My boyfriend and I are in our mid-30s have been together for 13 years. I love him dearly and we get along great. My life with him is truly the happiest I’ve ever been. We have no interest in getting married or having children as a personal choice, but are looking forward to having a long cohabitating life together. He’s truly a sweet, loving, and hard-working guy.
However, he isn’t financially responsible.
For a bit of context, I grew up in a low-income home and he was raised upper-middle class. We are currently a middle-class working couple in different careers, but make almost the same amount of money. We also live together in an apartment and share all of our bills equally. However, everything is in my name in order to ensure that everything is kept up with and paid on time. I wish I could share that burden of responsibility, but I can’t. I have retirement, non-retirement investment, and savings accounts. He does not. I have my financial paperwork generally organized and in one place. He does not. I occasionally check my account balances and credit score. He does not. When I make a big purchase, I do my research. He does not. I pay my expenses by the deadlines. He does not.
He’s not a lavish over-spender and has enough money to take better care of his finances, but just doesn’t care about it and neglects these (and other) responsibilities either entirely or until the last moment. Even when he faces consequences for his indifference (like losing $1500 because he forgot to fill out a piece of paperwork on time, has to pay late fees for expenses that could have been easily taken care of in advance, or loses his tax documents for the 4th year in a row and having to pay everything to be re-printed) he doesn’t make any changes, is completely unfazed, and makes the same mistakes over and over.
We’ve never argued about money, but I want to make sure we are protecting ourselves and each other. I’ve tried to talk with him about it a few times and find some solutions, but those conversations never go anywhere. He’s not mean or openly dismissive. He just doesn’t seem concerned or feel any urgency to make changes. This isn’t an issue that affects our day-to-day life, but it does come up sometimes.
What do you do when you care about someone, but they lack any desire to develop financial insight? Should I just let it go and focus on me while he hurts himself?
Bad Credit, No Credit, Big Problem
So I’m going to be honest: this sounds more like a conflict in approaches to lifestyle than it does an actual relationship problem. This isn’t to minimize your concern, BCNCBP: money and the stress that comes from dealing with finances is probably the single greatest cause of relationship strife out there. Whether it’s a significant imbalance in who’s contributing how much to the household finances, one partner blowing their cash from the joint checking account on lavish indulgences or simply dragging their partner’s credit into the mud, money ranks at the top trigger for break-ups, even beyond cheating and sexual incompatibility.
But that doesn’t sound like what’s going on here, exactly. It sounds like you two haven’t co-mingled your finances, your boyfriend isn’t sponging off of you to live the lifestyle to which he intends to become accustomed and you’re not at risk for his tanking your credit score. It sounds like things are divided between “I wish he was a little more analytical” with things like big purchases and a desire to see him be more responsible with actually getting his bills paid on time.
That’s why I’m gonna be vulnerable here BCNCBP: I’m a little like your boyfriend. I’m not exactly the most organized guy you’re ever gonna find. I have a tendency to do the last-minute scramble when it comes to things like bills, taxes, important appointments…
(And I think I hear my editor very pointedly sending me that Douglas Adams quote about the sound deadlines make as they woosh by as I write this)
For me, this is because I have a nasty case of “out of sight, out of mind”. I’ll have a brief period of “ok, I’ve got to remember that I have to do X thing by Y time,” where I resolve that I’m going to get everything done exactly when it needs to be if not beforehand… and then I fall down the research rabbit hole because I suddenly had a shiny new idea that’s shoved everything else aside and occupies the entirety of my attention. My good intentions tend to fall by the wayside in a sort of benign neglect.
Now I’ve been lucky. The worst consequences I’ve faced have been the brief panic of “oh shit oh shit oh shit where is everything” or running out the door with coffee in one hand and a piece of toast shoved in my mouth as I realize I’ve got to make a 20 minute drive in 5 minutes. Not fun, exactly, but not terribly dire either. But I have had a few close calls that’ve been enough to make me try to find a system that works for me. And here’s what I’ve learned about dealing with issues like chronic tardiness with one’s bills:
Sometimes the path to success is the path of least resistance. You can’t force someone to develop a sense of fiscal responsibility or switch their personality to match yours. You might get them to try something different for a little while, but they’re going to slide back into old habits the moment that you aren’t there to constantly reinforce the change. All that’s going to do is cause annoyance and resentment on both sides.
