Money for nothing and your chicks for free?
August 4, 2009 1:40 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend of almost seven years is a "starving artist". I love him and I love being with him.But seriously, can I expect this to ever change?

He is almost 30 now. I am almost 28. We have been together throughout our twenties, and honestly, we have solid relationship. We've been through hell and back around a lot of stuff and stuck it through. He's been there for me through a long of bad times.

But, the money part. I'm growing up. I know money can't buy you love, but I also know, as Don Henley says, Sometimes love just ain't enough. I want babies. I want security. I don't need this today, but I'm getting nervous. I love being with someone artistic, creative, and someone emotionally grounded. But I loan him money all the time. He pays me back when he can, and usually does, but sometimes not. It works, I'm generous, but I'm not a bank. And I don't want to always be the breadwinner. My family has more resources than his, but I don't have a trust fund and I'm not wealthy. His family does not have much money, but they give it freely when they do have it (Different concepts and expectations around money).

I'm confused I guess. Maybe it doesn't really matter, the money part. But maybe it does? He is seriously an amazing songwriter, visual artist, and totally crafty. He has building and amazing people skills. But he is just always broke!!! He can not budget, loves spending money when he has it (and on me sometimes) and then looks bewildered or even angry when I remind him that the first of the month is in two days. He's in debt, I'm not. I have savings, he doesn't. It's one of the reasons I don't want to get married, actually, is because I'm worried I'll always be picking up the financial slack.

How do other people, especially women, deal with their creative type boyfriends? Do they ever change? Or is this the deal?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're conflating two issues: 1. Your boyfriend's an artist. 2. He's bad with money. These two things are separate.

You can easily sit your boyfriend down and talk about budgeting and debt repayment and such. You can set firmer boundaries about lending him money and about splitting shared costs.

What you cannot do is demand that he give up his passions (at which he also, by your own account, excels) and get a desk job so that you can feel more comfortable popping out babies.

Is this the deal? Yes, in that he will always be an artist and may never be interested in the "security" you crave. No, in that he shouldn't be spending your money to finance his whims, and that is definitely something you two, as a successful committed couple, should be able to work out.
posted by philotes at 1:48 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Have you expressly stated, "you know, one of the reasons I don't want to get married just right now is because I'm concerned I'll end up always getting stuck picking up the financial slack"?

This actually may be a decent wake-up call statement for him. Because you are not saying you don't want to get married ever, but you are letting him know that a behaviour he does is causing you some serious concern.

And the behavior I'm talking about isn't his creativity, it's his budgeting. The two are actually two separate things -- it's just as possible to be a banker and be clueless with money, and it's also just as possible to be an artist and be responsible with money (points to self). And I think that it may be good to be VERY, VERY CLEAR about the distinction there -- if there is ANY hint in your conversations with him that you want him to give up his art for the sake of money, that will probably get you a lot of resistance. But in truth, it sounds more like you just want him to be more responsible with WHATEVER money he gets, and that's something that EVERYONE needs to learn.

Another thing is that your helping him isn't teaching him to be self-sufficient -- it's just teaching him that you are his ATM. You're hoping he stops relying on you, but not giving him reason to do so.

Your problem is not that your boyfriend is creative, your problem is that he is clueless about his own money, and you've been letting him get away with that. It is possible to tell him that this is the way of things without getting angry, though -- and flat-out saying, "look, this is one of the reasons I don't want to get married right now" is a good way to do just that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:48 PM on August 4, 2009 [10 favorites]

Maybe it doesn't really matter, the money part. But maybe it does?

It matters if you want babies and security. I'm not trying to be snarky, it's just true. Sure, plenty of low-income people have kids, and people who are irresponsible with their money can have long, even happy lives. But it sounds like the life of a starving artist is going to stress you out in the long run, particularly once you add babies and retirement dreams to the equation. You specifically say you don't want to pick up the financial slack. This may not be a deal-breaker for falling in love, but it sounds like a deal-breaker for marriage. If, after nearly a decade of knowing that it stresses you out, your boyfriend is still (mis)managing his money, I wouldn't hold your breath for this to change. It doesn't make him a bad person. But it might make him a bad husband for you.

(I've watched a few friends go through relationships with guys who use their "artist" identity as an excuse to act like kids when it comes to money, etc. They either learned to live with the dreamy, distracted approach to money and other practical things, or they got fed up and left. I haven't seen such a guy change, though I suppose it's possible--and to be fair, the people I'm thinking of never got to the marriage discussion phase of the relationship.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:54 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

My girlfriend of four years left me for the same reasons. My salary as a social worker will basically be for all time pegged to the bottom of the income range for professionals and the freelance writing I do doesn't provide much more. I would like to think that at some point I'll just be writing and making enough to support a family on that, but who knows if and when that will happen. It definitely hurt, but it's cool. I understand, and think she did the right thing. There's no hard feelings. It actually relieved a huge load of pressure that I didn't even know was weighing on me for a long time.
posted by The Straightener at 2:01 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

He can still be an artist and work a regular non artsy job. The two are not mutually exclusive. I have done it for years, and have never felt that my creativity was stifled by working a 9-5. It doesn't have to be that way, but that is certainly an option.

