Bullish: When Your Male Partner is Not Exactly Helping Your Career

But really, “not hanging out” might be the very secret of my success. I only like to do things that are very pleasurable or very productive; it’s all this “hanging out” business in the middle that’s like the Chips Ahoy cookie of life, not pleasurable enough to be worth the calories. Eat something healthy or bake some actual hot, delicious, non-hydrogenated cookies. The in-between is a waste of human life.

(See Bullish Life: A Day in the Life of Bullish and Bullish Life: Achieve Goals and Glory By Recreating Like a Total F*cking Badass.)

I’m really pretty infuriated by anyone who thinks that there’s “nothing to do” but watch TV. (Learn something from a book! Do as many pushups as you can, and then do that every day until you are the PUSHUP CHAMPION. Take a free class on Coursera! Meditate.) I have been known to say to some perfectly nice men: “DON’T YOU HAVE ANY PROJECTS?!”


I’ve dated plenty of less ambitious men, or just men with 9-5 jobs who leave their work at the office and don’t have outside projects, and I’ve sometimes been annoyed when they come home at 6:30pm and expect me to instantly stop working. If I’m not teaching an evening class, then ideally I would like to work continuously until at least 1:30am, because I enjoy and am excited by my work, and I strongly value long stretches of unbroken concentration. To me, 1:30am is a nice time to go out for a drink and celebrate a day well-spent.

I once dated an entrepreneur, at the time I was also a full-time entrepreneur, and there was something glorious about it. We were a think-tank, all the time. When we found ways for our companies to work together, it was like we were getting away with something very sexy.

But that didn’t last. And I have found that the most ambitious men tend to have no trouble at all prioritizing their careers above their relationships (something ambitious women I know tend to waver on quite a bit), and they are not swayed at all by your feelings on the matter.

Two equally ambitious people are not necessarily a good combination. Somebody needs to slow down and remember when holidays are and how humans normally interact.

Personally, I have found that it is far better to be the ambitious one who is a little annoyed by being dragged off to fly kites and play Scrabble than it is to be the one wondering when your diplomat boyfriend is ever going to ask you how you feel about the fact that your grandmother died two weeks ago while he was negotiating a peace treaty somewhere.

Here, I’d like to defer to Dan Savage’s The Price of Admission. There is always a “price of admission” you pay for being in a long-term relationship. (“The only way you become ‘the one’ is becoming someone is willing to pretend you are…. because you’re not, nobody is.”)

Okay, back to Frustrated Farmwife. She doesn’t want to change her husband, just to work out an untenable working situation. So:

If your husband feels like you are working/online ALL the time and he can’t tiptoe around 24/7, then you need to set some hours. 40 hours per week during which there will be no TV, music, or other loud noises. If you are paying all the bills, he has absolutely no grounds on which to complain that he can’t watch TV while you are working full-time. Hell, he can watch Hulu on his laptop with headphones. HEADPHONES.

Put the working hours on a schedule. 9am-5pm M-F or whatnot, and take them really seriously, so he does too. If you make an exception (you go on a nice country walk mid-day), point out that the 2pm-3:30pm break will extend working hours from 5pm to 6:30pm — is that OK with him? Maybe even make a point of emailing your boss (“I’ll be offline 2-3:30, but working until 6:30pm today if you need me”) to drive home the point.

Also, can you express that you are concerned for your husband’s career prospects when you return to (whatever city) and that maybe he could work on his skills? You didn’t say what he does, but surely he could volunteer somewhere, or get some kind of online certification, or practice trimming the hedges into exciting shapes, learn whatever programming language is coming into fashion, start a blog in his field, or just read some books on the matter? Surely he could start some kind of small business.

He at least needs to join a club and make some friends. Hiking? Local politics? Dungeons and Dragons? (Going to Young Democrats meetings is totally unnecessary in a big city, but in a small town, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.)

Could he do a marathon to raise money for cancer research? And then go on a lot of long runs?

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    • Eve

      You said it already, but my first thought was “IS HE ILLITERATE?” He can’t read? He can’t surf the web? Netflix is $8 a month and has more movies and TV than he can possibly watch (as you said– WITH HEADPHONES.) Even better if he does something productive, but I don’t see how he can’t figure out a way to entertain himself quietly.

    • Ame

      Move the TV or the desk to the bedroom?

    • Lastango

      First, I agree with Jen’s advice about finding a workspace. With a job like yours, you have to get out of there; just turning down the sound on the TV isn’t enough. Years ago, I found a great spot in the public library. They had a reading room set aside for their historical collection, and no one else ever came there. It was very nice, with a big table that offered lots of work room, plus access to a photocopier. Another possible site for camping out is the local junior college. You can also run an ad: “Business professional seeks quiet office space.” There might be a law firm or somesuch that has a spot.


      But there’s something else that’s much more important: unless your husband finds something to do that earns money, he will atrophe and you may lose respect for him. Then it’s over. I’m going to throw a couple of links in here that give a sense of just how destructive and debilitating it can be when a man loses his purpose in life:

      This one is a bit long, but worth the read:


      I could go on and on, but that’s enough to show that when a man loses his job the results are disastrous. Here’s a thought: let him read those articles, and any others you find that get the message across, and tell him you want your love to last and you never want the two of you to live like that or end like that. He might agree it’s very important that something needs to change.

