Monday, August 21, 2017

Her Deadbeat Boyfriend

Here’s an interesting case study from New York Magazine. It’s not from our two favorite advice columnists, but from a column called “Money Mom.” The letter writer has been involved with a man for several years now. A few months ago he lost his job—through no fault of his—and has turned into a parasite. He lives with her and does not contribute to their expenses.

True, Christina does not use this term, but said boyfriend has become exceedingly comfortably mooching off of her.

Here is the case description:

Christina, 29, has been with her serious boyfriend for several years. For most of their relationship, he’s worked at a start-up — until the company went under four months ago. He still hasn’t found a new job, and it’s wearing on them both. They don’t share an apartment, technically, but he stays at her place all the time (which is nicer, and doesn’t have roommates), and she feels like he’s basically living there rent-free. Whenever they go anywhere, she now pays for them both. She wants to be supportive, but she’s starting to feel uncomfortable with it — and taken advantage of. She works for a marketing firm and, while her paycheck is steady, she’s not made of money. Long-term, she can’t keep this up. She knows he’s trying, and she wants to help, but what if she’s enabling him?

No one wants to use the term deadbeat, but Christina is beginning to feel as though her boyfriend is one. The columnist, Charlotte Cowles, calls on a series of experts. They offer a balanced approach to the problem, beginning with the notion that it is bad to confront the boyfriend over his deadbeattery. Yet, they do not raise a simple issue: what does said boyfriend have to say about the situation? Is he comfortable with it? Is he ashamed of his situation? Does he promise to make amends for mooching off of her or does he act as though he deservesit? Does he feel awkward when she pays for dinner or does he apologize for failing to contribute, for failing to fulfill a more manly role?

Anyone can find himself in-between jobs. Any man can find himself in an uncomfortable position of having to depend on his girlfriend or wife. The issue is: how does he deal with the issue; what does he say about it? Is he ashamed or does he act entitled? Is he treating her like his wife or like his mother?

In normal circumstances she should not have to raise these questions. If she does need to raise them, they have a problem. If he cannot express anguish about his reduced status he is comfortable to be mooching off of her. As I say, that’s a problem.

Examine some of the expert opinion, beginning with a therapist from Los Angeles:

But the key for handling it with your head up (and minimizing further financial damage) is to focus on your own experience — and bank account — instead of worrying about whether he’s mooching off you or not. “You can’t prove if he’s taking advantage of your finances, or you’re enabling him by taking on more financial responsibilities,” says Amanda Clayman, an L.A.-based financial therapist who has treated many couples in this position. “There won’t be a productive conversation around that.”

Instead, pay attention to when you’re annoyed, and then tell him — carefully. “The only way to constructively and honestly deal with this is by sharing where you’re at,” explains Clayman. “Unspoken resentment is a dangerous thing in a relationship.”
Of course, Christina should be worrying about whether he is mooching off of her. She can tell whether the boyfriend is taking advantage of her by paying attention to his attitude about the situation. This is not very complicated. If he has not apologized, she is being taken advantage of. In that case a conversation can only muddy the waters. He might express his anguish if he feels that she wants to see it, but, since she pushed him, his words will lack sincerity.

Here is Clayman’s suggested conversational gambit:

Instead, place the situation in the larger context of your own finances, says Clayman: “Try prefacing it with something like, ‘There’s something on my mind. I’m worried that if I bring it up, it’s going to start a fight or hurt your feelings, and I want you to know that that’s not my intention.’ Then you can say, ‘I want to be supportive, but I also feel like I’m not able to take care of certain things that are important to me, financially, because of this situation.’ This is an opportunity to set boundaries, like what you’re comfortable paying for, and what you aren’t.”

Of course, this is girl talk mixed with psychobabble. No man worth his manliness will respond favorably to this veiled attack on his mooching. Again, if she has to ask him to pay for anything that suggests he has not offered. It might be that he is flat broke—does he have a family?—or it might be that he prefers to save up to buy a new car. Clayman wants Christina to explain that he is sucking her dry. Just because you tell someone that you do not want to hurt his feelings-- girl talk-- does not mean that  you are not humiliating him. I do not see how this approach is going to end well.

Clayman also recommends that Christina start keeping track of his efforts to find a job. She wants Christina to monitor and to police her boyfriend’s job hunt. I am sure that I do not have to tell you that this will make her more like a mother than a girlfriend. Besides, if he is incapable of doing it by himself, how can we expect him to hold down a job and to assume adult responsibilities?

Columnist Cowles offer a slightly different take. She suggests that Christina is probably starting to worry about whether or not said boyfriend is a bad bet for the future. Will he be there for her? Will he ever be able to support the family or even contribute to parental support? She skillfully avoids the term breadwinner, because feminists have been inveighing against this role for decades now. It does not put them in a very good position to criticize a man who is not making a living.

I will note, for what it’s worth, that while Cowles is happy to make up a name for Christina, she offers no such courtesy to the deadbeat boyfriend.

Cowles then tells us what happened in her own relationship. In the world of science this is called anecdotal. It distracts from the issue at hand and wastes the reader’s time.

Happily, Cowles adds a story about a relationship where the unemployed man’s attitude showed a friend of hers that the relationships was not very good:

You may care about this guy, but if your gut is telling you it’s time to move on, listen. My friend Marisa had dated a guy for over seven years when he found out he was getting laid off; she’d always made more money than him, but once his job was in jeopardy, he leaned on her even more. “I already paid for a lot of things, and he was almost toookay with it sometimes,” she said. “When he started freaking out about his career, I thought maybe he’d cut back a little bit, but instead, it was the opposite.” The last straw came when she took him to Babbo for his birthday. “I specifically remember the moment when he decided to order the tasting menu,” she said. “He was on the verge of being totally broke, and that was like, a $400 dinner. I just felt blatantly used.” They broke up shortly thereafter.

As I said, Christina, like Melissa, does not need to have an intense conversation about the issue. She needs but to observe her man’s behavior. Is he feeling any shame or is he happy to have become a mooch?


Anonymous said...

Obviously the unnamed boyfriend is staying at Christina's apartment because he is renting out his own place on Airbnb, making some nice pocket money on the side, or possibly more than that. I wonder if Christina has taken a look at their website. An expert who styles herself "Money Mom" should be a little more aware of the ways of the real world.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I sensed that the boyfriend had roommates at his own place... This does not make renting it out impossible, but more complicated.

Anonymous said...

Hello Stuart, we might discuss this, and perhaps we should, but it will take less time to look it up on the Airbnb website. Why not take the road less travelled instead of the usual don't-want-to-hurt-anyone's-feelings & do-we-have-a-future-together routine?

I once spoke with a cost accountant who bluntly informed me that 'based on these figures, they could not exclude that a certain person had monetary obligations to another spouse or family abroad'. Fortunately, this was neither my partner nor my company, so I wasn't affected that much, but such a refreshing view on love and romance! My advice to Christina would be to take that look at Airbnb, keep her mouth shut, and stop paying for extras to begin with.

Sam L. said...

He's a deadbeat. Options: Dump him; Be a patsy.