Alternatively, have you talked to him about this? A conversation about your future, and the need to budget for a family, as well as the need to be financially secure, is a very important thing. Give him a wakeup call. You want to have a family, and want to get going in that direction soon. If he doesn't have the same priorities, than you should find a new man, because if he is not willing to work towards this now, how good of a parent and husband do you think he is going to be in the future, when life is filled with 10 times as much stress?
posted by markblasco at 2:14 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

You can be an artist and not be an idiot with money. Just because you are creative is no excuse for being irresponsible. If he has not figured out how to manage the basics of money, like the rent or food, it is not going to change.

As mentioned above, separate out the art from the behavior of money management. They are two different skill sets. Having kids, retirement and insurance is no joke financially. If you are freaking out about money now, just throw in the thought of having kids who need things like food or health care to give you more stress.

Explain the stress is money management NOT the art. See what he does. If he continues to give you stress then you know where you stand.
posted by jadepearl at 2:18 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

As other have said above, I would focus on proper money management with him, and not make an issue of his being an artist. The negative impact of his lower income is felt mostly because he doesn't handle money well. Since you seem to appreciate his artistic talents and endeavors, if you can help him organize his finances, then I think this can be worked out.

It doesn't sound like you have expectations of a high income lifestyle, and you just want to be comfortable. If that's the case, as long as he begins to take responsibility for his finances, then I think you can solve this together. On the other hand, if you are not okay with a settling for more modest circumstances than if you were making the same income, then you may need to think about moving on (and this doesn't make you a bad person, you just have different priorities than your partner). Also, if you don't want to be the primary breadwinner, even if he is managing his money properly, then this probably is an irreconcilable difference. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 2:19 PM on August 4, 2009

The man's gotta be willing to make some changes in his life - which is also your life if you two are living together and plan to continue - but those changes are TOTALLY possible and don't have to put a damper on his creative spirit. If he's not willing, then you've got to start considering your future with this guy. But if he is... fantastic.

1) He needs help with money management. Does he even track his spending? Finance software is kind of a bear if you're not used to it, but sometimes it just helps to write down and add up what you spent every day. Food diaries are an excellent aid to to dieters. Money diaries are the same for those who are bad with cash. People who are bad with money and also say they have a mental idea of what they spend are obviously fooling themselves.

2) A job! Any job! If it utilized some of his creative skills, even better. But really. Just a job.

3) He needs to start using his people skills to help get his creative work out there so that he can make money off that too. He can totally do this while saving his pennies AND holding down a full time job. Lots of people do.

I'm an artist. I used to be bad with money. But one day I didn't have a backup support network anymore, and I learned pretty quickly that I was going to have to be dependable for *myself*. I'm hardly the world's greatest success story, but I've got some money in the bank. I've got a full time design job. My creative projects are going places. It's totally possible.
posted by katillathehun at 2:24 PM on August 4, 2009

And I don't want to always be the breadwinner.

He probably doesn't know this about you. You should
(a) make sure he knows and
(b) decide why you feel this way.
posted by monkeymadness at 2:25 PM on August 4, 2009

I married a person who was bad with money. I was always the responsible one. I paid the rent, mortgage, fuel bill when he couldn't. He did not(does not) perceive himself to be incredibly irresponsible in most ways, including finances. He borrowed money from my brother, would skip payments for 3 months, pay 1 month, and be shocked at the request for the balance. What a drag to deal with all that stress.

Maybe, maybe, if things had gone well otherwise, we could have stayed together. I needed to stop being the person who tried to get money from him, so we put all the utilities in his name. That way, if he didn't pay the electric bill, the lights went out, and I wasn't the one bitching at him. That made his rent share smaller and more manageable. He was able to get the utilities paid, because the consequences were non-negotiable and impersonal. When we had a child in day care, same thing. The poor administrator had to pry money out of him, not me.

When we got married, he had debts; I had very little debt. We were both self-employed. We found a lawyer/therapist who talked to us about the legal and financial structure of marriage, and wrote up a pre-nuptual agreement. We made full financial disclosure of debts and assets. The agreement stated that each of us owned our businesses without interference. The agreement would expire after 5 years. Time passed. I sold my business and rolled the $ into a house. We wrote up a simple document stating that the down payment came from my business, and that if we ever split up, that would be taken into consideration. When we did eventually divorce, that document allowed me to keep the house, and my original equity. He kept his business intact.

If your beau is willing to let you manage the financial affairs, recognizing that financial stability is a worthwhile goal, and that you are better at it, then you might be able to be together, and not feel so at risk. If he's good to you, and would be a good dad, or meets your other life goals, it can work. Money really isn't everything. If he's just irresponsible, just be sure you're okay with being the responsible one. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 2:28 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you need to have a talk with him about babies, security, and your vision for him as an eventual breadwinner. Your love for each other (and your current way of being together) may not depend that much on money, but money figures prominently into the life you're envisioning. If you do indeed share the same priorities, then it makes sense to discuss how you're going to finance them. But find out first. As for me, 25 years ago I heavily leaned on my then-artist boyfriend to change his ways and "grow up" for the sake of our marriage and family-to-be. I was "successful," if you will. But ultimately, I don't think it was kind.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:30 PM on August 4, 2009

And I don't want to always be the breadwinner

Tell him this - I'm not sure why you believe you have a choice though.
posted by fistynuts at 2:39 PM on August 4, 2009

It's not at all clear whether your boyfriend has a job that pays him on a regular basis. If he's been getting by thanks to the kindness of strangers (and family, and you) in pursuit of his art, maybe it's time that changed. People definitely tend to have a different perspective about how they spend the money they have to earn, versus the money that gets handed to them.

