Dear Doctor Amorous,
I need help making a decision. I am 27 years old, a woman and I have problems with my boyfriend. He is great most of the time, but every evening he drinks at least three beers, and either sits around looking at his phone or gets together with his mates and drinks with them. He isn’t working really, just hanging around some startup places even though he doesn’t actually follow any project or idea for more than two weeks at a time, and now and then he gets a gig for a week or a weekend or whatever.
I am working full-time and paying most of our costs and even though he is home, he does almost nothing: no cleaning or cooking or running errands. We have been together five years and I always thought it would work out, but this is really scaring me. He is going nowhere. Even between us, not much is happening. We have sex once a month at the most, and he doesn’t pay attention to me or take me out any more, it’s almost always my idea. My friends tell me it’s just a phase or that all men are like this and I should wait. I tried talking to him but he just told me not to stress him out and then didn’t talk to me at all for three days. What should I do?
Thank you for your help,
Dear Decision Needed,
Let me just take off my glasses and stare at you sternly for a moment, young lady. What are you doing? How is this a question? Who raised you to make you think there is any debate here at all? Why haven’t your girlfriends driven up to your place with a van already and busted you out of that sad scene?
What you should do is dump this lazy man-child in a big hurry. Not one element of what you describe is acceptable adult behavior. Maybe five years ago as students it was OK, but in those years between being a student and launching a career, people need to develop and make up their minds to live a life. Leave this sad dysfunctional excuse for a person and find yourself a new one who shows clear signs of being a grown man.
But first, in case you are still undecided, and for all those straight women out there who think having a man is automatically better than not having one, let me tell you more about why you should leave him.
1. Staying with slackers just enables men to keep being slack. There’s no reason for this guy to pull his socks up, get a job or get back on some sort of path towards a job if he can have everything he needs while behaving like he’s sixteen. When women stay with these types, they are basically teaching them, and each other, that it is acceptable for men to contribute nothing to a relationship, that men need not bother to uphold some basic standards of hygiene and employment and kindness and attention if they want to have a partner.
2. You don’t state anywhere in your question how you feel, and that worries me. Your focus is entirely on him, and it should be entirely on you. How do you feel? What do you want? What do you need? Your job in this world is to shelter and cultivate your own soul. If that soul of yours is not thriving with the person you are currently with, leave them and start providing good things for yourself.
Do you feel insecure and down living with someone who disrespects you so profoundly as to not even spend time with you? Then kick him out or get your own place and cut this parasite out of your system. Do you believe you deserve to be ignored and used like this? Then you need to spend less time enabling him and more time finding a therapist and working through your own issues, until you are willing to have boundaries and require others to treat you with respect and kindness.
3. You don’t state how long this behavior has been going on, but I am struggling to imagine any timespan in which this would be acceptable. Maybe a week of slovenliness right after finishing exams or while on holiday? Maybe. But not if that slovenliness includes failing to pay your part of the rent or connect with your partner.
A few weeks of depression and withdrawal after a major stroke of fate? Maybe. But drinking and withdrawing are not great ways of dealing with disappointments or losses in life.
I have the impression things have been like this for a while, and when you tried to talk to him about it, he not only took no steps to change his behavior, but ignored you. You should have packed your things the same second he started giving you the cold shoulder or silent treatment, because that is abusive.
4. Between straightness and patriarchy and all the things which go into indoctrinating women, it is easy for a woman, especially a woman as young as yourself, to think that breaking up with a spectacularly bad boyfriend is still a loss. I’m here to tell you that living alone will definitely be better than living with this guy. It will be financially better and emotionally better for sure, and after a couple of weeks of adjustment, you can start using those financial and emotional resources to do any of the five thousand million things which are more fun than living with a lazy bum.
Even if all you want to do after work is take a bath and go to bed early, doing those things without some slob sitting around staring at the TV drinking beer and not providing any warmth, fun, sex, support, or connection is still way better.
And if you find, as you probably will, that without babysitting a giant child, you have more energy, then spend your evenings and weekends doing things you like or getting involved in the community.
5. There are many employed, kind, adult men in the world and even in this city. Each woman who is interested in men has many, many choices of man, so there is no need at all to waste your time on the one you happen to have if he is not benefiting you in any way. Regardless of looks, you still have many other choices, and basically anybody is better than this bozo.
