He obsesses constantly about what he wants to do with his life. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree at a prestigious institution but has decided that he no longer wants to continue on in that field. However, he has not yet figured out what will make him feel as though his life has meaning.
Because of this, we start arguing almost immediately whenever he brings up what he would like to do. I don’t really know what to say anymore; my opinion is that he should go a more traditional, business-minded route that I think would make him (and to be completely honest, us) the happiest and the most secure. I feel trapped whenever he comes up with another option that he knows I won’t think quite so fondly of and then gets angry at me for not being consistently positive about all of his ideas.
This is made slightly more complicated since I’m also in graduate school pursuing a degree that I love but one that won’t necessarily make me much money, so wanting him to pursue a more financially stable career feels deeply selfish and shameful. I do care and I will love and support him no matter what field he chooses, but I just can’t keep having these roundabout discussions that are making me want to start pulling out my hair in frustration! — Over the Crisis
You will support your boyfriend no matter what field he chooses?? Really? Because it doesn’t sound like you’re supporting your boyfriend now when he’s simply considering what field he might like to pursue. It doesn’t sound like you’re interested in supporting him unless he chooses a lucrative field that you imagine will help support you/your family together one day. Why else do you start arguing with him “almost immediately” when he brings up the topic of what he wants to do with his life?
He’s having, as you describe, an “existential crisis” and turning to his girlfriend of three and a half years for support and rather than help him through it — like, by listening to him, brainstorming, offering suggestions and ideas, reminding him what his strengths are, letting him know you believe in him — you’re basically shutting him down at every turn, sticking your fingers in your ears and going, “No, no, no! Only one path will lead you to happiness and personal fulfillment and that’s a traditional, business-minded one!” Hmm, are you sure you don’t mean that’s the only path he can take that will lead to happiness for you?
Your boyfriend is allowed to not have it all figured out. He’s allowed to consider different career options. He’s allowed to change course, especially considering that he isn’t married yet and doesn’t have kids and a family to support (not that he couldn’t make a career change if he did, but it’s less complicated when you’re not supporting anyone else). This is the right time for him to think about his future. Trust me, it’s much better he do some major soul-searching about his future now than after graduate school or after he lands a job or after he puts ten years into a soul-sucking career he hates.
And it’s the right time for you to do some major soul-searching too. What does this relationship really mean to you? Does it mean enough that you’d be willing to give up your fantasy of being financially supported and maybe create a new fantasy – perhaps one that doesn’t involve your boyfriend working a career he isn’t passionate about? Or do you simply see him as part of a larger picture – maybe one in which he isn’t even a main focus? Do you think of him as replaceable? Is it more important to have someone who will be the breadwinner than it is to be with this particular man?
You say you’re tired of your “roundabout” discussions, but what you’re describing don’t sound like discussions. And the only thing “roundabout” about them is how they keep coming back ’round to your desire for your boyfriend to pursue what YOU think is best for him/you. But it’s his life. You may not be in the picture five years from now. And if you want to be, I highly recommend getting over yourself and being a bigger support to your boyfriend. Reserve the judgment and frustration and let him work through what he has to work through to figure out where he wants to go and how to get there. If you decide it’s not a place you want to travel along with him, MOA. But don’t fight him to change paths simply to suit your own agenda.