He's a Slug
Q: My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost nine and a half years, since I was 16 and he was 22. Early in our relationship things were great: we really connected, had a fun sex life, and he helped me apply to college and figure out what I wanted to do with my life (I'm now working on my PhD and love my job). The latter he did largely because he felt like his "work life" was a failure and didn't want me to wind up in the same place. I told him that I loved him anyway, and that his job and money (or lack thereof) didn't and wouldn't affect the way I felt about him. I was wrong.
We moved in together when I started grad school four years ago. Since that time, my boyfriend has not had a job. His training is in acting and writing, but he has a huge fear of rejection and hasn't even tried to look for work. He has said that he "doesn't know if he'll ever be able to work again," but might try if only I would help him, and his latest idea is for us to write a book together. As much as I'd love to help him in return for the help he gave me when I started college, I really have no interest in writing a book, not to mention I already work 80-90 hours/week. Is that selfish on my part?
He lies to our families and friends and says he works with me. I go along with it, even though it makes me very uncomfortable. I feel like, by covering for him, I'm giving him every reason not to fix the problem. I've lost respect for him. I have a hard time feeling very passionately towards him because I crave a strong, confident man. I have thought a lot about breaking up recently, but after so long, it's hard. He says that he loves me and wants to marry me, and that we just need to relight the "spark" we had when we met. I, on the other hand, am not sure that we can ever go back to the way things were. What should I do? -- Leigh
Dr. Susan: It's amazing, Leigh, how you've found time to bring on so many problems for yourself, all while earning a doctorate and working incredible hours. Let's pretend your life is a paper you have to write and then tackle it methodically. What, then, do we have here? At the beginning, your relationship was grand. You told your boyfriend you'd love him even though he was, in essence, a loser. I know a woman who told her boyfriend she'd be happy forever just having him near her in bed each night, but naturally, as the years passed, she needed more from him. Of course you're tired of carrying the load for both of you, and no, you're not selfish to want to follow your own path rather than devote yourself to writing his book. Anyway, can you imagine who'd do most of the writing? Who thinks it would be Loser Boy?
How about giving your guy a gentle ultimatum? He needs to so something about his terrible self-esteem, whether by reading about the subject or seeking a good therapist. You can't do it for him, and as you already suspect, your current "help" merely enables him to go on as he is. And the more you do for him, the less capable and confident he feels. Unfortunately, you find yourself in a position of acting like his mother and helping him grow up, which in this case probably means some tough love. He needs to take charge of his own life, and he needs to begin telling the truth to everyone, including himself and you. The odds of him doing this in such a thorough way as to reawaken your passion and belief in him are slim, at least in the near future. You can no longer go back to the way things were. Life moves on, people change and grow. Your boyfriend needs a swift kick in the pants, and if you can manage it, give yourself one, too. Breaking up after so long is indeed excruciating. But yours is anything but an equal partnership, and it sounds like you've woken up to your own possibilities. If he refuses to measure up, he'll have to go.
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Advice for Her
Advice for Him
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.