My boyfriend calls off work a lot.
September 12, 2013 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I am partly worried about my boyfriend's job, partly frustrated with his priorities, and on the way to getting very angry.

I'll try to keep this short. I've been living with my boyfriend for 4 months, been dating him since December. He works part-time in retail. I think he calls off too much. We have talked about this and he remains blase. I work full-time in a white collar position (I make more per hour and get more hours, but I am absolutely not bothered by our wage disparity). However, I DID work retail. For a long time. I know firsthand that retail doesn't allow for luxuries like sick time. I never ever called off unless I was in the hospital--I needed the job and the money too much. We currently need the money too much, as well. I can't support us on just my income. If he loses his job, we are completely screwed.

So, when he calls off, he pisses off his manager AND he doesn't get paid for unworked hours. He calls off at least twice a month for shitty reasons ranging from "I'm too tired" (chose to stay up too late) to "I don't feel good" (heartburn/farty because he overate). He has never called off for a good reason, in my opinion. Frankly, I don't know how he still has a job. He's been there three years, but the store manager isn't a nice person.

So, the current issue: last night, he stayed up way too late playing WoW. He was still playing when I got up to go to work at 645am today. He called off for his 1pm shift because he was tired and said he was in pain. I know pain is subjective, but come ON. All he would have to do is drag himself to work and run the checkout while sitting down. And he wouldn't do it.

WoW isn't the primary problem, more of a symptom. He did the same thing with Skyrim. I play WoW too, just, you know... less than he does. I also manage to get to work on time every day unless I am literally vomiting, feverish, or crapping my brains out.

I don't intend to leave him over this, but I intend to have a come-to-jesus moment tonight. I'm anticipating that this will be a major argument, and it will be our first. I could use some tips and support because I'm not good at confrontation. And I worry about coming off all hysterical. I've been gaslighted before, and he's not like that at all.

Thank you guys.
posted by Rach3l to Human Relations (48 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What is your desired outcome here? Do you want him to know about your annoyance with the issue, do you want him to start taking his job more seriously? I'm not sure what we are trying to help with here.
posted by kellyblah at 1:20 PM on September 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

When Husbunny and I met, he was a nurse. A professional. He called out sick all the time. This is because he HATED his job. Loathed it. Abominated it. Wished it would go into a hole and get sucked up. He was unhappy.

So we tried all different kinds of nursing jobs, Administrative, Telephonic, Geriatric. Know what we discovered? To him, they were just the same noose made with different fabrics.

Fine. We moved to Atlanta so he could take some Actuarial Science courses. He did so well he was offered a place in the Ph.d program. Now he's a happy Acturary. He has a low stress job, he gets to sit in a cube and not speak to anyone for hours at a time. He only calls off sick, if he is, in fact, sick. Not sniffles and headache sick, barfing and feverish sick.

So...take it for what it's worth. What is cute at the age of 19 is a deal breaker as you get older. Either your BF wises up, finds work he can deal with and gets his shit together, or you'll be moving on, not because he's not making money, but because that shit is infantile and it gets old to grown ups. Real old.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:20 PM on September 12, 2013 [61 favorites]

The issue should stay focused on this: We currently need the money too much. I don't think you're wrong to compare him to yourself here, but if you make that the issue in the inevitable argument, he can just pout and say "Well, we're different and you're being preachy." The crux of the issue is that he's lazing around while you're working to support two people -- probably not what you signed up for when you moved in together? Especially when his occasional lack of income is entirely voluntary.

Lay out your budget (you guys have one, right?) and show him precisely why he needs to work like a big boy to support himself and his household.

I don't know what else to say -- I was in a similar relationship, worked two or three jobs at once to subsidize a computer game addiction. I mean, it might not have been so bad if, when I got home, there was dinner and a clean bathtub. I finally ended that relationship after the second voluntary unemployment episode, but ymmv.
posted by mibo at 1:21 PM on September 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

Ask yourself right now: What do you want out of this conversation? What is the best possible result that will be achieved tonight? Aim for that from the start:
"Honey, I love you, but I'm worried that you blow off work too much, and that will have the following effects: [list effects here]. This causes me emotional pain, because I feel like I have to worry about you and your job and our financial situation too much. I would like you to be more responsible about going to work."

Stay calm. Let him respond. Consider his responses and address them. Repeat until you have arrived at an agreement.

Address his responses only when they have to do with this problem. Otherwise, you run risk of falling into what I call the DAF spiral (I've talked about this on AskMe before):
The Debate: "I want you to be more responsible about going to work."
Then he realizes that he is wrong, and starts the Argument, which is a meta-debate.

The Argument: "You are raising your voice." or "You interrupted me when I stopped to take a breath."
Then he realizes that he is not going to win the Argument either, and starts the Fight, which is where the Argument expands to fill the entire length and breadth of the relationship.

The Fight: "You never take my feelings into account! You constantly criticize me!"
If you back down in either the Argument or the Fight, he will force you to admit that you were wrong about the Debate as well, even though none of that stuff has anything to do with whether he needs to be more responsible about going to work.

