Marry me or break up.

I would see the moving out as heading for the exits.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:55 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I liked what pla said but chickenmagazine's answer make me muse upon the relationship that Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy had. Weren't they together for over 20years till he died but lived in their own places? I wonder if in today's world couples can just design the most appropriate relationship interaction that works best for themselves alone (unless society demands otherwise) by thinking outside of the box of conventions that seem meaningless if they are irrelevant or redundant to the issue at hand.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 11:04 AM on October 4, 2010

I think Solomon pretty much nails it.

For what it's worth, I was sort of in your position once upon a time, though we had been living together longer than you two. What I did was propose to my boyfriend. He said yes and we got married 6 months later and we have just had our 20th wedding anniversary. Of course, it could have gone the other way and we could have broken up, but I was prepared for that, because I felt like we were in the position that the relationship needed to either progress or end.

After the fact, he confessed that he had been comfortable living with me, and did not really see the need for marriage since de facto that was what we had, so he probably would not have gotten around to proposing to me any time soon if I had not proposed to him (even though he saw us being together long term). I on the other hand valued marriage more than he did, therefore I was the one who wound up doing the proposing. He was a bit taken aback when I said we should get married, because he had not quite realized that I felt that strongly about it, and in retrospect I realized I had not really been telling him how I felt about wanting to be married, because I was afraid that would end the relationship. I think you two really need to talk honestly about the future of the relationship at the very least (or you can do what I did and shoot the moon and propose to HIM.)

Best of luck to you.
posted by gudrun at 11:06 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I mean, seriously? "Living together works and makes us happy so I won't do it anymore unless you promise to marry me"?

I see the poster's position more as "Living together works and makes us happy, but it is not enough -- I want to get married."

The OP wants to get married. Living together is not enough, even though it makes her happy.

OP, I think what you are thinking of doing is COMPLETELY AWESOME and the absolute right thing to do, and more people (usually women, I find) should be this courageous and mature about reaching this stage in their relationships. You have evaluated where your relationship is, and where you think it's going versus where you want it go. You don't want to cohabitate, you want to get married. So since you aren't getting married, cohabitation is not an "alternative" or "good enough" for you, even though it is for many people. Maybe it's not modern or progressive enough for people on Metafilter, but it's your decision to make.

I don't see this as an ultimatum. You feel that you slid into cohabitation. If, when you were about to move in with your boyfriend, you had known 100% that you weren't ever going to get married, would you have moved in with him? Probably not. So now that you are realizing that cohabitating is not leading to marriage, you are moving back out again. Your boyfriend can react in whatever way he wants. I don't get the sense that you are strategically making this move in order to force him to propose; I feel like you have accepted that this might lead to your breaking up and if so, then that is unfortunately the best thing and you can move on to find someone who wants to marry you like, yesterday. Maybe while you two were living together, he had no incentive to think seriously and concretely about getting married. Maybe once you move out, or say that you are thinking about moving out, he will. And maybe he'll decide that Whoa, he can't live without you and will propose. Or maybe you guys will slowly grow apart once you're no longer in a relationship of convenience. Or maybe he'll "feel backed into a corner" and "resent you" and complain about you "rocking the boat" and "being high maintenance," ie, does not want to marry you.

As long you as you talk to him about this beforehand in the same reasonable way that you did in your post, and as long as you are really prepared for whatever he does and whatever results from this, hoped-for or not, things will turn out fine.

Do it!!
posted by thebazilist at 11:07 AM on October 4, 2010 [17 favorites]

This is tangential to your question, but why do you specifically want to be married? Would it make you feel more secure in your relationship to have a ring on your finger? Speaking as someone who has already been divorced and re-married before 30, it doesn't change anything. You have the same relationship you had before, flaws and all. My current husband and I decided to marry because we've lived together for three years and we're having a baby together (due in March!) - for the sake of creating a stable family unit, we decided that marriage was the best way to do that. It was a discussion that took a lot of time and wasn't entered into without some kind of concrete reason (legal protections for the future baby) in mind.

My ex-husband and I got married for practical reasons (immigration), but as it turns out, we had different priorities. Marriage did absolutely nothing to bring us closer together, and in fact, if we hadn't been married we would have separated much sooner (I wouldn't leave him because I took the wedding vows seriously, and I probably should have given that our problems ended up literally making me crazy) and it probably would have been healthier for both of us. Marriage doesn't make your relationship any better. It just makes it harder to break up.

