This Is What Happened When I Moved in with My Boyfriend before I Was Ready

man and woman standing at the ocean

When I was fifteen, my mom came home and announced that she’d found me a job. She and my father had decided that it was time for me to learn adult responsibility (also I was beginning to cost my family the kind of money that only a high school girl can spend) so my mother had done the hard part and had gone and found a job for me. She was so pleased that she’d found a position so close to home that would cater to my class schedule that she nearly missed the part of the conversation where I’d started crying.

Bawling over the counter top, I explained that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to work. (Which was my mom’s first and most terrifying fear. Had she raised a loafer?) I just (sob) wasn’t (sob) ready. Getting a job felt like such a big step, and the decision was being made for me. I hadn’t had time to consider what it meant, to weigh the consequences against the rewards, and thus I was convinced that this very big step was going to change everything about life as I knew it. My mother, of course, told me to stop being irrational and to go clean my room. So I cried, then I cried some more, and then when I’d officially exhausted my body’s salt resources, I got my sh*t together and went to work. And it turns out that working was just fine. Less fun than loafing around and doing nothing, but more rewarding in that I now had cash to burn and was contributing to society (or something like that).

To my surprise, it turns out that moving in with Michael was much like getting that first job. I had originally expected the decision to be one that I would arrive at when I was in my mid-twenties, once Michael and I had both had time to explore our early twenties on our own, and after years of “finding ourselves” we would simultaneously arrive at the conclusion that life was better spent together than apart.

Instead, I found myself at 21 years old, about to graduate, with no job prospects in sight, looking very seriously at the possibility of moving back home. With nowhere to go, the only other option was to take the plunge and move in with Michael. And while it was the obvious choice (moving to Maine wasn’t really a viable option), the decision plagued me with the same anxiety as the moment my mother told me I was going to enter the workforce. Michael and I had gotten engaged the previous winter, and while I had gladly accepted his proposal, I had also originally thought of our engagement as something like layaway. (We could decide we wanted this now, and then purchase it for real in 5-6 years, right?) Suddenly, a few months later, I was staring down the prospect of being engaged to be married. Which, it turns out, felt like an entirely different beast altogether.

I was scared sh*tless.

However, since I lacked the words to articulate this fear at the time, and because it was right in front of me, I decided that the real thing to be feared was moving in together. Yes, THIS would be The Relationship Step That Ruined It All. Now, I understand that the circumstances surrounding our cohabitation were different than most. For me, moving in together was a decision I was accepting under duress as a result of my socioeconomic condition. It meant giving up living in New York City, which was the first place I’d felt at home in a long time, and saying goodbye to any young urban twenty-something fantasies that HBO and I had cooked up together. Moving in represented all of the aspects of marriage that I was secretly afraid of, but was too young, naive or unaware to recognize.

I’d like to say that I used my anxiety to explore some of the fears I was having about marriage, but instead I threw a fit that would make my 15-year-old former-self proud. In the five months leading up to living together, I managed to reduce all of those big time fears into tiny nitpicky arguments. I refused to talk about buying a car because it meant giving up a future where we might live in a walking city together. I couldn’t hear the word “Connecticut” without crying because it would drum up images of Stepford wives and khaki shorts, and I wasn’t about to buy into either of those ideologies. Each minute detail became a breaking point in the conversation. And each conversation led to the same conclusion that this step was too big for me. And I just (sob) wasn’t (sob) ready.

Of course what really was happening was that I was acting out against the prospect of losing myself. I had only just been granted a few years of independence from my parents, and I had spent that time diligently building myself into the kind of person I could be proud of. And now I was just supposed to turn around and give that up for the rest of my life?

Not without a fight.

So the next few months of our relationship were plagued with tears. I sobbed and sobbed, and accused our relationship of being the harbinger of death, all while Michael sat patiently on the other end of the phone, waiting out the storm. Then, once I’d tearfully stated every proclamation of what would and would not be tolerated in our new life together, I accepted that moving in was what we were doing, got my sh*t together, and packed up Michael’s truck for the hour drive out of Manhattan and into suburbia.

