Woe Is Me! “My Boyfriend Doesn’t Want A 9‑5 Job. Is He Enlightened, Or Just Lazy?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I’m a 22y/o student and I’ve been in a relationship for three years. Both of his [partner’s] parents died recently, which made my boyfriend drop his M.B.B.S. course (we’re both studying to be doctors). Lockdown is further making it difficult for him to figure out what’s next. He inherited a lot of money from his parents, so he doesn’t really care about working a 9-5 job. This sounds practical to me, but I’ve been conditioned to think that only hard work is respectable. My parents think the same way. I’m anxious because they’ll use this as an excuse to brand him as irresponsible and lazy. Are there any couples where the partners are from different fields and the woman earns more than the guy or where the man doesn’t work? Is his worth determined by his degree or job? He is a wonderful wonderful human who loves me respects me and celebrates me accepts me for who I am. Are these not enough?“
— Stuck on A Puzzle
KB: There is so much to unpack here! First and foremost, he sounds like a lovely life partner, and the way you’ve described how he treats you is exactly how every person should be treated: with kindness and dignity and acceptance. So yes, this is certainly enough, and it’s the most important thing in any relationship. He seems to treasure you, you seem to adore him — this is sweet, and it’s hard to find, so hang onto it. Now, regarding the question about work: call me an evil capitalist, but I believe in hard work. Not for money reasons, but because work is an important pathway to fulfillment. And I’m not talking about clocking in for an organization you hardly care about just to collect a paycheck — though there is great dignity in doing just that to support yourself and your loved ones, but it sounds like your boyfriend has enough money that he doesn’t need to work “for the money.” But that level of privilege places an even bigger responsibility upon his shoulders, to contribute in some meaningful way to the society around him. That is the type of work I think will bring him longer-term fulfillment. He is a doctor — there is so much he can do to help underserved communities get access to quality healthcare, especially if he doesn’t have the financial pressure of supporting himself. Having a financial cushion is actually even more of a reason to seek meaningful work that may not come with much remuneration. And I fear that if he never works hard — for a cause or goal that he truly believes in — he will ultimately feel unsatisfied and disappointed in himself, and you may even end up losing respect for him over time. Does he plan to be the caretaker of your household (i.e., take care of the children and the elders and the house)? If so, that is meaningful and important work, and seems like a great contribution to your household as well.
As for your concerns about your parents: yes, they are likely to be concerned about you ending up with someone who does not plan to earn over the course of his lifetime, and they might be right to worry. Studies have shown that couples (especially in patriarchal societies) where the woman is the breadwinner have a harder time because of deeply entrenched gender norms and the pressures they create. You can, of course, beat these odds, and build a non-traditional family with this man. He sounds wonderful, but a little ambition (to do some good, change the world, do something) wouldn’t be the worst thing, for him or for you…
ADT: I think you would probably need to re-orient your focus a bit here. You say you both are medical students, who are fundamentally an ambitious, hardworking group. Your partner became this way after he lost both his parents, so I’m sure his lack of ambition is linked to his bereavement. Often, people who are depressed become listless and devoid of ambition, preferring to take life a day at a time. If he doesn’t want to engage in a 9-5, then it’s okay — maybe get him to slowly come back to the world bit by bit by getting him therapy, volunteering positions, and even courses at college (moving towards full-time enrollment). You must pay attention to your own coursework too, obviously, so make sure it’s a team effort that you and his friends put in together. With therapy and some motivation, he might come around! As for introducing him to your parents, I think we both know that it needs to wait for a long while in order to ensure both of you are ready and on the same page.
SM: Yes, these are enough. We’ve been conditioned to value paid work, jobs, and degrees for how they define our social worth, and not necessarily for what value they bring to our lives. It’s a privilege to have inherited a lot of money and not to have to work a 9-5 job for sustenance. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking space and time outside of defined structures of educational and employment institutions to actually figure out what you want from life and what makes you happy. I can imagine it being a difficult time for your boyfriend considering that he has had to deal with the recent demise of both his parents. And the fact that he’s chosen to step outside of these structures could actually be great for longtime fulfillment. I can understand the anxiety around your parents branding him ‘irresponsible’ and ‘lazy,’ but that kind of mindset comes from tying people’s worth to their paid work — it is dangerous, and besides, don’t most parents find a way to brand us as something or the other even if we’re following the most conventional educational and career paths? Two pieces of art might also be helpful to explore the critiques around paid work and worth and finding meaning outside these. One is a 2001 feature film by Hayao Miyazaki called Spirited Away and the other is a 2019 book by Kikuko Tsumura called There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job.
AD: It seems like your relationship is a happy, healthy one. In this case, you should trust how you feel. Your family and others may not necessarily know what keeps you happy in a romantic relationship. Hard work is a quality that doesn’t need to be tied to professional success. He might have other interests or desires that he puts his heart into. Your boyfriend may have a lot of other qualities that your parents do respect and you can focus on emphasizing those to them!
DR: What one does (or doesn’t do) for a living, shouldn’t define them. The capitalist and able-ist society we live in has conditioned us to believe that an individual’s worth is directly related to the salary they bring home, resulting in a system where we value money more than anything else — be it one’s principles, one’s passion, one’s social or romantic life, one’s character, one’s mental health, and even one’s life. At the end of the day, the point of earning is to afford sustenance, and whatever luxuries one may desire in addition to that. If your boyfriend already has that aspect sorted, and isn’t thrilled at the idea of embracing the nine-to-five work culture, then I don’t see why he must. Calling people “lazy” simply because they’re not doing the things society expects of them, seems to fall squarely within the definition of “lazy,” in my opinion. Why? Because instead of making the effort to look beyond their worldview and unlearn their long-health beliefs and ideas, the one passing judgment is taking the easier path of labeling someone just because they’ve seen it done to others. Similarly, the idea of “ambitiousness” is rooted in a narrow worldview that has been marinated in capitalism — so much so that people fail to appreciate: (a) ambitiousness exists on a spectrum, and can extend beyond monetize-able interests; (b) there’s not one degree of ambitiousness that every person must adhere to; (c) ambitiousness does not determine a person’s worth; the person they choose to be, does.
Moreover, instead of choosing to live off his inheritance, he could have made questionable career choices like trolling netizens for a living, manufacturing fake news, or oppressing marginalized communities. Did he? No. He’s simply choosing a life of comfort over toiling to make ends meet. In fact, highly sought-after corporate jobs often require people to sell their souls to their capitalist masters simply so they can maintain a “decent” standard of living. But what does it cost them? No time to pursue their passion on the one hand; burnouts and premature deaths on the other. And despite being aware of the pitfalls, many don’t see another way out because they don’t have a financial safety net to fall back upon. If your boyfriend has the option to not go down that route, why shouldn’t he take it just because “log kya kahenge”? And, frankly, kuch toh log kahenge because logon ka kaam hai kehna — those who like judging others, find a way to do it anyway. Frankly, what your boyfriend has been bestowed with is a privilege — one that most Indians cannot afford. Should he recognize that? Yes. Should he be forced to ignore it and earn his living when he doesn’t want to, or just give it up? No.
If you think he is everything you are looking for in a partner, then I don’t think you should let society’s ideas of what one should and shouldn’t do, hold you back. Essentially, if you’re sure you’re not going to judge him unfairly for his choices, go ahead and be with him for life — should the two of you want that. Good luck!