My fiancee says her 16-year-old son is the reason we shouldn’t move in together yet, but what’s really going on?

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

My girlfriend and I are making plans to get married next year. However, we still don’t live together. I feel we should move in together sooner than later. We’ve dated three years, and living together is a big transition. While I don’t expect doing so would reveal any deal-breakers, I still would like to live together for a while before we get married.

Her big hold-up is her son. He’s 16 and lives with her most of the time — he’s at his dad’s on some weekends. I have yet to really develop a close relationship with him, which is another issue. She’s kept us fairly separated and is very protective of him. When we first started dating she said she didn’t want him to get attached to me in case things didn’t work out. Well, things are obviously working out — we’re getting married!

I think moving in together moves us in the right direction, and would help in me bonding with my future stepson. She claims living together sends the wrong message to her kid and we need to wait until we’re legally wed. Part of me worries she’s just making excuses because deep down, she isn’t ready for a commitment. Should I drop it and just let things be how they are?

Wanda says:

While it may feel like every other couple you know is living together before marriage, and while it’s certainly increasingly common, plenty of people wait to live together. The National Center for Family and Marriage Research reports that between 1965 and 1974, just 11% of women lived with their would-be spouse prior to getting married. By the 2010-2013 era, that number had increased to 69%. That still leaves about one-third of women waiting on couple cohabitation.

So let’s give your fiancée the benefit of the doubt and assume she means it when she says her decision is grounded in wanting to set a good example for her son. That’s a strong mom game right there, and rather than fight her on it, respect it. In the meantime, while I certainly appreciate the eagerness to shack up, a more significant area of focus should be your relationship with your future stepson.

It’s true that living together would give you more time with and access to him, but since it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, you may have to get creative and even a little assertive about finding ways to spend time together. Your fiancée has been a single mom for a long time, and it will be unusual and even awkward for her to further blend that world with your relationship. So be patient, be open, and be supportive as the three of you move through this transitional period to your shared future.

Wayne says:

So, doing the math, in one year you and your girlfriend will be married while her son will be 17. Does she plan on you spending the first year of marriage suddenly living with a young man she hasn’t allowed you to get to know or should you stay apart until he finishes high school? And what happens if he doesn’t want to move out and leave his mom’s support and protection after graduation? A semi-permanent roommate? That’s romantic! She’s not considering some variables that complicate her clean and clear roadmap to you two finally living together.

I appreciate mom wanting to be a model of healthy relationships for her son, and even being protective to some extent, but he’s 16. Has she kept him so sheltered that she doesn’t think he knows exactly what you two are up to when he’s at his dad’s the last three years? And does she really think the two most important men in her life should wait to develop a bond and friendship until you’re married rather than now? If you two had been spending some time together the last three years, maybe moving in together now wouldn’t be such a touchy topic.

Something isn’t adding up and I don’t think this is just about living together. I’m guessing she’s still somewhere between a little undecided and frightened to death of the whole thing: getting married, living together, transitioning into another new lifestyle — from married, to divorced, to single mom, to seriously dating single mom, to all the things you want and expect — the dynamic between you and her son, heck maybe even her son becoming an adult soon and doing adult things like moving away from mom. I suggest taking your foot off the gas about living together and having a heart-to-heart check-in with her about where she’s at on all of the above. She might not ready for another major life change — or three — or maybe this will reinforce her trust in you and ease her anxiety about everything else.