Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Case of the Deadbeat Boyfriend

It often happens that we take issue with New York Magazine advice columnist, Ask Polly. Being as she represents some of the worst tendencies in modern therapy, we have little choice.

And yet, when Polly gets it right, she deserves praise. Consider it a contribution to balanced judgment. Today’s letter comes from a woman of some means who has managed to fall for a deadbeat boyfriend. Said boyfriend lives beyond his means, does not make a decent living, cannot support himself or his children… and wants to move in with the letter writer. And to bring his children with him.

She calls herself Afraid. Here is most of her rather extended letter:

I’m a divorced mom. My ex and I had one of those divorces that “shocked” many friends and family, but our marriage felt stifling, made me hate and doubt myself, and made me hate our seemingly enviable life. My ex made a lot of money, but everyone around us was stressed out and competitive and kind of a total jerk. I never felt at home.

But that’s not the problem. I left that marriage and home and did a year of intense therapy. I have a job that gives me flexibility and fulfillment, and enough to live on. I made new, kinder friends and reconnected with old ones. I realized how many of my decisions and how much of my self-worth came from those around me and figured out how to stop that. And it’s changed everything. I surround myself with inspiring art, music, nature, and people; I’ve gotten involved with local politics; and I am a much better parent. I get along with my ex, and we’re pretty solid co-parents. We’ve forgiven each other and ourselves for the mess of our marriage.

I’ve also slowly developed a deep and wonderful relationship with someone radically different from me, who has helped me heal immeasurably. We’ve known each other two years at this point. He makes me feel strong, brave, and capable and that the things about me others wanted me to change are the BEST and most attractive. He’s present and supportive and so happy for all my accomplishments. Our relationship is sweet, passionate, and romantic. He’s my most trusted sounding board for parenting: incredibly empathetic and caring with his kids and mine. He feels profoundly like home.

Here’s the problem: He’s not good with money. A big part of it is that I just grew up with more money and have a better education than him. America is like that, and it’s not fair, and it’s getting less fair all the time. He’s had a bunch of working-class gigs, done interesting creative projects, and for a while he ran his own business and made a decent living. But due to changes in the industry/local economy, that’s dried up, and he’s broke and constantly stressed about it. But he’s also trying to maintain the lifestyle he had with his ex and kids, dreaming big dreams of getting rich, and kicking the can to keep from making hard decisions and meaningful changes. His ideas are often really good, but they need money and time and people and he doesn’t have those things.

When I bring it up kindly, he’s clearly terrified and embarrassed — of failure and rejection, of being in some minimum-wage job when he’s 70, of being a burden to his kids. But he needs to do SOMETHING: Sell the house, get an okay job that leads to a job he wants. Find career-retraining resources. Get any reliable stream of income while he makes a plan. I know I can’t make him do anything he isn’t ready for. I don’t want to do that work for him if I could. I really believe if he makes a plan and real decisions, he can get into a much better spot.

But instead he has been hinting at us living together, and trying to reassure me things will get better soon. Emotionally, there are times when the idea of sleeping next to him every night feels amazing. But then I think of having to support him, and dragging his fear and indecision out forever. So, I told him I don’t know what I want and I’m not ready (both of which are true, separate from the money thing). But that’s not the whole truth, and with everything else I’ve been completely honest with him.

I’ve created this life I love SO MUCH, but it’s not luxurious and there’s not this magic giant leftover pool of money. The idea of losing what I created and cutting back on the special things that bring me joy in life makes me feel so sad….

Other times I feel like I’m just as spoiled and heartless as my old rich neighbors. If you love someone, you help them. Maybe not by living with them, but by doing more than just listening, biting my tongue, and offering to help with planning or job searches or the like. And this isn’t just fear on his part. There’s real stuff beyond his control, and he works really hard to stay barely afloat, it’s not just dreaming about big new business ideas.

My friends love how happy he makes me, but are strongly in the “don’t live together, don’t give him a cent” camp. But what do I do? Is this relationship clearly doomed and I can’t see what’s going on because love makes you stupid? Do I stick around and see what happens? Tell him to get any job if he wants us to consider living together? Run away and join the circus? How can I trust anything I feel anyway, because I know I can make some pretty terrible decisions.

I truth you have figured out the answer, already. Here, Polly has gotten beyond her tendency to tell people to go with their feelings. As I said, she gets it precisely right. The man is, I would say, a parasite. The correct answer to Afraid’s question is: No!

Polly writes:

Do not move in with your boyfriend. No no no no. With his kids and your kids, together? No way. Don’t support a man who has no job. Nope. And don’t start coaching him about what he should do next or make him a career to-do list or create some Excel spreadsheets for his business. Don’t invest in his business idea. When you do stuff together that you can afford and he can’t, you can pay for that. That’s it. (You should also do cheaper stuff that you can both afford, of course.) Every other thing you’re imagining that involves this man and your time and your money is a bad idea, like a terrible idea, like a don’t even fucking consider it for a second awful idea.

Score one for Polly.


Anonymous said...

This is why the corporate elite should have the government sterilize more people... to prevent this from happening. The policy to euthanize the lower 5% of the income bracket to keep workers diligent.

Sam L. said...

Score one for Polly! Amazed, I am.

Anonymous said...

Yes Sam, you are correct.