You Need Help: What If You Never Want To Move In Together?

Q:

My girlfriend and I have been seeing each other for about a year, longer if we count the beginning when we were in the talking stage and non-exclusive. She brought up moving in together a few months ago, and I told her I wasn’t ready. She respected my decision but recently she reopened the conversation recently and wanted me to elaborate on why I don’t feel ready. I found it hard to really talk honestly about my reasons and we ended up fighting but I think it was mostly a mis-communication.

I’ve never lived with a partner before, but I’ve had some bad roommate experiences in the past and saved money until I could afford to live on my own. I love living alone! I love when my girlfriend sleeps over, but I also like having my own space. It takes about 20 minutes to drive between our apartments but an hour for her to get to my place from her work. I’d admit we both spend a lot of time in our cars going between our places. And the idea of sharing rent is attractive. I have a second room in my apartment but I use it as a home office and studio space. When I think about what living together looks like, I have a hard time picturing it even just in a logistics way.

I asked her if there’s a world in which we always live separately but still spend most nights together, and she didn’t say no but she also said she was having a hard time imagining it. Do people ever do this? Is it sustainable? How do people know when the time is time to move in together? Even though I’m not ready now, it’s also might be because I think it’s too soon.

A:

My suspicion here is just that it’s too soon, and that’s okay! Do people move in together after dating for less than a year? Most don’t, but some certainly do — according to our 2018 Lesbian Stereotypes Survey, 25% of our readers had at some point moved in with someone they’d been dating for under a year. Do people live separately forever and still spend most nights together? I’m confident they do, apparently these days there is a trend of even married couples living apart. But! Forever is a long time. Do any of us know what we want to do forever? You don’t have to know that just yet!

Often the decision to move in quickly is driven by factors that don’t seem to be heavily at play for you, like needing to save money, not having the time to shuttle between apartments due to work or school or family obligations, or just generally preferring co-habitation over solo living. You’ve saved up to live alone, you like living alone, and it seems like the middle-distance relationship thing isn’t putting too much of a strain on the rest of your life, so your drive to move in might not look like everyone else’s. You don’t express any hesitation about the longevity or strength of your relationship, nor does that seem to be a factor holding you back from signing that lease. You just… like living alone and want to spend more time doing this thing that you like to do. And listen, I can relate!

I’ve lived with partners a few times — starting with a misguided college co-habitation with my then-boyfriend of nine months where I realized immediately after signing the lease that he was Not the Man For Me and promised myself to be more careful going forward. For my next four relationships I did the “living in different places but still spending every night together” arrangement. But a full decade later, in 2012, I moved in with my then-girlfriend after around two years together, which was preceded by over a year of living in different apartments in the same building. When we broke up in 2014, the real estate market in the Bay Area was bananas. The person I’d started dating couldn’t afford their own place in the area, so we made the very gay choice to move in together after six weeks of dating. It was pretty fun at first to be honest! We then got engaged, moved to the midwest and bought a house together. Although I clearly was still hopeful about our future when I answered this co-habitation question two months before we broke up, this situation eventually ended badly and I left it terrified of ever living with a partner ever again, certain it’d lead to them hating me and also me hating myself!

Which brings me to the present moment, which is like yours except we’ve had the value of two additional years together — my girlfriend and I have been together for nearly three years and we don’t live together. We live 30 minutes apart without traffic, 90 with traffic, and I spend a lot of time in my car and packing/unpacking. And I’ll tell you what, despite being a person who does enjoy living alone, I really really wish we lived together! But that overwhelming desire didn’t kick in immediately and it wasn’t until around a year ago — long after we’d started planning an indefinite future together — that we started talking more urgently about finding a place together. (Unfortunately, the Los Angles real estate market has yet to offer us an affordable option!)