And indeed, the first few weeks together were hard. I was crying myself to sleep at night and watching daytime TV during waking hours while waiting for job offers to come through. (Being unemployed without transportation and with no friends nearby is not something I recommend.) Meanwhile, I analyzed every move Michael made as symbolic of things to come. Did he ask me to clean up after myself? HE’S TURNING ME INTO A STEPFORD WIFE! Did he request that I not touch the fancy new technology he bought until he has a chance to show me how it works? HE DOESN’T SHARE! PARTNERSHIP IS BUILT ON SHARING! I wanted so badly for the answers to be wrapped up in the flaws of our relationship, because it was easier than admitting that I just wasn’t ready to let go of the life that I’d had.

It wasn’t pretty.

But then, slowly, things became less hard. When the lease was up on Michael’s apartment a few months later, we began the search for a new one. Looking at apartments made us a team again, and it allowed me to focus energy away from what was being lost and toward what we were gaining. I’d nearly forgotten that I had waited, pined, and suffered through six years of long distance dating, dreaming of the day that Michael and I would wake up together in a place we could call our own. So we found a garden-level one-bedroom within walking distance of the train station and a few weeks later I received an offer for a job in Manhattan that I could commute to.

As we all know by now, that living situation didn’t last long. But it was an important step in the direction of where we are now. I needed to know that I wasn’t giving up everything for marriage, that there was indeed a way to have it all, so that I could later make a conscious decision that having it all was never what I wanted.

Truthfully, I did lose some of myself when I moved in with Michael. And I still mourn a bit for the things that were lost (I miss being a ten minute train ride away from my girlfriends, being able to walk to the grocery store, or sitting in the park having lunch on a Tuesday). But moving in with Michael wasn’t all sacrifice. I became an adult with Michael. I learned how to stick up for what I need in a relationship. I gained the support of a partner who puts my needs on the same level as his own. And most importantly, I discovered what it means to be an individual in a partnership. Four years ago, I was afraid that moving in with Michael would change who I am. I thought that moving in together and getting married meant that suddenly I’d be saddled with a list of character traits I could never live up to. Now I’ve learned that just because circumstances change, it doesn’t mean I have to radically change as well. I also learned that it’s all right if I do change when I need to, even if it is for him, even if it is hard, because sometimes that’s just what you have to do when you say “Yes.”

So, maybe my worst fears came true. Moving was a huge step that I just wasn’t ready for.  But even if I was pushed into the deep end too soon, well, I learned to swim real quick. I didn’t drown. And if I was flailing my arms and treading water to start, well, at the very least I’ve learned to do this thing a little more gracefully now.

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  • Maddie, you’re so wise!

    Although the actual moving in period was cake, I spent so much time and money trying to put off cohabitation. I lived with strangers-lots of them, in too many different apartments, with too little security, with too many moves, paying way too much money, because I had a secret fear that living together meant the end of my independence, and it would turn me into someone boring, docile, and codependent. Thank goodness I was wrong. It didn’t change who I was on a fundamental level at all. It just gave me (and us) the chance to be more awesome!

    It’s great to hear other people talk about similar fears, and how things worked out ok in the end.

  • Gorgeous! A must read for any woman. Great job, again, Mads! :) Miss you!

  • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

    There are some things you just can’t be ready for, and you have to do them anyways. I would say these things are unique to each person, and /I think to take those steps despite the fear is part of being an adult. (But damn, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hide under the covers with my teddy bear a while longer!!)

    In a few months, I’ll be moving in with my fiance. I’m starting to deal with the fact that I will be giving up things. The idea of moving away from the town where I’ve spent the last 6 years, making myself into the person I am now, is more difficult to wrap my mind around than I thought it would be. Those little things, like walking down to the farmer’s market on a Sat. morning, are really going to be something I miss. As hard as one tries to look at moving in with your love as some sort of grand, romantic adventure, you still have to take the time to say goodbye to the good things you’ll be leaving behind. I will, however, enjoy saying good bye to the less liked things, like not having space to have a garden, or the washing machine that keeps breaking.