If he does this, you will not be able to stop this loop, because any attempt to becomes ammunition for the Fight: "You always run away when I'm trying to discuss things with you!" People dropping into the DAF spiral are almost invariably bullies. This is a classic debating tactic for bullies, and if they do not see it in themselves and genuinely want to stop doing it, they will never stop, because it always works.

To recap: Have an endstate in mind. Remain calm. Keep it a Debate, not an Argument or a Fight. You can do that, or you will know why you can't.
posted by Etrigan at 1:25 PM on September 12, 2013 [125 favorites]

Yeah, I think there are a bunch of unknowns here because you both sound young and the relationship itself is young. If money is the issue, than you need to be concrete about why. Otherwise you sound...a little histrionic, and possibly controlling. I mean, you guys have been together less than a year this sounds like a habit he's probably had longer than that.

Also, maybe your priorities are just different. And maybe that is a dealbreaker.
posted by bibbit at 1:25 PM on September 12, 2013

You can have all the fights, come-to-jesus arguments, and confrontations you want, but be fully prepared for the very likely fact that he will not change. This is will not change. You can not change him. At all.

So go into the conversation knowing that, of course it's better to inform him that this behaviour is a huge problem in every way then it is to pretend it's not, but the only way he would ever knock this off is if he decided to knock it off and you can't make him reach that conclusion. No amount of preparation or tips is going to do that.

And I say that as someone who has been him, not you.

My main advice is don't be co-dependent, don't clean up his mistakes, and don't depend on him to do something he has shown himself to not be dependable on. Take care of yourself and your own finances. If you can't take care of yourself and your finances while dating him, then he's not someone you can be in a relationship with.
posted by Dynex at 1:26 PM on September 12, 2013 [16 favorites]

The problem is that unless there are consequences -- like consequences beside getting a talking-to by you, which clearly has gone nowhere -- he's not going to do anything different. Why should he? He been doing exactly what he wants to do for three years and things have been going swimmingly. He works when he wants, acts irresponsibly, and you pick up the slack. He's got it made in the shade.

If you're not willing to call it quits over this, there need to be consequences. You need to get through to him just how screwed you will be if his manager gets wise.

As far as the conversation itself, I would really, really stay away from using yourself as an example to live up to. That never goes well (at least not in a relationship) and "I don't skip work unless I am literally dying" is not a realistic standard to expect out of anyone, or offer up as what you're looking for. Not that it sounds like you expect the same behavior from him as from yourself, but it's all too easy to use oneself as an aspirational model, and this would be absolutely the worst time to do so.
posted by griphus at 1:27 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sorry if my intent was unclear. I guess the endgame would be convincing him to go to work even when he doesn't want to. Or him getting a new job, but that's not on me to decide. I know he hates it and he's burned out. He didn't always call off this much. He was really enthusiastic when he first started.

Related questions of mine would be, how did others handle a similar situation in the past (thank you Ruthless Bunny)? How did the relationship pan out? Is this kind of thing a dealbreaker for you? I don't think it's a dealbreaker for me, yet anyway. It likely will become one if he loses his job and we literally can't afford groceries.
posted by Rach3l at 1:27 PM on September 12, 2013

You're not his parent. You need to figure out what the real issue is and focus on that. I agree with mibo if this is about money that he's not bringing in (in a very real way not in a "I am not comfortable with this") you should discuss that. Couples have different ways of being in each others' business about stuff but it feels like there are a few things up here

- You work more than him (yes?) and are living together and you feel strapped and this is frustrating.
- He makes what you feel are poor decisions that result in him cancelling work and you worry that he will a) get fired b) not bring in enough money for you two
- You think you are better at assessing "the problem" than he is potentially, because of other bad choices he makes. Is he really about to get fired? Or is he just not concerned enough about the eventuality of getting fired

I'm an anxious person which means I spend a lot of time thinking about what might go wrong and trying to prepare for it. This makes me somewhat difficult as a girlfriend sometimes. My SO has different tolerances for uncertainty (financial, planning) and we have difficulties sometimes because I am worried a thing he is doing NOW (sleeping in and being late for work) is going to have ramifications LATER (eventually building up and getting him fired) and it's so CLEAR that if he'd just go to work... blablabla. But who knows. It's his life and he pays his bills and is a happy person who occasionally sleeps late. I am a tightly-wound person who can't even sleep til my alarm goes off.

On preview: you can't make him go to work. You can't make people do what you want. You should think about what sort of relationship you want with this guy and how much time you're willing to invest and/or wait to see if he changes (like if he got a better job that he liked, or even a full time job) and focus on concrete things that would make you feel more balanced in your relationship. Like when I read your post I'm all "What, he stays up all night playing games and they don't sleep/snuggle together? That would frustrate me" or "Huh she works full time and he works part time, I wonder if they have other money concerns?" but those are just through my lens, you need to think about what you're concerned about. And Use I statements "When you call in late for work, I feel like your prioritizing your desire to sleep in over our financial stability" or whatever. You're allowed to feel how you feel but you should also try to listen when he explains how he is feeling and work towards trying to find common ground. I repeat: you can't make someone do what you want, but you may be able to find ways where everyone is happier about the whole situation.
posted by jessamyn at 1:32 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is this kind of thing a dealbreaker for you?

