Can I change my workaholic boyfriend?
July 4, 2015 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Should I bother continuing to date a workaholic in his forties who barely has time for me, let alone for a hypothetical future family?

My 40ish never-married boyfriend is a workaholic. We've been together only a few months, but I like him more than anyone I have ever dated. Our time together is great... but it's in extremely short supply. He works extremely late hours throughout the week, and all day Sundays, and sometimes on Saturdays as well. He never complains about his work and actually "loves" it, so at least he's happy! But he has mentioned that previous partners have complained that he works too much, so he's aware of it... though not doing anything to change it. He's very high up in his field and therefore has a demanding role (it's not like he COULD scale back without changing jobs altogether).

He's really thoughtful and plans our dates around things I'm interested in, and he contacts me every day, so I don't feel neglected. He also doesn't talk much about work and instead just focuses on me when we're together. In other words, he's a great boyfriend in our interactions. I just worry that it'll go on like this; I've been viewing his work demands as a temporary situation but it hit me today that it might be a "rest of his life" kind of thing.

Another good thing is that he works from home on the weekends, so if we were to live together eventually I'd probably be OK with him at least being around, albeit not emotionally present. His work doesn't involve travel.

I worry because my mother married a workaholic as well and she ended up raising three kids on her own, essentially, and now she has to socialize alone with her couple friends because my father is STILL a workaholic to this day as he nears the age when most people would retire.

Just wondering if there's a way to make a dent in this, or perhaps assert myself early on by striking up a contract like Mark Zuckerberg's wife did (you need to give me one full day a week, and one non-adjacent evening, or something like that).

Also, do some men like this change when they have kids?
posted by Guinevere to Human Relations (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If he is telling you that women have left him before because of his work habits, and he hasn't changed his behavior, believe him.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:48 AM on July 4, 2015 [66 favorites]

Ask *him*. Do you think you'll ever want kids, and have the time for a family? Do you ever think about making time for a family, including making time for a wife?
posted by theora55 at 10:53 AM on July 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

He is aware it has made some previous partners unhappy, but he didn't change. Be warned that you won't be THE ONE to change him, as seductive as that thought can be.

He is showing you who he is. He is in his 40s, which typically means firmly entrenched, and is happy with the way things are. ". . . rest of his life like this" is pretty honest.

With someone like this, often the best partner is someone else who is fiercely independent and very, very busy with her own things so that she isn't waiting on him to look up.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 10:55 AM on July 4, 2015 [23 favorites]

Going into a relationship, hoping someone will change some major part of their life that's been that way for a long time is kind of foolish. Not that you're foolish, but women especially seem to fall into this trap of he'll change when we have kids, or those other women were just not amazing enough, etc. He has made it clear who he is, so you need to decide what you're okay with. Going in thinking "If I could change this one thing, things would be perfect!" is unrealistic. That thing is a pretty big part of his life. Stop fooling yourself.
posted by Aranquis at 10:56 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Please stop dating this guy!

Make a list, an actual ink-on-paper list of the things you're getting from this dude and this relationship. Put down all the positive stuff. Then in a second column go through and list all of the negatives. (Go back and reread your question history if you need a refresher.) This relationship appears to be causing you a lot of grief and stress as you try to dance around his various shortcomings. You need to shift the focus to actually worrying about what YOU are getting out of the relationship.
posted by phunniemee at 11:03 AM on July 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

He has mentioned wanting to have a kid someday.
posted by Guinevere at 11:03 AM on July 4, 2015

No. You can choose your attitude or your relationship status, that's about it.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:03 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

You don't get to dictate his priorities. People change, but you don't get to tell other people how to change.

Also, do some men like this change when they have kids?

The only time I have ever seen this happen is in the second family - the one he starts after the first wife leaves him and he realizes that he was actually supposed to contribute more than just income in return for childbearing/rearing and domestic management. That guy rarely spends much time with the original kids, and usually slow-fades by the time his new kids who don't hate him are walking and talking.

If you are going to have children, there is literally no decision in your life more important than who you put in their lives and who you shackle them to. Having children to change a man has the unfortunate side effect of leaving you responsible for children with the man they didn't change.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:06 AM on July 4, 2015 [46 favorites]

Most people for whom having kids some day is important take active steps towards that long before they get to their forties. So this has certainly not been a priority. What he may be saying is he's happy to father them and pay for them if you want them but that you'll be doing all the heavy lifting. If that's ok for you that's great, if not you will have to find somebody else.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:07 AM on July 4, 2015 [12 favorites]

But he has mentioned that previous partners have complained that he works too much, so he's aware of it... though not doing anything to change it.

