The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Trying to get a laid-back beau to be more like driven dad

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

Hi Carolyn: I'm a 27-year-old grad student who, during undergrad, was in a relationship that ended due to trust issues. I met a guy a year ago who has all the qualities I want and need. He is kind, honest, comes from a great family, treats me like a queen, and my parents love him.

My parents are "get it done" kind of people. My mom has a college education but stopped working and became a stay-at-home mom and was always there for us, supporting us and making sure we were safe. My dad still works 12-hour days and has unbelievable drive, energy and passion to do the best he can for his family.

My guy, who has all the qualities I love, has little drive. He has a low-paying job with a retail chain and no desire to move up, do more and earn more. I have talked with him about all the qualities he has and how great he would be in a different position and he always commits to seeing what else is out there, after this or that happens. He never moves forward.

What can I do to help him understand that he is the guy, but he needs to step up? We want a family and the ability to enjoy our children like our parents did. I am also happy to work and contribute financially to help make that happen, but I fear our different levels of drive, to do the best we can, will eventually come between us.

— T.

T.: 1. If he is the guy only because he is the opposite of undergrad guy, then he’s not the guy.

2. If he is the guy only so long as he serves a role in your kids’ childhood home identical to the role your dad played in your childhood home, then he’s not the guy.

3. If he is the guy but [anything], then he’s not the guy.

Any item from Column A is an answer. Or choose one from Column B:

1. Your guy has an inalienable right to advance his career not an inch further. His life, his prerogative to live it within the bounds of small-er-ish paychecks.

2. If you do coerce him into advancement, assuming he stays with it — he may dislike it, sag under its weight, think less of you and himself for the coercion.

3. If he advances under your pressure to “step up,” would the “passion” to provide be his, or a transplanted version of yours? And if it’s yours, will he quit? Will his body reject the transplant?

Or, Column C:

1. A kind, honest man who treats you well could become a warm, loving, laid-back, steadfast and utterly present stay-at-home dad. Not saying he will, just could. He’d have to outgrow the empty promises. No guarantee. And no obligation to wait.

But: You would have to outgrow the parent-worship, too. And, for any man to be the right partner, you’d have to love his own version of “the best he can” — not just accept it grudgingly, or think it’s less-than (yours, Mom’s, Dad’s, whoever’s).

You can learn from your dad’s example without auditioning or pressuring men to play exactly his role. Envision a future with someone as-is, and want it — or accept he isn’t the guy.