Playing House, Cutting Ties, and Being Alone

by A Lady

I’m engaged to my best friend, a guy who’s always seemed perfect for me. However, during our time together (the better part of a decade) he went back to school. What seemed at the time like an investment in our future has turned into endless unemployment and a terrifying amount of debt. He will never pay it off. He’ll never be able to retire. And he’ll never be able to help support a family.

As a result of watching my parents make bad money decisions, I’ve always been financially responsible. But I can’t be the sole breadwinner. Even if we found a way to make it work, I know I would resent him for not contributing (especially in 10 or 15 years when it falls on me to take care of my parents, who haven’t saved for retirement).

So yeah, this can’t happen. His inability to find a job in the last few years makes marriage impossible, but it also makes breaking up difficult. For one thing, he’d have to find a new place to live. He currently pays half of my mortgage, which is much cheaper than the rent on any decent apartment he’d be able to find. Plus, he’s always (sort of?) joking that I’m the only thing that makes him happy. Throwing him out would devastate him, emotionally and financially.

I feel terrible because I encouraged him to go back to school and talked him out of quitting halfway through. I feel even worse because he thinks finding a job is the one thing standing in the way of us getting married, while I’ve come to think of it as the one thing standing in the way of us breaking up. Keeping in mind that he might never, ever find a job, what should I do?

If you want a stranger on the internet to tell you what you already know, by all means: break up with him. It might feel like the vines of money, housing, school, guilt, and habit are tying you two together for-ev-er (insert slow, anaconda-style creeper montage), but, to continue with the botanic metaphor, a couple difficult snips of the pruning shears (“I want to end our engagement, and I think you should move out”) will remind you that you’re two separate plants, i.e. adults. He’s not your child, and you’re not responsible for his life.

Except for a possibly guilt-induced throwaway “best friend” mention at the beginning, at no point in your letter do you talk about how much you love him and hate imagining life without him — if your only concern is of devastating him, then devastate him. Again, he’s an adult. To think he couldn’t survive without you is almost disrespectful. Plus, being forced to find independence will probably be a good thing for him, too.

Also: “He’ll never be able to support a family” and “he might never, ever find a job.” What do those phrases mean, and how can they possibly be true? What is this horrifying Rumplestiltskin grad school?

Recently everyone I know has gotten very serious with their significant other. Most of them have settled down with someone, and some of them have gotten married. I on the other hand am single. Dating every once in a while but nothing relationship-worthy. I’m totally fine with this. I got out of a serious relationship that was toxic to me over a year ago and am in no rush to enter another relationship. I’m only 25, I can’t see myself settling down anytime soon. It’s hard not to feel like the misfit in my group of friends, though. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been the third or fifth wheel on dates. And that always sucks, I hate coming to hang out thinking it’s a fun night with my friends, than halfway through it’s a PDA party. This also makes it extremely uncomfortable when I do bring someone around that I’m casually dating. My friends send this vibe of “Yay you have someone, too! Now settle down so we can go on double / triple / quadruple dates forever and ever!”

So I’m very close with my best friend. She is my roommate and we see each other and hang out almost every day. All of my friends I have met through her. She has been dating the same guy for five years, and they’re talking about marriage now. And even though I’m very happy for them and think they’re a great couple, I can’t help but feel like I’m losing my partner in crime. Her boyfriend works a lot and doesn’t hang out with us that much. Once they get married and move in together, that’s going to change I’ll be the one that doesn’t hang out as much.

I like my friend group, but I feel like they’re at different places in their lives, and it’s hard for both them and me to accept that. I don’t want to settle down, and I don’t want to feel forced into getting way too serious with someone too soon just to equal out the group. I also feel like they’re all more my best friend’s friends than mine, especially now since they can all talk about relationships/marriage together and I can’t. Maybe it’s time for me to look elsewhere for a friend circle. But how does someone do that? It’s easy to find someone to date, but it’s harder to find someone to just be friends with. I’m also not the most outgoing person in the world, so taking up activities alone sort of scares me.

Well, the “good” news is that in a few years lots of them will be getting divorced! Some people in their mid-twenties tend to play house, and sometimes they don’t realize they’re playing house, so they marry the people they’re playing house with, and then by their late-twenties/early thirties they have a “wait what am I doing? Who am I? Am I anyone?” crisis. (And sometimes they’re not!) (No, everyone is someone.) (Are they, though? Hard to tell sometimes.) And as all your friends’ relationships fall apart, you’ll be sympathetic but privately grateful you took the time to figure out who you are, what you want, and how to be alone.

Sometimes “capable of being alone” seems like the secret to life.

Anyway, you say “especially now since they can all talk about relationships/marriage together and I can’t.” Yes, you can, but those conversations are often boring, and at certain ages are just extensions of the playing-house phenomenon. Because when 25-year-olds envision marriage, they’re sometimes (not always!) thinking of an awesome wedding followed by a 50-year twin-bathtub Cialis commercial. (Side rant: if instead of giant parties with pretty dresses and champagne, weddings were brief, solo walks through a gutter followed by an exchange of mud clumps, there might not be so much divorce. Maybe? I don’t know; I’ve never been married. And what’s the difference between playing house and not playing house? I’m not sure, either, and maybe there isn’t one.) Getting excited about being married has just always seemed to me like getting excited about being drunk — and those are the nights I end up vomiting at a stranger’s house.

