Ambition and the unambitious fiancé
February 28, 2011 9:19 AM   Subscribe

On ambition and potential married bliss... or hell...

My fiancé and I have very different views when it comes to ambition. On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is Donald Trump and 1 is a boiled turnip), I'm an 8 or a 8 1/2. I've written two books, I keep an active niche blog, I'm considering starting a new business, and I'm holding a stable day job which allows these other things to come to fruition. I have an idea of where I'd like to be in five years, even if I don't know the exact way it'll happen.

My fiance is about a 2 or 2 1/2. She was an Art major in college, and after much encouragement from me, she's started a blog (which has since gone ignored, like her overflowing desk), started painting a bit more, and (through one of my contacts) donated a couple pieces to a local fundraiser. She wouldn't have done any of those things (except maybe the painting) if I hadn't encouraged her in the efforts. She wants to make a living as an artist (her words), but doesn't do the basic things needed to make that happen. Any suggestions I make about what could be done are answered with pessimism ("I've talked to 20 artists and none of them are making a living out of it") or a fatalist, 'woe is me' attitude ("I guess it'll never happen and it's not worth trying")...

In virtually all other areas, we are as compatible as can be - yet in my mind this one thing is a potential deal-breaker. After getting engaged we talked grandly about traveling the world, retiring in some cheap country, etc. etc. I'm taking the steps to make that happen, and she hasn't. The dream hasn't changed, but her attitude has consistently remained pessimistic to the possibilities.

FWIW, both of us are late 20's and in stable jobs. We've been engaged for over a year now, although no major plans towards marriage have been made (going back to our home country to get hitched is her requirement, and there's no telling when that will happen).

MeFi's, does your spouse have a much different ambition level than you? How have you overcome that gap, or was it insurmountable? I know the story how the only person you can change is yourself - but surely there are ways to encourage, assist, etc.?
posted by chrisinseoul to Human Relations (66 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
If you even have to ask this question, I think it's already a deal-breaker for you. This is a trait of your fiancee's personality, and you can't change her. It's nice to encourage, assist, etc, but if those aren't things she's asked for, then you're still, in a way, trying to change her. It probably won't work, and you'll both be frustrated.
posted by katillathehun at 9:22 AM on February 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

There is a vibe in how you talk about your partner that is a bit disturbing. You are on different pages of the book of life, and you are very judgemental as to where she stands.

I would suggest that you are not ready for marriage at this point.
posted by tomswift at 9:24 AM on February 28, 2011 [48 favorites]

I think you need to questions your assumptions. You seem to think that professional "ambition" is an objectively good thing, and that your girlfriend lacks it. But this isn't true -- plenty of people, especially as they get older, value focusing on living life one day at a time instead of spinning their wheels in pursuit of grand dreams. And this is a perfectly valid preference. In addition, you might be ignoring the efforts that your girlfriend actually does made towards her ambitions, because you simply don't recognize them as ambitions. For example, maybe she's a social connector and great at getting friends and family together for fun events. Maybe she's the one that makes dinner for you and your friends to make sure you maintain your social ties? Maybe she loves to take long walks and ponder the meaning of life? This may not register to you as "ambition," but they are all important and valued ways she spends her time.

So I guess what I'm saying is, don't judge your girlfriend for lacking what you consider to be "ambition." Instead, think about whether you like your girlfriend as a person, and why it's so important for you that she share your exact view of "ambition."
posted by yarly at 9:25 AM on February 28, 2011 [50 favorites]

tomswift: "
I would suggest that you are not ready for marriage at this point.

Agreed, except I would suggest that you are not ready to marry this girl at this point. Not that you're not ready for marriage in general.
posted by Grither at 9:26 AM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

For the negative attitude she seems to have, the pessimism, I don't think I'll be the only mefite who suggests therapy. I've been in that pit myself and, as a creative person, I've needed help to get back on track with my ambitions before. My SO has been very good at encouraging me to seek help when I've needed it.

However if she won't do this, or if it's not the negative attitude, it's just that she simply does not want what you want out of life, then yeah, that's a dealbreaker.

Citation: I've wanted to live in the major city I live in now for years. My ex, in the small city I used to live in, did not share the aspiration to try new places to live. Ultimately, he went from not sharing my ambition to trying to emotionally weaken me so I would give it up.

Help her help herself as much as you can, but don't let her try and dampen your ambitions like he did mine - I wish I'd moved a year sooner and I would have if not for his negativity!
posted by greenish at 9:27 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was in a relationship with a guy like that and I recently broke up with him over it (well, lots of reasons, but that was a big one.) He did the same thing, making excuses as to why he wasn't trying harder at various pursuits. (The same things, too- "no one else can get a job either" and "it will never work out so why bother trying?" etc.) Ultimately I realized he would always have an excuse for everything because he just didn't like working hard. Problem is, I do. I get a thrill from achieving goals, learning new things, and generally improving myself. He never got that and after a while actually started giving me grief for it, and I think resenting me for all the stuff I did while he did nothing. Now that it's behind me, and I've started spending time with more ambitious people, I feel happier. I realize that although the ex and I had some fun together, we were not actually all that compatible. Now that sort of thing is at the top of my list when it comes to dealbreakers with new guys.

There are PLENTY of girls out there who will be more like you on this, and also looking for guys like you! Oh and as a data point, I was an art major. I bailed when I saw what a hard time I'd have making a career of it. So I pursued a more stable career and do art as a hobby now.

To be fair, I think he was depressed. If she is depressed, maybe you can help her figure out some help. I tried to get my ex to address his depression and he refused, though, so I finally had to give up and move on.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:27 AM on February 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

The question is, why do you care about her ambitions if she's just happy doing art? It is because she'll sponge off of you monetarily? Because you'll have to do all the work (i.e., travel arrangements) whether it involves money or not? Because you just have some idea of what a spouse "should" do? Because her woe-is-me-whining wears on you?

These are valid concerns, btw. I had an unambitious boyfriend who not only wouldn't work but also took what little money I made, and that was a complete deal-breaker. There's a fine line between "not ambitious" and "lazy"; perhaps you can figure out what specifically bothers you about her attitude.

Also, keep in mind: people are on their best behavior before marriage.
posted by Melismata at 9:30 AM on February 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm not ambitious and my husband is, and it works for us. However, he isn't looking down on me because all I want to do is read and watch TV and hang out with my cats, whereas you seem to have a pretty fundamental lack of respect for what your girlfriend wants out of life. If you can't get over that, you should not be in this relationship.
posted by something something at 9:32 AM on February 28, 2011 [25 favorites]

Considering she has a stable job, perhaps the art is indeed just a hobby that she is simply not motivated to monetize. Is she "talking a good game" and saying she wants to make oodles of money off her art, but when it comes down to the effort involved, fall short? The situation you have does not seem so critical; it's not like you go to work and she sits home languishing. I'd be far more concerned if she gave up her day job for the art and then behaved as you described.
posted by teg4rvn at 9:36 AM on February 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

My husband and I are similar - I have been the more ambitious person and he has been the more laid back person. I won't lie to you - it has caused conflict in our lives. But we still make it work. We're hitting five years of marriage this spring and we still are crazy about each other.

