Time to talk, or time to move on?
February 25, 2013 8:28 PM   Subscribe

Is it better to just break up with my SO, or tell them how anxious I am about moving in together?

My SO is a wonderful person, and I care about them very much. I have, however, harboured some doubts about whether they are the right person for me for most of the year that we've been together. I've mostly ignored these doubts because they seemed petty compared to the good parts of the relationship.

My SO has started talking about moving in together. This, along with a minor pregnancy scare a few weeks ago, has had me re-evaluating whether this is the right relationship for me. And those lingering doubts have really started to grow.

I want to be clear -- there is nothing major "wrong" with our relationship. They are very accommodating to my eccentricities (perhaps overly so), and we have quite literally never gotten into a fight. We've generally been able to use our words quite well to deal with disagreements.

But the anxiety I've been feeling regarding moving in together has become overwhelming, especially over the last week or so. Breaking up has started to feel like an option. I know that some level of anxiety is natural, but I'm starting to feel like the level of doubt I'm feeling is a signal that this isn't the right relationship for me. Frankly I don't feel any real excitement about the prospect of living together. [For the record, I am not prone to anxiety and the general idea of moving in with a partner is appealing to me. I don't consider myself a commitophobe.]

The reason I framed the question above the fold as I did was because in my last relationship I expressed some similar anxiety to my ex, and it pretty much tanked the relationship. My ex spent months being scared I would dump them at any moment, I felt guilty about about the situation I had put us in, and it made for a not-great time before we ended up breaking up for real. In retrospect, a clean break would have been a lot better. However, in that relationship there were also more red flags (more fighting, more overt personality conflicts).

In general, I'm inclined to use my words. I could say to them tonight "I'm really anxious about moving in together and I'm worried it's not the right thing to do". The problem is that I don't know what good it could do. There's no behaviour I want to ask my SO to change. As far as I can tell this is a "me" problem that either I can get over or I can't. Breaking up out of the blue seems cruel, but so does saying "I like you but maybe not enough to live together. Thoughts?" [paraphrased, obviously].

So, in your experience, is there any good that can come from laying my doubts about the relationship on the table? Or is it better to rip the band-aid off, feel really shitty about breaking someone's heart for a while, and then try to find a relationship I'm more comfortable in?

Thanks for your advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I guess one bit of information it would be useful to have here is whether you consider yourself in a phase of life where you're actively seeking a more long-term relationship/marriage and want to move on when you realize that's not happening, or whether you're okay with a more casual, not-going-anywhere-serious place right now. And also which place your partner is in.

For myself, at certain points I've been 100% fine with acknowledging that a particular relationship was definitely not headed to moving in together/marriage, but I was fine with that because we had a great time together and cared about each other, even if it wasn't deep, forever-type love. At other times, I haven't been, and as a result have cut things off earlier once I could see where things were headed (or not headed, as the case may be).

If you find yourself in the 'casual dating is ok' category, I think there's nothing wrong with saying that to your partner: "Hey, I'm sorry if this makes things awkward. I really care about you a lot, but I also have to be honest that I'm not ready to move in together, and I'm not sure if I ever will be. I really enjoy our time together and I would love to keep dating you, but I also totally understand if you need to move on and look for a relationship with someone who is ready for something more serious with you." Then the ball's in their court.

If you're in the 'actively seeking a long-term, serious partner' phase, then cut your losses and continue the search for someone you're more compatible with. Don't waste your time or your partner's time. There does not have to be a horrible action on the other person's part, some fatal flaw that caused you to break up with them. It's enough to have it simply be the case that you don't happen to feel that deep, serious, let's-spend-our-lives-together love for this person.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:39 PM on February 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yes, use your words. If it tanks, then go on. If he can work with you, he may be able to help you with this, and he just may be a keeper. That said, there's nothing wrong with ending a relationship that you're not comfortable in.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:42 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the things I really wish people had told me in situations like this in the past, is that you don't need to have some reason to write down why you don't want to be in a relationship. "It didn't feel right" is a legitimate answer.

Breaking up is not something you need to file a police report on, there doesn't need to be an itemized list of reasons, and you aren't required to give the other person any sort of explanation like that.

This was hard to accept both directions, giving or receiving, since it almost seems like people are conditioned that there needs to be some sort of reason or explanation. "This isn't working, sorry" is 1000x better than some kind of cliched crap like "it's not you it's me" that people usually fill in that blank space with.