If he DOES have a job (or a regular gig, or anything at all that can be counted on for income that isn't a handout), then you might try a trial run of being your household's CFO for a while. He hands over his earnings; you mix in yours to pay the household expenses, give half of what is left over of his share back to him to spend as he pleases, and force him to save what is left.

It could be he's never had enough money to call his own that he has never developed responsible spending and saving habits. When it's always feast or famine, there never seems to be much of a point. He needs a teacher (you!).
posted by contessa at 2:59 PM on August 4, 2009

In many cultures, it's typical for the woman to manage the household budget -- Japan for example. Guatemala, for another. Those models might be more applicable to your household than the usual USA models.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 3:08 PM on August 4, 2009

It matters if you want babies and security.

It matters if you want babies and security and don't want to be the breadwinner.

Unfortunately, OP, you seem to have backed yourself into a corner. If you don't want to be the breadwinner, and don't want a partner who can't support the lifestyle you want, you've got a bit of a problem, because you're on a hiding to nothing expecting your partner to suddenly move into providing for a family.
posted by rodgerd at 3:09 PM on August 4, 2009

If his family is lackadaisical about money, then chances are that he does not perceive a problem at all, and is confused when you raise a fuss. This fundamental attitude will never change.

You two have been together longer than me and my husband, and we consider the money we make "ours." There is no such thing as me loaning him money. There is no such thing as "generosity." I'm more financially... um... aware, so I pay the vast majority of the bills (thanks, online bill pay!). It is 100% likely that you will have to do this if you marry him. In fact, since you live together, you're better off just doing it now. My stress level dropped tremendously after I accepted that I was going to have to be responsible for the budgeting, because that ended any fighting. It's almost certain that your boyfriend is primarily responsible for some other aspect of the relationship, even if it's "creating fun and adventure." If you really love him, drop the "but he should..." If you can't drop it, then he's not the man for you.
posted by desjardins at 3:09 PM on August 4, 2009

Nth-ing the idea that it's not his income (or his art-making smallness of income) that's a problem, but what he does with it.

I married an artist because he had more control over his finances ($25k in, $N unavoidable expenses, $25k-N rolled back into business supplies as available) than previous boyfriends who earned twice that much and spent more than twice that much. Ability to balance a checkbook is sexy. After a few life lessons from ex boyfriends, inability to manage a personal budget is a solid relationship no-go for me.

My husband's business is supporting itself, but he's not contributing to the mortgage or the utilities or the groceries; the idea was that I'd support the household and when his business has good years, we'd have extra money for special needs (a bathroom renovation, international travel, a car upgrade) that we'd otherwise be saving for very slowly. This is year 3, and this year's economy means this is not one of those "good years". In fact, he's looking at a large business expense coming up, and we're talking about taking it out of household savings instead of his getting a bank loan. Some days I am resentful. Sometimes this is triggered by things like him buying me flowers for my birthday and while I appreciate the gesture, it's not really worth the $50 that I see on the debit card next time I do the books. Sometimes the idea that I am the breadwinner doesn't sit that well with me, but that's a hazard of the modern era. I think it was in this book that the author was discussing how our societal edging towards gender equality has left some weird situations: the phase I'm thinking of was something like "little boys are told that one day they'll grow up and get a great job and support a family, and little girls are told that when they grow up they can get any job they want, and a woman is fully capable of supporting herself." It was never even suggested to me in my college years that maybe the money I earn wouldn't be my own. I have days that I am not at all okay with that, but I'm working on it.

In short, I sympathize with your fear that your earnings won't be spent the way you want them to be. I do recommend the book Flux. What I've siad so far is addressing the problem that you'd have if you had great communications with your boyfriend and he was good at managing money, just didn't have much income. Your most immediate problem is that your boyfriend needs an accounting lesson, both technique and importance. Check out a few financial blogs and see if you find one you think he'd like.
posted by aimedwander at 3:12 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Have you talked to him at all about this? As in, an honest heart to heart? That is, of course, step number one.

I'm an artist. I'm also bad with money. I'll admit it. My partner, however, is extremely skilled at budgeting and keeping his personal finances in order. He's helped me a ton by being supportive (he gets thrilled if I even manage to put $20 in my savings) and leading by example. It's a HUGE issue for him, that he doesn't want to get into a position where he gets inadvertently saddled with my debt - and yes, he's loaned me more money than I probably deserve.

But I'm getting better. I'm not all the way there yet, I still have some credit card debt to pay off, and my savings isn't anything to write home about, but I'm building up the good habits and really working hard to change.