If previous partners had complained about his sex drive or his love of country music or his weird chest hair, it'd be a little clearer that he was reporting an incompatibility--not a problem with himself. This is the same type of deal: he is indeed aware that his work schedule is a problem for some people and that it can be important, even a deal-breaker, in a relationship. He's dealing with that issue responsibly by making sure you're clear on it.

Other folks here have the "you wouldn't succeed anyway" angle covered. I just wanted to point out that this is not the same as realizing you can't change someone who has a drug problem or a lateness problem or a meanness problem that they acknowledge as problematic: you're not even on the same page about there being a problem. And neither of you is wrong.
posted by cogitron at 11:10 AM on July 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

He may well want a kid, but what he means by this is that you (or hired help) will raise the kid, and he will occasionally be around for the odd special occasion (if important stuff doesn't come up.)
posted by threetwentytwo at 11:18 AM on July 4, 2015 [15 favorites]

I'd gently suggest you review the previous questions you've posted about this man in the last six weeks. You're not really compatible, and it's honestly a gift that you're finding this out only a few months into dating.

To answer this question: no, you can't change your workaholic boyfriend, because you can't change anyone except yourself.

(Sometimes a person will change under their own steam; if you're standing near enough when it happens, you might get the completely unearned credit for it. I cannot see that situation cropping up here, though, when your successful, mid-40s boyfriend seems pretty self-aware and pleased with how his life's been going.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:18 AM on July 4, 2015 [13 favorites]

This does not change. He won't magically prioritize you and a family.

He has ZERO business talking about having a child, he can't even keep a relationship! He wouldn't be "there" for a hypothetical child.

Why are you repeating your mom and dad's mistake? You already know how this turns out. Do not do it.

Also, this guy has plenty of flaws, I promise. He's not great if he never makes time to relax. I'm pretty sure he's stunted in all sorts of ways that will impact a romantic commitment. He hasn't put the time into self-work or emotional relationships. In his forties, this guy is a total fixer-upper who can't manage a balanced lifestyle. He's not interested in changing, anyway, so it would be a constant losing battle for you.

Find someone who wants to spend time with you willingly!!

You already grew up in this dynamic. You can do better. You've had this experience. Move on.
posted by jbenben at 11:19 AM on July 4, 2015 [15 favorites]

Can I change my workaholic boyfriend?


Six weeks, three questions about pretty basic incompatibilities and whether continuing to date him is a good idea.

It really seems like what you're doing is focusing on some positive qualities while ignoring the lack of all sorts of things that you actually want--marriage. Kids. A more adventurous sex life. Someone who isn't a workaholic.

I know you like this guy a lot. And it seems like he's repeatedly telling and showing you exactly who he is and how he likes his life to be ordered, and isn't much interested in changing those things. Like I said before, it sounds like you're not meeting him where he is, you're trying to push him where you want him to be.

In my experience, relationships only work when everyone involved says "This is who I am, and that is who you are, and we both see each other in those places, and we are both interested in moving our positions closer together."

I don't think he's interested in moving. I feel like you are probably going to be happier, long term, if you break this off now--to quote Beaches, "We need to let go of us before us gets bad."

End it on a high note now, and look for a guy who is more compatible.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:24 AM on July 4, 2015 [17 favorites]

People who say they want to have a kid someday when they're 40ish are not dedicated to the pursuit of a deeply involved family life. By 40ish, if they really wanted a family, they're actively planning and making room in their lives to be a parent. This guy loves his workaholic life and may be OK with someone having and raising his kid, but he's not going to transform into an attentive parent who back-burners his career in favor of being an engaged family man.
posted by quince at 11:24 AM on July 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

do some men like this change when they have kids?

Maybe some do, my dad didn't. It sucked.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:29 AM on July 4, 2015

Well, anecdotally I'll tell you that I married a guy who works in a job where his work hours are long and non-negotiable. (Feature film production.) I knew that going in, and we've been together almost 25 years and we have a 12-year-old kid. It's something we accept and work around. But a huge part of it is that Mr. BlahLaLa is and always has been ready to devote all of his off hours, no matter how few they are, to being together. There are moments when it sucks, but we deal with it.

I do want to reiterate, however, that in the nature of my husband's work he has zero ability to change the days/times when he works. If your man could but just doesn't want to, that's a different thing.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:46 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

To me the issue is not whether a man can change in his 40s ( sure they can, personality is not that entrenched) but the fact that you've asked two questions now about whether or not you should try to change him.

I don't think it indicates a lot of respect for his own agency that you want to try to make him something he's not.
posted by sweetkid at 11:48 AM on July 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

You write "He has mentioned wanting to have a kid someday."

"Someday" is an elastic word. I would like to execute a triple axel "someday."

He was throwing you a bone by this remark. He could be the greatest guy in the world, and I'm sure he's a peach in his free time, but forget about making a home'n family with him. He's to busy to even look up. Dig him for the fun times, but look elsewhere for husband material.
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:52 AM on July 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

Firstly, I'd give him a chance. Everyone deserves a chance.