Now, if you're really set on marriage because you want stability... I'm sorry to say that it doesn't offer that. Your partner offers you stability. Marriage just offers you fancy paperwork. So, if you want to stay with your partner, continue to talk to him about how this is something that's important to you and you guys will work this out together. Marriage is absolutely a worthwhile goal, but it is not the be all and end all of a relationship.

If you don't feel like you have stability with your partner, break up. Marriage isn't going to fix that anyway.
posted by sonika at 11:07 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Pla and Sonika: It's not like he isn't interested in marriage - I would be fine with that - he definitely wants to get married, sees it as a precursor to other things he wants (buying a house, having a family, etc.)

I want to marry my boyfriend because I want to have a family with him, and he views marriage as a necessary precursor to that. I'm 29, so that's something I need to be thinking about. If he isn't interested in having those things with me, even though he wants them generally, then this isn't going to work. If I move out, we have to make an effort to see each other and spend time together, which requires us (particularly him) to think about what we actually want.
posted by wavetothearctic at 11:30 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know what the law is where you live, but aren't you already technically married as common-law? It's after 1-2 years of living together in many places. Only difference is you haven't had a wedding. Otherwise your lives wouldn't be different - you'd get the same rights to equal division of assets as if you were married, and be able to put eachother on your insurance policies.

You hadn't mentioned this at all so I thought I'd bring it up. It should probably be part of the discussion if it's relevant - really diminishes the gravity of the consequences of getting formally married, aside from the expense of it all.
posted by lizbunny at 11:34 AM on October 4, 2010

I think the "marriage doesn't mean anything" crowd is working from their own beliefs (obviously). If marriage is very important to you, then it DOES change your view about the relationship. To those for whom it is just a piece of paper, it doesn't. So I guess I mean that sure it doesn't by itself do much, but for many people there is so much emotional and societal capital tied up in the idea that it really can be a big shift (and not always for the better, sometimes it's easier to let things slide when you're not married!).

Being married definitely changed my view of my relationship. I stopped thinking in terms of "if we're together in X years" and started planning without those kind of caveats. (Sure you could do this without marriage, but any sort of firm commitment like that is roughly equal to marriage to me, so maybe this is semantic. But just living together in a good relationship is NOT the same).

And I think that people who want to be married are rarely happy with just cohabitating, and since you're basically waiting for marriage, there are things that won't even be tested about your relationship until you do get married. Maybe not an encouraging example, but my ex-wife and I lived together for 10 years before getting married. After 2-3 years of marriage it became clear it wasn't going to work: despite 10 years of a relationship, the subtle changes that came with marriage didn't work for us.

So I say either just do the ultimatum or move out. Of course either way there's the chance he just proposes to keep you and not because he _really_ wants to get married --- but that happens without the ultimatums all the time anyway.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:34 AM on October 4, 2010 [9 favorites]

but aren't you already technically married as common-law?

In the US at least, only 10 out of 50 states have common law marriage. Canada also seems to be by province and not universal.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:36 AM on October 4, 2010

I want to marry my boyfriend because I want to have a family with him, and he views marriage as a necessary precursor to that. I'm 29, so that's something I need to be thinking about. If he isn't interested in having those things with me, even though he wants them generally, then this isn't going to work

Yes, absolutely. You're totally right. And yes, you need to work on that now - marriage or not - especially if your idea of a "family" includes becoming pregnant. 29 isn't old by any means, but you're right to have it in mind now rather than putting it off. It's not unreasonable at all to say "You want these things 'someday,' could we put some qualifiers as to what constitutes 'someday?' A certain time period? Buying a house? Achieving X amount of financial stability? Traveling cross country together? Going to the moon?"

And honestly, if he doesn't want these things with you: don't distance your relationship and hope for the best. Break it off and save your energy for someone who does. That's what's really important here. Don't worry about what he may or may not "actually" want - you know what you want and you're the only person who can make sure that you get it.

When I was told that I was bats for staying with someone (my ex) who didn't want the same things I do, I thought "But I loves him!" And I did. And I thought that loving him would make it work out. It didn't. It, as I said before, made me crazy to be with someone who flat out couldn't give me what I needed. Don't do that to yourself. If you know you want to start a family and your boyfriend won't give you any support on that, find someone who will. Don't wait around for him, you might find yourself waiting forever.

