Should I Date a Man Who Isn’t Motivated To Support Himself and His Family?

Desperate couple doing their accounts sitting on the sofa at home

I have been seeing a man for 8 months. For 4 of those months he was staying with me, temporarily, because he was starting his life over after his divorce and had little income. I offered for him to live with me rent free, even though I thought it was too soon to be living together, and I haven’t been in a relationship for over 5 years before him. He is 56 and I’m 48.

Once the 4 months was up, I insisted it was time for him to move out, that I wasn’t going to support him indefinitely and I hadn’t seen him doing a whole lot to earn a living. He just started working in San Francisco for a friend who owns a business, staying with his friend and borrowing a car. The plan is for him to work there 3 weeks out of the month, and then come back to New Mexico to see me for one week. I know this can’t go on indefinitely, but for now at least he will be working and I will have my space back. He is hoping that I will find a job out there and move there with him. It’s not out of the question as I am interested in making some life changes anyway and have some family there. But right now I don’t trust his ability to really be a partner economically. I want someone who has the means and motivation to support himself and his responsibilities (he has 2 children and is struggling to pay child support).

If I were a psychologist, I might use a term like “enabler” to describe you.

I love him, yes, and he loves me–adores me, in fact. He is not going to disappear from my life unless I tell him to, so that is not the problem–keeping him interested is not an issue. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by his attention and need to be with me all the time. You talk about unconditional love, as does he–but where does real life fit in with that? Looking at the possibility of a future with him, from where we are now, looks like a frightening and potentially enormous financial burden I cannot and will not take on. When is love just not enough? I don’t believe in trying to change a guy that I am with, either. And he loves me in a way that I have rarely been loved, so the idea of giving that up is so hard. But something in me does not trust him, based on his history and maybe some of mine too, so I feel very conflicted. I know it is unlikely you will be able to answer this given the volume of emails you must get, but if you can I would be so grateful for your wise advice. -Naomi

Dear Naomi,

If I were a psychologist, I might use a term like “enabler” to describe you.
But I’m not, so I’ll just answer your question point-blank:

You can’t change this man.

You’re right not to trust him.

Love is not enough.

For all I talk about the concept of unconditional love, I’m generally assuming an underlying level of stability: decent job, happy disposition, no addictions, rap sheets, or debilitating diseases, healthy self-esteem, etc.
Because you can have all the love in the world, but if he’s an alcoholic or bipolar or chronically unemployed, you’re getting on a ship that’s got a big, fat hole in the bottom. And you can’t be too surprised when that ship sinks, bringing you down with it.

It doesn’t take a relationship expert to objectively see the holes in your ship.

He’s unemployed, which is fair, given this moment in U.S. history. He hasn’t been doing much to earn a living, which isn’t quite fair.

This man is a child, looking for a mommy. You need a man who can stand on his own two feet.

He struggles to pay child support.

He’s now living in San Francisco with a friend and coming back to see you once a month. This doesn’t make sense economically for a man who has no money. Is this the only job he could get? Is this the smartest way he can save to get on his own two feet? Apart from him leaving your space, is this good for your relationship?

He overwhelms you with attention and needs to be with you all the time. This is the hallmark of a desperate person.

So let’s not beat around the bush here, Naomi.

Your boyfriend is a very leaky ship and the reason he clings to you so desperately is that you’re the only thing that can stop him from sinking.

It’s very clear what HE gets out of the relationship — love, support, shelter, money, stability, self-esteem, sex… It’s not as clear what YOU get out of the relationship.

As a dating coach, I often tell women to make compromises — smart ones that are consistent with your long-term goals. If he’s 5’7”, give him a break. If he makes $75K and you make $150K, give him a break. If he has bad taste in clothes, give him a break.

But you can’t give a man a break or compromise on his own pride, drive, or self-esteem.

This man is a child, looking for a mommy. You need a man who can stand on his own two feet.

Let him go and find a guy who has this man’s good qualities without the big financial and motivational questions. He’s out there, I promise.