Work out what rules you'd like in place. For example, no working weekends and he must be home by 7pm on 3 out of 5 nights. Doesn't matter what the rules are, just make sure that they are reasonable, realistic and what you want.

Now sit him down. Tell him all sorts of nice things about how you feel but that his workaholic lifestyle needs to stop. Now tell him your rules. Afterwards tell him that he has 14 days to sort himself out before those rules come into place (this is important!). As soon as the rules come in tell him that he'll get one warning if he breaks them. If he breaks them a second time, you'll be leaving.

The ball is now in his court. You've given him ample opportunity to change and now it's completely up to him. He knows the rules, he knows the consequences if he breaks the rules. He cannot ever look back and say he didn't see it coming.

(top tip: if he's not scheduled a meeting with his boss in the first couple of days to talk about his workload then he's probably going to fail, so you might want to help him out by prodding him on this one)

Oh and be very prepared for the likely chance that you'll need to leave him.
posted by mr_silver at 12:24 PM on July 4, 2015

Chemistry is all very well and good, but do you two have the same priorities? Men with whom you have great chemistry are way more plentiful than those with whom you will share the same basic goals. He likes working and being unencumbered, you want to start a family.

I think the whole thing about raising a child without getting married is just to appease you, as BostonTerrier said above. "Someday" is an awfully vague term. Any man who is truly being honest about stating a preference knows that a woman's time is limited, so saying "yeah some undetermined time in the future" is just being an asshole.

You can go through the whole negotiation about reducing his work hours, but I think you should just break it off with him. If you want kids, don't waste any more of your time on this dude.

"Bob, I've been giving things a serious consideration. I want to get married and start a family. If that's not what you want, then let's call it a day. If you are interested in that, tell me right now."
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:55 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

computech, given that it sounds like he's already appeasing, might I suggest "Bob, I've been giving things a serious consideration. I want to get married and start a family. As in, by this time next year I want us to be married to each other and actively trying to make babies. Is that what you want?"

Otherwise I feel like (having been on both sides of the coin), "I'll leave if you don't say you want this" sets up a huge incentive for him to say he wants it and kick the can down the road again.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:01 PM on July 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

Only keep dating him if you're willing to raise any child(ren) as a single parent, firstly with his income, and then later, without, when you realize you - and your child(ren) - deserve a partner/parent that is present.
posted by stormyteal at 1:53 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

You need to decide if you'd be okay with this sort of inequality in a household.

Household management when you add a kid into the mix is pretty intense. There is constant cooking, cleaning, laundry, transporting kids to places, appointments, arrangements, things to keep track of... If you are okay with being the one that does the vast majority of this stuff (which is not uncommon for women, while also managing your own work, then go for it. Personally I wouldn't be okay with it, except PERHAPS in the short term if the other person was adding tons of value into the household via his work. But obviously people do do this, perhaps with help from nearby family members or paid help.
posted by k8t at 1:55 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is he still of the mindset that he never wants to get married, but have a kid? Personally, that'd be a red flag when combined with his work schedule. He wants a kid, but doesn't have the time to raise one, which means you'd be raising the child. Not that marriage really makes the situation a lot better, but it gives you a bit more security seeing as you'll be the one taking all of the career hits: the standard time off for pregnancy/childbirth + literally all of the child care. Kid too sick for school, you're the one taking the day off.

I don't know that it's malicious on his part, but it probably points to not having thought it through. So you likely need to have a conversation about what you, what he wants, and talk through how that plays out. Not just about his work schedule, kids, marriage, but all of the finer details. How will finances work? Does he have expectations for you working/not working? How do you feel about those expectations? What are yours? Is his schedule fine, as long as be take a week off in the summer and two at Christmas? What about when the kid has a soccer game, will he ever be able to make them? What do you see for yourself career wise? What if you need to move for a job? You don't have to necessarily know all of the answers, but start getting a sense for how much give and take you each are willing to do.

Does he not want to discuss it now? That's fine, just make a mental note to start bringing it up whenever he talks about the future seriously. Unless you want to figure it out now, then tell him when you'd like to discuss at least some of the broader strokes. Don't let him kick the can down the road any longer than you're comfortable with.
posted by ghost phoneme at 3:54 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

You're going about this backwards. Rather than trying to figure out if you can get your boyfriend to change into a person who gives you what you want or trying to compromise on what you need so that you can fit into his life, you need to decide what you need, ask for it, and then let him make it happen or not. If he accordingly steps up and gives you what you need, great, but if he doesn't, you need to move on and find someone who will.

