Ask Alison: Unemployed Love, Dancing Alone, and Moving Away

Good advice from someone who is terrible at dating


I haven't seen this question asked yet, and I'm not entirely sure how to say it. Anyway, I was lucky enough to get a great job right out of college, but my boyfriend was not. I've stuck it out for two years now, but he's going to be 27 this fall and still is unemployed and lives with his parents. We're both ready to be full-time adults but it's pretty impossible in his situation. When is it time for me to move on? I know it's not his fault, but I'm tired of it being my problem. Too harsh?

Usually when young people start dating young people, for the most part, you are equals at least in some way, you know? You both go to the same college, or you're equally attractive, or you live in the same apartment building or whatever. As time goes on, that slides around until you might be three years in, staring at a stranger. A good relationship feels like both people are growing and improving because of each other. In your case it sounds like you're thriving in spite of, not because of, your boyfriend.

It sucks when our lives move us away from the people we used to be closest to. But your life is clearly pulling you away from this guy. We all fall on hard times and sometimes need to lean on our significant others emotionally, financially, or both.

So maybe it is harsh to end a relationship because things aren't going according to plan, or because the other person doesn't make as much money as you, etc. But it is also unrealistic for him to ask a grown woman to have a conversation with his parents every time she comes over. Imagine if you two had your first date today. Would there be a second one? That doesn't make you petty or shallow, it means you want an equal, which you deserve.

I don't know what your boyfriend's career aspirations are and I understand that the economy is still bad, but most people out of college suck it up and take a low paying job and a live in a gross apartment and struggle while they work out lives for themselves. Two years in, it kind of sounds like this guy is waiting for the perfect opportunity before he leaves home. Maybe some tough love would do him good. He's got free rent and a girlfriend who is willing to put up with it. Ending the relationship might be what wakes him up; good for you both.

I'm a 31 year old guy, recently divorced, pretty chill, and I just started dating a 23-year-old woman. She's an angel. I know what love is, and this is love. We've gone out a few times. She's just kind of like "oh well, we'll see what happens," but I know this is marriage material. Last weekend her roommates had a keg party, and I wanted to sweep her off into a carriage and propose to her on the spot. She only wanted to dance, though, and not even just with me. When I watched her dancing with other guys it made my blood boil. I wanted to yell out, you know, "THIS IS NOT COOL." But all I did was tap my foot and nod to the music. I guess I'm just a romantic. She'd be such a good mom to my son, they even look alike. How do I play it cool?

I was back home visiting my parents a few weeks ago and stopped by a local coffee shop. I fell in love with the barista that took my order. Right there. He was in his early twenties, had the stubble of a community college poly sci major and was just such a babe in a way that really spoke to me. We joked around while he made my coffee and all the while I was thinking, "I could take you away from all of this." Because I could. I could take him back to my little house on the east side of Los Angeles and show him my record collection and my framed posters and sleep with him and we would be happy forever, or maybe a few weeks. So when you tell me you're in love with this girl, please know that holds little or no weight with me. I fall in love like three times a month at least.

You don't say how recently divorced you are but I'm guessing that whatever the timeline; if you're still using the word "recently," you may need time to process the change. We all do that differently. Some of us watch sad YouTube videos of blind kittens and sob into a salad bowl filled with cereal. Some people do "healthier" things like channel that energy into a creative project. Some people try to ignore the pain completely and transfer all of their feelings onto a young unsuspecting co-ed.

However strong your feelings may be for this girl, or whatever they're really for, take time to really consider the possibility that you are just trying to navigate your way out of a painful chapter. It doesn't work that way. You will have to feel what you're trying not to feel right now. This girl isn't going to save you or replace what you lost.

I went out several times with a guy going through a divorce so recent I'm not even sure he had finished moving all of his stuff out of their house. When I wasn't listening to him complain about his ex-wife or having some of the worst sex of my life, I was busy debating him on how he wasn't ready to be out in the world, "dating." In my defense he was very handsome and I had a rough idea of what I was in for. I promise you that you are not fooling anyone right now.

For one, the woman is 23 years old. When we're young, we sometimes read train wreck as romantic; delusions as compliments. Please don't attach much to this young thing. It sounds like you see something new and full of hope, and maybe she's the only real bright spot in your life right now (aside from your kid, I guess) which is never good. Even if she is ready to settle down (she's not) into your imaginary world of domestic bliss, she is almost certainly equipped to help you.

Finally, to answer your actual question on tips for how to play it cool: sit this girl down, tell her you're not emotionally ready for this and then leave her alone. It's the coolest thing you can do.

I just started seeing this guy and I'm crazy about him. I also just found out that I'm moving for work to a city six hours away. I don't leave for a few months, should we stop seeing each other? I can't stress to you enough how crazy I am about him.

The easy answer is yes, of course. Cut it off before you're too deeply attached and spare yourself a tearful airport goodbye or doing a big speech about what life could be like, Family Man style.

But if you're like most people, when you like someone in those early infatuation stages, no rhyme or reason is going to keep you apart. It's really the reason most people end up together at all: the total suspension of disbelief. You probably know that the logical thing to do would be to end this, but we both know that's not going to happen. So keep seeing each other as long as you can, be realistic about the situation you two have found yourself in, have a lot of sex while you can, and be prepared to cry at the airport asking, "Why did I do this to myself?" Hey, if this is the guy, who knows, maybe he'll eventually make the move with you. If not, you'll be single in a new city. There are worse things.

If you have questions about relationship etiquette, please send them to Ask Alison [at] The Atlantic (.com).