Should I give my boyfriend the key to my apartment?

I know it would be convenient, and we've been together seven years, but I just don't want to.

Published February 12, 2007 11:24AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am 35 and have been romantically involved with a great guy for about seven years. We are both creative types, so we share a lot of common interests and have a fun time together. We are also both college grads who are doing "just OK" in our careers. We don't live together, but we are fairly content with that arrangement. He rents a house with roommates, but also works out of home, while I live by myself in a tiny dungeon of an apartment across town. Ideally, we'd both be living by ourselves in our own nice, comfortably sized apartments, but we live in one of the most expensive U.S. cities, so our modest incomes don't go far enough to allow it.

We've discussed moving in together on and off, usually when we are feeling particularly frustrated with our living situations, but we haven't taken any real steps in that direction. I do get the sense he's slightly more interested in cohabiting than I am, but that could be due to his dislike for his roommates. Our most recent argument had to do with his not having a key. Yes, I have yet to give him a key to my apartment, even though he usually stays over a couple of nights a week.

I realize it would be totally practical to give him a key, so that he wouldn't have to stand in the foyer of my building waiting for me to get home from work. And he insists that he would never show up at my place without telling me to "surprise" me. But so far I have refused to have the key made. I have only been living alone for about a year a half, and it's the first time in nearly 15 years that I haven't had to share a place with two or three roommates. I don't own a car, so needless to say my apartment is my refuge from work, life and sometimes boyfriend. I like finally having my space, and I guess I don't really want to share it (yet).

My question is, am I being unreasonable about the whole key thing? After seven years, am I supposed to be comfortable enough to give him a key? Is this all a glaring sign that maybe I'm not truly committed to our relationship or our future?

Keyed Up

Dear Keyed Up,

If you're not comfortable giving him a key, don't give him one. A key can be highly symbolic. You need to know that you can lock the door and insulate yourself from the commitment. I see you gripping that key, loving that key, cherishing what that key represents. I remember having my first apartment by myself. It was great! I loved having that key. That key was well-worn, too. It was an old key. I used to think of all the disreputable tenants who had used it before me, whose hands had worn it so smooth.

And 15 years with roommates! That's a long time. I say enjoy your apartment until you're ready to share it.

Yes, it may seem unreasonable but I am all in favor of granting ourselves unreasonable needs -- when the common-sense world does not seem to understand the language of the imagination. The common-sense world does not read symbols as symbols. It only deals with practical matters and seems to denigrate the importance of symbolic things.

What is the key to your apartment symbolic of? It's symbolic of boundaries. It's symbolic of freedom.

I am all for your not giving him the key until you really want to. There may come a time soon when you do want to. If you do it before then, you will never know. You may have to reach a point where you really want him to have the key -- that will signal that you have changed in how you feel about him, that you want him to be a bigger part of your life.

If there are practical arrangements that need to be made, then by all means make them. That is, if he does not like standing in the foyer waiting for you, is there a cafe nearby where he could wait, or some meeting place? Or is there a neighbor you could call who could let him into your apartment on certain occasions?

I say trust your instincts on this one. If you give him the key and then find that you don't feel comfortable about it, taking it back would then be very awkward. It sounds as though you've managed this relationship very well so far. I get the impression that both of you enjoy some freedom and some independence. It's even possible that you could eventually get married and still not live together.

That may be the key to your happiness!

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