And from this question and your previous questions, it sounds to me like this isn't the right guy for you and you're going to have to walk away. He just likes vanilla sex, while you want to experiment. He doesn't want to get married, and you do. He doesn't want to spend as much time with you as you'd like, because he'd rather be working. He has no intention of being the kind of involved father you want for your children. You should not compromise on any of these things, because they are very big, important things.
posted by orange swan at 5:22 PM on July 4, 2015 [16 favorites]

No one here can answer your question.

You have to talk to your boyfriend. Something like this:

"I know we've been dating a short time. I want to ask you about something that's important for my future. I want to have kids, and I want to have a husband who will make enough time for me and the kids. I'm not asking you if you want to marry me. I'm asking if you see marriage and kids in your future? If yes, will you be able to change your work/balance so that you can spend enough time with family?"

You might give him the benefit of the doubt -- but only if he declares convincingly that he would be highly motivated to meet an agreeable work/life balance. He has been successful in his work. Perhaps he has the skills to make changes, perhaps with a therapist.
posted by valannc at 6:10 PM on July 4, 2015

The only workaholic man I know who changed when he had kids just got really good at holding a baby while typing. And at pretending to listen while actually doing math in his head. I think that might be about as much change as you can hope for.
posted by lollusc at 7:18 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Even if you really like each other it sounds like you have diverging personalities and life priorities, which does not a good partnership make.
posted by jacobnayar at 8:52 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd ask what he expects will happen after you have kids. I know plenty of "single moms" married to workaholics. If you're okay with that, great - but the ones I know seem to want more out of the relationship.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:21 PM on July 4, 2015

It's really tempting to think that children will change everything. And they do - just not in the way you think, his absence will breed resentment so so fast. He's not magically going to become the kind of guy who gets home at 6 and helps bath them. This man is showing you who his priorities are right now - himself. And that's fine as long as you're ok with raising kids as a single mother and just seeing him whenever he feels like playing dad for ten minutes here or there before heading back to work. But if you want someone who is going to be a real husband and father, it's not this guy.

His past history and the way he is right now is screaming it at you. I almost married my version of your fellow, waiting for him to change - thank god I didn't, from everything I heard he still hasn't changed and he's in his forties, still a workaholic and still single. Which is great, for him - it's clearly the life he wants. But it's not compatible with a healthy stable family life and you and your future kids deserve better.
posted by Jubey at 9:39 PM on July 4, 2015

Does he make a lot of money? I ask because a lot of workaholic types do, and this can make them seem like appealing and stable partners. (And this is not meant to be accusatory at all — it's completely reasonable to consider a nice man who can provide for a family as a good candidate for long term partner.)

As a mom of two, I just want to say that income is about the lowest priority in terms of what my husband provides for our family. He gets up with the kids, shops for them, makes kid friendly meals for them, gives them baths, puts them to bed, knows all their favorite books and movies. If he was suddenly like "yeah, I'm done with all that and will only be around a few hours per week, but my salary will triple" I'd be like UM NOPE because it would NOT be worth it. I cannot overstate this — no amount of money or comfort will make up for his absence. Not to you and not to your kids.

You can't change him and it sounds like he doesn't have much to offer you aside from (maybe?) comfort and a few hours of companionship a week. Move on. If he's like, absurdly wealthy and you want to go for it on that basis, do so with realistic expectations and do not involve children.
posted by annekate at 12:44 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

He won't change. In the cases I know where marriages like this seem to work, the husbands make an immense amount of money and the wives are stay-at-home moms who seem to feel that the lifestyle their husbands' salaries afford them makes up for their lack of presence.
posted by amro at 5:10 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I honestly can't figure out why you're staying with this guy. He seems like the opposite of what you want. You keep pointing out the things that don't match up with what you want and asking what to do. What you should do is dump him and find a guy who is compatible with you. This guy is not that guy.

The very first answer to the very first question you asked about your boyfriend told you everything you need to know. For your own sake, have a come to Jesus talk with yourself about why you're dating someone who isn't giving you what you want, and who isn't going to.
posted by Solomon at 10:29 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Geeze. I didn't even have to read the snowflakes. No. Move on. Leave the poor guy alone. You want different things. Find someone who wants what you want right now.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:40 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

In your previous question, you concluded by saying "I'm in my early 30s and don't want to waste time on someone whose life goals preclude my happiness from the get-go."

Deciding that your current relationship isn't a good fit does not mean you've failed. It does not mean you're inflexible, unforgiving, or that your standards are too high. If you would like to get married and have children, this internet stranger is giving you permission to move on and find somebody who has the same goals.

It sounds to me that you and your boyfriend are looking for different things. You can't change him. And just because you can't change him, doesn't mean you need to change yourself and amend or modify what you're looking for in a partner.

Wish him the best and move on. Most importantly, please be gentle on yourself and do not interpret yourself or this relationship/learning experience as a failure.
posted by nathaole at 10:53 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

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