When we were young, we were told that one day, we’d live happily ever after. But now that we’ve grown up, we’ve come to realize that relationships — and life in general — is far, far more complicated than that. Bustle has enlisted Susan Piver, a New York Times best-selling author of The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, who teaches around the world on communication, creativity, and relationships, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous.
Now, on to this week’s question:
Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for about two years. We're pretty stable and in love, but it has been rocky in the past. Lately, I find myself fantasizing all the time about the future and about moving in together, even though I'm pretty sure it's too soon. I find myself hiding these thoughts from him because I don't want to freak him out. How do you know when you're ready to deepen a commitment to someone? A: I’m so glad you’re feeling stable and in love! That is wonderful. Yay for love. The questions you pose are so interesting and so important. They get at the heart of what may be the key relationship question of all time: Is this a love affair or is it a relationship?
know The difference between a love affair and a relationship
When a relationship begins, it is a love affair. Fascination, joy, sex, inspiration, delight, and sex, sex, sex. At some point, however, this phase ends. (I’m sorry, it just does. It may take a few months or a decade, but it does.) I’m not saying that longterm relationships can’t be romantic and sexy, but eventually, that beginning phase must end. That is why it is called the “beginning.”
It is really easy to become confused about what to do next and, from your question, I believe you are at the crossroads between a love affair and a relationship. If love affairs are about talking, having adventures, and making love, then relationships are about creating a household, meeting each other’s friends, and figuring out how much debt everyone has.
Everyone expects their love affairs to become relationships and their relationships to also be love affairs. The truth is, that is rare. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you can create a life together that you both love. In fact, most serious relationships end, not because you don’t love each other anymore, but because someone isn’t ambitious enough or is too ambitious, one wants kids and the other one does not, or you just can’t imagine living your whole life with such a slob.
I like that you say your relationship “has been rocky in the past.” That is a great sign. If you can ride the natural ups and downs that come with relationships, you are in fantastic shape. That says a lot about each of you and who you are as a couple. When it comes to deepening a commitment, the first question I would ask is, “Can you navigate conflict?” So, check. Here are the next five questions I suggest you ask yourself.
Ask Yourself These 5 Questions:
1. Do I love his skin?
Before I so much as held his hand, I longed to touch my husband’s face. When I was able to, I discovered that I simply loved how he felt, loved his touch, his smell, and his physical presence. After 15 years of marriage, I still feel this way. Interestingly, chemistry tends to last whether or not you’re in a period of more or less desire for each other. I know this is not your standard “expert” advice, but when skin loves skin, touch can trump many disagreements.
2. Is he nice?
He may be brilliant, hilarious, and handsome but, you know? SO WHAT. While these are truly desirable qualities, they are not the most important when it comes to making a relationship last. Most important is the ability and willingness to be kind, generous, open-hearted, and decent. Is he a good person? If you believe he is, proceed. If you are not really sure (and who hasn’t loved a bad boy?), um, at least take note.
3. Am I 100% certain that this relationship can work?
If the answer is “yes,” I’d be suspicious. “No” is a much more sane answer. I mean, who is certain? When I hear someone say, “He’s everything I ever dreamed of!” I get scared. I’m not saying that your beloved shouldn’t surpass every expectation of what you imagined love to be, but there comes a point in every relationship where you have to choose between who this person is and who you wished he was. When you are relating to a real person rather than a fantasy person, there is always some uncertainty. That's a good sign.
4. Can I talk to him about things I care about?
This is different than, “Do we share values and interests?” For me, my husband and I have almost nothing in common. I’m a Buddhist. He is not. I like to read and hang about inside. He likes to go fishing. But we really, really care about each other. I feel that I can share with him what is in my heart of hearts. That's essential.
5. Can I imagine loving him a little bit more than I love the idea of “us?”
Once, I lived with someone I loved a lot, but in a foreign country. We were happy, but I was young, and thought I should probably go back to my own country for the long haul. When we talked about breaking up, we both sobbed. We could not bear to part. One night, he told me he supported my inclination to leave him, even though it broke his heart. Why? I asked. Because, he told me, I love you more than I love us.
This is the key to the whole thing. If you can each hold your love for the other just slightly above your love of the relationship you have, you will be capable of creating a truly happy bond.
Last but not least, talk about it
Take some time and contemplate these questions. If your answers make you want to deepen your commitment, then decide whether or not you'd like to discuss moving in together.
Unfortunately, no one can tell you exactly what to say. Just trust yourself. Be honest. Talk about what you feel and what you’re uncertain about. Share your fears without expecting him to soothe them. Share your longings without expecting him to satisfy them. Share what is in your heart. At the end of the conversation, you may or may not be in agreement or even know what to do next. But you will have become more intimate.
While romance always fades, intimacy has no end, none whatsoever. Every interaction you have can deepen it whether you agree with each other, disagree, or have no idea what is going on. You can count on that.