DEAR CAROLYN: My girlfriend and I have been together for almost a year and are moving in together at the end of the month. She’s not perfect but neither am I, and she’s awesome at understanding and supporting me. She’s younger (27 to my 33), but because she’s A LOT more mature than I was at 27, I’ve overlooked it — until now.
We started the move-in process at the end of summer, after I was stressed because of repeated family visits. She understood, but instead of offering to wait a few weeks, she kept pushing to look at apartments. I wonder if she did that because she’s really eager to move on to the next stage of her life — move out of the row house she hates, get a dog, keep developing a social network beyond loser, alcoholic roommates. That’s all great! But I worry she’s so eager that she'll ignore my needs in doing so.
And now I’m still stressed and slated to move in with her. ARGH!!!! All I want is a few weeks of hikes on the weekend and eating right during the week, not scrambling to pack and find movers. I worry that once we move, we'll have to unpack, decorate the new house, and then the holidays! She’s generally good at compromise, but if we got this far with me being stressed 24/7, can I trust future compromises? And if I can’t trust her and am so nervous about this move, should I be in this relationship at all?
Butterflies or Warning Signs?
DEAR BUTTERFLIES: The person you need to trust at compromising is you. You’re the one who agrees to the terms, or doesn’t agree and holds out for what you need.
You told her you were stressed, she said she understood … and didn’t offer “to wait a few weeks,” OK. But did you ask her to? Did you articulate what you needed, or did you stop at saying how you felt? And did you take her (non)response as the last word?
This is the core of every compromise you will make in your life — not just the one you were looking for now in this situation with this girlfriend. You need to decide on the minimum you will agree to; think of what you’re willing to offer (if anything) in exchange for that; speak for yourself accordingly; and then not accept less than your minimum — with the full understanding that it might cost you in other ways.
So in this case, that would have meant, for example: deciding you were not ready to undertake a move, and needed a few weeks to catch your breath; committing to be all-in as soon as the rest time was up; and stating these two points clearly to your girlfriend.
Then, if she kept pushing you, you would have: kindly but firmly acknowledged her urgency and her reasons for it; asked her to respect your needs nonetheless because you wouldn’t be asking if it weren’t important; and refused to give in on your baseline request of waiting until X date to start apartment-hunting with her.
In a relationship, that is the way you keep your priorities and sense of self from being swamped by your partner’s — any partner’s.
If the price of holding the line where necessary is a breakup or, worse, a soul-sucking, peace-of-mind killing, good-time erasing, endlessly recurring argument, then that’s your indication that you two don’t fit, because you aren’t able to give each other what you need while getting your own needs met.
Note, while I don’t endorse her “pushing” and would tell her so if she were the one writing to me, none of this is about her maturity or trustworthiness in forging a compromise. Each of us is the author, ultimately, of any arrangement we agree to just by virtue of agreeing to it.
So if you’ve found yourself caught in a rush to move against your will, then, yes, that could be a sign you shouldn’t be “in this relationship at all” – not because of your girlfriend herself, per se, but because you’re not (yet?) willing or able to stand up for what you need and invite the consequences, whatever they may be.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.