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help me motivate myself and my SO
December 5, 2012 10:52 PM   Subscribe

how to deal with differing levels of ambition and motivation in a relationship?

I've officially been with my SO for about 6 months now. He's 26, smart, talented, attractive, kind-hearted, great in bed, and overall, he makes me feel very special. I always look forward to spending time with him, but recently I've been a little anxious about a few things when thinking about whether or not this relationship really has long-term partnership potential. I realize that this is ultimately a decision that I'll have to make for myself, but I thought I'd open it up to the great wisdom of Ask MeFi and see if anyone could offer any insights. I'm 22, and this is my second relationship, and at this point, I still really want to make it work, if at all possible. (The other one lasted several years.)

1. Sometimes I'm afraid that we're too similar. On the one hand, this means we're very compatible and get along easily... we haven't even had a single fight yet, which is a pleasant change from my last relationship, which was quite volatile. But at the same time, I'm afraid that this doesn't allow for much growth. We tend to reinforce each other's bad habits... and while it's certainly not like I want a constant nag or paternal figure to keep me in line, it seems like it would be nice to have a partner who could help me become a slightly better person in some way.

2. I already have a tendency to be a little lazy, but this is something that I feel a little guilty about and want to improve. I could easily sleep the day away if I didn't have to be anywhere, and I have to force myself to go to the gym and exercise... but I ultimately do it because it makes me feel happier and more productive afterwards. My SO is the same way, except he doesn't feel the slightest bit guilty about it, so he actually encourages me to be less motivated, in a bizarre way. We don't live together right now, but I'm afraid that if we did, I'd be less motivated to accomplish things, simply because he'd always be tempting me to hang out on the couch and watch TV and such instead. Obviously it's up to me to make myself do it anyways, and it's not up to me to change my SO (I'm definitely not that person in a relationship, and I don't want to be), but sometimes we could help each other become more motivated.

3. This ties into a general sort of lack of ambition on his part, which worries me a little. I consider myself to be fairly ambitious, and recent conversations with him have made me realize that he'd be perfectly content to work the same menial job for the rest of his life and augment his free time with video games, TV, weed, and booze. To be fair, he's not a deadbeat. He's very generous and considerate, and he holds a job and participates in another successful creative outlet as well (I don't want to be too specific here, just for the sake of anonymity). But I don't sense much, if any, desire for self-improvement.

4. I've realized that the times I feel the most frustrated with the relationship are when I sort of let him take the reins during our time together... and we end up sleeping way too much and watching tons of TV. I like it when we actually do things together, like cook or play music or hang out with friends, and so forth. Too much TV makes me feel bored and depressed, but I don't know how to tell him this without (a) making him feel like I'm judging him, since this is clearly a major way he likes to spend his time, and... (b) i'm having a hard time thinking of things i could suggest that we do instead.

Ideas? Thoughts? Anyone in a successful relationship with a less ambitious and/or less motivated SO? I don't want to be the type of person who finds fault with everyone I date, and I don't want to underestimate the importance of my SO's many good qualities. I just wish we could get motivated enough to be productive and bring out the best in each other when we spend time together.
posted by humiliated_grape to Human Relations (14 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a story I just told that's actually the opposite of what you're looking for reassurance wise, but may be helpful all the same.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:15 PM on December 5, 2012


In a healthy relationship, you should be able to say something like, "I would like to watch less TV and do more new things" without it being taken as a personal criticism.

You're young. What are your priorities for the next few years, career-wise? Personal development-wise? I think if you're deciding and actively working toward things you want to accomplish, it will soon become clearer whether your SO will have a continuing place in your life. But don't wait around for him to be on board. Figure out how you want to be spending your time. Try to include him in your plans, but maybe accept that he's not going to want the same lifestyle as you. Your comment (b) makes me think that there are some unspoken rules in your relationship that you don't ask too much of him activity-wise. If you're not happy with this, and if it's not something likely to change over time, then your relationship will probably come to a natural end.
posted by daisystomper at 11:30 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're unlikely to change a person's basic character. But you're still both very young, lots of people haven't found ambition at your age. Of course weed, wine and TV won't be opening a lot of doors. I've seen guys who found ambition as their love grew. But if you can't get him off the couch now I doubt it will be easier later. Bad habits become entrenched. Just remember, your choice of a mate will most likely affect your life more than any other decision you'll ever make.
posted by PaulBGoode at 11:48 PM on December 5, 2012


I dated this guy, or a version of him. He never wanted to go out. He had a decent job that would pay slightly more over time. I was working my entry level job busting my hump. When I left in the morning, he would be asleep. When I came home, he'd be playing a video game. I was never alone in the apartment we shared because he was. Always. There.

I got an interview for a job in another state. A huge pay raise. It fell through (this was at the height of the ressesion). I was soon laid off. I told him my frustrations a few times. But why should he change? I gave him sex. I cleaned. I did a majority of cooking. He had every thing he wanted.