A significant other who is on the cusp of unemployment -- and thereby putting you both at risk of financial/housing problems -- because he plays too video games too long and eats too much junk food to show up at work?

That is not adult behavior and is without a doubt a dealbreaker for me.
posted by griphus at 1:32 PM on September 12, 2013 [49 favorites]

Deal breaker. Get your own place- go be a roommate with other people- and let him grow up and be able to support himself before you agree to move back in.
posted by haplesschild at 1:34 PM on September 12, 2013 [14 favorites]

Why did you move in together? Did you run the numbers beforehand and both decide that this is how much money you will make and be comfortable spending? I think you should move out and support yourself. If you can't support yourself alone without his income then you have big problems anyway.
posted by jacalata at 1:35 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm not trying to be a dick, but this is one of those relationship questions that I read and I go WHY?????

Your boyfriend sounds like a loser. Specifically, he sounds like a selfish, immature loser. Break up with him, move on, and look back at this moment in your life in a few years and think "What the fuck was I thinking?" Being single is not bad, and it is a fact that it is better to be single than financially and emotionally tied to a loser.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:38 PM on September 12, 2013 [35 favorites]

It sounds like your goal is for him to change. Does he want to? It sounds like his situation is working out great for him so far. If you're the voice here telling him that his life is unacceptable when, to him, things seem to be fine - well, that's just going to look like you're getting involved in things that are none of your business and trying to control him.

But that's not to say you aren't right. This isn't acceptable adult behavior on his part, and it's fine to want a partner who holds down a real job and keeps their commitments. You can't make this guy into that person, though. He's going to be who he is. If I were you I'd have one conversation about how you are concerned about his work ethic and don't see a long-term situation working out if he doesn't get his act together. But after that, if nothing happens, you need to move on.
posted by something something at 1:40 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

He has the right to skip off work and get fired and fuck up his life. You have the right to be pissed off and out the door if he does so. You can and should make it clear what the consequences of his actions are, and express that it seems he is making choices that do not prioritize the health and security of your relationship. But if you make yourself responsible for managing his life when he doesn't show any interest or ability in doing it himself, you will be perpetually fighting him, and the two of you will grow to hate each other.

There is already a dangerous amount of judgement and contempt in your voice right now regarding what you perceive to be your partner's weaknesses. You're imagining how you yourself would cope in his situation -- just fine -- and because he isn't coping just fine as you would, he must be lazy or not care. I don't know your partner and what his deal is, but it is really not fair to assume that he should have the same level of coping resources that you do. You're different people leading different lives. If you start telling him that is pain isn't real and shouldn't overwhelm his coping resources, you risk crushing him into nothing.

Again that doesn't mean you have to accept the consequences of his fuckups. There are consequences to his behavior. Your role is to define those for him and leave it to him to either step up and sort himself out, or keep sinking and force you to bail. Just remember it is his life and you MUST let him run it himself.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:52 PM on September 12, 2013 [14 favorites]

When having a "come-to-jesus," last straw discussion with anyone, regardless of the circumstances or how justified I am in having the discussion, unless I am perfectly willing to immediately extricate myself from said situation, I must always bring something I am willing to give up, or step up and do, for the other person to the table. It could be something small, or something big, but it should be something.

In order to keep a negotiation friendly, don't show up without an offer of something the other person is likely to want (and you're willing to let them have).
posted by Debaser626 at 1:55 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you have a certain amount of contempt for him and the way he operates. I do not at all blame you for this--I would too. I would find it very hard to feel like I had a lot of respect for someone who lived his life this way.

That doesn't seem like a good foundation for a relationship.

It doesn't really sound like you want to be in a relationship with him. You want to be in a relationship with someone who looks and sounds like him, but is conscientious and hard-working. That's not him. Don't stay in the relationship if it's based on the assumption that he will eventually change of that you can make him change.

It's also concerning that you don't mention any redeeming qualities in your note. What do you like about him? Why are you with him despite these frustrations? Are those qualities compelling enough to stay with him and love him enthusiastically even if he continues to call in to work, and/or gets fired?
posted by pompelmo at 2:00 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I know I can't control him. I want him to control himself. But yes, I realize that this is the cry of every angsty girlfriend ever, so I will try to rein that in.

Thanks for the tips about not using myself as a model, I will make sure not to do that. I don't want it to sound like I'm crowing about being better than him. He's better at a lot of things than I am (not just gaming, heh). And he doesn't crow. He carries his weight in chores around the house, he's really kind and giving, he's less selfish than I am, better at feeding the cat (etc).

The DAF cycle listed above reminds me of my ex, the gaslighter. I won't let myself be dragged into that ever again. But I've never seen it spelled out so nicely, so I appreciate that very much Etrigan.

