What is going on with me, and can I make it stop going on?
August 5, 2008 5:57 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend wants me to move in with him. I have agreed to move in with him. We have already been together for 5 years and I am only moving across town. Why am I so terrified?

We’ve been together for a long time and generally have a good relationship. This is not my first serious relationship, but it’s the first one that I would call adult: we support each other, take care of each other, communicate with each other. And also have fun together, of course.

We are in our late 20’s, and neither of us is interested in marriage or children at the moment. I tend to be extremely independent and like to spend a lot of time alone. When I am alone, I feel clear-headed and focused in a way I rarely feel with other people.

A few months ago, he asked me to move in with him when my lease is up, and I agreed. Since then I have been terrified and fighting the urge to flee. I worry that when we move in together we will have to spend all our time together, and I don’t want to do that. I feel like I would lose something very important about myself if I did that.

This is really throwing me for a loop. I can’t relax around him. I am tense and agitated. I have told him about my reluctance but he treats this as a minor quirk and seems to be very sure that I will be fine once the move happens, which is next month.

Will I? Am I blowing this out of proportion? I have never lived with a romantic partner before. And, for what it’s worth, my parents are divorced and I don’t really have a model for this. With my preferences and my current state of mind, how can I make this work?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This may seem simplistic, but go with your gut. It's rarely wrong.
posted by hollisimo at 6:00 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

The advice of listening to your gut is probably good.

But there is also a huge difference between cramming you and your five cats and your six rooms of stuff into his already full studio apartment, and sharing a spacious apartment where you both have private space, independent social lives, and so on.

So the details really, really matter. In the place you will be living, is there a room that is yours, where you can shut the door and be alone even if he is at home? Will his place work, or should the two of you be looking for a new place together?

And remember that even if it turns out to be awful, that's not the end of the world. You learn from it, and take care to not repeat that mistake in the future.
posted by Forktine at 6:10 PM on August 5, 2008

But there is also a huge difference between cramming you and your five cats and your six rooms of stuff into his already full studio apartment, and sharing a spacious apartment where you both have private space, independent social lives, and so on.

So the details really, really matter. In the place you will be living, is there a room that is yours, where you can shut the door and be alone even if he is at home? Will his place work, or should the two of you be looking for a new place together?

This. A thousand times, this. Living together is doable but you must, absolutely MUST, have your own private personal space, as well as a mutual understanding that when it's "alone time", it really is "alone time".
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:13 PM on August 5, 2008

Sorry Hollisimo, but I don't think that's your gut speaking, anonymous. You have a solid, five-year relationship. It sounds like a positive and healthy force in your life. It's totally normal to be scared to make such a big commitment even if it is ultimately the right choice. Lots of successful couples have different standards for how much personal time they need. From the way you've described your relationship, this is a completely workable situation.

You said you've talked to your partner about your worries, but perhaps you weren't specific enough with him. Talk to him again. Tell him that you love him and that you're excited to be taking such a big step in your relationship, but that you want to set some expectations about time alone in advance. Explain what you explained to us -- that you truly enjoy spending time with your partner and that it's an important part of your life, but you happen to be a person that needs more time alone than average and it's a non-negotiable part of your happiness. Sometimes that need for alone time may mean that you have to leave the house (without him) to do so. The desire to spend time alone is not a reflection of your feelings (or lack thereof) for your partner.

You may find that many of your fears are calmed simply by hearing his acceptance of your need for time alone. Knowing ahead of time that he's aware that you'll be maintaining some time for yourself may make the move seem less "I am losing an important part of myself." Other than that, you're going to have to wait and see. Don't make this an issue until it is an issue. There are no guarantees that living together will work out, but it seems like this is a step that you're ready to take. If you truly do have the great communication that you mentioned in your question, I am sure you will have no problem finding a way to make your needs work with your partner's! Good luck!
posted by theantikitty at 6:23 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

You don't have to spend ALL your time together once you live together.

For what it's worth, I just got married a few months ago. The "being together forever" part is ok for me, but I'm still a little scared with the living-together part. Still, I figure I'll get used to it eventually. Like you, I also enjoy my independence and alone time, and now I have to share a little more of it, but that doesn't mean I don't sometimes I go into a separate room to be alone and read or work or whatever.