      It’s obvious this will be a challenge; I don’t know what his skillset is, but apparently there’s no calling for it locally. It might even be the case that the area is depressed, and jobs are scarce.

      Without knowing his situation, I’ll hazard that the best outcome would be to find something or develop something that, if it works out, can be taken back to where you come from if he prefers it to what he used to do. (I’d love to throw out some possibilities, but can’t unless you provide some information.)

      So, here’s my next-best suggestion: since he can’t come up with anything, see if you can get together with some locals. Contact some leading figures, especially professionals and entrepreneurs, and ask for help. State your problem. Go see them together. What are they aware of that might present opportunities? One way to get ahold of them might be through (for instance) the local Lions Club or other similar organization. Their whole purpose is to be of service. Go meet and talk. Make contacts.

      Good luck to you both… one day the two of you may look back his being driven on this search as the best thing that every happened to your future!

      • The Not So Frustrated Farmwife

        Our situation has improved immensely since Jen gave me the pep talk. I talked it over with Husband, and he was definitely feeling lost without his 9 – 5. It’s difficult right now because of the time he spends with his mother and taking her to appointments (and he has another family member who is ill now – he was in the hospital with them last night) so I understand his desire to put off the job issue while all of that is going on.

        After I talked to him, he’s taken some really positive steps, though. He’s picked up odd jobs around the farm (and it is seriously, incredibly hot how handy he is, like being married to a taller, not-so-Boston-y, incredibly attractive Norm Abram) and has spent the last couple of weeks learning JavaScript. I don’t know if that will translate to a different line of work for him in the future, but it’s something to keep his mind sharp and give him satisfaction in the meanwhile.

        Hopefully things get settled down soon and we can decide where to go from here. Working out in the country has actually been incredibly productive for me (once I got him out of my hair). Going back into the office was a bit of a nightmare – all the politics and distractions were right there waiting for me, and I found myself longing for my little desk in the living room looking out over the stock pond. I could see making this a permanent move, if we can just keep him satisfied and engaged!

    • Whitney

      I dunno, for as annoying as her husband may sometimes be, what with the excessive TV watching and all, this guy sounds like a bit of a gemstone. This man may not currently be making an income but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel as if he serves a purpose (and he does.) He quit his job so that he could move across the country to help his mother during a challenging time. He manages the household duties so that his more ambitious partner doesn’t have to. Let’s not forget that she enjoys working, so it’s not like she’s envying his position. And let’s not also forget that he has never been an ambitious person, so it certainly isn’t fair to hold this character trait against him now. I absolutely agree that her ability to work should be prioritized, but with the help of some headphones and a laundry-doing lunch-making husband, this stint in the countryside could be her most professionally productive time yet.

      • The Not So Frustrated Farmwife

        So true. I definitely have no intentions of changing the man – and I keep trying to remember that no matter how stressful this is for me, it’s infinitely worse for him. After all, he’s not just given up his livelihood, he’s having to deal with the stress and anguish of his mother being ill as an only child; basically, all on his own. He really is a gem, and I couldn’t be where I am in my career without all of his help.

    • The Not So Frustrated Farmwife

      First of all – this is me! A dear friend sent me the link saying “I think this is you – IT’S LIKE KNOWING A MOVIE STAR” and I have to say, I’ve never been so pleased to be made an example of!

      Jen’s advice was fantastic. I’ve been out of town on business for several weeks, so it may be that things are difficult again once I get home, but before I had left, we had a talk and things improved greatly.

      My husband has a ridiculously narrow skill set – it’s one that has served him well, but when we moved to a tiny little town, it became one that was useless. And I think that really took a toll on him when we first got out there. He felt like he was all at sea. He may not be ambitious, but his work is very important to him. So we went out to a nice whiskey bar in the next town over one night, had a few drinks, and I laid it out for him. The details are probably only interesting to me, but when I expressed concern not just for my work, but for him, he said he was worried about all the same things.

      After that, things were a bit different. He started helping around the farm to keep occupied during the day, to give me a bit of peace and quiet. And I’m impressed! I knew he was handy, but there he was, fixing ATVs, replacing his mother’s water heater, laying new flooring for her, taking care of the cattle, fixing fence lines… and it was good for him.

      I’ve been out of town for a while now (going back on Thanksgiving, thank heavens), and of course we’ve been talking all the time. He’s started teaching himself JavaScript. While that may not directly translate to him broadening his career opportunities, it’s a new skill, something to learn, and something to give him satisfaction.

      So, hooray, Jen! Your advice was fantastic, helped me put into perspective what I wanted to say, and even better than dealing with it without starting an argument, spurred me to deal with it, period. I’ll be tipping one back for you and all the gentlewomen out there tonight.

    • Sick of supporting my husband

      You are young and think this is going to be ok. It will not be in the long run. Sorry but you guys are doomed.

      • Lastango

        You are very right about the risks. There are lots of ways for this to go bad, and to clarify some of the perils I put two links in my comment (above). Here is another, and it hits hard:


        These stories are painful. Anybody who thinks it’s all some sort of empowering, postmodern “alternative lifestyle” when the husband loses his livelihood and his wife is the breadwinner is whistling past a very haunted graveyard of failed relationships.

    • http://twitter.com/RFIndependence Pauline

      I wouldn’t mind being the bread earner if my partner did most of the things at home, with the kids… so I could focus on being awesome at my job. Otherwise it would probably be a deal breaker.

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