I AM concerned that I feel like I'm dropping into mother-mode here. I'm not his mom, don't want to be his mom, don't want to be anybody's mom right now (no kids, so that's a good thing). I'm his first girlfriend, but he is not my first boyfriend. He's really accommodating and always says (without prompting) that he wants to get on a normal sleep schedule. He just gets caught up in the moment--he is rather impulsive but HAS improved on that (voluntarily, without me asking) since we've been together.

As to WHY????? I have been in a lot of relationships. This one is worth working on. I have been with losers. He's immature in some ways, but I wouldn't say he's a loser at all. There are things that have improved since we started dating, I'm not ready to give up just yet. I place a lot of importance on the "soft skills" (sorry, I work in a call center) of partnership. Things like kindness and generosity and easygoingness and sense of humor. My potential dating pool is much smaller than many, as well, because I am severely overweight. Yet he finds me attractive.

I know what it feels like to prefer being alone than dating someone. I've broken up with guys for that in the past. We're not there yet. The suggestion of moving out and (maybe) moving back in together later is a better option than cries of "Sever!" at this point, so thank you for that.

I guess the crux of the matter is, he never had a reason to grow up before we met. I want to give him time. He's worth it. I'm not willing to wait forever, of course. But the relationship is young, and I don't want to exit before things are truly hopeless.

PercussivePaul, you've given me some great food for thought. I will endeavor not to be judgmental. That has been a problem of mine before. Much worse when I was a teenager, although I'm far from perfect now. I will try to put myself in his shoes.
posted by Rach3l at 2:01 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

You probably should just break up with him. You make him sound lazy and undependable and not like someone you really want to live with.

That said, whenever I've worked retail, there've always been a few people who called off all the time, and I have never seen consequences happen to any of them. Managers and co-workers expressing annoyance, yes. Getting fired or even their hours cut, never. If you just don't show up, or you show up late, that's different. This may depend on where you work. But your boyfriend may have learned from experience that calling off is no big deal. (Except for the little matter of not getting paid.)
posted by BibiRose at 2:03 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

WoW qand Skyrim are adictive. His addiction is hurting him and you. You and his employer are enabling his behaviour. Unless you wish to become the parent here you need to move out and leave him to it. He may change but I would choose to get out and get on with my life
posted by BenPens at 2:06 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

So let's say that you do decide to have this come to Jesus talk tonight. How you discuss the issue with him is going to go a long way toward determing whether it's a complete shitshow or whether he'll actually hear what you say to him. Maybe you could try something in this format:

"This is some behavior that I'm noticing. This is how this behavior makes me feel, and this is how I see this behavior affecting us. This is how I would like this behavior to change."

So, what you may say could be something like, "Hey. I'm noticing that there are times you call into work sick when it could be that you just don't feel like working because you're tired. When I see that happen, I get frustrated and anxious because I'm afraid you'll lose your job, which we can't afford, and I feel hurt because I feel like you don't take that risk very seriously. I would like to see you only call into work when you are really too sick to work, like when you have to go to a doctor."

Focusing on behavior is useful in difficult conversations because it is something that he can change, as opposed to attacking his personality, which feels much less mutable. It has the similar benefit of not coming across as a personal attack. This is also why saying "noticing" can be a useful word here, because you're just observing what you're seeing on some occasions rather than proclaiming that he acts a certain way pretty much all of the time (even if he does).

Then, once you've presented the problem to him, actually listen to what he says before you start thinking about what you want to say next. You might say something like:

"Okay, I heard you say that _______. Did I understand you correctly? When I hear that, I still have concerns because ________."

Oh, another thing you might say to broach the subject with him could be something like "Hey, I'm hoping you can help with something that's on my mind." This sets the expectation that this is a problem that you can solve together, rather than something that he should get defensive about right away.

Of course, he probably will get defensive because his behavior is ridiculous, and I'm having a hard time reconciling the idea of someone who will risk your financial security by blowing off work to play a videogame will also have the maturity to engage in a productive discussion about this. And if he's a total ass about the whole thing, you may have a much better idea about whether this is a relationship that you want to be part of.

But I could be wrong about that! And you do give yourself the best possible chance to work this out (in my view) by taking an approach like I've described above.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:14 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

It likely will become one if he loses his job and we literally can't afford groceries

I wouldn't want to be financially involved with someone that irresponsible. You don't have to break up with him, but you should stop sharing groceries. I recommend moving out.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:15 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

You're settling for his bullshit, and you know it. You feel like you can't do better, but I'm sure you can, because you are currently dating someone who blows off work and saddles you with supporting him because he plays videogames and eats too much junk food. I mean, it's great that he's better at feeding the cat, but it sounds like you are keeping your expectations for him really, really low. There are a lot of kind, cool, easy-going people in the world who aren't addicted to videogames and don't take their long-suffering girlfriends for granted.

I guess the crux of the matter is, he never had a reason to grow up before we met.

That makes very little sense. Everyone has a reason to grow up. It's the human condition. You're making excuses for him.

My potential dating pool is much smaller than many, as well, because I am severely overweight. Yet he finds me attractive.