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  1. 1

    The one word that kept coming into my mind while reading this is “needy”. I don’t think it’s only Naomi’s boyfriend who is needy though, it’s Naomi as well. She admits knowing it was too soon to live together, but she hadn’t been in a relationship for soooo long. I’m sure this man who offers unconditional love and adoration seemed like a big security blanket initially, until she realized that he isn’t very stable at all. He won’t leave because he can’t leave – and where else is he going to get such a good deal? No wonder she doesn’t trust him, but she disregarded her own intuition about him anyway.

    I also find it odd that someone who is struggling financially would pick what is probably the most expensive city in the country to live in, and take on the expense of a long-distance relationship to boot.  

  2. 2

    Let him go, Naomi. He’s not the only  man you’ll ever love, and love just is NOT enough to make up for  the huge things he lacks.

    You already have your answer because your gut is screaming that this situation isn’t good for you. “Enabler” is a good word for you because you both have played a part in this deal, but the healthier part of you knows that ultimately this is not what you want. Listen to that part.

  3. 3

    Oh my goodness, I’m reading books on enabling right now. BINGO. This one hit the mark, Evan. I’ve been enabling my entire life. I’m happy to have an awareness now that I didn’t have before.

  4. 4

    Awesome post, Evan. Thank you!
    I’ve got a question, when you say:
    “For all I talk about the concept of unconditional love, I’m generally assuming an underlying level of stability: decent job, happy disposition, no addictions, rap sheets, or debilitating diseases, healthy self-esteem, etc.”
    Should this “underlying level of stability” also apply to the person’s family/dependents? i.e. is it reasonable of me to expect that those living with, or dependent on, the man, should also have “no addictions, rap sheets, or debilitating diseases”, decent jobs if they’re old enough, etc etc? Or would this make me a heartless bitch? Just second-guessing myself on a decision I made a while ago. It’s a done deal, but for future reference, I would like to hear your opinion, thanks.

  5. 5

    It’s hard to trust this mans judgment… or the strength of his character…. There is good reason your gut instincts are telling you…to let go and move on from this guy…
    He may be trying to rebuild his life after a divorce…but who knows what that means…or where he is going to land… That’s a very uncertain place to be with someone….
    Maybe this experience is teaching you some things about the qualities you truly want in a man… Someone with characteristics you enjoy in this man….but also someone who is stable and ready to give to a relationship….   Maybe you are learning about yourself, why you are attracted to this man…and what you want and do not want in a man you give your heart to….
    This relationship and what you have learned… may help lead you to a healthier relationship…. You can sharpen your pencil and refine your ‘shopping list’ a bit…   You might view this as a growing experience… preparing you to be able to recognize the right man when he comes along….
    Best wishes to you….

  6. 6

    i was in a situation very similar to yours, Naomi. I adored my boyfriend and he adored me; was the only man who had ever loved me as I was. But he was disrespectful to my family and friends, thoughtless, immature, sans empathy, and had zero motivation to get into the adult world – that is, stake out a career. He often joked about how he would be a househusband and live off of me. I’m a writer; I don’t know exactly where he thought I was going to get a paycheck large enough for a family.
    Leaving him was, bar none, the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life. He was my best friend. No one had ever loved me like he did; I still wonder if anyone ever will. But despite what the movies tell you, love isn’t enough. You can love your dog to bits but he’ll make a crappy life partner… because he’s a dog. And over a year later, I have absolutely zero regrets… perhaps only that I allowed my low self esteem to convince me that finding a man who loved me as all I needed.

  7. 7

    She is a convenience to him.   To avoid heartache, disappointment, time wasted and resentment that is sure to follow later on, she need to cut her losses and move on plain and simple.

