Difference in ambition - was this breakup a mistake?
September 7, 2017 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I recently ended my relationship with a long-term, long-distance boyfriend and am having regrets. Did I do the right thing?

I apologize, this may get disorganized. Basically, I'm looking for advice about my situation, as well as input from people who have been in similar situations.

We are in our early 30s. We met several years ago while I was in his medium-sized Midwestern town, dated almost a year, broke up, remained close friends. I moved across the country four years ago. We've known throughout that we still had feelings for one another and haven't dated anyone else this entire time. We got back together a few months ago, but I had lingering doubts about our future, and eventually called things off. We are still on good terms.

We get along really well; I've never felt so loved, accepted, and really, truly understood by someone in my entire life. We care about one another's hobbies and lives. Most of our major life goals (regarding kids, marriage, religion) align. We communicate well - we don't fight, but we discuss calmly.

I have an advanced degree and will soon start making well over six figures annually. He's held his retail job for about 10 years and doesn't have a bachelor's, so advancement is difficult. He's not interested in going back to school. He does have a side career as a local musician, but it hasn't moved forward since we first met.

I'm OK with being the breadwinner, but we don't want kids, and he does not want to be a stay-at-home spouse. He's fine working retail/warehouse jobs for the rest of his life.

I also worry that I'll be the one managing finances, the mortgage, and household things like cooking/maintenance, because I have more experience with them.

In terms of location, I love the Midwestern town where we first met and where he still lives, and may want to settle down there, but my career may take me elsewhere first (definitely for two more years, maybe longer). We've been long-distance for so long, and he's reluctant to move away to be with me (finding a job in a new city will be hard for him, and he also has family in his town).

He's expressed a desire to make things work. Long-distance has been more difficult for me than for him, and we don't get to see one another much. But he's willing to visit more often until we can be together.

I talked to my friends of many years, who all reminded me that I've had these concerns since he and I first started dating. I'd forgotten that.

He's such a truly wonderful human being and a really good person. He inspires me to be a better, nicer, more considerate person. Our hobbies are really important to us (film, art, music) and have flourished through our relationship. He's a gentle, calm, humble, and thoughtful person. I can see us being happy together overall, but again, our careers and geography may not line up. I worry that I will always want him to be more ambitious/motivated instead of accepting that he may always be where he currently is. Shallow as it may be, when people ask what he does, I foresee some judgment from their end, and I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't bother me at all.

Still, I love everything else about him, and even though these issues stress me out, he makes me happy.

I've read all the relevant AskMes and online articles I can get my hands on, and I still don't know what to do.

Did I make a mistake? Have you ever been in a similar situation, and how did it work out? Do you think this situation is sustainable, or is it better to admit that we may not be compatible?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
We've been long-distance for so long, and he's reluctant to move away to be with me (finding a job in a new city will be hard for him, and he also has family in his town).

I understand being reluctant to move, but it seems like his work (retail) can be done in nearly any city, whereas yours cannot. If he is serious about the relationship, I think he should at least research the retail job market in a couple of cities you think your career might take you, and figure out exactly how hard it would be for him to find work in a new place. If he's not willing to do that research, I think it says a lot about how much he is willing to prioritize your needs.

I worry that I will always want him to be more ambitious/motivated instead of accepting that he may always be where he currently is. Shallow as it may be, when people ask what he does, I foresee some judgment from their end, and I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't bother me at all.

This is possibly a much larger issue. Have you tried to say something like, "He works in retail, but his real passion is music! [Insert details about the music he plays.]" How does that feel?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:12 AM on September 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

If he's in retail, with a stable job history and presumably a solid reference, why would it be hard for him to find a job in a new city? There's where my main concern would be - why isn't he willing to move to be with you when it would be so easy to do so? Many people move away from the town they grew up in, where they have family, to either be with their partners or for their own careers, and then move back later. It sounds like you'd be willing to do that - so what's the hold-up for him? This sounds more like he doesn't want to move out of his comfort zone for you - which can be a red flag. Maybe he cares about you, but not enough to put any effort into making the relationship work. That's something you need to find out.

My other concern is that you seem to feel like you're in a higher social category than he is due to your career and ambitions. Honestly, that's something you should work on. There are good and valuable people worth loving in all walks of life. If you can't stand up for your partner in the face of questions or criticisms from your work peers, then it's better for HIM if you end it now; he deserves someone who believes fiercely in his worth, just like you do. He certainly doesn't deserve being in a relationship with someone who finds him embarrassing. No one does.

If you both love each other and feel committed, and want the relationship, I would say you could give it another try and see what happens while you both work on your issues - him on his ability to shake loose from his familiar, comforting surroundings and you on your social class issue. But I also suggest you be completely honest with him about your issues and concerns, and that you feel you both need to work on them together. If it works out, great - if not, it doesn't seem like either of you will have lost anything from trying.
posted by invincible summer at 9:17 AM on September 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

Relationships are about give and take and to be honest, your ex does not sound like he's willing to give much to make it work.

