I don't want for it to be over, but it might be over.
May 7, 2010 10:10 PM   Subscribe

RelationshipFilter: After about a year of dating weirdos and loons, I met someone really neat. The problem: He's unemployed. Has been for a while. We've been dating for several months, and it's getting to the point at which I'm realizing that I really dig him. He seems to be pretty irresponsible, which makes me anxious. Is this relationship doomed?

Although I've been staunchly middle class most of my life, the loss of a job/start of major illness/end of a serious relationship landed me in a homeless shelter a while back. It took a lot of heavy lifting, but I've been able to bring my life back to a stable and happy place. I might, however, worry a bit more about finances than the next person.

My boyfriend...not so much. He seems oblivious to the fact that he's barely scraping by. Also, he does so with the assistance of others. He's not working and has no savings. The final straw came when he had to move recently, and didn't bother looking for his next house/apartment. His behavior seriously freaks me out.

He's weird (in a great, we're humming on the same frequency kind of way), warm, and smart. I would love to be with him, but...

Is this relationship salvageable?
posted by kittenplease to Human Relations (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Irresponsible is hard to cure...impossible for you to do, difficult for him. It's a personality flaw and if it seriously makes you feel unsafe, it's okay for part of you to want to move on.

Sure, you may care for him, there's nothing wrong with that. But how can you have a future with someone when theirs is so cloudy due to their own apathy? I understand your trepidation, especially with your history.

In "Roger & Me", the sheriff's deputy in charge of evictions said one thing that always stuck with me. In a heartbreaking scene, the deputy is talking about a woman he's been sent to evict and he remarks to the camera:

"I can't imagine marrying someone as poor as me.
I always tell women, 'You can be poor by yourself, you don't need help.'
And she just got some help being poor."
posted by inturnaround at 10:21 PM on May 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

Ask yourself how you'll feel about supporting him, because that's what's likely to end up happening if you stay together. Personally, I wouldn't want to be with such a slacker flake and would resent the crap out of him, but I'm sure there are people who wouldn't mind having a househusband type.
posted by amro at 10:25 PM on May 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Is the relationship doomed? Not necessarily. Are you going to have to redefine your conception of the relationship? Sooner than later.

Sadly, I've not known much to help that kind of guy -- what with having been/being that kind of guy -- other than a swift kick in the ass from reality. He needs to actively be looking for a job until he gets one. Landing one, we all know, is hell of hard now, but he still needs to always be looking. Otherwise he won't get a job.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't help him; he's your boyfriend, you should. You will need to draw a line w/r/t how much help you are willing to provide so as not to keep him from developing adult responsibility. Emotional support and helping him look for work? Why not. Lending him money or looking for work for him? Well, you'll need to figure out if you're willing to do that. And it is not unreasonable for you to not be.
posted by griphus at 10:32 PM on May 7, 2010

Holy shit, amro, I think you're being unreasonably harsh with "slacker flake."
posted by griphus at 10:33 PM on May 7, 2010

He seems to be pretty irresponsible, which makes me anxious. Is this relationship doomed?

posted by zippy at 10:33 PM on May 7, 2010 [9 favorites]

The final straw came when he had to move recently, and didn't bother looking for his next house/apartment. His behavior seriously freaks me out.

Yeah, there's a difference between your charming first-act-of-an-Apatow-movie slacker and a wholly unreliable person who will fuck things up. People can change, but he needs to do it himself, for himself. I would bite the bullet and tell him what's wrong, and that you can't come back until he's in a better place responsibilities-wise.

I realize that that might sound like a bit of a contradiction - he has to do it for himself, but let him know that this is a relationship-ender - but I don't think so. For one, he needs the kick in the pants. For another, if you're not in the picture, it can't be the kind of thing where he'll be only motivated externally - he'll be more responsible just to impress you or keep you around. He needs to get some internal motivation to do stuff like get a real job and be better about, say, apartment stuff.

So, yeah. I'm sorry. Leave the fun but irresponsible guy and let him sort his stuff out. Give him a call in a year to see if he's actually doing better, if you're still interested. If he's still a mess, then you know you'll have made the right decision. If he's with someone else or otherwise doesn't want to be with you, then at least you know you helped change someone's life for the better. If you've moved on yourself, then doubly great on that score.

