Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

My Boyfriend Won’t Look for Work

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Let me start by saying I’m a lucky woman – I’ve found someone kind and considerate, who makes me laugh and is entertaining and charming and who comes in to snuggle me before I go to bed even if he’s not going to sleep himself. There’s just one big problem – he has no job.

Part of it is my doing; I encouraged him to quit his job in December without having something lined up, which goes against my usual advice. However, the people he worked for were terrible; I have a high bulls

t threshold and these people went way past it. He once went to them with a complaint of sexual harassment by a female client – which made him profoundly and understandably uncomfortable – and they LAUGHED at him and told him he should be flattered! F

k that noise, I said.

So he left and I thought he was entitled to a nice Christmas to get over the frankly abusive practices he’d been dealing with. I thought once we hit January he’d start looking and everything would be fine, but no go. Then February. Then March. That’s when I started getting nervous.

I’m pretty good at writing resumes so I helped him with his (by which I mean I wrote it entirely). I tried to be supportive; I wrote him lists of places to call and apply to, I helped him with cover letters and went over what he could say in interviews. But still, no progress. He has a history of low self-esteem issues that I understand, having suffered similar issues myself. He’s convinced that his lack of education will hold him back and that spirals into him being worthless and then he feels like he’s not good enough for me and then generally ends in massive fight that upsets both of us for days. He seems to only be able to hit the panic button on hard issues. It’s like:

Can’t get job = I’m stupid and terrible = I’m the worst human being ever = girlfriend must want to leave me = why bother with making any changes = depression

Instead of

Don’t have job > try to get job > maybe fail to get job for a little while > eventually get job > everything’s fine.

It feels like I’ve tried everything: being supportive, getting mad/depressed (not in a manipulative way, I was just legitimately those things by turns) but I don’t know what to do. I come home and he’s spent the day watching TV or playing video games or doing his favorite hobby, and those things make him happy, which I love, but I feel like I’m not really getting a fair deal.

I make enough money to cover the rent (barely) so any other expenses are being covered by money I inherited. When I told him about it months ago we discussed it being used for our wedding and a house and vacations, etc. but now we’re blowing through it at a rate I’m not comfortable with. He has big dreams and likes to talk about what we’d do if he won the lottery and how I wouldn’t have to work – but I actually like working. I don’t need him to be a millionaire, I just want him to be my partner. He’s my one and I’m in too deep to leave this situation but I’m looking down the barrel of a 50+ year partnership with me being the responsible one and I don’t think I like who that might turn me in to.

All I want is to know how to help him see that it’s not the end of the world – he just has to do some work!

Them Money Troubles

DEAR THEM MONEY TROUBLES: So if I were to keep things short and sweet, then I’d say this: your boyfriend needs to grow the f

k up.

Let’s be real here: dude’s coasting along. He’s content doing his own thing because hey, why not. Right now, nothing’s his fault or responsibility. He’s able to sit playing video games and watching TV all day and when he’s feeling particularly down, he can do the I SUCK I AM THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD dance and have you fall back into support mode.

Now I’ll freely admit: this sounds pretty damn harsh. I actually have a lot of sympathy for him. I’ve dealt with self-esteem problems; I get what it’s like to feel like you’re stuck and that every option you have is awful. I especially get the vicious cycle of feeling like a loser, which makes you depressed, saps your drive and motivation and then your continued inactivity makes you feel like an even BIGGER loser. His last job sounds like a nightmare situation (not to mention a reminder that yeah, guys get harassed and the support structures aren’t there to handle it) and the economy still seriously sucks for people who’re out of work, and half the jobs out there are gig-economy crap or “efficiency”-driven nightmares that exploiting the workforce and screwing them out of the profits of their own labor.

But there comes a point when he’s gone from being a grown-ass man to just indulging himself on your dime. Hell, from the way you’re describing things, it doesn’t even sound like he’s doing housework or otherwise contributing in ways besides financial. I could (maybe) give him a temporary pass if he were at least keeping the house clean or handling the cooking instead of dumping that on you too. But he’s not. He’s enjoying his games and dreaming his dreams and the nice thing about dreams is that you never have to do anything about them. That’s for Future Boyfriend to worry about, not for him!

You may think he’s Mister Awesome, but right now your dream man is busy letting you do all the hard work while he’s sitting back and contributing nothing. You want a partner. He wants a mom.

Unless that dynamic changes, this isn’t going to work out; you’ll be out a relationship and your savings. Not every relationship is going to be perfectly egalitarian but right now there’s no exchange here.


t’s got to change.

So what do you need to do? You need to apply boot to ass.

It’s to start being the demanding bitch you’re worried about being because he’s just going to slide on by until you are. So you need to tell him: it’s time to get a job. Period, the end. He may not be able to get a job immediately but he needs to be making concrete progress  – not bulls

t head-fakes in the general direction of work that buy him some time. And until then? He’s cut off. Turn off the money spigot. No funding his laziness, no buying anything that isn’t rent, utilities and groceries.

Hell, consider cutting off the cable while you’re at it. It’s going to suck to have to forgo some of life’s luxuries but the fact of the matter is, he’s being a leech. It’s time for him to start coughing up his share of the workload and money for the bills.

And then you need to ignore his wee tantrums, because quite frankly they’re a derailing tactic. As soon as you start getting angry (or just, y’know, stern) at him, he goes into his song and dance about how awful he is and how you want to leave him and so forth and so on and now you’re no longer talking about getting a job, you’re stuck reassuring him that no you’re not about to dump him and there there there. So now he’s cornered you into being his enabler. If you push him to actually suck it up and take care of his responsibilities, then you’re the controlling bitch who tries to rule his life and doesn’t let him have some fun and if you push it further, then suddenly his self-esteem issues come roaring back to make you back off.

Unfortunately, the only thing you can really do is treat it like a tantrum: let him rant and rave and cry until he wears himself out. Then stick him in front of the Zip Recruiter login page and tell him to start applying.

Now here’s the thing: it’s entirely possible that he’s dealing with depression, which is contributing to his lack of motivation and his inability to actually get up and do the things he needs to do. Depression is a vampire and it can suck the life and the energy out of you. I have been there, done that and started printing the t-shirts. But dealing with depression doesn’t mean that he no longer has responsibilities — to himself, or to you. If he legitimately is dealing with depression — instead of weaponizing his low self-esteem as a way of getting out of trouble — then he needs to address that too. But neither of those can happen from your couch. He STILL needs to be doing the work (and getting work) and if he needs a boot to ass to get up and do something, then so be it.

It ain’t gonna be fun. It certainly isn’t going to be pretty. But it IS necessary. This is one of those times when being the jerk is going to be the kindest thing you can do… because being nice is just going to mean the end of your relationship.

Good luck.

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