So, yes, it is possible to change, but only if you talk to him about it. And be supportive. ANY effort that he makes, find a way to be positive about it. Positive re-inforcement works better for everyone in terms of behavior training - dogs, kids, adults - everyone. Try to put your requests into positive terms, if you can, tell him what you would like him to do rather than what you DON'T want him to do.

This can be a really big hurdle to overcome if you haven't talked about this at all in seven years, but just start talking about it. Tell him that you'd like him to start saving for your shared future. Tell him it's important to you that he pays back his debts. Be kind about it, don't act like you're angry or disappointed in him. It worked on me.

(Oh and PS: If he doesn't have a day job, he needs one. I'm an artist, but I also work 9-5 like the rest of the adult world.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:13 PM on August 4, 2009

I finally broke up with my college boyfriend for exactly this reason. I was terrified of having kids with him. I had a repeating nightmare of being eight months pregnant and finding out that he'd emptied the bank accounts to buy computer games. I finally admitted I couldn't depend on him and therefore couldn't stay with him long term. I felt horrible for making such a decision, but at the same time, a weight was lifted off me.

Being creative and able to manage money are not mutually exclusive. What you're asking for doesn't sound unrealistic, but he may not be willing or able to change. You need to have some really deep, honest conversations with him--several, most likely--before making up your mind. But yet, I agree that this can be a dealbreaker. I hope it doesn't come to that for you, but it's really up to him to change.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:15 PM on August 4, 2009

Why not frame things this way:

Hey, there's a fabulous new creative skill I'd love to see you learn... it's called money management. Actually, we should explore this fabulous new art together...
posted by darth_tedious at 3:22 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hmmm.. I just realized that Ms. TAL managed the budget in her former marriage, so I guess the model of the woman managing the budget (all monies first go to the wife, who then budgets accordingly, giving the husband an allowance) is also one of the "usual USA models"..
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 3:22 PM on August 4, 2009

I agree that you need to separate the creativity from the money management and to talk to your boyfriend about how you'd like the money part of your relationship to change. This could be challenging since you've been lending him money. But if you don't do something clear and firm, and stick to it, you *will* be picking up the financial slack.

I used to be the responsible one, and it gets old fast. My less responsible ex-boyfriends didn't change, which is a big reason why they're my exes, but that doesn't mean yours won't change.

I used to "deal" with it by telling myself that they're creative, and that by supporting them I'm doing good in the world, until I realized that *I* was creative, too, and I managed to support myself. Their problem was irresponsibility, not creativity.
posted by PatoPata at 3:37 PM on August 4, 2009

I wish I could give you an optimistic answer, but as I still haven't found a way to change people who don't want to be changed, I don't think I can.

Money doesn't buy love, but it does buy security, and yeah yeah love is supposed to conquer all but it really...doesn't make an insecure person feel more secure (not implying that you are insecure, just financially). I think you're going to have to sit down with your boyfriend and explain that while everything is going great, it really could be more great. Your boyfriend has a romantic streak. Money isn't about romance. It's not about mercenary, shallow, rich people who only care about the size of each other's wallets either (I'm wondering if this is how he sees it through his idealistic haze). It's about necessity and survival. Maybe you could get him to understand that.*

Also, as far as the word "breadwinner" is concerned, I don't think the OP expects him to be the breadwinner and I don't think she's "hiding" behind him. I think she would just like to him to live up to the financial responsibility that's part of being in an equal partnership, instead of someone who's starting to drain her financial resources (and is kind of starting to tax her sanity).

They would both be putting the bread on the table.

* You could also, as a joke, show him this. Hee hee hoo. Seriously though, the whole idea of airy, flighty, "artsy" bohemians living in a hovel is just overplayed. Like, 50 years ago. Money doesn't determine your integrity as an artist. The quality of your ideas and your work do.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 4:03 PM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

You are conflating two issues: having money and managing it responsibly.

So, my bf is not by any stretch wealthy. He makes less than me. However, he also manages his own finances very carefully (more carefully than I do mine), and so I know if I am ever to lend him money (which I did once), I will get it back.

I would suggest that you talk to your bf about it in those terms - either he needs to be responsible enough about his money (most likely by spending less and saving more) that you can trust him to pay you back, or you will not lend him money. He may surprise you by making more of an effort.

I know, in my relationship, I will likely always earn more, and will thus be the "breadwinner" if we ever have kids, but it doesn't bother me, because I can trust him to work wisely with the money we do have - I don't have to stress about him going into debt or wasting money.
posted by mai at 4:27 PM on August 4, 2009

Oh, and I should add that financial responsibility can to some extent be learned - I am just figuring it out now.
posted by mai at 4:28 PM on August 4, 2009

As people have said above, this is two separate issues. I relate to just about every sentence you wrote. My bf is a starving chef. If that last sentence doesn't show the separateness of issues, I don't know what does. Basically I think it comes down to whether or not you think you can rely on this person. What if something happens to you or your financial stability? Will you both be able to cope? Also, your life goals (some of them it seems you stated above)...are they in the same general direction of his life goals? Are you both working towards them? And how big is his debt? Is it getting smaller or bigger? These are all things to think about; 'money' is just the shorthand lexical term for your worries about the answers to those questions.