And hey, if he's in significantly better shape, internally motivated to be a grown-up, interested, and available, and so are you, then that's your movie style ending right there.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:37 PM on May 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

The final straw came when he had to move recently, and didn't bother looking for his next house/apartment

That's the kind of shit I do when depression's kicking my ass. FWIW
posted by mollymayhem at 10:42 PM on May 7, 2010 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the feedback. I appreciate it.

I told him yesterday that we couldn't see each other until he gets a job and his life stabilizes. He works in tech, and was fairly used to jobs looking for him in the past. He goes on an interview 1-2x a week. He's a bit socially awkward, which I think torpedoes his chances.

He's said that he's depressed and has recently started seeing a therapist. He also just enrolled in school, which is great, but, we're in our 30's. I don't know if I have it in me to hang out for 4+ years waiting to see if he'll pull it together.

I accept that there's not much that I can do to help him. inturnaround's answer really struck a chord. I feel unsafe, which is uncomfortable making.

griphus, it's nice to know that people can change. I wonder, though: how long should I wait?
posted by kittenplease at 11:00 PM on May 7, 2010

I was going to ask if you've talked to him about this, but I think the boundary you've set (not seeing each other until he's more proactive with his life) is a good one. Though, since he has depression, I'm more sympathetic that these things can be more difficult than for someone who doesn't have depression. So I'm glad that he's seeing a therapist. If you don't want to wait 4+ years to see if he'll pull it together, don't. And you're right, there isn't much you can do to help him, other than be supportive about what he's doing in his life. You can't find a job, do his job, make him pay his bills, etc. for him. But you can be supportive, encouraging, believe in him. How long should you wait? For as long as you want. Which could end up being a long time. Some people think one "should" wait because it has "romantic" undertones to it, but I think it sets up an unhealthy dynamic. It sends a message to the... wait-ee that if they're x,y,z, then the wait-er will have a relationship with them. Why should someone (the wait-er) get to decide how a person (wait-ee) should be before they're in a relationship with them, and why should that person (wait-ee) accept those terms (unless they're comfortable with not being autonomous)? Just my two cents.
posted by foxjacket at 11:22 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think people are reading a whole lot into the OP's thin description. Tons of people are unemployed and have been for a while, and many people are also not financially savvy, yet functional. Nothing as written describes highly extraordinary behavior, in my opinion. The main problem seems to be the OP's (founded) anxiety over his or her homeless shelter stint. So while the anxiety is wholly legitimate, I think it might be constructive to look at it as something maybe more about you, kittenplease, than about him.
posted by threeants at 12:08 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I told him yesterday that we couldn't see each other until he gets a job and his life stabilizes.

That, to me, is an incredibly strange thing to do. At this point, you are acting more like a mother than a partner. You are in your thirties, for Christ's sake, you shouldn't have to do that. You have been dating for several months and you're already setting ultimatums, something that never has a place in a healthy relationship, much less one that is so new.

Too much drama. Neither he, nor you deserve having to deal with all that. Let it go and find someone who you don't feel compelled to change.

Also, it might be just me but I find it irritating that you are framing this in terms of "helping" him.
posted by halogen at 12:52 AM on May 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

I was nodding my head at everything until you wrote this: "He goes on an interview 1-2x a week."

Then he's not a slacker.

Not only is it exhausting to do job interviews once or twice a week, it's amazing that he's able to get that many. A couple of jobhunts ago, when I was making hundreds of applications, I was getting one or two interviews a month. This year, with the economy in the toilet, I was getting an interview every couple of months.

As for not looking for an apartment, I'm crossreferencing that with his starting therapy for depression.

Really, it sounds to me like this guy is just down on his luck. I'm very sympathetic to your anxiety as I could easily have ended up in a shelter myself if not for support from others. But I think it would be kinder of you to leave him alone, because I can't imagine that hearing ultimatums like the one you gave him is all that good for his morale, and the quality of friends he has is going to be crucial not only to his recovery but to his success at interviews. I think a major reason why I found a job so quickly this time is because I was surrounded by friends who built me up and reminded me that I was a high achiever.
posted by tel3path at 4:28 AM on May 8, 2010 [18 favorites]

From your post, I'm having a hard time figuring out details about this guy. He had to move recently but didn't bother looking for a place to live? So where did he end up? Is he homeless? If he has no income and nothing saved, how does he eat or do anything?