Yes, I do get frustrated with him not doing the things I think he should be doing. And yes, he does get frustrated with me telling him what he should be doing.

But the benefits of our existence together are there - we've rubbed off on each other. I'm less intimidating and forceful and judgemental and more laid back. It's improved my relationship with my family and our friends. He has since quit a job he hated for almost 15 years to get another job that better fits his life. I'm having more fun and together we are more successful and happier.

Marriage is work and marriage is accepting who a person is and loving them because and in spite of it.

I have not been able to change my husband so that he does what I think he should be doing. He has not been able to change me so that I stop telling him what I think he should be doing (although it's not as often as it used to be).

You have to decide if this is something you're willing to accept and live with and struggle with and love anyway.
posted by jillithd at 9:39 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You say she has a stable job. So what's the problem? Maybe if she was allowed to work at her own pace without constant pressure from you, she'd have the confidence to accomplish something extra.

I was just commenting yesterday about how some people are very product oriented (that's you, with the goals) and others are very process oriented, especially creative types. For some paths, it is not necessary or helpful to know from the outset exactly where you're going -- it can be counter-productive, in fact. I understand that's frustrating and maybe dispiriting from the standpoint of trying to gauge whether it's safe to involve this person in your dreams and plans for the future, but you are not going to get anywhere by trying to turn her into you.

Drive is a valuable quality, but you can end up driving right over other people or pushing them around, even if you merely intend to offer guidance and support. You are only barely masking your contempt for her efforts here, so I can only imagine how it seems in real life.
posted by hermitosis at 9:39 AM on February 28, 2011 [27 favorites]

Aha, she sounds a bit like me. I have a stable job, but I'd love to do something artistic for a living, and travel the world, retire on the cheap, all that. Except I plug along at what is currently working, and figure I still have a while to make my dreams become real. And I have a blog or two that sits idle, with big ideas waiting in the wings.

My wife supports my idealistic views, even supports the idea of me being a stay-at-home dad, if I can put more effort into making some money to support our family through my artistic efforts. She loves her job, and couldn't imagine doing anything else. She's great at it, but it doesn't make a lot of money, especially with where we currently live. But we're looking to live somewhere cheaper, somewhere that I could be the stay-at-home dad who tries his hand at art, while keeping the home, cooking and cleaning and all that.

And on the flip side, I love the outdoors, I love hiking and kayaking, backpacking and generally scrambling around in the dust for hours. That's my kind of fun. My wife - she's content to find a comfortable spot, inside or out, and read a lot. She gets enough of people with work, so this is her relaxation. So I don't plan major weekend excursions for two, unless it's with other like-minded friends. We've gone car camping a few times, which is timid for my tastes, but then I get to be out and about with my wife near-by.

What I'm saying is that there are compromises. You'll change a bit for her, and she'll change a bit for you, if you're to get married and make it work. Or you'll do a lot of work to make her dreams come true, and put aside some of your goals, but that's not fair to you, nor to her. So it's back to compromise.

And is she pessimistic, or less motivated? If she still has the grand dreams, but doesn't take the steps you see as necessary to make them happen, she hasn't given up, she's just not moving as fast as you.

Can you change your some of future goals to your fiancé's speed? If not, it will be a strain for a long time, if not forever.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:40 AM on February 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you talked to her about this? If she is willing to make some changes and you are willing to meet her halfway, then certainly you can make it work. If she is not interested in changing, then that may be a problem.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:40 AM on February 28, 2011

My partner and I have different levels of ambition. I am a driven hard-working anxious ball of energy who gets a lot done. He is an agreeable and affable guy with a regular job and a small social circle and a few hobbies that make him happy. I'm regularly adding new people and new experiences to my life, he's pretty content with what he's up to and is not that big into new things just for the sake of newness. That said, he's pretty content and upbeat. I, on the other hand, can be a bit humorless and stressed out at times particularly when I'm trying to balance the slightly-too-many things on my plate. When we get together, sometimes we'll go all out and do a new thing with new people every day of the weekend [we live a few hours away from each other] and sometimes we get right into pajamas and stay that way all weekend, eating snacks and just laying low and enjoying each other's company. If he was not in my life, I'd have a really hard time giving myself the space and time to just be, and not be working on projects or socializing or whatever. I think my relationship with him has made me a better person. And for the reverse, I think his relationship with me has made him slightly more productive and outgoing, both things which he likes about himself now.

And that part is the key. He likes being a little more like me. I like being a little more like him. Our relationship is symbiotic and helpful to both of us, even as we're in different places on the ambition scale [we do both have jobs, so we're self-supporting] and the things I am looking for in a partner do not really include another power-hitter like myself.

It does not sound like this is what is going on with you and your partner. It's okay to want to be with someone who wants the same things you do, or someone who doesn't but shares the same outlook. Me and my partner both share the same cautiously optimistic views about the world and how we like to spend free time and how we interact together. What we do with our non-free time is very very different, but that's not a problem that either of us have. We're also a little older [early 40s] and may want different things from life than we did when we were your age, but I'm really looking for someone who smiles in the morning and loves walking in the woods and can run his own life and has things that make him happy. You need to think about what you want in a partner, not just out of life in general and see if this partner is going to help you get there.
posted by jessamyn at 9:41 AM on February 28, 2011 [27 favorites]

You have to assume that she will be this way for the rest of her life, no matter what you do. (Chances are she'll be fine and do her thing at her own pace, but never mind that for now.) If you can't stomach the thought of being with her forever exactly as she is now, don't go through with the marriage. It would be unfair to both of you.
posted by phunniemee at 9:43 AM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh my god, I can't believe people are suggesting she needs therapy for being "pessimistic" and having "a negative attitude" about her chances at an art career - HELLO, almost no one can actually succeed at making a living with their art, that's just realistic.

So here's the thing, chrisinseoul, I don't think this is necessarily a dealbreaker unless you want it to be, but you should realize that it's not going to change. She is going to continue with about this same level of "ambition" throughout your life together - are you OK with that? So you are a published author with a successful career and a successful blog - do you need to have a wife who is a breakout, awesome, successful, top-of-her-field artist? Or is it OK to have a wife who's just... an artist, who sends something to a gallery once in a while?

If she's happy at her current level of effort / activity, why can't you be? I notice that this post is about what you want, not really about what she wants. I know you've put in a cursory reference to her desire to have an art career, but I think this description is filled with YOUR assumptions about what that means, and what needs to happen for it to could as a "successful" art career. You should figure out not only what her aspirations are, which is your lens for everything in the world (which is fine), but also what actually makes her happy on a day-to-day level. If she "wants" to have an art career because you keep asking "what do you want, what do you want," but in fact she actually enjoys just painting without any pretense of shipping particular piece to a particular gallery, then I think she's mostly just making up aspirations to fit the language of your questions. Ask different questions.

