How can I get it through to my partner that she can't afford an unpaid internship?
February 19, 2012 6:02 PM   Subscribe

My partner refuses to consider giving up her unpaid internship in order to find a job and is furious with me for suggesting that she should. How do I approach this?

I live with my partner of four years in a mid-sized American city with high unemployment. I'm in graduate school, she's going to be attending graduate school next year. When she first moved here, she did the job search thing for a bit and turned down all offers in order to keep up an unpaid internship in her field. She lived off savings for a while and I eventually helped her get a work-from-home data entry job at my university. That job was temporary and has recently ended, and she's pretty much gone through all her savings. Now she's looking for jobs again, mostly in food service and retail, since she has experience and is really just looking for a disposable job to tide her over until the end of summer. She's gotten a few interviews but no offers. At each, she's asked to have Wednesday off every week so she can keep up her internship.

I tried diplomatically suggesting that she not mention the internship at interviews. It didn't go over well. The thing that really gets me is that the people at the internship place like her a lot and are flexible about when she comes in. There's no reason that she needs to go in on Wednesdays: it just appeals to her to have a regular day each week and that's the one she's arbitrarily selected. I sympathize with her desire to keep doing her internship, which I'm sure is more fulfilling than any job she's likely to get, but I think that this isn't the economy or the city to be so picky when basically her choice is to get a job or have me support both of us on my stipend. For a humanities student, I get a pretty generous stipend. In theory, it's enough to support us both, but we'd pretty much be scraping by.

I am not really the type to scrape by, and this has been a major part of our arguments on the subject. In particular, I spend $200-$300 a month on various collections. We both like to eat well and drink good beer. If we were to cut our food and alcohol budget in half and I were to quit eBay (something that gives me a weirdly deep pleasure even if it is a money sink), I could support her and she could continue to do her internship. I really, really don't want to do this and don't see why I should have to.

She doesn't think that this will happen even though she doesn't have a dime to contribute to rent next month. She is critical of my spending, but instead of suggesting that I need to cut back, she says that her internship is the equivalent to my collecting and it's unreasonable of me to ask her to give it up, although effectively if she doesn't get a job soon I will have to put all collections on hiatus. She insists that it's not at all unreasonable to ask for a specific day off work every week and that she'll be employed in no time.

I am at wit's end. I wouldn't like it, but I would be willing to support her if she just couldn't get a job. The way it is now I feel like she's taking advantage of me. I got mad and told her as much, but I don't know what to do now. We plan on continuing to live together next year, and when she starts receiving her stipend our money situation will be comfortable enough. As one might guess, this is far from our only financial dispute, though it is certainly the most serious, but I love her and am mostly content with our relationship otherwise, so I am pretty hesitant to give her any kind of ultimatum about the current situation. On the other hand, I don't know what else I can do to make clear to her that she just can't afford the internship, at least not on the terms she's currently insisting on. What do I do? What do I say? I'm at a loss.

Disposable e-mail at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (51 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it's irrational of you to say "I'm sorry, but however you do it, you need to be able to contribute $x to our household or leave."

I do think you're in a tight spot here, given that it is a temporary situation, that you are having fights about your discretionary spending, and that she doesn't seem interested in negotiating with her internship employer and appears hostile to all the suggestions you've made (I have no idea if it's because the specifics disagree with her, or she didn't like your tone, or what.) My advice to you can't be the same as it would be if the situation were "new," and you hadn't already landed in an angry sort of place on the subject.

Have you thought about couple's therapy or mediation? You're in grad school, so chances are you can get a few sessions for free through on-campus counselors.

I will also mention that fights about money are a huge, and super-common, thing for couples to fight about. It's actually pretty freaking vital that you get yourselves on the same page when it comes to this subject, because this is going to be an issue in five years, ten years, and twenty years - getting to September will not fix it, even if things suddenly look OK in terms of bank balances. That's one of the reasons I think couple's therapy would be really useful for you - it's actually very important.
posted by SMPA at 6:09 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ask her what specific suggestions she has, other than you giving up your hobby.
posted by desjardins at 6:11 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Internships are meant to be temporary. When is hers due to be finished? You make it sound as if she's been interning there for years and never plans to stop. This is not how internships work. Which means one of two things:

A) you're being clear with us about the time frame and these people are taking advantage of her. In which case she needs to leave, not because of your relationship and money arguments, but because you can't be an intern for four years. It doesn't work that way. That's slave labor.


