Dear Carolyn: I’ve been thinking of asking my girlfriend to marry me, after several years of happy and fulfilled dating.
The other day, for the first time, my girlfriend expressed that she really didn’t like that I work at home. I freelance and really love it. I have a lot saved and I’m in a much better financial place than she is, which gives me a lot of latitude.
She said she couldn’t understand the perspective of someone who didn’t go into an office every day and who didn’t have to bear the burden of working under a boss. She made it clear that she wouldn’t care if I made less money, only that I had somewhere to go in the morning and that I wasn’t my own boss. She then compared me to her former boyfriends, who apparently had more “grit” and who had to work for a paycheck.
As someone who works at least 50 hours a week, I am really bothered by the idea that I’m somehow deficient, especially since I’m doing the work I want to be doing and fulfilling a unique career niche.
Her lack of respect for what I do has made me reconsider whether I want to marry her. I definitely feel insulted and misunderstood; is it the sort of thing that can be talked out, or is career disrespect a deal-breaker?
A: Lunkheadedness sure is, or at least ought to be, and that – to my own home-based-careerist mind – underlies her lack of respect.
Undercuts its importance, too: Truly, she’d prefer that you demote yourself because she loves a man with a big commute? The value of her respect is in free-fall.
Still, those “several years” say she deserves a carefully if skeptically offered chance. Tell her you’re grateful she said this out loud, since you should be; just imagine if she kept harboring these doubts in silence.
Then, spell out your confusion. “I’m struggling to understand. You would like me better if I ended my successful career and took any new job, as long as I had to leave home, work for somebody else and experience the discomfort of these two things?”
Unless she stunned you into silence with her initial pronouncement, I imagine you did a version of this already.
If so, then do it again – “I know I’m belaboring this …” – and listen very carefully to the way she responds now, several days after the fact. Also look hard into your past few years together for context. Think of yourself as your future shrink, picking around for things that were available to you as warning signs about this woman and this relationship.
Do this because, depending on her response, you might have nothing left to say to her but this: “I can’t date someone who would ask me to change my fulfilling life just to meet her arbitrary standards of manhood.” And you’ll want to declare that with confidence that it was never about her saying just one loopy, inexplicable thing.