- He's reluctant to move because finding retail jobs are difficult (questionable premise but will take it on its face.) This means the only way that you will stop being long distance is if you move to his town and cut off job prospects that might take you other interesting places;

- He's reluctant to do anything to further his career past these jobs - something which not only would help him provide similarly to the relationship financially, but also will increase his mobility for your career. These choices require you to give again; and

- Financially, it doesn't sound like he's interested in contributing equally to the household. His own choices limit his financial potential, which mean either you'll shoulder a greater load to do things like buy houses, cars, and save for retirement or you will live at a means much below what you're earning. The latter is challenging, as you will stand out from your peers. One way couples often make this work is to have the lesser-earning partner take on more home responsibilities, but it doesn't sound like he's interested in that.

He may be a wonderful guy, but to be honest it feels like the next move to save the relationship should be his - not you reaching back out to try to make it work. He should be willing to move, or do things to progress his career so he's able to meet you halfway, or at least come up with a strategy for how your relationship will progress in the future that means more giving on his part and not so much on yours.
posted by notorious medium at 9:23 AM on September 7, 2017 [16 favorites]

So, this part:

I also worry that I'll be the one managing finances, the mortgage, and household things like cooking/maintenance, because I have more experience with them.

Those things are completely irrelevant to who makes more money or has more education, and the fact that you feel like you'll get stuck doing them raises the manbaby* flag for me, as does this idea that he can't do retail work anywhere.

If the two of you decided that you want to spend your lives together, and that joint agreement means that you are the one who will carry the larger financial burden, he should want to match that in sweat equity. To me, personally, that means that one person's slightly higher priority is work-related and the other person takes on a proportionate amount of domestic AND EMOTIONAL labor, because in part their job is to keep the breadwinner winning that sweet bread.

Men are not socialized to that, or to the self-awareness to think outside that box, so you may need to consider what you realistically think his wokeness level is or could be with some effort on his part. I think you should look real hard at whether his inclination to stay close to home has something to do with a parent or other family member doing the work he doesn't want to do, and which might become your obligation if he leaves. You should examine whether you think he's going to expect you to win bread and do all the "women's work". You should also ask him what he thinks it would look like if you shared a life.

Because when you DO share a life for real with someone, when you're a team, a lot of that concern about appearances goes away. Yeah, there's always going to be sexism and people who will be snobby about his life choices because he's a man and men do X, but if you're going to bed every night feeling like the two of you are mostly kicking ass at life together and nobody's feeling used or overburdened, it's easy to just cut the snobs out of your life and do your thing.

*To be fair to him, though, maybe he's totally down with taking on a non-traditional mix of responsibilities in the relationship but is afraid you aren't ready to hear that. Because half of this battle is you letting go of this idea that you MUST do the domestic work and manage the finances etc because you are the only competent one. Sometimes, for women, half the battle is just sitting on our hands and not making dinner or whatever and letting someone else take that on, their own way. You're going to have to talk and talk and talk about this stuff, though, the whole life through; you can't do this by guessing and mindreading.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:04 AM on September 7, 2017 [25 favorites]

One thing that I find, sometimes unfortunately, very important in these sorts of situations: do the two of you come from similar backgrounds? Did he spring from many generations of store clerks with banjos while your family tree is littered with PhDs?

I've sometimes found that to be more relevant than what the two of you are doing with your own lives. I can't date clerks who grew up with no books in their home. Warm-hearted low-income earners who have made a conscious choice to avoid ye olde rat race, and who do quality things in their spare time, and who are of pretty much the same class status (I know, nobody likes to discuss this stuff, but) if you don't go peeking at tax returns? Those guys can be lovely.

If this is a class issue being framed as a financial one, I think that's a lot harder to deal with than a purely income-based issue. The only book on the topic I know of is Ruby Payne's Crossing the Tracks For Love, and it's a bit...facile, worth picking up on the cheap or via interlibrary loan, not worth rushing out and buying new tomorrow.

Is he open to being schooled on how to manage a mortgage, budget for home maintenance, and so on? Do you two see eye-to-eye on what you would do with a joint income that was yours? Are there any huge roadblocks here beyond you feeling squirmy about the difference in formal education and income? (I too can't understand why his line of work isn't portable; that's the only thing that seems odd.)

Life is way too short to give a toss about what other people think about matters that do not hurt anyone. That is a thing I think all kids should be kindly lectured on; I feel like I found out too late. And when I found out, I didn't even know I was doing it. Several years ago a neighbour came over, and, after a couple of glasses of wine, told me how much she admired me for "doing my own thing." Eh? "Look at you, you're just sitting here and (and here she had a very long list of ways in which she felt I was deviating from the norm), and you don't give a fuck! You don't care what people think! You just do what works for you!"