And, I certainly don't mean to reify traditional gender roles, but do you make enough money to support both of you? If so, what exactly is the problem with her continuing to do her art thing, at whatever pace, while you continue on with your supercharged career?

tl;dr - if you can live with her current level of ambition throughout your life, then this is not a dealbreaker. If you feel the need to prod her and increase her ambition all the time, then you should move on for both your sakes.
posted by rkent at 9:44 AM on February 28, 2011 [18 favorites]

I just wanted to add that, all other things aside, another person's pessimism will completely wear you out eventually if you're an optimist.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:45 AM on February 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

To play devil's advocate here, she may be paying lip service to "ambition" in order to please you, while her real priorities lie elsewhere. At a guess (from an internet stranger who has never met your fiancee), her real ambition is to spend time with you.

Look at this from the other perspective - she may quietly regard your ambition as workaholism that means you leave her to fend for herself while you pursue these things. It robs her of important time spent with you. If I were her, that'd sure put me in a pessimistic frame of mind. She may not be taking action on moving back to your home country to get married because she doesn't think you're as committed to the relationship as she is.

I'm not saying you're like this, but try to see things from another perspective. What's her side of the story?
posted by LN at 9:46 AM on February 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with being ambitious and there's nothing wrong with not being ambitious. The problem comes when one partner expects the other to be what they're not. Presumably you fell in love with her for who she is now, not who she could be later. As long as there isn't anything behind the pessimism (is she depressed? is she ill? there might be things worth looking into), either let her be who she is or let her find someone else who will.
posted by cooker girl at 9:48 AM on February 28, 2011

Are the thing you want for her the things she really honestly truly wants for herself, or does she just want to want these things? Are you pushing your ambition onto her? She might not have the fortitude to vocally not want what you want for her.
posted by aimedwander at 9:48 AM on February 28, 2011

She wants to make a living as an artist (her words), but doesn't do the basic things needed to make that happen. Any suggestions I make about what could be done are answered with pessimism ("I've talked to 20 artists and none of them are making a living out of it") or a fatalist, 'woe is me' attitude ("I guess it'll never happen and it's not worth trying")...

Well part of it could be the idea of making a living as an artist, versus the reality. You could, for example, have the romantic idea of making a living working at sea, and yet be completely unwilling or unable to actually live on a boat, spend time away from home, find actual real world opportunities, etc. She may be happier working a day job and doing painting as a hobby than she would be doing all of the hard work that goes into trying to make a career out of being an artist.

I know the story how the only person you can change is yourself - but surely there are ways to encourage, assist, etc.?

You're already pushing her to be more ambitious. What do you want to accomplish from this? Do you just want her to have an ambitious mindset like your's? Do you want her to have an impressive career and do things you can be proud of? Do you want her to make a lot of money? Or do you just want her to do what will make her happy in life?
posted by burnmp3s at 9:49 AM on February 28, 2011

I'm sorry to suggest that this is indeed the deal-breaker you think it is.

Consider this as a useful yardstick: If you go online asking strangers whether a relationship can be saved -- not just how to make it better, but SAVING it -- it can't be, by definition, because you're already 80 percent of the way there, whether you want to admit it to yourself or not.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:50 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

She doesn't think she can make her art a career and she won't keep up with her blog! Seriously, you sound kind of overbearing and paternal in your attitude toward her. There's no way to know from a single post, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn the reason she makes these excuses isn't pessimism, but rather that she's not interested in them.
posted by skewed at 9:51 AM on February 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

I know the story how the only person you can change is yourself - but surely there are ways to encourage, assist, etc.?

The problem, as I see it is that you two are different people and neither of you are able to understand the other on this matter. This isn't deal breaker in my opinion, but based on what you've written, there's just fundamental differences that need to be understood and bridged.

I think it's a good sign you want to help, but after reading this:
Any suggestions I make about what could be done are answered with pessimism ("I've talked to 20 artists and none of them are making a living out of it") or a fatalist, 'woe is me' attitude ("I guess it'll never happen and it's not worth trying").
I wonder what your response was. Did you say anything? Did you try to understand why she thought that way? Where it me, I would have said, "Yeah, but those other 20 artists aren't YOU, the special person I'm engage to marry. You have something special that we just need to figure out how to make happen. If other artists in the world are doing this, then you can too, you're smart and talented, it just might take a bit to make it happen. What's the first step..." and then from there, hopefully, conversation starts about how to progress to that goal.

I guessing that you're such a go getter you don't really get how someone can feel and think in the way that's she doing. To your mind, it may be as simple as "Oh you need to X and Y, in order to get to Z". She may not understand that, you may literally be talking a different language to her, which isn't uncommon, IMO, when you try to talk business with most artists. She also may not get or grasp that it takes a series of small steps to reach a large goal, so maybe you can help her there also

But really, ya'll need to sit down and have some conversations about this. It may not all be solved in one talk, but you two need to talk AND listen to each other, to understand what's going on in this dynamic of your relationship, the problem it's creating and how to fix it or whether you two want to fix.

Ultimately, ya'll be different pages in regards to this and not able to bridge. But you won't know until you've done lots of talking about it.

Good luck!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:53 AM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is your concern about her lack of ambition (as you define the word) affecting the quality of the time you spend together? When you're watching TV or reading or cuddling on the couch with her, are you fully present and relaxing with her or are you frustrated with her or thinking of better ways both she and you could be using that time?

If the answer is yes, then this might well be an insurmountable problem, and you might be happier with someone else.

For what it's worth, I agree that you seem quite judgmental about her choices. She's got a good job, a hobby she enjoys, and other interests, right? Unless there's something you didn't include about the situation (like she's spending all her money on art supplies that go unused, or is miserable in her current job) she doesn't strike me as unambitious at all. Lots of people would like to make their livings as artists or writers or actors or whatever. That doesn't mean they want to commit to the oft-thankless hustle that's required to take a shot at it, or that they can't enjoy/be fulfilled by other work. Unless she has specifically told you that she can never be happy unless she truly throws everything she has at trying to make a living as an artist, you might want to consider your assumptions about what her dreams and goals should be versus what they are.

You also haven't said anything about whether she's happy with how things are, or what she thinks about your opinions on her ambition. I suggest you find out by talking to her, and go from there.
posted by superfluousm at 9:59 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're both ignorant. An ambitious artist doesn't need to talk to other artists, they need to talk to gallery people. However, it appears that you are holding your own ambitions for her over her and then judging her performance. Make no mistake, the blog was your thing.

Think of it this way: art is her hobby, perhaps her avocation, and ambition itself is yours. You appear to want her to take on your hobby, ambition, and apply it to her hobby, art. Why aren't you adopting art as a hobby in return?
posted by rhizome at 10:00 AM on February 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

One of the things that attracted my husband to me, and me to him, was that we are both competent and hardworking people.

Even with this basic, important commonality, we are really, really different in terms of how we plan for things, prioritize, decide on goals, etc. Even though we both have the same goals, and same ideas of how to get there, there is still an ocean that we swim through to find methods that are acceptable to both of us.

