how long is too long to wait?
August 30, 2010 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Unemployed significant other filter: how long is too long to wait?

My SO and I are late 20s and live together, she moved in 1yr ago and has been unemployed since that time. She has a degree in a saturated liberal arts field and a lot of odd jobs/student work on her resume. She’s sent out reams of resumes and job fairs and all the rest, with nothing and more nothing in return.

We’ve been together 2.5yrs, and she’s been clear for a while that she expects this to ultimately lead to marriage, kids, etc, etc. I love her a ton and we’re basically great together, except on the financial front. We make due with my salary and a little help from her dad, who chips in with grocery bills and car insurance. We’re basically treading water. I have a decent and steady job, but it’s nothing spectacular and came with a massive load of student debt that isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s not that I don’t want to get married and have kids and so on, but I have serious doubts about being able to afford that life, much less a house to live it in, on my one mediocre salary in an expensive area of the country.

After watching my parents struggle to raise 3 kids on a single income and remembering fights about money, watching my parents become more and more unhappy as bills pile up, I don’t want to go down the same road of trying to be the single provider supporting a stay at home family. I really don’t think it could be done on one salary these days, if I even wanted to try. I know this is going to be a bigger and bigger problem the longer it goes on, but I don’t really want to break up, or lay down ultimatums or accuse her of not trying when she’s mainly a victim of the terrible economy.

Everything I’ve ever read says you have to agree on 3 things, religion, kids and money. We have the first 2 pretty much covered, but the third… This doesn’t have a specific question I guess, but other people have to have been in the same place, how do you balance the money part when it’s one sided?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (60 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You don't need help being poor. You can be poor on your own. Look, it's not fair. It's certainly not her fault, but if the answer to the question, "Would my life be better if we weren't together is yes"...then you already know what to do.
posted by inturnaround at 12:52 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

She’s sent out reams of resumes and job fairs and all the rest, with nothing and more nothing in return....she’s mainly a victim of the terrible economy

Sounds like she's trying to find work. If she's really trying, then you agree on the third point and I'm not sure what the problem or miscommunication is.
posted by Gator at 12:54 PM on August 30, 2010 [14 favorites]

Is she only applying to jobs within her field? Especially if it is liberal arts, she needs to start shooting resumes to anything she is remotely qualified for. And, hell, things that she isn't, too. There's plenty of odd jobs on Craigslist to do as well. Has Career Services from her school helped out any?

Anyway, it is perfectly reasonable to expect your significant other to have a job of some sort, no matter what the condition of the economy. A part time job in a grocery store or retail will help while still leaving time to shoot out resumes.

Meanwhile, where's her family in all this? Is there a good reason they're not stepping up to help y'all out?
posted by griphus at 12:55 PM on August 30, 2010

The OP states that her dad is helping them out.
posted by Gator at 12:58 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

i'm not sure what the rush here is or why you have a timetable to break up with her if she doesn't find a job SOON. as you said, it's not as though she hasn't been trying, and yes, a lot of unemployed ppl right now are victims of a crap economy right now. but if you don't want to break up with her, then why? are you being pressured by her to get married and have kids RIGHT NOW? or can it wait? because you both are still in your late 20s and as far as marriage and children go, both can certainly wait. i mean, it's not like she will be unemployed FOREVER, thus making it impossible for you to marry her because of imbalanced finances.
posted by violetk at 12:59 PM on August 30, 2010

You are very, very smart to look at this as a red flag. It's up to you to decide if she's "trying" hard enough. But if she's not finding success getting out there and she's sitting at home, you need to figure out what other ways she can contribute.

Let me say that again: SHE needs to contribute, not her dad. Doesn't matter if she's a barista or a nanny or a tour guide or a bus pass distributor. Any job she has can give her more skills to put on a resume. If she's not working, she should figure out ways to make your shared home life easier: take care of the chores, run errands, etc.

Be very careful: this is not because she is "the woman" but because she needs to contribute. In fact, she may be a terrible cook and cleaner, but this is just where the openings around your home are available. If she would rather mow the lawn or fix the car, fine, but she needs to find some appropriate share of the responsibility to contribute to, even if it isn't in the form of money.

I had a degree in music performance and got a job as an administrative assistant at a university because I liked the setting and wanted to make contacts. Eight years later, it's been invaluable in getting my face known and getting people to trust me as someone who knows what she's talking about. There are definitely jobs out there.
posted by Madamina at 1:00 PM on August 30, 2010 [20 favorites]

As someone who has been trying unsuccessfully to find gainful employment for the past year, I would say to look at it from her point of view. If this is truly a partnership, and she's trying her hardest, then shouldn't you stick with her through the bad? I mean, say you leave her and end up marrying a woman with a great job. What happens if your then-wife gets laid off and ends up in the same position--do you leave her too? Or how would you feel if you were to be laid-off and then you got dumped?

Also, say you end the relationship with present girlfriend, then she gets a job, do you think she'd want back the person who wouldn't help her when she needed him most?

I'm not saying that you are an asshole if you decide to break up with her, I'm just trying to give you some other angles to consider.
posted by greta simone at 1:00 PM on August 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

I don't know if you noticed - but the job market blows.
I have several friends and family members that have been unemployed for a year or more. I also have some friends and family members that finally get hired only to be laid off.

Last summer, my boyfriend and I were both out of work for 7 months. We ended up living rent free in a basement apartment. Sometimes we didn't have any food to eat for a couple of days. But we had each other and knew we would eventually get back on track. And we did.

So, if she's submitting resumes and going to job fairs, I don't know what else you want her to do.

For some reason, I don't think this is the only problem...
posted by KogeLiz at 1:01 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

She's been unemployed for a year? She may have sent out reams of resumes but if they were for very competitive jobs, then this doesn't count in my book as really trying to find work. I know plenty of people who had to do things like work at the Gap for 6 months before finding the job they really wanted. They also did things like taking low-paying internships or positions that were nearly volunteer positions in their chosen field so that they could use that as a stepping stone to a better job. It is unclear whether she has done this, but I think after trying for 3-6 months without success to get a great job, you've got to adjust your strategy/expectations.

