The Washington Post

Mom worries successful daughter’s boyfriend may be a freeloader


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

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 25-year-old daughter is successful, owns her own home and recently finished her master’s. Soon after she bought her house, she moved in her new boyfriend of three months. He’s a nice guy, good-looking but not much else.

In the months since, he has been unable to keep a steady job and has spent months unemployed, sitting in her house while she goes out to work. He has a high school education only, and while he talks of college, nothing has come of it. It drives me crazy to the point where I don’t speak to him anymore.

Although it bothers her, she doesn’t see the problems I see ahead, always being the main breadwinner, the lack of financial security, etc.

He recently got a job and will start it soon. Whenever she talks of the next step, either marriage or buying a bigger house together, my jaw clenches. How do I make her see the light or, more likely, get to the point where I don’t picture his head blowing up in front of me as the ultimate solution?


Mere generations ago, plenty of men married women with the full expectation of being the sole breadwinners; did the parents of these men see the brides as freeloaders and fantasize about exploding heads?

These are different times, obviously, and maybe this guy is an albatross after all — but you squander any right to protest your daughter’s choices when you bring such clear biases to the table. You also haven’t made any distinction between trying unsuccessfully to find work and sponging. The latter is a jaw-clencher, but the former says nothing about the character of this man.

If you value your relationship with your daughter, I strongly suggest you throw away your visions of the “right” mate for her and start looking harder for what she sees in this one — and, specifically, what he brings to the relationship that isn’t in paycheck form. Hard-chargers can often benefit from having a partner with modest ambitions, since two people chasing their own big dreams, agendas and schedules are a reliable source of business for divorce lawyers. Good partners come in more than one shape and size.

Re: Boyfriend:

For a long time I thought I needed the right “level” in a mate. So I dated (literally) rocket scientists, summer-on-the-Cape types, guys who went to Harvard and MIT.

It never worked. My boyfriend finished high school and is from Alabama. He also happens to be one of the smartest people I’ve ever met; he’s sweet, caring, attentive and generous and isn’t focused on “winning” any kind of rat race. My friends adore him, as do my parents. Look again and look hard. Sometimes someone who isn’t working is also cleaning, cooking and providing tons of support. We are not what we do for a living or our educational pedigrees.

Anonymous 2

Yes — we are what we contribute. Thanks.

Re: Boyfriend:

What about a nod to Mom needing to let go of her daughter a bit? This is a fully functioning adult, yes? Way to disrespect your daughter’s choices.

Anonymous 3

Agreed. Misgivings expressed, check; now, time to back off. And maybe mull the idea that all emotional journeys begin at home?

Write to Carolyn Hax , Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or . Subscribe at



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