  8. 8

    I had similar thoughts about a woman I know.   We live in interesting times.
    She was attractive, fun to talk to and interested.     When she was married she was childless, a stay at home wife and was quite happy to stay that way until her husband insisted that she at least get a part time job.   She was chronically late and blamed it on an obscure neurological disorder.   Eventually she got a job with an agency advocating for people with that disorder, so she was able to show up to work whenever she could get herself there.   Oddly, she was able to meet me on time after I started abandoning plans with her when she was more than a half hour late.    Before getting married she had a string of crummy jobs and I got the impression she never put herself ( or would put herself in the future ) into them fully.     She dealt with everything through avoidance.
    Imagining a future together,   I saw myself becoming her servant and supporting her.       I didn’t want to be responsible for another adult’s maintenance.

    1. 8.1

      Steve, OMG this is exactly the relationship I am letting go.   Though he and I are in our fifties, I found things out this week that put the largest red flags up that I am running for the mountains.   Such as at 57 he doesn’t have a valid drivers license.   The only way I found that out is I asked him if I may see his license since I was going to have him do some work for my business.   His answer, “Oh, I left it in my other wallet”.   Then something came over me and I said is your license valid?   When he answered No he hasn’t had a valid license in 7 years, I almost threw up.   This man is driving around without a license with is totally illegal in all the states and he was like no big deal.   My biggest mistake right now he has one of my garage door openers.   Thank goodness there are 2 doors that can be locked from the garage to the house.

      Also, I just found out he is being evicted for non-payment of rent and I was like, WOW really at 57 years old.   Though I have been alone for awhile because I was taking care of my Dad before he passed, I still was attending graduate school.

      Even though sex was fantastic, I cannot believe he is the only guy out there that can satisfy my needs.

      I appreciate your post.   I needed to read it and realize my life does not need to be embroiled in drama with this man.   I also realize that I met him right after my Dad passed this past May and emotionally I was vulnerable.   I probably had blinking lights all over me blinking, I need someone, I need someone and I will take anyone.

      I realize now more than ever, I don’t and will not settle.   Thank you for your post.

  9. 9

    This is a pretty eerie Naomi. As a guy I can empathize with this situation.   Twice in my life way back when. I was in  TWO very similar situations (and vowed never to do that again), doing the very same thing your boyfriend is doing with  then two very serious girl friends (several years part of course). I Lost a job, wasn’t feeling good about myself, miserable financial picture that in both cases limited our abilities to go out do and have fun (trips, dinners, movies, concerts).   They both took me in for a bit. In both cases I lived with them  while as trying to get my feet back on the ground.   For me both were hugely pleasant distractions from my own career/money issues. And that  Naomi wherein lies the problem. It was   never  “needy” thing.   I honestly was in love with both then and vice versa.   But they  detracted me from my own issues of career/job/money.   But EXACTLY what you said, the enabling took place,  too much dependency on her both monetarily and emotional. In both instances BOTH women  became VERY RESENTFUL of me and my lack of effort and participation in the relationship.   It tore us apart.   What a naive lesson I learned that you can’t live on love alone.   Everyday Life gets in the way.   When you can’t afford to have fun and need sit at home each night watching DVDs, not socializing with friends because you can’t afford it (among many things), the whole  “being in love” takes a backseat.   Why do you think most marriages fail?   Due to money of course.  
    It was  all quite a lesson for me back then. Never would I bring in anyone  into my life unless I am financially stable.   Sure times are tough, you gotta account for that.   But to sit and watch Oprah all day on YOUR  tv in YOUR bed, that’s disgusting.

    YES,  you both are enabling him and distracting him from  seemingly  far greater  issues he has.   He has you to enjoy and vice versa.   He should want to be a great example to his kids, too.   It’s not so  much how much he earns (at least a modest income) so much as long as he makes an honest effort each and says, “I did this today…”.   I promise you resentment WILL creep in and eat away.  You will begin to loathe him and disrespect him.   He may be a great guy, I am a great guy, but I learned back then, money is the demon that drives us–like it or not.   It’s life, it’s oxygen.   Sometimes the best love is tough love!

