Carolyn Hax: Think straight and answer 1 question

August 16, 2013 

Dear Carolyn: I've been nudging my live-in boyfriend to get a second job to bring in more income. I make at least three times what he makes. He has a college degree, and we're both about 30, but he's been stuck in low-paying restaurant work for five-plus years.

In order for us to have any future stability, move out of our low-income rental apartment, afford a mortgage to a modest home, go on vacation even for the weekend, or even get engaged and married, he's going to need to bring his income way up!

Unfortunately, he's slow in achieving results. He means well and wants better, but apparently suffers from self-esteem issues.

While I'm happy I have this earning power, I still feel resentment that we're "stuck" because he is not living up to his potential. What advice do you have for turning the switch on in his mind to more urgently seek higher-paying, stable work, and to help him achieve more?

B.

"Nudging" has failed so you're on to "turning the switch" - and while you might mean well, escalating is not the answer. Taking your hands off is - and stepping back, and thinking.

This marriage-mortgage-vacations plan - his, or yours? Are you sure he "wants better," or does he say that because what he really wants is to say what pleases you? Is "stuck" his word or yours?

Loving someone, even a life partner, does not constitute permission to remake him to suit your ideals.

He is not potential, he is a person. A person, by your account, who has a degree and a job and a girlfriend and a life, overall, that he's in no hurry to change. Maybe you mistook the fact of a college education as proof of ladder-climbing ambition. Maybe he likes where he is.

I think you need to ask yourself: Do you want (a) to marry this man as-is, or (b) to marry this man only if he becomes what you expect him to become?

It is, face value, a chance for you to get your thinking straight. Don't answer it the way you think you're supposed to - big mistake. Don't be afraid of hurting or losing him, and don't be afraid of sounding shallow or grasping.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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