Also, if you're not happy right now, and your future happiness is conditional on major life changes on his part, then you have to wait, or change what makes you happy. I wish you the best of luck here. I really, really do.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:42 PM on August 4, 2009

It matters if you want babies and security and don't want to be the breadwinner.

Well, even if you want to be the breadwinner, irresponsible spending would present a problem. peanut_mcgillicuty's bad dream actually came true for a friend of mine, who found when she was four months pregnant that her husband had drained all their combined earnings, over the past several years, to buy stuff for his photography hobby. She wasn't sophisticated enough to know what the stuff cost as it was purchased, and they were not only without savings but $30,000 in debt -- after they'd been married 7 years and both working the whole time, supposedly saving for a house. They're divorced now, and she's broke -- nothing to show for 7 years of working and living frugally, on her own part. It is definitely something you need to get a handle on.

But yes, the "artist" thing is an unnecessary distraction.
posted by palliser at 4:45 PM on August 4, 2009

Honestly, this relationship might not work out. Unless you are willing to be 100% in charge of the money, because odds are he's not going to change on that score. Because if you marry him, it will be your problem, and he will be forever screwing the mutual finances unless you take care of everything. Let's just say I was there and nearly did that, and am glad every day I did not.

As for being an artist, well, odds are even if he was good with money he probably won't be the breadwinner because his skills just aren't going to be worth much money and if he sticks with being an artist, he won't be Mr. Dependable Health Insurance Guy.

Honestly, I'd just say to have babies with someone else.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:52 PM on August 4, 2009

Okay, bottom line here - in a given year, in a given five years, how much money actually runs through his hands as a result of his creativity?

If managed competantly, would it be enough for you and proposed family to survive on comfortably? Your hard headed need of security comfort, I mean, not his The Lord Will Provide comfort.

If yes, then you might, might, be able to arrange a division of labor, him creating, you husbanding. Oh, and you legaling. Never sell copy right, for example.

If no, if his creativity annually brings in hundreds, not thousands, much less tens of thousands, and the prospects of a reasonable pay day down the line are slim, then you have a very legitimate concern.

Seriously, we're talking a thirty year old man here. Does there appear to be any hope that this is going to extend beyond, frankly, a hobby? Any serious traction at all on the business front? If not, why not? Does he need a better agent, manager? Does he even have an agent or manager? If not, why not? Is he hustling the work? If not, why not? Thirty years old....

(Not too thrilled with his not always paying you back. No, not too thrilled with that at all.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:15 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

But yes, the "artist" thing is an unnecessary distraction.

I disagree, and I'm not sure why everyone is rushing to make this not an issue. If he has no interest in pursuing commercial arts endeavors than you are talking about someone who is basically committing to a life of poverty. Even the best money management skills aren't terribly useful if there's no income. The ramifications of this for a new family are daunting, and I don't think minimizing the OP's totally rational fear is helpful. If the OP wants to raise the family and not work for any amount of time then she's looking at constantly being on the brink of bankruptcy, maybe having to access public resources for extra food money and health care. If she does work, their combined income won't be enough for the family to travel, to ever have a new car, to ever have nice anything.

The same way other people, especially men, deal with their home-body type girlfriends that want to have babies and don't want to work.

Except you don't want to be the breadwinner. Sounds like you need to find one of those men I mentioned.

That's not fair and totally unnecessary.
posted by The Straightener at 5:16 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Put less nicely - I see what's in this relationship for him - what's in it for you?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:17 PM on August 4, 2009

It doesn't sound like he's felt any incentive to monetize his artistic skills; I know a lot of artists, and most support themselves by doing commercial artistic work to support their creative projects. His being an artist is no excuse to not contribute financially to your household. He's a good musician? session work, music for commercials... there must be agencies that find the equivalent of temp work for musicians. Or writing music for same. Graphic artist? Lots of temp work there, doing web graphics for companies, commercial work (even for small local businesses in trade if he must)...

You might consider a fairly harsh route: make him live on his own for a year, paying his own rent and bills, before you'll marry him. He can do it as an artist, or by flipping burgers, but he has to be willing to sully his artistic purity or you'll end up resenting his unwillingness to help support your household and, in essence, saying that he values his art over you.

baseline: most of the artists I know still manage to be artists at the age of 30 because they figured out how to pay the rent. You've helped him avoid that life lesson, and he has to learn it. Now.
posted by Billegible at 5:39 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

How do other people, especially women, deal with their creative type boyfriends? Do they ever change?

They can, if (a) they learn not to see the means of making money (i.e., having a job) as The Evil, and (b) they experience the majesty of actually having some fucking money. By which I mean to say: Not enough money to buy a boat, not enough money to buy a mansion, but just enough money that not thinking about money is something they can do practically. By which I mean to say: You can pay a bill and not sweat it. You can pay all your bills and not sweat it, and also eat, and also have new clothes and a place to live. I'm here to tell you that when you have money, you may not even want love. Because having money is the most awesome thing going. Again, not extravagant, stupid, buying-shit-with-a-credit-card-that-you-can't-possibly-afford-and-oh-yeah-his-and-her-matching-Hummers. That's just another species of what's afflicting your guy right now. I'm just talking about security. You want that. He has that, because of you. He doesn't think about money because you have it; you think about money all the time because he doesn't. I would advise you explain to him that you are scared as hell because you want to be with him but you don't want to live hand to mouth. If that doesn't work, I would advise you explain to him that you are mad as hell because you want to be with him but he isn't handling his side of making that happen. Because, look, I'm sorry, but money is what makes it all happen. It isn't good or bad, it just is.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:51 PM on August 4, 2009 [7 favorites]

Are you dating my brother? If so, Hi there! He's a great guy, he's always there for you, and the artist thing is charming and attractive, but he's still a loser. His lack of money and his debt will not get any better as long as you keep propping him up. In fact, it may get worse; and if you love him enough to stay with him, he just might drag you down with him. Sorry, but I know my brother pretty well, and this is just the way things are.

