DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a woman in my early-mid 30s dating a man just into his late 30s. I’ve always been a bookish dork who was better at alphabetising her video games and colour-coding her anime plushies than being social (big time introvert), so when I found a cute ambivert who orders his graphic novel collection chronologically and loves SFF almost as much as I do (though admittedly, he has way more replicas of the Enterprise), well, I was delighted.
He and I first met about five years ago via an online dating site. We hit it off instantly and after about 10 days agreed to meet in person. Our first date was amazing, and just like that, we were regularly going on 1-3 dates a week. However, about two months in – when I was really starting to fall for him – he broke things off with “I don’t really think this is working, sorry”. I was gutted – we had great chemistry, and from my perspective, everything had seemed to be going well. But I’m not one to chase attention from people who don’t want to give me any, so I didn’t try to change his mind – I took it on the chin, wished him the best and did my best to forget about him (can’t lie though, I cried a LOT – for weeks). One year after he dumped me (almost exactly to the day, even), after we’d been hanging out as friends following a chance meeting in town some weeks earlier, he kissed me as he dropped me home and asked if we could give things another try. If I’m completely honest, the feelings I’d started having for him had never really gone away, so I said yes.
We’ve now been dating exclusively for almost four years. He is wonderful, the best man I have ever met: he’s kind, thoughtful, supportive, generous, a tender and talented lover, handsome, patient, accomplished in his career (in our shared, stereotypically nerdy industry), sweet & understanding to my mother (a widow & still grieving the loss of all my siblings to congenital disease). I’ve met his parents, siblings, nieces & nephews, we’ve been on multiple holidays together (including one with his best friend & his best friend’s wife), he’s been nothing short of great as I’ve pursued a second degree part-time, we had the “kids chat” and agreed neither of us wants to be a parent (phew – I’ve known for a long time I didn’t want to have children, but he was a “maybe” until his siblings had kids, now he says he’s very happy being an uncle and doesn’t want to be a dad).
All sounds idyllic, right? And it is, I’m very happy and fulfilled except for the fact that we still live separately (I rent in the urban area where we both work, he has a mortgage on a small house in the suburbs). He first brought up the idea of us living together late last summer/early last autumn. I was very happy about this, as I know that he is the person I want to build a future and get old with – but now, given that we haven’t made any progress towards actually making it happen five or six months later, I’m getting a bit worried that maybe we aren’t on the same page about it after all, or that he isn’t actually that sure he wants to live with me. [We live in a country where COVID precautions/restrictions could potentially make certain aspects of moving more difficult, but wouldn’t be enough to make the process impossible.]
I love him deeply, and more than anything, I want him to be happy. Obviously, I really want him to find that happiness with me. He’s a truly beautiful soul and deserves all the joy and success and love in the world. But I know I deserve those things too, and I’m at a point where part of feeling like I have that is sharing a home with someone as committed to a loving future as I am. That doesn’t mean I need him to marry me tomorrow, or even in the next year or two… but it would be nice to know he actively wants us to live together and at least sees marriage in our future, or if the worst case scenario is true and he’s decided he doesn’t want either of those things, that he can admit to me that he just doesn’t want to live together (or get married). I love him enough to let him go (and be happy without me) if that’s what it takes.
I suppose what it comes down to is that in terms of progression, it feels to me like we’ve hit a hump and there’s an imbalance in how eager each of us is to get over said hump. He obliquely referenced the idea of living together again (at some point in the undetermined future) last weekend, so I asked him if he had any thoughts on what that timeline looked like for him, and it was ‘summer-ish, I guess’. I then asked for clarification whether summer meant more like May or more like August/September to him, and he said ‘July-ish?’. Which I’m fine with – if it actually happens. But given that since he first brought it up, we’ve only discussed living together when I initiate the conversation, I’m a little wary of being breadcrumbed. (I wouldn’t really describe him as commitment-phobic, though I am his first long-term girlfriend, and we were each other’s first intimate/sexual partner.)
I don’t think it’s too unrealistic or unreasonable to be feeling kind of sad he and I aren’t living together yet after almost four years. I know that this is a conversation I need to have with him, however scary – and I’m going to, but I’d really appreciate some advice on how to approach the issues. I’m neurodivergent and sometimes struggle to express myself as clearly/fluently as I would like… the last thing I want to do is come across like I’m trying to break up with him on the spot if he doesn’t want us to move in together immediately or that I’m trying to issue some sort of deadline by which he needs to propose or whatever. Either would be horribly unromantic and counterproductive. But I do need to work out the best way of communicating to him that I’m not going to sit around forever idly hoping he’ll want to ACTUALLY live together one day – I would rather be alone than be uncertain about my relationship/future indefinitely, and I’d also rather be alone than be offered a commitment by someone who felt like they only did it because they felt they had to or were expected to. So any tips you’ve got for navigating this topic with him, I will receive gratefully.