I can't imagine having a life partner as different from me in terms of ambition as what you describe here.
posted by Leta at 10:00 AM on February 28, 2011

Ambition is not your issue. Money is. You have to decide if your being the sole or primary bread winner in the family is an issue. You are also confusing ambition with making money. She could be ambitious about being the best artist she can be and never want to ever sell a painting. As a Wall St guy who married a social worker, I know the difference. My wife wanted to save the world and she set out to do it regardless of the money. We could afford to live on my earnings. Forget what she wants to do with her life and determine if you love her and want to be with her regardless of her success, your success and how much of the rowing she does in the river of financial security.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:06 AM on February 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

The way I see it, having one partner with Intense! Life! Goals! that involve moving or travel is really enough in a marriage or partnership. There are a lot of careers where having a laid-back partner is a real asset--state department, tenure-track professor, researcher, international NGO, military, doctor...

Or, if you want kids, one partner with less investment in external success is handy.

If she supports your dreams and does plenty on a practical, day-to-day basis to keep your life running smoothly, consider yourself lucky that you don't ever have to make a decision to go to grad school in different countries, or hold off on pursuing your goals because she's establishing herself in a certain area.

That said, if you think that a messy desk = less valuable person, then she's not right for you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:09 AM on February 28, 2011 [18 favorites]

I know a handful of people who I would deem "very ambitious." I generally enjoy their company, and am able to handle this kind of ambition for small periods of time, because it is fascinating to see what people with this kind of boundless energy can do with an apparent lack of fear of failure. However, around hour 2 of the conversation with each of them, "I am very ambitious and have done things x, y, and z" makes the subtle transformation into "why have you only done thing x, and stuck with it for so long? don't you long to not work for The Man?" When this happens (and it always, always happens), I begin looking for a graceful exit to the conversation, promising the person I am talking to that we will have lunch again when they are next in the city. Because it's not such an awful trait in someone, it's just not the sort of subtle derision that I will put up with without becoming annoyed.

If I were engaged be married to someone who I thought was likely to constantly make subtle barbs about how I am not living up to my potential, based mostly on our wildly divergent ideas of what constitutes sufficient risk-taking, I would be looking to get the hell out of there before that person caused me to drive a grapefruit spoon into his/her solar plexus by nagging me about what I should be dong with my life and (by association) how I have not lived up to his/her expectations.
posted by Mayor West at 10:09 AM on February 28, 2011 [25 favorites]

The first definition of "ambition" that pops up on google is: a cherished desire.

A cherished desire.

So when my aunt in 8th grade was sitting in Catholic school and the nun, frustrated by her grades, called out in front of the class, "JANE!* Your grades are so horrible! What on earth are you going to do with your life?" my aunt honestly responded, "I want to get married, have children, and watch soap operas all day."

That was her cherished desire. And she was able to do it for years. She had no ambitions beyond that, and she was very happy with both her choice and that she and her husband could make it work so that she could do what she had always wanted to do: stay home with her kids all day and watch soap operas as she could.

It may be your fiancee's cherished desire is to be an artist, but it may also be that she has cherished desires aside from that as well. Maybe becoming an artist isn't all she wants from life, though it is something she may want.

Also, keep in mind in the field of art, many, many, many people who become successful do not necessarily do so until later in life. John Irving didn't publish until he was 36. Edgar Allan Poe wasn't well thought of as a writer until he was rediscovered by the literary world in the 1950s. Van Gogh's fame didn't grow until after he had died.

Success for artists isn't measured the same way as success in other fields because it truly can come at any time, in life or death.
posted by zizzle at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2011 [8 favorites]

Why is it important for her to have ambition? So she can afford to travel with you? So she can react to your goals and successes with more optimism? So she'll be on your level professionally or intellectually?

Or so she can be happy with herself?

My guess (and I am enough like your fiancee that this question gave me a jolt of OMG is this about me?) is that she's not happy with where she is professionally, but doesn't know how to get to a good spot from here, or if she even can. And what you're reacting to is not her lackluster resume, but her defeatism and reluctance to take the initiative to make herself happy. And if that's the case, ask yourself if you'd be okay with her if she had a boring old job but was totally at peace with herself.

This can get better with age, wisdom, effort, and (when it's needed) therapy. (I am better than I was a few years ago. I can still be pokey when it comes to hard work, but I'm getting there.) It will take patience for both of you, and you might have to nudge her every now and then until she gets enough momentum going. If you're in for a few years of that, you're okay. If you're at the point where you need to see things change now, it's not going to work.

This is common for a lot of people in their 20s, incidentally. You're in a rare spot, with your accomplishments at your age. I can understand the frustration with someone who hasn't figured it out yet, but do your best to avoid implying that there's something wrong with her for not having a five-year plan. It'll just make her feel worse and more defeated. You get more success with "you could do this!" than "why haven't you done this yet?"
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:15 AM on February 28, 2011

The thing you have titled "Ambition" is actually comprised of many different pieces. There's goals, there's values, there's pursuit, there's energy, there's the practical financial piece. It's not a 1-10 scale where you get an 8 and she gets a 2; come on, that's really disrespectful. You have to figure out what it is that's really bothering you- is that she's not making financial progress toward your retirement goals (which could be done with her 9-to-5)? Is that you really want to be with A Visionary Artist Just Like Yourself and she's not living up to your dream of her dreams and that bugs you? Is that she complains a lot and it annoys you?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:18 AM on February 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you have enough ambition for the both of you. As long as she's got a stable job, what the heck difference does it make if she has a blog? Does she need a blog? Does she even give a shit about blogging or did she make it to satisfy your need to have a fiancee who blogs? If you are always on her about all these things you think she should be doing, she should be the one posting here and asking us if living with Captain Type A Personality should be a dealbreaker for a laid back person.
posted by crankylex at 10:21 AM on February 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

It's not a 1-10 scale where you get an 8 and she gets a 2; come on, that's really disrespectful.

Yes, especially considering that you say 10 is Donald Trump and 1 is a "boiled turnip." Although, actually, according to that scale I'd much rather be closer to boiled turnip than Donald Trump. Which leads me to point're ignoring that intense ambition has a down side. It's not an unmitigated good thing. Ambition drives people to neglect their families, start wars, ruin the environment, fail to stop and smell the roses...
posted by yarly at 10:23 AM on February 28, 2011 [16 favorites]

Not to be cold and utilitarian, but have you considered that partnerships where both people have type A personalities can have their own unique difficulties? (Greater resistance on the part of one partner or another over who will be the "trailing spouse" if an irresistible opportunity presents itself in another location, more handwringing over splitting child rearing responsibilities when neither partner is deeply motivated to take a brief break from career ambitions to become the primary parent--and there's usually a primary parent, regardless of gender--, etc.) Can you see this as an asset? Note that if you have no respect for her choices, that IS a dealbreaker--contempt is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse for relationships.
posted by availablelight at 10:24 AM on February 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

She wouldn't have done any of those things (except maybe the painting) if I hadn't encouraged her in the efforts.

