Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at email@example.com.
My boyfriend works as a guide (ski guide in winter and river guide in summer), but this summer his company is closed because there aren’t enough tourists, so he’s been stuck at home. Instead of looking for different work, he has decided that he is going to use this time to focus on his novel, which is a project he’s been working on on-and-off for a few years. At first I encouraged him because I thought it would cheer him up, but it’s now been six weeks and I worry that he is not making plans to get a new job and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. He is also inside all day when he would normally be out, which makes it harder for me to do my work, since I work from home and our house is not big.
He is a sweet, positive guy and always encourages me, so I want to do the same for him. I can see us together for the long term, but I am not sure how to get through this part right now. We keep our finances separate, but split rent and expenses evenly, and I can’t afford to cover things myself. He has not published writing before, but when I try to bring up money, he says that the book will “pay off” when it is finished and that I am manifesting him not being successful. I think the writing helps him and honestly I don’t care how he makes money as long as he is happy, but this situation isn’t sustainable. How do I talk to him about my concerns without seeming like I’m questioning his talent?
OK, so there are a few issues here, and it seems to me like the novel itself is a red herring. Your boyfriend’s writing a book? Great! He’s getting through a tough time by devoting himself to art? Good! He’s counting on that art to sustain him financially when he has no track record of making a living in that field, and he blames you when you bring it up? Hey, now.
Let’s imagine—manifest, if you will—the possibility that his novel is going to be a runaway bestseller. Even if that were guaranteed, he’d still need money in the meantime. For instance, has he accounted for the fact that when you sell a book to a publisher, it can take a year or more to get paid? Many books don’t earn royalties, and he may have to pay for a publicist, expert readers, and book tour out of pocket? Plus, if he doesn’t have an agent, he’ll want a lawyer to negotiate rights and contracts (and if he signs with an agent, a lawyer should review that contract, too). The point isn’t that his book won’t be successful, but that if he has more money now, it will help the book to be successful—and just as importantly, help him get by until then. And that’s in the very best of circumstances.
If his first novel isn’t a runaway bestseller? That doesn’t mean his second one won’t be, or his third. But he’s still gonna need a day job until then.
What worries me is his accusation that you’re manifesting a bad outcome. Because if this book doesn’t pay off—and odds are it won’t—it’s not that you were right to be concerned, it’s that it’s your fault. It’s a hot mess of resentment waiting to happen.
The ego is a tender beast, particularly when cornered. And your boyfriend has cornered himself. He’s probably feeling bad that he lost his job, he’s insecure about his writing, and he doesn’t want to disappoint you or look foolish. It’s also possible that he’s been applying for jobs this whole time, but he hasn’t gotten one and hasn’t wanted to tell you. Emotionally, he needs the book to pay off, because it will redeem him—redeem his talent, his time, the stress he’s put on your relationship, and his dream of being a successful writer.
So your best strategy, in this case, is to help him understand that there’s nothing to redeem.
You should come to him simply: “Look, honey, I’m worried. I want you to finish your novel, and to have the time you need, but I can’t support us both until the book pays off. Is there a way I can help you finish this book and also earn money this summer?” The key here is framing the situation so that these two priorities—writing the book and getting a job—aren’t at odds. It’s not a question of which one he values more; it’s a question of finding the best way for him to do both.
Then ask him to make a plan with you. You can re-evaluate it as time goes on.
It could be that if you keep house quiet hours in the morning, your boyfriend would be better able to focus on writing—and could pick up a part-time job in the afternoon. Maybe you can arrange a bookshelf room divider, or turn a garden shed into a writing studio, so you each have your own space. If he worries that available jobs don’t use his skills, try to reframe that in a positive light: he’s giving his mind a break so he can come back to the real work of writing. He’s not betraying his dream; he’s sustaining it.
By taking (some) financial stress out of the equation, he’ll be putting less pressure on his writing—and you’ll be able to encourage him more freely, because you won’t have that lingering worry in the back of your mind. When he wants a reader, you’ll be there to cheer him on, and when he needs reassurance, you’ll be there too. Because at this point in the process, he doesn’t need the whole world to believe in him. He just needs to know that you do.