Boyfriend's lack of motivation a turn off - what next?
March 4, 2014 3:10 AM   Subscribe

We've been together about a year and when I first met him he was far more motivated. We are both writers and at the time I was too scared to actually starting performing my work in front of people - with his encouragement I finally overcame that hurdle. He was given an award for his writing from a well-known author and was doing well - but since we graduated (met at uni) he's more or less stopped writing altogether and is still working at the part time retail job he was at during his uni years.

Meanwhile I have had some of my work published and got a graduate job a few weeks after leaving uni. Since then I have been promoted and really enjoy what I do even though it can be stressful sometimes (tight deadlines). Meanwhile, boyfriend's job is so lax he can literally a serve customer every so often but get through a few books a week - while at work! He'll say 'that's me finished book 4' and meanwhile I'm working to a super-tight deadline. It's started to irk me.

Secondly, since last year we have been discussing moving in together at the end of this year. But while I'm trying to save a bit he really just lives hand to mouth and can't do that. I talked to him about my concerns and he said he's never been driven by money - I'm not either necessarily but I would like us to be able to go on trips and for nice dinners without worrying about it. But the main issue just now is that sometimes I'll have a taxing day mentally at work and want to come home to a relaxing dinner with him, and because he's not had a taxing day he wants to talk in depth about all these heavy topics, which I find draining. When I spoke about it he made a snipe about how he'd rather have a laid back job during the day if it meant having engaging conversations with me at night.

He has a degree but will not use it. He stops and starts cover letters and stops and starts ideas for novels. He comes up with every excuse under the sun for why he can't write - 'it's all rubbish', 'I'm not a writer' etc even when I try to be encouraging and tell him how talented he is. I've also found this affecting my sexual attraction toward him. If I could help him, I would. Is this likely to be a lost cause or might he get there eventually?
posted by Kat_Dubs to Human Relations (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do, and it sounds like he doesn't want to change his lifestyle. And his lifestyle annoys you.

When you say "If I could help him, I would," there's no indication that he wants or needs help. He doesn't owe it to you to get a taxing career job.

It doesn't sound like you're very well matched, really.
posted by tel3path at 3:22 AM on March 4, 2014 [19 favorites]

Is it a lack of motivation - or is he struggling to find a graduate level job in what is still a very shit economy, especially for "real" jobs with security and benefits and all the rest? God knows I get exhausted and demoralised writing cover letters after sending off dozens which are simply ignored - and I'm in a full-time, "graduate job" (whatever that consists of, exactly, because I'm not certain - very, very many graduates are in service jobs these days).

It's great that you got a good job so quickly. But maybe among all the excitement and stress you've forgotten that service jobs can be draining and demoralising in their own right, even if he's not busy at every hour of the day like you are. Shit pay, shit conditions, little job security, no prestige - they can wear down on a person.

As for his writing - working full-time after graduation more or less killed my creative writing dead. Shit jobs can do that, as much as we'd like to buy into a romantic dream of the irrepressible artist, driven to create.

I guess what I'm saying is, this is a matter of perspective - and it's very easy to look down on other people when you've ended up in a good position, be it through hard work or (and let's be honest, there's very often an element of this) through good luck and privilege.

It sounds like you're starting to realise that you don't share the same values and interests, which is enough of a cause for concern. I mean hell, your main problem as you see it is that you don't like talking to him after work. But if you're not sexually attracted to him any more on top of everything else, then he deserves to be cut loose so that you can both find better-suited partners.
posted by Ted Maul at 3:28 AM on March 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

The bottom line here is that it's not a good match, period.
It sounds like you're two different people, motivated by different things, and want different things for your future.
Time to let this one go.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 3:35 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's true, you're no longer a good match with this guy.

I had a very similar experience. End this now before it gets really shitty.

Your sexual attraction to him is probably also affected by the length of time you've been together and your exhaustion from working hard all day. It sucks to be in that position, then to come home and expect to give more of your time, your brain and your body.

You also say he "won't" use his degree -- true, it's a shit economy out there, but let's face it: it's not attractive for someone to not even try.