Is she feeling encouraged and supported, or nagged and judged? Just because what you intend is the former doesn't mean that she's not hearing the latter.
posted by rtha at 10:27 AM on February 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

OP, would you still want to marry your fiance if she gave up art forever? If you wouldn't, I don't think you are the right people for each other.
posted by auto-correct at 10:33 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

The way you speak of your girlfriend makes me think that you would both be happier alone. She doesn't keep up with her blog? Give me a freaking break. I've been in your girlfriend's shoes and its no fun to be with someone who keeps prodding you to do something with your life, that you don't necessarily want to do.

I dated someone for a long time who was very creative, avant garde, and highly ambitious in those pursuits. Other things he let fall to the wayside: saving money, staying on top of bills, etc. He kept prodding me to develop my creative side when really, all I wanted to do was go for a run or read Harry Potter or watch The Office. I got sick of feeling like I wasn't trying hard enough to break the mold.

He's now with someone very similar who makes him happy. I still keep in touch and it sounds like he is even more successful in his pursuits now that his partner is similarly-minded. On the other had, I've found someone who wants nothing more than to fall asleep on the couch watching TV with his dogs, or ride around in his truck listening to country music with me. I'm happy as a clam.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2011

Our relationship is symbiotic

This is the crucial thing.. It doesn't matter so much if you and your partner are different 'kinds of people'; what matters is whether or not you see those differences as complementary or not. From reading your post, it sounds like for you, you don't see her interest in art as something that complements your own drives and interests, but rather is likely to be a hindrance in you achieving the goals you want. I'm not criticizing you for that, because it's reasonable. It would also be reasonable for you to NOT be like that. What I'm saying is that this is going to come down to not "what is objectively a deal-breaker?", but instead "is this subjectively a deal-breaker for you?" From your post, it sounds like it is. If you're going to marry someone, you need to basically be pretty happy with 'who they are', other than tinkering around the margins like getting her to put her socks in the laundry hamper rather than leaving them on the bathroom floor. You get my drift -- I think you are hoping for a wholesale change in her personality rather than some tinkering around the edges.. proceed cautiously. People tend not to change dramatically.
posted by modernnomad at 10:37 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

marriage is accepting who a person is and loving them because and in spite of it.

A guy whose website I follow tends to often say "Go in with your eyes wide open; keep them half shut afterwards" - NOT the other way around as tends to happen in the happy hormonal honeymoon phase. It strikes me that in actual fact they should put the honeymoon first, then the engagement. Sorta like moving to the Arctic in the Fall rather than the Spring, in order to enjoy the Summer.

Jessamyn put it very well. It made me reflect upon on myself over the past few decades.

I wonder if ambition is the wrong word in this case. Whether drive or purpose or goal setting is what is the issue of concern.

A mismatch in energies will never quite work. I have experienced this in both professional partnerships as well as personal. When the energy levels don't match (its a subtle thing, the chi or spirit) and yet there are goals to fulfill as a team, it feels like being yoked to a heavy cart with another horse of a different ability. When you have two equal horses (forgive my metaphors here but this is how I've always visualized it) then pulling the cart is balanced momentum whereas when unequal then one horse always feels like they're pulling the cart a lot harder and you know, it doesn't feel fair.

A marriage of equals means just that.
posted by infini at 10:42 AM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think you sound like a monster. Does she really want to devote herself to art full-time, or does she just think she "should" because she has a degree in art? I don't much care that she's not blogging, but does she actually make art for her own enjoyment and self-expression or does she find other things more enjoyable/enriching/entertaining? I think people who have training and degrees in creative fields sometimes think they're supposed to do that and only that. While you're right to encourage her, maybe she'd rather decorate cakes than paint pictures, but doesn't want to disappoint you or her parents/artist pals, etc.

You sound like someone who gets an idea, acts on it and doesn't ruminate. Not everyone is as spontaneous and action-oriented.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:06 AM on February 28, 2011

I get the impression that her artsy side is something that initially attracted you to her very much. The passion for art. Maybe it was just having passion for doing something, and for you passion = ambition. And well, she's not really inspired and passionate about it anymore, and that disappoints you.

Maybe school made the passion for art wear its welcome out for her, feels like work instead of fun. I used to love reading and then after grad studies it became such a chore to read for fun when reading was pretty much my job. If this is the case, back off. She'll (probably) come back to it.

If it's her general pessimism and lack of passion in life that bothers you, and it isn't limited to the art... then I'd have to consider this a part of her personality now, something you won't be able to change through nagging.
posted by lizbunny at 11:35 AM on February 28, 2011

In terms of changing someone else, the key is to avoid nagging (which makes people less likely to do something) and instead positively reinforce any movement towards the desired behavior. Look up "shaping".

What you're doing right now is likely creating a negative association with the activities that you want her to do. She probably associates blogging with a disappointed fiance. That's not likely to get her to enjoy blogging.

Focus on the positive.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:41 AM on February 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Yeah, if you can't get the contempt out of the way you talk--whether out loud or in your head--about people who are not as ambitious as you, then she may not be the one for you. But I don't think that's a problem of hers.
posted by willpie at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe it was just having passion for doing something

Passionate is a good word also to describe what I was trying to in my earlier comment. Zest for life. Doesn't mean you aren't someone quite happy on the couch all day either, but there is a motor inside of you. There are many who simply do not have that. Again, this is not a value judgement, but more of a mismatch imho. Being laidback and easy going also does not imply a lack of passion. Curiosity? Interests that are absorbing? Topics that you can blather on and on about? Caring about something hard enough to give your all to it, whether its saving the world like one of the commenter's wives who is a social worker or raising lilies in the garden. Without this, there is no meaning in what you do everyday. If any of this resonates with you then perhaps its time for a big sit down and think. From heartbreaking experience I know that you cannot instill this in some one else, nor shape or encourage or wait for things to change.
posted by infini at 12:06 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You sound like you have a lot of hustle. That can be a really good thing, and probably means that you have a decent shot at the whole "work for myself, retire at age 40 to tropical foreign country" thing. Here's the thing, though: as someone close to a family member with a lot of hustle, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you're not really so great at accurately reading other people's ambitions and dreams. You're probably always thinking up ways to get from Point A to Point B, and you probably secretly (or not-so-secretly?) believe that all that stands in other people's way of living their dreams is that they don't just go out and do it already. (In other words, they lack hustle.)

It's nice to be around someone with hustle, at least in small doses. Their drive and willingness to not let anything stand in the way--fear, timidity, fatigue, doubts, social graces, reticence about tooting one's own horn--is awe-inspiring. They make you feel like you're uniquely talented and the world could be your oyster, and I love that. I love that right up to the point where my particular family-member-with-hustle starts talking about how I should quit my job and start my own business because working for yourself is the only path to financial freedom and fulfilling all my dreams. I know he believes this and is preaching it to me because he feverently believes I can do it and I would be happier, but he's totally wrong. He's wrong in part because he can't really see that I've considered the upsides and downsides and decided I don't really want that; and he's also wrong because he knows jack-all about my industry but has decided that with enough hustle I could be just as successful working for myself as he is. (Not every industry or dream is as open to someone with lots of hustle but less experience or talent; if you happen to be in one where hustle is enough to succeed, it's easy to start falsely believing that's all anybody needs.) Since I love him and know it's coming from a good place of wanting what is best for me, I'm not confrontational and I don't argue with him about it; I just nod and smile and "mm-hmm" and "maybe once X, Y, and Z happens" or "yeah, I could maybe see doing that in a few years." I am fairly sure he takes this as evidence that in my heart of hearts I agree with his idea of what my life should be but am too timid or lazy to go after it. Which is--at least as I'm reading it--your major gripe with your girlfriend.