What you can do, however, is set things up to work with and around your boyfriend’s flaws. Since the issue here is that your boyfriend is just bad with due dates, rather than being chronically short on cash, you can help him set things up so he can’t not be late. So it’s time for some better living through technology and outsourcing some of life’s repetitive annoyances to digital assitance. First, start with automating everything you can. One of humanity’s greatest inventions is being able to set up automatic recurring payments. Setting things up to, say, have your utilities company charge your credit card every month helps make sure that you’re never going to be in danger of the electricity being shut off. If you want to make sure he’s always getting his share of the rent and utilities to you on time without nagging him, you can set up recurring monthly transfers via his bank, PayPal or Venmo. This helps ensure that he holds up his end of the arrangement without your having to feel like the nagging, shrewish killjoy who’s always shitting on her partner’s good time.
Similarly, you can set up automated systems to help do things like “keeping his financial documents in the same space”. If he can arrange to go paper-free and get electronic delivery of his important forms, then you can set up filters on his email that will direct those files to specific folders, helping cut down on the last minute scramble or having to contact people to get new copies of important documents.
And for those appointments, deadlines or other events that tend to float in one ear and out the other? Set up recurring – and annoying – reminders in a calendar app, preferably one that syncs across all his devices. Quite possibly in triplicate. Having notifications repeatedly pop up to remind him that he has to be at X place at Y time helps cut through the distractions and keep his responsibilities at the forefront.
It isn’t a perfect system to be sure, and it requires some dedicated time to set it up and make sure he understands where all the various gears and levers are… but it’s worked out pretty well for me. It may well work out for him.
But otherwise? Yeah, unfortunately, this is going to be a price-of-entry issue for the relationship. You’re a little more rigorous than he is, and that’s unlikely to change. If you don’t want to take on a secondary job as his financial advisor – and that’s not your responsibility – then there’s not much to be done. You can help him set things up to mitigate his absent-mindedness, but at the end of the day, he’s the only one who can decide if he wants to do things differently. Thankfully, the consequences have been annoying, rather than disastrous. Hopefully that’s an annoyance you can live with.
Just make sure you don’t put yourself in the position where his lack of responsibility drags you down with him.
A few years ago, I was at an extremely low point in my life. I’m a special education teacher in an elementary school (which is a great but emotionally draining job even at the best of times), and was dealing with the mess of making CPS reports regarding a couple of the children as well as training to support a student’s emerging medical issues while running a severely understaffed classroom. In addition, I was spending a lot of personal time watching a neighbor’s kids while she and her husband filed protective orders against the kids’ old babysitter, and the support those kids needed took an emotional toll as well. In addition, I was being stalked by a neighbor, as well as a man from church, both of whom I’d caught looking through my bedroom window on occasion and both of whom had been following me and making a lot of unwelcome, pushy advances. It was a stressful time.
One of my close friends, K, who knew everything that was going on, asked whether there was anything he could do for me. My school was starting Spring Break, and I asked if he would come hang out with me some time during the week. I have epilepsy and can’t drive, and since my neighbor had been following me when I went walking, I’d been avoiding going out and felt a little cut off from my friends. K agreed, cheerfully I thought, and told me he’d see me in a couple of days.
When the day we’d planned to hang out came, he sent a text to reschedule. On the day he rescheduled, he never showed. I called and sent a couple of texts, but he didn’t answer until the next afternoon, when he told me he’d been “dealing with stuff.”
I know people get busy. I’m not the only one who gets stressed! So I let it go. We stayed fairly friendly, although my physical and mental health were going downhill and I was a little less available. We still made time to talk once in a while and occasionally saw each other at the grocery store or the gym. We weren’t as close, but it was all good.
