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He has a college degree and is physically and mentally able, but he does not work This is crazy, right?

Ask the Bitches: “My Friend Is Going Broke Dating a Man Who Contributes Nothing. Should I Say Something?”

Today we have a question from a Patreon donor on a subject that’s always hard to answer: what can you do when a friend is doing something really, really financially dumb?

(Have you heard that we answer donor questions directly? It’s true! Find out how at Patreon.com/BitchesGetRiches!)

Donor Alyssa writes…

Here’s the situation. 

Last year, a good, long-term friend of mine (40 year-old woman) had her boyfriend (38 year-old man) move in with her. Before that they were long distance, so only recently have I gotten to know this dude and their relationship.

Despite him having a college degree and being physically and mentally able, he does not work. Not at all. Not one minute and not for one cent. He is also not a trust funder nor does he otherwise have money of his own. He is also not looking for work and he is not in school.

My friend supports him 100%. She provides all housing, food, transportation, vacations (!!!), and everything else. They do not have children or dependents to support, and neither want children in the future. He does do most of the housework and cooking. But they do not have a vast estate that needs tending. From what I glean he spends most of his time playing video games.

My friend tells me that she is declining further and further into debt. She has said, wistfully, that she wishes she could save for the future. She also says that she and her boyfriend are “great communicators,” and she likes that he is always available when she is.

So that’s the situation. Here are my questions: do I do anything/say anything about this? If so, what? It certainly isn’t my relationship, and they are both grown ass adults, but … THIS IS CRAZY, RIGHT? And just in case it’s not clear, I am Team DTMFA.

– Alyssa H.

Alyssa, thanks for this question, and for your support of this blog! I see two layers of questions here. First: is this dude’s behavior acceptable? Second: what (if anything) can you do about it as her friend?

Let’s get into it!

What kind of man doesn’t work?

Pardon the heteronormativity, but let’s touch a little on gender for a sec.

Lots of people don’t work outside the home. There are 319 million Americans, and 29% of them are adults not looking for work.

That number sounds high, but when you break it down, it’s all for pretty understandable reasons. That population is a pretty even split of young adults in school, stay-at-home parents, and retirees. A significant number of them are also ill or disabled. Which is to say, not working is part of a purposeful, rational stage in their life.

A 38-year-old man who…

  • isn’t working outside the home,
  • isn’t taking care of children,
  • isn’t taking care of other dependent family members,
  • isn’t disabled,
  • isn’t retired,
  • isn’t in school, and
  • isn’t looking for any kind of work

… well, that’s definitely a statistical rarity!

Which is almost impressive, considering he’s doing so against the grain of a whole lot of social and financial pressure.

Stay-at-home boyfriends

The role men play in the home has shifted a ton in the last few decades. Women complete more high school and college, making them more competitive earners. Social perceptions of women working outside the home have shifted from being the exception to the rule (probably thanks to stagnant wages as much as feminism). And male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing were some of the hardest hit during the Great Recession, leading to a temporary spike in male unemployment.

The default expectation that men work, earn, and provide is sexism rooted in patriarchal ideas. Misogynist ideas are often two-sided coins that hurt all genders, and this is a great example. Because our culture historically treated women as less capable and independent, it’s put thousands of years of undue pressure on men to be providers. Depending on the era and circumstances you were born in, providing can be really damn hard, and the pressure of having other human beings rely on you and you alone is substantial. (This is a great study on the topic if you can comfortably read about suicide.) And it’s just one of many traditionally masculine roles men are punished for straying from.

The “stay-at-home boyfriend/girlfriend” is a recent phenomenon, and I suspect that some generational angst over changing gender roles is part of it. Sometimes a leech is a leech—but other times they’re a person who depends on others because they truly don’t know how to be independent in this brave new world.

The partner who doesn’t contribute

Okay, okay, that’s enough fairness.

Alyssa’s looking at this situation thinking “this dude sucks!” And she’s turning to us for confirmation.

Our official ruling is: you right tho this dude prolly suuuuuuucks!

I don’t know this guy. But a forty-year-old adult (of any gender) who sits around playing video games while their hardworking partner slowly slides into debt is a Rice-A-Roni jabroni who should be shown the door. And not the door to the TV room—the front door! Or even better, the back—you don’t want your neighbors seeing him leave because then they’ll know he was there to begin with.

