*This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events recounted to me by a friend who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission
Moving in together is a step to make your relationship more stable, but what if it doesn't mean the same thing for both partners?
How would you react if, after a few months of living in the same place, your partner was still embarrassed to tell other people you were together?
Does that mean they're shy and you need to be more understanding, or is it an indication they don't value your relationship and won't be around for long?
My friend Paula, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, had been dating her boyfriend, Michael, for one year. They met in high school but put off dating for a while since they were both in a relationship at the time.
"We saw each other as friends because I had a boyfriend, and he was going out with someone too. I assumed we could be friends since we got along very well," Paula said.
As time went by, they graduated from high school and started college. They were still in the same group of friends and met at different parties. Once they got to their third year of college, Michael ended his relationship, and Paula was also single.
"I wasn't dating anyone at the time and was just focusing on my studies. I'd heard he'd left his girlfriend, but I didn't rush to see if there could be anything more between us. We still got together occasionally for coffee or breakfast in Phoenix, but it was casual. Once he didn't have a girlfriend anymore, the way he talked to me was different, though. He made time to call me in the morning and evenings, and we texted a lot more often," Paula said.
After two weeks of talking a lot more, Michael asked her out on a date. They went out for dinner and tried to see how they would get along as a couple.
"Being in a relationship was very different from just friends who told each other anything. I didn't know if I was yet ready to be with someone again, but after we talked for a while and Michael told me what he wanted for the future, I began to feel more confident," Paula said.
They kept seeing each other four times a week after that first date, and as they found out more about their goals, they realized they wanted to be in a relationship.
They already knew each other's parents since they grew up in the same neighborhood in Phoenix, but they still paid them a visit. Both Paula's parents and Michael's mom and dad were happy to know they got along, and they didn't have anything to criticize. They just advised them to date for at least two years to be sure they were ready to get engaged or married.
"Mom and dad always told me not to rush these things, and they're right. There's just no way to tell if it will last if you just see each other for a few months," Paula said.
Five months after their first date, Michael asked her to move in together. Paula hesitated for a few weeks because she'd always thought this would happen after getting married.
On the other hand, she missed him a lot when they couldn't spend time together. So she eventually agreed to end her lease and packed her things.
"It wasn't just about a ring; I thought about commitment. But we never argued, and he was so positive, so maybe he was right about not paying rent in both places when we could just be together," Paula said.
Once they started living in Michael's apartment in Phoenix, the couple adjusted to sharing chores and cooking occasionally when they couldn't afford to get takeouts. They each did their part for housework, so they didn't have any disagreements, but after one year of being in a relationship, there was no indication of any next step or proposal.
"I know my parents said two years, but I was really counting on it being two years, including an engagement. And with no ring and no change in the way we made plans, I got a bit worried about how long we'd be together," Paula said.
And last week, something happened that made her doubt even more. She had assumed all Michael's friends knew about their relationship, but when they went to have dinner and met a group of his coworkers, she realized they had no idea they were a couple.
And when they introduced Michael to their new colleague, who was a woman, he immediately replied with something she didn't expect.
"We're living together; when his friends introduced him to a girl, he said I'm his ex. I thought all his friends knew about us, but it was just common friends. And why would he react that way? Does it mean he's still looking and doesn't think our relationship is good enough long-term?" Paula said.
When they got back home, they argued, and Michael told her what he'd said didn't mean anything and that he was just embarrassed to tell the people he worked with that she was his girlfriend. Paula is doubtful about his explanation, particularly because they're not just coworkers, and he has lunch with at least five of them.
Michael still pointed out he didn't like oversharing, and they're not talking to each other for now.
What do you think about this situation? Was it ok for Michael to want to seem like he was single when he got to meet the new colleague? Should he have told everyone he and Paula were in a relationship to avoid any misunderstandings?