Don't settle. He's not the only guy who will find you attractive. Far from it.

Get out of this now before you sink years into the effort of trying to make him an adult. By the way, a lot of women I know who dated manchildren were really upset and surprised when said manchild moved on to another woman. Thanks for fixing me, lady, now I can be a great boyfriend to someone else! Not saying that's what's going to happen, but consider the fact there is a weak correlation between the effort put into a relationship like this and a happy outcome for you.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:16 PM on September 12, 2013 [13 favorites]

This is not normal adult behavior, and it would absolutely be a dealbreaker for me. Is it possible that he's severely depressed?? I'm just trying to understand how an able-bodied young adult man isn't willing to fulfill a part-time workload in a position that isn't all that physically or intellectually demanding. What would he do without you? I don't mean what if you dump him, but what if you lost your job, or became sick and couldn't work? Could he take care of himself, let alone help care for you?

And I worry about coming off all hysterical

Never do this to yourself... don't silence your legitimate concerns and life values in the name of being a "cool, low-maintenance girl." We women are bashed over the head with all sorts of nonsense about women being shrill, hysterical, demanding, shallow, gold-digging bitches and we end up internalizing this as an imperative to go too far in the opposite direction. We don't want to ask for a partner to shoulder his fair share of the responsibilities, because it's more important to be understanding and accommodating. We subsume our own needs for security and fairness because women should be doing it for themselves, and a modern woman is comfortable being the main breadwinner. The reality is, there's no reward for being a cool, low-maintenance girl. Instead, you become codependent, you become an enabler, you become his new mom that he also gets to boink.

Don't get me wrong, I have earned more than my husband, but it never worried me because we were financially stable and I knew he was hustling as best he could. If I knew he was lazing about playing video games, staying up all night, and calling off work while I busted my ass and laid awake at night worrying about the money, I don't see how I could maintain respect for him... and I never want to be in a relationship with someone I don't respect.

I guess the crux of the matter is, he never had a reason to grow up before we met.

If he's ever going to change, he needs to truly want it for himself. If he doesn't want to change but grudgingly attempts to do it for you, he will almost certainly fail, there will be more tension and conflict, and he will resent you. You will resent him for failing. This way lies madness. You say he says he wants to change... but good intentions are meaningless if he doesn't actually make the effort.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:19 PM on September 12, 2013 [30 favorites]

I feel like I'm dropping into mother-mode here.

You totally are. This is perhaps an inevitable result of dating someone who is far, far more immature than you are. (Which you also totally are.)

Here's the thing: this problem won't be solved by you. It just won't. Even if you successfully argue/threaten/cajole him into calling in sick less often, that will not instill the sense of responsibility and maturity in him which is what you actually want him to have, because he'd be doing it to please you or to get you off his back, rather than because it's the right thing to do.

(Incidentally, does he have any longer term career plans beyond part-time retail work and videogames? Even if he didn't call in sick frequently, would you be okay with the fact that you're essentially subsidizing his lifestyle with your fulltime job? (The answer to this question can be "yes I am okay with that", that's fine if so, as long as your eyes are open about it.)

I wouldn't necessarily suggest moving out, but I would suggest keeping your finances very, very separate. Make it clear to him that his share of the rent is his share of the rent, and if he gets fired or otherwise can't pay the bills you are not going to cover for him and have other living arrangements prepared against that eventuality. (If you haven't already, start saving up, and have other living arrangements prepared.)

It's not up to you whether he goes in to work or not. That's his choice to make. But it's not up to him whether you pay his bills or not. That's your choice to make.
posted by ook at 2:27 PM on September 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

I too think you need to get more certain about the outcome you want for this conversation, and it would be helpful to be honestly curious about his rationale for doing this. You think he's a good, smart guy, right? So what are some potential reasons for doing that don't presume he's crazy/evil/stupid? I mean, presumably he doesn't want to put you in dire financial straits either.

It could very well be that he wouldn't care about losing this job (it sounds like he hates it), and it could be that he thinks he could get another that he liked better. Maybe part of the conversation is about whether he'd like to try to find a job that he doesn't want to skip out on so often.

Maybe it's about having a more shared sleeping schedule so he's not up until 6:45 and then feeling shitty the next day. Sometimes I get stuck on the computer until all hours when I'm depressed and antsy and insomniac. Is that part of this?

Maybe he just disagrees that this jeopardizes his employment (it certainly doesn't seem to have hurt him yet) and that the lost wages is within your buffer. So maybe then doing a budget would be helpful for both of you, to see how much wiggle room you actually have.

Odds are, making him feel like you think he's lazy and irresponsible isn't your most effective move here. Taking a few days to sort some emotions out (i.e. calm down a bit) before talking to him about this isn't a bad option. Sometimes it feels like you should dive in when you're angriest and will put your foot down the most, but a few days distance can make it more possible to come at conversations like this from a team perspective rather than a why-the-hell-did-you-do-that perspective.

e.g. "Pumpkin, I notice you skip out on work a lot more than I do. It kind of worries me because I avoid skipping work because I think I'll get fired for it, and it would be really tough if we didn't have your income. I know you're a good dude, so can you help me understand what's up? Are you unhappy? Would you rather find a job somewhere else?"
posted by heatherann at 2:40 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sit down with the budget, decide how much of it he has to pay (we divide ours based on expected salary, you'll have to pick a number for him), tell him that number.