Yours in hope,
Two Houses, Unalike In Dignity
DEAR TWO HOUSES UNALIKE IN DIGNITY: This is one of those times where you and your boyfriend are gonna have to sit down and have an Awkward Conversation, THUID. It’s clear that there’s a disconnect somewhere between the two of you about your long-term goals and that disconnect is making things uncomfortable for you. Carving out time to sit down, explain why moving in together is important to you, why you get anxious about this open-endedness and why you would like some clarity is going to be important. But it’s also going to be important to let him have his say — including being willing to give him space to share any worries or misgivings he may have without judgement. And to make it clear that he can express any worries or anxieties he may have without having to worry that it’s going to blow up the relationship. And that may include being willing to hear that he doesn’t want to live together or that he has worries about it.
Often when you run into a situation like this, where one partner is giving vague or non-committal answers to future plans, the issue is that either they don’t want to do the thing and they’re afraid to say so… or there’s some aspect to it that bothers them, but they worry that bringing it up is going to destroy the relationship. But because they know that it’s important to the other partner, they try to give just enough to satisfy the partner without actually committing to something in a way that doesn’t allow them to kick that proverbial can down the road a little further.
The problem is: you can only kick it down the road so long before you run out of time and then someone calls the question. And when that happens, nobody has dealt with what the actual issues are and so everything gets incredibly messy and instead of an awkward conversation, you end up having a potential relationship extinction-level event instead.
It sounds to me like your boyfriend isn’t keen on the idea of living together. The big question is… why, exactly? You’ve been together for four year and change, so it’s hardly an issue of being commitment averse. In the spirit of honesty, it could be that he’s trying to slow-walk out of the relationship and thus doesn’t want to move in together. But while that may be a nightmare scenario, it’s not the only possibility, nor even the most likely one. It may be that he likes a certain amount of alone time or unstructured freedom and living together makes that more difficult. It could be that he doesn’t like the idea of what living with another person may mean for him and his lifestyle, structure or routine. He may feel like circumstances are bad for trying to move in together, especially if that means having to give up his place and going through the hell that is apartment or house hunting. Or there may be some emotional association he has with shacking up that gives him pause; maybe he’s seen too many of his friends’ relationships fall apart after everyone moved in together and he’s worried that’ll happen to the two of you.
So when you have the Awkward Conversation, you want to share your side of things — making it clear that this is just how you feel, not blaming him or accusing him. You want to share why you feel like this is important to you, what an ideal solution would be and why this would make things better for the both of you. But then, give him his space to share his side openly, honestly and without interruption until he’s done, just as he did for you.
And when you’ve heard each others’ sides and are sure you understand where the other is coming from… it’ll be time to try to see if there’s a way to resolve the issue. And to be clear: resolving the issue doesn’t automatically mean “finding a compromise that allows the two of you to finally move in together”. Just as he should give consideration to moving in with you, you should be asking yourself whether not living under the same roof is an absolute dealbreaker for you. While living together is something most couples move towards, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessary for the relationship. There are couples who don’t share a bedroom and instead have their own space. There’re couples — including married couples — who don’t live together. They live close to one another — sometimes in the same apartment building or condo, sometimes even in adjoining duplexes — but they both have their own separate homes and they’re all the happier for it. Not living under the same roof doesn’t make their relationship any less valid or any less committed; it’s just how they’ve decided to structure their relationship.
That’s the great thing about relationships; you and your partner get to set your own rules and figure out what works for you.
So make that appointment to have The Awkward Conversation. Be willing to be open and honest and non-judgemental with each other, even if it’s scary. And then be willing to ask yourself how much you’re both willing to bend on this particular subject. It may be that there’s some way to assuage whatever worries he has. Or there may be a way of making things work even if you don’t live together in the traditional sense.
And one last thing: while you don’t want to use The Awkward Conversation as a way of kicking the can even further down the road, you don’t need to have an answer immediately. You and your boyfriend may need to give yourselves a little time to really chew on things, process what you’ve had to say and then start working towards a solution. That’s a lot easier to do if you don’t feel like you have to have that solution by the end of of business that day. Giving yourselves a some space to process, a little room to see how you feel and then come back to the topic. That extra time may make all the difference.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com