Ilse's been going out with her boyfriend for five years. Now he wants her to give up her flat and live with him. One day she's sure they'll marry, so why does she feel such anxiety about living together, when as it is they're often staying at each other's homes?

Do nothing: that's a piece of advice that's rarely given but is often the best piece of advice of all. It is, after all, the piece of advice that's least easy to give because we all, not just agony aunts, want to tell people to do things to make life better for them or to help put them out of their misery.

But in Ilse's case "do nothing" is surely the best reply. What's in it for her if she gives up her flat and moves in with her boyfriend? Small wonder she's full of trepidation. She will be giving up her independence; he will be giving up none of his. She will be moving into a place with his furniture, his posters on the walls, his manky old saucepans, his telephone - and although she may move some pieces of furniture of her own, and the odd picture, she will still basically be on his territory, a territory that he has metaphorically sprayed with his own smells, a territory in which his is the name on the lease, a territory for which he is ultimately responsible.

Obviously it will make life easier for them in some ways if they lived in either her place or his. None of those ghastly little bags of toothbrush, nightie, clean pants and tights, mousse, Nurofen to be lugged from place to place every other night; none of that slogging back to his or her place in the cold mornings to check the post and the messages before going to work; but maintaining the situation as it is, however inconvenient, is a small price to pay for her own independence.

How would he feel, for instance, if she suggested that he move in with her? Exactly the same thudding heart, sweat on the brow and instinctive feeling of threat that she's feeling now, I'll be bound. "What would I do if we split up?" he'd be thinking. "Where would I go?"

I had a friend who moved in with her boyfriend under similar terms. Luckily, just before she completed the deal on the sale of her flat, he showed his true colours. He wanted everything to be the same in his house and nothing to be changed at all. His old boxing gloves still hung on a peg in the bathroom despite her entreaties that he keep them in a drawer; the photos of his old girlfriends remained Pritstuck to the walls in the loo, he refused the offer of a dirty clothes basket and his old habits grew worse. Knowing that she was safely at his home when he went out he would return later and later and drunker and drunker. When they had their final showdown he uttered those words that must have always been lurking at the back of his mind: "I'll do what I like!" he shouted. "It's my flat!"

Marriage is, of course, quite a different kettle of fish to living together. If they were married they'd probably get rid of both their flats and move into a new place. They would start off as equals, dedicated to making a completely new home together, emphasis on the word "together". Even if they were to move into one of each other's homes, they'd still be on a far more equal footing.

Until the situation moves into this new dimension Ilse would be losing everything, and gaining nothing by moving in with her boyfriend. Far better, for the moment, to sit tight and retain the status quo.

what readers say

Explore your true feelings about this relationship

There's something intrinsically empowering about going out with someone but living separately. Living with someone only works if you can completely be yourself with them, let go and relax without fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, and without feeling that this other person is invading your personal space.

Personally I've always thought that when it's the right person, it feels right - you don't need to try. You say you're wary of living with this bloke, but you don't say why, other than this nebulous hint of not wanting to give up your own flat.

What's going to change to make you want to live with him in the future? Is it the ring you're after, the commitment and vague promise of happy ever after?

I think you should explore your true feelings about this bloke. Perhaps you could keep your flat on for a couple of months and stay round at his to test the water. It'd be better to know now whether or not you're compatible than to create a sugary edifice of marriage and have it crumble around you.

Leyla Sanai


Your home is a symbol of your independence

I was in a similar position to yours a few years ago, imagining I might move in with my then boyfriend. A vivid and disturbing dream changed my mind. I was in my house, distraught, watching as removal men packed up and shifted all my belongings. I couldn't understand why I was having to leave my own home, which I loved and which was so important to me. In the dream, it was as though the decision had been made by others and I had to go along with it. I was mightily relieved when I awoke and found that I didn't "have" to move.

Your feelings of unease about moving in with your boyfriend say it all. Trust them and stay where you are.

Juliet King-Smith

London SE7

Don't put the cart before the horse

There is that well-known quotation from Punch magazine- "Advice to persons about to marry - `Don't'." Ilse should take the same advice, as it were - "Advice to young ladies who are asked to give up their independence before marriage - `Don't'." What more can one say?

She should follow her instinct and not do it. The cart is being put before the horse. If there is anything in their relationship it will survive.


London SW4

Living together should feel like a natural progression

First, Ilse, why do you feel that you "obviously will [marry] someday", when you have been together for five years and yet still feel alarmed at the prospect of living together? It should be a natural progression and so it appears to me that you are not ready.

Second, why is it you who has to give up your flat. Maybe this is the real crux of the problem. If you were to find a new flat to live where you were both starting off on common ground, you might see the situation in a different light.

Ms M Kiernan

London NW2

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, I'm a young guy in my mid-twenties and have often felt that I'm a bit different. From my early teens I've felt attracted to other men, but I also like women and this has torn me apart because one day I want to be married and have children. Maybe I'm bisexual? I recently called a number in a Lonely Hearts column and talked for 10 minutes to a guy who wanted a loving, romantic relationship. Am I wrong to want a caring relationship with another guy for a while even if I know it won't last a lifetime and my attentions will go to the opposite sex after a while? Should I ring this guy back so at least I've given it a try, or should I forget this whole idea and settle straight away for a heterosexual relationship?

Yours sincerely, Ben

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send comments to me at the Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax: 0171-293 2182) by Tuesday morning. And if you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, please let me know.