Basically, don't doubt your own feelings. "It doesn't feel right and it isn't something I see myself wanting to do" is just as legitimate of a reason as anything else. Relationships are about emotions, emotional feelings are the main thing that matters, and they can sometimes be a bit confusing but obviously pointing in a certain direction. Don't doubt them just because you're conditioned to think that feelings aren't meant to be taken seriously unless they can be quantified on some kind of chart.

On preview, what rainbow brite said is also excellent.
posted by emptythought at 8:43 PM on February 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

It's always better to talk things out than not to talk. You can't hurt a good relationship by talking, only a bad relationship.

You don't need to know what good it will do. Maybe you'll figure out what the problem is together, by talking . Maybe he feels it too. Maybe you can discuss what needs to happen to make you feel more comfortable.

Of course moving in makes you nervous. It should make you nervous. It's a big change in life. Of course you should talk about it. You probably should have talked about it long ago.

Relationships need a lot of talk. They are work. If you break up every time there's stress, you will never get very far in your relationships.
posted by musofire at 8:44 PM on February 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

The reason I framed the question above the fold as I did was because in my last relationship I expressed some similar anxiety to my ex, and it pretty much tanked the relationship.

The right person will acknowledge your anxieties and work with you on them, not hold them over you and blackmail you emotionally. Trust your instincts. Break up with this person.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:47 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would tear off the bandaid and fully break up. It is going to be even more painful down the road. Much more painful.
I once moved in with someone, and while the relationship didn't last, we really wanted to move in together. We were super excited about sharing a 15x15 foot space (we were poor) for a year, where the living room = the kitchen = the bedroom. We were happy as bugs in a rug, in our tiny fold out IKEA couch with uncomfortable wooden boards in it, because were stupidly in love with each other. We got excited about decorating. Decorating was all from IKEA and stuff from our parents' houses.
Maybe adults can't fall as stupidly in love, but I don't think you should move in together unless you're actually excited about it. It's not fair to either person.
So, I think you should have the conversation, not move in together, and brace yourself for a breakup and/or lead things in that direction if the feelings are so lukewarm.
posted by htid at 8:49 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Talk about it. If the end result of you talking about it isn't that you want to move in with them, then you probably should just end the relationship and stop wasting your SO's time and yours.
posted by empath at 9:30 PM on February 25, 2013

I could say to them tonight "I'm really anxious about moving in together and I'm worried it's not the right thing to do". The problem is that I don't know what good it could do.

In general, expressing your fears and being honest is good for a relationship. You could end up becoming closer to each other. You could find that talking it out lessens your fears because you have an ally in working them out. You think there is nothing they could do to fix things; it's quite possible that there is. It's possible that your last move-in situation was so awful that you're scaring yourself out of repeating it. Expressing your fears gives you the other person the opportunity to rescue the relationship before it ends.

That said, it seems like you don't really want to give them that chance--not because there's nothing they can do, but because you don't want to explore the possibility of the relationship continuing. The nicest thing you've said about your relationship is that this person puts up with you. You don't mention loving them and it sounds like the good times are behind you. The relationship has run its course for you. Don't settle for someone who puts up with you but doesn't make you happy. And be kind enough to let your SO go so that they can find someone who would be thrilled to move in with them.
posted by rhythm and booze at 9:39 PM on February 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

As someone who was once very unsure about moving in with a person, and who is now engaged to marry that person after 4-5 pretty great years together, I will say this:

Consider that you might never feel the sense of readiness that you think you should. When my fiancée first recommended moving in together, I was terrified. Despite this, we talked about it and decided to try it out anyway. The next four years together, sharing a smallish apartment, taught me so much about relationships that I can only look back at that version of myself and laugh. I learned that in addition to my partner being a beautiful human being, she was also prepared to love me for exactly who I was, including the parts that I'd never shared with anyone. What began as a fun relationship with someone who could make me laugh eventually bloomed into something so much bigger, and more powerful.

Consider, also, that the opposite of what you've said about signals can be true: maybe you might actually be scared of this level of commitment, even though you believe otherwise. Moving in together is a big deal, and its perfectly normal to feel anxious about that. It's a huge step and it could either destroy your relationship or make it 20x more wonderful. Unfortunately the only way to find out is to try.

Love is so complex and it is rarely easy. Had I given in to the nervous part of me, I most certainly would've regretted it. Now, I get to be nervous and shaky about marriage, which is a whole new animal. Given what I've learned about myself, this is something I'll probably be antsy about until a year after we're married, I'm sure, but its just another big step that the scared part of me wants to grip onto. Your situation might be the same.