B) you're being disingenuous about the nature of the internship, in which case you should take a chill pill and let the thing run its course. I wouldn't want to drop connections and learning opportunities I'd been building for months, either, just because my boyfriend wanted to spend more at Gamestop every month.

That said, you also shouldn't be expected to support her indefinitely. I like the "you need to be able to contribute $x or leave" approach, provided $x is reasonable. I do, however, think that if you love your girlfriend and think the internship is worth her time, the noble thing to do is share your stipend, even if it means a lower standard of living. What do you want more, her or craft beer? If the latter, you guys shouldn't be together at all.
posted by Sara C. at 6:19 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

I spend $200-$300 a month on various collections

I skimmed and didn't notice this.

If I were your girlfriend, I would probably break up with you if you wanted me to quit an internship so you could blow that amount money on eBay.
posted by Sara C. at 6:22 PM on February 19, 2012 [63 favorites]

This is really temporary problem -- she'll be in graduate school by the fall. Take one for the team, let her keep her internship (which as you mention, is in her field, and seems to mean a lot to her) and get employment if she can. If she doesn't manage to get employed, quit your ebaying temporarily -- no collection needs to grow all the time!
posted by peacheater at 6:27 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Stop being willing to support her. This problem just gets worse over time. Alternatively, marry her so you at least get a tax break for your trouble.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:30 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

You've been together four years and you're complaining about her unpaid internship? Just go with the flow and ask for some money or a special treat when her money comes in.

You're a couple, you're supposed to cover each other. So help her out with this, with the understanding that she acknowledges your sacrifice on the back end.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:31 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also, frankly, she's going to sit around doing nothing 6 days a week? That's not an internship, that's straight-up lazy.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:32 PM on February 19, 2012 [20 favorites]

Has she signed up with a temp agency yet? That may give her the flexibility to take short jobs while working around the internship.

I agree, she needs to bring in money somehow, but don't underestimate the value of having at least one day a week where she feels like she's doing something worthwhile, working toward her goals. That internship may be helping her stay sane in the face of unemployment and you shouldn't ask her to give it up lightly.
posted by slow graffiti at 6:33 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I've got to say that you're in a tough situation given your quite expensive eBay habit. On the one hand it sounds like your partner is being somewhat unreasonable here. She seems to feel entitled to your monetary support in a way that makes you uncomfortable, and would give many people pause. On the other hand, this is a relationship of some standing, you refer to her as your partner, her commitment is to an internship that is presumably meant to further her overall career, and you've got quite a bit of disposable income to play with in your budget.

I would certainly suggest that you all find a way to talk about money, and expectations around moral and financial support, but it's hard not to see this concrete example as a temporary situation that you have the power to affect. Do you want to lose your partner over a bunch of trading cards/records/state spoons/fabulous shoes?
posted by OmieWise at 6:34 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

For a humanities student, I get a pretty generous stipend. In theory, it's enough to support us both, but we'd pretty much be scraping by....I spend $200-$300 a month on various collections

I have a hard time reconciling these two things. Not spending $300 a month on tchotkes is not living in poverty. If spending money on your hobbies really means more to you then supporting your partner in the short-term, the two of you need to have a serious talk about the future of your relationship.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:37 PM on February 19, 2012 [46 favorites]

Sorry for the pile on, but chill out on the eBaying until she starts school. FFS.
posted by k8t at 6:44 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

The pile-on the poster for the eBay habit seems a bit much. His partner is bringing in nothing! However you slice it he or she is getting the raw end of the deal.
posted by gerryblog at 6:46 PM on February 19, 2012 [25 favorites]

It is your stipend, not hers. You can spend your discretionary income on whatever you like. You do not have to "scrape by" and give up your hobby because your "partner" (in name only) refuses to contribute to the household--especially when you are already feeding and housing her.

She's taking advantage of you, and you have every right to feel annoyed. It is particularly absurd that she's decided Wednesday is her unavailable day when talking with potential employers if her internship supervisor doesn't care what day she comes in. She's making herself unemployable, at your expense.

She needs to make an effort here, to actually be a partner and not a leech. If she's not willing to see that and do something about you, you've got trouble. How do you get it through to her? You tell her what your expectations are, and what you'll do if those expectations are not met. Then you actually do what you say you will do. Are you willing to break up over this?
posted by Scram at 6:48 PM on February 19, 2012 [46 favorites]

I tried diplomatically suggesting that she not mention the internship at interviews. It didn't go over well. The thing that really gets me is that the people at the internship place like her a lot and are flexible about when she comes in. There's no reason that she needs to go in on Wednesdays: it just appeals to her to have a regular day each week and that's the one she's arbitrarily selected.