All of which is to say: I wonder how accurate you are when you say she wants to be an artist or retire early and travel the world with you, but just lacks the ambition or derring-do to go after her dream. Are you *sure* that you're not hearing what you want to hear when you start pushing her to have hustle like you and she's trying to play along nicely because she loves you and it's flattering that you keep telling her she's talented enough to do art as her job? One issue is whether you can be with someone who doesn't share your grand dreams of *being somebody* or working really hard to retire sooner. (People with hustle never really retire, as they can't stand to sit around and not do anything, but you'll figure that out sooner or later anyway.) Maybe you can't, but then again maybe you wouldn't have such a hard time with accepting your girlfriend if you could take a clearly look at the situation and realize that she's not being too lazy or too unambitious to go out and do the things she has to do to achieve her dreams; it's that you're pushing her so hard to go out and DO SOMETHING that you've totally missed that you're pushing her in the wrong direction.
posted by iminurmefi at 1:17 PM on February 28, 2011 [21 favorites]

Might I just point out that ambition for an artist is a LOT different than most other things one can be ambitious about? It's not like there's a clearcut pattern to get up the ladder with art the way that there is in corporate jobs (go to college, get into management, get promoted a lot) or something like that. It's freaking hard. I do think that overall, she would probably have to have the desire to start her own business, which is a difficult thing to do. Most artists end up having a boring day job to pay for their art supplies their whole lives because it really is that difficult to do. Especially nowadays when art is the most expendable thing in a bad economy.

Just because you wish that you could make a living at an artist doesn't necessarily guarantee that you want to start your own business if that's the only option for doing so. Her ambition may be for art, but NOT for the business stuff. I relate to the problem: I'd certainly like an artistic career, but I wasn't exactly born with the business sense to make my own and I don't feel remotely passionate about doing that. It is a drastically different skill set than a lot of artists are likely to have anyway. Basically, she doesn't want the paying artist life enough to move hell and high water and do something she has no heart/interest for in order to do it.

As other folks have pointed out in this thread, it tends to be better if one partner out of the two is the one with the ambition, and the other rolls with the changes. This may not be the worst thing ever for you.

But here's an option: how's about you offer to HELP her start a art/craft business? Sounds like YOU have the drive, interest, and business sense in order to do it, and if you're doing the stuff she has no interest in doing, maybe her interest in actually creating art could flourish instead of being killed by the thoughts of making it into a business. She may need some hand holding in order to fulfill her ambitions, and you may be well equipped to do it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:23 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Look, re the art she is being a realist. She might be expressing it pessimistically but she is right factwise and it's not that bad to recognize it.

Other than that, have you considered that she might actually be a more perfect match for you exactly as she is? In marriage, people tend to balance each other out. I will say that over the last 27 years my husband has managed to enable me to be a bit more outgoing, so your personality could rub off on her a bit, but I think if you are compatible in all other areas she might be just right for you. Two highpowered ambitious personalities in a marriage might clash and burn.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:27 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll step up here with a dissenting voice. I'm one of those super-ambitious, stressball kind of people, who really enjoys being with other super-ambitious stressball kind of people. When I hang out with people who have vague plans, aren't sure what they want to do, aren't maximizing the situation they're in or looking for a better one, have a so-so job they kind of like and blog they keep up with sometimes... I get, well, antsy. I feel like my life is slipping away as I sit on the couch.

I have lots of male friends who tend to like more relaxed girlfriends, and have often wondered if this has been a hindrance in my relationships. They seem very happy to relax with their gfs and talk about crafts or cats or whatever.

But for me, I really want to be a "power couple" type of relationship. I *like* working. I like dreaming of cool things I can do in the future. I'd love to find a counterpart who wants to travel the world (or who, like me, already has), who has huge plans for the future, lots of vision, crazy entrepreneurial dreams... I love that stuff.

I tend to get very anxious and have a huge share of issues to work through, but ambition isn't one of them.

I've seen relationships work like yours, and relationships where the guy (usually) has made compromises to accept his wife because she's not as ambitious as he is. It wasn't ideal, of course, but every relationship involves compromises, and there are probably lots of compromises that he didn't have to make.

tl; dr: There are certainly other people who don't have this issue, with whom you would probably be more compatible in this area, but there might be other special compatibilities you have with your fiance that make up for it. It depends on what kind of life you want to have.
posted by 3491again at 2:37 PM on February 28, 2011

I think you need to address why you're so worried about this particular issue, why it ends up being identified as a dealbreaker. You should appreciate her for being her. She's not you, and she's bringing her own good parts and foibles to the relationship.

She sounds stressed to me or scared into paralysis. Maybe she's been dinged really hard by something and needs to get her strength together. People do that, you know. They're not always one way or the other, despite the self-description. People are people.
posted by anniecat at 3:36 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Look, re the art she is being a realist. She might be expressing it pessimistically but she is right factwise and it's not that bad to recognize it.

Argh, I hate this! That's what my ex used to say. "I'm just being a realist." (Like when he said he wasn't going to bother looking for a job because so many people are unemployed.) it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. if you're willing to do a little research and trial and error you can find ways to do the things you want to do. another data point: even though i gave up art as a CAREER, guess what, i still do it AND i make money on the side from it. because i didn't tell myself 'boo hoo being an artist sucks." i tried to figure out what sort of market there is for different types of artsy things and i entered a niche that not too many people do, advertised, networked, promoted myself, etc. but that's neither here nor there.

I feel like a lot of people ARE missing the point here, though. I think there's a huge difference between being a) laid back, yet still responsible and pleasant and in some way self sufficient and b) not wanting to grow up or start taking responsibility for your life, which manifests itself in ways like a poor work ethic, generally crappy attitude, laziness, whatever.

the way the OP presents it makes it kind of hard for me to tell which it is. but he is right to be concerned about it. my ex fell in the b) category and you know what? no matter WHAT he was trying to do in his life, there was always some excuse as to why he'd given up and not followed through with it. when he was working, his life was crap because he didn't have time to go to school. when he lost his job and suddenly had time for school, he didn't want to go because "whats the point, i won't be able to get a job anyway." when he lived at home, he was too stressed out to get anything done because of his mother, and he needed to live with me. once he lived with me, he couldn't get anything done because our relationship was too distracting to him and he needed to live back at home. see where i'm going with this? and no approach seemed to work in helping him get his ass in gear. i tried encouragement, though tried not to let it get into the 'nagging' spectrum. i tried leaving him 100% alone about it and letting him do his own thing. nothing ever happened. but the problem was not just "gee he has no job and i hate him for it." the problem was it made him a miserable person to be around a lot of the time. he was a pessimist to the point of trying to bring me down as well. things would have been much better if his attitude was: "hey, i don't need to make a million dollars, but i'll at least try to get a job i like have hobbies that make me happy and support my girlfriend in her own ambitious pursuits." if this was his attitude, i think i could have stayed with him forever, because with him the good times were amazing. but the undercurrent of pessimism and, at the end of the day, pure laziness were too much for me to handle. it's not about money, although that's important. it was just so easy for him to give up on things, and that made him fundamentally different from me. that's why breaking up with him was the right thing to do.

