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My freeloader boyfriend

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Cary’s classic column from

He followed me on a work-related move and now he’s sitting around reading comic books


Cary,

About six months ago, I got a major promotion that came with a moderate pay raise. I needed to transfer from my company’s Northern California office to our office in Georgia. I had been dating a man for just under a year when I got the promotion, and he was less than supportive and took the news quite hard. After days of fights and tears, he apologized and said he wanted to be with me wherever I was. I never asked him to come with me … he just kind of tagged along. But I loved him, so it was OK.

Fast-forward six months. He hates it here. It’s too hot. It’s too humid. There are no mountains. The bugs freak him out. He hates our apartment. And he’s unemployed. He’s a chemist by trade and can’t seem to find a job. He tells me that everywhere he looks, nobody is hiring. That may be true, but when I come home at night I never see him looking. He never tells me he’s been out dropping off résumés or networking. He fills out one online application per day and then reads his comic books. He’s in his mid-30s, and I am absolutely appalled at this man’s lack of motivation and inability to sell himself as a valuable employee to another company.

I told myself that if the shoe were on the other foot, I know he’d do the same for me. But if the shoe were on the other foot, I’d be flipping burgers somewhere in the interim so I felt I was carrying my weight financially. His bills have piled up. I’m paying rent plus utilities, plus MY bills, plus buying his food. And it drains me down to the last penny every month. The original deal I made with myself was that he had 30 days before I kicked him out. But six months later I can’t do it. I can’t work up the nerve to break his heart. And he can’t afford to move anywhere anyway … so I don’t know what good breaking up with him would serve. But I know this is not the man I am supposed to be with, and I have totally fallen out of love with him. I need a man with a professional drive and ambition that matches mine. I need a man who shows that he can be a provider. This man is neither of those things. How do I bow out gracefully?

Sole Provider

Cary Tennis Writing Retreat in France

Dear Sole Provider,

The important thing is to bow out, even if it’s not graceful. His attachment to you may be a kind of love, but it does not sound like the kind of mature, independent, big-hearted love that would allow him to applaud your good fortune and wish you well on your journey.

Instead, when something good happened for you, his first reaction was not to support you but to think only of himself, perhaps with the unconscious intent of thwarting your departure. When that did not work, then in his emotional dependence he blindly followed you. Now he finds himself unhappy and stuck. Quelle surprise!

So do him the favor of unsticking him. Put him on a plane back to California. It may not feel graceful, but it will feel right. It is the kindest thing you could do.

And do not worry too much about breaking his heart. When a dependent person is stuck, it can actually be a relief to receive some instructions — even harsh and demanding instructions.

So send him home, send him a bill for what he owes you, and be patient.

He is a chemist. Perhaps in the realm of human affairs he is a little dense. He may have thought that people can change states as easily as matter.

I don’t know why I should be so optimistic — perhaps because it takes intelligence to be a chemist, even a dense one — but I have a feeling he will soon realize what happened, will see that he was on a fool’s journey, that he owes you and will pay you back.

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