So with the caveat that yes, I am projecting here based on my own personal experience — there will quite possibly come a time when you simply begin to desire more, when it feels like time, when it feels weird that someone your life is so intertwined with lives so far away. You may get tired, eventually, of all of the driving and shlepping and pre-planning involved in a mid-distance relationship. You’ll want to run errands together. You’ll wish it was easier to be there for her when she’s sick or sad, and vice versa. You may get tired of paying two separate sets of bills and buying two separate containers of peanut butter. You may want to be able to see your person in the in-between times and not just the times you’ve made a concerted effort to do so. You may want to be able to want to do different things on a Saturday night without that meaning you won’t see each other at all on Saturday night — you’ll want to be able to come home to her, or see her before.

But you might never get there, which brings me to: is there “a world in which we always live separately but still spend most nights together” is a sustainable option? I think so and I think it depends on the couple and the people in it. Famously, Annie Lebowitz and Susan Sontag lived in separate apartments directly opposite each other, but they had some coin to work with. Whatever you do, I’d ensure you live in at least a two-bedroom, if not a three bedroom. So you can have your space! (One thing I’ve never done is live in a one-bedroom with a partner, I think that can get very cramped, especially for anyone who works at home.)

My instinct is that such a thing might only be sustainable in the long-term for you and your girlfriend (who does want to live together) if you guys eventually find a way to live a little closer together. Would it be possible to live in the same building or on the same block, where you can still keep the solo space that you currently treasure, but can begin start sharing more of your lives with each other? Living an hour’s drive away from your girlfriend’s work is clearly less than ideal for her.

There definitely are people who want to live alone forever, even if they are in a serious relationship. If that turns out to be you, you’ll have to cross that bridge when you come to it and figure out an arrangement that meets your needs and hers. But I don’t think you’re at that bridge yet! I think you are still in the meadow, having a picnic. One year is really not enough time to know how you’ll feel about living together, especially if you’re still in the honeymoon phase with your own apartment after having difficult roommate situations in the past.

Finally; it sounds like your girlfriend took it personally that you didn’t want to move in together, so she might have some insecurities that your resistance is related to a lack of faith or interest in your relationship. From your letter, it sounds like that’s not where your resistance is coming from — so I’d suggest first and foremost communicating that to her. It could be helpful to talk through ways that she can feel more secure about your relationship despite living apart, or for her to understand that your love of solo living is simply a part of who you are rather than any reflection on how you feel about her.

The good news is that I’m pretty sure the longer you wait to co-habitate, the better it will be if/when you do — you’ll understand each other and your routines and habits better, you’ll be more adept at navigating the little squabbles that arise. You can figure out how to avoid the issues that plagued your previous roommate situations, and you’ll be less prone to question the entire relationship if you can’t agree about how often laundry needs to get done and who ought to do it. You’ll also have thoroughly rid yourself of the nagging concept that you wish you’d had a little more time to yourself first!


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Riese

Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3213 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. I also think that once the letter writer is ready to move in that they should keep in mind that you can def get a 2 bedroom and each have a separate room! That way you still maintain a space of your own that you can retreat to if needed but then you also get to have sleepovers in the same house lol

    • yes i agree with you 100%! i should’ve added that — two people need a two bedroom, even if they’re sleeping in the same room, and especially if either are working from home. (unless of course it’s totally unaffordable to get one — but personally i’d rather compromise on location or just about anything else before i’d compromise on that and would recommend the same!)

  2. My lover and I spent the first 19 years of our (to date 21 year) relationship living apart. It worked really well for us: we didn’t squabble over „roommate“ issues, we focused on each other when we were together, we spent mostly equal time at each other’s houses, and we could see the behaviors we wanted the other person to deal with before living together. Commuting could get tiresome, so we slowly moved closer to one another. Our general rule was 3 nights at each other’s home and one night apart per week. Gradually, we stopped needing the psychological space of one night apart. We decided to move in together after we both made lifestyle changes that pleased both of us. I confined my cluttering to my personal room and she composts old food before it stinks up the fridge, to state an example. We repainted the interior of my house together, co-purchased a new couch and bed, and remodeled the bathroom before she moved in on a trial basis. This made it feel like we were moving in together, rather than her moving into my place. We each have our own room and we sleep in our bedroom. The trial has turned into a permanent situation. We don’t miss the commute or carrying overnight bags, we do spend way more time on the couch looking at our own social feeds, we negotiate minor roommate issues instead of letting them fester, and we have both learned over the years how to create our own personal space while sharing space.