I could never be unemployed for a year, living off money from my dad and boyfriend. Has she looked at getting a job at some sort of retail store or as an administrative assistant, or anything other than a dream job in her very competitive field? Surely there must be some sort of job available that would help her contribute to the household costs. If she's unwilling to get a job for this purpose, I don't know about you, but that is not the kind of person I would want to marry. If you sit her down and say "listen, we're just scraping by, and I want to save for retirement and pay of my student loans and have a better lifestyle. Let's brainstorm some ways that we can do this." and she doesn't come up with the idea of herself bringing in some money somehow, that would seem a huge red flag to me.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:02 PM on August 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

Do you want her to just get any job? Is she interested in going back to school to gain some skills?
posted by anniecat at 1:02 PM on August 30, 2010

I'm sensing from your post that you're sweating the fact that she hasn't found a job in over a year, and you're worrying that her deadline for marriage+babies is going to come before a job does. If this is the case, have you actually SPOKEN to her about it? I don't think it would be unreasonable to actually sit down and have a conversation about what kind of timetable you both expect for your relationship, since you both envision it lasting for the long haul. Part of that conversation will need to include that you expect much more financial stability before the babies portion of those plans come about.
posted by scarykarrey at 1:03 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

You're looking too far ahead. Right now, you don't have kids or a house payment and you are getting by ok. The economy is TERRIBLE. People really, really aren't hiring, and they're likely to be hiring even less as we move into fall. Try not to freak out.

That being said, it's time for all of us unemployed folks (myself included) to realize that we may not get jobs in our field anytime soon and it may be time to start picking up a job job. Sit her down and talk to her about getting ANY job. Starbucks, bookstore, etc. I'm having the same talk with myself.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:04 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry so much about the future. A lot can happen between now and ten years from now when you're married with kids. You could lose your job, she could find one. You could rise up through the ranks and make twice what you make now, or even three times. Maybe she'll go back to school and get a more practical degree. Maybe she'll get a vast inheritance out of the blue. Maybe she'll start a lemonade stands that turns into the future Starbucks. Who knows. It's not like she's told you she has no interest in ever having an income.

The point is, you can't predict your finances for a life that is pretty far down the road. All you can predict is whether this person, job or no job, is the kind of person you want to spend your life with, and whom you can trust to watch your back. Maybe that means asking yourself if your SO would be able to get a job in a cheaper Midwest city, whether you might consider uprooting yourself to be with her there, and find a new job in that city where money might go farther. If not, then maybe that will tell you something about your commitment, which might have less to do with finances than you think.
posted by np312 at 1:04 PM on August 30, 2010

Do you actually disagree on money? You don't say anything in your question about what her beliefs and expectations are, just that she has unsuccessfully tried to find a job. Is she not applying for jobs that she thinks are beneath her? Would she expect you to support her after you marry, regardless of the economy? If she had a job and you didn't, would it be a problem? I guess the answers to some of these could be inferred from the question, but it's possible she's just unemployed due to the ecomony and has no interest in being a stay-at-home mom who is dependent on your salary.

You could marry a well-employed person and end up in the situation you're in now if she lost her job in a crappy economy.
posted by Mavri at 1:06 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I could never be unemployed for a year, living off money from my dad and boyfriend. "

I'm sure a lot of people thought the same thing until it happened to them in the last couple of years.

Depending on where you live, there has been hardly ANY jobs. And if one opens up - 5,000 people are applying for the position.

Trust me. I always thought the same thing until last year. Then I was unemployed for 7 months. It wasn't easy. It was frustrating and embarrassing.
I finally got a very job about 60 miles north of where I was living.

But there were maybe 4 or 5 job openings A WEEK in the town and surrounding towns I was living in.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:07 PM on August 30, 2010 [11 favorites]

I'm not sure what other people's situation is, but even when I was 14 years old I brought in income as a babysitter, doing things like walking dogs, selling stuff on eBay, selling crafts I made, whatever. I took a job at a local farm helping with the animals and got paid under the table. I cleaned houses and did chores like painting and weeding and whatnot (you can find odd jobs listed on Craigslist). Between all this I could certainly put together a couple of hundred dollars a month. There's also temp agencies. If teenagers can do this stuff I'm pretty sure adults can, too.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:08 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Have you actually communicated your expectation of her contributing to any future family financially, not just as care giver. Sounds as if you haven't and perhaps this is a good time to sit down and start that conversation.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:09 PM on August 30, 2010

So you're thinking about marrying this woman, but are concerned about money because she doesn't have a job, and this concern actually has you wondering if you should break it off with her?

Suppose she had a job now, and you got married, and then five years from now she lost her job. Would you divorce her? Suppose you lost your job. How would you feel if she considered breaking up with you because of that?

If she weren't even trying to get a job, that would be a reason, because it'd be indicative of laziness or a poor work ethic or somesuch. But trying and failing to get a job is, these days, indicative of being part of the real world.

So my answer is yes, you should absolutely consider breaking up with her, for HER sake. If you were really ready to commit to her for the rest of your life, you wouldn't even be asking this question.
posted by cerebus19 at 1:10 PM on August 30, 2010 [12 favorites]

After watching my parents struggle to raise 3 kids on a single income and remembering fights about money, watching my parents become more and more unhappy as bills pile up, I don’t want to go down the same road of trying to be the single provider supporting a stay at home family.

You know, you don't have to be like your parents, right?

It's entirely possible to raise a family on one salary, you just have to realize there there are pluses and minuses. No you may not have the latest and greatest of material things, but the kids will have a strong parental influence in their life, which could be very beneficial the family unit as a whole.