He is a great guy. You love him. He loves you too. But, to be trite, love don't pay the bills. And, while it is vital in raising your future children, love does not buy diapers, shoes, health insurance, Christmas toys, summer camp, and it does not put money under the pillow after one loses a tooth.

I wish there was a solution. I wish there was a way that he would shape up. But as long as you've been working on him, so have I. I've known him for 28 years, and he's been a loser for a good 10 of them. He's always been kind of a bum, and kind of a mooch - but the honorable kind that actually pays you back every so often.

You love him. I love him. But he isn't going to change if things keep on going the way they do; and they look to keep going this way into the indeterminate future. You're still young enough to move on and to find a guy that can give you everything you deserve. Don't get me wrong, I think you're great - and really, if I thought it could work out between you two, I'd totally be behind you 100%. I really wish he was what you deserve, without the debt, and without the bad money skills; and with the financial security that you both need. But he's not. I'm sorry.

But if you're not dating my brother, feel free to disregard all of this.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:00 PM on August 4, 2009 [11 favorites]

Yeah, I have to echo the Straightener, I am baffled by all the people who say, "My artist boyfriend makes only $150 a month but he is really good at managing it, so everything is grand!

Get real, people. The boyfriend is nearly thirty. Yes, there's a one in a million chance that he will start rolling in dough in the next few years, but I think his choice of a profession is a big part of the problem.

Give him a year to start bringing in serious money, then dump his untalented ass.
posted by jayder at 6:38 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

kittens for breakfast: He doesn't think about money because you have it; you think about money all the time because he doesn't.

That struck such a chord with me; does it strike one with you, OP? If it does, then you need to have a conversation with your boyfriend where you frame this as what it is: not his problem with money, but BOTH OF YOUR problem. And the problem isn't just about money, it's also about trust (will he pay you back, will he pay his bills, can you depend on him?). It's about feeling safe. It's about your hypothetical family, and your future. How is all of this stuff going to work? You have a right (and a responsibility to yourself) to be questioning that.

You are worried. If he isn't worried, too, then I think you have a problem. He doesn't necessarily have to be worried about money the same way I would (and maybe you would); I know that some people don't quite work that way. But if you're going to be together long-term, if you're going to raise a family with him, then he should care about your happiness. If the two of you can't work together to create a situation in which you both feel happy and valued and secure, then that's your problem, not exactly the actual money.
posted by emumimic at 7:06 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Chosen profession in re financial status always matters, though indirectly. You don't mention how he's trying to make money, but artists certainly have specific professional avenues in which they can earn a decent living--marketing, graphic design, etc. If he has no interest in those things, then the pickings are slim unless he's "discovered," and this never happens to normal people. So assume it never will.

For the average family in the States, the single-breadwinner-scenario doesn't guarantee stability at all in this day and age unless one has a very solid job, especially if said family wants to have kids. But even then, a single medical emergency can instantly send a middle-class working family with health insurance into bankrupcy, so... oops, tangent.

You need to consider whether to stop the relationship now (never, every try to "change" the other partner) or bear with the very likely scenario of having an unhappy marriage leading into divorce, if you really want to stick it out with him. What's one of the top reasons for divorce? That's right: money. It's not a romantic thing, but an extremely pragmatic reason if you want to give your kids to have rounded meals and other opportunities and safeguards.

I see no point in dragging the situation out. You need to sit down and have a serious talk with him. If he's truly vested in this relationship, then he will seek to change himself since at 30, he's clearly a failure at understanding finances; but this is rare, even in the face of "love." When partners simply aren't looking for the same things in life concerning familial living conditions--when they don't value the same things at equal weight, including what's important to the other person--that's a big-ass red flag. Yes, you have a specific emotional investment in this guy, but that shouldn't stand in the way of an informed decision with your future on the line, especially if you're concerned about your biological clock.
posted by Ky at 8:09 PM on August 4, 2009

"if you want to give your kids to have rounded meals" geh, edit edit...
posted by Ky at 8:11 PM on August 4, 2009

I'll echo the "artist is a distraction" people, with this: does he have a regular job, and can he hold down a job? Some people don't really like working full time. They are *special* and think it's a drag wasting their time working for money they (think) they don't really need. But, what they don't realize, is that it's hard work being poor. Much harder than working full time.