It’s a very popular subjective opinion that good partners try to contribute equally to their household, but a subjective one all the same. There are people who are fine with a lopsided dynamic. Many blessings upon them, but that ain’t gonna fly with me.

Alyssa thinks this guy is using her friend, and I think she’s probably right. But here’s what it comes down to: does your friend mind being used?

This guy is her expensive hobby

Pretend, for a moment, that you survived some kind of global pandemic. You have a house, and all the canned goods and necessities you need to live comfortably, but you are completely alone.

After a year of living alone, how much would you pay for companionship? A lot, right?

How about after ten years? You’d give anything, wouldn’t you?

Humans are social animals. We’re made to live in families and tight-knit groups. That’s why exile and isolation are our standard severe punishments. Some people struggle more than others with being alone. Those people may choose to settle for an imperfect partner because the loneliness is worse than their partner’s vices. At 40, many of her peers are probably married with children. That’s a social dynamic that would make a lot of people feel like the post-pandemic last woman on earth.

Let’s take your friend at her word: her boyfriend cooks, cleans, and is really good at talking to her in a way that alleviates her loneliness. Whatever he does (or doesn’t do) outside of those services may not matter to her, because those three services are worth what she’s paying for them.

We’ve talked about subjective valuation before. If she spends $500 a month on this dude, is he making her $500 worth of happy? If so, he’s a rational expense from her perspective.

…Assuming she doesn’t calculate the opportunity cost of missing out on meeting a much better partner! Which she should! And perhaps you can convince her of that.

To intervene or not intervene

That is the question! Whether ’tis nobler in the mind suffer the slings and arrows of watching her pretend his lasagna is equal to her rent check, or to take arms against a sea of manchildren and by opposing end them!

When you’re concerned about a friend, it’s hard to know how and when to approach them. I think you have to look at how destructive the behavior is in comparison to the net happiness it brings them.

Let’s say Alyssa’s friend was still single, and spending $500 a month on some destructive impulse. Like taking lots and lots of drugs, or donating to Tulsi Gabbard’s 2020 presidential campaign. You’d almost certainly intervene early, clearly, and loudly. She’s doing something dangerous.

But what if it was some other happiness-generating adventure? Owning a special needs dog, or living in an expensive city she adored, or meticulously crafting cosplay outfits and traveling with friends from con to con? You probably wouldn’t intervene—or at least it wouldn’t rise above a gentle chat about your concerns for her budget. She’s doing something meaningful but unwise.

So where does the mooching boyfriend fit on the full intervention —> mind your own business spectrum? It really depends on what she’s getting out of the relationship. And it sounds like you don’t have a great grasp of those particulars.

More on the subject of mooching:

It also seems fair to point out that your friend is 40. My advice would probably be different if she were 20. Young adults can make dumb choices because they’re ignorant. But your friend has a good amount of life experience to draw on. Coming at a full-on adult with unsolicited hot-takes on their life choices feels patronizing. It may shut down the friendship when she most needs a friend like you.

It would also be different if she were 60. She’s young enough that she could get into debt, get hurt, wise up, dump his ass, and recover before it’s time to retire. It’s certainly not ideal, but plenty of people have been there.

What can YOU do?

Your friend is already talking to you about her concerns with money. That’s good! The lines of communication are open!

Your next move depends on nuances of the situation and your relationship that we can’t possibly know. Here are some of your options:

  • When it comes to another adult’s problems, doing nothing is always an option. There are many ways you could be wrong here. For example, it’s well within the realm of possibility that he has a disability he’s uncomfortable sharing, or an inbox full of resume rejections he’s too ashamed to mention. You could also anger your friend and push her into greater codependency with him. Meddling comes with as many risks as rewards.
  • Give it time. Their situation isn’t sustainable—something will eventually have to give. When there’s enough financial pressure, someone will change something. She may cut out the vacations (!!!), or pursue a higher paying job, or seek out a better partner. He may finally get a job, or go on disability, or disappear when her funds dry up. External pressures are already trying to force this couple apart. So you can let time do the dirty work for you, and show up with clean hands to aid your friend in the recovery.
  • Make a genuine effort to get to know more about him and their relationship. It sounds like you’ve had limited exposure to them, so invite yourself over to their place for dinner. There’s a slim chance you’ll see that he provides much more than you realized, and that he’s a pretty good dude. It’s more likely you’ll see a lazy manchild playing World of Warcraft while his girlfriend loads the dishwasher, gushing blindly about what a help he is around the house. IT’S A FUCKING THING! Either way, knowing them better will give you more credibility if you decide you need to say something.
  • Ask questions. I am an insufferable know-it-all. It’s so fucking difficult for me to hold my tongue when I see a friend making a mistake. But I’ve learned that “I told you so” is not a phrase people want to hear from their friends. Instead, be like a therapist, and ask open-ended questions. “I’ve noticed you’re really stressed about your finances lately—what’s your boyfriend’s take on it?” “You said you want to save for the future—what do you think needs to change to make that possible?” It’s slower going, but more effective and compassionate. And you’re less likely to become the messenger with an arrow in her chest.
  • Be her friend. The more alone she feels, the more likely your friend is to cling to this boring wastrel. Consistency is key. You said she likes that he’s always on-call for her. If you want to wean her off of him, snatch away some of those relationship duties.
  • Tell her how you feel. There comes a point—and you may already be there—where you feel like you have to say something. For that conversation…
    • Have the conversation alone with her. And for the love of god, don’t wait so long to have it that you let something snide slip out in the heat of a moment.
    • Stick to “I” statements whenever possible. People get defensive fast when you tell them their partner sucks. So keep it neutral by only talking about yourself. Instead of inflammatory declarative sentences like “he does nothing for you,” try “I’m not clear on what he does for you.”
    • Set a tone for realness and vulnerability. Don’t give her a rehearsed or generic-sounding intervention. She is your friend. Invite her into your fears. “This is a really uncomfortable thing to bring up, and I’ve struggled with how to do it. But after thinking about it a lot, I decided I love you too much to let fear of an awkward conversation scare me away from telling you what’s in my heart.”
    • Always lead with love. Remind her why she’s important to you, and give her many specifics about why you love her. “I admire how giving you are. I’ve been the beneficiary of it on X, Y, and Z occasions. Which is why I want you to be with someone who respects the shit outta you, and doesn’t ask you to give more than is fair.”
    • Say your thing, then step back and don’t repeat yourself. If you have The Talk and she’s still with this dude, don’t put yourself in a position to be a broken record. If she calls to talk about her financial woes, you can say “you know what I think the real problem is—so unless you wanna talk about that, let’s talk about something else.” This assumes it remains benign mooching; if it evolves into financial abuse, you may need to change tactics.

Thanks to Alyssa for asking this question and for being a Patreon donor! We are 100% donor supported, so we couldn’t do this without readers like you.

Friends, I know all of you know at least a few people who’ve dated down. How have you handled it? Did you get the outcome you wanted—or did things blow up all ugly-like? Give us your war stories in the comments below!

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19 thoughts to “Ask the Bitches: “My Friend Is Going Broke Dating a Man Who Contributes Nothing. Should I Say Something?””

  1. I came in expecting a bloodbath and instead got a surprisingly nuanced and thoughtful article full of empathy and love. You utter bastards!! This is why you’re the best.

    1. I know, right? I immediately threw the man in the dumpster and had to go snatch him back out of there and dust him off. He’s probably still garbage, but Kitty is the fucking queen here in her response to Alyssa

      1. Geez, thank you both!

        I calls ’em like I sees ’em. Were he my boyfriend, this dude’s behavior would fly like a lead balloon. But not everybody values the things I value, and there’s just not enough evidence here that the friend in question is exploited or unhappy. And I just can’t ignore the possibility that he’s searching or disabled and unwilling to share the details with someone he doesn’t know well.