I dumped him, moved to the other coast. My career is finally back on track. I have a man with more ambition than I do, and it is awesome. Sure, we spend our time watching tv. But we often do it with a purpose (watch a series together, or as background noise for a mutal project on our computer). We do a lot of mundane stuff together. But it oftens has a purpose. Save money. Improve a career. Look better.

Don't waste the pretty. Try a little to get him on board. I don't think it'll work, to be honest. Then go see what else is out there.
posted by Monday at 12:09 AM on December 6, 2012


"But why should he change? I gave him sex. I cleaned. I did a majority of cooking. He had every thing he wanted."

If you ever find yourself starting to think this way, then that is a really powerful indication that it is definitely time to go. You might also want to keep in mind something that scody once said that I think remains the best relationship advice ever given on askme:
"Yes, absolutely. I have a master's degree, publish art books, and have lately been reading the collected letters of Samuel Beckett for fun. My boyfriend -- who is, just as you describe, "smart, but not a brainiac, and has every other quality you would want in a man: kind, generous, funny, hard-working, full of character" -- didn't go to college.

We recently celebrated our five-year anniversary -- the longest relationship for either of us. It's the happiest, healthiest partnership of both of our lives. I wouldn't trade him for all the Ph.D's in China (nor any of the over-educated brainiacs I dated before him). It did require some recalibration on my part regarding what's truly important to have in common -- namely, that qualities (kindness, loyalty, honesty, etc.) matter more than things and preferences (education, books, music, vacations involving museums vs. cabins in the woods, etc.). Or, as my brother-in-law put it: "having things in common is overrated. Having each other in common is what's rare."

Here's a little story. About a year or so into our relationship, an ex-boyfriend (and the guy I'd been carrying a torch for since -- I am not kidding -- the Reagan administration) moved to L.A. He has a Ph.D, teaches art history, and -- from an intellectual standpoint -- appears to be my perfect match. We started hanging out again and discovered -- scarily -- that our old chemistry was, well, still pretty fizzy. Long story short, he eventually offered to leave his wife for me if I would leave my boyfriend for him. "Come on," he said. "Do you really want to be in a relationship where you'll never get to discuss Walter Benjamin after sex ever again?"

And suddenly, right there, I had my answer: all due respect to Walter Benjamin (who I totally love), but fuck that. Anyone who would ask me to participate in breaking the hearts of two other people in order to discuss critical theory naked is missing too many important qualities for a good relationship. I immediately stopped flirting with the fantasy of running off to intellectual heaven with my old flame, and very firmly went back to the real world of warmth, safety, commitment, and love with the best man I know.

Best decision I ever made."
posted by Blasdelb at 1:19 AM on December 6, 2012 [23 favorites]


You've described the person you want to be in a relationship with as being someone quite different to the person you're actually in a relationship with.

There's nothing wrong with being picky. If you're not picky, you'll settle for anything. The point of dating is to find out if you're compatible with a person - if you're not, it's OK to acknowledge that and move on, hopefully to someone more suitable.

There's a difference between someone being wrong, and someone being wrong for you.
posted by Solomon at 2:19 AM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've realized that the times I feel the most frustrated with the relationship are when I sort of let him take the reins during our time together... and we end up sleeping way too much and watching tons of TV.

This will not change. It will intensify (your mild annoyance will become resentment, his passive inaction will become entrenched behavior) but it will not ever improve. Even this early on he is not an equal partner but a passive participant, and you are the reluctant boss/leader (mom?) in the relationship (you "let him take the reins," your question is "help me motivate myself and my SO" ... you are doing the work of two already).

This is a classic case of "people tell you who they are early on, you just need to listen to what they tell you." This guy is not the person you want. Not saying there is anything wrong with him, or with you, but you want something very different from what this guy is offering.
posted by headnsouth at 5:05 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sometimes I'm afraid that we're too similar. On the one hand, this means we're very compatible and get along easily... we haven't even had a single fight yet, which is a pleasant change from my last relationship, which was quite volatile. [...] and while it's certainly not like I want a constant nag or paternal figure to keep me in line, it seems like it would be nice to have a partner who could help me become a slightly better person in some way.

I don't have much to add about your asymmetrical amounts of ambition, but I needed to point something out. This dynamic, right here, that you are worried about? This is what defines a healthy relationship. The volatility and the constant need to change the other person that (I'm guessing) defined your previous relationship is seriously toxic. I spent 6 months in a relationship doing that, and it took me a long time to figure out just how dysfunctional a rapport that is. If you want to change yourself for the better, that drive has to come from you. If it comes from your partner, you'll eventually come to see it as nagging and resent it. Similarly, if you keep leaning on your boyfriend to change his life, he's going to become unhappy.
posted by Mayor West at 5:46 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
posted by any major dude at 5:53 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's no reason at 22, and your second relationship, to think of this as a relationship you need to save "if at all possible."

