By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m a 35-year-old woman, and my boyfriend of a year is 43. Sadly, my friends and family don’t like him. They think he’s “not good enough” for me. Their argument: He doesn’t have a full-time job with benefits (like me), plus he smokes pot to relax; therefore, he is lazy and will live off me and my retirement money. (Sorry, but enjoying retirement alone isn’t my idea of a “secure future.”) He has a part-time job he likes, makes enough to pay his bills in a (small) house he owns, and saves for things he wants. He is loving, has my back to an unreasonable degree, and says he’s pretty sure he used up all his luck getting me. Unfortunately, all minds are made up; there’s no explaining what a deeply good man he is. I feel awkward bringing him to gatherings or even mentioning him. The worst, though, is my nagging question: Could they be right?—Torn
A: There are people who chase their dreams, and there are those—like your boyfriend—who just chillax on the couch, smoking a doob, waiting for their dreams to be in the neighborhood and maybe knock on the door.
He does sound like a good man—which doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a good man to make a life with (which is why everybody’s campaigning for you to ditch him). Maybe you’re thinking, “OK, so he’s kind of a laid-back dude. It’s 2016; can’t the woman be the breadwinner?” Well, yes … but his lack of drive is likely to be a problem—at least eventually.
Evolutionary developmental psychologist Bruce J. Ellis explains that there’s this notion by some social scientists—called the “structural powerlessness hypothesis”—that women only go for powerful men because they themselves lack power. This, Ellis writes, is “directly contradicted” by research—on feminist leaders, for example—that finds that “high-power women (want) super-powerful men.” They aren’t all, “Well, I make plenty of money; I think I’ll marry Hot Julio, the pool boy.”
As for why this is, Ellis explains (as I often do) that ancestral women who went for mover-and-shaker menwere more likely to have children who survived and passed on their genes. “Over evolutionary time,” he writes, “evaluative mechanisms” were built into female psychology to push women “to detect and prefer males” with a “willingness and ability” to provide for them and their children.
A guy doesn’t necessarily have to be rich for you to get your “man with mate value!” box checked. What seems to matter is potential—that he is ambitious and has a reasonable shot at achieving what he’s going after.
Now, maybe you went for your sweet underachiever as a reaction to jerks in your recent past—or because it’s supposedly “shallow” to want a partner to be, say, at least a certain height or making some kind of mark in business. But, using the height example, if you really aren’t attracted to shorter guys, getting involved with one is basically benevolent cruelty. Sooner or later, your libido’s going to be all, “OK, so you got drunk and went home with the garden gnome. But enough is enough.”
It is possible that you and Laid-Back Larry could live happily ever after. But ask yourself some questions: Where do you see yourself in five years? Could you count on him to put down the bong and go make money if you got sick? Will your friends and family come to accept him, or will you end up unhappily isolated? And finally, do you want kids? If so, consider that you can downscale your lifestyle but you can’t downscale your kid from needing dental care or hand him makeshift forceps to take the toy truck out of his nose.
Sure, this guy would probably be the ideal stay-at-home dad. But consider—in line with what Ellis explains—that a number of studies find that women married to a Mr. Mom often end up resenting and losing respect for him, and those marriages are more likely to end in divorce.
You probably need some time to figure all of this out. Because people read the words in letters (instead of yelling over them), maybe write one to your family to ask them to be kind to him at family functions—for your sake. And finally, try not to be so dramatic about your options. You’re 35. The fertility train might be leaving the station pretty soon, but it’s not like this guy is your last chance before “Marriage is between a woman and her cat!” and “P.S. Snowball and I are registered at Bloomingdale’s and Petco.”