    After reading this post, I once again feel like it’s ok to have some seriously mixed feelings about taking the next big steps in life. Thanks Maddie!

  • Belle

    It seems as if a lot of your concerns about moving in with Michael were more to do with where he lived, than cohabitation itself. Maybe if he’d lived in Manhattan it would have been a different story? Perhaps it was the lack of being able to choose where/how you lived that made you dread it so much.

    • MDBethann

      I don’t know about Maddie, but I think Belle’s point applies to me. Not so much as when I moved in with DH, but when I moved to grad school. Theoretically, I chose the grad school, but while it all worked out in the end it wasn’t where I really wanted to be – moving to Pittsburgh for 2 years right after breaking up with my college boyfriend and leaving all of my friends behind in Baltimore was not exactly what I had in mind. But it was the best financial option for me at the time, and educationally and professionally, it worked out well for me too, but at the time I was MISERABLE.

      As much as the process of moving itself is a pain in the butt, the other moves I’ve made – down to the DC area after grad school, into my own condo a few years later, and finally into a house with my now-DH – were all moves that I CHOSE and despite the hassles, loved and accepted willingly. Yes, I was said to leave my bachelorette-pad condo behind (and turn it over to a tenant), but now when I go back there, I don’t miss it or have any regrets about moving. It was a great part of my life, but I’ve moved on to something different and, for me at least, better (though having my sis live with me for 2 years was awesome). But I think it was easy because it was my choice to move out and I got to pick the place I moved to. Otherwise, I think those moves would have been harder for me.

    • rys

      A friend of mine once posited the “noun theory of moving”: In an ideal world, moving means getting all three nouns: being in a place you want to be, near the people you want to be with, doing the thing you want. But that’s an ideal situation and rarely happens. Two out of the three is pretty good — you move for a dream job in a great place but have to make new friends; you get to live in your version of heaven with your friends but need to get a non-sucky job; you’ve found a great job where awesome people live but the locale is not your cup of tea — all are still pretty solid. It’s when there’s only one or basically none that it gets really hard.

  • This….

    “Meanwhile, I analyzed every move Michael made as symbolic of things to come. Did he ask me to clean up after myself? HE’S TURNING ME INTO A STEPFORD WIFE! Did he request that I not touch the fancy new technology he bought until he has a chance to show me how it works? HE DOESN’T SHARE! PARTNERSHIP IS BUILT ON SHARING! I wanted so badly for the answers to be wrapped up in the flaws of our relationship, because it was easier than admitting that I just wasn’t ready to let go of the life that I’d had.”

    …had me shaking my head YES. Because…I was/am guilty of that. And because as I look at my own coming marriage, I find myself working to sort out how my fears about marriage and what I think I will “lose” of myself color how I react to small things like where he puts the knives in the silverware drawer.

    And yet, looking at those fears head on has allowed me to begin to believe that I’m not really losing anything. I’m changing and change, while scary and terrifying and anxiety ridden, is what makes growth possible. And I want to grow. With him. Together.

  • I sorta feel like you called me out, Maddie. (But in a totally good growing sort of way.)

    I’ve been a PITA over the last year or so. I tried to “assert myself” in just about everything because I DID NOT want to be a woman who just did whatever her boyfriend/fiance/husband wanted. So I fought everything. And if I’m to be quite honest still do.

    So YES to all of this. Thank you for putting this into words Maddie. It’s so honest, true, and real. Even if it’s not what we always like to admit about ourselves.

  • KateM

    I resisted dating my now fiance, and was going to break up with him everyday for the first month or two we were together. There was nothing wrong with our relationship, I just knew it was that serious and that he was it for me, and I wasn’t sure that I was ready to give up being single.
    I know that I am not the same person, and that I definitely had to give up things I loved. But this version of me is a better person, and the internal fighting, ultimately made me more aware of how worthwhile that sacrifice was.

  • katieprue

    mmmhmmm *nods head up and down* Why do we let HBO dictate how our lives should look? I, for one, get these notions in my head of what I *should* be doing, how cool my life should be, and when those ideas conflict with a really smart and happy choice that is right in my face, I get all sobby and whiney and childlike. I don’t wanna! I’m not ready! It’s just hard because life goes SO fast, and those big changes whisk you away before you realize it.