Talk about it with them. You have nothing to lose by talking. And who knows, maybe you'll come to a better conclusion together, whatever that means for you. Be honest. Good luck!
posted by summerteeth at 9:47 PM on February 25, 2013 [19 favorites]

I had a similar experience to summerteeth, though I'm only about 8 months into living with my SO and we are not engaged. We had been dating seriously about 8 months when we started to talk about moving in together, and made the move just shy of 1 year together. I was excited, but also really nervous about it, both because it seemed quick, and because the last time I had moved in with an SO it tanked the relationship FAST and was painful. It turned out to be the right thing to do and I'm happier now living in sin than ever.

When we were talking about living together, I had some doubts and expressed them. I was really quite stressed about the whole thing. We made contingency plans - i.e. if we break up, then what? Who would get to "keep" the apartment, etc. The fact that he was willing to talk about that in a frank way with me and not be upset about the "whatifs" I had was very reassuring. I never thought about breaking up with him during the moving discussions (it was a "either we will continue to date not living together and either break up or move in later, or we will live together and see what happens") which is where my anxiety about it is a bit different.

I think rainbowbrite's point of figuring out what you both want (if you don't already know - may have been an oversight not to mention in your post) is really important. SO and I both want to continue a serious relationship, hopefully leading to marriage. Both of us have previously had broken engagements, so neither of us are running to the altar, but knowing that it's something in both of our minds over the next 2-3 years is good information to have. We decided that if it wasn't going to work, at least we would know... it was a "be wrong fast" move, and we're both happy to say it wasn't a wrong decision.
posted by jorlyfish at 10:14 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

"The problem is that I don't know what good it could do. There's no behaviour I want to ask my SO to change."

This isn't about eliciting a behavior from your partner or inspiring change in them. It's about sharing your feelings and fears about something that concerns you both. Being honest and open with your partner allows them to be more deeply connected to you and to understand you better. And it creates a space where they can be more open and honest in return. This is about all that.

Whether or not you should stay together will be more easily figured out after you say these things and feel heard. And of course, don't move in together if you don't feel heard. And especially if you don't feel like you can share these things (but it sounds like you already strongly know that).

How much is your partner aware of your anxieties about moving in and the relationship? It doesn't seem fair if you're having all this doubt and thought and they're in the dark about it. Or even worse, if they're getting some idea indirectly, through your behavior or otherwise, and don't get to know where it's coming from or what it's about. Talk to them. At least try that option before you bail entirely.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:24 AM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Why can't you continue to date with out moving in together? Why are the only two options breakup or move in together?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:35 AM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Talk to your SO; it's perfectly okay if you can't give a more detailed verbal reason WHY you don't want to move in together than just "I don't want to".

You say you don't know what good talking about this will do --- well heck, it'll do TONS of good: simply having a conversation about this, no matter what gets decided, will tell you a lot about your partner, how they treat other people and more specifically how they'll treat YOU. And honestly, if that makes this SO, like your last, decide to break up? Well then, it's better to find that out now rather than later if your SO really sees you as is no more than split rent and regular sex.
posted by easily confused at 2:47 AM on February 26, 2013

I'm going to go against the grain slightly here in that I don't think your partner is obliged to help you through your uncertainties. They might hear it (with some justification) as "I don't know if I want to be with you or want the kind of relationship that you do, but please stick around indefinitely until I decide," and that's a really tough ask for anybody. So if you discuss this with them, be prepared for their response to be that they aren't able to continue the relationship under such conditions.

That said, I really do think you should discuss it with them. There is value in sharing your thoughts and feelings even when you don't have a specific request in mind. You might find your ideas about this are clearer after a discussion; you might find that you can both agree on a way forward for now that you're both okay with, even if that means shelving the moving-in discussion for another X months.

You should also make some time to discuss this with yourself. This could be an indication the relationship isn't working for you, or it could be anxieties that are worth working past. The fact that this issue has come up before at this stage of a relationship might mean that's just when you spot incompatibilities in relationships, or it might mean it's an issue you need to resolve in yourself regardless of who you're with (and I know you say you're not opposed to the idea of moving in with someone, but the reality of that decision is different from a hypothetical idea). Thing is, there's just no way to know from this information alone what's going on for you, and you need to work on finding out what that is before you can decide what to do about it.
posted by Catseye at 4:08 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like there's nothing really "wrong" with your relationship, but its not really "right", either. I love emptythought's reply - "it doesn't feel right" is a legitimate reason to end something that doesn't make you happy. It would be easier if he wasn't a wonderful person, so you could say to him and others "it was because of X", but as someone said on another post (sorry I can't find it) it doesn't matter if he's the most wonderful man in the world if he's not the man for you.