    • Love the intention around building the home and trialing/doing the home reno together. One thing that can be hard to anticipate is how significant it is to move into a new place together vs having one (or more) partner move in to another partner’s place, and the power imbalance / comfort level disruption / change / unexpected stuff around class or privilege or odd habits or preferences etc that can come up.

  3. I love this question and the advice, both original and in comments. My gf are having this very conversation 1.5 years into our relationship. I have come to love living alone (well not quite, I have a teenage son, a cat and a dog but you know what I mean). This has been hard won after my previous relationship ended horrifically a few years ago, leaving me broken by abuse. After open conversations we are slowly finding a way for her to move in with me and my fam that meets both our needs, including mine for alone time and separate space. Thank you for validating the notion that living separately while in a relationship is healthy and sensible, so long as the arrangement genuinely works for everyone. All the best letter-writer, I 100% get you!

  4. The writer might try reaching out to local poly support groups or communities for ideas on what other living situations might look like, and how folks make them work both financially and logistically. If living apart but spending a good amount of your time together is something you both want to make work; I’d be willing to bet someone in that community has some know how and guidance to share. My partner lives with his primary; and I still get to spend two or three nights a week with him since we’re just real dedicated to making the schedule work. But it is WORK; and I think if he and his partner hadn’t both been poly so long it would be hard to figure out from scratch.

  5. I shared a place with a partner after about 2ish years together. I would agree 1yr or less is too soon to move in together. I know a lot of people who dating for a long time before moving in together if at all. I know a few couples who have been together for years but don’t live together fulltime and it works for them.

    If I were to move in with someone again, it would be important to me to have a 2 bedroom situation so that we both have the option of taking our own space. I sort of had that with my last partner but I would be more intentional about it second time around.

  6. I wish this discussed more of the process of becoming ready to move in together. I understand someone not being ready, but I think it’s probably normal for people to get ready at different rates, especially if they’re in different personal situations. I think the more ready person deserves validation and reassurance, and some amount of compromise, even if it is right to wait on actually doing the move-in until the more hesitant partner is ready.

    I’m currently on the other end of this, and for me, I both feel the desires listed in the responses as well as the outside pressures like finances and being unhappy with my own living situation. My partner and I are in different places there. I think that mismatch is valid but tough. Also, to me, the moving in process would take several months starting from when we begin seriously talking about it, so beginning the conversation at one year does not mean moving in at one year. That makes it very hard for me as the partner more wanting to move in together, because not being ready to even discuss it yet means we’re pushing it off for what, another year? Can a not-ready partner like mine or the LW take steps to discuss it and start getting ready without seeing preparation and discussion as an immediate binding commitment?

    Resistance to even discussing it or taking non-binding steps towards it feels to me, and possibly to the LW’s partner, like yes, unwillingness to commit to me or having a lack of shared goals. I don’t feel totally ready to move in with my partner either, but what will make me feel ready and feel confident in the relationship is being able to work through the process towards moving in as a team and seeing how that goes (before we actually make the final leap). So if we’re not discussing it, I feel stuck. I’m not learning the information I really want to learn about my partner and seeing the remaining things I need to know about what it would be like building a life together.

    Anyway, the LW’s partner may not feel exactly the same as me, but as someone seemingly in a pretty similar situation, if my partner followed this advice right now (except for the brief second to last paragraph), I’d be very unhappy. I want to talk about moving in together! If they came back with plans of living separate permanently, we’d definitely have to talk extensively about whether we’re a good match. And even if it’s just a matter of taking more time, I want reassurance that we’re on the same journey together and that they can find ways to give me more of what I need in the meantime, and not just keep me waiting on an indefinite timeline.

  7. With lots of love and respect, I would have to disagree about the concept of two people “needing” a two bedroom. For many people in this country and around the world, I think it would feel palatial to only have two people in a one bedroom apartment, much less a two bedroom. There’s an affordable housing crisis in so many cities and it affects a lot of our queer community. Being able to afford the apartment you want is very fortunate indeed.

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