Should he move with me or not?
Heather Corinna replies:I don't know whether to bring my boyfriend with me when I move across the country for work next summer. I recently had an extensive workup around years of depression and anxiety and have ended up getting an autism diagnosis in my early twenties. Overall, having the label has been great for giving some legitimacy to my extreme introversion and I'm coming around to the idea that there was no reason for me to want the same things other people want socially. However, I still picture myself settling down with someone I feel strongly about. Enter my boyfriend. He is also extremely independent and I feel comfortable with and want to be around him, which is more than I can say for 99% of people I ever meet (seriously). He accepts me and doesn't expect me to be more social. But I wouldn't say that either of us have strong feelings for each other, like when other people talk about "love." I think I may have felt "love" toward a girl years ago, but I'm not sure how long it will take for me to ever have those feelings for someone else. He is willing to move if things are "serious" and I don't want to lose the most supportive relationship in my life during a stressful time, but it feels like you aren't supposed to move in with someone you aren't in "love" with. I can't shake the thought that the feelings in this relationship are not what I want for the rest of my life, but they are something I don't want to let go of right now. Advice?
First up, I hope whatever is bringing you to this big move is an incredible and wanted opportunity. I’m also so glad you were able to get a diagnosis that helps you understand a little more about yourself, and that can probably help you find resources and tools to make some things less challenging for you than they probably long have been. One thing you may find out more about when you do is that introversion and different ways of relating to people are not exclusive to the autistic community and just generally assigning perceived antisocial behaviours on autism is problematic in a bunch of general ways, and may also be problematic for you and in this particular situation. For instance, it may be that you aren’t having the kinds of feelings you think of as love or “in love” feelings with or for this guy because you just don’t have them about this particular guy (maybe there are some feelings you just don't have for guys, period), but could very well have them with someone else.
Reading the end of this question made me think about the people I have lived with over the years: family; friends; lovers; lovers and friends who have turned into family; myself (also lovely dogs and cats and bunnies and such, but they are not people). While some of those situations have been better for me than others, some more full of fond memories than others, and some more "serious" than others, they all have offered me big things and important life experiences. They have given me different kinds of family; different kinds of partnership; different kinds of community. Some of them have been wonderful. Some of them have been utterly disastrous, or, at least, terribly annoying. Some of them have also created or cemented relationships that, so far, have turned out to be lifelong: Some of those were sexual or "in love" relationships, some platonic friendships, but all were emotionally deep and intimate enough to be, and remain, pretty darn serious in my book. And when I really think about it, any apparent romance in the mix was the smallest player in the depth of those relationships and experiences, not the biggest. Personally, I would have really missed out on some important people and parts of my life if I had only moved in with people I was in love with.
In a lot of ways, I feel like what you are asking is this: is something only serious or a big deal when “in love,” when romantic love — whatever that is, because let me tell you, I'm pushing 50, it's my job to talk about this stuff every day, and I still haven't figured that out — is in the mix? Is that the only way to emotionally connect to other people in a meaningful way?
I would say: "Absolutely not."
Just because romance — or sex, or both — is in the mix, a relationship is not a bigger deal or more important or serious by default. I think that idea is largely based in a whole lotta heterocentricity (the centering of the very narrow ideals of heterosexuality, in case you're like, "hetero-cen-what?"), including the way heterocentrism, certain religious dogma, and even sexism defines families as being ideally based in and centered around a romantic couple.
You talk about “in love” feelings, but then you also bring up love. Love can exist in so many different kinds of relationships and feel so many different ways, it is, needless to say, a way bigger topic than a column like this can address. If you want to know more of my thoughts about that, or just get some food for thought on it, you might want to check this out. But when it comes to what you’re asking about today, by no means do people have to be in love with, or love, people they move in with. Many of us have been in (or still are in) housing situations with housemates we like, even a lot, but don’t love; that we live with, and share a home with, but don’t have an otherwise intimate or family relationship with. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless, of course, that’s just not what you or someone else wants.
Now, I don't know what your boyfriend means when he says "serious." I don't know what he specifically wants or needs in order to want to make, or feel comfortable making this move with you. Do you? If not, you'll need to ask him to tell you more about that.
Then you can reflect, and be honest with yourself and with him about if your feelings, your needs, and your wants fit that bill. He certainly can't expect you to tell him if this is serious or not if you don't know what that means! And this can't be totally up to you: he's going to have to do some deciding for himself about if this relationship is the kind of "serious" he wants or needs. If it feels like he's perhaps being a little passive about this, I'd suggest you push back on that and make clear that ultimately, this is a choice he needs to make and own for himself, not something you can choose for him, or something you'll be responsible for. But this also isn't totally up to him. You get to decide if you want him to move with you as well, and it sounds like you're still not totally sure about that for yourself separate from what he wants.