This is a red herring. In general, "disposable" (your word) food service/retail jobs are the ones where it's not a big deal to ask for one day off a week and either take fewer hours/week or make it up on a weekend shift (which is part of why they're a common job for high school/college students.)

Is there some other reason that you believe she's not working sufficiently hard at her job search?
posted by kagredon at 6:49 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Man, I think both of you need to manage your expectations, and the answer to this really depends on where you see your relationship headed.

If you are thinking this relationship has further long-term potential--like marriage--then you need to recognize that one partner making sacrifices in order to support the other partner is pretty much part of the game. Like not spending $200-$300 a month on collectibles if this internship is something that's super-important to her and will be valuable for her future career.

On the other hand, her internship/job situation requires some clarification. If she is only spending 1 day/week at it, and doing nothing else, that's pretty ridiculous. It is not unreasonable that she either switch her one day to a day that might be more reasonable to holding a job, like a weekend or a Monday or Friday so she can have four solid weekdays in a row otherwise. Alternatively she can look at temporary type jobs that will bring in some cash, like at a coffee shop, a restaurant, temping in an office, etc. Shift-work type stuff where her not working 40 hours/week is OK.

She also needs to consider this internship in the long run. How valuable will it be to her future career path? If it is something that is just kind of neat, not necessarily going to improve her job opportunities, and she is tanking her finances in order to perform it and expecting you to make up the difference then that is as unfair as you expecting her to tank a valuable, career-building internship so you can eBay more.

Question requires more information about your long-term desires for the relationship and the nature of the internship itself and what she's doing outside of it. Fundamentally I think what you're willing to do here really depends on whether you plan on being together a year, two, ten years from now.
posted by schroedinger at 6:50 PM on February 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

Are you kidding? Why should you give up something that makes you happy so the girlfriend doesn't have to give up something that makes her happy? And what do you get in return?
posted by omarlittle at 6:53 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Compromise, Compromise, Compromise. Cut your Ebay spending in half and tell her to get a job, any job, that's weekends only. Surely there's a bar or restaurant job she could get for 2 or 3 nights a week.
posted by mannequito at 6:58 PM on February 19, 2012 [11 favorites]

Are you sure her request for one day off a week to work her internship is the reason she's not getting offers? There are plenty of other reasons she might not be getting hired--perhaps she's overqualified for these "disposable" jobs, perhaps employers don't want to take a chance on someone who's clearly going to leave as soon as something else comes along.
posted by serialcomma at 7:01 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

If the internship is important for her career, then trying to keep it is reasonable, as is setting aside one specific day of the week to it. You are under no obligation to support her temporarily while she tries to make it work but ... it would be pretty telling if you weren't willing to. On the other hand, she shouldnt be assuming you will support her; it is a joint financial/professional decision you should make together.
posted by yarly at 7:04 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I want to nth that it sounds like both of you aren't really treating this relationship as a long term thing. It sounds like both of you are getting caught up in what's strictly fair from your perspective, and ignoring the view of the other person. Like, she should probably be flexible about what day she keeps for her internship, but do you *need* to be spending hundreds of bucks a month on your collections? It sounds like you're both approaching this relationship as an arrangement that's only worth it as long as neither of you have to give in on anything, ever. What do you guys do when you argue about other things, or have to adjust your schedule for each other or whatever?
posted by MadamM at 7:08 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I find it highly unlikely that she can't find at least a part time job. Food service jobs are killing for people that just want to work weekends. Starbucks comes to mind.

It isn't fair that you would have to support her completely, however, you have to evaluate how important your relationship is; sometimes things like this happen and you do have to take on the brunt of the financial burden.

