My partner and I always talked about moving in together the same way we discuss pooping with the door open: If we stay together long enough, it’s an inevitability.
When we first broached the topic, as college seniors attempting to properly spoon on a twin-sized bed, the scenario felt as far off into the future as graying hair or the invention of sex robots. But four years, three apartments, two cities, and one goofy relationship later, that hypothetical feels close to becoming our new reality. With my lease up in May and his in September, the time has come to sign on the dotted line and argue about who gets to keep their mattress. But as we begin to talk budget and neighborhoods with the best ramen, I can’t help but feel the vast pit of forever growing slowly in my stomach.
It’s not the reality of living with my partner that scares me — I look forward to living together because I really love my partner. I’m still in love with my partner. I want to wake up each morning to the sound of him turning on the shower and to read in silence together before falling asleep every night.
It’s the concept that’s terrifying. Lathered in uncertain finality, there’s no end date to moving in, no next chapter. When you move in, you do so with the knowledge that, if your relationship "succeeds," you will never move out. By agreeing to share a roof and all of your secret single habits, you’re effectively telling your partner, "I commit to seeing you almost every day, and refolding the bathmat after you take a shower, and recycling the empty water bottles you leave around the house, until one of us dies first."
When I consider the permanence of those implications, moving in together can transform into a much more significant milestone, one that looms even larger than getting engaged. Marriage, in some ways, is like a solidification of that silent oath you take when you agree to move in together. It’s eternity, all dressed up incognito, disguised by a mustache and a funny hat.
Entrusting someone with the open-ended question that is the rest of your life requires relinquishing a certain amount of creative control, and agreeing to share the byline. But for a micromanager like me (read: an Aries), acquiescing that autonomy can lead to an anxiety-induced spiral. So, how can I pull myself out of the theoretical and ground myself back in the reality of a life with my partner? As Dr. Annie Hsueh, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in couple and relationship therapy in Southern California, tells Bustle, the first step is taking a beat to acknowledge the root of my fear. Am I worried about losing a part of myself by implicitly committing to my relationship? Do I fear for my autonomy or individuality?
Exercising this curiosity, I checked in with myself, as well as with family and friends, and came to the conclusion that my main concern is the risk associated with uncertainty. In other words: I can make a plan for next Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. but I can’t map out forever with a ballpoint pen. And accepting the idea of going in blind feels chaotic to me.
Once I’ve identified the source of my hesitation, Hsueh suggests taking time for myself. This is the step I’m practicing now — turning back to the activities, passions, and interests that ground me. Playing my guitar once a week or spending an extra five minutes getting dressed in the morning can serve as a reminder that I’m not loosening my grip on the steering wheel just because there’s somebody else in the car. I’m still made up of all the mechanical parts that make me who I am. My partner and I are only agreeing to head in the same direction.
Dr. Hsueh says that the last course of action is to open up to my partner about my anxiety, so that we can let each other know how we can best support one another and "face this transition together." But admitting to my fear of never moving out scares me. I never want my partner to believe I doubt him or our relationship, because I don’t — I’m as sure that my partner is it as I am the earth orbits the sun or that Uncut Gems was robbed at the Oscars. I just need to make sure he knows that.
Starting a dialogue about the future can be messy, but that messiness is a part of life. Accepting change doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m trying to find beauty in the process. Lucky for me, that window is always open — even if the bathroom door remains shut.
Dr. Annie Hsueh, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in couple and relationship therapy in Southern California
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