Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“After Ten Years, We Still Don’t Live Together”

My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost 10 years. We both have children in their early 20s and in college. Mine is away at school and his live at home. We’ve discussed getting married, but it seems that he does not want to leave his house which was his marital residence and I don’t want to leave my house which was my marital residence (and neither of us wants to live in the other’s house). I suggested that, when we get married, we start fresh and buy a house together, but he says he’s hesitant to sell his house because of high real estate commissions.

Sometimes I feel resentful that maybe we should be married by now. I find myself becoming resentful that it’s always date night and not domesticated life. We just go on a little vacations…dinners…etc., and it’s not real life. What do other people do in our situation? — Tired of Just Dating

Well, I think people in your situation do one of two things: continue living separately and adjust their expectations (if their expectations need adjusting), or break up and move on if the arrangement doesn’t satisfy them. I can think of two couples just in my immediate circle of family and good friends who have been or are currently in your situation. My father-in-law dated a woman, until she passed away recently, for over 25 years and they always maintained separate residences an hour apart because neither wanted to move into the other’s home or neighborhood, nor did they want to sell their own places and move to a new home together. A good friend of mine has been with her boyfriend for over four years, they have a 3-year-old daughter together, and, for various reasons, they also maintain separate homes 45 minutes apart; they have made it work thus far, though it isn’t always easy navigating the care of a young child in this kind of situation.

There can be lots and lots of reasons a longterm couple doesn’t marry or move in together, and not all of them automatically indicate issues in a relationship or point to a mismatched couple. The problem arises when one person in the couple isn’t satisfied with the arrangement or has expectations the other either isn’t aware of or has no intentions of ever meeting. In your case, you have to decide if your dissatisfaction with your arrangement stems from true unhappiness with the situation or is projected emotion over what you THINK your life should look like or what you imagine other people might think about you and your relationship.

You seem to think “real life” only exists in a shared residence — that quality time together outside what many might consider the daily grind of domesticity — doesn’t count. But what if it’s actually the other way around? What if “real life” happens in the moments you’re truly checked in and engaged with the person you love and care about and not in the moments you’re arguing over whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher or why your partner makes such a mess? The truth is, we each get to create our own real lives, and just because YOUR life doesn’t look like your neighbors’ or your friends’ or your sister’s or whatever, doesn’t mean it’s less real or meaningful. You can’t measure “meaning” or “happiness” on external factors and milestones, like marriage and parenthood and career advancement and bank accounts, anyway. And if you do — if that is how you decide whether you’re happy or successful or “on the right track,” the true irony is that you risk an empty existence.

Look, I don’t know you and I can’t tell from your brief letter how you really feel or what you really want, but it always concerns me when someone uses the word “should” (as in “maybe we should be married by now”) to elaborate on a feeling. “Should” isn’t a feeling. “Should” is just a terrible way to make us second-guess ourselves and compare our lives to other people’s lives rather than do the harder, but much more meaningful, work of soul-searching and deciding what it is we think will truly make us happiest. So, I urge you, if you haven’t already done so yet, please think about what it is you really want (and why). What is it you think is missing from your life or relationship that marriage and/or living together will add?

If you can adjust your expectations and find happiness in your arrangement as is — in the quality time you spend together over dinners and vacations, rather than focusing on whatever domestic bliss you think you’re missing — then there’s no reason this can’t work for a long time (maybe forever). But if marriage or living together is the only way you’ll feel fulfilled and you and your boyfriend can’t agree on where to live, then maybe it’s time to move on, particularly if the reason you don’t want to move is some hesitation to give up your “marital homes” that you shared with former spouses.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

18 comments… add one
  • avatar

    cleopatra jones April 29, 2015, 9:57 am

    Yeah, Wendy pretty much nailed it.
    .
    You have to decide what makes you happy and if it’s not this relationship, then you can happily move on.