Best of luck to you. Hopefully, you'll talk about it and find that he's really willing to up his level of commitment to the relationship when he sees how important it is to you. If not, you've gotten this out of the way now and don't have to wait another three years to find this out.
posted by sonika at 11:38 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Do you have any compelling (I mean, really compelling) cultural or religious reasons as to why you can't just propose to him?

If I were in his position, I would interpret this as an ultimatum, yes, and also a sort of way for you to twist his arm to prove he loves you. Which isn't cool in a happy, functional relationship, and not a great foundation to build a platform of love and affection and family upon.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:49 AM on October 4, 2010

I mean, seriously? "Living together works and makes us happy so I won't do it anymore unless you promise to marry me"?'

Dear OP, I'd want to make sure that you know that it is perfectly ok, to want marriage. Others may not have the same ideas, but it is a fully legitimate request.

Seeing the idea of proposing floating around, I think it is the best way to go. It offers a positive step forward.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:53 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and full disclosure: I proposed to my husband after five years of being together. His saying yes was an intentional act, as was getting married (we didn't just "fall into" marriage, so to speak). I've often heard objections to proposing to men along the lines of, "He knows I want to get married! If he doesn't ask me I'll never know he wants it!"

I know that my husband wanted to marry me because he married me. The proof isn't in the proposal, or even the wedding, anyway, but in the fact that we're here together now together, very much still hitched.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:59 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

I want to marry my boyfriend because I want to have a family with him, and he views marriage as a necessary precursor to that.

That makes your question a lot more clear. You really need to talk to him and issue an ultimatum if you need to - that's fine, you know what you want. I do not see how moving out, but not breaking up, moves you towards your goal.

If I move out, we have to make an effort to see each other and spend time together, which requires us (particularly him) to think about what we actually want.

This, to me, is weird. Do you think your partner is incapable of thinking when you are present? Tell him what you want and ask him to think about it. If he wants time alone to think about it, give him that time, but don't dictate to him the conditions under which he must think.
posted by ssg at 12:09 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dear OP, I am also going to make sure I clarify my position to say that your wanting marriage is absolutely, 100% valid, and that you are more than justified in ending any relationship that doesn't give you what you want.

I just don't think moving out is the best way to go about it. I think it is the equivalent of undoing some progress in a relationship when the goal is, in fact, further progressing the relationship. I think most people - note, most - have a set series of events that define and progress their relationships with their significant others:

1) Dating
2) Moving In Together
3) Actually Living Together
4) Getting Married
5) Buying Property Together
6) Having Children Together

Now, some people put getting married at #4 and some put it at #5 or 6 and that is never an issue if both people in the relationship are on the same page. Very few take back step 2: Moving In Together in order to progress to step 4 (or 5, or 6): Getting Married.
posted by lydhre at 12:15 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know people that have stopped living together and it's been good for their relationship. But I don't think those are applicable here, because those stories are stories of people who couldn't live happily together and be in a relationship, so they chose the relationship. This, on the other hand...

Personally, if I were your boyfriend, I would see it as a big step back, if not an ultimatum.

You're trying to force his hand. Even if you aren't intending it that way there's basically no way that it's not going to come across as you moving out because he won't marry you now.
posted by rodgerd at 12:40 PM on October 4, 2010

The only situation I can envision this working is one in which marriage is unimportant to both partners, and they decide they want to be together but live apart. I don't see it ever working out if it's a unilateral decision. So I'm adding to the chorus of "have a frank and perhaps painful discussion about it with him." Possible outcomes:

- You might find out that he has reasons for "someday" that don't reflect on his love or commitment to you. For example, if he sees marriage as a "precursor" to buying a house and having children, maybe he wants you guys to be financially ready for those things before getting married (if you aren't already).

- You might find out that he doesn't want to marry you at all, in which case -- better to know.

- You might find out that he's honestly on the fence about it. If he says he's unsure and needs some time to sort things out, then you can talk together about how you moving out might aid that process by giving him space to think, etc.

- He bullshits you by telling you what you want to hear. For that reason, if he says he wants some time to think, put a limit on it. Don't let "time to think" become "time to milk the status quo for as long as possible before it all blows up".
posted by spinto at 12:40 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't see this as an ultimatum. ... So now that you are realizing that cohabitating is not leading to marriage, you are moving back out again. Your boyfriend can react in whatever way he wants. I don't get the sense that you are strategically making this move in order to force him to propose; I feel like you have accepted that this might lead to your breaking up

Isn't that what an ultimatum is? It's stating that there is a dealbreaker on the table. Either propose, or this is over. Of course the boyfriend may decide that things are over rather than propose - the response is entirely the boyfriend's prerogative. But putting forth the "it's time to make a decision" is what it means to put forth an ultimatum.