That said, treehorn+bunny makes an excellent point. Can she get a part-time job, so she can bring in some money, while still looking for a job in her field?
posted by nomadicink at 1:11 PM on August 30, 2010

Let me just add:

Yes, it is really tough to raise a family on a limited income. Really, really tough. But people do it every day. Real commitment is about sticking together even when the going is tough, because anyone can stick together when the going is easy. That's why there's that whole "in sickness," "for poorer," "for worse" part of traditional marriage vows. Either you're ready to make that promise or you're not. And if you're not sure about it -- really, really sure -- you owe it to yourself and especially to her to admit that.
posted by cerebus19 at 1:14 PM on August 30, 2010

It sounds like your partner is trying really hard to find a job. And you do realize the current economic situation isn't her fault, so kudos to both of you for those two hurdles

But from the tone of your post, it sounds like you may be thinking that your partner doesn't have the outside-the-home work ethic you'd like her to have; that maybe she's gearing up to being a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) and you're not really down with that. Have you guys talked about all this? Communication is key here.

I also can't tell, based on your post, if she is thinking outside the box. And that's necessary in the current job market. Griphus is hitting it on the nose -- she can pick up some part time, temporary work that may not be her ideal job for as long as necessary. The best way to find jobs isn't always sending resumes -- it's networking. Also, maybe her resume needs a rewrite. I went and had mine done for about $150 recently. You can probably have it done less expensively now.

When I was her age and in a similar position, I returned to grad school. If I had to do it all over again, I would have gotten a degree in a money-making field like occupational therapy. Is grad school in a practical, lucrative field an option for her?

How are her writing skills? Could she possible write some freelance reviews or articles? If that appeals to her I would be happy to share my knowledge in how to find decent-paying freelance writing gigs. Just drop me a MeMail.

Has she gone to the local state employment aid service for help with her resume and job hunting? Has she tried her alumni association?

As for your question about people in similar positions...that's me. My partner is a struggling musician. We have decided to remain childless and live simply. We split our bills rather than pool our money. If I had ever wanted kids, I wouldn't have designed my life for maximum freedom and creative expression. Kids are expensive. Really expensive. Maybe you need to present it to her like, "if this is what you want, this is what it's going to take to get it." Show her a budget with projections and stuff. If her problem really is lack of motivation, that should help her clarify her goals.
posted by xenophile at 1:16 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

KogeLiz, if there were no jobs where I lived, I would move. What's the point of living in a dead end place where there are no jobs? As I say, you can make an initial effort for the exact job you want, but if you don't find it, you've got to change your strategy.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:16 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

The job market is pretty bad right now; so look at the jobs she's applying for. Is she only willing to apply to jobs of a certain level, or is she willing to take a crap job just to add to the bottom line (and been unable to swing that, even)?

Ultimately, though, you're smart to be thinking about this right now, because money will be a conflict now and again, so this is a good opportunity to figure out (a) whether being in a relationship with her is worth the practical and emotional impact of your finances, and (b) if you two can communicate, support each other and be happy when money's tight.

One thing I can recommend highly, of course, is this: if the issue of getting married, etc., comes up, just be honest and forthright: "[talk about the positive aspects of your relationship.] However, getting married and having kids and buying a house and otherwise being adults in an adult relationship requires money that we just don't have. Over time, I'll hopefully make more money, and the job market will bounce back and you'll have a job again, but until that time I think kids and houses and such are completely off the table -- and even marriage seems like something too expensive to consider right now."

Of course, if you don't like the way she is(n't) looking for work -- you can't blame her for the economy, but you can certainly be unhappy that, say, she's only looking for jobs that she has little chance of qualifying for (as an example) -- you should be communicating about that, directly. You can be supportive of her and still stand up for your need for her to contribute (through action if not money) to the household, and look for work in good faith.
posted by davejay at 1:19 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Too all those who doubt someone's ability to find even menial labor in today's market: I have a Master's degree from a well-respected program and lots of work experience but I get rejected daily from even retail and service jobs. Why? Because I'm over qualified. So, after hearing that, I start removing my graduate school and work experience from my resumes. So then I get, "well, what have you been doing for the last two/three years?", which inevitably leads to one of two answers:

A) The Truth: "Well, I was in grad school". Response: "Oh, you're overqualified" or "So, you'll leave as soon as you find something in your field".


B) A Lie: "I was doing [this] or [that]". Response: "Oh, ok. Tell me about that.. and do you have any references" Which leads to more lying, and some of us are bad at lying.

Those friends I know with graduate-level education who HAVE been able to find jobs as part-time nannies for $10/hr or as hostesses for 15 hrs a week only got them because they know a friend or a friend of a friend.

Lastly, you know what sucks even more? Those of us who are recently out of school, and were not able to work very many hours during school because of internship requirements that were unpaid and took up more hours than class-time, are NOT eligible for unemployment because we were not able to contribute enough taxable income to get a throwback.

Thing is, I am working. 15 hours a week, for $15, after looking for work for a year. Does this support me? Barely. I live in NYC for less than $900 (total, rent/expenses/food/TOTAL), I have no savings, my school loans are deferred, I'm on Medicaid, I don't qualify for welfare, I have taken to stealing on occasion, I've sold panties to perverts on the internet, sold most of my clothes and books, I've borrowed money from my parents and friends. I look forward to friends visiting because that often means I'll get a free mean in exchange for a couch. Moving in with parents is not an option.

So, please, to the OP and to other posters here, please don't not assume that those of us who are un- or under-employed are that way by choice or are not exploring all options. It's really really hard out there for some of those, especially for some of us that just have really really bad luck.

Okay. I know this is not necessarily the place to air our grievances, but it does irk me to no degree sometimes that some people just think that there are low-paying jobs in abundance right now, when everyone is looking for them. I think it's relevant for people to understand just how hard some have to struggle and how important it is for those like us to have at least a small support network of people who can help, if not monetarily, than at least emotionally, and not bail on us for no matter how long this streak of bad luck lasts.
posted by greta simone at 1:23 PM on August 30, 2010 [66 favorites]

I agree with the people who say she should be working at literally any job she can find. I know from experience how easy it is to settle into the inertia of a job search, in which I spend an hour reading listings and feeling hopeless and sending out some resumes and then feeling satisfied that I was "trying my hardest" and then slack off the rest of the day.