I feel like the situation deserves a little bit of give from both sides, and it really does seem like she isn't trying hard enough to land a job. If she truly is being turned down from her interviews, suggest that she only provide enough information needed to get the job...sometimes it's obvious to a manager that someone is just trying to get a "temporary" job and they won't make an offer. Your girlfriend needs to say whatever is necessary to get hired somewhere, because yes, it isn't fair to you. But you also should be willing to do what you have to to support her because she is important enough to you.
posted by erstwhile at 7:18 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks everyone for the reality check. It's pretty loud and clear that the eBay thing is a bit much at this point and I will definitely offer to cut back significantly. However, maybe I could've been more clear in saying that if I were to cut it out entirely, which I could obviously do, we'd still have to cut our budget by about half, which is the bigger deal for me. I gave it a prominent place because it's certainly important and figures in our arguments, but scraping by doesn't just mean not buying tramp art and paperbacks. It means a significant downshift in our lifestyle overall in ways that are more pressingly important than simply accumulating stuff. Collecting is just a hobby, having enough money to not worry every time I spend $5 is more important. Also, the internship was important to her career until she was accepted into grad school; now its effect on her future is probably negligible.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:30 PM on February 19, 2012

1. is she 100% aware of the budget? it might help if she knew exactly how much was coming in, where it goes, and what it really means for you to support her, and the kind of lifestyle you'll have.

2. you don't say what kind of field she's going into. is it one where she has the potential to make a lot of money? to potentially support you? grad students and people with an MS or PhD in the humanities aren't really know for having bags of money lying around. how does she this playing out exactly?

given your update i really want to highlight what Scram said. your job is not to finance her dreams.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:42 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

In light of the clarification -- if you're not being disingenuous -- yes, she needs to contribute. You also need to cut the eBay spending. $200-300 on a grad student's stipend is a ridiculous expense. You both need to learn financial responsibility, and that's what it entails for each of you. If she wants to keep the internship, she MUST find a job that works around it. Sitting around the other six days of the week is just as inexcusable (if not more so) than your spending habits. If she can't find a job that lets her off the day she's arbitrarily picked (and c'mon; she can't be enough of an idiot to pick a day and set it in stone FOR ABSOLUTELY NO REASON), she drops the internship.

Cutting the collecting, even in half, may be the good-faith gesture she needs to really buckle down about getting a job and contributing to the household. You are a household, and your financial decisions affect one another. You both need to realize that.
posted by supercres at 7:43 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wait -- I missed something in your OP. What does she contribute in terms of $$ to the household? Nothing? Did she USED to contribute something? Do you two have a joint account somewhere? How did you two decide on a budget together in the first place? I have to tell you, she sounds like a really weird accessory to your life right now, not a partner.

So many questions. I have reread your OP multiple times now and I'm still confused. More info, please!
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:52 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Look, you make and spend your money however you want, foolishly or not, it STILL doesn't entitle her to your support. And that's what chaps your ass about this. She feels like she can do whatever she likes with zero input from you and it's your responsibilty to shut up and support her.

In a healthy financial partnership, you do help each other through hard times. You also have input into each other's financial decisions including employment or lack thereof. She only wants to participate in half of that equation, and it's not okay.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:55 PM on February 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

For a sense of scale, my wife and I don't make a ton (we are both in academia as non-PhD research staff), and our "whatever money", where we're not accountable to each other, is on the order of 8% of our NET income (after taxes, insurance, retirement, HSAs). Total. That's for everything from individual hobbies to individual dining out to clothes to haircuts. Basically, it's what's left over after all of our joint expenses. It works well for us. You two should take a long look at your joint expenses and see where additional income can be found (her part) and where fat can be trimmed (your part). If you're both unhappy, congratulations: you've made a successful compromise. That's my $0.02, anyway.
posted by supercres at 8:00 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's selfish at all to expect your partner to contribute. My partner's ex did not contribute (she worked freelance in a field with really small prospects and viewed her meager earnings as pocket change) and it was a huge issue for him. One of the things he likes about me is that I am practical about money. We did sit down and have that one practical but not very romantic conversation about it, and it helped a lot for both of us to have solid facts. When we looked at necessary expenses (rent, car costs for him, bus pass for me and so on) we worked out how much that would cost per month and then anything we earned on top of that was extra. It wasn't about judgements or about who makes more or less or whose hobby is this or that. It was strictly 'it will take X to keep the ship running, so that's Y for each of us.' In my case, I am spending slightly more with him than I did without him because he has a bigger apartment, a car, a dishwasher and some other stuff I didn't have before. But he also has more savings and more earning potential down the road, and he is happy to contribute more this summer since my summer job fell through (I am a teacher and have no summer income) or if I took time off for a baby or something. The important thing is that the conversation was not about judgements. It was about how each of us is partaking of shared resources that equal this many dollars, so Y is his share and Z is my share and it's fair for both of us.
posted by JoannaC at 8:04 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

My question is this... It seems like your partner running out of money would have been something foreseeable, like you could have predicted it would happen. Did you have a contingency plan?

