Carolyn Hax: Heed that inner warning about a boyfriend’s shaky finances

Carolyn Hax
Columnist November 1, 2013

Dear Carolyn:

What is a fair way for me to engage with my boyfriend’s vastly different financial situation? I am from a family that is comfortable financially, and I have zero debt. I make reasonable money for an above-entry-level job and live within those means.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My boyfriend moved here six months ago for two reasons — to stop being a ski bum, and to be with me (a bit of a spontaneous decision on his part).

When he moved here, he was underemployed and working food service. I paid more than my share of our expenses (dinners, concert tickets), but grew resentful when it seemed like he was making decent money but was always tight-fisted.

About three months in, he said he wanted to live together. The main motivation seemed to be financial, which I found offensive. However, I have come to realize that in addition to significant student loans, he has almost $8,000 in medical and credit card debt (from a skiing accident and from moving here, respectively).


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

I revisited the idea of living together. We spend basically every night together anyway, it almost seems silly to be paying rent in two places. He has also managed to get a full-time, salaried position with benefits, and is still working food service on weekends.

Still, I feel slightly torn. I love this man who moved here to be with me, but at the same time, the idea of building a future with someone with such massive financial liabilities is daunting. The student loans and medical bills are one thing, but I find credit card debt un-stomachable. Is it simply too soon to do something so radical for someone I’ve only been dating six months?

L.

Moving in as a sensible money decision is a terrible emotional decision.

There is inertia in sharing an address; as I’ve said before, moving in is fun and exciting but moving out is depressing, painful and hard. When moving out is hard, people stay together who would otherwise break up. When people stay together for reasons other than being happy together, regrets ensue. It’ll never be easier to say “no” than it is now, while “yes,” if it’s the right answer, will stay on the table.

Meanwhile, for a new couple, one of the biggest challenges is to keep your bearings amid the excitement of attraction and future promise. You, at your core, balked at moving in. Trust that — by trusting, if its promise is real, that the relationship will withstand his effort to get out of debt in his own time. Don’t throw things out of balance by trying to take on his debts as your responsibility. That’s for a time of deeper commitment, not for “I love this man who moved here to be with me.” (Which part is it that you love?)

About that debt: Credit card debt is among the more troubling kinds, yes, but a onetime encounter with it can be a lesson learned. Plus, he’s working it off, right? Plus, you’ve never faced the choices he faced. So watch where the debt story goes, recommend the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, and judge not.

You apparently love each other, you’re growing closer, and you’re both making good/better financial choices. Why push what is progressing well on its own?

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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