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Time for her to accept his shortcomings or move along


This article was published August 22, 2013 at 3:45 a.m.

DEAR CAROLYN: I’ve been nudging my live-in boyfriend to get a second job to bring in more income. I make at least three times what he makes. He has a college degree, and we’re both about 30, but he has been stuck in low-paying restaurant work for five-plus years.

For us to have any future stability, move out of our low-income rental apartment, afford a mortgage to a modest house, go on vacation even for the weekend, or even get engaged and married, he’s going to need to bring his income way up!

Unfortunately, he’s extremely slow in achieving results. He means well and wants better, but apparently suffers from self-esteem issues and a lack of role models or successful male peers.

While I’m happy I have this earning power, I still feel resentment that we’re “stuck” because he is not living up to his potential. What advice do you have for turning the switch on in his mind to more urgently seek higher-paying, stable work, and to help him achieve more?

  • B.

DEAR READER: Whip? Blackmail? Synthetic testosterone in his food?

“Nudging” has failed so you’re on to “turning the switch” - and while you might mean well, too, escalating is not the answer. Taking your hands off is - and stepping back, and thinking.

This marriage-mortgage-vacations plan - his, or yours? Are you sure he“wants better,” or does he say that because what he really wants is to say what pleases you? Is “stuck” his word or yours?

Loving someone, even a life partner, does not constitute permission to remake him to suit your ideals. Even if it were, how’s that going?

You may not think you’re the one pulling all the levers here - he might even be telling you the (apparently lackluster) job hunt is all his idea - but as long as you care more about his income than he does, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

He is not potential, he is a person. A person, by your account, who has a degree and a job and a girlfriend and a life, overall, that he’s in no hurry to change. Maybe you mistook the fact of a college education as proof of ladder-climbing ambition; the correlation is not one-to-one. Maybe he likes where he is. Maybe you need to ask him that, without a tone or facial expression that warns him to pick the “right” answer or else. Maybe you need to consider that low self-esteem and low-paying jobs don’t correlate as strongly as do low self-esteem and others’ impatience with low-paying jobs.

But first, I think you need to ask yourself: Do you want(a) to marry this man as-is, or (b) to marry this man only if he becomes what you expect him to become?

I didn’t phrase things this way as an eye-roll or a shaming attempt. It is, face value, a chance for you to get your thinking straight. Don’t answer it the way you think you’re supposed to - big mistake. Don’t be afraid of hurting or losing him, and don’t be afraid of sounding shallow or grasping.

If, in your most private heart, you refuse to live like this much longer for anyone, then you need to concentrate on making your choices - not his - reflect that defining truth.

Chat online with Carolyn at 11 a.m. Central time each Friday at Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071; or email

Weekend, Pages 33 on 08/22/2013

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