Literally any extra money will help, and working a job she doesn't particularly want will get her looking a lot harder for jobs she DOES want.
posted by hermitosis at 1:23 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I greatly sympathize, greta simone, but so far it doesn't sound like the OP's SO is doing any of the things you're doing to mitigate her employment situation, hence the comments that irk you. She could probably learn a lot from you.
posted by hermitosis at 1:26 PM on August 30, 2010

Let me say that again: SHE needs to contribute, not her dad. Doesn't matter if she's a barista or a nanny or a tour guide or a bus pass distributor. Any job she has can give her more skills to put on a resume. If she's not working, she should figure out ways to make your shared home life easier: take care of the chores, run errands, etc.

This. I have experience with a partner who, upon being unable to find work for some time, also fought tooth and nail about reducing unnecessary expenses, expressed reluctance to find lower-level grunt work outside of her chosen profession, felt overwhelmed by taking on responsibilities that we would otherwise have paid someone else to do (but couldn't afford to), and so ended up complaining constantly about every little thing. In sum, it made our shared home life substantially harder than it would have been had she just left for a while and left everything to me (as the expenses she incurred on the household in total were greater than the cost of paying someone else to perform her contributions.)

In times of financial (or other) hardship, you find out the kind of person you are partnering with. Is she (generally, not always) cheerful, upbeat, quick to help out in non-financial ways, appreciative of the work you do and the money you bring in, and not living in a spiral of depression and shame about being unemployed? Then you've got a heck of a partner, and you should appreciate it. I have my fingers crossed for ya!
posted by davejay at 1:26 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

*a free MEAL, not a free MEAN.

Oh, and *please DO NOT assume, not *please DON'T NOT assume.

And other typos that I'm feel too angry about right now to bother to correct.


Ok, thanks, AskMe for the break from today's round of cover-letter writing.
posted by greta simone at 1:26 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

KogeLiz, if there were no jobs where I lived, I would move. What's the point of living in a dead end place where there are no jobs? As I say, you can make an initial effort for the exact job you want, but if you don't find it, you've got to change your strategy.

treehorn+bunny, I have been unemployed for almost a year now. There are shockingly few jobs posted every week in my area. Maybe an average of 10 new job postings per week. Do you know how many other people are trying for that same job? Before I was "let go" there was a job opening at my (8 person) company that over 300 people applied for. I cannot move and even if I wanted to, I probably could not sell my house. Could I work at McDonalds? Maybe, but I am overqualified. I was once footloose and fancy free and would've moved anywhere USA but that is not an option now. I have aging parents that I look after and a house that I love. Your life experience/situation does not equal everyone else's.
posted by futz at 1:33 PM on August 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

KogeLiz, if there were no jobs where I lived, I would move. What's the point of living in a dead end place where there are no jobs? As I say, you can make an initial effort for the exact job you want, but if you don't find it, you've got to change your strategy.

I don't think most people can just get up with zero income and just move to a city that MAY have jobs. You would need money for deposits, money for gas to get there, money for storage or a moving truck, etc. Money for deposits on electric/gas/water, etc.
A lot of people have lost their cars after losing their jobs as well. Or have spent their savings paying for car/rent/mortgage payments.

Come on.

When my boyfriend and I finally found jobs, they were 60 miles away. We had already sold everything we could for gas, food, interviews and electricity. I had to borrow money from my sister (living out of state) for a few weeks because otherwise, we would not have had gas to get to the jobs. And luckily the jobs were both around the same area and same hours - because we only had one car.

As for the OP, we don't know the details on her situation, where they live, how the job market is, etc.
So it's tough to say.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:33 PM on August 30, 2010 [8 favorites]

It would bother me. Alot. but that's just me. I'm not saying it would be relationship ending by itself for me, but it would certainly be resentment building, which usually leads to quite rocky times. In my experience, there is no conceivable reason an intelligent, able bodied person cannot find some employment within a year's time. Note the stress on "some," and this is not to knock the people above who mentioned they have been out of work for ~ 1 year. If you are in a position (emotionally or financially) where you are only searching in a limited region in a limited range of positions, yes, it is quite possible, especially in this economy to be without a job for quite some time.

I am 34 years old and found myself in a boarding house working at a fast food joint for about 8 months when I was between "real" jobs. That said, I've also been a dependent of SOs, and it's nearly impossible for me to truly get 100% motivated or to get the PFFT.. I'm not doing THAT! reaction to "lesser" jobs when food and shelter aren't on the line. Maybe it's the way I'm geared, but I swore up and down I was trying as hard as I can to find work, but retail jobs, cold calling companies in my field, using temp to perm agencies, and other types of methods were definitively off the list until I found myself in situations where I had to be self reliant. I think it's one thing to allow your partner time to get things situated, but after a year, I think anyone who hasn't been through the exact same 1+ year experience would find it very hard to believe that the person is trying as hard as they could.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:37 PM on August 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

my SO and I had a long discussion about this topic because she couldn't decide if you were uncaring for your Everything I’ve ever read says you have to agree on 3 things, religion, kids and money. We have the first 2 pretty much covered, but the third…comment or if you were just concerned about the situation. I argued in your favor that you are likely just tired of carrying the load. She felt that you were equating earning money = agreeing on money. My response to her and question for you; is your SO still having the marriage/kids conversation? If yes, then I feel you are right in being concerned about your present situation. However, if she isn't, then I think her initial assessment may be correct.