If you really enjoy activities and small daily accomplishments, and your boyfriend has no other goals than to be a weed-smoking couch potato - then you two have very dissimilar interests. Disengage from this guy and move on to living your own life to your standards.
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:58 AM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


What's fine at 22 isn't so cute at 24 or 28 or 32 or 40.

You relationship works now because you don't need much. But it's already niggling at you, this isn't enough for you.

There's nothing wrong with your relationship, but that doesn't mean it's right.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:53 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's important to separate "ambition" from "motivation", and important again to separate those things out from "ability to contribute to the relationship".

I'm very much a go-getter, and have always had grand sweeping plans for my life. My partner has never cared that much in particular about his career, and despite being whip-smart and a fantastic writer, has spent a fair amount of time in a non-intellectual job that barely paid the bills. That used to freak me the fuck out, because I've always hung out with other ambitious overachievers, and I'd never even considered that I might end up with a non-ambitious person.

But my partner is ambitious--or motivated--in other ways. Like your boyfriend, he has creative pursuits outside of work that he finds engaging, and that matter a lot to him. For example, if I've had a fabulously productive day at work, that is a total win for me. But for him, it doesn't really matter what he's done at work, as long as he worked on Personal Project X that day he can go to sleep happy. We're different in what we're ambitious about, but that doesn't mean he's not very motivated about the things that he does care about.

Also, some of my initial concerns about career ambitions were rather shallow, because whether I wanted to admit it or not, I cared about the social status that a good job infers on you. And I can't shake all of those concerns, because I come from a very careerist family/upbringing, but I can recognize that this is much more about my own baggage than any inherent compatibility between my partner and I. My partner and your boyfriend's desires to be creative outside of work in certain ways are just as important and valid as your and my career ambitions. That takes a while to really internalize, but I do believe that it's true.

That said, there is also a certain level of pragmatism involved in my concerns about my career. I would eventually like my quality of life to continue to improve, and because I'm a hedonistic gadget-geek who wants to live in a big city, that means that at some point I (we?) will need to be earning more than I am now. And that's something where we've just sat down and discussed, and I explained that while I didn't care whether he made less than me or decided on a career track at all, I did see myself in a certain milieu in X years, and that he should know that that's what I'm working towards and that I would love it if he could join me on that venture and support my ambitions. And he is 100% okay with that, and thus so am I.

Funnily enough, my partner and I have actually explicitly discussed how we tend to reinforce each others' bad habits. I feel like those things are best dealt with on a tactical level, rather than in the context of some unified theory of How Relationships Work. What I mean is: neither of us care much if there are dishes in the sink, but they tend to pile up, so we just work out a schedule (tactics) for how those dishes get dealt with. We both have tendencies to spend an entire Saturday in bed browsing the internet, so Friday night before we go to bed we'll discuss what we want to accomplish over the weekend, and remind each other of that the next day. You can't ask your boyfriend to feel guilty about not going to the gym (I don't, for example), but you can ask him to help support you in your own efforts to improve, like by reminding you to go to the gym, or helping you wake up early in the morning.

Best of luck. It's not a failure to leave a relationship that isn't working out, even if the reason it isn't working out is as simple is "I'm not feeling it". But that doesn't mean a relationship like yours can't work out.
posted by Phire at 8:38 AM on December 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


I have dated this man as well (not literally).

I was very much in love with him. He had a stellar sense of humor. We had great chemistry and I was physically attracted to him. We had fun together and I learned to enjoy different shows and movies than I would on my own, as I'm not a tv watcher.

But exercise is very important to me, and something he was not interested in at all. Nor was cooking or eating particularly healthy. We had lifestyle differences, but all along I thought to myself, "if he does this or changes that, THEN he will be perfect."

Don't do that. Everyone has annoying habits, yes, but if that little inner voice keeps nagging at you that something isn't right, listen to it.

You can start by making suggestions for other activities like hikes, museums, street festivals, day trips.

I do believe people can change, but don't count on it.
posted by thank you silence at 9:47 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I consider myself to be fairly ambitious, and recent conversations with him have made me realize that he'd be perfectly content to work the same menial job for the rest of his life and augment his free time with video games, TV, weed, and booze.

Like others above, I've dated this guy. If he's 26 already, this is probably just the way it's going to be--and if you're anything like me, it will drive you totally batshit over time. Try to motivate him but in my experience this is unlikely to change, and you'll just feel crazy stifled because you'll want to go out and live your life and instead you keep napping and waiting around for him every time he needs to smoke pot because he can't handle social interaction sober (me, projecting? no way).

I'm in my early 20s too so I'm not romantically experienced enough to be sure that ambition mismatches are always impossible to navigate--but for me personally I've realized this is a total dealbreaker and just leads to me feeling frustrated and suffocated. The weed and booze thing, in particular, is an issue. If he's actually moderate and casual about his usage, that is fine, but it is definitely an ambition-killer (the weed especially, good lord) and if you're not at his level with substances it will get on your nerves sooner rather than later. Six months is a better time to figure this out than years later when you can't remember the last time you had any actual fun, trust me.
posted by Papagayo at 11:35 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


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