My Boyfriend Doesn’t Earn Much Money. How Do I know if I Can Make Peace with This?

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Thanks for all of your wonderful advice. I was wondering how you can tell if something is simply a flaw that you need to accept/work with or something that is a deal breaker. I want to be fair but also don’t want to wind up unhappy or resent my future husband. My boyfriend would like to get engaged and start a family.

I am 37 and he is 40. He doesn’t make much money and doesn’t have any savings because he was a bit irresponsible in the past although he is better now that I told him it bothered me. He works over 70 hours a week to support himself. He could make a lot more at another company or if he tried to get promoted but he is happy where he is. I have a job in finance that is fine but I don’t think I can support a family on my own or pay to have a lot of help with a baby when he is at work all the time. It is rather expensive here in London.

My question is if he is a good man and loves me, how can I tell if his income/savings or inability to be a good provider is a flaw to make peace with or something that will make me unhappy in the long term? If I want a child naturally I would need to start right away so I am trying to figure this out now.

I greatly value your opinion and thank you in advance.

Brianna

Aw, Brianna, this is a tough one, for one particular reason: you’re asking me what YOU should think.

The problem is that I can’t impose my values on you, nor is it my place to convince you that your values or priorities are out-of-whack. In other words, whatever I say next, this decision is yours. I am quite confident that whatever you choose will be right for you.

So let’s sum up your story in a few lines:

  • He doesn’t make much money.
  • He doesn’t have savings.
  • He works 70 hours a week.
  • He is content with this. You are not.
  • You want to have a baby and you have to figure things out soon.
  • You don’t know if this situation will make you unhappy in the future.

My answer is a somewhat predictable “yes, and…”:

If you break up with him over this, you would likely come to regret it.

Yes, this situation will make you unhappy.

You will resent your husband for his choice of job, his salary, and his contentment.

You will resent your husband for not being able to support you (and a nanny) when you have a child.

You will resent your husband for not having time to help at home when he’s working 12 hours a day.

AND…

If you break up with him over this, you would likely come to regret it. Play out the scenario in your head. You’re 37. You break up with him tonight (for no reason except your inability to accept his choice of career). You get back out there tomorrow. You discover dating is challenging for a 37-year-old who is anxious to have her own biological family.

Lots of men your age won’t even look at you. Lots of men 10 years older see you as their savior. Lots of trial and error. Lots of screening men with a new filter: must make enough money to support me, my lifestyle, and our new child. With that, you’ve cut off 85% of men, and that’s before you factor in things like height, weight, age, education, religion, humor, communication skills, character, values, sex, etc.

Let’s leave that aside. Suppose you get yourself a new husband and father with a higher income. What are the definite ramifications of that?

  1. You will be older than you are now. Maybe it’ll be a year until you find him. 18 months before he proposes. 2 years until you try to get pregnant – at the earliest. Read up on the statistics for pregnancy for women in their late 30’s before you do anything.  
  1. He’ll have a different set of problems than your current boyfriend. It may not be his salary. But it may be his temperament. His selfishness. His insensitivity. Who knows?

All I can say is that I had a similar dilemma when deciding to propose to my 38-year-old fiancé. She was awesome. We were awesome. Would it have been ideal to find someone JUST like her, but five years younger and Jewish? Sure. Was I willing to start all over at age 35 to see if that woman existed, only to end up in a similar place at age 38? No, I was not.

Marriage is about accepting things in your partner that you don’t necessarily love.

This comes down to whether you can learn to tolerate what most other career women deal with — having a husband who is not wealthy enough to support both a child and a stay-at-home mom.

In the U.S. 5% of married stay-at-home mothers have master’s degrees and make over $75,000, but can stay at home because their husbands make enough to support them.

Do you want to hold out for one of those men? That’s your right.

Just know that there are no guarantees and the grass isn’t always greener.

Marriage is about accepting things in your partner that you don’t necessarily love. If you can’t accept him as he is right now, better put up that OkCupid profile and get started on finding a richer dude.

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Comments:

  1. 21
    Rampiance

    The best mindset I took into motherhood was the idea that whatever happened in life, I had the confidence and capability to somehow raise my children myself if events so unfolded.   The future is unknowable, and if a mother doesn’t have this confidence in herself, she will feel desperate at times and her children will pick up this feeling of desperation.   She may even come to resent the children’s dependence on her if she feels incapable of managing their lives and her own.