    What would gaul me is that he has the audacity to be commuting and attempting to live  in San Fran. THE most expensive city in the US.   He can’t afford to live there. He can’t afford to love anywhere, period.   But he picks THE most expensive city?. He has no right doing that under his situation.Sure, we all would love to in SF.   Most can’t afford it.   I live L.A. myself (which is not cheap by any standards). Any job he gets there will be eaten up by super high cost of housing, gas prices, car ins. very high taxes, food, etc.    Whatever income he earns short of  a big salary will be eaten up by the very high cost CA living  and child support.  Not much left for you two. He’s living in a fantasy, delusional.  Not sustainable. He should be living a in a low cost state with you like in New Mexico.   Talk about being out of touch with reality.   He needs to wake up! Maybe you too.
    Tell him to come back when he’s gainfully employed and able to support his kids FIRST, then you two in a cheaper state/city.   Not the other way around.

    Good luck!

  10. 10

    In a situation like this, I would say it depends on what the concerned person’s needs are. If a woman is making good money herself, and can take care of herself, what does it matter what her bf/husband makes? However, if she’s looking to upgrade her lifestyle, or can’t afford the lifestyle that she has already on her own,  she will want/need a man to make ok money. I think that’s the case with the OP here.

    For example, say the man brought in $2k a month. Would that be enough for her? With the way she’s talking, I don’t think so. With that $2k income, he would be able to contribute $500 to rent, $500  for food, $500 for child support and $500 bills and clothes/entertainment per month. The point is, whatever  he makes, if it fits his needs and the woman is self-sufficient there  shouldn’t be  a problem. I understand that he needs to be able to cover child support, his past due bills, and rent, but other than that, she shouldn’t care how much he makes. Again, the only way she would is if she wanted his income to benefit HER in some way (e.g. a bigger house).

    The man I like currently doesn’t make much. He was in a field where he made a lot, but that was dependent upon the housing market that recently crashed. Now, he makes much less. If things were to work out between us, as long as I don’t end up having to pay his bills, he could make $1k a month and I wouldn’t care? Why? Because I will be entering a doctorate program in a few months, and starting a business in a few months. Therefore, I intend to earn enough in the near future to satsify and take care of my myself. I would need a man for his love, and support and yes, we would build a financial life together, BUT with whatever he was capable of making. I wouldn’t push him or expect him to make what I thought he should be making. The stay-at-home moms need a man that has a good job, I don’t. Yes, it’s good to have a man that’s financially secure, but for me, it isn’t  a deal-breaker.

  11. 11

    I was in a similar situation.   My boyfriend lost his job and got divorced at the same time.   Both let him financially devastated.   I had a good job and no children so I agreed to pay for everything and I also let him live with me for a while.   

    For the most part, I didn’t really mind paying for everything — except he rarely said thank you for any of the things I did for him and worse yet, he started to expect that I would do things for him.   Finally, when he did get a job (one that paid significantly less than the one he lost), he never, ever offered to pay for anything.   So, I did break up with him because I was starting to feel resentful and used.

    However, my time with him gave me a new appreciation of the many men who routinely support women without complaint and of the many boyfriends who pay for everything and their girlfriends who show little appreciation for what they do.

    What I will try to do in the future is have a relationship where there is equitable contribution rather than an   equal or one-sided contribution.   We both contribute based on what our finances allow.

    1. 11.1

      “However, my time with him gave me a new appreciation of the many men who routinely support women without complaint and of the many boyfriends who pay for everything and their girlfriends who show little appreciation for what they do.”

      Ding ding ding!!! We have a winner folks!  
      As a man, this is EXACTLY, almost verbatim, what I have been saying for some time. (golf clap). Too many wom that make more than us men NOW expect us to contribute at least equal or more.   For thousands of years men took care of their women and children. Now at the height feminism, with more women earning more money than men, it will only lead to less finacially stable men to choose from. It’s only simple math honestly. For every woman in a managerial-type role and/or earning more money, there is one less male that is bringing in that income with said job.  
      Ladies, there are only so many jobs out there. You got what you wanted. Higher paying positions to support yourselves. But don’t expect the same type of high earning male to be there either. We are few and far between these days, not only due to feminism, but the poor economy as well. Bottom line, you can’t always have it both ways. Expect to see more men that are not financially stable in the future, not to mention the extremely feminist man-hating family court system. Why should a man get married? Why take the risk when she gets everything?
      Men= Lose, lose, lose situation on so many levels. Also throw in *MOST* womens’ drama and attitudes? It’s a no brainer.  