Incidentally, this reason that my SO and I discussed it at length is that she and I were in the same situation last year. I was out of work for 8 months in a overly saturated field. I know she was sick of carrying the load but we kept our lifestyle simple and didn't have the marriage/babies discussion during that time period because it wasn't realistic. We wish you the best and hope that you two can do the same.
posted by ThomasBrobber at 1:40 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just want to relate a story a friend told me about trying to get one of his kids to bed. If the kid didn't want to go to bed, dad would say, "well then I'm not going to tuck you in," jumping ahead of the game. So, I suggest adapting this to your situation by occasionally saying, "we are never going to be able to afford a kid" and let her put 2+2 together.
posted by rhizome at 1:45 PM on August 30, 2010

I notice it is often very easy to come up with reasons why the unemployed are unemployed, and plenty of suggestions have been floated here about possible personal shortcomings on the part of OP's SO. However, it seems unlikely that OP's SO has any substantial personal failings to a degree that everyone, employed and otherwise, does not. Surely OP would have mentioned any serious issue that prevented employment -- psychiatric or drug issues, say. He does not, so it seems reasonable to assume that this is just somebody who has fallen on hard times, and it seems very churlish to try so hard to assign blame for this.

It seems more likely that the OP has not insignificant fears about poverty; there is no suggestion that housing or food is in jeopardy, just: perhaps in the future, poor!! Which is believed to cause fights and misery. And this seems to be looming rather large for him, and it does not seem entirely logical for it to be so tied to his SO's employment status.

At any rate I doubt this dude is well served by the "get a job, any job" "advice" the unemployed suffer from, and I had hoped for better here. There's no suggestion that SO is "holding out for a dream job." To me this reads as I am frightened of being poor, being answered with It's the fault of the poor that they are poor!
posted by kmennie at 1:48 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - folks this is NOT about your personal struggles, it's about helping the OP figure out what to do about his situation. Please do not turn this into a derail about how tough it is/is not to find a job unless you are directly replying to the question. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:49 PM on August 30, 2010

So, I suggest adapting this to your situation by occasionally saying, "we are never going to be able to afford a kid" and let her put 2+2 together.

This is horribly passive-aggressive and please don't do this. Your girlfriend is not a child.
posted by griphus at 1:51 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

If she is pushing to get engaged or more of a commitment, you are 100% well within your rights to say no way, not right now. Absolutely. She is probably scared that she hasn't found a job and maybe she thinks that this is the right thing to do.

I do not think you are a monster.

If this is the person you are supposed to spend the rest of your life with, that person would not push to get married right now.

I do not think that you need to pack up and move when you already have a job and a place to live. In fact, I think that would be incredibly misguided right now unless you could find a job in a place that was cheaper to live in. However, those places might have even less opportunity for your girlfriend, which is something people don't take into consideration.

That said, I've said it on here a million times: job fairs and sending resumes for jobs you find on Craigslist or Monster or whatever are not enough to get you a job in this economy. You have to hustle and you have to sell yourself, hard. Harder than the next person. You have to contact companies that aren't advertising positions and send them a resume in case they might be looking for you some day. You have to network, go on informational interviews, take people out for coffee. You have to get creative: can she walk dogs? Run errands? Be a personal assistant? Pick up people's dry cleaning? I know there aren't a ton of jobs but there are things that she could do, even if it was for pocket change, even if it wasn't full time or even part time.

It sounds like you'd like her to show a little more hustle, and frankly, I think you're right.
posted by micawber at 1:59 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Apologies if this has been said; I got a little impatient about reading through some borderline derail material and might have missed it.

The problem is not her unemployment, the problem is if she's not treating it like an issue and unwilling to alter her approach. Or if you feel like you can't talk to her about the situation and/or her approach. Or about the anxiety it seems to make you feel.

You should - and should be able to - sit down with her and say "okay, it's been a year - let's talk about mixing this up a little." Maybe that means a very different set of jobs she looks for. Maybe it means volunteering in an appropriate field to network & build her skills.

These conversations are hard, but living a life with someone when you can't manage to have them is harder.
posted by phearlez at 2:00 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's not really clear to me what you're asking. Is there something more you think she should be doing? Do you want to talk to her about your larger options (i.e. both launching a broader geographical job search in hopes of finding new work for both of you in a different region)? Unless there's something you don't get into on in your question, it isn't that you don't agree about money, you just don't like the position you're but you seem to be acknowledging it's not her fault.

I think you're in a tough place where your relationship is established enough to be serious and you are looking towards a long term future together, but it is a little early in to be facing up to a strain like largely carrying your partner economically for a year. Well, guess what, if you get married to someone this is the sort of shit you sign on to deal with, you're just getting it a little early. If you're worried about her seriousness/attitude about getting work you need to talk about it (and this can be accomplished - is indeed best accomplished - without break-ups, ultimatums or accusations). If you want her to brainstorm with you to explore broader options than she's doing so far that is certainly a fair request for a person in your position.
posted by nanojath at 2:02 PM on August 30, 2010

Too much me and not enough we.
posted by peacay at 2:03 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I kind of feel like we need to hear more about her situation before we can judge. If she is genuinely applying for everything under the sun down to fast food and trying her hardest to find employment, then I don't think you should dump her for not being employed yet. Shit happens a lot these days.

However, the fact that you're posting this makes me wonder if there's something more to it that makes you think she's slacking off and not going to pull her weight. If she's being a job snob and only applying for things that she'd like to do and are academic and whatnot, and you're still pissed at the money not coming in (I suspect that's why you're posting), then it's time to sit her down and say, "Look, we can't get married under the current circumstances that we are living in. I know you want the job that's right for you, but at this time in our lives you really can't afford to be picky, and I can barely support you on my own right now, as long as nothing bad happens. Please, please, start applying for anything and everything you can, at least." (And if you are totally uncomfortable with the idea of her being a SAHW/M for good/in the future, now's probably a good time to hash that one out to find out if she wants to do that.)

I think regardless of whatever her situation is, though, that you don't HAVE to get married while she's unemployed. Hell, I'd advise against it and say you can't afford to get married/pay for the wedding. Doesn't sound like you can anyway.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:09 PM on August 30, 2010

If you think she will be un/underemployed often, and that is an issue for you, then now is the perfect time to decide that (BEFORE a commitment).