If you do go on and move in with him, try to be flexible at first while you're still figuring out the logistics of moving in together, so you don't freak out and panic.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 6:30 PM on August 5, 2008

It doesn't seem like a mystery to me. You're terrified for two reasons.

1) You've been with him for 5 years and all you know of being in a relationship with him is your place and his place. This is new thing for your relationship... a big new thing and so you're worried that this will change the routine you have. That it will change the nature of the relationship. That you will learn new things about one another that you probably didn't know and what if those new things ruin the great thing that you have?

2) You've said you've never lived with a boyfriend before, and this is the first 'adult' relationship you've had. So again it's sort of the fear of the unknown. Will you do the right things? Will you know how to handle something unexpected. Who pays the power bill. Who pays the internet and phone bill? Are groceries split 50/50? Will he agree with the way you want to decorate the place?

So here's the advice. Yes, you're blowing this out of proportion. You two have been together for five years, you've cared and shared with one another for five years, you're clearly compatable on some level. If you both enter this new living arrangement with an open mind and the same level of maturity you've probably displayed over the last 1825 days of your life, you'll make it through living together and so none of the worries and none of the problems mentioned in 1) or 2) will matter. They may pop up, sure, but you'll deal with it.

And along the way there will be arguments. There will be tears. Oh yes, there will most certainly be those. But there'll also be laughter, and fun, and moments where you realise you're glad you made the decision you did.

Go for it, stop stressing, and cross bridges when you come to them! You'll be glad you did!
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:39 PM on August 5, 2008

You know what, live together. If you don't think you have enough space, petition for a larger apartment with a second bedroom. Put a bed in it, put a desk in, but don't let it fill up with stuff. This is going to be my caveat for living with my partner when I am ready to do that. It's not about retreating or disappearing, but for casual personal time. By all means, don't put a computer in there, but I plan for a typewriter or my awesome new electronic keyboard that remembers what I write but doesn't have a screen!

You should also live your life in public. I know that sounds odd, but go to a laundromat to do laundry, have sex outside, take the bus, sit on the steps with your coffee and a newspaper, meet your neighbors, join a local book club, plan a sleepover with friends who also live with their partners and get some tips and advice, make smores, drink a lot, toast your independence, celebrate the next step of your relationship.
posted by parmanparman at 6:40 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

You two need to have some boundaries and rules--as all couples do, spoken or not. Tell him that you need a lot of solitary, quiet time. Have a talk about it.
posted by LarryC at 6:50 PM on August 5, 2008

When I am alone, I feel clear-headed and focused in a way I rarely feel with other people.

This is something I completely understand and you articulated it very well here. He'll understand that if you say it so clearly. Not only is it vital to have your own space that you can make private, but I've also found I need to negotiate my own time. For instance, I'm thinking about designating one or two specific nights a week to be alone/apart time. IT's a completely reasonable thing to do. I personally think relationships are the healthiest when couples make the space for each to be an individual and do his or her own thing. You have more to talk about when you're together, you appreciate the time together more, and things don't grow stale. So try asking for one or two nights or mornings or days a week where you can have space to yourself, and be willing to offer the same.
posted by Miko at 6:51 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

in my experience, strange, powerful emotions i don't really understand often trace back to things i experienced as a child.

you mention briefly that your parents are divorced - did they fight, and are you worried the same will happen to you? that may be a silly or too simplistic example, but perhaps it helps you get the idea. you might find the source of your fears there.

if that does ring a bell, one more thing: just because you start to understand the source of the fear doesn't mean you can avoid it. we soak up so much as children that we can learn the very behaviours that cause the problems we witnessed. so if you do move, and you start to see your fears being realised, don't be too surprised (don't panic; try to understand; work around the problem).

good luck.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 7:15 PM on August 5, 2008

I would have to disagree with the "go with your gut" suggestions - this is a big life change for both of you and it seems natural that you would experience some anxiety and nervousness prior to the move. Like you said, you're in a relationship in which you support each other and take care of one another - sounds like you've communicate your worries and I would suggest just talking it through and identifying how your partner can help make this transition easier.