I suggest you cut the baby in half by agreeing to ditch the collections and cut the food and alcohol budget for a few months to allow her to seek work if she can cajole her internship into having her day off be a floating one. That way, she doesn't have to place any restrictions on days when looking for work and can do the internship on a day off, basically relegating it to the role of a hobby, which is exactly what she says your eBaying is, which you will then be able to resume during YOUR free time once she finds the job and starts bringing in money.

I'd also be REALLY curious to see her side of this issue. I've occasionally thought of bringing relationship issues here, but I've always thought the thing to do would be to present either a joint statement, or to present both sides.

Maybe we could get a better idea of how to help you if you gave her a chance to write about the situation as she sees it and send it to an admin.
posted by alphanerd at 8:37 PM on February 19, 2012

I would really like to hear what she is doing the other 6 days of the week. The story as is just isn't making sense to me
posted by uans at 8:41 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

My partner refuses to consider giving up her unpaid internship in order to find a job and is furious with me for suggesting that she should.

I'm confused by this language. The rest of your post doesn't make it at all clear that she would have to give up her internship to take a casual job. Basically (as I understand it) you are suggesting she claim complete availability in order to land a second job, and then work the internship around it, and you seem to think that's perfectly possible. It certainly sounds feasible enough. But is there some sense in which that's not the true picture?

Assuming that she can do both, it may also be true that getting a job in retail or food is just not that easy where you are, and that the Wednesday thing may not be the whole reason she's not getting a job. It does seem kind of odd that she is getting interviews but not hired, but right now people have their pick when it comes to hiring for even the crummiest jobs.
posted by BibiRose at 8:50 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is just conjecture, but the OP mentioned the one day a week thing as his girlfriend "keeping up" her internship, which makes it sound like she might have been working more before the pressing need for more money necessitated cutting back on her hours.
posted by MadamM at 8:50 PM on February 19, 2012

There is a possibility that I'd like to mention, which I'm not sure about, but you would be. Does this smell like testing behavior? You mentioned that the EBay habit features prominently in your arguments, could this be an elaborate way in which she is trying to figure out if you would give it, nice beer, and everything else up for her? Good partners are very often totally worth these things, but partners who push a relationship towards them to see if it will survive are so very much not good partners.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:30 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

My first summer off during my undergrad, I sent out dozens of resumes everywhere. Places were hiring. And I had previous cafe/cashier experience. But no one wanted to hire me because I would only be around for four months before leaving again for school.

She might need to gloss over the fact that she'll be going back to school. Or take the part about the master's degree off of the resume. Or say that she wants to continue working part time after she goes back to school. It's a tricky situation - of course you want to be honest - but this might be why she isn't getting hired. Something to consider.
posted by Jade_bug at 12:46 AM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

In what situations would you be willing to put your collecting on hold for your girlfriend, if not for when she's looking for work and needs a little help getting by?

The situation as is sounds very temporary - she's looking for work in fields that will allow her some flexibility over her schedule. And hey, having worked food service and retail both - Wednesday is totally not a big deal. If you say "I will work weekends every weekend and Friday nights, but oh, I want Wednesday off" no one in a restaurant or a retail store is going to bat an eye. See also: temping. I made more money temping than serving coffee and you can absolutely say "I am available all days except Wednesday." Asking her to give up her internship at this point would only be relevant were there an offer on the table that required her to work Wednesdays. And hey, if it did, you've already mentioned that the internship is flexible.

Also: if she quits now, she's done. If she waits and quits when she finds a job that she actually needs to quit the internship for - that makes a lot more sense.

Do you want her to give up the internship just because you feel like you need to give up things that are important to you in the short term? That's a different matter entirely and I can understand the impulse to say "If I need to give something up, so do you." However, that's not a terribly good way to compromise.

Also: there's a huge world of difference between not spending $200-300/mo and having to check your bank account every time you want to spend $5. I've been in the latter situation and believe me, I wasn't buying nice beer or anything on eBay. There's a lot of leeway between the two. Such as, perhaps spending $100-200 on eBay instead. And buying cheap beer for a little while.

Relationships take work from both sides. Asking her to make a financial contribution is totally legitimate, but so is her asking you for a little temporary help while she gets her feet under her. It sounds like you need to wait a little while to see how her job search goes and if she truly can't find a job that will give her Wednesdays off, then re-evaluate her internship. In the meantime, hold off on extra spending for a bit. Not forever, just for a little while to see where things go.