I am not a wild eccentric. Very little about my life had struck me as notably odd. But, as she rattled off her list, I could see how I might appear...different?...and certainly with no worries about not keeping up appearances for the bourgeoisie.

This rattled me, and the more I thought about it, the happier I was. She was right; I was doing all sorts of things that were deviant -- I mean stuff like homeschooling, not methamphetamines -- and it had not occurred to me to pause and wonder what other people might think -- as far as I was concerned, the choices I was making at the time were the best ones I'd ever made in my life. (And they were.)

And I felt kind of bad for her, that my fairly mundane life seemed so...libertine, liberated, IDGAF, to someone like her. I brought her (also a mother) to visit my homeschool co-op. "You can do this, you know...!" "Oh...it looks so terrific! But...but I just don't think I could..."

She had some sort of self-imposed constraints I could not quite grok, and I seemed very...free, I guess.

If the biggest concern about this man, who sounds quite lovely, is what your friends might think about his livelihood -- I would suggest either getting new friends (whether or not you re-establish the relationship) and/or simply owning your life. You were not alive for a really long time, and will, in a relatively short period, return to that state. Life goes by very, very quickly. You want to grab on to what makes you happy, not what other people approve of. Outside of bank robbery and the like.

You've written a pretty lovely paean here, quite a swan song about a "truly lovely human being." Who inspires you to be better. If the only thing missing is cash and more letters after his name...who cares? At six figures you make more than enough for two in most parts of the world.

Let your "friends" judge -- and let them envy, I would hope, your happiness over what paths your life takes once you free yourself of the absurd and terrible burden (I am not mocking you; I think we have all been there) that is worrying about what other people think so long as your own corner of the world is well-kept. I deeply enjoy having good, old, solid friendships with people who are "underemployed" all the way through to people nearing the top of their very professional professions.

In a university seminar I objected to a take on something as being "too ivory tower." The professor, renowned in his field, was taken aback. "But I do not have an ivory tower point of view!" There are people, I said, who eat out of dumpsters, not very far off from where we are sitting; this interpretation seems to ignore that. He was a bit miffed, and explained to me that he had friends from all walks of life! He had dear old friends who never went near academia. He was friends with -- I swear I am not making this up -- not just colleagues, but also people with nothing to do with universities, such as doctors, and lawyers! Really. The poor guy.

I smiled and nodded and shut up, knowing my argument wasn't going to go any further there. And really felt quite badly for him, that he was so insulated from the world at large that "doctors and lawyers" as friends were a thing that gave him street cred to discuss things from alternative perspectives. He was a brilliant man and one of my all-time favourite profs, but being that insulated really limited him. I had a not wholly dissimilar grandfather, a man who took pride in never having eaten at a McDonald's. And I felt bad for him, too -- those are some singular fries...

No matter how things work out with him, please, do not limit yourself to your own socioeconomic class. I admit that a romantic partnership between two people from very different backgrounds, who have very different views on how to spend money (Ruby Payne is widely critiqued and for good reason, but searching her name and reading what she has out there on the web may be of interest if you have very different backgrounds), and different views on what is and what is not of value, is not without challenges. But it sounds like you are burdened by, and making major life choices while being guided by, the absurd and terribly limiting fear of what WILL people thing of me if I [...]?

Throw that burden off for a bit, and then re-assess.

It is a bit tongue-in-cheek but has more truth to it than one might care to admit: Paul Fussell's Class book is definitely worth a purchase. Note especially his "category X." A good whack of my favourite couples are not easily pegged as "upper," "lower," "middle," because, unless I peek at their taxes, the things they most have in common are intelligence and kindness. Often one has multiple post-grad degrees and the other half a BA, if that. Talking with them, you could not tell who has the degrees and who doesn't; they just made a happy match based on things far more important than occupation or earning power. Which is not to put down either: I have friends with very blue-collar jobs, and a friendship of a couple of decades with a couple who collect degrees, often together, as a fun hobby. You certainly would not guess unless you saw the wall in their house littered with the degrees, tacked up with no more importance than the accompanying kindergarten graduation print-outs, etc. I enjoy them because they are very smart and very kind, and I knew them, and knew that, before they had that wall...

Apologies for keening on; I am on mobile and having a terrible time trying to edit this down. But, if you do nothing else -- stop judging, and stop listening to people who judge, on relatively facile issues. At no point do you suggest that he is intellectually sub-par -- I would find that a deal-breaker myself. But if he simply lacks the letters to back that up...? Again: life is far, far too short.