I also think it's super important to have your own space even when living together with a romantic partner. For me, I like to be left alone for the first little while after I get home from work as I decompress and relax - it's a bit of valuable time in which I'm left to my own devices and nobody wants anything from me for a brief moment. :)
posted by perpetualstroll at 7:38 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have an absolute requirement for 2-3 hours a day where I see (and preferably hear) no-one else at all. This is a need, not a want.

I had to be very clear to articulate this to my now-husband, before we got married and moved in together. Fortunately, he also needs fair swathes of alone time on a daily basis.

We're still happily married; most evenings at home find me downstairs on the couch reading or surfing the net, him upstairs on his computer, talking to each other over the internet, and feeling good about our relationship. Weird, yes - but it works for us.

It was very scary moving in together, because suddenly I didn't have any space that was just mine. That drove me up the wall for a few months, until I got used to it. Now, I designate my desk and my laptop as 'my space'. No-one is allowed to touch them without my express permission. It satisfies my requirement for 'me space' well enough; you may need more or less.

To make this work, you will have to be very upfront about anything that gets on your nerves, and he's going to have to be willing to compromise and change and work with you on this. It can work out, but it may not be easy.
posted by ysabet at 7:50 PM on August 5, 2008

I'm an introvert, married to an extrovert. It can work just fine--I find spoken, rather than unspoken, boundaries work a lot better. Let him know there will be times you insist upon your space, and let him know when those times are.

Keep your separate outside activities, too, where applicable. It can be a great recharge when one of you goes out with friends, and the other stays home.

I'm sure there's just some typical commitment anxiety here too. Don't feel bad about it, but don't give into it either.
posted by stevis23 at 8:13 PM on August 5, 2008

In addition to separate spaces, you might also want to consider separate times: does he have an activity that will take him out of the house a few times per week (or however much you need)? Work this out, and make it clear, very clear, that this is something that you need him to take seriously.
posted by amtho at 8:34 PM on August 5, 2008

I have a few questions for you:

(a) Does your boyfriend have a need for his own space in life, or does he want to be with you every second that he can?
(b) Does boyfriend have his own life and activities that he does away from you ("boys night out," sports, hobbies, classes)? Do you have your own activities to get you out of the house without him?

I suspect if your boyfriend is already okay with you having "alone time" without living with him, has his own life, doesn't expect to see you all the time whenever it's possible, then this won't be as much of a problem as you are afraid it will be. But if he's already kinda codependent and into the big togetherness...perhaps that's why you're feeling nervous, because you might know it could become a problem?

If he's not the codependent sort, I'd be inclined to think that this is just "change of life jitters" for you, and maybe not such a huge deal as long as arrangements are made for your private time that don't tick either of you off.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:49 PM on August 5, 2008

I say don't do it. Why change what works so well? You're still young. And seriously... couples don't have to live together!

My husband and I didn't move in together until about 2 months after we were married. I love living with him but I miss living apart. It was fun going there for sleepovers. Hell, you don't ever have to live together if you don't want to. Since you love being solitary, you may really come to resent him when you co-habitate.
posted by beccyjoe at 8:50 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've just finished reading He's Scared, She's Scared-- about fear of commitment-- and your situation seems to fit right in with what they're writing about. They talk about how different people's committment panic gets triggered at different stages: after having sex the first time, when the relationship gets serious, moving in together, engagement, marriage, etc. Moving in together might be your trigger. You might want to check out the book from the library and see if it gives you any insight.

Also: I worry that when we move in together we will have to spend all our time together, and I don’t want to do that. I feel like I would lose something very important about myself if I did that. You probably know this already, but no, you don't have to. The amount of time you spend together is something you negotiate between the two of you, and maybe you'll feel better if you talk it out in advance and make some agreements.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:55 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm also with not going with your gut. At times like you describe, my experiences involve a lot of loud alarms. Are any of these my gut? I have no idea.