Some more information would help.
posted by dzaz at 4:37 AM on May 8, 2010

I was nodding my head at everything until you wrote this: "He goes on an interview 1-2x a week."

Then he's not a slacker... it's amazing that he's able to get that many...

If he really is going on this many interviews, which he may not be. I don't want to make the OP overly wary, but lying about this kind of thing -- especially if he senses that it bugs her that he's unemployed -- would be an incredibly easy and denial-y way to stave off the inevitable for another week or two.
posted by hermitosis at 6:21 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is easier to fix this now, than later. And it is very difficult to come back from resentment that has grown over several years. And while depression does sound like a component of his problem, healing that can take years.
posted by Classic Diner at 6:39 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are guys out there who are quirky, funny, warm, and smart--and who have their shit together. You don't have to pick one or the other.
posted by drlith at 7:09 AM on May 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

I agree with dzaz, it's hard to understand the situation fully from the details you've presented here. All advice must be accompanied by the caveat that we don't know this person and you do, so in the end you must rely on your own judgment.

That being said, I think you have two different issues that you're conflating. The first is that he is unemployed. The second is that you think he's irresponsible. The first one is a statement of fact, the second is your feeling/intuition; the first feels solid, the second feels intangible and arguable. So you're letting the "fact" take precedence.

But I think that's a mistake. Here's the thing. Lots and lots of people are unemployed and underemployed right now, especially if you're younger and especially if you're in a big city where the job market's saturated and especially if you're in a field related to business development, the kind of thing that gets cut when the economy's bad. Among my subset of friends and acquaintances, the vast majority are unemployed or underemployed. These are smart, talented, creative people with advanced degrees from great schools, who devote lots and lots of time to looking for jobs. There's just not enough work to go around.

So put that aside. The real question is, how do you feel and what do you think about this person? Is this someone with whom you can build a partnership? Are his valued qualities enough to support your commitment to him?

If you need something to change for the relationship to succeed, I think it's fair to say "You need to be more responsible," but only if the manifestation of that is things he can clearly control, like making a job search plan, creating a budget, setting goals to change his situation and acting on them, etc. I don't think it's fair to say "You have to have a job before we can be together." That's not something he can fully control and so it's an ultimatum that ... essentially ... comes across as shallow and money-focused, though I know that's not how you mean it at all.

In short I think you need to focus more on individual feeling and individual action, and less on circumstances, because those are red herrings to the real issue: your feelings about the relationship and his ability to take action.
posted by crackingdes at 7:39 AM on May 8, 2010

Okay, hermitosis makes a fair point. I think I was too hard on you; your intuition could be right here.

It should be easy enough to check whether he's telling the truth about those interviews. Just ask him about them before and after, in detail. If stuff doesn't really hang together he should give himself away soon enough.
posted by tel3path at 7:53 AM on May 8, 2010

I imagine in ten or twenty years this shit will be wearing pretty thin.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:31 AM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

After reading your followup, I'm more inclined to think that he probably has the potential for a fairly functional relationship with someone, but less inclined to think that someone is you. Not to judge you for it-- if you perceive his behavior as irresponsible and you're sensitive to that, and you aren't going to have the patience to see if he's really trying to improve (or if, even if he is trying, that wouldn't be enough for you unless you see certain changes actually happening relatively quickly), that's valid and it's probably best for the both of you that you're not together-- but I'm also not getting the sense from what you've written that he's a "That guy is bad news, no one should be dating him until he gets his act together" kind of person. (I don't know if you're hoping for that kind of validation, that of course you're right in breaking up with him, any reasonable person would.) In other words, it sounds to me like this probably isn't going to work, but that it's not him, it's the combination of the both of you.