    This self-confidence of the mother is the most significant predicter of a successful family, imo.   I think it would also contribute to matching up with a man who would have a good chance of fitting into said successful family, whatever shape that family takes.

    1. 21.1
      Jeremy

      Different strokes for different folks.   Far be it from me to judge what works for you and others.   But in my own case, I find a different perspective has been useful.   I entered fatherhood with the perspective that I have confidence in my relationship with my wife, and that I would do whatever it took to make that relationship work.   With that in hand, our ability to, together, raise the kids would follow.

       

      Again, no judgment.   I just think it odd to think of the father as someone who needs to “fit in” to a family.   I assume you’re talking about a new husband to prior children, right?   Because if it is the father of the kids, he isn’t an accessory to the family to somehow fit or not fit.   He is an integral part of the unit whose needs are as important as anyone else’s and whose contributions are as important as the mother’s.

       

      Tl:Dr – I think the mother’s self-confidence is important (as is the father’s), but less so than their desire to make their relationship work which sometimes takes a degree of self-effacement rather than confidence.

      1. 21.1.1
        Rampiance

        Yes, by “fit in” I meant a new husband “fitting in” to an existing family.

        I appreciate your approach, Jeremy, and I hope it would work for most couples.   I chose my model after watching my mother use your approach.

        She did everything she could to be the best wife she could for her husband, all for the purpose of creating the best environment for her family.   The problem: her choice of husband was too flawed for the approach to be viable.   By putting him first, she destroyed her relationships with her daughters, because he was too narcissistic to put family ahead of his own ego.   She was self-effacing and he was NOT self-effacing.   So the flaw was in the choice of spouse.

        With a well-selected spouse, I imagine your method would be excellent.

        My mother chose her approach as a response to how HER mother handled marriage/child-raising.   Mom felt my grandmother didn’t do enough to make things work with her husband (although the man broke my grandmother’s jaw during one episode of rage).   I don’t know what all she saw or what she thought could have been done differently, but I suspect she felt terribly abandoned by her father and didn’t want the same fate to befall her own children.   So.   In my grandmother’s situation, again I fault a flawed selection of mate.

        1. DeeGee

          Personally I would never recommend any man date a single mother, for many reasons, not just those from my own personal experience. I will leave it up to the reader to Google or search YouTube for videos on the subject.

  2. 22
    Tim

    So are we saying because a man does not earn enough its time to walk away? Is there something stereo typical about this.   What is to be said of man who earns 150k and doesn’t want a woman who is not on the same pay level.

    Talking of relationships being about feeling and connection, yet to have a talk about finances and numbers could potentially mean the end because their earning don’t fit in with the life we might think we want. how about we stop calling it a relationship and call it finical agreement.

    I am a man who is not making a lot of money and I’m here because I am worried the woman of my dreams wont want me because the digits at the end of the month do not match hers.

    Question if what he earns is such a big factor do you love him?

  3. 23
    SparklingEmerald

    When I got married at age 32, it looked like the worst financial decision ever.   We both wanted a family.   I had bought a condo, then was laid off my job, and was working temp jobs when we met.   He had a steady job, but was laid off shortly after we started dating.   So there we were, the two of us, in between jobs, struggling to make ends meet and we were totally smitten with each other, and we BOTH wanted to start a family but just didn’t see how it was possible financially.   When my ex husband proposed he was very concerned that he could not adequately provide for a family and even said he felt like asking me to marry him was a “shitty thing to do”   (how romantic).   He planned on going to school to boost his income and he wanted me to be a SAHM.   He wanted to know if I was OK with him working part time and going to school initially, so that he could provide for us later.   I agreed to that, even though   on paper, it just looked financially impossible.   I was underwater on my condo, and working as a temp.   He was struggling with short term contracting jobs and planning to go to school.   He wanted a “full time mother” for his children (which made me gulp, wasn’t so sure I wanted to be a full time housewife)

    We both wanted a family, we wanted it with each other, and the situation looked very bleak financially.   At age 32, I felt biological pressure.   But we both decided to jump into this, and just find a way to make it work.