How he earns that money is his problem. If he can't hold up his part of the responsibility - if he cannot muster up the respect to hold up his part, or is too ill to do so and needs to file for disability or get help - it is only up to you to decide whether to bail him out or go. You only get to decide your actions, not his.

But whether it's depression or just entitlement, there is a distinct lack of respect going on. Factor that into your decision.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:49 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep your finances separate. Insist on him paying $$whatever, regardless of whether he actually worked these shifts - and if his hours get cut due to skipping, don't reduce this share. He has to figure out where to get this amount of money from, not you.

You can't make him go to work when he doesn't want to go to work.

He clearly doesn't like his work. What are his future plans? If there aren't any, focus your efforts in that direction.

If he has future plans (e.g. college student) - as long as he's working on those, focus on that part. If he has none, and doesn't want to make any, I'd consider depression and/or related conditions that show these symptoms - aka, suggest therapy.
posted by Ashlyth at 2:50 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Is this kind of thing a dealbreaker for you?

God yes. I divorced my husband over similar behavior. Guess what? My credit was still ruined, I'll still never be able to have a normal adult life with a house etc and it all came down to not getting out when I realized he was irresponsible about money.

Please, don't look back in ten years and be in my situation. Find a man to be with that you don't have to mommy.
posted by winna at 3:05 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

This should be about the money, not how/where he makes it. Your household needs $x (where x equals the amount he would make if he worked all his shifts like a grown up) from him to continue functioning. If he cannot commit to bringing that home reliably then you have your answers.
posted by crankylex at 3:33 PM on September 12, 2013

This is not about the money, the job, the Wows. It is about whether you are in a relationship, and what sort of a relationship is it? Those other things are signposts, and you know what they are pointing at.

Will he change (and I am not talking about jobs)? What are you getting out of this relationship? Does this relationship have enough potential to hold you, to make the hard times bearable?

Only you can answer.

Good luck.
posted by GeeEmm at 3:41 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

[helpful, constructive non-name-calling answers folks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:44 PM on September 12, 2013

In a different context, I know the pain of realizing you need to get to work/fulfill some responsibility/etc. and not having the mental energy to make it happen. Believe me - guilt from a romantic partner would only have made things worse, not better. In my case, the solution was moving to different responsibilities at work in combination with a lot of therapy.

I would focus on two practical aspects of this.

1. Budget. How do you guys split things up? Despite different incomes, my boyfriend and I split things 50/50 for the most part, and then spend our discretionary money however we like with no judgement/input from the other person. Although we are very much in love, we are not at the point of combining finances/supporting one another financially, which we both see as something that is more of a "marriage" type of thing. Other folks have different opinions on this type of thing, but I will say this is at least one way to work things out and I do think it leads to a minimum of resentment. We have intentionally chosen a lifestyle (rent, food and entertainment budget, etc.) that we can both afford and contribute to equally, and thus there is no need to stress over whether a discretionary purchase is frivolous, etc. because it does not impact our 'team' budget. If you guys could sit down and figure out a similar budget, you might be happier and more able to see your boyfriend's time off as his choice of how to 'spend' his discretionary income rather than money that is coming directly out of your pocket.

2. Either your boyfriend hates his job or he's dealing with some mental stuff (depression? anxiety?) that is making it hard for him to deal with his job. In case 1, maybe try to brainstorm with him about ways to start looking for or training for something he would like better. In case 2, think about where he can get help on this front, probably through therapy (there are sliding scale places). You don't and can't know what all is going on here, but I would start to explore with him the idea that you want to be a partner in helping him figure out what's gone wrong, so that he can work on fixing it -- whether that is getting therapy, going back to school, finding a new job, etc. For me, none of those things would be dealbreakers, although they may take a significant amount of time to get resolved. However, if you have this type of conversation and it becomes clear that he's actually perfectly happy with these patterns and maybe is just kind of an unmotivated person who doesn't see himself doing much with his life beyond video games and the occasional shift of work...well, that would be getting into dealbreaker territory for me. So, have the conversation and find out what's at the root. Start from a place of "What can we do to make you happier about your work situation?" rather than "Why can't you just be better about this?!"

Good luck.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:10 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am going to take you at your word and the real issue is money. I strongly suggest a budget and financial planning meeting. The problem is having enough money to cover costs. There are many solutions. He could work this job more. He could find a job that pays more and work less than he does now. You could work together to find you a job that pays enough to support both of you. You could cut expenses. If the problem is money; then you need to decide as a couple what you are going to do about it. And, that might not end up meaning him working more.
posted by hworth at 4:15 PM on September 12, 2013

what you can't do is get your boyfriend to change. what you can do is communicate how you feel with "i" statements rather than "you" statements that are not blaming and where you own your emotions. here is a page i just found that explains it really clearly: i statements also, you will probably need to set some firm boundaries around finances with your boyfriend. boundaries work where nagging doesn't. (i'm not saying you're nagging just that it is common in these situations.)

an example would be: "i feel really anxious/angry/pick an emotion when you call off work because i don't know if we will end up having enough money to pay rent or buy groceries this month."
posted by wildflower at 4:35 PM on September 12, 2013

Hey, I have a different take on this.