In the end, if all of this goes horribly and it turns your hobby makes you happier than your girlfriend... you need a new girlfriend.
posted by sonika at 4:13 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is this more about ambition? You mention her moving in with you and living off her savings, then working a temp job you found, then her living off savings again until they were all gone. A rough patch of a month or two between jobs is one thing but if she has been living with you for six months or mire and not gotten a job on her own initiative AND is expecting you to support her until she gets school money in six more months (which is not the same effort as getting a job), then yes, I think you have to have a larger conversation about how responsibility is shared between you. A serious question, is she looking for a parent or a partner?
posted by saucysault at 4:53 AM on February 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

One day a week, if it's not Friday/Saturday/Sunday, is not going to do anything to seriously infringe upon her ability to get the sort of job she has any chance of getting that would only last six months. It just doesn't. The job market *is just that bad*. If she lies to get a job that wants someone long-term, remember, there is someone else out there who *does* need that job long-term who wouldn't be lying.

It's six months. If you want to be with this person forever, do what you have to do to make the money work if she doesn't find work. She might not. Six months. You're making this big a fuss over six months of lean times, when after that point your income is going to basically double and you're going to be fine. Go six months without your collections and good beer, and you'll feel that much more flush once there's more money coming in again. (Going a few months without adding to a collection, by the way, should not be difficult *at all* unless you have a problem of your own.)

Doing without luxuries is what being in graduate school is like. Keeping an internship going is likely to have a lot more positive impact to her long-term career than being able to get a job at Walmart that she's only going to quit in a few months. Start putting the long-term first, and this turns into a no-brainer. And even if it doesn't work out long-term, what're you really out? A few months of drinking beer and buying stuff on eBay? I would not say that side should trump unless you're almost positive that you're going to break up with her, and in that case your problem is not the internship.
posted by gracedissolved at 5:12 AM on February 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Here is a summary of your situation as I see it:

She has recently moved to be with you and has an internship, and recently her job ended. She is keen to start grad school in the fall, presumably because she loves doing the kind of work she gets to do in her internship.

You are happy she is finally in your city and generally content with the relationship. However, you are worried about how tight the budget is getting and feeling a lot of pressure.

Her job hunt is not going well and she is likely competing with lots of other people who are resorting to the food/service industry in tough times. You're getting nervous about how to pay rent.

Your goal: A mutually agreed, sustainable, fair budget for the next 7 months.

First step. You're both feeling defensive, but you can only control you so you get to take this first step. You need to make room for her to compromise by letting her be right about some stuff. I know, that sucks. You're mad, you're stressed, but you emphasise in this question that you value this relationship more than you're mad. So, how can you lower the temperature? Acknowledge that job hunting is difficult and demoralising at the best of times and this is NOT the best of times. Tell her how glad you are that she is here. Tell her how much you hope she can find a kickass job in the meantime that lets her keep her internship because you know she values it. Say, "this is tough, isn't it?" Make it clear that you're on each other's team. Talk about the things you love in your relationship, about how great it will be when she starts school in September.

She may still be defensive at this point. Don't get riled. Acknowledge the value of the things she is defending. You will know you are successful when she says something like "yeah, and I know this is tough on you too". Achievement unlocked: You're now working together, not fighting.

Step 2. Now start gently talking about the details. If things get heated, go back to step 1.

Look at all the possible numbers. Acknowledge your eBay stuff without defending it. Acknowledge her internship without attacking it. Write out the budget. Ask her opinion on how the next 7 months can work. Figure it out together so you can succeed as a team and achieve your common goal.

AskMe can't give you that budget. Each of us would come up with a different answer with our partners. You need the answer that enables you and her to feel validated and affirmed. It's equally important that the numbers work out AND you both feel valued and not taken advantage of, because this is a relationship, not a business.

Volunteer to lose the next fight, and you'll make it possible for her to acknowledge your points without losing face. It's bloody hard, but it's the most effective thing I've found.
posted by heatherann at 6:16 AM on February 20, 2012 [14 favorites]

I temped for many years, and the one year when I had a class on Wednesdays, I was rarely in work. Yes, temp agencies are flexible, but it's the luck of the draw whether they can find you a gig that week that doesn't require you to work Wednesdays. If it had been any other day of the week, she might not be having as much trouble. I also had one company cut my hours to 5 per week, and they had to be on a Wednesday afternoon; they were effectively monopolizing my time by demanding this as I never got one single other job as long as I was booked for that one.