  12. 12

    You deserve SO MUCH more!   run, run fast.   Believe in yourself and come to terms with what you   know you deserve in a partner.   Someone that respects you and wants to give 110% just as you give in your relationships!

  13. 14

    I suggest you read “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie.   This should be required reading for women   who are enablers and will help you clarify your feelings and the dynamics of this relationship.
    The sequel to this book – “Beyond Codependency” – quotes a woman who states that if she were in a room with 50 men, with 49 of them educated with good jobs and emotionally stable, and the 50th one was a convicted felon, unable to hold a job, etc. etc., she would be attracted to #50.
    Enablers are most comfortable with men who have emotional broken wings.

  14. 15

    Because you can have all the love in the world, but if he’s an alcoholic or bipolar or chronically unemployed, you’re getting on a ship that’s got a big, fat hole in the bottom.

    I’m bipolar. I didn’t choose it; there is no cure. I manage with medication and therapy but 80% stability is the best I can expect. Am I undeserving of love? I have lots to offer other than symptoms as I am NOT defined by my illness: I’m attractive, loving, giving, intelligent, funny, and compassionate.
    This characterization is, frankly, a little heartless.

  15. 16

    “Heartless” is too strong a word. I apologize. 1. I really respect your opinion and 2. an entire population (people with mental health disabilities) is written off as worthless all the time, even by family, which pushes my buttons. That’s where I’m coming from.

  16. 17

    If all you seek in a mate is companionship, then companionship is all you will ever have.

    It is hard to say that companionship is all you ever “need”, but maybe you don’t mind.   It seems you will always support him.   He will never support you.   But it’s hard to love someone who you don’t respect.   Look, if this man were your child, you would give him a hard kick in the ass and tell him to get motivated, right?   And if this man were your child, he would be entitled to that “unconditional love” you describe.

    I think it is telling that he  has been  unwilling to step up his game in order to provide for his children.

    If companionship is ENOUGH, then engage.   I think it is too hard to love someone you have diminished respect for and resent.   Those aren’t emotions that go well together.

    Are you bored and stifled in life as well?   Listen to your ambivalence.

    PS, what is his deal?   He wants YOU to find a job in SAN FRAN, but he can’t find a job in the state he has been living in?

  17. 18

    A man doesn’t need to be rich but he at least needs to be wise with what he has. It sounds as if he has not grasped that concept.   It can say a lot about his character too.   My ex husband came out of a 4 year university, graduating with honors, and had no job lined up. I supported us by working 2 jobs.   At issue was his lack of motivation and inability to contribute.   Can that stem from mental/emotional problems? It certainly can. But those need to be examined and under control before bringing a significant other into one’s life.   If you can’t manage yourself, you will have a difficult time managing anything else.   Sometimes we think the relationship will substitute from other areas in which we are lacking.   All it does is distract us from those things that need to be dealt with.

  18. 19

    MJ- I don’t believe that one should be defined by a mental disorder either, but if a person is capable of managing it on their own then I don’t believe they fall into this category. It takes strength, motivation and determination to do so, the same requirements of supporting oneself and others in a relationship.

  19. 20

    MJ @ 15 and 16,

    You are right. People should not be written off because of mental illness. I am a psychiatrist and many of my patients do have great relationships and are of course deserving of love. It was a bad example. I agree. I wish you the best.

    1. 20.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      I think you have to consider the circumstances. All things remaining equal, would you rather date a man who is employed or unemployed? Would you rather date a man with herpes or without herpes? Would you rather date a man with social anxiety or without it?

      This is the calculus people use to make decisions. And all is fair in love.

      It’s not that a person with bipolar disorder is irredeemably bad, but rather that most people would rather not take a chance on someone who is sometimes emotionally unstable.

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