Dear Wayne and Wanda,
After about eight months of dating, my boyfriend and I decided to move in together. It felt like the right time. We were spending basically every night together anyway, and already splitting a lot of living expenses. I was renting, but he owns, and so I moved in with him. In some ways it's been a smooth transition. We don't really fight and we have similar lifestyles. We enjoy similar foods, both like a couple drinks to wind down, agree on what cable package to buy -- all things that have made living together easy.
The problem (I wouldn't be writing if everything was perfect, right?) is that since I moved in, the way we spend time together has totally changed. Before living together, we would meet up after work most nights. We might go buy groceries together and we would almost always cook together. Dinner was usually followed by watching a movie, or TV, or going out for a while. And usually the night ended with dessert, if you get my drift.
Now that I live there, things have changed. If I'm making dinner, he's often in the back room playing computer games. We aren't going to bed at the same time anymore, which has cut back on "dessert." Grocery shopping is no longer something we do together but something the person who has more time takes care of. We've had hardly any date nights since I moved in a month ago.
Basically, we have never been closer to each other but I have never felt farther away from him. Help?
-- Coupled up but alone
Wanda says: Moving in together is a big deal. Was eight months sufficient time to build a foundation for this next very serious phase? Were you ready? Only you two know for sure. All too often, newly cohabitating couples cobble together a mutual understanding of accountabilities -- who vacuums, who manages the bills, who feeds the cat, etc. Many fail to talk about how living together may affect the way you interact daily, and how you continue to set aside intentional, special time for each other.
When you don't live together, it's natural to savor the time your lives overlap, which means seizing small opportunities for hanging out, like cooking dinner or grabbing coffee. Even crawling into bed together is special and has a shiny newness. Once you're under the same roof, these daily activities can easily become part of your daily individual routines instead. Really, it's almost easier to spend time apart when you live together because the other person is always there, which can be mistaken for togetherness.
Step back and assess. For you, being near each other doesn't qualify as quality time. What do you need to be happy? Now that you're both always there, how do you really be there for each other?
Wayne says: Sounds like you lost a boyfriend and gained a roommate. You'd better pay your rent on time or he'll give you the boot ...
Just kidding. But I do think you've romanticized the whole moving-in-together thing a bit. Look at the married and long-term couples you know -- you think they all go shopping together, help each other cook dinner, or make love before bedtime every night? Um, no. That's the evolution of relationships -- it isn't magic all the time. In fact, living together is where the hard work starts -- finding efficiencies in two busy lives to maximize time together, adapting your communication so you are present for your partner as often as possible, not going insane being in each other's space all the time, etc.
All of that said, if you love your partner and commit to the work, living together will take good relationships to the next level. It's time to pull the PlayStation plug and remind your boyfriend why you decided to move in -- to grow closer, not complacent. Tell him that whenever you feel distant, you deserve a date night, and that you'll also try to respect his need for space when he needs it. And finally, both commit to communicate, communicate, communicate -- about when you're feeling distant, when you're needing his help in the kitchen, and when you're feeling like ordering dessert.
• Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and been to therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.