Instead, I suggest that you adopt an attitude of cautious optimism. Be aware of the changes around you, but assume your fears describe something that is possible but unlikely.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:02 PM on August 5, 2008

Seconding hollisimo - "go with your gut"

It's not too late to back out - and it's not a relationship ender either. Yeah, your boyfriend may be hurt or disappointed, but it's a small bump in the road that should smooth itself out.

neither of us is interested in marriage

As someone who has done the living with a s-o twice now and in each case went into it thinking or knowing that marriage wasn't on the horizon, I can say that living with someone who you don't intend to marry can be a fine experience, but may ultimatly be a waste of time if marriage is something you want down the road. You need to sort out your feelings, commitment level, and future with this guy before you move in. Not saying you shouldn't do it if marriage isn't the goal, but just be aware of that issue.

Good luck! You'll be fine!
posted by wfrgms at 9:21 PM on August 5, 2008

I tend to be extremely independent and like to spend a lot of time alone.

I worry that when we move in together we will have to spend all our time together

This doesn't seem that complicated. Maybe you are afraid of commitment, I don't know, but you could start with affirming that there's nothing wrong with spending significant time alone - even if you are in a long-term, cohabitating relationship, and that it's important and valid for you to safeguard this valued part of your lifestyle post moving in together. Is there personal space for you in this living arrangement? Are there places you can go to be actually away from your partner, or conversely does your partner go out on his own on a routine basis. Having a clear license to get out of the house routinely would be considered a plus by a lot of guys.

You don't say what you do with all that focus and clear-headedness you get when you're alone, if you're an artist, musician or writer it might be time to look into studio space - small spaces with few amenities can be very cheap. Then there are the old standbys of parks, cafés, museums, libraries...

If your boyfriend just figures you have cold feet it's one thing, but if he's not seriously acknowledging your need to have alone time and participate in finding the solutions for that then he needs to step up and you have to make sure he knows that or maybe you do have a problem. I've been with the same woman for over a decade, married 7 years and we both need alone time. I'm having some alone time right now. We have an almost 4-year-old child now and often getting (and giving) that time is work, but that's work that loving, mature partners do for one another.

If you are coming up with solutions but still feel anxious maybe you do not really want to take this relationship to the next level (which is what moving in together unquestionably is), while your boyfriend clearly does, in which case you have a more serious problem to contend with. But since you haven't really said anything to suggest that I'll leave it to another anonymous question.
posted by nanojath at 9:27 PM on August 5, 2008

When I am alone, I feel clear-headed and focused in a way I never feel with other people.

One little voice on this: You will be with another another person. You will not be alone. You will be fuzzy headed and unable to focus. And when you want to moan about this, vent a little with your friends, everyone will tell you what a lucky lucky girl you are and dismiss your complaints. Even your good-natured, level-headed and light-hearted complaints. They may even smirk as though it's cure you want to pretend that you don't like being smothered. Eventually, like Dana Gould, you may end up hanging yourself in the garage just from trying to be a good romantic partner.

Or not. Dana Gould is now married with children. But I'd call him the exception.

Run. Don't do it. In fact, take a vacation by yourself right now. By $800 worth of books and rent a cabin in the woods and just read for a week.

If I am reading this right, your need for solitude is a defining feature of you. And your boyfriend shrugs this off as a "quirk," feels free to tell you that what you think and feel about your own thoughts and feelings is less important than his own opinion that "you'll be fine."
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:21 PM on August 5, 2008

What a gift it seems to me to be able to be happy by yourself. I say go with your instincts and keep your own place.
posted by macinchik at 10:55 PM on August 5, 2008

What's the reason for moving in? Is it just convenience or another reason? I say keep your place, but that's me. I like my space.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:33 PM on August 5, 2008

I felt exactly the same way when I was about to move in with my SO for the first time a number of years ago. But we talked about the need for "alone time" and it's worked out well. I think that as long as you both understand, emotionally, that needing to be alone doesn't mean there's a problem with the relationship, then you can be OK. In my case it helps that my SO also needs a fair amount of alone-time, so we understand each other pretty easily as long as we're able to recognize and articulate the need ("I'm feeling like I need some more time by myself." "OK, I'll go hang out with friends this afternoon / go camping this weekend / whatever."). Even if you can't get the place to yourself and you live in a studio, a considerate roommate can still give you a little bubble of pretend privacy, which isn't the best thing in the world but helps.