I do think you have a right to question all of this. A number of posters have raised details that don't seem to hang together. I think either she doesn't want to work, or you are trying to get us to tell you she doesn't want to work, and I'm not sure which.
posted by tel3path at 8:32 AM on February 20, 2012

It's six months. You claim to be "partners". You're being paid to study a subject you enjoy and can, with some adjustment, support two citizens in a first-world city plus frivolous packrat habits on this payment. This should really not count as "wit's end". This is an opportunity for both of you to:
  1. Learn the give-and-take of partnership
  2. Wean yourself off overconsumption (a bad habit)
  3. Learn some money-saving habits (cooking! u-brew! bike rides! public libraries!)
  4. Learn some perspective

posted by ead at 8:51 AM on February 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

one reason to drop the "no wednesdays" policy is that even if that specific request could be accommodated, to an employer it could signal that the person they're interviewing will make more demands in the future.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:53 AM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's really fair to be expected to support someone if that was not the initial understanding when you moved in together. Sounds like treating your money as communal is only going to lead to tension, so some sort of compromise along the lines of if you can find a way to pay for x amount of rent I will cut back x amount on my ebay.

It is awesome if someone is willing to support you while you work on doing what you love, but they don't owe it to you. I agree that it is unreasonable to expect someone else, even a parent, to pay for all living expenses so that you can pursue an unpaid internship in your chosen field.

Have you looked into temp agencies? A lot of them will offer part-time gigs, and it's entirely possible they may even have jobs in the chosen field of interest.
posted by forkisbetter at 9:10 AM on February 20, 2012

If I understood correctly - the OP says "No Wednesdays" is a limitation the partner created out of thin air and the OP believes (and I agree) that this stipulation hurts in interviews. The OP also stated that if the partner was sincerely trying but could not find a job, being the sole supporter would be okay.

I do not think asking an able-bodied adult with no particular demands on their time to work, at least part time, is at all unreasonable and this is true even if the OP is spending some money on collectibles.

The savings-spending partner who will not seriously look for a job may be in a state of panic or denial or for some reason "stuck" in the way that many people pursing advanced degrees get stuck - but that doesn't make it okay to harp about eBay instead of runing their own life.

OP, I echo the advice to talk about the budget and what can be done. Please don't tell your partner that the internets say this or that or another thing. This discussion is between the two of you.

If your partner really thinks this okay and that, as long as you can manger to pay the freight, they don't have to work unless they can land a super-special snowflake job, then you have some thinking to do.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:11 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is this a relationship with real long-term potential? Because jobs for people with humanities degrees, even post-grad degrees, are sometimes rare and highly competitive. In a few years you might be the one who's needing to be supported while you look for a job that won't make you miserable.
posted by K.P. at 9:17 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, something that should be mentioned: when is she making the "No Wednesdays" stipulation? If it's in the interview, that's a HUGE problem. If it's when she goes back for a second interview or a job offer... that's more workable. I had a retail job where I seriously couldn't work opening shifts and night shifts in the same week and worked that out once I was actually hired.
posted by sonika at 9:19 AM on February 20, 2012

Now she's looking for jobs again, mostly in food service and retail, since she has experience and is really just looking for a disposable job to tide her over until the end of summer.

I'm reading this to mean she has experience in her field, but not in food or retail. Again depending on your area, it sounds like it might be perfectly possible for her to work one of those jobs but she might be lacking in savvy as to how to go about it, and a few blown interviews might be making her feel hopeless. It is HARD to keep applying for retail jobs and keep not getting them for no clear reason. A lot of people assume you can just go out and get a job like that, and it's really not true; you have to be the right person, in the right place at the right time.

I agree with what others have said about how you need to communicate regarding finances overall. But I also think that if she needs/the two of you need the type of income you can get from say a 25 hour/week job, she may need to do some research into how to get one. Everyone is looking for a job right now and it will take some work to find one that's at all lucrative and also won't ruin your life, e.g by having a stupid commute or horrible parking or really intolerable hours.
posted by BibiRose at 9:31 AM on February 20, 2012

A caveat: I said -- and meant -- that this is an opportunity for both of you to learn money-saving habits. The cash economy is hardly the only use of human labour. If she's not able or interested in work in the cash economy right now, there's a whole lot she can do in six days a week to relieve the need for money for the two of you.
posted by ead at 9:32 AM on February 20, 2012

This is a tough question, because we can tell you who we think is right, but it doesn't matter, because your girlfriend isn't going to change her mind if enough of us tell you that she's wrong. I think that this is an excellent time to go see a couple's therapist. One of the main purposes of couple's counseling is to create an environment in which you can have difficult, emotionally charged conversations about money that successful couples need to negotiate. My GF and I had a similar communication problem when we first moved in together, and went to a single session with a good therapist. It really helped.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:07 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Am I right in guessing that 'internship' means unpaid?