so it's up to the OP to sort through this all and figure it out. i think everyone is being a little too harsh on him, probably because they can identify with the first personality i described (laid back but happy) whereas I wouldn't be surprised if his girlfriend fell more into the other category (more like my ex.) these two types of people may seem similar but they are a world apart and only he can determine which it is. but it's not fair to judge him for questioning whether he wants to be with her. it's good that he is, because honestly it sounds like they aren't a good match and it's better for him to decide that BEFORE walking down the aisle, right?
posted by GastrocNemesis at 3:43 PM on February 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

oh and i can't help but feel that if this were gender-reversed, the answers may be a little different. i've never been judged so harshly for making essentially the same decision as this guy seems to be considering. i feel like if i posted this same question i'd be getting a whole lot of "DTMFA" answers. just a thought.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 3:46 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Gottman research quoted by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink shows that contempt (a belief that your choices are superior to your partner's choices) is the most significant predictor of future divorce. Only you can identify if you actually feel contempt about her choices - but it sounds like you might. And that's different from just feeling like you have different approaches.

I have been in your shoes, OP, and did split up with someone dear to me who I felt was less ambitious in a way I did not think was sustainable. I wish you luck understanding if this is the case for you.
posted by judith at 3:59 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agree with GastroNemesis, I didn't get the same tone from the post as others did apparently. I don't think you're being overly-judgemental of your fiancee at all. I think your concern is a valid one and you seem to be sincere in broaching it.

Generally, these kind of stories don't get to the engagement stage. This leads me to believe there's something there that made you fall for her hard enough to want to be with her for the rest of your life. You're not specific, you just say "in all other ways we're compaitble." (I really don't know what that means though because to me general outlook on life and lifestyle is HUGE.) But something made you propose so you have to figure out if all the other things you love about her will be enough.

A little sidenote: just your asking this question shows you think it might not be enough...and generally long engagements are not a good sign. Sorry. But good luck.
posted by GeniPalm at 4:14 PM on February 28, 2011

I'm hearing a lot of contempt in this question when you're discussing a pretty fundamental aspect of her personality. So yeah, for you, it sounds like a deal breaker.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:50 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

What if your g/f wakes up tomorrow with a level 9/10 ambition and wants to move to Rome (let's assume for a moment; her ambition really spiked overnight) while your ambition requires that you stay put........then what? Will you be willing to leave for Rome so she can follow her dreams?

Her "lack of ambition" does not seem to be the problem. It does seem, however, that you cannot respect her as an equal because of what you see as a lack of ambition.
posted by xm at 4:52 PM on February 28, 2011

On second thought, the way you emphasized that this is a potential deal breaker for you suggests that you just need our validation and approval to go ahead with what you already have in mind.

You have my blessings. Let the woman go and be herself.
posted by xm at 4:54 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I, too, have dated someone like GastrocNemesis' ex. Never held much of a job. Never finished school. Excuses constantly. I really don't see that in your post.

The big difference? She seems to have a steady job and a general pattern of responsibility. She had enough follow-through to get her degree. She moved to a foreign country and is surviving there, which is quite an adventure in and of itself (and can be taxing for anyone).

She's just not like "Oh hey in addition to my normal steady job, and dealing with a culture where I don't speak the language natively, I also want to have another significant hobby that is not just pleasurable, but a money maker, and then I want to develop that into my sole source of income".
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:54 PM on February 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

My husband is the ambitious one, and I am the not-ambitious one. It works pretty well for us. If I were ambitious and had my self-worth wrapped up in a career, then I would have been very unhappy during the past eight years that I've spent as a stay-at-home mom to a special needs child.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:37 PM on February 28, 2011

Sometimes I think non-artists who get involved with creative types are in love with the idea of being with an Artist - that is - the commercially successful artist they imagine their SO becoming, not the "lazy" person doing endless unfinished sketches. I can't tell you how many times I have heard, "Well, if I had your talent, I would ..." or "You should make XYZ and sell it." It's common for non-artists to think of the value of art in terms of simple money, and by association, their SO has more status when he/she is using that talent for profit. Like how you described on an ambition scale that you are an 8 and she is a 2. Perhaps if she makes $X you will rate her as a grade 5 artist, and then with experience she will get more skilled and she will make more money and maybe she will advance to a grade 8 artist. (Ha ha ha. I hope you get how absurd that sounds.)

Materials + skill does not always make profit where art is concerned, and sometimes profit shouldn't be a part of it at all.

You might want to think about learning to value your fiance's creative work in terms of something besides money and ambition. How about the pleasure it gives her, or the small personal achievements from piece to piece? Nurture her. She happens to like making things. Let her judge when it is right to put that work in the public eye to be criticized and pulled apart and maybe sold. It's not an easy thing to do.

I don't know about this being a dealbreaker for you. Maybe you can think about it and reevaluate your attitude, or maybe you just aren't in tune with creative types. But if I were her, it would be a dealbreaker for me if my fiance could only see the value of my creative efforts in terms of business transactions.
posted by griselda at 6:09 PM on February 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

Personalities in a successful relationship should be complementary, not identical or even overly similar.

Two type As are always going to be in slight competition; what you guys have could work but doesn't sound like it does the way things are.

Either be her boyfriend/husband or don't; you're not her therapist or life coach. You can and will push her away by doing this; though, if you want a sincere answer on how to "encourage/assist" her, I guess I'll grudgingly recommend Amy Sutherland's book, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons from Animals and Their Trainers.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:57 PM on February 28, 2011

Argh, I hate this! That's what my ex used to say. "I'm just being a realist." (Like when he said he wasn't going to bother looking for a job because so many people are unemployed.) it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. if you're willing to do a little research and trial and error you can find ways to do the things you want to do. another data point: even though i gave up art as a CAREER, guess what, i still do it AND i make money on the side from it. because i didn't tell myself 'boo hoo being an artist sucks." i tried to figure out what sort of market there is for different types of artsy things and i entered a niche that not too many people do, advertised, networked, promoted myself, etc. but that's neither here nor there.

I should point out I went to art school, know a boatload of people who went to art school, and am quite aware of how hard it is to do well with it as a career even if your talent is more than adequate to the task.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:00 PM on February 28, 2011

Hi from the OP:
I'll start by saying I have read each and every one of your comments, and sincerely thank you all for them.