If you have a conversation with him about all this, it's OK to set hard deadlines for effort. If he's depressed, he's got until the end of X month to seek a therapist or go to the doctor for meds. If he's whiny about the job market, whatever, it does suck, but that doesn't mean he can't at least finish a cover letter every now and then.

That's the extent of help you can offer. If you don't like how he's living his life, please save your twenties and spend them on living your life how you want -- even if that means breaking this off now so you can come home to some R&R at the end of a long day.
posted by mibo at 3:57 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

OP here - one very obvious thing that I forgot to mention was that when talking about moving in together we have been discussing travelling abroad to do this because we both went to travel and see the world a bit more. I am willing to be a bit less 'stable' for that time period but not forever and always/long-term.I thought this was an important detail and couldn't see a way of editing my post!
posted by Kat_Dubs at 3:58 AM on March 4, 2014

So, who would be paying for the cost of trips or living abroad? I just re-read the bit where you're trying to save and he doesn't live for money. Well, my sweet, if he's like my ex he'll be happy to spend yours.

He's a taker -- of your time, your energy and your money. The encouragement for you to better yourself (mind, this is colored by my own bitter divorce from a taker) is to build you up so that he can take advantage of your hard work. ("You're so smart, mibo! Go to law school, it will be fun! What's this, a student loan? Covers the rent, doesn't it, and that's the end of my job search!")

I do apologize if I sound harsh, but my advice after your update is DTMFA. Work hard, save your money, publish more of your work, then take a nice trip abroad, someplace with pool boys. Life is truly too short to try and raise manchildren.
posted by mibo at 4:06 AM on March 4, 2014 [15 favorites]

Basically what the earlier posts are letting you know is to cut loose, even before you posted the bit about planning to live abroad. It doesn't seem like you two are very compatible. And now with your follow-up, I think even more strongly that cutting loose is your best possible choice.

To add to Mibo's comment above me: Would you have any kind of support network that speaks a language you understand in case something doesn't work out--and if you didn't think something might not work out with the relationship, you wouldn't make the post you did--while you're abroad?
posted by Tsukushi at 4:36 AM on March 4, 2014

sounds like he's getting ready to passively use you. i think you should leave him and find someone whose speed of life and ambition matches your own. if he doesn't save how does he plan to move abroad? on your dime...
posted by zdravo at 4:55 AM on March 4, 2014

It's not as easy as DTMFA because I do love him and don't want to give up. A couple of weeks ago he described a great plan for a novel from start to finish (but hasn't implemented it yet). I suppose in my dreamworld, I think if we move in together and he sees my motivation it might be contagious.Yesterday he told me he started a profile for a freelancing site but is stuck on what to write next - he feels uncomfortable with 'selling' himself. I feel like there's hope but maybe I'm kidding myself.

I wouldn't know anyone abroad specifically - although if we move to a certain city I do have a friend living there just now.

EDIT: we'll he said he has no interest in using my money just yesterday! But paying rent together etc would be a genuine concern.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 4:57 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

interesting fact for me is that you prefer to right down here your story and speak behind your boyfriend's back instead to be honest and tell him right away what's bothering you... My advice is that if you don't feel compatible with his character ( normally if you love him then you should accept him the way he is ) then you might prefer to find someone who could be a better mate for you... My opinion:)
posted by chimikos at 5:22 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can't know how he will be, forever, in the future. Priorities often change as we grow up, and both of you have a lot of growing to do.

What you can know is that, right now, you two aren't compatible. Which makes moving in together in a foreign country a spectacularly bad idea.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:26 AM on March 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

I don't necessarily disagree with what the other posters have said so far, but I want to offer a different perspective: Is it possible that he's depressed? You said that his motivation levels have changed considerably, and that happens commonly when people are depressed. I'm generally a motivated person when I'm in my right mind, but if I'm suffering from moderate to severe depression, things I would have no trouble doing in my normal state become almost insurmountable obstacles. Is it possible that is the case with your boyfriend?
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 5:27 AM on March 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

All he ever will be is what he is right now in this moment. If that's the case, do you want to build a life with him?

When you're in school, you don't have real life breathing down your neck. You live in a happy little bubble where you're all poor, but not really, the fun kind of poor. You have your friends, and you have your classes and your work in school translates into immediate feedback and it's GREAT!

