Should I Marry a Man Who is a Late Bloomer?

Smile couple putting a coin into a pink piggy bank on wooden desk - save money for the future

I’m 36 and he’s 38. We both want to get married and have kids. He finished grad school 2 years ago and so he’s only been working in his new profession for 2 years. He was doing odd jobs before that and so he doesn’t have any savings, but he does have student loans. I’ve been working and saving for 15 years and I’m finally in a place professionally where I’m making OK money for the first time in my life. I don’t have a lot, but I’ve been carefully putting money aside, while also helping my mother out. While I’m not crazy about the fact that my boyfriend has no money saved and actually owes thousands of dollars, I love him very much and I accept this fact about him. He’s had life experiences that have made him the man who I love today. I am more interested in how he’s going to move forward with his life from this point on. But here’s where I don’t see him being proactive and I’m not sure how to handle it or how poorly it bodes for our possible future together.

As I said, I’m already 36 and if we are to wait another 1.5 years until we get married (as you recommend) I’ll be almost 38 and kids will be around the corner. We’ve talked about about this timeline for marriage and kids (if we decide that we want to be together) and we’ve started talking about our finances and his career plan for the next 3 years. He says that he could make about 20% more in his next job, which would be life-changing for him. He’d be able to pay off his loans far more quickly, get far more affordable health-insurance, be able to work on exciting new projects. Maybe we’d even be able to go on vacation in Europe instead of just dreaming about it! But so far it’s just been talk.

I’m not a therapist, but based on what he’s told me, I think part of the reason that he’s dragging his feet is because he’s conscious of his age and feels embarrassed by the fact that he’s 38 and looking for a lower-level job in his field. I have told him that people change careers all the time. I feel that I can help bolster his confidence and I am happy to do it–my last boyfriend did that for me and his confidence in me really helped me take the next step I needed to in my own career. But my question is how do I create a supportive environment and make him feel totally accepted, while also making sure that I get what I need–which is seeing that his is doing what he needs to do to help create the conditions for us to start a life together? I know that men don’t like to be pressured (who does??) and I don’t want to give him an ultimatum, but I need see that he’s serious about moving ahead professionally, both for his own sake and for ours. But I also want him to feel motivated on his own.

Sorry that was long and a little convoluted. I don’t want to sabotage this great relationship because I’m scared of investing precious time into a relationship that may not pan out. But I also want to be clear with him about what my expectations are. And yet I know that some things need time to play out. I am struggling with how to balance these things.

Thank you for all your sound advice and ample wisdom!


Flip the genders and you have a pretty similar picture of my relationship a decade ago.

I was 36 and was finally starting to make and save money.

My girlfriend was 38 and $40,000 in debt.

I was taking control of my life as an entrepreneur.

She was working at the same company for 14 years without health insurance, making less than 60K/year.

That’s the simplistic view, anyway. In reality, everything is more nuanced. My wife’s debt was largely the result of a divorce where she received no alimony because her ex lost his job, and the fact that she took $15,000 advance on her credit card to help her best friend who was facing eviction. In other words, my girlfriend wasn’t a profligate spender; she was just in a bad situation.

Her job, while not lucrative, offered a comfortable work environment with women she loved and incredible five-star travel perks.

Once I accepted who she was — my favorite person on the planet — we could start building our future together.

Even so, my default was to be critical. After all, I’d never accrued a dollar of credit card debt. I’d never work at a company without greater financial upside and insurance. But here’s the thing: my girlfriend was a great human being who was content with her life choices. She didn’t need a prestigious job or aspire to greater things. That was MY narrative and I had to consciously not impose it on her. Once I accepted who she was — my favorite person on the planet — we could start building our future together.

For us, it was me, paying for everything for nearly 3 years while she paid down her own debt to get back to even and clear her credit.

For you, it will be determining if you’re content with a husband who may not be a worldbeater, but is a wonderful man in every other way. If, in fact, he aspires to a job where he makes 20% more, it’s within his reach, and you believe in him, I see no reason for you to abandon ship.