I’m extrapolating a bit, but it sounds like your friends and you are drifting apart, which is totally natural — especially at 25 — and it might be fun to get to know some older people. Are there interesting women where you work? Or women you can meet through the internet? At a ‘Pinup? Also, there’s nothing wrong with spending a few years mostly alone. That might sound a little dark, and I don’t mean you should become a hermit, just that reading the books you like to read, watching the shows you like to watch, and setting up your life the way you want your life to be set up — and letting the rest come naturally — can be really wonderful and liberating.

How important is it for me to go to a friend’s wedding? I truly care about this friend, and I am excited about his future with his lovely wife-to-be, and I want to support him as he takes this big step… but I’m broke. I’ve moved to a different state, so we would have to buy two plane tickets (me and my guy, because I wouldn’t go alone), train tickets to the countryside, a night at a B&B because there are no cheap hotels nearby, car rental/taxis, meals… it adds up.

I’m struggling because I am in such a different world than this friend. We used to work at the same ridiculously high-paying company, and I quit (because it was a horrible, abusive place), but he is still there, his fiancee is in the same industry, as are almost all of their friends. And they’re all so rich! I think that it would be hard for them to understand how hard it is for us to afford this. I haven’t had a steady job for six months, and between my freelance projects, my wonderful guy supports us both on his retail salary. We do fine, but we do not have much money to spare.

If I hadn’t quit that job, I could go to this wedding without a thought. A lot of people from that professional world think I was ridiculous for leaving the job. And if I was ridiculous (I wasn’t), I don’t want that ridiculousness to prevent me from going to my friend’s wedding. And of course, I could go. We could put tickets on the credit card and pay them off over time* — we could pinch pennies harder. And maybe we should. Should we?

Also, I know I will be subject to a lot of judgment if we go. My colleagues at that company were very judgmental about everything: my boyfriend’s career, the brand of shoes I wore, my hair… They will be able to tell at a glance that I am broke, and they will ask little questions to fuel later gossip (and to reaffirm that their decision not to quit was the right one). So it’s not like it would be a completely awesome party we would be going into credit card debt for…

But A Lady, I like this friend a lot. He is one of my go-to people for talking about big life questions, and I serve that role for him too. Our worlds are different, I don’t fit in with his social circle, but he’s a true friend, and I know that this is not an occasion for selfishness on my part. What should I do?

* We never carry credit card debt, so this is a big deal for us.

On one hand, it’s a really important day for someone you truly care about out. On the other, you can’t afford it, and it sounds like it won’t be much fun. At all. I say skip it, explaining to him that you just can’t afford it right now — if he’s as good a friend as you say, and it’s that you REALLY can’t afford it, and not kiiind of because you don’t want to spend that much money just to have your shoes judged by those gremlins from the fifth floor, he’ll understand. But then invite him and his bride-to-be to spend a weekend with you and your boyfriend (and throw out some actual dates) that’ll be filled with delicious home-cooked meals and wine and fun and talking, and no nasty comments about your hair. Ah! That part killed me. Why are people mean? Life is hard, everyone should be nice. We’re all trying to do the best we can.

One of my best friends is getting married. I’m pretty close to her and her fiancé but live hundreds of miles away now. I have known and loved her longer and my loyalty is to her. I am the maid of honor and was visiting when she and I arrived home drunk after spending the day and evening away from her home. A Lady, I snooped. I am so very anti-snooping within the context of one’s own relationship, and really in general, but I opened their computer to check my email and he (asleep at this point) was still signed in to the email server we both use, and … I already do not entirely trust him, so I snooped a little.

Why don’t I trust him? This email server we both use has a kind of lame social networking aspect to it, he is one of my contacts, his stuff shows up on my welcome page sometimes, and in the past he has made strange comments on photos posted by transvestites who live near them. He is not terribly tech-savvy and probably doesn’t realize I’ve seen this.

So, what I saw: he’d been emailing people from the casual encounters section of Craigslist. In the early afternoon, it was women, and it was sexual. There was no proof of any actual encounter, but obviously they could have switched over to IM. Then there were a few hours of nothing, and then emails with transvestites from craigslist.

You might be like, hey, that’s a lot of snooping, you little amateur detective. Truth is, I’ve used Craigslist for casual sex and chatting, years ago; it was really easy for me to pick up on what was happening within a few minutes. I should note that my friend is far more conservative than I, sexually speaking, and this would probably really disturb her.

I don’t want to tell her, but it’s hard to figure out whether that is cowardice on my part, or good sense because 1) I was snooping, which is wrong, and 2) I don’t really know what happened beyond some sexy chatting. I need an objective opinion.

If this website were a stew, and someone accidentally left the burner on all day, when we got home it would have boiled down to the lone phrase “never snoop.” Maybe just NS. An alphabet stew, reduced to two letters crusted to the bottom of the pan.

I vote tell her. Or, do whatever you wish she’d do for you if the roles were reversed. Either she already knows and is cool with it (or, her version of “cool with it”) or she doesn’t, and there’s still time for her to decide whether she wants to marry this guy. I’m sorry, though — you’re in a really tough spot, because you risk losing your friend in a shoot-the-messenger scenario. But I think in the long run telling her is best. I hope someone would do the same for me. But also:




Previously: Escaping, Tipping, and Moving Forward.

A Lady is one of several rotating ladies who know everything. Do you have any questions for A Lady? (300-word max, please.)

Photo by Ina Schoenrock, via Shutterstock