how can I convince my girlfriend to get a better job?

A reader writes:

I know this is sort of out of your core expertise, but I figured it was worth a shot.

My girlfriend and I have been together for three years, and we are very happily deeply committed. We live together, split rent, have cats, are both on the lease, that kind of thing. We talk openly about money, and while we live in one of the most expensive cities in the states, we do an alright job saving while also having fun money.

I’m at the upper limit for what I can make with my current degree. I’m going back to school this fall to obtain a degree that will lift the cap on my earnings, but y’know, school takes time. I’m going to have to cut back on my work hours by up to three-fifths.

My girlfriend works in tech. She’s currently in IT but has skills with data that are highly sought after. She’s been her current company for a year and a half and makes the same amount, which is waaaay below the average for our region. The plan is for her to apply for a PhD program she’s passionate about for admittance in 2017, and she would also like to work part-time during that.

The problem is that she is very shy, hard on herself, and resistant to change. She feels like there’s no possible way she could get a better paying job that would let her go to part-time 18 months from now. She hates applying to jobs and says no one wants to hire her. I feel incredibly frustrated when I look at her LinkedIn profile and see messages from recruiters about job openings they want her in, or look at her email and see that she only has applied to few jobs instead of the “hundreds” she brings up when I try and talk to her about this (we share devices, she’s fine with me looking at the things). She also feels comfortable with her coworkers, and not too stressed out by the work. She also is annoyed by the content of the work itself, which we both agree is much more customer service oriented than she would like in a position.

When we’ve talked about this, she says her work is paying for some certificates that will make her more valuable, but I think they’re kind of bogus sounding. She says she does want to get a better paying job before she starts, but won’t talk about a timeline. I’m extra worried about her deciding to stay in this job because last fall her position ended and we talked about that being a natural time for her to look for another job. Instead, she took another lateral job in the same company.

I don’t know how to talk to her about the importance of advancing her career with feeling like a money-grubbing jerk. I feel like she’s also not facing the reality that if one of us doesn’t figure out how to bring in more money, things are going to be pretty bare bones for a couple years. How do I have conversations with her about careers being things that make you uncomfortable sometimes, and not make it all about money?

I don’t think you’re being a money-grubbing jerk. If you’ve committed to build a life together and share expenses, then it’s reasonable to want to be on the same page about what your joint finances will look like and how your individual financial decisions will affect each other.

But in this case, I would change your goal. If your goal is to convince your girlfriend to get a better job, you risk pushing her to do something she doesn’t really want to do, and making you both frustrated and resentful.

Instead, I’d make your goal to get a clearer understanding of (a) what she really wants and plans to do as far as a job search, if anything, and (b) how she imagines things playing out if she doesn’t change jobs.

Here’s the thing: While she’s told you that she wants to get a better paying job before she starts her graduate program, she’s not actually taking actions that align with that. It’s possible that that’s because she feels discouraged or lacks confidence, but it’s also possible that it’s because she just doesn’t really want to do it. Also, telling you that her current company is paying for certificates that will make her more valuable sounds an awful lot like “I’m going to be staying here for a while.”

Sometimes when people don’t just come out and say “I actually don’t want to do X,” it’s because they haven’t come to terms with that themselves. But sometimes it’s because they sense that the other person doesn’t want to hear it, or they don’t want to deal with the response they think they’ll get. Any chance that your girlfriend is a people pleaser or has a hard time telling you things she thinks you’ll be disappointed to hear? And any chance that you may have inadvertently made it hard for her to tell you that?

I can understand why you’d want to nudge her to take actions that would get her something that she says she wants for herself, especially if you think that she’s overly hard on herself and struggles with change. But it’s not totally clear here that she does want this for herself … and even if she does, there are real limits on how much it’s appropriate for you to push it.

If I were in your shoes, I’d actually assume that she’s not going to change jobs, and plan from there. If she does end up doing it, great — there will be extra money coming in. But right now, her lack of action on the job search front is making you antsy and stressed and probably causing tension between you. So why not just assume it’s not happening and figure out what it will look like to live with that?

I’d also sit down with her and say two things:

1. “I’m realizing that I’ve been assuming that you definitely do want to change jobs, and I wonder if I’ve made it hard for you to say that you’d actually prefer to stay where you are. I think you’re awesome and would have lots of opportunities if you conducted a full-scale job search, but I wonder if that’s just not something you want to do right now?”