And it's not a bad thing to do. If you are at a stage where you know what you want, and you need to really know what he wants, then it makes sense to be clear with him. The idea of physically moving out adds two components, which you may consider positive - it gives him direct evidence that you're serious, and it gives him some non-specific but still presumably limited amount of time to think about it.

On the other hand, it could also have some risks. He could be unsure about your motivations and think you are just using this as a way to get out of something you don't really want to be in to start with, or, if he does believe you, he could think it a little manipulative.

Personally I think your best bet (and much easier than going through finding a new apartment and moving all your shit) is to just tell him straightforwardly what you need from him. If he doesn't seem to be taking it seriously tell him you've been contemplating finding your own place, but there's no need to start with that...
posted by mdn at 2:22 PM on October 4, 2010

Best answer: I can definitely see why this would seem like a really appealing course of action. I lived with my now-fiance for about seven years in a very similar situation, waiting for him to finally be ready. My waiting paid off eventually, and he proposed to me this summer (yay!) - but sometimes I wish I had just proposed to him instead, like three years ago.

You know your boyfriend better than we do; all I can do is offer what I learned in my situation, YMMV. Anyway, I know that my fiance - for all his other wonderful strengths! - is a somewhat indecisive person, and that he tends to feel that he has all the time in the world to make decisions unless something forces his hand. I knew in my heart that the reason he was taking his sweet time was NOT that he didn't want to be with me, but simply because of his personality. Having to make (and initiate!) big, irrevocable decisions like this makes him feel trapped and paralyzed, and I think he hates this feeling more than just about anything.

So it turned out that he just needed some kind of external reason to finally make the decision - in this case, it was that I had to move to go back to college, and he had the choice of coming with me or not. I did have to use a kind of ultimatum - I didn't want him coming with me and uprooting his life if we weren't in this for the long haul, and I made that clear about a year ahead of time (and he still left it to the last minute!). But making a big decision like that, without some external prompting, is simply not in his nature. He will always, always prefer to leave it open-ended until the last possible moment.

I probably should have just proposed to him. But I bought into the idea that if I asked him, it would either scare him even more, or, if he accepted, it wouldn't mean as much because he didn't initiate it. In retrospect, this is bullshit and I probably should have seen through it. Now that my anxiety over the "will-he-or-won't-he" issue has cleared, I can see that he would still have had to make that decision for himself if I'd simply proposed to him, and that his acceptance would have been no less sincere just because I asked the question (as ThePinkSuperhero said so well above). I'm not sure why I couldn't see that at the time.

One caveat, though: some men may have issues with the reverse-proposal approach because they find it humiliating - I have heard male friends say that it would be terribly emasculating for them to have their girlfriend propose to them. I'm not sure why that is, but I've heard it multiple times, and maybe that was part of what stopped me (I know he would have gotten a raft of shit for it from his college buddies, for example).

Anyway, I think that if I had moved out, it would have eventually ended the relationship. It would have implied that I judged him harshly or had lost some respect him for not taking action at what I felt was the appropriate time. I also think he would have thought it was a manipulative or passive-aggressive course of action.

But worst of all, it would have given him an excuse to get out of making The Decision because he could tell himself that it was just Too Late Now and he should just start moving on (or beating himself up about it). I would virtually guarantee he has a thought stuck in his head, maybe something like my fiance's earworm: "well, if I haven't asked her yet, does that mean something's subconsciously wrong and I don't really want to ask her?" It's tough to address this rationally because it's so circular and self-fulfilling, but it's important to understand if that's what's going on. If this is the case, moving out would confirm his worries, not bring him around to proposing to you.

Long story short: from my experience, I would guess that moving out would give him an easy out from the thing he's REALLY dreading - not the marriage, but from the awful pressure of finally making a decision, which he has probably built up in his head just as you (if you're anything like me) have probably built up "why won't he propose to me?" in your own head. You may have to force the issue in a way that makes sense for your relationship, but you should not feel guilty for one second about asking for what you need; just be forthright about it so that he doesn't feel manipulated or trapped.
posted by pikachulolita at 2:34 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

If I move out, we have to make an effort to see each other and spend time together, which requires us (particularly him) to think about what we actually want.

Does it? I don't agree. He could just continue along assuming everything was fine, and that you were okay with "someday"... when you're not.