Before marriage, it's not wrong (IMO) to put yourself first. If you think money will always be an issue with her (maybe even if she is employed, because she's in a low-paying field, etc) and that is going to make you unhappy, don't be unhappy out of an obligation at this stage of your relationship. That will end badly for both of you, just further out and with more pain.

The current unemployment may not be as big a deal as her future potential / opinions about how much money is enough. Some people require a lot more money than others to be happy, if you differ on that it will be a huge issue (given that neither of you is making enough to take that off the table).

If you have good reason to believe you will always be making most of the money, and you're upset either because you think it won't be enough or that she doesn't want to contribute enough, then yeah thats a real issue that will only get worse. You're certainly not yet at the stage where you're required to support her forever (even if she is trying and simply cant get a job because of the economy).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:14 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Encourage her to stop thinking in terms of "getting a job" and start thinking in terms of "making cash."

Everybody these days has got to get their hustle on. We have to channel our inner Jay-Z and get that shit going anyway we can. Is there a cheap business she can start? She's got to have some skills she can put to work. Shit, you can independently clean houses and pull in $30-40/hr. Even a few hundred bucks makes a huge difference. She's got to stop waiting for someone to give her money and go out there and make it happen.

And be kind. She's more frustrated with this situation than you are.
posted by milarepa at 2:17 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh boy. This is a tough situation. VERY tough. I feel for both the OP and his/her SO, because it's So Damn Hard to find work in this economy. I have a Master's in what is normally a very lucrative and in-demand field, I have supervised field experience (aka internships) and volunteer work in my field, and JUST NOW have I picked up some paid freelance work. I want to nth that it's tough out there. Even temp jobs and grunt jobs are scarce where I live. So I can't really blame the OP's SO for being unemployed this long.

That said - Davejay's statement, "In times of financial (or other) hardship, you find out the kind of person you are partnering with. Is she (generally, not always) cheerful, upbeat, quick to help out in non-financial ways, appreciative of the work you do and the money you bring in, and not living in a spiral of depression and shame about being unemployed? Then you've got a heck of a partner, and you should appreciate it." is really what you want to consider. Is this what your SO is like? Is she cheerful and supportive of you, and pulling her weight around the house? Call me old-fashioned and retrograde and all that stuff, but I believe that the unemployed spouse - male or female - really ought to pick up the lion's share of the domestic duties unless there are mitigating circumstances (like, yay, job interviews!). The SO also should be partnering with you in setting and sticking to a budget. Maybe her Dad can pay for a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course? (I am not even religious and I really think Ramsey's the greatest despite his Christian-talk.) Good financial habits can carry you through a lifetime, and this is one thing that I wish I had learned younger.

To sum up. My advice would depend on whether the SO is acting like a partner in the relationship or is sitting around playing computer games and spending money left and right. If the former - OP, buck up. The economy STINKS right now. Seriously, most of us have never lived through something like this. The Great Depression eventually ended (and even the famous Migrant Mother Florence Thompson was able to put a roof over her head and raise her kids), this too shall pass. Keep the lines of communication open, do not let resentment build up, and remember you are a team.

Now if the SO is not being a partner, is sitting around all day watching the soaps, letting dishes pile up and going on shopping sprees, well, then, maybe the OP doesn't have a true partner and ought to rethink the relationship. But only then.

P.S. It costs bucks to move. BIG BUCKS, as KogeLiz pointed out. Big bucks is exactly what the unemployed don't have. I could just drive somewhere and live out of my car with my 15-year-old cat but who would hire a disheveled homeless woman stinking of used kitty litter?

And it's HORRIBLE, DEGRADING AND SUCKY for a fortysomething to have to ask her parents for money. I know. But in this economy, lots of us are doing it and don't have much choice and I thank my stars my parents CAN help me and they're supportive and I can pay them back by helping them out with stuff they need.

posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:19 PM on August 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

I guess the suggestion is that she should go back to a student type job and be a waitress or whatever rather than try and start her career and look for work in her field? To the extent this could be done without impacting or diminishing her chances of actually being able to start her career, I suppose you'd be right.

I don't think it would appreciably change your situation though. A mediocre job plus a crappy job isn't that much different from just a mediocre job. "Two can live as cheaply as one", etc. Any sort of crappy job she could get would also almost certainly be of the kind that wouldn't last if y'all got married and had kids anyway, e.g. "Doctor's appointment for pre-natal care? Don't bother coming back. I'll deduct the cost of the apron out of your last check."

Y'all both need careers. The way things are it might take some time. Either you love each other and will support and defend each other until death takes you or the world ends, or you won't. Let your feelings about that guide your decision.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:21 PM on August 30, 2010

I think a lot of the answer to your question boils down to the specifics of your situation. Had you originally thought that she would stay home and be a mother, and now that you are faced with the realizations of living on one income, your whole outlook has changed? Are you two in disagreement about how money is spent? Is this leading to you feeling resentful that you are spending money you could otherwise be putting towards x,y, or z?

It's really hard being the sole breadwinner, particularly when you see your partner falling into a level of despair at not finding a job. More than once I didn't know what to do, and how to help my partner. I know that it helped my sanity a lot of I stepped in and suggested a different approach to looking every so often. The important factor there was that my partner was receptive to this, which gave me the faith I needed to know they were looking as hard as they could.
posted by Zophi at 2:22 PM on August 30, 2010

A person at home with free time can do a lot to create value. Take a bus to shop at a cheaper grocery store, carefully plan meals, get coupon sheets from a bunch of stores, plan meals with all the loss-leaders, then go back and make the purchases. (We were planning a BBQ and my mother totally pwned me, by insisting we do that, and we saved more than 50%)

Buy economy size, cook in batches and freeze.

Check every line in your phone bill, call them up over discrepancies, insist on refunds. Here in NYC, with Verizon, that was often $50 per month, once it was over $200.