  • Oh, man, this is me right now. I have 3.5 months left before I move in with my fiancé (and 4.5 months before the wedding), and I’m going through a bit of a rebellion phase where I want to spend all my time at my apartment and leave it as messy as possible because it’s MY space and I can do whatever I want. Please tell me I’m not the only person who went through this teenager-like phase before moving in?

    • H

      News alert: You’re not.

      I’m doing it now, though it was less over moving in and more over deciding to get married. Actually, talking about moving in (and starting to do so) has been good for me, in that I’m trying to give myself the kick in the butt to grow up and act like an adult.

      • Jamie

        I’m doing the messy teenager phase now as well. I blame it on things like “well, I’m in the middle of packing” and “I have two jobs”. I will be moving my stuff (but unfortunately not myself yet unless a job comes through quickly) into my fiance’s house at the end of this month. 2 hours away and in a different state. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who has mixed feelings about this process. We had an argument a few weeks ago, and I basically said to my fiance “I have to quit a great job that I don’t want to leave and move to another state to be with you where I know no one but YOUR friends and your family, and you basically have to do nothing”. I know it’s the right thing and I can’t wait to move, but this post has put into words what I’m feeling better than I ever could.

        Especially “Meanwhile, I analyzed every move Michael made as symbolic of things to come. Did he ask me to clean up after myself? HE’S TURNING ME INTO A STEPFORD WIFE! Did he request that I not touch the fancy new technology he bought until he has a chance to show me how it works? HE DOESN’T SHARE! PARTNERSHIP IS BUILT ON SHARING! I wanted so badly for the answers to be wrapped up in the flaws of our relationship, because it was easier than admitting that I just wasn’t ready to let go of the life that I’d had.”

        Because I’ve totally done this recently. So thank you, so so much for making me feel better about what I thought were crazy thoughts.

  • MEG

    Oh God yes. I am leaving the state in 2 weeks (which just doesn’t seem real to me) to move in with my fiance. We’ve been long distance for two years, and I know it’s the right decision for our relationship. But I don’t want to leave my friends and the life I’ve built here, because this is where I became an adult, really; it’s where I first created a grown-up, independent life for myself. Luckily, I have a fiance that I can talk to about all my mixed feelings, and that helps a lot. He knows I love him, and can’t wait to be with him everyday, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m scared and anxious and sad about moving.

  • One thing that I really don’t understand is this idea of losing oneself by moving in with a boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance etc. I mean, yes our circumstances change and we adapt ourselves to those changes. But isn’t that how life works, change comes and we deal and sometimes we change a little bit with it?

    • Maddie

      Possibly, but try telling that to 21-year-old me. :)

      I think a lot of it also has to do with the fear that it will change your relationship. Michael and I had done the long-distance thing for so long that a part of me feared that distance was what made things work. What if we moved in together and all that work was suddenly for naught? I didn’t know at the time that making things work was something you actively *choose.* I just assumed things work or they don’t work.

      Which is obviously not the case.

      • Hlockhart

        About long-distance: very true! My husband and I have been mostly long-distance because of his job for the past several years (we got married in the middle of it), and that’s coming to an end this fall. Of course I couldn’t be happier that we’ll finally be living together full-time, but we’ve gotten great at doing long-distance and I know it will be an adjustment.

      • It’s good to hear that I’m not the only person in a long distance relationship that worries about how the relationship will change when the long distance aspect ends.

    • meg

      I don’t know. That fear makes PERFECT SENSE to me. And honestly, I think you have to do a little work to not loose parts of yourself in these big life transitions. It’s easy to do it, and there is cultural pressure to let go and give in and give yourself up.

  • So, I’ve gotta say, this post made me laugh out loud when I read “Moving to Maine wasn’t really a viable option.” I’m moving to Maine to finish my undergrad at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, and my boyfriend and I have talked about moving in together THERE, especially if I am able to find employment at the college after graduation. GEE THANKS, MADDIE.