So, I'd suggest looking at it from two different perspectives. (Or two different causes?) If he works and brings in money, but just doesn't really care about money and is wasteful/stupid with it, that's probably workable. He can learn responsibility and money management, or he can cede financial authority to you and you'll make it work. He can have an allowance to blow on stuff he likes to blow money on. But if he's a delicate genius who is above working because it stifles him, watch out. My experience with those types is that they will not change. They'll do the absolute minimum to keep you off their backs, and sit on the couch strumming the same 8 bars of a Led Zeppelin song forever.
posted by gjc at 8:20 PM on August 4, 2009

Talking to him just like everyone suggested is obviously the right thing to do. And just like a lot of people pointed out he probably will not change much if he's 30. He probably won't get a higher paying job, however becoming more responsible with the money he does have is an important thing for him to do.

I'd stop loaning him money and give him a period of time to see if he'd get better with his budgeting. And then think about this... would you be able to afford babies on your salary and his small salary? If he does get better at budgeting and not wasting money on things he doesn't need, then when you two get married your money will be essentially both of your money. If you can raise babies on that then it might be OK. You don't have to think of yourself as the breadwinner. Does his creative/crafty job allow him to stay home with the kids or be flexible with picking them up from school? That would save money on babysitters and day care, so even if you two have less $$ you might need less. If you worked harder and longer hours than him would he do the food shopping and take them to soccer practice and mow the lawn and still put in 50% of the work into the marriage and family? Or would he sit at home and not do anything and wait to be "inspired" to work on his art? Do you want to have children with HIM? As in, do you want his genes in your kids?

Talk to him about all that, figure out if the above scenarios would work for you, whether you want to marry him and have kids just because you've been together for so long, or whether you want HIM to be the father of your kids. And if it's something you want then give him concrete advice on how to be more financially responsible and give him a few months to see if he improves. Not making a lot of money can be OK, but wasting it all or using your SO's money because you can and it's easier than making your own is not.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:39 PM on August 4, 2009

Also, examine why you don't want to be the breadwinner. Is it because you expect that you'll also be taking care of the babies?

Because if you felt comfortable with him taking care of the babies, then you might find it tenable to be the sole breadwinner, assuming he can stop spending money he doesn't have.

Lots of successful guys have wives who don't make money, per se, but take care of the kids and the house and take the kids to school and make it possible for the guys to focus on success. Is your guy willing to switch gender roles and be a homemaker for you, in addition to making Art?
posted by musofire at 8:51 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

If it matters to you, it matters for the relationship.

Anecdotes ahoy: my own boyfriend is also a creative type (like myself) and also constantly broke. For the most part I don't give a shit because I don't want kids, and "security" to me means always finding a way to make rent, not savings accounts and mortgages and a day job. Money doesn't mean much to me except in the capacity of ensuring that my basic needs are met (shelter, food); but then, I grew up decidedly "lower class", so I guess my values and expectations re: money and social status are, well, lower-class. It's not that I think money is evil, I just don't think it's super-necessary to live what I consider to be a good life.

That said, even without financial differences like you and your boyfriend have, I find it can be difficult for my boyfriend and I to not slip into occasional "lady = responsible, man = dependent" roles. In part it's largely due to our upbringings - I was raised by a single mom who taught me that independence was next to godliness, and he was raised by parents who kind of undermined his independence for much of his childhood - and probably a bit to do with socially-conditioned gender roles and all that crap, but that's beside the point. This kind of frustration, I can totally understand; when one is in a romantic relationship, what one needs generally is a partner, not someone to look after and be responsible for, financially or otherwise.

To that end, I definitely agree with the folks saying you should talk to him about this, and present your concerns as clearly as you have here. I'd perhaps add not focusing so much on the money itself (as that may have little meaning to him in and of itself) and more on what the problem is symptomatic of; his lack of a commitment to your needs and desires for your collective future and his expectation that someone else (AKA, the woman in his life, AKA, you) will take care of things he can't handle for him.

If he understands and shares your desires for said mutual future, then I think it's possible to work together towards him being better with money. If not, well, that's a pretty serious disconnect. Whether or not it's an immediate relationship-breaking one is up to you, but you seem really clear about what you want, and it wouldn't be right to compromise that in order to take care of your boyfriend some more, would it?
posted by ellehumour at 11:05 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

If he hasn't changed in the past 7 years, why would he change now? Being an artist and being irresponsible with money are completely unrelated. I, for one, have no artistic abilities at all.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:42 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some close friends of mine just divorced over basically exactly this issue. (There are some differences -- in this case it's not even that he's irresponsible about money, just that opportunities for an artist to earn it don't exactly abound around here.)

He's not in the wrong. He never misled her about who he was or what he would be doing with his life. She's not in the wrong. It's reasonable to want more financial stability and to not want to live in a house with a leaky roof. They both love each other very much. But their desired lifestyles are just incompatible. And they are now divorced.

Your boyfriend might change. But don't go into marriage hoping for it or expecting it.
posted by ook at 6:51 AM on August 5, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - this needs to stay on topic and within the scope of the question, thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:05 AM on August 5, 2009

I think this is just one of those basic practical matters you have to agree on in order to get married. It is a very common issue in couples. If you don't have the same conceptions about money and security, you will simply have trouble making sense of one another. The plus side for you is that he is under thirty, so this could just be "young" personality. THe minus side is that some people are honestly just starving artist types, and truly do not believe that settling down in the 'burbs is the meaning of life.

