He’s apathetic at 29

Hi Meredith,

I have been with "Rob" for over two years. We've lived together for over a year and have a dog together (kind of a big deal, this dog is like a child to me). His family is great and overall we do have a good time together. The last few months though, a couple things are bugging me. He's a little older -- he's 29 and I'm 26 -- and he seems to lack any ambition/goals/drive for a successful career or to better himself.

I have a decent job, although our first year together was the roughest year I have ever had as I was laid off and couldn't find a solid position for a year. I thought we'd get through that and we'd be cool, but now he is a "freelancer" and is more off than on, and when he is off there is no urgency in looking for the next gig.

I have been working my butt off going to school to change my career to something I feel I will love, and he seems to be content with "just floating by, earning just enough to do the things he actually wants to do." When I ask what he means by that and what he sees for himself in the next few years, he says (aside from being incredibly defensive and assuming that I'm looking to talk about marriage) that he will never love any job, so he will just do whatever he can to make enough to travel, make music, go to bars, and ride his bike. I calmly listen to what he says, he asks if it bothers me, and I tell him that it's fine for now, but not when I want a family etc. I also note that none of his responses include me. I tell him we don't have to talk about it now, it's just something to think about, and the next day he apologizes.

I'm not sure if it's that he grew up in a well-off family, but he seems to have a real disconnect between money and being able to do things ... or earning the things you want vs. just getting the things you want. After we have these talks and he apologizes, nothing changes at all. He's incredibly defensive, shows no initiative with anything (if I want to go somewhere, eat something together, make the apartment look decent, I'm required to do all planning, etc.) I love him more than anyone and it isn't just about money, but when do I say I deserve someone who actually has drive and wants a career? I'm not naive enough to think people will just change, although I think people can certainly improve, but I can't see myself marrying him or having kids because I won't do either without being financially stable. I do eventually want these things, so when do you give up hope that someone will provide what you need?

– Increasingly Disappointed, Boston

ID, it seems to me that you actually do want to talk about marriage and kids right now. The future is more than "just something to think about." And that's fine. He's 29. You've been together for two years. You live together. You want to be planning for something. So my advice is to be honest about that. Instead of asking him if he eventually wants a real career, say, "Where do you see us in five years?" Instead of asking him why he doesn't plan, say, "I want to take a trip with you next year -- an amazing voyage to another country. How can we make it happen? How can we afford it?"

Sure, some of this could be upbringing, but my guess is that a lot of this is age. Some people hang on to 29 like a floatation device while others see it as a stepping stone to real life. And that's why it's good to ask him about his five-year plan. Remind him that in five years, he won't be 29. Find out what he imagines his grown-up life will look like. And when you ask, keep your tone supportive, not accusing or patronizing. Be his friend and tell him what he's good at. You should sound excited, not disappointed.

If he looks at you and tells you that he doesn't care what happens in five years or that he might want to continue doing what he's doing until he's 40, that's when you reevaluate your partnership. But if he does see a future with you (marriage, kids, travel, etc.) and just doesn't know how to make it happen, listen and help. Again, 29 is a weird age. Find out what he wants 34 to look like, see how he responds to your own honest fantasies about 34, and then make decisions accordingly.

Readers? Has she been asking the right questions? Is it OK that he wants to work to live as opposed to live to work? Is there any hope here? Am I right to say that some of this is 29? Discuss.

– Meredith