Should she marry her jobless boyfriend?

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
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By Carolyn Hax
Sunday, November 21, 2010; 12:00 AM

Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend wants to get married. Is it fair to ask what's in it for me? He has been unemployed for the three years that we have been dating. He doesn't bring much to the table and besides giving up my freedom, I'd be stuck dining out alone or footing the bill, giving up plays, concerts, weekend getaways, having football on TV all the time, dragging him along to events with my friends that he'd be bored at, having a messy kitchen, extra laundry, etc.

We mostly enjoy each other's company and he does the heavy lifting around our homes. But I like the idea that I can be home alone behind a locked door, eat pizza and watch HGTV all day. Based on this, you'd say, "You're not ready, honey, and so you should be honest with him." So . . . but . . . can I ask him what's in it for me?

Washington

Actually, I never call people "honey."

And while I agree with your projection of my answer otherwise - yes, not wanting him around every day means you are not ready - I feel the need to make a case for this guy who apparently loves you.

You say you'd pay for everything, he'd do the heavy lifting at home, you'd enjoy each other's company. Messy kitchen and extra laundry aside, your vision of your life together bears an uncanny resemblance to the mid-20th-century American marriage ideal, with the sexes reversed. Didn't men marry women for their love and good company, with the understand that she'd do the heavy lifting at home, and he'd pay the family expenses unquestioningly, if not unflinchingly?

And when that model began to lose favor to the "We'll take what comes and do what works best for us" model, didn't the role of love and good company become even more prominent?

This is by no means an argument for marrying your boyfriend (see "you are not ready," above). I'm merely pointing out that your what's-in-it-for-me musings grant almost zero value to his love or companionship, when those arguably represent the sole distinction between a marriage and a business deal.

That's called a "sign."

"What's in it for me" is a fair and practical question all of us should ask ourselves, privately, when we're faced with a heavy decision. In your case, though, it's a rhetorical question; you already know you've got as much of your boyfriend as you care to have, at least in his present form. It's not fair to keep that from him.

The question you might want to ask yourself before you say anything: Do you have any reason to believe his circumstances might change, and that your feelings might change with them? His getting a job is the most obvious change you might be hoping for, but not the only one. This is as unscientific as it gets, but, anecdotally, I'd say the amount of time that football is on the TV, dishes are in the sink and glaze is on spousal eyes at your boring events goes up with the number of years a couple is together, not down.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.


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