You sound like you've spent most of the relationship second guessing things, and living with so much doubt saps your ability to really engage with the world around you. My advice is to listen to your gut instinct, which is saying you don't know if you have a future with this person and now that its time for the next step you're anxious. Your body knows something is not right. I think you should trust yourself and your own intuition. Talk to him about what you're feeling, if you're ending it do it with love, but don't try to force yourself into a relationship that doesn't quite fit just because you think it should. Good luck to both of you.
posted by billiebee at 5:05 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's nothing that says you have to be ready to move in on your SO's schedule. There's nothing that says "date one year and then move in or the relationship is doomed."

You have two separate issues - your doubts about the relationship, and whether you should move in together. You've rolled then all up into one big ball that give you the binary choice "move in or break up."

Tell your partner your not ready to move in together, and once that pressure is off the table, spend some time considering your doubts. See if they recede or stay in place once this artificial crises is defused.
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:38 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

more specifically how they'll treat YOU. 

The right person will acknowledge your anxieties and work with you on them, not hold them over you and blackmail you emotionally. 

..and he just may be a keeper. 

How is this suddenly about him? The OP mentioned he has done nothing wrong in the relationship. These doubts/insecurities are her own. These "tests" are not warranted - rather, he is in the dark and has the right to know at the earliest so that he can make an informed decision about his life and future.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:19 AM on February 26, 2013

As a counterpoint to summerteeth, I also was not ready to move in but told myself to give it a shot anyway. It took me about 8 months longer than it should have to end the relationship, because of the confusion, entanglement, and logistics involved. I actually really don't recommend moving in to try to figure out if things could work - I recommend moving in once you've figured out that things could work. But this seems counter to prevalent sentiments these days, and summerteeth provides a promising counterexample.
posted by namesarehard at 6:48 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please don't move in with him and break up with him.

When I moved in with my ex, I was 100% in and over the moon about him. 10 months later, it turned out he'd been lukewarm about shacking up and had had doubts about our relationship for "most" of the year we'd been together prior to moving in.

Getting dumped like that and having to find a new place asap really sucked. If he'd used his words sooner and been up front about how he felt, it might have been the reality check I needed to cool my jets and make sure the relationship was really working for us both.

You've had doubts for most of the time you've been together. A year is enough time to know, undoubtedly, that you want to be with someone for another year.

Also, if he's at the point of being ready to move in and is sure about it, then he's probably not going to be able to scale the relationship back to an earlier, pre-shacking-up-discussion point. Time to move along.
posted by mibo at 7:11 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

My partner and I were planning on moving in together after about a year, had set a date to do it by and all, when he suddenly informed me, quite out of the blue, that he was having some serious doubts for months (without mentioning them to me) and didn't want to go through with it.

We had a really long, painful conversation about it, at some points of which I wasn't sure how we were going to work past it and move on. But then we did. He realized a lot of what he was feeling was unrelated anxiety, he got that taken care of, and realized he was actually really excited about moving in together. Now we live together and are engaged.

I'm not saying this is your situation. But talk to him. It hurt much more to know that my partner was keeping this from me, and a conversation led ultimately to good things, not bad.
posted by dysh at 7:37 AM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

You need to talk through it.

I suspect that you know the answer, that this isn't the person for you.

You may care about your SO, and you may even love the person, but they're just not the person you want to partner with.

You may not be able to point to any reasons, just that this isn't the person you see yourself going through life with.

It will suck, there will be tears, you will doubt yourself.

I have, however, harboured some doubts about whether they are the right person for me for most of the year that we've been together.

If you've doubted, throughout your relationship that this would be permanant, no matter how hurtful it is, it's time to breakup.

You're wasting time and emotion on something that isn't going anywhere. Your SO could be with someone who loves him/her deeply and completely and without reservation. That person isn't you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:05 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you've doubted, throughout your relationship that this would be permanant, no matter how hurtful it is, it's time to breakup.

I'm going to disagree with Ruthless Bunny on this, somewhat, and note that I don't think this is as cut and dry as some might assume. Some people are built in such a way that they are indecisive, while others are just scared about making big decisions. Sometimes that indecision and/or fear can lay dormant until big decisions like this. Moving in together, and later marrying (if you choose to do that/can do that where you live, anonymous) is a huge decision! In theory, it's a decision you make only once (when it works) and that means that there's a Range Rover sized ball of pressure that may be hanging out on your chest about making this decision. My counterpoint is to say that this is how it was for me. It may be that for you too. I say this based, primarily, on anonymous' previous relationship and how it inevitably crumbled. Everyone harbors doubts about their partner from time to time. The only perfect partner to yourself would probably be yourself, and even that could get annoying eventually.

