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.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.