(Disclaimer: Obviously the info you've provided, even in the followup, is really thin and it's hard to get a full picture of what's really going on. But this is what I'm getting from what you've given us.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:41 AM on May 8, 2010

I told him yesterday that we couldn't see each other until he gets a job and his life stabilizes. He works in tech, and was fairly used to jobs looking for him in the past. He goes on an interview 1-2x a week. He's a bit socially awkward, which I think torpedoes his chances.

I obviously don't know your boyfriend, but I've been in his shoes and can tell you that it is very, very tough being unemployed right now. I say this with the utmost of respect, but maybe you're being a bit tough on him? It sounds to me like he's trying pretty hard to get back on his feet. If you want to break it off that's your prerogative, I'm just saying it sounds like life has thrown a few curve balls and he's doing his best to recover.

I don't know if I have it in me to hang out for 4+ years waiting to see if he'll pull it together.

What makes you think it's going to take 4+ years? Again no offense, but we all have issues. If you're looking for someone who has their act 100% together all the time, you might be looking for a while.
posted by photo guy at 11:00 AM on May 8, 2010

Can you keep seeing each other for fun, with the possibility of dating other people? That way his career and money issues don't have to be part of the relationship, unless he's always hitting you up for help.
posted by BibiRose at 11:10 AM on May 8, 2010

Response by poster: I know that it's incredibly tough. I currently make $40k a year less than I did at my last job. And, I'm happy to have this job. The difference between him and me is that I went at the job search as if my life depended on it -- because it did. He doesn't have the same sense of urgency. He'll apply to jobs on CL or Careerbuilder every few days. I know that it's incredibly anxiety inducing. However, everyone involved in a job hunt is scared. It's rough.

He was evicted from an apartment before we met. He doesn't have a checking account since he bounced a series of checks at his last bank.

I don't need someone that is together 100% of the time. I do need someone who tries to right themselves after they stumble, though.

I asked the initial question since I was wondering if there was some way to hang in there. I want to be with him, but am honestly tired.
posted by kittenplease at 11:49 AM on May 8, 2010

He doesn't sound together to me, either. Yes, there are a lot of people who are unemployed right now who have themselves together...and there are a lot of people out of work now who are kind of a mess. He sounds like the latter.

That's kind of beside the point, though. A relationship that makes you tired after just a few months probably needs to be ended. You don't need to have an airtight, totally defensible argument for why it's not working -- it's just not, and recognizing that early on is far and away better than having to deal with that realization when you're thoroughly entrenched in the relationship.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 12:26 PM on May 8, 2010

I don't need someone that is together 100% of the time.

I guess you should pick a percentage that sounds like something you can work with. Let's say, theoretically, even 50%?

He's unemployed. Has been for a while... He was evicted from an apartment before we met. He doesn't have a checking account since he bounced a series of checks at his last bank.

To me this sounds like 25% at best, and dropping like a stone.
posted by hermitosis at 2:14 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my exes is like this. I do not recommend it unless you can 100% support him as a stay-at-home man. He bounces checks? He gets evicted? He doesn't exactly get on the stick about taking care of things in life, does he? (And I also wonder if he is seriously interviewing that often or just making it up. A lot of people these days can't even get interviews, so I wonder.)

I think you are doing the right thing, but don't wait for him. This may never clear up enough for you to feel safe with this guy financially.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:37 PM on May 8, 2010

The key thing for me when I started dating (and eventually married) somebody with a fluctuating artist-for-hire income was not how much money he made (minimal) but the fact that he knew exactly how much money he made, how much he must spend on rent and necessities (minimized), and how much he had in the bank (minimal but positive). Thus, the amount left over for running around town with me was also pretty minimal, but I was way more impressed by the fact that he knew this and bought me cheap thai food than I would have been by his taking me out to dinner someplace fancy. There is no way I could deal with somebody who doesn't have his shit together, and that's not exactly correlated with income.

I understand that your man is awesome in a lot of ways, but you say he's making you tired. It is perfectly okay to have shit-together-ness as a criterion that can be a deal-breaker for you, and you don't have to feel guilty if you end up walking away from this relationship because of that. It is also perfectly okay to admire him for his intelligence, general vibe, and warm personality, and take shit-not-together-ness as just a side point that you'll have to live with, the way anybody just decides it's okay and lives with their partner's issues, and you don't have to feel guilty or used or stomped on for choosing to keep the relationship together. It's all your choice, according to what you want.

