Dear Dr. Wes and Ben: I want to live with my boyfriend next year when we both go to KU. My parents are actually OK with it, because we’ve been together since we were ninth-graders and he’s like a member of our family, but he didn’t seem very excited about this idea. After I asked him about it, he admitted he doesn’t want to live with me because he’s afraid it will ruin our relationship. I think we’re ready to take our relationship to the “next level,” as they say. It’s causing nothing but arguments now, so we agreed to get your advice, and we’ll probably go with whatever you say.
Wes: Well, thanks for the confidence you’ve vested in us, but in the end you’ll have to make the decision. We get the easy job, handing out advice. You get the hard one, living with your choices. So choose wisely. In the past we’ve discussed the kind of dating you’ve done in high school as “radical monogamy.” While I’ve always been a fan of that, compared to the more pervasive hook-up culture among teens, it has its limits. Hoping that your relationship will survive the transition to college is admirable, but it also limits you at a time when the world is supposed to be opening up and inviting you to expand your horizons.
I’m not suggesting you break up, especially since you’re going to the same school. But at the same time I’m not sure you should escalate things right now, either. I think your boyfriend is pretty astute in realizing that living together does not take you to next step of romance. It takes you to a whole new and complicated world of being a roommate. In your first years in college, you’re better off trying out those new roommate skills with someone who doesn’t matter that much to you. Not a best friend, and certainly not a long-term boyfriend. Living with anyone is about two things: conflict and problem solving. Done well, it can teach you a lot about other people, and how to live among them, and even more about yourself. But few of us did that well on our first or second try. Do you really want to try this out on someone you love this much?
In a worst-case scenario, you and your boyfriend may find that college creates a natural drift away from each other. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s at least a possibility. Just imagine what will happen if you’re living together and break up? Does the word “Armageddon” mean anything to you? The hurt and pain you’ll feel splitting up will be right there in your face every day.
Even if you and your guy are particularly well-suited to each other, I wouldn’t risk the relationship on something like this, especially when you don’t have to. Enjoy dating. Don’t turn it into an “everything but the wedding” marriage right now. There’s plenty of time for that later on, and in the meantime, practice communal living with people you don’t plan to end up with down the road.
Ben: Before I write a column, I always play my guitar to clear my mind. This week, it actually helped me to write my answer. I love my guitar, but I hate tuning it. I can have five strings in perfect harmony with each other, but if one is even a little flat, it makes every chord I play painful to the ears. As long as that string is out of tune, it doesn’t matter how skillfully I play; it’s going to sound bad. I don’t know the details of your situation, but I do know one important fact: One of your strings is out of tune. Your boyfriend isn’t confident about living with you at this point.
It would be overly optimistic to assume that simply going for it would relieve his reservation, especially with the small amount of information we have. It doesn’t matter who brings the doubt into the situation; you’ll both have to deal with it if you’re living together. Sure, there’s a good chance you two could work it out as roommates, but that’s no cakewalk. Tuning is hard enough by itself; imagine having to tune while you’re playing a song.
Here’s the bottom line: if one of you feels forced into this arrangement, then living together doesn’t make much sense at this point. It would definitely have a profound effect on your relationship, good or bad, but college is an experience with plenty of potential to develop your relationship all by itself. Your boyfriend might fall in tune with living together in the future, but until then, there are plenty of other songs you can play.
Next week: Too busy to be happy?
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Ben Markley is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.