Then one night after a mutual friend’s birthday party, K casually mentioned that week and how he felt bad about flaking, but he had met a hot girl at the bar and “had to see how that would play out.” Apparently he’d sent her a few texts over the week, and had spent most of the week at home playing Xbox and waiting for her to reply (she never did).
Maybe it’s petty of me, but I was mad. That seems like a frivolous reason to blow off a friend under any circumstances, and I really needed some support at that time! I didn’t want to be needlessly dramatic, though, so I just said that I’d been pretty disappointed when he didn’t show up that night, and then ended the conversation quickly and headed home. After that, I’ve nearly stopped speaking to K. I’m polite when we see each other, but I make no effort to see or contact him and end our conversations as quickly as I can without being rude.
That last talk was two years ago, and I’m now totally indifferent both to what happened and to him. Since that night I’ve gotten more help in the classroom, moved to a safer area (those kids I was babysitting have really flourished in family counseling, by the way) and met and married my husband. Life is good. I am safe and happy.
Which is why it pissed me off to no end to hear that K is griping to people that my husband forced me to stop being friends with him. He claims my husband is too insecure to let me make my own choices. He’s hinted at possible abuse.
I don’t understand why he’s doing this. Maybe I was wrong to ask him to visit me, or wrong to be upset when he brushed me off cavalierly, but neither of those things are my husband’s fault! I know K doesn’t like the fact that my husband wears drag occasionally, but that doesn’t seem like something to make up abuse allegations over either. And the allegations are completely bogus. My husband is happy to spend time with my friends—but only the ones that I want to see.
So what gives? And what should I do?
Triflin’ Friend Indeed
First of all, TFI, congratulations on getting help, helping those kids and getting to the point where you’re safe and happy. That’s huge!
Now let’s talk about K.
What gives is that K doesn’t seem to have ever had a moment of self-awareness in his life. Or, for that matter, that people don’t exist merely at his convenience. Ultimately, K doesn’t realize that he did anything wrong or why this might piss you off. And you have very good reasons to be annoyed at K, TFI.
The issue isn’t even the flaking… though that in and of itself is pretty selfish. The dude volunteered – offered, even – to help you at a time when you were in need and your safety was quite possibly in question. This isn’t quite “forgot he promised to give you a ride to the airport and now you’ve missed your flight” levels of “what the hell, dude” but his leaving you high and dry – AFTER rescheduling – is pretty shitty of him.
It’d be one thing if his “dealing with stuff” was legit. Maybe there was a medical issue, maybe he was having a migraine, his brother was having a meltdown and he had to help… all of that would be understandable. It still sucked for you to be left high and dry, but shit happens and the gods laugh at the arrogance of man making plans for the future. But the fact that he blew you off – not wasn’t able to make it, not had responsibilities that superseded his promise, blew you off – to wait with sandwiches by the phone for the POSSIBILITY of a text that tells you what you need to know about this dude.
(I mean, seriously: he’s waiting on a text. Unless you live in a cellular deadzone, dude could’ve received a text at your place as easily as his.)
But hey, we all make decisions. Nobody said they were good decisions. Decisions have consequences though, and his consequences include “Fuck this guy and the mustache he rode in on”.
K seems to be the sort of person who is blithely unaware that other people might not see things his way, so when he deals with the fallout of his choices, he decides they can’t possibly be his fault. And since it can’t possibly be that you’d begrudge his right to try to bank-shot a hook-up with someone from the bar, it must be someone else’s fault. And the fact that his interpretation of events makes him the potential hero – the guy so cool and awesome that the jealous abusive husband must lock his wife away in a tower lest she be tempted by his manly vigor – well… that’s just gravy, innit?
What should you do? Well, honestly, unless these rumors are gaining traction somehow, I’d suggest just rolling your eyes at ’em and go about your life. But if he’s bringing it up to mutual friends of yours, airing them publicly on social media or otherwise causing people to side-eye your husband? That’s when it might be worth putting him on blast and dragging him for all to see.
It probably won’t change the narrative in K’s mind; it’s too easy for him to just decide that your husband “forced” you to say that. But at least it’ll put the truth out there, so everyone else’ll see what a shitbird K’s being.