Not to get all depression-baby on her, but socks can be darned, buttons sewn on, etc.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:24 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was in this situation not so long ago, but I was the unemployed one. My partner I think felt the same way as you and mentioned the idea of a deadline. It was by no means the only problem in our relationship but discussing it helped me see pretty clearly that we were not compatible. I left. How long is too long? If you can put a time on it, then my gut feeling is its not meant to be. But dont throw away a great relationship just because it means you will be poor. Most people are poor and they get by, sometimes with better relationships than wealthier folks.

You could ask her to intern to help her CV, but I've done a fair bit of this and after a while it can feel like all I'm actually doing is helping drive down the cost of labour to literally nothing.

I guess you just have to discuss it openly, but tread carefully, I bet she is having a pretty crappy time with it all.
posted by jcwilliams at 2:31 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

All I can say is that I hope you would be horrified if you were trying your hardest to get a job and *she* wrote a post like this, with all the implications that your worth to her is primarily economic. If she truly isn't trying hard and you think she's generally a slacker and you don't want to be with someone like that, fine. But as many people have mentioned, the economy totally sucks right now and you can try very hard and not get a job.

For the person who said that teenagers could always get jobs doing yardwork, etc.-- I'm guessing you haven't tried lately. Those jobs dry up very quickly when everyone is trying to save and teenagers actually have one of the highest unemployment rates out there as a result.

If you genuinely love someone, you will support them through tough times and expect that they do the same for you. If you don't, well, you probably shouldn't be together. And if you think she isn't pulling her weight, talk to her about *your* feelings and see how *she* feels.
posted by Maias at 2:39 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

My experience suggests that you guys need to talk more openly and fully about this stuff. It's hard! I don't like to do that.

But, like the poster above, if my partner had said to me "you need to have a job by x date or I'm breaking up with you," I would have said "then you need to have a new partner by then." It sucks that you're getting some of the "for worse" before you had a lot of "for better." It's very straining on a relationship! She probably doesn't feel great either.

But I also don't think it's unreasonable that you're doing some foot-tapping. If she hasn't gone into business for herself (not paying herself for the first year to two), or hasn't started washing dishes, I would have some concerns if I were you as well.

So you need to be having weekly meetings, which is something like what I did--we checked in. We brought it up. We got better about talking about it, and expectations.

(Also: "I could never be unemployed for a year, living off money from my dad and boyfriend." Ha, stick around, pal!)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:44 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Before marriage, it's not wrong (IMO) to put yourself first. If you think money will always be an issue with her (maybe even if she is employed, because she's in a low-paying field, etc) and that is going to make you unhappy, don't be unhappy out of an obligation at this stage of your relationship. That will end badly for both of you, just further out and with more pain.

This. There is A LOT more that goes into having a successful marriage or relationship than just "commitment" or "love" which many people here seem to be willfully ignoring. Those are of course important elements, but may not be enough to sustain you in reality. Being on the same page financially, having similar socioeconomic backgrounds, education levels and ages etc. are all also important factors to consider.

It's great that she's trying to find work and still has a good attitude, but the fact is, it's been a year and she has not done it. This makes you unhappy. If her inability to contribute financially is going to continue to make you unhappy, you are right to pause. There is nothing wrong with considering there may be a partner out there more suited to your long-term life goals.
posted by the foreground at 2:56 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

My SO and I are late 20s and live together, she moved in 1yr ago and has been unemployed since that time. She has a degree in a saturated liberal arts field and a lot of odd jobs/student work on her resume.

From the fact that you two are in your late 20s (so you graduated college in the early-to-mid 2000s?) and she's never had work other than odd jobs and student work, that means she either went into a masters or other professional program straight out of undergrad and graduated just in time to watch the job market crater, or she's been kind of doing this and that, maybe trying to find her passion, without really getting a career off of the ground since well before the economy went down the tubes. I think the difference probably matters. Is it that:

1. She's generally a responsible person who acts like an adult in terms of planning for her future and sometimes doing unpleasant things she doesn't want to do (were those odd jobs the sort of thing she didn't really enjoy but took on in order to make ends meet?), and for unforeseeable reasons like a huge economic downturn she had the rotten luck to graduate right when there were no jobs anymore

2. She's a lovely person who hasn't really had to take care of herself financially, picked her major or graduate degree with little or no thought given to whether it was likely she'd actually get a well-paying job (e.g., culinary school or masters degree in 17th-century Japanese literature), and you're getting the strong feeling that she's pretty content to transition to being a full-time SAHM without ever having a career

It's really hard for us to know which one is closer to the mark based on what you've written here, but that's the sort of thing that *you* should probably have a pretty good sense of by now. Personally, if I found someone lovely who fell into category #1, I'd probably want to have a conversation with them about how it seems like it's time to come up with a Plan B (go back to school to get an RN? attempt to start own business? get unpaid internship?), but I'd still be willing to get married. If that person fell into category #2, though, I would be very hesitant about committing for life. Because the thing is: it could just as easily be you that loses your job or gets in a bad car accident or is unable to work for a long period of time, and if that happened, I'd want to know that my spouse was someone I could count on to take care of me**, could be the sort of person who can do what needs to be done when I can't do it myself.

**And by "take care of me," I don't mean financially (although that's a piece of it); I mean be the sort of person who I trust to do the necessary life-stuff that is sometimes a huge drag, like have unpleasant conversations with doctors so they can make medical decisions on my behalf, or talking with the IRS after we came up short on taxes rather than stuffing the letters into the bottom of a big pile, or pro-actively come up with a plan about what to do when someone's parent starts to decline and can't live alone any more. I'd worry a bit about marrying someone who just kind of drifted along from thing to thing after college (maybe including an ill-advised stint in graduate school in a field that they should have realized they'd be really unlikely to land a job in), because I would take that sort of lackadaisical "oh everything will work out for me somehow" attitude as a sign that--for all their other wonderful qualities--they hadn't yet learned about Doing What Needs To Be Done Just Because It Needs To Be Done.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:07 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Until she secures full-time employment, no matter how long that takes, she really has no business flaunting the baby rabies. Please, OP, do not allow yourself to get boxed into a one--breadwinner/one housewife scenario. You two are not married, and do not have to proceed as if you are.
Ask her what her five-year goal is.
posted by BostonTerrier at 3:12 PM on August 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

I think she needs to either get any sort of paying job, or else she'd better be doing everything possible to save money on household expenses. Cooking from scratch, clipping coupons, shopping the sales, etc. If you're going to be in the "housewife from the '50s" role, you better make it work.