When you graduate, everything changes. Now your life spreads before you and there are a zillion different paths you can take. Should you spend a year backpacking in Asia? Should you jump into a management training job with a bank? Should you work at Starbucks and play at open mikes around town? You're young, you have a degree and the world is your oyster.

So what happens is, that person you had so much in common with in school, has decided to take a completely different path that the one you've slected. Some paths converge and intertwine, in which case, AWESOME. Some diverge and take you further and further away from each other. Not so awesome.

Your BF, as lovely as he is in this moment, is not the man you can see yourself with in the long run. What if he decides that he likes working part-time and would prefer never to enter the corporate world. What if he doesn't want to travel? What if he can't afford to split rent with you and decides to keep living with 3 flatmates in a dodgy neighborhood?

Do this. Sit down together and draw up lists. List all the things you want to do, places you want to travel, things you want to accomplish. If you want kids, put them on the list, if you want to be married, ditto. If you want to run a company someday, put that on there. Have him do the same. Now, compare. Are you on the same page or is it wildly different?

It's too easy to look back and remember what your relationship was like when you were both students. It's an idealized world and relationships are easier. Can you look into the future and see what your relationship looks like.

Do you feel comfortable saying to him, "I love you, and right now I'm having a problem because I don't think we want the same things in life. I want certain things for you, and for me to stay in the relationship, I need to know that you want those same things. It's okay if you want to work part-time and live with Tiger, Leon and Spud, but I don't want to be with you if that's the kind of life you envision for yourself. We talk about moving in together, and I'd love that, but I'd need an assurance that you had enough money coming in to make it partnership, because I don't want to subsidize a grown man, with a university degree, with simple daily living. I envision a life where we contribute equally, and where we have the financial stability to travel and live in a nice place. You say you're not money motivated, what does motivate you."

Sweetie, I think you know that this isn't going to work out. You can't force people to change. You can't want for them what they don't want for themselves.

It will be bittersweet, but break up with him now, while you still love and respect him, because if you continue on, you'll become resentful and annoyed and learn to hate him.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:46 AM on March 4, 2014 [17 favorites]

All he ever will be is what he is right now in this moment.

That right there.

If he never wants more than to live hand-to-mouth, is that okay with you? If he only ever talks about that thing he's going to write but never does, is that okay with you? If he only ever holds jobs like the one he has now, is that okay? If he never wants to use his degree, is that okay?

What I said in another askme on a similar topic: His ambition seems more important to you than it is to him, and that seems like a poor match. Resentment will kill a relationship faster than almost anything else.
posted by rtha at 6:04 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

OP here. Ruthless Bunny(like the name), I actually did have a very similar conversation with him yesterday evening which is where this has come from. I used the word 'partnership' a good few times and even went as far as saying that even if we travel together I would like to settle down eventually. Previously he wasn't sure he would ever want a family- but apparently that has changed now and he would be up for having children. Making the need for some financial stability more obvious.

He's said that his intention when we go abroad would be to find a teaching (TEFL) job, as he thinks that could be enough to fund rent and the rest of it. Despite this he hasn't done the research yet and it's clear that different locations mean different prices for rent etc. there is so much to think about and I don't want to be the only one bothering - it's just not in my nature to live on a prayer.

rtha, no it's not okay. For me. But I'd be surprised if he stayed exactly as he is at this moment for all time. I think he probably will grow, I just don't know when...
posted by Kat_Dubs at 6:15 AM on March 4, 2014

He's said that his intention when we go abroad would be to find a teaching (TEFL) job, as he thinks that could be enough to fund rent and the rest of it. Despite this he hasn't done the research yet

These jobs don't just get served to you on a platter anymore just because you're a white American dude abroad, especially after the economic downturn, unless you went to a seriously name-brand school in the U.S. (Ivy) or you already know someone over there. If he wants to make himself attractive for these kinds of jobs, the good news is that he can start right now! If he's too broke for training classes (yes, there's an actual pedagogy behind it, and many places offer certification programs for teaching ESL), he can volunteer at any number of places (that serve/attract immigrants) with tutoring or teaching ESL or even just language exchange, even if he can't get a paying gig. If he won't even follow through on that, well, that's very important information to have.
posted by blue suede stockings at 6:25 AM on March 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

rtha, no it's not okay. For me. But I'd be surprised if he stayed exactly as he is at this moment for all time. I think he probably will grow, I just don't know when...