I hope it all works out well for you, and am very much inclined to think you should keep the lovely man who makes you want to be better yourself. Years ago I committed to being cheerfully single unless I found someone who made my life better and whose life I made better -- I was happy enough on my own that there was no point to a relationship unless a partnership would better both of our lives, and we would be happier, and grow to be better people, together. One of the best decisions I ever made, and it did wonders for the class of men I involved myself with. (Kind, smart, doing interesting things, pay no mind to the paycheque. With that in place I met men with heartbreakingly wonderful souls, and freed myself from VIP jerks...)
posted by kmennie at 10:15 AM on September 7, 2017 [23 favorites]

So, my husband is warm and great to be with, but not striving and ambitious. I'm sort of a funky, left-wing, tree hugging person so conspicuous consumption is not something that makes me happy. Having big piles of money probably wouldn't make my life much better. You may want to spend more than me or have to spend more because you have debts, etc. It's not wrong to prefer a husband who makes at least 70 percent of what you make. (If you insist on one who makes 110 percent of you make I will judge you... but from a great distance... ignore me.)

Is the issue how much he makes or how hard he works? Grad school is often seriously hard work. If your degree is a badge of honor, maybe you'll find a person who isn't working on getting better just unsatisfying and sometimes exasperating.

Take the jobs where you can expand your career and support yourself and save money. Hiring is moderately strong now in some parts of the country, even some hiring in retail. Is he apathetic? Some guys and gals spend a lot of time playing videogames. Some spend a lot of time smoking pot and chililng. Some people binge Netflix. I myself am an underemployed couch potato. I find hard-charging people to be annoying to spend time with. However, many many people would not want to be with someone who is idle lots of the time. I don't know your partner, so I don't know whether he spend a lot of time pursuing interests that I approve of or that you approve of. Maybe he is a self-starter who spends a lot of time on music and making stuff. Maybe he'll develop a major interest in cooking! (Why, yes, I do have a vivid fantasy life.)

When a man makes 2x or 3x what a woman makes and expects her to compensate him by doing more housework, that's pretty gross, so that's not what I'm advocating. But if your partner makes much less money and also does much less housework then I predict that will erode your level of happiness over time.

Worst case scenario is if he loses a job and doesn't care to find another one (in the future) and spirals downward in attitude and chore contribution. I hate to throw out a worst case scenario, but this one is so fucking common.

I think where you are -- long distance friends who might sometimes have sex -- is an okay place to be. But I don't think you should be exclusive. (Feel free to ignore my advice and suit yourself.)
posted by puddledork at 10:27 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Moving cities is super expensive, and if you have a working class job, maybe you can't afford to move (especially if the richer partner doesn't defray some of the costs - you don't have to offer if that's not where your relationship is at, of course). If he is making some money as a local gigging musician, giving that up can also be hard - even if it's a few hundred or a thousand a year (which is what my friend the local gigging musician used to make), you won't automatically be able to duplicate this in a bigger city.

I guess my question would be, is he responsible in his own life? If he's in his early thirties, what he's like now is a pretty good template. Does he pay rent on time? Does he keep his place clean? Does he do his taxes (and if he's a gigging musician, those can be a pain!). Does he take care of his health? What is his relationship to his family? (Since he's close to them - obviously, if someone's family were terrible, you wouldn't judge them as a romantic partner on that basis.) Do you have reason to believe that he would not be an equal contributor to your household in terms of housework and logistics? It isn't impossible to learn to pay bills and take care of a house, if someone wants to learn.

If this were me and I were pretty sure that the guy was a responsible person who would continue to work, I'd lock that relationship down, honestly. Life is uncertain and having someone in your corner is really valuable. Believe me, plenty of your career peers will have their relationships implode, will have terrible lazy selfish partners, etc.

Also, what I'd do would be live, as a household, within your means, and save his earnings. One six figure salary should be able to support two people in reasonable comfort (as long as you're not living in Silicon Valley) and if you save what he makes, you'll be able to build a good financial future.
posted by Frowner at 10:34 AM on September 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

Difference in ambition - was this breakup a mistake?

Your question title is about his ambition, but a lot of your post is about the distance.

I've been in a LDR so I totally get your concern about that, but something worries me more. Let's say you resolve the distance problem, or even that distance was never an issue. You're still in a place where, what people think about your former partner's profession is important to you.

Does he know about this concern? I was in a similar situation as him, and I once expressed concern to a serious BF that moving forward might end up embarrassing him, or put him in a position where hed feel the need to "explain" things. He said, "I don't give a shit what other people think. I love you, and besides, its non of their business." Anything less would have devastated me.

You say you don't mind being the breadwinner, but it sounds like you do mind. You even say he's not sitting at home playing video games all day. Honestly, without jumping to conclusions about things you haven't mentioned, he sounds like a great guy.