Unless you explicitly tell him that you're tired of waiting, and that you want to know if he's ready to start planning, he can't really know.

"I love you and would like to have a family. Preferably with you. I know you said you've thought about getting married someday, but that's kinda nebulous for family planning if I'm already 29. Where do you see us in the next year or so? Is there anything you feel needs to happen before we decide to get married? I want to know if you're ready to move from some day to talking about actual possible specific future plans."

Have that conversation, and several others after that. Doing so will give you the information you need to start planning a future with him or packing to move out. Moving out without making your feelings plainly known would be an awful sign that you're not ready to get married yet because you can't communicate honestly, openly, and plainly about the things that really matter to you.
posted by canine epigram at 7:13 PM on October 4, 2010

If I move out, we have to make an effort to see each other and spend time together, which requires us (particularly him) to think about what we actually want.

If he can't think about what he wants when you are living together, what will you do if you get married and need to make some decisions about the future after that?

A different point of view on the "step backwards" concept -- as per #1 above, it doesn't sound like you are really enjoying living with him. Perhaps, in some ways, he might enjoying living in his own place, and still have every desire to continue having a relationship with you! He might figure out that he likes to have his own apartment and time to himself, and feel that it's a great improvement and makes your time together more exciting and special, and start acting even more wonderful and charming - but still not be making any move towards marriage.

It seems like you are looking at this as a handy little shortcut to get him to decide either to marry you or break up, while also seeing it as a way that you won't have to think about deciding whether to break up with him -- because he'll have made one of those two decisions you have in mind. But he might make a third choice, in which case you have spent more of your childbearing years in this situation and still have the essentially the same dilemma.

As to your reason #3, if you want to get married to him, I don't see why this would be a problem. If you really think you will suddenly "slide" (I'm not too sure what this means - does it happen when you get drunk in Vegas? involve an icy sidewalk and him suddenly slipping and falling to one knee?) into marriage, and you want to get married to him, and you think it's a "serious risk" (I'm reading that to mean "likely") if you continue to live with him, it follows that the way to get married to him would be to continue living with him.

Since you find a "slide" based marriage unacceptable, I think you need to articulate that means. You also need to discuss it with him, as well as all these other issues. For all you know, he could be considering proposing but worried you would see it as a "slide" and say no.
posted by yohko at 7:16 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this is an unreasonable option. Discuss your feelings with the guy with the goal of getting what you want, or a satisfactory compromise. If you want to marry him, ask him or ask for a timetable. Don't make passive aggressive threats that are not focused on what you actually desire.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:17 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

This has been a most enlightening thread and has made me reflect upon what is marriage vs. what is cohabitation... Stepping back from the two words, we see what is at stake is 'commitment' - a commitment to a partner and to making a life together, through the ups and downs and the hard times and the figuring out what works and what doesn't but all of that give and take, back and forth, negotiation and debate all boils down to commitment, first. It seems to me that we are only ever wholly to throw ourselves passionately into making something work if we are committed to that aspect. For some the legal paper implies that kind of commitment because as many have said backing out is not as easy as simply moving out after cohabitation. Others have pointed out the subtle changes that occur after "marriage" - perhaps that comes from this very same aspect - marriage by its very nature of being a legal and binding contractual agreement implies the willingness to commit to making it work, come what may. In which case, choosing the right person becomes even more important before the contract is signed. On the other hand, being committed to making something work doesn't require a piece of paper and a signature. Commitment is something that seems to be independent of the tangible evidence of it and must come first. Is a long engagement a compromise ?
posted by The Lady is a designer at 5:15 AM on October 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for the advice. This has been really helpful. I think my boyfriend might be in the same situation as pikachulolita's - he is also really indecisive (gets stressed by having to choose what to eat for dinner), and so the "someday" stuff may well be a result of his not seeing a pressing need to act. I hadn't actually thought of that before - when he says "I want to marry you someday" I've been hearing "because maybe I will find someone better!" but that's probably my own insecurity, as he's never given any indication that he doesn't think I am the best person around. Hopefully what he's actually saying is "I want to marry you but I don't have any incredibly compelling reason to do so in the immediate future so we'll keep doing what we're doing," which is a better answer, because then I can give him an incredibly compelling reason.

In order to find out, I probably have to ask him. Wish me luck.
posted by wavetothearctic at 7:28 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Good luck. I hope it works out for you.
posted by Solomon at 12:00 PM on October 5, 2010

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