DEAR NATALIE: I date a guy whom I know really well. Our relationship is not very conventional as we both have a lot of relationship baggage. I was in a very long-term marriage that was miserable and so was he. We have been taking the relationship very slow. We spend a lot of time together, go to dinner, date, go out with friends and travel for extended periods of time together. We spend all holidays together. However, neither of us seems to want to make a full commitment to each other and we are happy as we are. The problem for everyone is the fact that I have never been to his house. I don't care, but it seems everyone else has a problem with it. He spends most of the time at my house or we are out of town. We have been together more than a year and I have never really thought about it being right or wrong, I just never ask to go. I never had control in my marriage and I feel that this is giving me control. If I go to his house, I feel that I will be giving up something. The bottom line is that I am happy with how we are. I don't want to get married and I am not even sure I am looking for a long-term relationship. I just want to have fun and enjoy myself for the first time in 20 years. My family thinks he is married or hiding something. What do you think? -- CURIOUS
DEAR CURIOUS: Call me nebby, but I would want to know everything I could about the person I am spending my time with, regardless of the level of commitment. It sounds to me like you used to be in an emotionally abusive relationship. In this new relationship, you are trying to assert your power, and in your mind that means having fun in the moment. While it's fine not to label relationships or worry about where things are going, you should be concerned that you have never been invited into his home. I am not sure what you would be giving up if you did go to his place, but you have convinced yourself that there is a power struggle and that his home is a part of that. This could be a defense mechanism because deep down you may fear you'll come to the same conclusion as others who care about you - that it is a curious thing to never be in his space, especially after knowing him for a year.
You don't need to jump to conclusions about him leading a double life, but after this long together a level of trust needs to be built in order for the relationship to be sustained (at whatever level that may be). In fact, you may be afraid deep down to know what is going on because you have been having so much fun. And I totally get that.
Ask him if you can have dinner at his place the next time you are together (even if you don't have any intention of going over). Gauge his response. If he says something along the lines of, "Sure anytime!" then you probably don't have much to worry about. But, if he starts to come up with reasons why it isn't a good idea, be wary of that and definitely look at it as a big red flag.
DEAR NATALIE: I am bipolar and seeking full-time disability because the illness [makes] me unable to hold a job. I am in treatment, but my problem is how do I respond when people ask me where I am working now or what I do for a living? I hate to just say, "I'm disabled," because they ask why; there is such a stigma surrounding mental disorders that I'm reluctant to tell them. What is a good way to answer? -- Wondering What to Say
DEAR WONDERING: Having worked as a social worker and therapist with a multitude of populations around the city, I have seen firsthand how these stigmas really can affect people's personal lives. I completely empathize with you and your situation. If anyone asks you about your state of employment, tell them you are taking time off for personal health reasons. You don't need to explain yourself to anyone. You can also follow up by changing the subject and talking about your hobbies or things you would like to pursue while you take some time off - like painting, writing, exercise or volunteer work. Or shift the question back onto them and ask what they like to do in their leisure time to move the conversation away from employment. No one is living your life except you, and you don't have to answer to anyone or gain anyone's approval. Just be polite, vague and change the topic. Take care of yourself, and do what is best for you.
Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Cocktail parties are great places to network, and while a drink may help you loosen up, be careful not to overindulge. You want people to remember you for the right reasons and not for slurring your words.
Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to email@example.com or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)