When Drea Sanders*, 32, met Mike Jefferson, 35, she was recovering from a bad breakup. Not expecting to make a new love connection so soon, she was caught off guard by the instant chemistry she found with Mike. Their relationship was going smoothly after only three months of dating, when Drea suggested they live together as a way of bringing them closer-literally-since they live in different states. While Mike has been happy to let things unfold slowly, Drea's persistent talk about moving in is pushing him away. He wants to make it work but is unsure if he can keep up with Drea, who is moving full speed ahead. . *Names have been changed
"I met Mike six months after my last relationship ended, so I wasn't looking for my next big romance. I just wanted to get back on the dating scene. But he's so intelligent and easy to talk to. We had a lot in common: I'm a high school special education teacher and he had been considering a career change to become a teacher, too.
"Because we live an hour and a half away from each other, we spent almost all our free time traveling back and forth to see each other. After a few months, that commute became expensive and time-consuming. I felt as if one of us needed to make a change.
"I realize that three or four months into a relationship is usually too soon for a lot of people, but I'm the type of person who likes to plan ahead. The more I thought about it, the more practical it seemed. I was even willing to relocate with my 10-year-old daughter for us to be together, so I wouldn't have to leave her with my parents when I visited Mike every other weekend. But Mike was entirely resistant to the idea, and he told me to slow down.
"After a year, I really started pushing the issue. I wanted reassurance that he intended to marry me and that I wasn't wasting my time. Suddenly Mike became distant. He'd make excuses about why he couldn't see me. Several weeks later he said he needed space to think about the direction of our relationship. I'm ready for us to get back together and eventually move in, but I'm making an effort to go at his pace this time."
"As much as Drea and I have in common, our differences are glaring. I've never been in a relationship where we had to map out our future right away. The first year we were together, she sent me an itinerary that had every single weekend for the next five months booked. She had scheduled in parties, trips and family get-togethers. In fact, with Drea we spent more time planning the future than living in the moment.
"I've always been conscious of the many failed relationships in my family, watching aunts, uncles and cousins separate. That's part of the reason I like to take things so slowly. Drea's need to fast-forward our relationship to living together didn't sit well with me after we had only been dating for a few months. Why can't we just enjoy dating each other and see where it takes us?
"Drea's a very driven person who goes after what she wants relentlessly. It's one of the qualities I love most about her. But I've been more than clear about my apprehensions. She'll back off, but it's only a matter of time before she brings the focus back to us moving in together. I'd like it to happen without rushing into it or forcing the matter.
"I want to get married someday, but I don't want to go into it without being absolutely sure that it's right. Drea is definitely the woman I'd want to settle down with--when the time is right for both of us. I don't want us to put pressure on each other or make compromises that we might regret later."
An Expert's Opinion by Dr. Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant
Like the outcome of any relationship, living together before marriage can be a gamble. In many cases, couples shack up to save money, to learn more about each other before sealing the deal with a legal contract, or simply because they don't ever intend to marry. When a couple decides to share a space, it's got to be for the right reasons and at the right time. Here are a few tips to make sure Mike and Drea are on steady footing before they take the next step:
Get on the same page. Drea and Mike should only agree to move in together if they are both ready. They need to make a list of the pros and cons of cohabiting-including the fact that a child is part of the equation. This way they can better understand each other's perspective and eventually make the decision as a couple.
Set a deadline. In most instances, couples who don't plan to marry or don't become engaged within a few years of cohabiting will eventually part ways. To avoid the complicated breakup drama that can be a result of a live-in situation gone wrong, Drea and Mike should give themselves a limited time to live together. For some couples, a year can seal the deal. It should be negotiated depending on circumstances.
Live in the now. Mike made a great point about needing to live in the present. While Drea is in fifth gear, she might be missing out on a relationship that's perfect as it is. If they decide to set time parameters and Mike is still dragging his feet, Drea might have to reevaulate the relationship. But in the meantime, they must work on growing together and checking their compatibility during their weekends together. They should also make it a point to do family-oriented activities that include Drea's daughter.
Psychologist Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant is a contributing writer for ESSENCE.