In your whole message, you did not name even one positive quality that might offset the negative impact of this juvenile behavior. Is he funny? Really hot? Fantastic in bed? Reliable? No. This is a dud. This is just not good enough. You need to leave him today, and you need to avoid men like this in future.
6. If you are an eldest sister and he is a youngest or only son, I would be especially aware of any tendencies in yourself which lead you towards immature men, so that this does not become a pattern. So let me paint a portrait of the basic minimum you can expect from a boyfriend or partner; and lads, pay attention, because these are the standards you need to uphold if you don’t want women to leave you, or to have to admit they are only with you because of patriarchal brainwashing.
These are my top five minimum requirements for having and keeping a relationship, in no particular order – and honestly, they are really very basic, but rarely enforced.
(sub-list to the list, look out!)
1. Gainful employment. A person who is ready for a relationship should also be demonstrating the basic levels of responsibility required to hold down a job. Not all jobs pay a lot, plenty of people take a while to settle on what they want, and some vocations require a long period of training, but in one form or another, it is reasonable to expect a man to be contributing to the community, to his own future, and to any shared finances.
2. Non-abuse. Regardless of culture, upbringing or his past, men are required to treat women with compassion and courtesy, which at the bare minimum means avoiding all forms of abuse. Most people understand that they shouldn’t hit, shove, threaten or scream at others, but avoidance of emotional abuse is also a fundamental requirement. This means no belittling, invalidation, dismissiveness, ignoring, demeaning, shaming, gaslighting, criticism, name-calling, minimizing, or silent treatment. (If you want to learn more about this, here is a good start.)
3. Participation. Each partner needs to invest an equal and significant level of effort into the relationship and make a significant investment of time and attention. If the man is just along for the ride and does not take action consistently, leave him. Actions taken under instruction and supervision do not count. Getting up, cleaning and making Sunday breakfast counts. Putting a bag of bread rolls on the table and then leaving it to her to make the coffee, set the table, and all the rest of it, after a huge discussion about how your girlfriend would like it if you made breakfast on the weekends, does not count.
Bringing home tickets to a show or surprising her with a packed cooler for a picnic or an appointment for massages counts. Saying “So what do you want to do this weekend” and then going along with whatever she comes up with is awfully shabby.
4. Good and happy sex. If a man refuses to have sex any more, or only does it now and then in whatever lackadaisical manner he can manage after three beers, leave his sorry ass. If a man tries to bullshit his way out of realistic and appropriate birth control by telling you crazy stories about how condoms break easily anyway or you can only get pregnant two days a month or he never went to a prostitute so definitely doesn’t have any STIs, leave him immediately.
If he refuses to communicate or to listen to what you tell him about how your body works and what you need to have a good time in bed, leave him so fast those blue balls turn green. Men who insist on pretending they can’t understand a vulva or locate a clitoris should not be allowed anywhere near those body parts. For the love of God, people, they don’t move! Everything is in the same place it was last time.
5. Physical and mental health. A man in a relationship, like all other human beings, needs to be taking reasonable care of his physical and mental health such that he gets over any addictive behaviors, whether alcohol abuse or overeating or video games, eats like a sensible adult, deals with any issues from his past in a manner which can be expected to actually help (crystals, singing mantras, walking around barefoot, Bach flower remedies, homeopathy or other forms of magic do not count). He should have habits around sleep, food, and exercise which allow him to concentrate and keep a stable mood and look his best.
Granted, part of being a couple is growing together, and this process never finishes.
So the idea is not to become perfect first, but to be committed to and engaged with the healing, health and growth process. That is not asking a lot.
I believe firmly that the world would be a better place if men who had not reached this very, very, very basic level of maturity were automatically excluded from the pool of potential boyfriends and automatically ejected from relationships as soon as they started abusing substances, withholding sex or only providing rare and terrible sex, sitting around doing nothing, and being abusive.
I hereby give all women permission to dump these lame dudes right now, and I call for all men to get their act together and stop perpetuating inequality by expecting women to put up with you to a degree you have not got anywhere close to earning.