Though there's a difference between this and your habits - people intern so they can get a foot in the door or a better resume. Your collecting is something you do purely for its own sake, not for a greater goal (unless you're a dealer, which I presume you're not). I used to have a similar eBay habit, and my partner got irritated by this because it led to me running out of money and space. A few years on, and I sold all my 'collectables' - they were just no longer important to me. Her internship, however, is hopefully building toward more than a way of passing time and doing something fun. I'm not generally in favour of them - the majority of people can't participate without seeing the financial implications you are - but the sad fact remains that you often have to get your face known by working for free to get somewhere in some industries.

It is HARD to keep applying for retail jobs and keep not getting them for no clear reason.

I was in exactly this position when I graduated - I applied for office jobs which I knew I had the skills/ex[perience to do, and I didn't get them because I was 'overqualified'. I would bet that's part of your girlfriend's poor luck in finding something.
posted by mippy at 4:29 AM on February 21, 2012

Adding in here because I think there are some views not being stated.

I've had a long term internship. I was fortunate to be able to be bringing in enough money to not worry about the financials of it at the time. It was helpful in continuing with connections.


I was doing it in part because not doing it meant that I was unemployed. (My income also came from school stipend and other sources). But I would have been deeply embarrassed at the time to tell someone "I'm unemployed" when they asked what I did. I would have also been deeply embarrassed to have said "I'm working in retail."

It is possible that the reason she wants to cling so tightly onto this internship is for similar reasons-she wants to say "I work at X company" instead of "I work at McDonalds." Worse, she may not even realize this is what's going on in her head, because it may be scary to even admit it.

This may also play into the Wednesday thing. Three things are possible: first, that she is asking for Wednesdays in the first interview because she's desperate to keep the status of the internship, and people think she's demanding. Secondly, that she's asking for Wednesdays /and/ weekends off. A lot of posters have said that working weekends is a dream, but there's no evidence the OP's girlfriend has expressed a willingness to actually do this. In addition to the inconvenience, it would mean less time with the OP, and also the lower-status thing of working on weekends.

The third option is that she is having a hard time getting hired for these jobs in the interview, for reasons others have brought up above. She may be overqualified, they may know she's only temporary, they may not want someone who's not desperate enough. In these cases, it's possible she felt the interview going badly and brought up the Wednesday thing specifically to draw the blame of her not getting hired. It's one thing for her to say "I didn't get it, because I'm staying true to my dreams" versus "I didn't get it, because I'm a failure who can't even get a job at McDonalds", which may be what her head is screaming.

I think you need to look deeper.

That said, it's also possible that you have some of these unconscious feelings too. "I'm not poor, as long as I have enough extra money to increase my widget collection" "I'm not poor, as long as I can eat well and drink good beer." All these things are saying to me, "I'm not poor, as long as I can afford to not worry about pinching pennies."

This is legitimate. It's also often seen with people who were once poor enough to pinch pennies. That feeling of being able to spend money on nicer things, on crusty sourdough rather than Wonderbread, Hefeweisen rather than Bud, says to you with every day, "I'm living well. I'm not poor." I was poor once, and I viscerally remember the first time I surpassed that, and could go grocery shopping without checking the prices to decide what I wanted.

That's a big thing, and I think other posters may be dismissing it as selfish, or consumerist. But it's likely an emotional thing, rather than a selfish thing. The act of intensive budgeting means you /do/ have to consider each purchase. And that might not feel good to you.

I think when you have this conversation with her, you need to make it on this emotional level. I /feel/ like this when you do this. I /feel/ like what you are asking me to do is this. And encourage her to talk about her feelings as well about employment.

Another thing I note is that she initially, when she first moved, had job offers, but preferred to keep the unpaid internship. It is likely that she felt really good about her employment prospects back then, and about her choice. Now, the economy is worse, and she no longer is getting those offers. By keeping to her choice of prioritizing the internship, she may be also keeping the feelings that she had about herself when she was prioritizing it before.
posted by corb at 9:38 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

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