What if he never changes?

Would you be ok being the breadwinner? Would he be supportive of your career? Would he be a good stay at home dad?

Not everyone is professionally ambitious and sometimes that's ok.
posted by bq at 4:51 PM on September 12, 2013

Anyone who sits up until 6am playing computer games isn't worth dating. YMMV of course.
posted by mani at 5:25 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

last night, he stayed up way too late playing WoW. He was still playing when I got up to go to work at 645am today. He called off for his 1pm shift because he was tired and said he was in pain.

just wanted to add that sounds like it is quite likely a gaming addiction. addicts are known to lie. gaming addiction symptoms
posted by wildflower at 5:39 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

This video (I know, it's an hour long, but I swear it's worth it) is not going to answer your question, but it will shed a lot of light on what is going on with you and your boyfriend, individually and as a couple. Sliding vs Deciding. The video will address job things in addition to relationship type things. It's sort of focused toward thinking about teens, but it's great for even people who are much older to use as a springboard for thinking about life.

The actual answer I have for you is that he cannot and will not change until he wants to, regardless of how skillfully you craft your presentation, and regardless of how dire the financial repercussions of his not changing. It sounds as though you are trying very hard to "keep the peace" and "not rock the boat" and be the person who also makes sure the bills get paid and everyone gets fed. In most healthy relationships both parties take on these responsibilities, instead of just one. You have to decide if the rest of the relationship is so awesome that it justifies this imbalance of effort. Whatever you decide is not something for other people to judge, but I promise you, they will. No matter what you decide or how people judge it, just promise me that you will make the decisions with an open mind and an eye toward all of the facts.

And by facts I mean, "what is happening right now and what has actually happened in the past." I do not mean "what is this person promising they will do in the future." Because the future is very much imaginary.

You can approach this conversation with him as "here is what is missing from my/our life (financial security) and here is what my 100 percent looks like." Ask him what does his 100% look like? Where does he see the problem/mismatch in what you each have and what you each want? What possible solutions does he see? Really listen to the answers to these questions.

Now. With all of that said. His behavior sounds like depression. I'm not saying it IS depression. I am not qualified to diagnose your boyfriend or any other person. But it does sound a whole lot like a manifestation of depression. The getting sucked into a game, the eating foods that aren't good for you AND make you feel like crap. The floundering in a job, and the being unable to sleep at the appropriate time (consider it a possibility that he's playing the games because he can't sleep, instead of the other way around). Depression comes in many disguises, and there's also a chance that this is not depression. If this is that, you also can't make him get treatment. But you can consider this in that framework.
posted by bilabial at 5:43 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've experienced both sides of this issue in my life. I have been in your position, poster. I have been the breadwinner of the couple. I've had to have those awkward talks where you end up feeling like a parent lecturing their child. And for all the talking, nothing changes long-term.

But I've also been the despondent retail worker who'd find any excuse to call in. Not because I didn't respect my partner, or because I was lazy--but because I felt it was a waste of my time. I didn't like my work. I felt it wasn't appreciated and that I was far underpaid. The blase attitude towards absenteeism just reinforced, at least in my opinion, that it didn't matter if I was there or not. When you don't think anyone cares and you feel your contribution is meager at best, there's no incentive to have a better work ethic.

Now, for me, things improved when I switched jobs to something I found more interesting and when my partner and I decided to live separately for a little while. It meant work was suddenly directly equated to my survival, so missing one day meant possibly not affording rent. My work ethic vastly improved with that knowledge.

I suggest talking to your bf about his job in particular--what he likes, doesn't like and what it would take for him to take it more seriously. Perhaps he just needs a new job that he feels more passionate about.
posted by stubbehtail at 5:45 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

As to WHY????? I have been in a lot of relationships. This one is worth working on. I have been with losers. He's immature in some ways, but I wouldn't say he's a loser at all.

In my sadder-but-wiser experience, immature still equals loser. Sorry. Dude needs to be grown ass enough to take care of himself, and he's not.

I place a lot of importance on the "soft skills" (sorry, I work in a call center) of partnership. Things like kindness and generosity and easygoingness and sense of humor.

Yes, and my ex that was like yours was a super nice guy who worked retail and was really into gaming too. He's a super nice person. But frankly, his inability to take care of himself really, really worried me. I do not make enough money to support a stay at home husband and never will. If he couldn't pull his own weight, I wasn't going to feel comfortable marrying him or shacking up with him.

My potential dating pool is much smaller than many, as well, because I am severely overweight. Yet he finds me attractive.