I really think you need to talk about the ambition difference and figure that part out, because otherwise it won't matter where you all live.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:54 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not abusing the edit window to say that I think you don't mind being the breadwinner as long as you're not the breadwinner by that much, or because SOs low income is due to something more noble than retail.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:57 AM on September 7, 2017

He's such a truly wonderful human being and a really good person. He inspires me to be a better, nicer, more considerate person. Our hobbies are really important to us (film, art, music) and have flourished through our relationship. He's a gentle, calm, humble, and thoughtful person.

This is all great, and it sounds like you and he have a real friendship. Nothing in your post says to me that you actually love him, in the "love conquers all obstacles" way. You seem to be looking at it in a very rational, sensible way, adding up the pluses and minuses, but a lifelong relationship is built on more than hobbies and good relations and rational decisions. I can't help but feel that if there were real, passionate love involved you wouldn't be so concerned about his career and people's opinions of it. Maybe start thinking of it as a friends-for-life thing and look for a romantic partner elsewhere?
posted by languagehat at 10:58 AM on September 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

Also, having an advanced degree isn't a guarantee that you will always find well-paying work in your field. There are also no guarantees that, for health or other reasons, your earning potential won't be greatly reduced. Ask me how I know.

On preview, languagehat makes an excellent point, and I wonder if you've thought about that.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:03 AM on September 7, 2017

if you sincerely expect to end up settling down in the town he comes from, you could probably stand to pressure him a little bit more to get up and follow you for now. but don't do that until you're sure and can promise it, especially since that would be, what, the third time if you take him back and break up again. it's not more valid to be attached to your career than to be attached to your home and loved ones. and a poor person who moves for a rich person will be the one whose life gets ruined if you take him back, take him with you, and then break up far from his home.

he is not incapable of learning to manage a household because he is a guy or because you won't have children as a couple (that should make it so much easier!) but his share of household work, like yours, should be determined by the number of hours he works outside the home, not by how much money he gets paid for it. If he's not willing to be the household runner or co-runner, screw it, don't waste your time. but don't write it off if he never said no -- every adult learns to do this stuff, that's how they get the experience to do it. and he must already be managing life wherever he's living, same as you are.

and although I feel fairly judgmental of your judgments of him, I don't think you should try to force compatibility if you don't feel it. you shouldn't judge those with non-financial ambitions or judge success by financial standards (like with his music, you say his side career hasn't moved forward, but it's not like he failed to make senior VP of jazz guitar or something. when you work a job to finance your real life, "success" means you can afford to keep doing it. which he is. that is impressive. if you don't stop playing, you're moving forward.)

but that's just in general for people, not special rules for a boyfriend. you also shouldn't be with someone you don't want to be with, and there's no such thing as an inadequate reason for not wanting to, if you don't. even if you just don't want to always have to pay for almost everything because you'll resent the imbalance, that's fair enough.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:07 PM on September 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

He sounds wonderful, quite frankly and I don't see the distance, his job or earning capacity to be any deterrent to having an amazing relationship and life together. The one thing that gives me pause is the comment you made about having to do all the cleaning, cooking, maintenance etc because you have more experience doing them. I mean, he's a thirtysomething man that you're not living with. Who the heck is doing this stuff for him right now?

If he's living alone and a functioning adult, there's your answer. If he's not functioning and is a hot mess, there's your answer. If he's living with parents/room mates, and they're doing it for him, there's another answer. So what's his current situation there because if you're just assuming it will get dumped on you even though he's proven already he's a capable adult, that's not fair at all and these things can and should be negotiated.

If your concern comes from legitimate knowledge that he can't adult...I would end it. That's an absolute deal breaker for me anyway and the idea that you have to be the breadwinner and mother and cook and cleaner to a grown man is ridiculous. I hope that it's not the case though because it would make this otherwise wonderful guy not wonderful at all.
posted by Jubey at 1:34 PM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think you did the right thing. If the two of you were going to work it out as a couple, you'd be together now. You can find someone just as nice, who shares your hobbies, but who doesn't require that you stoop to their level. First step: stop thinking "what if" about this guy who didn't do everything it took to keep you in his life forever.
posted by Scram at 3:24 PM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have done long distance with a couple of different partners, and I was always the one to move. It is a huge amount of risk to take on, and given that your relationship history seems a tad unstable (a couple of breakups thus far), I can absolutely understand why he would be hesitant to give up his current life for something that is so far from guaranteed. It may not be difficult to find a retail job with good references etc. but it may be hard to find a good retail job. Then what about friends, and a happy and fufilling life outside of his job and your relationship? That shit is hard to figure out. It's worth trying to figure out for someone you are deeply invested in but with the recent break-up due to your doubts and the very high chance he's picked up on these other unspoken feelings about ambition and class issues and his inability to keep shit organised, how much can he be expected to invest in this?