    He went to school for a while, on a VA subsidy and part time work.   I found a full time job with benefits.   He decided that school wasn’t for him, and then got a really good full time, secure job with great benefits.   We managed to sell off my condo for no profit or loss and buy a modest, but adequate house to raise a family.   We struggled financially until our son was about 7 or 8.   I mean really struggled.   Me staying at home and being a “full time mother” never quite materialized, it   was a combination of staying at home for the first 6 months of our son’s life, working part time, working as a temp in the evenings when he worked days, or or running a day care center from home, earning money caring for other people’s kids.   It was a work-family-balance struggle, but somehow we made it through sheer determination and will power.   We didn’t lose our house, there was always food on table, clothes on our back, and plenty of low-cost/no cost kid activities available for our son.   We lived walking distance to the library which had lots of kiddie time activities,   biking distance to a public pre-school where he attended part time for the 2 years prior to kindergarten.   Our baby boy was the happiest toddler on the planet and had no idea that we were living on the edge of poverty. He was clean, fed, and LOVED.   I went back to work full time when our son entered first grade.   Good paying job with good benefits, my ex hubby advanced fairly well in his job, and eventually we built a very nice middle class lives for our family.   Not a super wealthy life, but after that initial struggle, a very decent, middle class life, with a nice home, nice cars, and eventually a kid in college.

    I am so glad we had faith that we could make it work, even though from a practical stand point, it looked like a ridiculous financial decision.   It was sheer will power and hard work on both of our parts to have a family and find a way financially to make it work.

    Sadly, that marriage ended when our son was in college, but the divorce did not bankrupt either one of us.   Today, we BOTH own our own homes, our son has graduated from college.   My ex hubby is retired with a good pension and works at satisfying part time work.   I still work, but have a good retirement savings so I should be able to comfortably retire in a few years.   I own my own home free and clear, and my   new hubby owns his own home with an extremely low mortgage   (I am now re-married, but like many late in life marriages, we keep all of our finances separate, we live in “my” house, his house has become his “man cave” and our guest house. Our houses are in the same neighborhood)

    I am SO GLAD that I did not let our initial financially bleak picture keep us from having a family.   As much as we struggled financially for those early years, and as devastated as I was over the divorce, I DO NOT REGRET MY SON !!!!!!   In fact, if I had foregone marriage with my ex hubby because of finances,   it is most likely that I would have not married young enough to have a baby with someone else.   As unhappy as I was 6 years ago over the divorce,   I think it would have been much, much worse, to have reached menopause with no child, and no hope of ever having a child. And I would have bitterly regretted turning away a man I was in love with because of his income (or lack of) and ending up childless.

    If the LW LOVES this man, I think she should have some faith that they will find a way financially and go for a family.   My biggest reservation isn’t the financial picture though.   I don’t really see much evidence in this letter that she loves this man.   She states that he is a good man that loves her, but she doesn’t say she loves him.   She seems to view him as her last chance to have a baby, and not as her beloved.   To me, the apparent lack of affection for this man, is more concerning than the lack of finances.   JMHO, and not knowing how old this letter is, probably a moot point by now.

  4. 24
    Lisa

    I don’t know if it’s just me EMK but I kind of read your response as saying she should consider settling because her choices are not all that great at her age and she wants to have kids. I’ve seen far too many friends do this only to end up with a kid and husband but otherwise miserable.   What stands out the most to me is that this writer really wants a family and this man can’t give her that. If she can’t supoort them alone and makes more he certainly can’t. 70 hours a week is a lot and so I doubt he wouid ne the type that wouid stay at home.   You are going to end up working insane hours and still being expected to do 90% of child rearing. I don’t think he’s the one for you.

    1. 24.1
      Ross

      Lisa, I agree 100% with you and have seen it too, inevitably ending up in misery. IMO someone in a similar predicament should really assess WHY she wants a kid so badly. Social pressure, hard-wire animal instinct to pass on your genes, fear not to fit in with the stereotypes of society that says you must breed…. Is it even worth it? It seems nobody has noticed that the human race is at no risk of extinction!! I think in less than ideal situation a rational objective list of pros and cons of having a kid would greatly help. In a similar situation, I do not see much benefit having a kid. Many people idealize parenting, and do not see how much burden and misery it also brings especially when time and resources are scarce. Add a kid to the life of a man working 70 hrs a week and barely surviving financially. Imagine the fights and resentments from both parties. And what if the kid has special needs that add further time,  resources and frustration?
      Without the parenting pressure instead, it would be a whole different story, she can take her time to assess this man and choose based on personality and not resources.

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