The important thing is to have the honest discussion with him. Make sure he understands what page you're on, and find out if he's willing to join you. Some people change (what is generally referred to as "growing up" by those who consider the standard model best) and some people don't. I have a friend who is getting near 40 and her boyfriend is still living on a very week-to-week style model. It drives her completely mad, even though she has no interest in having kids. She likes saving money, the idea of buying a place, planning for the long story and all that. He wants to write, work at freelance jobs, and have fun with friends. They just have different visions.

Personally, I don't see why she is so upset about his lifestyle - he has interesting friends and isn't stressed by work, etc, whereas she hates her job and never has any time for socializing... but at least she might be able to pay a mortgage instead of rent... I don't really get it. But she is very worried that he will run into a rough patch and be homeless any minute, whereas she has laid a financial foundation for herself that is much more reliable. That matters to her far more than the day to day pleasures. He would rather deal with becoming homeless, if it ever were to happen, at the time that it happened, and not take it as a lesson, but an unfortunate occurrence. She would rather prepare for the unlikely by limiting risks now. So they have constant disagreements over money and especially his choices, or her judgments of them. They have come close to breaking up what is otherwise an extremely happy relationship over this several times.

If you can't work it out now, you'll be arguing over it forever, so either he has to adopt your viewpoint and become a financially reliable person, you have to accept that he is uninterested in financial matters and lives life with different priorities, or the two of you have reconsider your partnership. If he agrees to be financially reliable, you will have to choose whether you are in charge of that or whether you expect him to learn to take care of his own financial dealings. If you agree to let him not become financially stable, you have to decide whether that means you will support him in general just because (tends to give you more power in the big decisions, if you like that), or in exchange for something (eg, he takes care of housework/ etc), or just in dire situations, or if he is still on his own, and a 'rough patch' could be an "I told you so" (a set up that would make a marriage always a bit shaky).

It's nice to have stuff to provide for your kids, but it's way more important to have parents that aren't fighting all the time. Figure this out before you go forward.
posted by mdn at 8:07 AM on August 5, 2009

If he has no interest in pursuing commercial arts endeavors than you are talking about someone who is basically committing to a life of poverty.

I disagree. As many others have stated above he could get a job that pays the bills AND use some of the other 16 hours in his day and extra 48 hours on the weekend to pursue his non paying passion. This is what any responsible person who isn't supported by his parents in a position like his does.

Like someone else said it would be great if he could find a day job that would feed into his creativity--but this is by no means essential--he doesn't need an artistic job just because he's an artist. I am an aspiring writer in a genre that I know will never be able to support a family, even if I become successful at it. So I wake up early and write for 2 hours before work (in a completely unrelated and non-creative field) most days, and twice that on Saturday and Sundays. Until I have that publishing deal inked and my book on the shelf of Barnes and Noble, I will be working in finance and not be calling myself a novelist.

I also agree a lot with what Indigo Jones has said. You have to decide if this "starving artist" MO he has going on is a temporary state on the path to better things, OR if he is permanently attracted to it, which some people are but they typically don't make good husbands or fathers. The fact that he is nearly 30 and not 23 gives me a bad feeling it might be the latter. Does he even want to "make it" as an artist? Is he up at 6 am obsessed with a new project, or does he sleep until 11 am every day? How does he spend his time at night? On work, or watching TV and drinking beers that he can't afford? It sounds like you have given him a lot of time and support and he needs to decide how much he can change, either by making a more serious go of making a career as an artist (by taking some of the steps Indigo mentioned), finding a way to produce financially for the household outside of his art, or both.
posted by the foreground at 12:51 PM on August 5, 2009

I'm going through the same thing and it has been very difficult making a decision. If you appreciate his creativity, talent and see the good in him, you are probably having a hard time coming to terms with your desire to have financial security in your life. Afterall, someone who "prioritizes money is superficicial and don't see what life is really all about, right? It's about happiness and love." That's probably what you say to yourself--it certainly is what I say to myself... However, I also tell myself that it doesn't make me a bad person for wanting those things... (Although my boyfriend tells me that I'm the kind of person who would put money and security first before love, whereas he's the kind of person that believes in love conquers all.) You are just being true to yourself. It's hard enough to work on a relationship, let alone go into it with this already being a major issue.

I'm on the verge of ending my relationship with my boyfriend, because in the end, it is me who will have to "pick up the financial slack" and be okay with it. We have been dating for two years and nothing has changed... it's gotten worse. I'm 30 and he's 33 with a daughter who he can barely provide child support for, let alone pay his half of the rent, bills, and debt. He has shown you where he stands, what he values--where do you stand? What do you value, what's your boundary? Up to what point do you say, this is my boundary and if you cross this, I'm out? I ask myself if this is really how I want to live the rest of my life? Will I regret it or blame him if things don't change? I love him, he loves me, but all the constant fighting and the stress has really taken the love out of us, anyway. Is it worth fighting/staying for?

Anyway, I wish you good luck as I know firsthand how hard it is to make a decision...
posted by mspisces at 3:54 PM on August 12, 2009

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