I come from a pretty wealthy family but still very traditional. That is, if I get in a relationship or when I get married, the man is supposed to pay most of the bills and the woman has to help but not be the one who takes care of everything. We talked about getting married one day, but I am scared to even continue in this relationship knowing that he is still struggling in life and doesn’t have any degree that will bring me “financial safety” later in life.
I am not comfortable with the fact that I will be the one who will make more money since I am almost done with my degree. He treats me well and takes me out when he has money, but I have been used to a more “wealthy” lifestyle and I know that my family will never accept this relationship. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I am being selfish and judgmental because I have never been in his situation or if I’m being too naive. I would really appreciate any advice you could give me. — Poor Little Rich Girl
Your first question is easiest to answer, so I’ll start there: no, love is NOT enough to sustain a happy, long-term relationship. It’s certainly not enough to sustain something as serious as a marriage. In addition to love, you need: shared values; mutual respect; compatibility (both in the sack and out); some common interests; and a shared vision for the future. You also need to be on the same page in terms of finances.
Maybe you have a few of those things — maybe you have enough compatibility to be happy for another few months even. But from the sound of it, I doubt you’ve talked much about what your vision is for the future, or what your financial and career goals are, and it doesn’t seem like you have much respect for your boyfriend, so there are some big strikes against you. But these aren’t the only strikes I see against your potential for a happy long-term future with this guy — or any guy, for that matter.
You’re very young and very naive. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it doesn’t bode well for the happy longevity of this relationship — or, frankly, any relationship, any time soon. You have a lot of ideas of how things are “supposed” to be with little, if any, idea of how reality works. A college degree — even from a wonderful school — doesn’t guarantee an immediate, well-paying job. A marriage — even to someone financially successful — doesn’t guarantee “safety,” and following everything your parents ever taught you was right — for you, for them, for your culture — doesn’t guarantee happiness.
The best way to personal fulfillment, both in your relationships and in your career, is to figure out what YOU want. Forget for a moment, if you can, what your family’s expectations are, and what you think society expects, and think about what you want for yourself. Do you want to be a wife and mother? Do you want to stay home with the kids? Do you want a husband who is emotionally attentive and a hands-on father, even if it means bringing home less money that maybe your father did? Or, would you prefer a man who is career-driven and financially ambitious, even if he has to sacrifice time away from you to meet his goals?
You talk about your boyfriend “struggling in life” as if you’re immune to struggles yourself – as if struggles are something you might catch by proximity, a risk you take being intimate with someone who isn’t wealthy. But everyone struggles. Everyone. Some people’s struggles are more obvious than others. And not every struggle can be solved with the flick of a credit card or the material comforts you’ve been used to all your life. Some struggles — most struggles, actually — are relieved most effectively by compassion, generosity of spirit, faith in something bigger than one’s self, and commitment and trust.
I don’t know what your boyfriend’s specific story is. He may not be a catch at all, but not because he doesn’t have a college degree or hasn’t found great financial or career success. Those things aren’t what make a person worth investing in, not really. He may have other things that keep him from being the kind of partner someone like you might want to have for the long-term. Or, he may be exactly the kind of man who will pick you up when you inevitably fall — and you will fall; everyone does — because he knows what it’s like to be low and he can give you the kind of compassion you may not get from your judgmental family with their high expectations and traditional, inflexible view of “success.” He may be the kind of man who will make you laugh when you’re down and celebrate you when you’re up. He may be happy to take on the brunt of the house work if his partner is happy being the main breadwinner. This doesn’t make him lazy, but it may mean he isn’t the best match for YOU — though he may be perfect for someone else — if you see yourself being the stay-at-home spouse in a marriage.
Again, you have to figure out for yourself what you want and quit relying on your family to decide what will make you happy. And you have to ditch your idea of a perfect life with a perfect linear trajectory where everything lines up just so and the only people who struggle are the ones who weren’t lucky enough or smart enough or sophisticated enough to go to college and get a job and marry well.
People get sick, jobs are lost, accidents are had. People die, money disappears, mistakes are made. Natural disasters strike, houses collapse, families fall apart. Shit happens. It will probably happen to you. And when it does, who do you want by your side? Someone who will love you whole-heartedly, despite your flaws, despite the mistakes you’ve made that have brought some of your own struggles? Or is it more important to have someone your family deems appropriate?
Maybe you’ll get lucky and find someone who will be both, and I hope that’s the case. But you’d be wrong and naive to think the latter guarantees the former, or that “financial security” lasts forever and you’ll never struggle as long as you’re rich. There are bigger and better armors against life’s struggles than wealth, but even the best of them — love, family, knowledge — can’t always protect you, and in the end, you’re better off facing them with people you really like, not just those who look good on paper.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.