Remember that episode of “Sex and the City” where Carrie got a big advance for her book while her boyfriend, Jack Berger, watched his flounder? He was so jealous of her success! And he didn’t want to be that guy! As much as “SATC” got basically every single thing about relationships wrong, they still managed to kind of nail this one. Sometimes you are dating that guy, and you are that woman. Your career is on the up and up, while he’s either stuck in a job with no mobility, or straight up unemployed.
We live in a time when women are increasingly likely to be the sole breadwinners in their families and, in some career paths, we even get paid as much or more than our male colleagues. Which is awesome. It’s exactly what we wanted.
But it can also cause tension in relationships because, to be honest, we haven’t really collectively agreed on how to deal with the shift; women have been conditioned to behave as if men have more money, more career ambition, and more promise, even as statistics prove that is less and less likely to be the case. Below are some tips for how to deal when you’re blowing up, but the person you’re dating isn’t.
1. Don’t hesitate to reach for your wallet. The bottom line is this: If you have a solid career, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be paying your own way. Split the check or offer to pick up the tab every time — and mean it, especially if you make more than your partner. If you can pony up for the dinners and the movies and the drinks, do that thing. It’s fair and it helps relieve the strain that your boyfriend may be feeling, financially, if he’s really struggling.
2. Don’t turn a blind eye. It’s okay to want to go to spend a little money when your career is booming, but if your S.O.’s isn’t doing so well, don’t pretend that is. Don’t ignore the fact that he may not be able to afford a weekend trip or airfare to visit your friends across the country. Acknowledge the gap respectfully, and pay attention to how you’re spending. Don’t make him spend money he doesn’t have — that’s just common decency. You would want him to do that same if earning was reversed.
3. But also, don’t be afraid to treat yourself. You’re working hard, you deserve nice things. Don’t downplay your own success to help him feel less insecure. Buy that $500 bag, but brag about it to your friends. Buy him something you know he wants, but don’t go on about how much it cost.
4. Do help, don’t nag. If you’ve got potential connections that may help your fellow find a better job (and you know that he wants one), offer to set him up for a lunch date or a happy hour. It’s perfectly acceptable to supply potential career support to your mate — because truly, a leg up is a leg up — but at the point where he feels like all you talk about is his crappy job, it’s going to get salty. Don’t ask him how he’s spending his time, don’t rag on him for taking a lengthy Netflix break. Be supportive, but not stifling, with your assistance.
5. Don’t stay with a scrub. It’s a harsh but true fact that sometimes, if your boyfriend is really not career-oriented, it can tank your own ambitions, which is really not cool. Relationships thrive on shared values, and if career is a high priority for you, it can be really, really comforting to be with someone who understands and supports that. Conversely, it can be a huge detriment to be with someone who doesn’t understand and, as a result, isn’t very supportive.
Your boyfriend may be great in a multitude of ways, but if he’s passed out (and/or hungover) when you leave for work in the morning and planted on the couch in his soft pants when you come home with little to no sign of movement or progress toward anything other than a ho-hum job search, you’re not going to want to come home and talk about how incredible your day was. You’re not going to feel good getting a little boasty about something legitimately excellent that happened to you. You’re going to come home and shut down. And not being excited about your own career is a quick trip toward a personal economic doldrums.
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