Dear Penny: Should I Work More to Support My Anti-Capitalist Boyfriend?

A young man who has a beard and is wearing a tie dye shirt sits on a couch and watches tv.
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Dear Penny,

Me and my boyfriend are in our second year of college. We moved into an on-campus apartment together last semester. We made enough last summer to cover rent for the fall, so neither of us was working aside from a few weekends. 

Once winter break started, I resumed work at my summer job, which my boyfriend was OK with, but he was annoyed we couldn’t spend as much time together. He went to visit his family for a few weeks. I did the same, but since my job is close to my parents’ house, I kept working. 

When we both got back, I asked him when he would start work again, since he had promised to work this semester, but he stalled and mostly played games and worked on personal projects. He finally got a job about a week ago, but he broke down last night about how much he hates it.

I don’t want him to work a job he hates, but I’m taking six classes and working weekends, while he is taking two classes and working three days a week at most. I literally do not have the time to work extra if he wants to quit, and our agreement this semester was that he would work more hours than me because I am taking more classes. 

I know he hates having to wake up at 5:30 for work, and he’s been more depressed and attached to me lately due to us having opposite work schedules. I told him to talk to his manager, but he still hasn’t. He mentioned wanting to work in the same restaurant area I am, since we share a car and it would make things easier. But when I told him it was a good idea, he stopped thinking about it and hadn’t done any research into job openings there. 

He’s also been railing against capitalism and work in general, which is fine in a political argument, but this is our reality and he needs to make peace with it. I want to build a life with him, but he’s talking about taking a year off of school now, and when I asked him what he would do with that time off, he said he might work, but he wasn’t sure. 

If this happens, I’m terrified I’ll be the only one earning money and having to complete my degree at the same time. How can I convince him to talk to his boss about scheduling, or find a job he actually likes?

— Anxious About the Future

Dear Anxious,

I suspect your boyfriend isn’t really against work as long as he doesn’t personally have to do it. He seems fine with his girlfriend being part of the proletariat, provided that you also make time to entertain him.

Your boyfriend has the luxury to make excuses because he has a backup plan. That backup plan is you. He knows that if he fails to deliver, you’ll find a way to carry both of you.

I was in a relationship that sounds a lot like yours for over a decade. What I learned is that it’s impossible to motivate someone else. When you’re in a relationship with one of these people, that means you have to work twice as hard. No matter how much you love the person, that leaves you drained — mentally, emotionally and financially.

Dear Penny

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What you can do is set boundaries. In this case, you can make it clear that you aren’t working any extra hours this semester. Your boyfriend will need to find a way to pay his share of expenses, as he agreed to for this semester.

Your boyfriend can stick it out at his current job. (Please don’t feel sorry for him if he’s not in love with his job after a week.) Or he can look for a different job. That’s his decision. Let him figure this out like an adult.

The hard part about setting boundaries is that there have to be consequences when someone violates them. So if your boyfriend refuses to work, you need to seriously consider ending this relationship. Or at the very least, you should live apart next year so that you aren’t relying on him for part of the bills.

I get how difficult all this is, given that you want to build a future with your boyfriend. But you need to secure a future for yourself first. That means giving yourself time to focus on your studies, instead of taking on extra shifts to pick up his slack. That also means making time to enjoy your college years. Between your school and work schedule and your boyfriend’s demands, I’m worried you don’t have much time left over for you.

You clearly have a solid work ethic. But your boyfriend sounds really immature. Sometimes consequences force a person to grow up.

Whatever you do, prioritize your own needs over your boyfriend’s comfort. He only gets to be part of your future if he proves he’s worth it.

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Editor’s note: Dear Penny is on vacation this week. This column was originally published March 16, 2022.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].