Twice I have moved to be with someone. The first time was a huge inter-continental shift. It was awful. The culture of the town was not a good fit for me, people were hard to get to know, the support from my partner was lacking--and if I had listened to my gut I would never have done it in the first place. The second time, I followed my (new) boyfriend to another city in my home country and so far it's working out really well. We certainly had a few adjustment issues to start with but I am so glad I did it. This second move I found a way to make it more than following my boyfriend, and have decided to grab an opportunity not available to me where I was previously living which I think makes a huge difference. However, I recognise (every day to myself quietly) that if we broke up, I would be FUCKED. Like, nowhere to live, no money in the bank to temporarily band-aid the situation. It's a stupid amount of risk to take on but there it is. I am currently not in a financial position to change it, I can pay my way but don't have any spare cash to save. Chances are, your boyfriend feels like he may end up in either of these situations. The second is better but I can tell you, its a very uncomfortable undercurrent in my otherwise lovely existence.

Ambition is important, to an extent. To me though, it's more about ambition to grow as a person and not actually ambition to make more money/climb the ladder/get a bigger house. The first dude I talked about had zero ambition, and it bugged me. He never wanted to see outside of himself, or challenge himself. The second dude, the dude I am with now, is completely different and better matched with my vision of growth and change. I don't really see anything in your ask that suggests he doesn't have personal ambition, by my definition of it.

Overall, I think going your separate ways makes sense for now. While it is a lovely idea for someone to make a grand gesture like uproot their life for love, it is asking a lot, and I think his offer to visit more frequently was a good compromise. If that is not enough for you (which I understand, long distance was a nightmare for me too!) then I am afraid it is probably just not in the cards right now.
posted by BeeJiddy at 4:44 PM on September 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

One thing that I find, sometimes unfortunately, very important in these sorts of situations: do the two of you come from similar backgrounds? Did he spring from many generations of store clerks with banjos while your family tree is littered with PhDs?

I've sometimes found that to be more relevant than what the two of you are doing with your own lives. I can't date clerks who grew up with no books in their home

Whoa. I appreciate your mentioning that no one wants to talk about class although it exists. But.

My late bf was a carpenter and attended one semester of community college. His father was working class as well. But he was very smart and insightful (some might say "in his own way"). And he was very strongly committed to leftist politics. It was much easier, and lovely, to date him than some pretentious and clueless privileged and educated person.

He was also a musician but I wouldn't have cared if he wasn't. That has absolutely nothing to do with a person's worth or dateablity. I'm not seeing a lot of push back in these comments to these, frankly, prejudices.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 1:52 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Thank you everyone for your insightful replies. They've really helped me sort out exactly what my concerns are, as well as brought to light biases and expectations I didn't realize that I had.

I would like to clarify a few points, in case it makes a difference:
1) When I say I'd be managing finances - he's a responsible adult, but he has a fair amount of debt from several sources, including credit card debt, and recently took on more for a consumer item. He's otherwise good at budgeting. He doesn't have savings. I'd say I'm the more financially savvy one, since I have savings and retirement accounts and no debt. I'm not making six figures yet, but I'm definitely willing to take on his debt in the future.

2) When I say I'd be doing the cooking, I'm an avid cook. He doesn't cook and primarily eats the same 6-7 ingredients every day due to financial constraints. So if I want to continue to eat a variety of foods, I'd likely be doing the cooking.

3) I really don't think this is a class thing. I've dated guys with the same career, and some have been great, others have been jerkish. If it had been a class thing, this person and I wouldn't have stuck it out so long. I think it's more what one person said - that he's reluctant to take steps to meet halfway, whether that's getting a degree to make himself more marketable, or to move, etc. I think I'm also scared because I'm having trouble visualizing what our life together would look like. I do think it's a valid thing to think about - when I'm making $300k/year in a 60 hr/week job, does he keep his $20k/year job, if that means that some household aspects suffer?

At any rate, thank you everyone for helping me work through this. I think I'm closer to an answer, and I feel like I have a much better grasp of things.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:44 AM on September 8, 2017

I've never had a career. At the age of 32 I'm starting to accept that I don't really want one and that that is ok. I'm an admin assistant in admissions at a small private liberal arts college. I'm probably not ever going to make a great salary here. I doubt I have much chance of moving up within this organization. But I don't think I want to. I spend my days doing admin work whilst watching movies/tv shows. I am reliable, I'm competent. I like my coworkers. Being at work is a pleasure. At 5pm I go home and I don't think about work until the next day. I'm not a stupid person. Could I have had 'more'? Definitely. I don't really want it. I'm still a valuable human being.