People surprise you all the time. The point is what if he doesn't, fundamentally, change how he is? Since you cannot know when or how or if he will change, it's on you to decide if you would be happy being with the guy he is *now* for the next umpteen years. If you think you wouldn't be, better to do something about it sooner rather than spending years resenting his not-changing or wondering when he finally is going to change.
posted by rtha at 6:31 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you had the conversation with him, did you get the impression that he heard your concerns and is he addressing them?

Give him a week or so, and see where you are.

Keep making your plans, and don't depend on him one way or the other. If you end up getting a job abroad, I guess you'll go to it alone.

When he sees that when you talk about something, that there's actually actions that you perform to get you to your next goal, either he emulates you, and does the same, or he continues to sit back and wait for things to come to him.

Either way, let him know, "once I have an offer to work abroad, I plan on taking it."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:47 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

While I like what Ruthless Bunny says about lists, and I think they can be a very good relationship inventory tool, they are less effective if you are getting a certain amount of lip service from your fella. "Sure, kids sound theoretically greaaaat" is not the same as getting decent jobs with health insurance and combining your households equitably (or whatever you feel is responsible preparation for a life with kids to run on with this example).

I spent too long married to someone extremely unambitious, and I basically outgrew him as my values evolved and I wanted more from life, like not living hand to mouth and basic lifestyle compatibility. There were a lot of promises and plans to change into someone I wanted to be with (at that point my bar was so low I just wanted someone who would go to work on the regular like me, so I am not saying I was pressuring him to get an MBA or something). Later I found someone with similar values and it was kind of mindblowing, just to have that hurdle out of the way. We're not twins, but living with someone who finds hard work and saving money satisfying--it's nice.

Anyway I'm not saying saying you should have particular middle class values, just that similar values help a lot.

What it boils down to is that talk is cheap--it's all about action. If he wants to teach overseas, then make a plan together and find out what his steps are towards making that happen (the same way you would share the steps of your plan with him since you are accountable to each other in a shared plan like this). Don't hold yourself back by letting him and yourself assume you will be his safety net if he kind of waves his hands at it, especially if you're already feeling resentful about his lack of ambition.

I know you love him, so this is hard. You can keep loving him, but do not "babysit" or unreasonably enable any progress he needs to make on his own. Do not move in with him on a promise or two, or something pending. Move in knowing his financial situation and that he'll be able to make rent and that you will be able to do things together you enjoy.

If he makes any insinuation that you should be supporting him somehow, or that you owe him because you are better situated right now, this is a red flag. You sound like a competent, capable person, and you probably wouldn't expect anyone to carry you along, right? Imagine having an adult partner who you love AND who is as capable as you are. It's very freeing and you feel like you can leap mountains together. You deserve that.
posted by Lardmitten at 6:56 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Please do now allow a "stealth" move in. It will be easy, fun, and almost make sense at first. "It will be just for a little while, and two can live as cheaply as one."

Motivation is rarely contagious, but lethargy always is. I'm climbing out of this pit right now.
posted by Classic Diner at 7:02 AM on March 4, 2014 [14 favorites]

Assuming he doesn't change at all and everything stays exactly like it is now, here's my report from the future, make of it what you will.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:45 AM on March 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Go travelling together.

There is no quicker way to REALLY get to know someone and you might not like what you see. Definitely go travelling with him before you move in with him.

Like my (wise) Mum always used to say, "you never really know who someone is until you see them handle a crisis"... from what you've written, I don't necessarily think he'd be the best in a bad situation.
posted by JenThePro at 7:49 AM on March 4, 2014

There are so many great answers above. What stuck out to me in your question was
I talked to him about my concerns and he said he's never been driven by money - I'm not either necessarily but I would like us to be able to go on trips and for nice dinners without worrying about it.
My reaction to this is he needs to grow. up. Being driven by pursuit of the almighty dollar is not the same as realizing you need money to live, whatever that life might look like to you. If your future plans regarding travel, a home, a life together are not enough to motivate him then what will be?

