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? Especially if that thing is dating a mooch?
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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,
- taking care of children,
- taking care of other dependent family members,
- 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.
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 that her friend is dating a mooch.
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 you were dating a mooch 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?
Dating a mooch is an expensive hobby
Pretend, for a moment, that you survived some kind of global apocalypse. 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 this woman’s peers are probably married with children. That’s a social dynamic that would make a lot of people feel like the post-apocalypse 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 dating a mooch, 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 to 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 were 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 dating a mooch 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:
- Are You a Frugal Mooch?: Mooching Off Friends Is Not a Valid Savings Strategy
- Ask the Bitches: “I Lent My Boyfriend Money. He Took It to a Casino.”
- The Delicate Art of the Friend Trade
- Ask the Bitches: “My Dad Sucks with Money. How Do I Make Him Change?”
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 your friend’s boyfriend, 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.
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 dating a mooch, don’t put yourself in a position to be a broken record. In the event 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 right now, let’s change the subject.” 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!