It sounds to me like a good heart-to-heart is necessary — the equivalent of reading him the letter you just wrote to me. You don’t want to pressure him. You don’t want to offer ultimatums. You don’t even want him to change. You just want to know that if you’re investing your future in him that you want the same things out of life, which includes a greater level of financial stability. If, after he tells you that he’s on the same page, he continues to drag his feet instead of getting his ass in gear, you’ll know who he really is.

And THAT’s the point where you’ll have a real decision to make.

Good luck.

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  1. 1
    Dana Harris

    What Evan said. It’s entirely possible  (maybe even desirable)  to be happy with a person who isn’t driven to reach the highest heights – but speaking for myself, I think it’s impossible to be happy with someone who doesn’t take responsibility for their own life situation and looks to others to pick up the pieces. To understand where he falls, I don’t think you need to do anything than to maybe speak your piece – and then back off. Backing off is the more important bit; his actions, or the lack thereof, will tell you everything you need to know. Good luck!

    1. 1.1

      OP, your boyfriend sounds lovely. There may be other benefits of committing to a guy who’s not super career driven or a late bloomer. He could have more time for you, or be available for more equal child-raising. Maybe his ability to relax balances your urge to plan.   It could be wonderful, it just might not look like how you pictured it.

  2. 2

    This describes many single adults I know or have dated. They are ten or twenty years into adulthood and they haven’t “found themselves”.   The poster does not describe his line of work and she doesn’t spell out his missteps(or bad luck).   I hope she knows the details.   I’ve heard many plausible reasons but some reasons are not good enough. I’m skeptical of people who describe their past and current employment with generalities such “I worked odd jobs”, “I’m in construction”, “I was a caregiver”,   “I was wiped out by the housing bubble”, “I shoulda, woulda, coulda”… Some people are late bloomers and others just don’t know how to prosper.   On a positive note, at least he has been working for two years and he is sticking to a plan.     Trust but verify.




  3. 3

    As a late bloomer myself, I can attest that it’s embarrassing to deal with sometimes, but the point is: He did bloom. Perhaps it didn’t go according to schedule,   but it’s happening. At the opposite end, there are many people who will reach what society considers acceptable at the right time and then stagnate for the rest of their days. All you can do it offer support and let your partner know you believe in them. Therapy may be helpful and he maybe amenable to it if it’s not framed in a way that triggers shameful feelings. I’ve done it myself, it helps somewhat.

    Perhaps the biggest problem is the sense of overwhelming anxiety one gets when thinking about the future. I’d rather not discuss what held me back, but much of it was due to my son’s issues. Childcare is impossible to afford in my situation.   For now, I have to lay low so my son can get all the therapy he needs. I have a plan in place for the next five years to move forward to better pay and more interesting work. That the LWs boyfriend has an actual career plan puts him well beyond most people (as they generally don’t have plans for anything). All you can do is be supportive.   If he doesn’t move forward, then take care of yourself. Do what you have to. In the end, you can be helpful and that person may choose not to take it. Either way, I think he’s probably overwhelmed.   In that case, it helps to break the whole path down step by step and just focus on what is right in front of you rather than what lies ahead.


  4. 4

    These are of course my own personal values, but I never understood people (men and women) who bitch and complain about “earning potential,” “career development,” “savings,” etc. As long as she can pay her rent, the basics, and contribute to fun activities/outings, I couldn’t care less.

    1. 4.1
      Emily, the original

      “As long as she can pay her rent, the basics, and contribute to fun activities/outings, I couldn’t care less.”

      Totally agree with you. As long as man can support himself with the basics, I don’t care what he does or if he does the same job for 30 years.
      And as far as someone else tracking my “earning potential” and “rate of advancement” and whether I’m keeping up my “end of the bargain” to meet their expectations of how they should be living … I’m starting to feel trapped.

    2. 4.2

      I’m like you, Shaukat. But I can see that people may worry about down the track potentially combining finances with someone who they think could be financially irresponsible or a burden or whatever. It’s probably sensible…I’m just not that sensible when it comes to love.

  5. 5

    This guy is finally getting his shit together. It’s a work in progress and may take some time. It’s fair that you don’t want to deal with his financial debt.
    Its going to be up to you if you want to help him or not. If anything perhaps make his life easier so he can focus on paying off his debt. Best achieved with automatic payment plan.
    In the end you need to work out if you love him or not and accept him as he is without any demands or expectations.

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