And regarding everyone giving DTMFA advice - nobody is saying it lightly, or because it is easy; simple solutions can be simple without being easy.
posted by variella at 7:52 AM on March 4, 2014

I agree with a lot of what's already been said. Just to add one more thing:

You need to stop paying attention to what he says, and instead focus on what he does. It seems like you're hanging on to a couple of ideas he's thrown out there to placate you (wanting children some day, getting a teaching job once you're abroad), but none of these things seem to have any relation to the actions that he's taken, at least based on what you've written here.

If I were in your position, I would only consider hanging around if he took some sort of definitive action that showed me he's serious about what he's saying. But if all he gives you are words, then I think you already have your answer.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:27 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

A few thoughts:
1. He says he's not "driven by money", but you don't mention if he's a big spender, or whether he's simply constrained by his low-paying job but not racking up credit card debt. If he has good saving/spending habits and can get a salaried position within a year or so the concern is simply whether you'll resent him if he never makes more than you. My husband isn't "driven by money" philosophically, and he doesn't earn as much as me, but we have similar financial goals and have a plan/budget for where our money goes and that has helped a lot. It's taken him time to realize that even if you don't like to be motivated by money, that it's important for having a family and reasonably pleasant lifestyle. He was working retail when we met, but quit and started a better paying job once he had decided what he wanted to do. I would put plans to move in together on hold while he sorts this out (or not). By all means help him prepare for interviews once he has them, if you come across a job you think he'd be perfect for send it his way, but otherwise there's nothing you can do for him.
2. You need to ask him if he thinks he'd ever take a higher paying day job and write in his "free" time. I have writer friends and they all have day jobs, it's not easy but if you're passionate about writing and can't be subsidized by a partner or wealthy family it's the way to go.
3. Make a rule that you two shouldn't have big (or even any) real conversation for an hour or two after work until you've had some time alone to recharge, have a shower and something to eat, maybe some exercise. Then maybe you'll find you can enjoy and engage with him. My husband and I are allowed to tell each other when we simply can't handle hearing a lot of information from the other (so no sniping about it; this is usually the case right after work before dinner), but we also try to take care of ourselves so we can engage with each other reasonably often. If you just don't care about what he has to say anymore, and not only when you're tired, then end it.
4. I think your boyfriend might be experiencing some issues that are common in the time following ending school that do not indicate that he'll be working retail for the rest of his life. Try to stop seeing his every move/statement as a sign of whether or not he's going to make the changes you're hoping for. He has to accept that you are prioritizing your work and building some stability, and you have to accept that he is still finding his way. If you each can't do that, then end it.
5. DO NOT move in together. You will police his job searching/actions and it will definitely kill your relationship and possibly put you in a bad financial situation. Don't kid yourself that he'll be more motivated once you're living together.
6. If you are enjoying your work I would try to stay in there for at least a couple of years before putting things on hold to travel, unless you are physically aching to travel for a long period of time. I have a girlfriend who has worked full-time since she graduated, she paid her student debt down, bought a condo, built up some savings and job experience, and now is taking half a year off to travel (she's been working since graduation for about 7 years). Then she's going to come back and apply for her PMP (she's a project manager) so that she can continue an upward career trajectory despite the time away. She took several shorter trips while she was working. I think that's a very smart middle ground to take.
posted by lafemma at 8:29 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you need to separate out what is actually bothering you about your boyfriend's situation.

For instance here:

Meanwhile, boyfriend's job is so lax he can literally a serve customer every so often but get through a few books a week - while at work! He'll say 'that's me finished book 4' and meanwhile I'm working to a super-tight deadline. It's started to irk me.

I work a job that is usually relatively slow, with short bursts of hectic activity. I prioritize jobs that are laid back, where we take lunch breaks, go home at 6 and leave the office behind, and which otherwise don't drive me bonkers. I suppose I could make more money working a more intense job, and I'm definitely on the less ambitious end when it comes to career stuff, but I'm happy doing what I do. I am always going to prioritize that baseline sane work day over nice dinners out or extravagant vacations.

I think being angry because your boyfriend has found a work-life balance that moves at a slower pace than yours isn't really fair, assuming he's supporting himself and his lifestyle isn't going to prevent you guys moving forward in your relationship.

