A reader writes: In the past year, my boyfriend decided to open his own website business to help with his huge debt (which he had before I came into the picture, and he continues to mismanage his money). We work at the same company and his new business is a side project.
Although I have been very supportive for six months, we now spend our vacations with him working, evenings with him working, and whenever he is not working he talks about work. The only time I complained, he screamed at me, saying I was being unsupportive. I am frustrated and lonely.
Lately he is calling in sick to his day job to do his own business work. I have told him that if he's caught, he'll be in big trouble and lose his job. He smirks and says "relax - double money." His boss has been good to him and trusts him. But his behaviour is making me doubt if he cares for me or anyone other than himself.
Stand by your moonlighter
Be supportive. He is taking responsibility for his situation and dealing with it. That is a positive trait. Show him you're his partner, who is there during the difficult times and the good times.
-Elliott Katz, Toronto
Test his commitment
You're right: Your boyfriend's behaviour tells you that he's not able to maintain a relationship right now. He's obsessed with building his website business and maybe getting out of debt. (What was that about, anyway?) If he's calling in sick too often, his boss will figure it out. Step back, focus on your own career and friends and tell him that you're going to move on. See how he reacts.
-Judy Steed, Toronto
Give him the pink slip
Ask yourself these questions: Do I want to be with a man with a huge debt? Do I want a man who mismanages his money? Do I want a man who spends most of his time working (even on holiday)? Do I want a man who calls in sick and snickers as he uses his trustworthy boss? Your last comment "... making me doubt if he cares for me or anyone other than himself" is right on. Trust your intuition. This man is not for you!
-Jeanie Cody, Surrey, B.C.
The final word
I am of the generation whose collective spine has been deformed by student debt. We came of age right around the time tuitions shot up and the government shunted loans onto the banks, and the banks went after us like rabid terriers before we had even doffed our graduation gowns. Oh, and - icing meet cake! - a recession hit. Interest accumulated, collection agencies deployed, credit cards subjected to such depraved abuses as would make Bernie Madoff turn pale.
So I might have a slightly more sympathetic take on your boyfriend.
Let's start by acknowledging that debt is a misery-maker that feeds on itself, and in our society is engineered to capitalize on any and every ill-informed financial indiscretion we commit. It's all very well to judge those who are up to their eyebrows, but money management is an acquired skill in which not everyone has had the benefit of training. (You say he continues to mismanage money but you don't say how: by buying cars or by forgetting to pay the phone bill? It's an important distinction.)
Not to go all devil's advocate, but if your boyfriend is working all these hours and screaming at you when you protest, he's likely under incredible stress. (You don't mention if screaming at you has been a regular occurrence, or something that cropped up along with his side business. Also an important distinction.)
While Jeanie derides him for his shiftlessness and for "taking advantage" of his boss, I can only imagine the ulcer-inducing pressure of not just juggling two jobs, but having to work the second on the down-low.
Elliott, on the other hand, lauds your BF for "taking responsibility." After all, it's not as if he is motivated by unadulterated greed à la Gordon Gekko. Large debt metastasizes at a terrifying rate if it isn't paid down fast. It's a Herculean task the guy is undertaking.
Either way, Judy could be right: Perhaps your boyfriend is not capable of having a relationship right now. What's clear is that you two need to initiate communication beyond the complaining/screaming model. He may be utterly desperate to balance his books. Or, he may be a jerk who is so money-focused he mistreats you and takes advantage of those around him.
You won't know until you ask.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.
Next week's question
Is it time to break up with my family? My mother came out of a year-long cancer odyssey in remission but obsessed with death and dying. She has not gone back to work and recently declared bankruptcy. Clearly, her illness has caused her serious emotional strain. Yet when I suggested she join a cancer survivor's group, she replied that I am the one who needs help and that I must have inherited my father's schizophrenia and lack of touch with reality. Click to read the rest of the question and submit your advice or send in your own dilemma.