My advice is just to never, ever allow there to be confusion between "I want to be by myself now because I'm a bit of an introvert" and "I want to be by myself right now because I'm mad at you". Those are both perfectly legitimate things, and they will both happen, but if you value your sanity, don't mix them up.
posted by hattifattener at 11:48 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

The only way I could ever make a go of it anymore is to buy a duplex, have a door passing from one to the other that has a lock on both sides. Then I'd get to go to 'her place' and she could come over to 'my place' but we could have morning coffee and we could have pets together (maybe the door could have a pet door in it) and be close and supportive of each other and be able to fight at a moments notice just like anyone who lives together, but we'd still have our own space and time in that space. Her john could be festooned with all the underwear she wants to drape around, and sea shells on the back of the toilet tank, my kitchen could still be a mess, I'd fix the garbage disposals and make sure she doesn't get hosed by some mechanic and take out the trash, she could tell me to straighten up, throw pans at me, knit, whatever.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:10 AM on August 6, 2008

My partner of four years is moving from her apartment into my condo in two weeks. (More me than her, but) We both crave space and time alone so, to give ourselves a place to do that we've divvied up two rooms -- I picked the paint and decor for mine, same with her/hers. We've agreed to respect privacy by asking before entering. Dunno how it will work, but I'm optimistic. We also have previously met with a couple's counselor who has helped us navigate through one another's soft spots. It sounds totally cheesy, but one of the best tools I got out of those appointments was to say "you're not listening to me the way I need to be heard" when that is what's happening. (cheesy, yeah but it's helping.)

Do you have pets/plants that need regular care at your place? If you're not ready to give up your apartment but want to test the living together waters, stay where you are, and try staying overnight at his place (or his, yours) for a few days in a row. After five years you probably already have personal items at his place anyway.

If you do plan to shack up together? Right on! I highly recommend hooking up with a counselor help you both navigate this new situation, esp. if you're nerved up. If you're just not ready to move in with him yet? Right on! That isn't at all a bad choice if the whole living together thing feels not right.

Good luck.
posted by mcbeth at 1:08 AM on August 6, 2008

Living together requires planning, discussion and care, especially so for people who thrive on alone-time (as do I). This can get difficult when both partners work, and only one has this need! I speak from experience. And when the space-hungry person gets their space while the other is busy, the other one may discover difficulty in getting their alone-time.

But knowing this is an issue is half the battle. Work at it with open eyes.
posted by Goofyy at 4:25 AM on August 6, 2008

mcbeth, and maybe others, mention spending a few-several consecutive days living together, which I think is a good idea. Ease into it somewhat, and try out the close quarters to see if your anxiety increases or decreases.

I don't know if it's been said yet, but have you talked about getting a different place together? There might be something deep in your head that's rebelling at the symbol of moving into HIS place that wouldn't be as stressful as if you were moving somewhere that will be new for both of you, neutral territory, if you will.
From my own 2 years married experience, while living in a studio (like right now) has it's charm, I LOVE it when we have rooms enough that I can have my office/work space and he can have his own.

As it is, I think you've got a good start with recognizing your reactions, but go a step farther and see if you can find the root of what's bothering you. Sometimes it takes lot of thinking and writing and talking for me to understand my own emotions, but it's definitely rewarding in the end.

Know what you want, what you NEED, and where the line between them is, and don't compromise what you need (space, alone time).

Good luck!
posted by itesser at 5:08 AM on August 6, 2008

FWIW I completely freaked out about moving in with the guy I ended up marrying a year later. I was well over 30, had lived on my own for all of my adult life after college, and became intermittently convinced I was making the biggest mistake of my life.

I have suggested The Concious Bride before, but I read it well before we were even engaged, particularly around the move-in period. It helps you to see how all transitions, even good, hopeful and happy transitions, can involve loss and fear and that that's OK. It's not a self help book or anything; there are just a lot of people's stories in different topical chapters and it was nice for me to understand how what I was feeling was normal. Giving myself permission to mourn a bit resulted in my being much more excited about the move. And it all worked out :)
posted by DarlingBri at 6:25 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

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