Would you be happier if you slowed down a little, rather than projecting all this stuff on him? Do you feel jealous that he has time to read?

Re the creative stuff, cut him some slack! Writing, as I'm sure you know, is hard. Sometimes you just feel creatively empty. Sometimes you start something and realize it's all wrong. This is especially true if he's writing in a particularly literary vein. Harper Lee wrote one novel, ever. Is she lazy? It's deeply unfair of you to place creative constraints on your relationship. I would be sick if I found out that someone who was supposed to love me was actually judging me because I was in a fallow period with my writing.
posted by Sara C. at 8:54 AM on March 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

A couple of weeks ago he described a great plan for a novel from start to finish (but hasn't implemented it yet).

This is not being a writer.

Writing it would be being a writer.
posted by winna at 8:57 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you 2 are just incompatible and you're trying to "fix it" the same way you'd fix something at your job - having the right talks and meetings, using the right jargon, discussing timelines, finance discussions but unfortunately, none of that will change the core essences of who yous are so I really think you should think about breaking up (amicably). Those tactics that work at a job to fix things are aimed at projects and issues with objective end points. A relationship is subjective and (usually) have no forseen endpoints so you need to consider intangible qualities and when you do this between the two of you, it doesn't look solvable.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:38 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're not going to like my answer.

Men/boys like this are not always a lost cause.

Unfortunately, the one thing that almost never, ever actually changes them is a nice and understanding girlfriend.

Or even a girlfriend, period.

This goes against tons of cultural programming in which a woman motivates a man to change. In my experience in real life, the opposite is almost true, and the movies, books etc. are almost tragi-comically false.
posted by quincunx at 9:46 AM on March 4, 2014 [14 favorites]

Mismatched ambition is toxic to serious relationships. You can like/love this man and think he's a good person, but that doesn't necessarily make him a good candidate for life partner to you. It also doesn't make him a bad person or a bad partner for someone whose values are more aligned with his. You might even still really like some things about him, but what matters most in a relationship is how you complement each other and help each other reach your respective life goals.

I can empathize with his inability to immediately implement his ideas for writing a novel. It might very well take him years to do this, if he ever even does it. But when your immediate ambitions and drive are so mismatched, and when you're all ready to go do whatever and he isn't anywhere near that nor making any movements towards it, all it can lead to is resentment as you both try to drag each other towards things you don't actually want. Moving in together isn't going to turn him into a different person.
posted by wondermouse at 10:04 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I want to parrot quincunx's very good answer.

I had a really great boyfriend who just leeched off my full time job while "trying" (see: in my opinon, not trying) to be a writer.

His feeling of entitlement to the money and resources that I provided us by working full time while he "tried" to find a job or get some kind of magical break as a writer, and then his sense of entitlement to my attention, love and generosity when I got home, wore on me until we never had sex, got in arguments about stupid things, and made me really start to resent him.

I broke up with him eventually, he moved home with his family for a bit but eventually got a real job, works good hours, likes his life, doesn't play video games all day, etc, is actually someone who I could probably be with now.

but he NEVER. WOULD. HAVE. DONE. IT. with me to support him, to make his lazy little life a viable option. I tried hard to make him do something with his talent, to put the in effort, to do all kinds of things. but for that kind of person, who is not "money motivated" or whatever, and who has a nice girlfriend who works hard and bankrolls the occasional dinner out, the occasional rent shortage, the groceries, the bills, the errands.. whats the reason to work?

trust me, this will get WORSE if you move in together.

also, there will be so much "why can't you just be supportive" it will make you sick.
posted by euphoria066 at 10:15 AM on March 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

He doesn't sound unhappy with his situation, so what is it you want to "help" him with? It sounds like he's paying his bills and generally enjoying himself. I don't know why you are looking down on that. If you want to be with someone who is more interested in having a lifestyle like the one you are aiming for, then you should find that person, but not make this guy feel like he's doing something wrong that needs fixing. (His "snipe" makes it sounds like he might think you would be better off living your life differently! It's all perspective.)
posted by metasarah at 11:04 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

After looking through your other questions, something immediately became clear. When you started dating your boyfriend, you were going through an intense period of grief. You said in a previous question that when you started dating him, it was with the understanding that you were going through a really hard time, and he agreed to be there to support you, as he tried to do all last year.