    But for real, this post was spectacular–just what I needed to read as the boy and I inch towards an engagement-that’s-not-really-just-like-layaway.

    • Maddie

      Ha! I just didn’t want to write “moving back home” wasn’t really a viable option. In case, you know, my parents happen to read APW. :)

      TRUST ME. Maine is totally somewhere I would have moved if 90% of my family didn’t live there.

  • “Michael and I had gotten engaged the previous winter, and while I had gladly accepted his proposal, I had also originally thought of our engagement as something like layaway. (We could decide we wanted this now, and then purchase it for real in 5-6 years, right?)”

    Man, my thoughts exactly. Especially since we were still in college and living in separate apartments (pseudo-living together but also having your own space ftw) and everything was simple, unchanging. Then we needed to move to Atlanta to find jobs, which meant temporarily moving in with my future in laws. Cue hiding under a metaphorical rock while wailing, “hell no I won’t go!”

    Still, I jumped into the deep end anyway. Then remembered that in the grand scheme of things, I’m still a really fucking good swimmer. Feel the fear and do it anyway. So far it’s worked out pretty well.

  • Lturtle

    “Feel the fear and do it anyway” what a great takeaway! This is totally part of my life philosophy, sometimes also stated as “do the hard thing”, which is a piece of advice I got from my dad sometime around puberty.

  • Ris

    Thank you. This is exactly what I needed to read right now – I woke up this morning with a similar fear.

    Our wedding is one month away, and a month after that we are moving two states away from our hometown for his school. I don’t have a job lined up and I only have a marginally employable bachelor’s degree. I always imagined that I’d get some clerical job for the two years of his masters, and then go back to school in this new state (which has a couple great universities for my field).

    But he’s recently made some comments that he doesn’t want to stay in this state past his masters (or even gain residency) for a few important reasons (which I do agree with). But when it’s all said and done, I want to stay and he doesn’t.

    I know in my mind that he will support me if I do decide to go back to school. But it’s so scary to be a partnership that decides everything together. What if me getting my masters is the best thing for me, but not the best thing for us? Relinquishing a measure of control over my own decisions is terrifying to me.

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      You know, our situations aren’t exactly the same, but when I make the move in a few months it doesn’t look like I’ll have a job lined up either. I really wonder how much of my anxiety stems from this. The agriculture job market isn’t that great, and I really don’t think I’m ready to start my own business.

      Anyways, how much do job/money worries compound our fears of losing who we are, or fears of compromising the spunky, independent personalities we’ve cultivated while being ‘on our own’? Gah! I’m totally going to revert to the ‘AHHH DON’T TOUCH MY STUFF!!’ mentality

  • Jashshea

    Certainly not saying “people should be XYZ age when they co-hab or get married,” but my experience of moving in/getting engaged at age 33 (as opposed to 21) was so much easier than what you describe, precisely because I’m so elderly. It’s like I’ve already run myself ragged being a broke dumbass for most of my 20s, pulled myself into semi-respectable adulthood by my early 30s, then finally was at the point where sharing a life seemed feasible/viable/awesome.

    I would have run screaming from an engagement/co-hab at 21. Hell, I ran screaming if a guy called the day after I gave him my number. I think it’s awesome that “You: Then” were mature enough to recognize what you had and fight to make it work, even if your process to get there was less graceful than “You: Now” would like.

    • I completely agree! I was twenty-six when my boyfriend and I moved in together, and while it was and continues to be pretty much the best and easiest thing ever (I feel more like myself, if that makes sense, when living with him) I can look back at my younger self and realize that there is no way I would have wanted to make the transition earlier. The idea of losing independence, whether true or not, would have just been too terrifying.
      Thank you, Maddie, for this honest and thoughtful post!

