Bullish Life: Should You Slow Down Your Career for a Guy?

First off, congratulations!

You have multiple income streams and are paying off your debts without burning yourself out. And you’re living with your parents in a responsible way (paying rent, being a pleasant and thankful adult!)

Also, thank you for mentioning real numbers in your email. I’m always fond of sharing real dollar figures, as it helps other ladies get some context for their own situations.

Now, on to business. Should you slow down your career and prioritize your man?

I have been on both sides of this conundrum!

I was once dating an ambitious young … er … detective. I said, “Hey, you are always working, and even when we go out together, you’re secretly investigating a case, so you always pick where we’re going. This relationship is not satisfying any of my needs. At all.”

And he said, “Yes, but that’s what my job requires.” He said it sort of like how a lot of upper-middle class kids could get their parents to pay for anything by saying, “I NEED TO HAVE THIS OBJECT FOR SCHOOL,” because, when you’re a kid, “school” trumps other considerations.

I said, “Well, then I guess your job is not compatible with having a relationship with me. There are minimum requirements to this, just as there are with jobs.”

He was stunned. Surely I would take whatever crumbs were left over after he burnt everything in sacrifice to the demanding career gods! He tried to argue that, obviously, I wanted a boyfriend with a good career. I said, “We’re not married, and success in your career is more about fame than money. Your career success doesn’t benefit me.”

We broke up.

About five years later when I met my fiance — and realized that he was awesome, as well as serious about looking for a life partner — I took off some weekends. In my main profession — teaching classes to adult students — evenings and weekends are when all the action happens, so taking off weekends results in a massive pay cut.

When the manager who books the classes offered me some work for the upcoming months and I responded, “No, thank you!”, she was confused, and asked why. I told her I “wanted to date men with normal jobs.” She laughed.

There was actually just one man with a normal job in the picture, and we got engaged. (See Bullish Life: I’m Engaged! What I Learned from 20 Years of Dating.)

I probably lost $5,000 in income getting to know my fiance. But it wasn’t some crazy sacrifice — it was really fun. We had a lot of brunch. It was like a little honeymoon, which is way more fun than a wedding anyway.

Also, I was 33, had no debts, and didn’t really need that $5,000.

I wrote (semi-satirically) in a column about financial planning for motherhood that one needs to make twice as much as one needs to live on — in some kind of flexible and self-directed career — so that when you have a baby, you can make half as much and be okay.

Now, I’m not assuming that you want to get married and/or have kids. I’m just saying that there’s a reason I’m always trying to convince young women of the urgency of making more money, and that reason is to have options and freedom. (See Bullish: How to Ask for More Money Part I and Part II.)

It’s hard to know exactly what your future gentlewomanly self will want, but she will certainly want to have choices, which money helps provide. Life is also full of emergencies and loss. Having money helps you to not have to think about money during times when you need to fix an emergency, care for someone, or deal with grief. Or, if nothing bad happens to you, you can endow a scholarship somewhere and die a saint!

So, having had ten years to sextuple my income and build up an emergency fund, I was delighted to take several thousand dollars worth of time off for a guy who was pretty clear about wanting a future with me. Keep in mind, I was able to locate this guy by writing an OKCupid ad that said, “Please be content with the fact that your youth is over.” (See Bullish Life: How I Met My Soon-To-Be Husband on OKCupid.)

The guys who cost me money throughout my twenties, though — yes, I regret letting that happen.

(See Bullish: Picking a Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Hold Back Your Career Or Bank Account.)

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    • Sabrina

      Oh my gosh, thank you for this! Even though the question was asked by a 23 year old, I am printing this out and giving it to my mother! This needs to be addressed, and now :)

    • G

      “Could he come along to see the horses? (I don’t know how horses work.)” = perfection.

    • b3v

      ugh. I needed to read this, right there today. The part about not charging enough…In my industry (mystery!!) there’s a LOT of contract work and I can make a nice supplement to my office job. Helps with the student loans, so great! Thing is, I have a middle man, someone who manages the contracts, so I get paid quite a bit less.
      But I so, sooooooo hate dealing with clients myself. I actually avoided contracting before finding a middle man.
      But then I’m basically losing money, doing contracts at a cheap cheap price.
      ugh. I’m basically talking to myself here, and realizing I should man up and…shudder…deal with clients. :(

      • Somnilee

        Heya, I don’t know what your business is, but Jen put a brilliant thing before about the fact that if you’ve got to do one scary thing (contact a client), you might as well do that thing a whole bunch of times. It’s not ten times as scary to contact ten clients as it is to contact one, and by increasing the number of people you’re asking, you’re increasing your chances of success.

        I’m currently trying to do the same thing with finding an apartment, I know it can be very hard to pick up the phone! Best of luck.

      • b3v

        Very true Somnilee! now, good luck to you with the apt! :)

    • Eagle Eye

      “being sad about my art history degree’” – *hangs head in shame”…lol