My husband went to film school and has worked in the industry ever since. He is fantastic at what he does, it's his passion. He makes 66% of our total household income. His hours are irregular and he's answering emails/working on something throughout the day and evenings. We split our financial obligations 66%/34% so we're spending the same proportion of our incomes. The rest of our money is our own. I don't want to spend his money. He's fine with that.

I try to do more around the house because he kind of works all the time. He also travels regularly. He still does so much around the house because he wants to. I do laundry, I do finances, I vacuum, I clean (mostly because I actually like that stuff). He likes to cook, he does the dishes. He fixes things. We never really had a conversation about it. It just happened and we settled into those roles organically.

Someone above made the point that the cost of moving across the country when working retail is actually significant. That may be a genuine reason for his apprehension or it may be an excuse. We have no way of knowing that. Quite a few things that are financially no big deal to my husband, are a big deal to me. We discuss those things. He will feel it's something we really want and will therefore put more into it to make it happen. That's his choice and he knows how much I appreciate that. If you do end up living together that's a possible upside of being with someone who doesn't have the kind of job you have. It's easier for him to find work to fit around where you need to be for your career. In the future you won't have to worry about both of you needing different things for your demanding careers.

For a couple of years I was so insecure about my 'lack of success' and how much less money I made compared to him. He has spent our 4 years together validating my 'professional' life. He doesn't care how much I make. I finally have a job that isn't super ambitious and it makes me genuinely happy. I am a better person to be around and I'm happier. That makes him happier.

As someone said above, this may be more about your apprehension to be part of an LDR again. That's ok! That's valid. And if you really want someone with ambition too, that's ok too. But he seems happy and having a happy partner is one of the biggest requirements in a healthy long term relationship.
posted by shesbenevolent at 7:26 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I was in a somewhat similar situation and it did not work out. The stuff that stands out to me here is:

(a) he doesn't want to move even though he'd be in an easier position to, and your job has more requirements to worry about so it's not really great to have you be the one moving to. I nth everyone saying that it's not the most complicated thing ever to get another retail job.
(b) Are you okay with being the Money Nanny? Not just breadwinner, but Person Who Takes Care of Everything All The Time? He doesn't sound 100% incompetent on handling his life, thank gawd, but you do seem to realize that it is likely to end up all on you. Is that something you are okay with and won't get resentful about in the future?

In my case, dear lord, I didn't want to be Money Nanny and kept thinking things like, "What if I got sick and couldn't work and suddenly he had to take care of everything? We'd be so screwed and he'd blow his paycheck within 12 hours." I do know of a few relationships where the wife is Money Nanny and the couples are both fine with it, but that's not me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:38 AM on September 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

It sounds to me like he's happy where he is and doesn't want to change a thing. You're happy with where you are and you also set goals and are striving to reach them. I don't think there's a thing wrong with either but it does seem like a mismatch for a life partnership.

Some red flags I saw:

- his debt. Even if he's working retail, if he doesn't have even a little saved away for a rainy day, that's a red flag to me. If he can't wait for something long enough to save up for it then chances are, he's going to talk you into spending money you don't necessarily want to in order for him to have what he wants right then. Again, if you get married and share resources, you'll decide together on how you spend it but if he's the type who can't live within his means then you'll eventually find that he can't live within your means either.

- His choice not to move to be with you. It sounds like he does love you and does want to be with you but only if you can live in his hometown and kind of join him in his life without him having to make any major changes.

I think you're asking all the right questions - two people can be completely lovely individuals and can even love each other quite a bit but that doesn't mean they should get married. I've learned the very hard way that love does not conquer all and over time, a mismatch can be very hurtful and damaging on both sides.

I would give this a read if you haven't and see if any of it makes you think a little differently about any of this: How to Be An Adult in Relationships by David Richo.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:24 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

He doesn't cook and primarily eats the same 6-7 ingredients every day due to financial constraints. So if I want to continue to eat a variety of foods, I'd likely be doing the cooking.

Whether you go back to this guy or not, I urge you to not fall into this trap. When you merge lives with someone, you don't continue to have the exact life you had as a single person in parallel with another person continuing to live their single life. That's a roommate, ish. If you're expecting him to continue eating the same things while you make meals for yourself, that's a little weird. If he doesn't have enough imagination to stop eating the same 6-7 things and eat/help make things you both like and want to eat that fits your joint budget, that's a red flag. Don't default yourself to doing all the work out of resignation, and don't be with someone who would let you or want you to.