Is it possible that I'm wrong? Absolutely it is. I am not you, and vice versa. But I maintain that the answer to all of your problems is to talk about it. In fact, you should be having two conversations.

1. Talk to yourself. Think this thing through constructively and honestly. Be brave about it. Make lists of pros and cons, even if writing out the cons makes you hate yourself. You're allowed to be a little selfish here. Think about your perfect partner, the person you would say yes to moving in with. Is your partner really as wonderful as you say? Are they even more wonderful than you thought? Write it out. Then write a response to that. Do this part with a trusted friend, therapist, or family member, if you have to. It's important. Remember to consider what you know about your partner's habits in their personal life. What does their current house/apartment/bedroom look like? The hardest part of moving in with my fiancee, oddly enough, was arguing over whose turn it was to do the dishes, and whose fault the dishes were in the first place. This surprised me. Could you live with that sort of problem for the rest of your life? Then, think about the alternative to your current relationship. Do you think the next person you date will be more perfect? How would you know? I think something that I took away from this exercise was learning that there was no such thing as a perfect partner in the world, and that everyone, because of their humanness, will have a set of wonderful parts and a set of awful parts, and part of learning to live with someone else is learning to take the good with the bad. That's partnership. If you're willing to put in the work, then this person may be worth the leap of faith. If not, then maybe you haven't found your match yet.

2. Talk to your partner. Best case scenario, you clear your mind and recognize that your partner is willing to talk things out and work out a solution that is perfect for both of you. Maybe that's shacking up after all, maybe it's waiting another year. Worst case scenario, they get freaked out and you'll either have to fix it or end it. If it's the latter, then you were right to worry, and they weren't the right one for you. If it's the former then you end up with a good solution to all of this. Trust me, talk it through before you end the relationship or just say yes. Living with someone is a series of tough conversations, and if you're going to try it out, you need to start having them now. This is a an opportunity. If you care about them, then you'll talk it through.

It's so often said that it's basically cliche, but part of life is making mistakes. Moving in could be wonderful or it could be one big mistake. Remember that the absolute worst thing that could happen is that you move in together and then break up. It's hard, expensive, and painful, but it happens all the time, and people get through it and move forward in life. You will too. If you decide to move in and are still nervous about it, remember this. Life will go on no matter what you do.
posted by summerteeth at 10:58 AM on February 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I also strongly disagree with Ruthless Bunny. I think that's a very dangerous opinion - everyone has doubts about their relationships. No relationships are perfect. There are always better and worse times, and the myth of a perfect love story is an insidious one.

That said, read mibo's point and mine and take longer to decide before moving in.
posted by namesarehard at 2:19 PM on February 26, 2013

Why can't you continue to date with out moving in together? Why are the only two options breakup or move in together?

I know we're supposed to focus on answering the OP's question, but this kinda jumped out at me and is relevant to other people trying to constructively answer the question.

Both myself, and others i've known have been in the situation that pretty much begged the question you've just asked, and the answer to it was the other person thought that if you're not "moving forward" with the relationship, then you don't care enough to be in it. they h ave the belief that basically "we've been dating for X amount of time, why don't we live together/why aren't we engaged/etc". they have some kind of set timeline in their head, which seems to be fairly foisted upon them by either society or their family that relationships are something like a college degree, that's supposed to be following some fixed timeline. and they're concerned that if they're on track to "graduate late" then the next person obviously must not be serious or something.

This sort of thing has blown up many decent relationships i've seen friends have, and it may very well be what's going on here.

Basically, if the other person is in that mindset, the only two options are to either break up or move in together. Seeing as what they see as a "holding pattern" is unacceptable to them.
posted by emptythought at 3:00 PM on February 26, 2013

I want to add that during the conversation my partner and I had about his doubts re:moving in together, we sat down and made a list of potential concerns he had. Then we made a column of possible solutions. For example, potential problem: not enough personal time. Potential solution: designated days of the week where we each do our own thing. Potential problem: partner is bad at confrontation, is afraid of not being able to bring things up. Solution: monthly relationship check-ins.

Your list may/will vary, but sitting down and coming up with solutions together is what turned things from a fight to a productive conversation. I recommend it.
posted by dysh at 2:45 PM on February 27, 2013

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