To clarify a few points:

I would neither expect nor require my fiance to make a living in art, nor quit her job to do so. From all indications she's doing fine at her stable job, and has ample time to enjoy her art and her spirituality as she likes. It has been her mindset that she would love to paint, make art, etc. - and make some money in the process. She had the dream before I met her, but recently she's begun to doubt herself and her abilities. I suspect it's from having done some cursory research on selling art and feeling discouraged in that respect. My interest in her starting a blog or some other sort of website was based on my perception that the platform is good at making connections. Sure, I could help her get started - I have - but I'm hesitant to get significantly involved. Why? I'm afraid of taking over her project or imposing my own vision / ideas... Perhaps thinking of how one might treat a client would be a good boundary (?)...

The other fact has been her goal (HER goal, not my goal) has been to retire early, travel around the world, and to do so by saving money. She's grown defensive when I try to ask her how much money she thinks that'll take, or when I introduce the reality of inflation... Sorry, but a dollar saved today ain't worth a dollar a year from now - unless your money is doing something, it's not helpful to those goals.

Regarding being a 'realist': In my mind, a realist is simply someone who tries to look at a situation or problem from all possible angles, using as much information as possible, and doesn't approach a situation with a predetermined mindset. The realist in me says people DO make money from their art, and it's worth learning how they got started and what they do.

As with anything in life there is a balance. Even though various projects keep us busy, we'll usually travel on the weekends, get nice dinners out, and do something silly just to have fun. I'm not (yet) a full-blown workaholic, and I'm thankful she's not either. I do recognize that she balances me out in a way another ambitious person might not.

Please don't read anything into the long engagement - returning to our home country is her requirement, and thus far the timing of vacations has yet to sync. The gestation period has certainly been an illuminating one - both into her and how we work together (or don't). I'm a bit more surprised more people don't work through longer engagements, as it may answer a lot of questions years before they come up.

I fell in love with her for lots of reasons - cute, fun dancer, great cook, etc. - obviously, it takes more than that for a marriage. Lest anyone think asking strangers on the internet for their opinion is odd, let the record show that the combined experience on this thread alone is centuries more than the friends I might ask advice from.
posted by chrisinseoul at 12:49 AM on March 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

It seems like you have good intentions but are acting like her dad or like you're inherently successful and awesome and know more than she does about things.

Like inflation--I'm sure that she understands the concept of both inflation and interest. Maybe she just doesn't want to invest in the same things you'd invest in. You also mention it earlier as a goal that both of you share, and now it's her goal. If it's her goal--leave it alone. No one likes to be criticized, pushed, or treated like an employee (or like a client) by their equal partner.

I know a lot of people like this because I'm "smart" and run in a relatively well-educated and upper-middle-class crowd. They did well in school, did well at a few projects, successful in their field. They are now experts on everything, but especially, especially experts on things they know nothing about. (See: the Dunning-Kreuger effect). And they will tell you what to do, how to do it, and express obvious frustration at your ignorance about your own life, money, goals, and priorities.

Annoying when they're acquaintances, not friends. Awful when you're close and they obviously feel superior about things that are extremely personal, like your disappointments, failures, hopes, goals. To tell someone you're close to about a personal disappointment or that you feel like you'll never achieve your dreams is a very vulnerable thing that takes a lot of trust. When that person then turns around and tells you all the many ways that it's your fault, nags you about it persistently, or generally treats it as an opening to critique and "motivate" you, it is hurtful and inappropriate.

I had a wonderful friend who was very successful in college and grad school--300k/year job offer his sophomore year, asked to TA classes as a junior, his own office on campus. While this was happening for him, I was going through a very difficult time post-college with a lot of self-doubt. I was pretty lost. I had to quit talking to him because of his attitude that if I were more like him, my life would be significantly better. He did not think that it was important that we come from very different backgrounds, are different genders, I graduated years before he did, or that he was in a completely different field. It also meant nothing to him that I had achieved a degree in my creative field and spent years researching and discussing the financial realities associated with it. He was doing better. He knew more. About everything.

For a while there, we really didn't speak because the judgment and blame was the last thing I needed.Post-college and a failed business later, he's finally pleasant again. He listens when I talk. He learns new things from me. He asks for advice about things I have experience with. He's a friend instead of a superior or a judge.

One of the benefits of marriage, close friendships, and other healthy familial-type relationships is that we can trust our loved ones to always, always be on our side, even when we say something dorky, wear really ugly outfits, get rejected from our dream school, find out we're infertile, lose our hair, lose our job, and fail.

If you can't be that for her, let her go. If you can't be that for anyone, reconsider humility.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:01 AM on March 1, 2011 [10 favorites]

Hey, you seem like a really nice guy, which is why I'm going to be straightforward with you. I think you're making a mistake by failing to untangle your ego from how you evaluate your actual relationship with your girlfriend.

Your follow-up response completely fails to answer the question so many people have put to you: why is it important to you that your girlfriend be ambitious in the way you define ambition? Do you see your girlfriend's achievements as a reflection of your own? Why are you putting yourself in the paternalistic role of dad (or business consultant) where it's your job to improve her character? Why do you think your girlfriend should be like you?

So much of the language you use in your original post suggests that you believe that your girlfriend is a reflection on you, and your job is to bring her up to some sort of standard that you believe A) you yourself possess and B) is unquestionably good. For example, you talk about "My interest in her starting a blog"; you suggest that maybe "thinking of how one might treat a client would be a good boundary"; you "introduce the reality of inflation" to her; you have firmly decided that, relative to her art hobby, that you are the "realist" in the picture and know how to go about figuring out how to make money, and disapprove of her approach to the situation.

I think you need to do some really hard thinking about both your own attitude about yourself and your relationship with your girlfriend. I'm sure you're a successful, driven person with good qualities, but you really, sincerely need to internalize the fact that this does not mean that people who do not conform to your views are lazy or defective. It also doesn't mean that you are perfect. Your own success does not make you an expert in other people's lives. And more importantly, even if you were somehow completely right about your girlfriend's art career and knew exactly what she should do, the role of "all-knowing business coach" is not really what a lot of people want or find to be healthy in a romantic partner. Most people want acceptance and support; they don't want to be told that their relationship is premised on achieving a certain kind of success in the way which their partner wants them to.

All of this said, though, it may well be possible that your girlfriend's personality just doesn't mesh with yours. Maybe in practical terms, her lack of a similar view towards the world WILL hold you back right now. Maybe you want someone to accompany you on your entrepreneurial schemes and travels. Maybe she is stuck in an overly pessimistic mode and you don't want to stick around to see if it changes. That is perfectly OK. In that case, you break up rather than trying to make her change -- because, oh boy, nothing is ultimately more toxic and self-esteem killing than a relationship premised on the notion that one person is failing in some way and has to live up to the standards of the other. But before you break up, I think you should give serious thoughts to the good qualities your girlfriend does bring to the relationship. If you think you can be sincerely happy with her AS SHE IS, and accompany her as she figures out her way through life, then stay. But you need to realize that people aren't perfect and we all go through periods where we're not at our personal best -- we fail; we get depressed; we get sick; we get pessimistic; we get stuck in environments that bring us down and it takes a while for us to get unstuck; we just run into some bad luck. You will too, some day. When that happens, do you want to be judged on the basis of your material success, or do you want someone to accept and support you unconditionally?
posted by yarly at 7:28 AM on March 1, 2011 [12 favorites]

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