It's important to look ahead as you take steps in a relationship. If you don't, you may end up painting yourself into a corner. Let me give you an example:
My friend moved in with her boyfriend right after college. One additional layer of "seriousness" was the fact that this move was in the burbs. The burbs of NYC are towns outside of the five boroughs, such as in Westchester. My friends living in these towns are married with kids. The burbs are usually the final step of settling down: You have the convenience of New York City, but you've got more than 50 square feet of space, doors to every room, a dishwasher (what a luxury!), a yard, and maybe even a white picket fence.
It's uncommon for two people to move to a burb right after college. Now, five years into the relationship, this girl wants to break up with her boyfriend. She's gotten involved with another guy, and things progressed quickly. After all this "life investment," she's afraid to break up with her boyfriend. Furthermore, her boyfriend blew up over pictures of her in a hot tub with some guy friends on Facebook, and none of these friends were even the "new guy."
There are several steps you might take too quickly in a relationship in addition to living together.
Sometimes you meet each other's parents because a random situation permits it. But if you bring your significant other home for a holiday to stay at your parents' house, it's a calculated, serious maneuver. After that, you can't face the questions: "Whatever happened to that so-and-so you brought home last Christmas?" unless you've dated them for a while.
My friend is thinking about buying an apartment, but his girlfriend (who lives with him) is adamant that she is not going to buy it with him. It's a smart move in my book. By avoiding the "joint investment," she's not expressing lack of faith in the relationship, but she's being prudent and avoiding a tough situation if they should ever break up.
Dogs are a classic example of "couple investments." When you break up, the custody battle ensues for the dog you raised together. My friend misses the dogs he and his ex raised together when they lived together. I don't think he misses his ex too much, though.
So, how can you avoid painting yourself into a corner? Here are a few ways:
Avoid Changes When You're Already Changing - The couple in the example above just graduated college and moved to another town, already huge changes for each of them. On top of that, they moved in together, which is also a big change — especially for people in their early 20s who are embarking on professional careers (yet another change). Was this volatile time really the best moment to pile it on by moving in together? Too much change at once can overwhelm and cloud your judgment. You have to take big steps in relationships with a clear mind, without stress (if possible).
Raise a Hand When You Should - It's tough to know when to say something when you are thinking of taking a break. Does the feeling pass, or does it stick with you? You shouldn't make a habit of hiding/suppressing doubt in a relationship. If you take it head-on and raise your hand to let the person know, you might lose them. But in the end, that might be better than going along with everything and having to break up like the above example, five years later after all that investment. Many people are afraid to make the break at that point.
Temper Emotional Waves - Getting caught up in emotion is great, but you have to keep it in perspective. People get carried away, resulting in relationships that got too intense too fast, or even marriages that they regret.
Be Self-Aware - Are you the type that has trouble being faithful? Are you happy with your career? Are you emotionally strong? We all want someone but, to be fair to ourselves and others, we should be as self-aware as we can be. In short, don't kid yourself by getting deep into a relationship when you're not ready.
Have you ever painted yourself into a corner? Do you find a way out, or do you go even deeper after you've already gone in too far? What steps get you in too far, and how can you avoid it? Do you agree or disagree with my lists?
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