My boyfriend won't give me his apartment key

I'm sitting on the steps with groceries, waiting for him to get back from the gym.

Published March 24, 2008 10:15AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My boyfriend refuses to give me a key to his apartment. I do not want to be there when he is not there, but I spend a lot of time there between work and school. He tells me to bring my things so that I can sleep over and then get ready for work at his place. I go over there all the time and stay there.

I had a closet for clothes and a bathroom closet. But the more I made myself comfortable, the more often I would need to get into his place to get things: makeup, a suit, a book, a pair of sneakers. It became very inconvenient, not having a key. He works, goes to the gym and travels all the time for work. If he needed to fly out to Kansas for two days, I would basically have to pack a bag of my essentials because I couldn't have access to them if he was not around to open the door. It got ridiculous. So I took all of my things back, and said that I need to "live out of" my own place. But he did not like that, either.

He still will not give me a key, and he insists that I continue to live out of a bag. He wants me to stay at his place, but pack a different bag each time so that I never need to go inside without him opening the door.

I don't know what to do. I don't want to be the bag lady around town, between work, school, dance class and everything. I just asked for a key so that my busy life would be that much easier, so that I could stay at his place for a few days at a time, but not be totally inconvenienced if he goes out of town (often) or if he is late. Once he was late coming back from the gym and I had carried groceries over to his place to cook. I waited on the front step with my groceries until he came home.

I don't like that I am treated like a little puppy, that I cannot just be treated like an adult. I tried to pull away, but he just won't budge; he says that either I can live with it or we will not see each other as often. He has also been unwilling to spend time at my place. I'm tired of this.


Dear Keyless,

This is a power struggle. Except it's hardly a struggle. Your boyfriend is holding all the power. He didn't even have to threaten to break up with you. All he had to do was threaten not to see you as often and you gave in. So you are letting him win. You're making it way too easy.

Your boyfriend is not hungry now. He knows you are waiting on his stoop with the groceries. He can take as long as he likes. He knows you will stay there and wait for him.

But what if you don't wait for him? What if you take your groceries home? Will he get hungry then? Or what if you leave the groceries sitting on the stoop with a bill from the grocer? Will he cook for himself? Does he even know how to cook for himself?

What if he has to come find you? What if you don't answer his phone calls for a couple of days?

Can you take that risk? Are you afraid that if you back off he won't come after you? Maybe it would be best to find out. If he won't come after you, then he doesn't care that much. So back off. Stop delivering his groceries. See what he does.

You are sick of this for a reason. A relationship that is so one-sided will not last. It will never be a partnership in which important things are negotiated to the satisfaction of each party. It will always be more like a client services contract in which one party is getting screwed.

I don't mean to imply that you are a prostitute, or that this is a business relationship. But I do mean to imply that sometimes, when there is unhappiness, you can view a romantic relationship like a business relationship in order to understand why you are unhappy. You are unhappy because you have no power. Your needs are being ignored. You are not getting what you want. He isn't paying attention. He isn't paying attention because he doesn't have to. He can continue doing what he is doing and nothing bad will happen. A lot of us are like that. We don't pay attention until things start to go wrong. That's normal.

So make things go wrong. See what happens. Don't put yourself out for him so much. Let him call you a limo or pick you up. Don't sit on his stoop with your groceries anymore.

And stop wanting the key. If you get the key, it will only turn into more services provided for him. See what I'm saying? The key is not the issue. He's doing you no favors giving you the key. It's like giving the maid a mop. Forget the key. Stop wanting the key. Instead, stop the behaviors that give rise to the need for the key. Stop agreeing to clean the floor. Anything you're thinking of doing that would be easier if you had a key, don't do it.

Instead, push the whole transportation-services portion of the transaction back on him: If he wants to see you, he can arrange transportation. If he wants to see you, he can come to you.

Drive up your cost is what I am saying. Drive up your cost and see if he will pay it. If he won't pay it, then you know.

Or, in a more spiritual and less capitalist way, think of it like this: You have enormous power in your ability to simply restrain yourself and be calm. You have enormous power in the relationship if you just use it. You have the power to refuse to beg and ask permission. The key is about permission. Forget permission. Just back off and let him come to you.

If he comes, he comes. If he doesn't, well, then you know.

Do you have to live together? See p. 276

"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.

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