  2. If he takes on doing all of the chores around the house, it doesn’t seem to be too much of an unfair deal to me. If she were to hire someone to actually do all of it instead of doing it herself, it would cost her. And it frees up her time to focus on stuff that she enjoys and/or doing more work. In this case, she is receiving the services from him of having the house cleaned, the food cooked, dishes cleaned, laundry done, etc…. All of those things add value to one’s life so could be considered a rational expense. I personally would be OK with being in such a relationship. (Having someone take care of all of the household stuff so that I could focus on working and just watching TV shows). However, if he just sits around the house playing video games all day long, that doesn’t seem to me like a rational expense and I would probably dump such a guy very quickly.

    1. Agreed. I think a lot of people would describe their ideal partner as someone who proactively does their fair share of housework AND brings home a family-supporting, future-stabilizing second paycheck. But if my partner were suddenly unable to work outside the home, and he compensated by doing all the housework and (as you say) freeing up some of my time for more happiness-generating pursuits, that would be enough for me.

  3. Whoo boy. I was very much in the position of Alyssa’s friend once upon a time. Buckle up kiddos, because I have a story to tell.

    For some context, I was with my ex for about 4 years at this point. The entire time I knew him, and especially in the two years we lived together, he tended to bounce from one idea to another, but never stuck with anything. The one job he did get (that I filled out the application for) he was fired from within a month. Red Fags were waving in excess to everyone except me, because I was smitten. It was my final semester of college; I was student teaching, taking night classes and working two part-time jobs to support us. He occasionally cooked and cleaned, but mostly played video games, and put forth no real effort to find work or go back to school, just the generic excuses for having a hard time finding work in a small college town. Folks, I was running myself ragged, and this is not counting family stuff, finals and all the other fun (read:shitty) things that come with being a full time student.

    We were living in an apartment with another couple I had known for a few years. My female roommate at the time did sat me down and told me that “You’re a good friend, and you’ve been generous and compassionate to people who need help without expecting anything in return, which is a beautiful thing. However, I’ve seen how hard you work and [boyfriend] treats you, and to be honest, I think this relationship is hurting you. If you need someone to talk to you know I’m always here.” We spent about another 20 minutes or so talking about the situation, how I felt about the relationship, what I wanted from it, and what it might look like when I got a Real Job ™ after college and he moved in with me.

    I will always be grateful that she told me that. At the time I was frustrated with how things were, but couldn’t articulate exactly what bothered me. Partly because I was too busy/stressed/tired to make myself think about things, and partly because I was scared of where that line of thinking would lead. I knew that my life was going to be changing once I graduated, and I was scared to do it alone. Talking with her gave me a starting point to really address my feelings and figure out what to do. I would up staying with him for another 6 months or so, but she never pushed me any further than that sit-down we had.

    In the end I wound up leaving the relationship by moving 600 miles away to a new state, with no support system, by myself. I probably would have incurred a lot more stress and cost if I brought my ex with me, and I totally would have bit the bullet and done so had Roomie not talked to me. The first year was rough in a lot of ways, but in the end, I am so glad I did it.

    I would highly encourage Alyssa to have a similar conversation with her friend if she is truly worried about her, becauseI doubt I would be as happy as I am, or have gotten to know my now husband at all if she hadn’t opened the door for me to explore my feelings on that relationship when she did.

    Much love to everyone out there, on either side of this situation. It’s hard, and requires guts to confront your friend, and to confront the sometimes painful emotions that come out of that conversation. I hope everything works out for these two.

    -Momo

    1. OMG MOMO!!!

      I love your story, thank you so much for sharing it. I hope Alyssa reads it because it’s great food for her thoughts.

      As I said in the article, I tend to be an opinionated person who gives her opinion a little too easily. It’s something I work all the time to pull back on. BUT! Sometimes your friends need you to go out on a limb and say “girl, I love you, and that is why I want to ask you: what in the actual fuck are you doing??”

      I’m sure it was validating too, coming from a roommate. She was in a position to see a lot of intimate details that friends and family members couldn’t see. (Although it sounds like they weren’t fans regardless, lmao, but it probably made you more inclined to listen.) Thank you so much for sharing! I’m so glad your life is vastly improved now.

      1. It was super validating coming from a roommate, and she was also someone I knew for a few years by that point too, so she could also point out how my behavior changed throughout that relationship. Some of the things she told me definitely raised the alarm bells, but that’s a different story. Also, a couple of other friends, who I was arguably closer to, felt the same, but were afraid to upset me while I was already stressed so much by school. In retrospect I don’t totally understand that logic, but we were younger.

        ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        Side note: No matter how many times I double check there are still typos! aaagh!

  4. I am so glad to see how nuanced and thoughtful this is, especially re the possibility that he may have a disability he isn’t willing to disclose.

    My partner really struggles with mental health, and is on a disability pension, and I am making the *active choice* to stay with him and help support him financially.
    The number of times I have had to defend this decision is quite frankly exhausting and tbh can often make me angry (esp when it’s a repeated, condescending af conversation/lecture from my parents), because to me it devalues someone’s worth as a person to how much money they contribute to a household. My partner is very open about their mental illness and is still met with reactions that boil down to ‘he should suck it up and work anyway’

    On the other hand, I have had friends approach me with an open mind and curiosity and that is definitely the way to go if you are going to talk to them about it- and please do make sure you ask about different aspects of how he contributes etc. My biggest pet peeve is when people I don’t know very well ask questions like ‘so what does he do all day?’ or ‘that must be tough for you’ …

    1. That does sound exhausting. A reminder to us all that people with mental illnesses and invisible disabilities have to put up with a lot of shit. There’s no need to heap judgey hot takes upon them. It’s also very dicey to give an opinion on someone’s relationship based on how you imagine it must be, instead of what you’ve actually observed.

  5. Why is she going into debt? I assume her biggest expense is housing but he moved in with her, so she would be paying rent whether he lived with her or not. A guy who plays video games all the time doesn’t usually spend a ton of money on transportation or clothing. And if he cooks a lot, he could be saving her money on food. And if it’s the vacations that are putting her under, I mean, maybe the key is waiting until they’re in the black. If he is forcing her to go on vacations she can’t afford, that’s a different issue, but there’s no indication of that.

    I mean, maybe he sucks, but maybe he is just the fall guy because she can’t save.

    1. Yep, that was kind of my take as well. It’s possible he’s pressuring her to spend additional money on him, renting a bigger place to share, demanding the vacations, etc. But I think the letter writer would’ve included those details if she had them. Which either means LW’s gotta scope out the situation more before acting, OR her friend is indeed using this dude as a kind of expensive hobby, which is foolish but ultimately her choice.

  6. My mom watched me date and then marry a guy who was kind of a loser. Then his medical conditions got worse right before the wedding and he got fired and we started the disability process.

    Looking back, I think at the time I was just flattered that someone saw value in me. I was on disability when we met and my mental health was pretty spotty making it sometimes very difficult to be ina relationship with. So I convinced myself it was love. Or maybe it was my own slightly screwed up version of love based on a shitty role model my parents’ relationship gave me. (“Here, let me do aaaaallll the things to save money — and just in general — but yes let’s spend on you for sure!”) Hard to say.

    But even able-bodies women who are awesome can have such low self-esteem that they’re genuinely astonished someone wants to be with them. So they ignore the warning signs. Sounds like that may be what’s going on with the reader’s friend.

    Anyhoo, his medical problems and mental health got worse and he stopped trying to do much of anything so by the end he was playing video games and watching YouTube all day while I did most of the chores (because he was convinced his fibromyalgia would flare up, despite my knowing and repeatedly mentioning the awesome/indefatigable Revanche managing to contribute meaningfully to her relationship amid similar, actually much worse conditions) and by then I was working again and supporting us. With a cushy job but it’s still work dammit. And of course his health problems were expensive in the traditional costs , we were spending $600-700 a month on alternative therapies and at his heart he was always a spender. He. Wanted. Everything. He. Saw.

    Throughout all of this, my mom held her tongue because she knew from her own experiences how easily people get defensive about our bad decisions — especially when they’re our partners — and she didn’t want to drive me away for when I finally saw the light. So she was supportive and tried not to badmouth him. But I knew she was frustrated by our relationship. I’m guessing this woman knows that her friends are judging the relationship too and is sensitive about it. So tread cautiously, I beg you.

    Because a mere 12 years in — 10 married — I finally saw the light and dumped his ass. Wish it had been sooner, but I did finally do it. But up until the last few months of our marriage, even when I wanted to strangle him, I’d vigorously defend him from readers’ comments on my blog. In fact the more annoyed I was with him I’d be even more defensive because I was seeing that I’d made a bad choice but also didn’t want to admit it out loud. So I’d just defend him harder to justify my own choices.