That said, you can't change him. You can nag/mother him into stepping through the behaviors you want, but you haven't changed him, and using your energy to hold his behavior in line will make you tired.
posted by aimedwander at 11:06 PM on May 8, 2010

"he does so with the assistance of others"

That's the deal-breaker for me. Unless he's trying to do things for those others - anything like babysit or lawn mowing or even some token thing to show he understands they are giving and he's getting.

People talk about a house-husband type. Is there anything this guy does that makes you think he would be the stay-at-home partner who does all that work? I guess it's possible that he's just not suited to the working world and would be a happy at-home spouse keeping the home fires burning and so forth. Some people (male and female) are like that. But do you have any signs that he's energetic in that way?

Is he at all understanding of how his behavior looks to you given your history?

FWIW - I don't think you're acting like a parent with your new rule. You're a person who has standards and he can either accept those valid needs or let you go.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:13 AM on May 9, 2010

"He'll apply to jobs on CL or Careerbuilder every few days." Again, every few days doesn't sound that bad to me considering a) my own experience that I consistently get more interviews the fewer jobs I apply to and b) he claims to be interviewing once or twice a week, which is the highest sustainable rate of tech interviews it's possible to prepare for.

Or, on the other hand, maybe he's not going to that many interviews. And whoa, bouncing checks as well as getting evicted? And...

Wait a minute. I'm still not sure how to interpret this. He could be a depressed achiever with a few bad habits that have come home to roost lately, or he could be a freeloading slacker. I can't tell from here.

What I can tell is that the important thing is that you're tired. Supposing arguendo that you have totally misread him, that all his problems are other people's fault entirely, and he's just unlucky right now. Even if that were so, you would still have a right not to be able or willing to cope with it and to move on. Timing is everything, and the right person at the wrong time is in fact the wrong person.
posted by tel3path at 2:29 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I wonder, though: how long should I wait?"

Don't wait. Tell him you want to take a step back and start seeing other people. You can keep seeing him too, but keep it casual. Over time, as you meet more men and go on more dates, you'll either realize there are other, more responsible, fish in the sea... or, you'll realize he is the man you really want and you'll just have to cope with his irresponsibility.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:38 PM on May 9, 2010

What does job hunting as if your life depended on it mean, exactly? I've been searching for work, doing odd jobs here and there, networking as much as I possibly can, looking at alternatives, etc. I'm fortunate to have a financial cushion, and the work I've done lately has helped me make connections and keep going halfway decently.

But in the fields I would most like to work in full time, the ones that have to date been the primary focus of my job hunt (public policy and social science research, public admin., academic admin.), you cannot just show up at someone's door and assertively sell yourself for a job. I had someone tell me recently that they never hurt for work, for they always just showed up an employer's doorstep, would keep pestering people until they were employed. In government and academic work, that would get you a restraining order after a while, or at least just annoy people and bite you in the ass. I mean, what are you supposed to do, scream out your window every morning that you need a full-time job?

There are so many people I know in similar straits, people who've held high-paying jobs in the recent past. They're out there competing with me. Things are indeed rough out there.
posted by raysmj at 11:25 PM on May 9, 2010

Just thought: If he's sincerely trying his best, and just unlucky in the worst economy in god knows when, I think the "timing is everything" thing would be all he needs to know about your future. It would be better to end it now. If he's not sincerely trying, let him go. But it sounds like you need to talk, and listen without being immediately judgemental or thinking his situation is the same as yours was.
posted by raysmj at 11:31 PM on May 9, 2010

Well, the job situation might be moot fairly soon if he's going back to school like you say. Does he have a good plan? Is he studying something he has a genuine interest in, or is he just going back for something to do? Is he just starting to work on his degree or does he already have some credits?

Honestly, it sounds like you just want permission to break up with him without feeling like a bad person for abandoning him when he's depressed and unemployed. You don't need permission for this. Go ahead and break up with him, you deserve somebody you click with better and he deserves a chance to find somebody who doesn't think he's a slacker flake.
posted by pikachulolita at 12:26 PM on May 10, 2010

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