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  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray April 29, 2015, 10:00 am

    Loved Wendy’s response to this. Sometimes I believe Wendy must have zero relationship problems because she’s able to dissect them so well and get to the heart of the problem – or I guess I mean, zero relationship problems that last. (Also, sorry to hear about your FIL’s partner, Wendy!)
    *
    LW, there are a lot of questions that you have to answer – what it is you want and why – but real quick, can you elaborate on why neither of you wants to move? I could understand your boyfriend not wanting to move because he still has kids living at home – and maybe he doesn’t want to uproot them. But other than that, what’s keeping you in your respective homes, assuming you each would prefer to live together?

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  • avatar

    Stillrunning April 29, 2015, 10:17 am

    “Should isn’t a feeling. Should is a terrible way to make us second guess ourselves.” This is a great and true thing to say.
    Pretty much every time I think I should do something, it means I really don’t want to and am using should to convince myself.

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    • avatar

      ktfran April 29, 2015, 10:24 am

      Oh my god… that’s so true. I do the same thing.

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    • Mr. Cellophane

      Mr. Cellophane April 29, 2015, 10:43 am

      As my wife tells me…”Stop should-ing on yourself!” (Say it fast)

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    • Addie Pray

      Addie Pray April 29, 2015, 10:45 am

      I generally agree. But if “should” is used in a sentence like “I should not look at child pornography,” then listen to that “should”!

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  • gigi

    gigi April 29, 2015, 10:23 am

    Do you ever stay over at each other’s places? I am currently in the same situation, our kids are younger though. I kind of enjoy living apart & not getting caught up in the little daily annoyances of who forgot to unload the dishwasher, or take out the trash, or used up all the milk. When we see each other, we are focused on just being together, & if we do chores we do them because we want to, not because we have to. It has really prolonged the “honeymoon period” for our relationship. I spend every other weekend at his house, when the kids are with their dad, and when the weekend is over, I enjoy going home & having my whole bed to myself, & watching exactly what I want on TV & only being responsible for my own stuff. It works for me, but if it isn’t making you happy, then you need to talk with your boyfriend about what you need to make the relationship work. If neither of you is willing to compromise then MOA

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    • avatar

      Meg January 28, 2017, 9:54 am

      No one will ever read this [too long ago, but] if I could be in a relationship longterm where we do not live together I would be happy as a clam! I am too old to alter my lifestyle, even for one I love deeply. Sounds ideal to little old me!

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark April 29, 2015, 11:14 am

    Oh boo the fuck hoo hoo hoo. You’re in a great relationship and between the two of you have not one –but TWO houses between you… Meanwhile much of the rest of the world forever dwells in shitty, lame-ass apartments… Here’s what you do, LW… You grow the fuck up and you shut the hell up…

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  • avatar

    SasLinna April 29, 2015, 11:58 am

    You could get married and still not live together. That choice is becoming more and more popular I think. You’d get the commitment without the “domesticated life”. Frankly it sounds like a pretty attractive option to me.

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  • Stonegypsy

    Stonegypsy April 29, 2015, 12:11 pm

    I kind of understand the feeling here, of wanting to live with your partner (though I agree that LW needs to take the word “should” entirely out of the equation).
    I have been realizing more and more, partly on my own and partly through therapy, that I really loved living with a partner and want to do so again. I love living alone, too, but I miss that feeling of having someone there, being a team, taking care of each other, building little traditions. It’s harder to do that when you live separately. Not impossible, but harder.
    It’s not something I want now, but definitely in a few years. Kind of worried that my own partner doesn’t want the same ever though.

    LW, you need to work out what you actually want. And to do that, you need to stop thinking about what should happen. What are your reasons for wanting to live together? What do you envision would change? Once you have worked out why you want this, then have *that* conversation with your partner. It’ll be a lot easier to communicate about this once you’ve clarified things in your own head. Then, if it’s something he doesn’t want, or if neither of you are willing to make the compromises necessary for it to happen, then think about whether that’s a dealbreaker. It doesn’t have to be, necessarily. You could find other ways to get the things you want out of the relationship besides living together, maybe. But if it is, then it’s time to move on.