I'm telling you that as the person who does all the goddamn cooking and shopping and planning and deciding about food. I love to cook, when I have the time and inclination. Unfortunately I need to eat several times a day whether I have the time and inclination or not, and I have to do the breadwinning job that is sometimes brain-consuming and sometimes means long hours, and it's all my problem to manage. Like he just won't think about any of that process more than half an hour ahead. When he gets hungry he wonders if there is food, and if I'm not cooking if he should make something from the freezer or order delivery. I'm sorry I let that happen and I'm sorry I excused it for years with "well, I like to cook and I'm good at it." It doesn't make either of us better people, and cooking is too big a process for one person to handle alone like you can do with certain smaller chores like taking out the trash or washing towels. I have to stand over him to get his help assembling lunches. I basically had to order him to start making his weekly breakfast oatmeal and be kinda shitty about it until he made it a habit. It's really frustrating, I didn't want to have to run another person's life like that.

On the other hand, we both got better at taking care of our money because it was a team thing. We became more conscientious about keeping things in good/safe working order, and having dogs made us better about keeping the house clean enough that we weren't constantly pulling dangerous things out of puppies' mouths. In a decent relationship, the relationship elevates both of you and inspires you both to be better and try harder and eat more than sandwiches and help each other get through the day. Get you a man you can rely on to grow into the relationship - which it doesn't sound like you could from this particular guy - and don't undermine the process by letting things default to you when they shouldn't.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:49 PM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think your answer is " break up and move on when ready" but part of you really doesn't want that, so you keep searching for reasons or ways to make it work.

It's ok to call things dealbreakers, fundamental incompatibility... Children, lifestyle, ambition, morivation, responsibility, yes, even money.

I strongly suggest working on ways to let go, grieve if necessary, and then spend your energy on a better match
posted by Jacen at 5:31 PM on September 8, 2017

You need to decide if you can accept his level of ambition - that he wants to work, but doesn't want to pursue more education and "better" jobs to make more money. He will not change there and I think you need to decide if that's a deal breaker for you. If you were living together he would likely want to eat a greater variety of foods, cook things you like, make an effort around the house, maintaining things unless he's indicated otherwise that he won't do or learn about those things. Have you asked him if he would be committed to sharing those tasks with you? When you are together, is he thoughtful and helpful? It sounds like he's built a lifestyle that largely works for him but that doesn't mean he's set in his ways entirely.

People are jumping on him for not wanting to move with you but unless I'm misunderstanding, you dated for a year, moved and broke up, have been close friends since then asides from the 3 months of dating again. If I were him, I'm not sure I'd want to move either, particularly as it seems like your location is still somewhat up in the air? That he's expressed a desire to make things work, along with being willing to visit more often, is significant. That you want to settle in his town is significant too.

I have a happily married friend whose husband just could not handle being away from his family - there were a few years of stress while he followed her to different places as she climbed the ladder, he finally was so miserable when they were very isolated and far from home that they decided he should go back while she finished her placement, and he did, and it was better. He wanted to be with her but was really unhappy being far from his family and friends, it wasn't that he didn't love her enough. Maybe your guy is the same and just knows he can't uproot himself without being deeply unhappy. He might be worried that he would end up depending on you if he gives up his job to move into an uncertain future. He might have a great rental that he knows he'll lose if he moves, putting him in a worse position if you break up and he moves back home. Have you talked about these things? It sounds like he has offered to visit you as much as possible until you can move back to his town, that sounds pretty good to me. Also if he has a low income job where he is treated well and likes his coworkers, again that is no small thing for his quality of life. There are a lot of low income jobs but not a lot necessarily where he could be happy and do his musician stuff, so to an extent right now you are assuming that his need for stability and community are less important than your need to advance your career.

I come from a low income/class background, but have a PhD and am ambitious in terms not of money but of what I want to achieve. I'm in love with a man from a middle class family who dropped out of college and works retail/service jobs. I make at least double what he makes currently (and this will increase as time passes), and if we stay together and have a child I will be the primary income earner during the child's early years (which to me is a bonus). He loves me, he understands me, he supports my work, he makes me happy. It's no small thing to have someone who makes you happy who is fully in your corner. I felt self conscious telling people what he does at first but no one really cares, they are just happy to see me happy, but they are not jerks who value people solely on their job titles. I don't really care what people who judge others' worth based on income think and neither should you. I've dated men who earn more than me but they didn't make me as happy because they didn't get me, we didn't share so much in common, life together didn't feel quite right.

All that said, you can likely meet someone else who you could be happy with, but maybe spend some time examining your own beliefs about money, status, work and whether those beliefs are reflective of your values or not. Ambition might be a deal breaker for you and that's ok too, but don't let it be about what other people will think. The second big issue is what life will look like in 5+ years if you're making several times more than him - obviously you could hire help so that you could focus on your career (and thus he wouldn't need to do a greater amount of housework than you), but it sounds like you would like him to devote more of his time to the household versus hiring outside help, think about this too, it might make sense on paper for him to give up his job to do that but it might not be right for him, he might like his retail job and the interactions he has through it versus being at home more doing housework.
posted by lafemma at 10:15 AM on September 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

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