Sending out resumes and applying online isn't actually the most effective way to get a job, but that's a different question.

Years ago, my husband sort of semi-looked for work, and I was more concerned about being "supportive" than I was about our bank accounts. Now, I see that I should spoken up and said "a job, a job, any job". We didn't talk about it, and my resentment grew, and he got rather used to having a lot of free time. Finally, we had a big screaming fight and the next day , he went out and got a job.

I know the economy sucks, but I'm willing to bet that she can find something to do to make some money.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:33 PM on August 30, 2010

I would agree with the other posters who suggest that you clarify what is bothering you.

There is plenty of evidence that the job market is a nightmare right now, and a one-year period of unemployment isn't at all unusual.

Is it the lack of money that bothers you, or the fact that she doesn't feel a sense of urgency about the situation -- the same urgency that you do?

It's one thing to tough out a rough patch together. It's quite another to know that your partner is going to habitually take your contributions for granted.

It's hard to tell from your post which this is.
posted by pantarei70 at 3:42 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is so close to home it's painful. I recently ended a 4 year relationship because I was in your shoes. Just a couple things. Do you really think she's trying? You said she's sent out resumes, but have you seen her go to interviews? Are you confident in the amount of effort she's putting forth? Do you know she's applying for anything and everything? Even the smallest job would bring in some income and hopefully lessen your resentment. Lastly, are you going to lose anything by supporting her? Car/house/etc? Things to think about. I've got plenty more if you want to mefi-mail me.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:49 PM on August 30, 2010

What I'm wondering is why she moved in...where did she live before? Was she on her own or supported by her family? If she was brought up in a household where man takes care of wife and family, that's what she may be expecting from you. If she's never really been out on her own before, she might not understand the importance of supporting herself.

When you say the three things that couples have to agree on, religious, kids and money. I really think something that should be thrown in there is family structure. What does she expect her role to be in the future? While SAHM vs working mom have their pros and cons, she might be expecting to be one while you expect her to be the other. This is important to talk about between the two of you.
posted by p1nkdaisy at 6:51 PM on August 30, 2010

I only read 2/3 of the comments, so this might've been said.

I don't think you want to micromanage her search. I would take care of yourself in such a way that you no longer feel like her unemployment is derailing your life. I would decide to save (or pay off) a certain, moderate amount every month, and then remove that from your income right when it comes in. Talk to her about your decision, and your new lower net income, and how you as a couple are going to manage that. You should probably be honest with her, that you feel a bit resentful that you have not been doing this up until now, but if that was a decision that you made, you should take responsibility for it as your own decision. If this new savings plan creates a little household scarcity that inspires her to find more cash (be it from parents or wherever), spend less, or pitch in more, that's fine.
posted by salvia at 7:03 PM on August 30, 2010

I was recently in your shoes, except that I was the breadwinner while my boyfriend struggled to find work. I sympathize, it's tough. I felt like we were stalling and that our goals to get married and have kids were slipping away, meanwhile he was watching his career go to shambles and couldn't even begin thinking about marriage and kids without breaking into a cold sweat, which in turn caused me to start worrying that he no longer wanted that kind of future with me, which made him feel like I was putting all sorts of pressure on him, blah blah, vicious cycle, blah.

What made it surmountable for us was the absolute certainty I had that he was working his ass off to find something, anything, and that we forced ourselves to be honest with our fears, anger, sadness, whatever else we were feeling. As painful as these discussions were, it was better than guessing or assuming what was going on in each other's heads, and often things seemed much less of a scary huge deal after we hashed them out together.

From your question, it sounds as though you don't feel your girlfriend is doing enough to remedy her unemployment, and that's being compounded by your fear that she's simply biding her time until she can trade employment for staying home with the kids. Only you are in the position to figure out if that's true or not.

Keep in mind that communication will likely shut down further if you come across as accusatory or critical. Go ahead and ask her how the job search is going, but don't assume the worst if her efforts seem insufficient. Let her know that you want to help her and see if there's some part of the process she struggles with. Maybe she needs practice interviewing, or could use some suggestions on how to build her network. Maybe this has been a bigger blow to her self-esteem than you thought and her acting fairly content is just a defense mechanism. Some encouragement might start the ball rolling again.

And talk about the marriage and kids thing. If she seems eager to start soon, explain the reality of your finances. At this point it's not even a question of whether or not you want to support her and your kids, it's that it's unrealistic at this time, and that you can't foresee this changing unless your financial situation improves.

Also, maybe discuss how the money you have now is being managed. Work together to make a budget, perhaps putting aside a bit for an emergency fund. It sounds like you could use some peace of mind, and having her working with you to save money might improve your confidence in the relationship.

So tl;dr... we can't tell you anything about the state of your relationship from this question. It's up to you to talk things out with your girlfriend and figure out whether or not you do agree on money. You'll learn a lot from the way she responds to these discussions, whether she's keen to pull her weight and be your partner, or if she expects you to take care of her.
posted by keep it under cover at 7:42 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Forgive me if it has been mentioned...

Have either one of you sat down and figured out how expensive children might be?

Ask her to do this, really do this. You do it, too. Then figure out a financial goal, and agree that you won't get married/have children until you reach that goal.

That way you won't feel pushed into a marriage/children that aren't financially sound, and she will hopefully be motivated (if she's not already) by something more tangible than general "more money".

(Marriage can save you a lot of money, though, whereas kids are big money losers).
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:00 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

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