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  • Lady_Red

    Red_Lady April 29, 2015, 2:13 pm

    I wonder how much of this has to do with empty nest syndrome

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  • avatar

    Miss B April 29, 2015, 2:36 pm

    If I were you I would keep my own house and he stay at his house. The minute I read the part where his 20 something year old children live at home I realized he is doing you a favor!!! Do not move in with a man who has grown children living at home. Your children don’t live at home and you have your house to yourself, probably very quiet and little mess to deal with. If you move in with him it will drive you insane dealing with grown kids living at home even if they are going to college or have a very valid reason to be there. Just leave things like they are, trust me I’ve been there!

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  • avatar

    tbrucemom April 29, 2015, 3:21 pm

    So here’s my story and it’s relative to this one so bear with me. For 4 years I dated my now husband before we moved in together and we were engaged when I did it. The reason we waited that long was because my daughter was still in high school and I didn’t want to change her school (we lived about 30-40 minutes apart) and honestly I didn’t want my teenaged daughter living in her mother’s boyfriend’s house (we lived in an apartment). Once we got engaged and she graduated, we moved in a couple months before she went away to college and a few more months before we married. I can tell you that there are pros and cons to both living arrangements. I love getting to see my husband every day and we get along very well. What I miss is the “courting”. Yes we still go out and do things together but it’s just different. There’s something about not seeing each other for a few days and then getting to spend time just being together without worrying about having to do chores, pay bills, etc. Honestly if my daughter didn’t go away and we were still living together I probably wouldn’t have gotten married, at least until she eventually did go away but that probably has more to do with how much I loved the time she and I spent together. I’d be so lonely in a place by myself so it worked out perfectly in my situation. My advice for the LW was to see about maybe renting her place and moving in with her BF and seeing how it went. However, then I re-read the letter and realized that his grown children still live with him so I’m not so sure that’s good advice at this point. Maybe after they move out. She could still try it as long as she still has her house to go back to in case it didn’t work out.

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    • avatar

      Ange April 29, 2015, 7:04 pm

      “There’s something about not seeing each other for a few days and then getting to spend time just being together without worrying about having to do chores, pay bills, etc”

      I love this too! My husband is away with work quite often and I travel regularly too and honestly I enjoy it. We get a chance to miss each other and send each other sweet little messages etc etc. It’s refreshing when he comes home.

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  • avatar

    Sue Jones April 29, 2015, 4:37 pm

    If I ever became widowed I do not think I would leave my house to move in with someone. I like the separate residence idea. I like being independent and I cannot imagine uprooting for anyone other than my son if he grows up and moves away and there are grandchildren (he’s 11 so that is a long way off). So at a certain stage of life and in many situations it just doesn’t make sense to move in together.

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  • Classic

    Classic April 29, 2015, 11:30 pm

    Can you explain why you want to be married at our age (at the age of having already had kids who have grown up)? I do not understand this. I know that I was searching for a manfriend for a long time after my son grew up, and I finally found one, but I wouldn’t get married, myself, and I am wondering if that is what you really want, and why?
    Anyway– I found a boyfriend eventually, and he moved in with me, but the living together part simply did not work, because we each were so accustomed to running our own homes. So now we live apart, but we are still a couple, and we are happy this way. So I guess what I am saying is that I see nothing wrong with your situation, and maybe it is the best (?) unless you are actually unhappy for real. Just do what makes you happy– if being married is important to you, maybe you can get married and still live in separate homes. But maybe you just got the marriage idea in your mind a long time ago when your kids were still growing up, and maybe it doesn’t really make sense any more? The way that you are doing it now seems great to me.

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  • avatar

    Anon_girl April 30, 2015, 1:32 am

    I think Wendy said it all. If you really love each other…I mean he cares for you…he;s there for you…etc etc, then this seems like the perfect arrangement. he’s been with you for 10 years right? I mean really been with you, right? The magic of a relationship is in those moments that you share and not the house (that you share). And yeah the thought of you having to deal with his grown up children after you all move in to a new house seems nightmarish.

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