With that in mind, to me, it sounds like you're finally recovering from that emotional trauma, and you're a lot stronger now and living a life that you feel pretty good about. To put it in the harshest way possible, what's happening now is you're realizing you don't need him anymore. You needed him when you were going through a rough time and needed all that emotional support, but now that you aren't... what's he actually bringing to the table? Turns out it's not much you actually want in your life. And you know, this is probably the way he always was, but you were too wrapped up in your grief to see it.

I do not at all mean this as a putdown on him. He sounds like a decent, creative guy who's still figuring out his post-college life. I think this is you finally seeing your relationship with him through clear eyes. It wasn't based on anything sustainable from the very beginning, and that's why you've had problems with arguments and communication all along, and that's why you're at this point now.
posted by wondermouse at 1:49 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to come at this from another side:

I'm a writer, mostly. I worked my way through school as one, got my journalism degree and went out into the brave new world with my girlfriend. I ended up having two separate year-long periods where I was essentially unemployed. I did freelance gigs, as much as I could, but when you're hustling hard for $15, it wears on you really quickly.

And my girlfriend was rightly frustrated, but she stuck it out. Now I have a pretty good job, and am pretty rapidly getting promotions and having to worry about actual ambitions beyond just "have a job I don't loathe."

Things that changed: Well, first off, I got medicated for ADD and depression. But even that was a long, ugly struggle where I essentially had to find a friend who was already medicated and cadge his supply because no one would prescribe me anything without insurance and a long rigamarole. (And it wasn't even a Schedule 1 drug or anything!)

Second, I stumbled into a job I was good at that wasn't journalism, but I worked hard at it and have been able to parlay it into stuff that I want to do more. It's still hard work, but it's rewarding and fun.

Aside from that, not a whole lot; my girlfriend still makes and is likely to make more than me for the foreseeable future, and I'm still not a very dollar-driven guy. Long years of thrift have made it easy for me to work on paying down my student loans (well, and having a great, supportive girlfriend even now) without worrying about splurging too much. I'm still not writing those novels I thought I wanted to, except as fun things for me.

So, it is possible to change, and it's possible that he won't. This question suffers from a common AskMe malady, where people project their own experiences onto you based on a skeleton of info. And plenty of people on AskMe have had fucked up relationships. Some learned from that, some didn't, some over-correct, some under-correct. But just as we've got to remember to take your description with a grain of salt, you shouldn't be taking these perspectives as anything aside from minimally-informed strangers who have an opinion on your life.

On the talking thing: When I was unemployed, my girlfriend was working reference desks a lot. When she came home, I wanted to chat because I hadn't really talked to anyone else except the faux small talk of job interviews. It was overwhelming for her and pretty hard — so I had to make an effort to get out and talk to other people. On the other hand, once I got a job that was about talking to some 60 people a day about LGBT politics, I had no interest in talking once I got home. It's a real thing. See if he can talk to someone else first about his day, and let you decompress first (sometimes my girlfriend just asks me to leave so she can be alone for an hour or two in the house without having anyone she has to talk to — I use that time to take pictures, and it works out pretty well).

That all said: You don't sound happy. You need to talk to your guy about what would make you happy, what makes him happy, and whether that's compatible. I swear to Jesus that getting on meds really allowed me to do things like plan more than a week in advance (still not great on that), and get out of the lethargic rut of unemployment and under-employment. He might find similar success. But let him know that you can't keep doing this, and that if you're going to be partners, that means that he has to step up in some pretty specific ways. (You can also remind him that most writing is crap done by people who can finish a story. There are millions of brilliant writers we never read because they couldn't hit a deadline and get their stuff out there. All he has to do is be better than one published writer to be worth publishing himself — be better than one writer and actually finish and submit the work.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:58 PM on March 4, 2014 [12 favorites]

>>>It's not as easy as DTMFA because I do love him and don't want to give up...I suppose in my dreamworld, I think if we move in together and he sees my motivation it might be contagious.