You said the way you feel in this relationship may not be the way you want to feel (in an intimate relationship, I assume) for the rest of your life. What you decide right now does not have to be about what you want for the rest of your life. You can decide for now you don't want him to move with you, and then next year, ask if he will. Unless what he is asking you for is a lifelong commitment like marriage, this isn’t about the whole rest of your life.
You only have to make this decision about your near future about what you know and want now, have experienced up until now, and think probably will be a good fit for you soon. “Probably” is really the best we can do most of the time, with none of us able to predict the future. This isn't a choice about the rest of your life, nor about his. This is a choice about what each of you wants within a time period you can tangibly and realistically imagine. Big moves are full of enough stress as it is, especially when you're highly introverted: do yourself a favor and don't add even more to the mix unnecessarily.
I do want to make sure you're considering more than these two options, though.
After all, it might be neither of them are a good fit for you two, and something else is. For instance, the most obvious middle way here would be for you two to continue your relationship, but to do so long-distance, at least at first. That would allow you to take these steps for yourself, and to see how you feel once you do. You would not have to lose the emotional support you give one another, or break up if that's not what you want. He would not have to move when one or both of you aren't yet very certain it's the right thing for you both individually, and for your relationship.
You could even start it that way, then see how you both feel after a while. In the meantime, he could perhaps come visit you, and get more of an idea about how he feels about the place you're living, how he feels about the life you're making there that he'd be joining. After all, just having a person we love living in a place is likely less than most of us will need to want to, be able to, and to enjoy living somewhere.
You could also see how you feel with him being there. Who knows, maybe it turns out that you actually enjoy being on your own in this new place, and prefer a long-distance relationship for the time being. If, when the time comes to make this choice, one or both of you just doesn't feel 100% about it, having some time and experience living apart, and only dipping a toe in with visits may give you the information you need to decide a little later on. Big moves are usually a big deal, even just logistically and financially, so being at least a little cautious about them, and careful in our choices, is usually a smart move no matter what.
I want you to know this: You get to move in with whomever you want to and whoever wants to move in with you. (You get to live alone if you want and can, too.) You get to make a home or a family made of whatever kinds of relationships you want and speak most to you. Your home, your family, your life, and whatever you all get to be like, look like, and feel like who you are, uniquely, and what you want and need: for it to be the really good stuff, it should. I hope that for you, like myself, however that home or family winds up looking, whoever it's made of in whatever kinds of relationships everyone is in, and even if other people don't get it (some won't) you always come up with something that feels like it fits you and who you are, not someone else's idea of what something is supposed to be like. You get to make, and ideally should make, all of these choices based on the person you are and what that person really wants.
Personally, I feel like I have spent a lifetime observing a whole lot of people of all stripes locked into very narrow ideas of what love or family is "supposed" to be, making choices based on that, and a whole lot of them not seeming very happy about those choices a whole lot of the time. I'd encourage you, as I do anyone, to focus less on how you think you are supposed to feel or what you are supposed to want and more on what you do feel and you do want. If you can do that, and make your own choices from that honest, real place, and your boyfriend can do the same, you're most likely to come up with choices that work best for the both of you. And if either of you aren't sure enough yet about either to feel comfortable making big moves — in this case literally — your best bet is probably to find a way to just give yourselves some more time.
There's still a good deal of time before summer comes in this hemisphere, so I suggest you two just do a lot more talking over the next couple of months. You might find this piece on cohabitation helpful for cues of some things to consider and talk about. This piece on friendship might also be a good one for you, and this piece on risk assessment might be applicable here, as well. It sounds like you have the kind of relationship where you can probably talk this all through really well, but if some conflict comes up, you may find this piece of use.
It may be, too, that in really deeply considering what you want and don't want, you actually don't want to move together, and that'd be okay, too, but obviously may result in some more loaded or scarier conversations. No matter what gets talked about, or what you each and both decide, I hope this all goes as well as it can for both of you, and honors the relationship you've had up to this point.
I want to leave you with one more thing: even if one or both of you makes a choice here that doesn't turn out as you'd hoped or wanted, not only will each of you probably be okay (even though, yep, making a big move without the big emotional support system you're used to can be scary as hell), your relationship may be able to survive it, too. Something that sounds as solid as this does not usually hang entirely on just one choice, nor on being one way together, or on being in the same place.
It sounds to me like you're very afraid of losing this, and I can certainly understand why: you clearly are emotionally connected to this person. But it also sounds to me like the two of you built something really wonderful together, and are both really thoughtful people, including with each other, so I'd encourage you to have some faith in that and in yourself here. I feel confident in you. Bon voyage!