Asking for space: Was it a mistake?

Dear Alice,

My boyfriend and I have been together for 4 years. We have been a very happy couple. We love the companionship and we get along really well. Everything was perfect until we both found jobs in the same area and decided to move in together. Our relationship was still strong, but I have been feeling like I need space. Space to be alone. I told him how I felt. Without a doubt, he was hurt, but he packed his stuff and left. Now I feel like I made a mistake and I'm missing him so much already. It's only been one day!

I just turned 22 and have been with this guy for a pretty long time now. He is my first love. I see myself marrying him in the future. Yet, I am still so young and need to explore to experience other things. He is 100% sure that he wants to be with me, wants to marry me, and loves me so much. He has dated girls and has been in a serious relationship before. He got to see what is out there. So basically, we both see a future together, but I feel that we need some time to be alone for once. We are the type of couple to see each other everyday, but we both work full-time and have our own hobbies. Why did I feel so trapped?

— Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Moving in with a significant other can be a big step, even for couples who've been together for a while. In your case, the transition seemed to be a shock to your system! The decision to marry or spend the rest of your lives together can feel overwhelming, and moving in together may have felt like a big step toward committing yourself to that path. Maybe it's time to have a heart-to-heart about how your desires for space and exploration affect the future of your relationship.

You seem to have some conflicting feelings about the relationship: it's happy, and you both think it has potential, but you have a desire to experience being with other people. What do you want to experience before setting down? If you have doubts about what you want, you could take time apart to explore some options. Some people feel that they learn valuable things from being with different people. Every relationship is different and may help you realize things about yourself, characteristics that you value in a partner, or dynamics between two people that you want in a relationship. There's also a possibility that one of you might meet someone else and decide you don't want to be together. Or, you might discover that you really do want to be together, and you can get rid of your doubts.

Maybe you want to be together but still live apart. Separate places nearby could let you slowly transition to living together — this way, you both can spend time at each others' houses and still have a refuge when you need alone time. If you do go back to living together, you could purposefully schedule some alone time. Having time to yourself at home and time apart from your partner to pursue your own interests and friendships may help both of you maintain a healthy relationship.

It sounds like a strength of your relationship is that you're able to express your needs and your boyfriend listens and respects them. A good partner will also value the fact that you take the time and space you need to make sure that you make the best decisions for yourself. Giving yourself time and space to think about your priorities and what you want from the future can help you build a solid relationship with anyone you choose.

Last updated Jul 14, 2015
Originally published Dec 01, 2006

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