Look at what you wrote here, your rational and irrational selves doing battle through your word choice...suppose...dreamworld...think...might (right after a sentence that acknowledges that his actions do not match his words).

You don't want to give up, but no amount of dreaming, hoping, inspiring, cajoling or anything else can make someone into the person you would like them to be. You know you're not OK with who he is, and I think you already know that a train wreck is on schedule, since you've already acknowledged that his habits do not match those of someone who is preparing to settle down, have kids, become magically ambitious.

Listen to your inner voice -- you ask if he is a last cause, but keep pushing back against the responses that tell you he is. No one has a magic 8-ball here, but if we did, OUTCOME NOT SO GOOD would be the most likely reply.
posted by ravioli at 5:32 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If he did well while at school, and was bothered enough to produce an apparently quite good piece of work there - which not all university-aged would-be writers manage - I wouldn't be so quick to write him off as a congenitally unambitious person. (Whether you should stay with him, now, is something else.) Sounds to me as though each of you is acculturating to the opportunities that have shown themselves in the post-graduate moment. You have taken on the values and lifestyle appropriate to your workplace, which offers built-in deadlines, and daily exposure to ambitious people. Your boyfriend has fallen out of an environment providing structure, and has no formal support s related to his goals. He has to justify his life to himself, and so do the people he sees every day. And that's reinforcing, rationalizations are catching.

Sounds to me as if he s hiding, and it does sound like depression might be a possibility. I bet he really just wants to write, and has no idea what else he could do in this economy, or how he could make any result ing identity work with his sense of himself. (If he d written an ask me, I'd suggest he get involved in a writer s workshop or group,and spend time with people who value writing and are active, because of those catching rationalizations (and/or values, really), plus, inspiration, support, some healthy competition, and deadlines. If you could nudge him that way, it might help him reorient himself, or take some of the load off you, at least.)

I wouldn't move in with him, that s a disaster in the making, but maybe see how things go. You're both adjusting to what's in front of you, is how I see it. With patience, it might work. But I wouldn't approach it with expectations of immediate change, and it'd also be fine if you found yourself unwilling to wait for him to figure himself out.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:46 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I say this sounds like a hurdle that could be jumped by communicating and compromising a bit more, not a fundamental values clash.

This is how I read your post from a neutral point of view:
(sorry if I’m way off, I may be projecting part of my own experience!)

When you meet you hit it off – same values and interests, reading, writing, esoteric conversations etc. You both graduate, then you get a job and a quick promotion AND get some work published. You are measurably more successful than he is, and also the major breadwinner, and even if he’s happy for you, he’s a little irked because he feels disempowered, which demotivates him.

He’s a bit embarrassed/generally not that happy about working in a dull, dead-end job while you’re succeeding, so he rubs it in that he is still doing the thing that you both value and used to do together (ie reading a lot and having interesting conversations). He knows it will sting because really it’s what you’d like to be doing too.

You feel annoyed that he is reading several books a week, because in effect you are funding him to do what you’d actually like to be doing so you play the ‘I’m being the responsible and you should too’ card and going on at him to get job even though he’s trying (ok, maybe he could try harder – more on that later). He deals with this perceived criticism by playing his ‘I never cared about money anyway’ card.

Rinse and repeat.

About the lack of ambition / not trying very hard – is that *really* what it is? Creativity is strongly correlated with some of the symptoms of ADHD, the relevant ones here being procrastinating, and the tendency to oscillate from full speed to standing still without much in between. When they are motivated there is no stopping them and they can write for days without even needing to eat or sleep. But they are easily demotivated too and can slump into lethargy. Does this sound like him? I know this is a big generalisation but if the creative thing is important to you, this may be something you have to learn to live with or at least compromise on.

I’d say if you love him don’t give up yet. You’re young and from what you say you can only have graduated 6 months ago. It’s not like he’s in his 30s and still in denial about the real world.

Can you have an honest conversation about what he wants from life? (from the timing of your first post I’m assuming you’re British, so it might take some practice. Not our forte). Try to be very honest and open – if he feels criticised you’ll get a defensive answer which could be the opposite of the truth.

I hope it works for you because it sounds like you are generally a good match but circumstances are getting between you. Good luck!
posted by Britchick35 at 1:22 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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