    So like I said tread very very very cautiously.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this tough example. It’s such a hard situation.

      I came out of the womb 100% that bitch who “tells it like it is,” all the time, even when that is a disastrous choice. I needed a few decades of life experience to see how that could sometimes backfire in exactly the way you describe.

      Dating someone awful is like having something stuck in your teeth. Some people are mortified to be told; other people are mortified to realize later that no one told. I think I’ve successfully modulated towards a policy of saying what I feel, but doing it in a more loving, less judgmental way.

      1. I was in a similar, albeit less severe, situation in grad school. Being 3 years out of that relationship, the biggest thing I have learned (and am still un-learning) is that the more he sucked, the harder I tried to love him in an effort to get him to love me back/treat me better/be the partner I wanted him to be. I was probably 90%+ aware of the shit he was pulling and how bad it was and I would have (increasingly more shrill and less sane) conversations with him about how he was gaslighting me and continuing to do shit that was hurting me, despite being crystal clear that he knew what he was doing. But I was raised in the Church(TM) where you (particularly the woman) are long-suffering and Love Solves All The Things, so if your partner is treating you poorly, you’re obviously not loving him well enough and you just need to double down in your commitment. For probably 3+ years that we were together, the voice in my head was literally saying “Leave him. He doesn’t love you, he won’t give you what you want/need, and he’s hurting you. Just LEAVE.” on a loop, all day. Every day. But if I left him, it would be like starting my life over again because I had followed him to the other side of the country and leaving him meant quitting my job (I didn’t love it enough to stay in a place I hated with no other support system) and moving home and living with my parents for a while and admitting I made a huge mistake and I wasn’t quite ready to cut those sunk costs. Maybe LW’s friend is fully aware that he’s a loser and isn’t ready to deal with it.

  7. While in my early twenties, I had roommates who were dating. I liked them both equally, but as a couple, they just were no good.

    The dude dropped out of college, stopped working for a while (enough to use up his savings and become a burden). He was depressed and we knew it. Our whole group of friends tried to be supportive of him and give him leads about jobs he could apply to, new mayors he could look into and take another chance at Uni, so on.

    But my girl was taking the short end of that deal. She was financially supporting both of them, already working long hours on a soul-sucking job, coming home and picking up after him (since in no way the other roomie or I would pick up their share of chores, I mean, no fucking way.) The crew advised her of cutting him off, stop letting him leech on her, we were supportive and willing to hear her out, to no avail.

    One day she comes home from work and tells me that she was venting to one of her coworkers about needing another job so she could make ends meet for both of them, and how she could freelance or do something else, until this wise, oh so wise coworker, stopped her in her tracks and told her: you don’t need another job. Dude needs his own job, he needs to get it together and figure out what he wants in life and that’s something you are in no way responsible for.

    This was a great wake up call for Girl and from that day on, she started to disengage her love for Dude from her own financial stability.

    In the end, they broke up amicably, we’re all friends and we are happily ever after, but we all learned a lesson on hey, yes, be supportive of your partner but in a way that you feel comfortable, not taken advantage of, in a way that doesn’t make you feel that you’re the only one that’s doing all the heavy lifting.

    About this question, I could say that we never know what’s really going on in someone else’s relationship and until Alyssa’s friend decides to change something, the best would be to be supportive and try to find out what’s going on but not intervene unless it is explicitly requested. He doesn’t sound like a blue-prince-in-a-ribbon-keeper but neither as a deadbeat abusive partner. *shurg

  8. Thank you everyone for the thoughtful comments.

    A couple of points of clarification- they moved here together from a different state. So he didn’t move in to her already-existing place but she found a place large enough for the both of them and their pets. Prior to the move, he worked a retail job and he paid for his own living expenses for the most part.

    The disability angle I hadn’t really thought of and it is worth considering. He did have a job before the move working in retail, which makes me think he is able to. But, yes, it’s possible there’s something else going on that I don’t know about.

    I think that just being there and supportive is really the thing to do here.

    Thanks again!

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