Tuesday, October 14, 2014

the ambition gap & the BLOW OFF

When "Dustin" and I started dating, I was living at home and he was living in an apartment at college. I was so smitten that someone who paid rent, bought groceries, took care of himself, and had a bright future was interested in someone who was still dependent on her parents for food and shelter.

The reason I still lived at home at 23, however, was justifiable: I wanted to pay off my college debt with my entry-level salary as quickly as possible. A few months into the relationship, I had obtained a promotion at my job. I was no longer an “entry-level” employee!—and Dustin learned he had to go back to college for a sixth year.

At some point, I came to realize that his parents paid for his rent and his six years of college tuition. The car he drove was his parents’ and they handled all associated maintenance costs. He spent his time outside of class playing video games and watching baseball—he didn’t have a job on campus and didn't do any extracurricular activities. By the time I realized all this, I had practically become the seventh member of his family.

When I paid off my college debt, I considered it one of my greatest accomplishments. But Dustin didn’t understand why it was so important to me, maybe because he’d never had to pay off a debt or be responsible to a major commitment in his 24 years. I wonder, now, if a sixth year of college was just a convenient tactic to avoid graduation.

A year and a half into the relationship, I moved out of my parents’ house while Dustin graduated and moved into his parent’s house, jobless. I tried my best to be supportive, by showing him how to present his best self in his resume, sending him (what felt like) a million job postings, and telling him I’d move with him if he relocated. My manager even set up an interview for him at my company. He declined (on the grounds that he didn’t think he was qualified) and started as a temp at the company where his father works in HR.

By the time our two-year anniversary came around, Dustin was suffering from clinical depression, didn’t know if he would be hired on permanently, and had no plans to move out of his parents’ house. He was still spending most of his free time playing video games and watching baseball, despite my invitations to play with the local band and volunteer with me.

It felt like we had reversed: now I was far more independent than he was. In reality, I just became aware of the many ways in which this particular 25-year-old relished his dependence on his parents, and there was no way I could, or wanted to, compete with the type of relationship they shared.

In the end, he couldn't even step up to the plate to break up with me. He simply stopped talking to me. We had tentative plans and he never showed. Didn't reply to an email or return my phone calls. It's been six months and I haven't heard from him...after 2+ years together. It was time to part ways, though: he had no interest in addressing his depression and that wasn't something I could do for him. I was still extended an invite to Easter from his mom afterward and had to be the one to tell her what transpired!

I don’t have tons of dating experience, but I do feel like I have two takeaways from this experience: one, take time before committing to a relationship and getting close with your significant other’s family. Feeling like you are a member of the family during the “getting to know you” stage can cloud your judgment and being included in family outings right away can be a red flag.

Secondly, pass along character and strong work ethic to your child(ren). Their ability to reach accomplishments by themselves will take them much further than buying them a car ever will, even if you have the means.

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