  • Nicole

    I was absolutely in this boat. I moved in with my boyfriend, now fiance, right after college when he was gainfully employed, and I was so not. I spent all day everyday on the stair stepper watching old SATC episodes (also without transportation that was “mine” and friends who had moved away) and mastering Giada recipes, all while worrying that I was being perceived by anyone and everyone to be pure Stepford, and pure stupid as I waited on a million job applications.
    I absolutely overanalyzed every single thing the boyfriend did and thought everything “meant something” about what our future would be like.
    My own job came in my own time, and like you I learned a lot about myself, namely that life is a balance of holding on and letting go. “I wanted so badly for the answers to be wrapped up in the flaws of our relationship, because it was easier than admitting that I just wasn’t ready to let go of the life that I’d had.” Could not have rang more true for me – I lusted for the life as a college student with no responsibilities and clinging to my amazing childhood. If I focused on the flaws of the relationship I wouldn’t have to focus on the end of a simpler life, and that it was time to grow up.

    Thank you for reminding me of how much I’ve grown by sharing such a relate-able story, I cannot even believe how closely your experience mirrors my own.

  • Jolene

    Maddie, I majorly appreciate this post. Strangely enough, my boyfriend is moving into my apartment right now at this very moment. He is also, hands down, The Most Independent Person I Know. In the past month or so I have noticed attempts on his part to assert his independence, similarly to you, although probably with less gusto :) My initial reaction is to take what he says personally or worry that he is regretting our decision to move in together, which my more rational self knows is not the case. Your post simply reinforced for me that his trepidations have much more to do with his need to hang onto his independence than any issues he has with our relationship. So thanks!

  • This could not have been timed more perfectly. My boyfriend and I are moving in together a week from Saturday, and I have been freaking out on a pretty regular basis. We’ve been together for four and a half years, long distance for just about all of it. While I’ve wanted nothing more than to actually be in the same place for more than a month or two at a time, as it gets closer I’m wondering if this is the right thing. We’re still pretty young and I’m finally getting into my independence groove, while he has never lived on his own – he lived at home with his parents all through school. I’m scare that he hasn’t figured out what the real world is yet, but don’t want to push too hard. We’ve talked about marriage and right now aren’t engaged officially because he can’t afford to spend what he thinks he needs to spend on a ring (despite my one requirement be that it not turn my finger green), but as we approach moving in together, I’m starting to see that we also need to hold off a bit because we’re in different points in our lives.

    I guess that was my long way of saying that I really, really appreciate this post and so many others here that are so thought provoking and start such valuable discussions.

  • Jaime

    Being scared of getting a job at fifteen doesn’t scream loafer to me…but I guess Europeans just have a different mindset.

  • Sarah

    So timely for me… I will be moving, most likely, to Kiev when I get married… huge change! It scares me to death, and believe me, I have the sweetest, most understanding fiance in the world. It’s nice to know it scares other people too, and that I’m not alone here. I love my home, it’s where I grew up, and I just don’t want to leave. Good to know the anticipation is worse than the actual move. :)

  • CJ

    Last night at 3AM, I sent my boyfriend a text that said “Call me when you wake up.” When we got on the phone this morning he asked “What’s wrong?” and I immediately started going on this ramble of “What if I move for you and I can’t find a job and I don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life if I can’t find a job that I at least enjoy because my career is here and you’re there.”

    Later today, my roommate said “Hey, someone gave me this book when I first got engaged and I think you should read it and check out the blog. They have a lot of awesome stuff for people in the pre-engaged stage like you and it’s a really good read.”

    Holy crap, I am so glad that I found this post! This is just explains the way my brain is working right now. I know he’s the one. I know that his career is going to be the one paying the bills so its more logical for me to move where his career is than to insist he move for mine. But holy crap, I did not expect a random 3AM panic attack because I got a rare snowday at work yesterday and had a lot of time sitting on the couch thinking about things. I’ve always been a very independent person and what if I have to spend time not working, therefore not contributing to our finances, therefore not being able to do the things that make me feel independent? It’s terrifying, no matter how supportive he is. (And he is wonderfully supportive and realizes that I am giving up a lot to be down there with him.)

    Thank you for writing this post. It definitely makes me feel better to know that I’m not the first person to have these insecurities and fears. But I’m hoping that recognizing and reading the stories of everyone else will help me calm my fears and make it an easier transition when it happens in a few months.