Our resident agony aunt Rhona McAuliffe offers advice to a reader who is unsure about her future with her boyfriend.
I’ve only been with my boyfriend a year or so and although we’ve talked about a future together we’re still not living together. He works in media and has been with the same company for about five years. He’s brilliant at his job, earns decent money and has been promoted almost every year. He’s always wanted to be a stand-up comedian and has been doing random gigs for years; since he was in college. He’s done charity gigs, small pub nights and some of the fringe festivals.
This summer he challenged himself to perform every single weekend for 12 weeks, meaning he mostly didn’t get paid and was never on the bill. But he loved it. He’s now got the bug and wants to quit work to really give it a go. He’s due a bonus in December so is going to stay, get that, quit his job and move back in with his parents for a year so he can really give comedy a go.
I’m trying to be supportive but it’s so hard. I had hoped, with everything going so well between us that we’d be living together at some point in the future and thinking about starting a family. I can’t see that happening for a long time now (if ever) and I'm not sure I’m ready to commit to someone whose career is so flaky.
What happens if we do have kids together? Will I always have to be the responsible one with the steady, mortgage-friendly job? Will he always be chasing a dream while I take minimal maternity leave and keep us afloat? I love him, he’s a really great guy who makes me laugh a lot, but I’m wondering if I should just cut my losses now and leave him at it? It’s worth mentioning that he didn’t discuss his plan to quit work and move home with me, he just excitedly told me like that wouldn’t impact anything between us. We’re both in our early thirties. Do I sound like a complete bitch?
Ok, just because it jumped out, I’m going to be pedantic and lead with some housekeeping. It’s to do with the word ‘bitch’. Gloria Steinem shared a tip recently on how to disarm the often loaded and misogynistic put-down. She told Cosmopolitan: “The best thing I've ever thought of to say when somebody calls you a bitch is, “Thank you.”
In a confusing appropriation of Steinem’s technique (bear with me) I’m going to say that, yes, you sound like a bitch, in the best possible way. Someone’s got to look out for you and right now, that’s you.
Despite only being together a year, you’re absolutely right to question your future together. Not because he’s up-ending his life to pursue his dream but because you haven’t factored in his plans. It could be as simple as him being so comfortable with you that he just presumes you’ll tag along for the ride. Or, it might be that he’s so consumed with his master plan, so excited to shake off the 9-to-5 that he’s forgotten about you entirely.
Where to start
There’s a lot to talk about, but leading with a gentle interrogation on how he sees your relationship panning out when he hits the gig circuit, is a good start.
Your boyfriend sounds sensible and talented. He’s continued to practice and pedal his craft since college, while also excelling at his day job. He’s waiting to collect his Christmas bonus before he resigns. He’s worked hard to engineer a situation where he can really give his ‘passion’ a go and is willing to sacrifice his social independence to get there.
British comedian, John Bishop, did a similar thing in his late thirties but waited until he had matched his Sales Director salary with his comedy earnings before resigning. Ironically, in trying to balance both careers, his marriage hugely suffered and he separated from his wife. Not long after their split, she accidentally ended up at one of his gigs (he wasn’t on the bill) and fell in love with him all over again. They were thus reunited.
There is no such thing as a ‘job for life’ anymore unless you work for the Civil Service; and even then, the government has updated their dismissal processes so they’re in line with national employment regulations. We have to be versatile and job-hop to survive. And probably work until we’re 70.
What your boyfriend is doing – whether it ends in a long-term stand-up career or not – is smart and brave, hugely broadening his life and personal experience. He’s committing to possibly the toughest grind in entertainment; trying to make people laugh. It means long hours on the road solo, testing his gags on hostile crowds and setting himself up for daily ego-beatings. No-one takes themselves more seriously than a comedian and your boyfriend has not arrived at his decision lightly.
So where do you fit?
I am not a life planner. I don’t bullet journal, journal-journal or even own a stack of post-it notes. I know in your position, at your age, I would have just sat back, adjusted my expectations and aquaplaned to an eventual showdown. This is not the way.
You’re absolutely right to wonder about your future together and tease out all the ‘what ifs.’ You’re already thinking about having kids, which thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, doesn’t mean you need a starter-partner to mobilise your plans. It is however considered to be easier (in the short-term!) to tackle parenthood as a team.
Choosing a life partner is far more complex than letting your ovaries divine prize sperm, but at this juncture, it’s fair to ask your boyfriend if he imagines children in your future. You might have joked about it in the past, named all five of them in the sun-setting glow of your love-soaked table for two in Puglia. But sh*t just got real, Funny Boy. Are you in or are you out? His response – even if he needs a few days to think about it – will determine a lot.
As for your financial future together, you could settle down with a Hedge Fund Manager who has a secret gambling addiction and uses your house as collateral in his last big game pre-rehab; or be bored to literal death by a very wealthy dentist. You and your boyfriend should be on the same financial page if and when you move in together, but giving him the breathing space to give comedy his all should come without any financial ultimatums. For at least a year.
What it comes down to
The question is, is he the guy for you? And I don’t mean your soul-mate or perfect partner; they don’t exist. I mean, is he your 70% right guy? Only you can decide this.
Love is classified and quoted in so many forms. With an exciting but likely rocky year ahead for your boyfriend, I’m drawing on philosopher and author Alain de Botton for what may be coming your way: “Do you love me enough that I may be weak with you? Everyone loves strength but do you love me for my weakness? That is the real test.”
If you have a problem that won’t go away, our agony aunt would love to hear it. Write to Rhona at [email protected]