Yeah, I also know this one: "this guy is literally the best I can do and if I break up with him, I'll never find anyone better." I can tell you as someone who thought the same thing, and who still hasn't found anyone else at all after this last ex--it's better to be alone for life than to be worrying about taking care of his flaky ass and how you can't do it and how angry you are at him for not shaping up.

I guess the crux of the matter is, he never had a reason to grow up before we met. I want to give him time. He's worth it. I'm not willing to wait forever, of course.

I used to say the same thing. He even said the whole "I want to be a better man because of you" thing. It doesn't work if he doesn't want to be a better man all by himself without your influence, though.

Look, some guys are genuinely unhappy with their jobs (and retail does suck) and flake out--but is he trying to get any other kind of job or doing any schooling? There are also some guys, like my ex and certain friends of mine, who don't like working and it doesn't matter what job--they'll "fake sick" and flake and passive-aggressively do things to get themselves fired. This especially works nicely when they have someone else to provide for them. Whatever his deal is, right now he's heading towards stay-at-home boyfriend and there's no way in hell you can force him to not be a flake towards working.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:51 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Playing WoW until 7am is a problem. Does he have any life goals? He works part-time in retail and has marathon raids on WoW, so...I'm guessing not. As a supportive girlfriend, you might want to help him figure out what he wants to do with his life and push him to be a better version of himself and self-actualize a little bit. Or, you know, save yourself the trouble and dump him. I sure hope things work out.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:32 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I guess the crux of the matter is, he never had a reason to grow up before we met.

A fundamental aspect of growing up is having the ability to support oneself to keep a roof over one's head. And the truth is that your boyfriend has no reason to develop that ability now because someone else (you) is carrying that burden for him. He has developed some habits and a lifestyle that seems to work pretty well for him, and you can't expect him to change those habits simply out of the goodness of his heart.

As far as his "soft skills", things like kindness and generosity are the hallmark of a good, mature person. They're not exactly rare (though I wish they were more common). Insofar as he "leads" with these aspects of his personality, it's because he has to because he has little else to offer.
posted by deanc at 6:48 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

try asking him why it's okay to call in sick. Maybe he feels that they're happy to exploit him, and he's happy to be unreliable. Maybe it's how he was raised. Maybe it's the culture at his workplace. Maybe he's unreliable. Ask and listen. Ask him where he's headed with his life. Ask him if there's any way you can help him achieve his goals.

Ask yourself if you want to be with him, if he is smart, funny, sexy, sweet enough for you to ignore his flaws. Does he blow you off when you're counting in him? Is he addicted to gaming (staying up all hours, affecting his work)?

Stop judging him and trying to manage him. It doesn't work, and creates more trouble. Be clear that he's responsible for his bills if he loses the job, but if the answers above convince you to stay with him, you have to let him manage his own life.
posted by theora55 at 8:16 PM on September 12, 2013

I think it's weird that a few people have suggested you are controlling/judgy/histrionic/etc. Not being able to count on someone to hold up their end financially is seriously stressful, and when they fail to do it, it's not as clearcut as saying, "Well, you're responsible for your bills." I mean, do you sit around in the dark because he couldn't pay his share of the electric bill? Do you eat your own groceries in front of him and say, "Yeah, too bad you weren't more responsible"?

I would suggest writing down your worries ahead of time and making them about concrete things: if you lose your job, we would struggle to buy food, etc. And I would ask him to come up with some concrete solutions as to how he would address a job loss. Be warned that what he says he would do in those circumstances and what he actually does may be very different.

Honestly, though, while you don't need to break up with him over it, you might consider moving back out. Being the main breadwinner with a financially irresponsible partner when the bread you actually win is not enough to support both of you is absolutely terrifying. I know this from extremely painful experience.
posted by tiger tiger at 3:13 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thanks to everyone for the excellent advice. It means the world to me.

Oh, and he was supporting himself with roommates before I moved in. We can each independently support ourselves, I just can't support both of us.
posted by Rach3l at 5:44 AM on September 13, 2013

I realize that this is the cry of every angsty girlfriend ever, so I will try to rein that in.

Only those with boyfriends who are not adults. You have nothing to reign in here. You don't deserve less due to your weight. You don't deserve less for any reason.
posted by French Fry at 6:29 PM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Final update from the OP:
I was rereading this thread from awhile ago and thought I'd post back to let everyone know what happened in the end. Things turned around majorly for his career, our finances, and our relationship when he got a full-time helpdesk job last October. =) We are still together, and life has never been better. He proposed, and we're getting married in 5 months. We're moving into a new apartment this weekend, just the 2 of us. We both still play computer games, but less of them.

I'm no therapist, but in retrospect, I think his problems stemmed from depression and feelings of inadequacy. He actually makes a bit more than me now! That doesn't matter to me, but seems to have significantly improved his self-esteem (as much as I hate the term, it's applicable here). It didn't hurt that we've been living with 2 lazy stoner roommates for the past 6 months... seeing the way they live really held up a mirror to his own life, which served as motivation. For BOTH of us!

Oh, and he's still better at feeding our cat. ;)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:46 PM on February 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

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