2. “If you don’t end up changing jobs, can we talk about what our finances will look like over the next few years? My income is probably going to drop to $X this fall. Assuming you stay where you are, our household income is going to be $Y. Can we sit down together and figure out a new budget under that scenario, so we can see what kind of changes we’ll need to make?”

It’s possible that going through that budget exercise will make her realize that she’d rather do something to change her own income. If it doesn’t, it will still get you to a better spot because you’ll know that she has a clear understanding what the money situation will mean for the two of you. Either way, you should come out better aligned about how your life together will work, and that’s really a more appropriate role for you to play.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 237 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    Excellent advice from AAM here, OP, and I hope you are able to use it to have a meaningful conversation with your girlfriend. You should, however, be prepared for nothing changing – or at least for nothing changing in the way you would like it to. If she says “I’m perfectly happy where I am and I’m only saying otherwise because it sounded like what you wanted to hear”, you need to accept that instead of pushing her to lean in.

    Also, p.s.: this thing where you’re checking up on her job applications is a little weird.

    1. anonanonanon*

      Agreed. It reminded me way too much of my parents checking up on applications after I had graduated college and berating me for only applying for a handful of jobs that week instead of every job opening out there.

      Also, OP should be taking those LinkedIn emails from recruiters with a large grain of salt. I find 95% of the ones I receive are worthless.

      1. Brett*

        “Also, OP should be taking those LinkedIn emails from recruiters with a large grain of salt. I find 95% of the ones I receive are worthless.”


        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Eh, I think it varies by what you do and where you’re at in your career. I get a lot of junky ones, yet my boyfriend gets about 50% legit ones (albeit sometimes for jobs out of state and wanting us to relocate)

      2. Kelly L.*

        Yep, I was thinking a fair number of them are probably scams or spam. It’s not really representative of how much legitimate recruiter email she’s getting.

        1. Jinx*

          Yes, I agree. I receive them fairly regularly and I haven’t had one that didn’t sound like a form letter. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider responding if I happened to be job searching, but from my experiences (especially in tech) those kind of messages are common.

          1. anonanonanon*

            Yes, this has been my experience as well. They’re form letters and I feel like they send them to anyone who even has 0.5% of a match with the job listing. Most of the ones I get would be a horrible fit, skills aren’t a match, or they’re lower tier/salary jobs.

            It seems like a lot of recruiters just looking to fill positions and contacting whoever they stumble across.

            1. OP*

              It’s pretty clear that I’m misinterpreting at least the meaning of the linkedin messages. I’m in a industry that has a lot of people competing for jobs at the level I’m at (and I’m going to school to move up) and so it does burn me to see her be pursued even on a superficial level (and she’s had much more serious offers, including referrals from people she’s worked with who have moved on to new jobs) and not consider them.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Wow. OP, you need to back up, like, fifty feet here. There is absolutely no rational reason to be burned up because your girlfriend has not decided to follow through on your plan for her, especially when your plan for her is the result of your decision about your own career. Even if those decisions are, in your view, wise and for the long-term benefit of you both.

                1. OP*

                  The full story, which I left out of the email for brevity, is that we were scheduled to deploy together for the Peace Corps last summer. When that was cancelled at the last minute, I wanted to travel. Her compromise was that we stay in our city, I apply to and attend grad school, then she pursues her Phd. Part of the deal is that I go first so I can make more money to support her more when she takes her turn, AND that she would get higher paying work while I was in school. I think what I didn’t convey in my letter is all of this isn’t MY plan, it’s OUR plan.

                  (we’re both women, btw)

                2. neverjaunty*

                  Thanks for clarifying. AAM’s advice is still right on here, though – you’re expecting your girlfriend to do a particular thing, and it’s clear that she’s not taking steps to do that, to the point where you’re now in a mutual cycle of pressure and mistrust. She’s not going to suddenly start looking for jobs in good faith because you’re annoyed with her or caught her through reading her email.

                  It could be that your plan wasn’t as mutual as you thought it was, or that she is having second thoughts, or that the reality of looking for another job is much harder than it seemed, or that she’s starting to feel resentful on a ‘how come I have to get a new job while you go back to school’ level (unfair though that may well be). You guys just have to have a hard conversation where she can be open with you about what’s really going on, instead of telling you what you want to hear.

              2. anonanonanon*

                Do you actually know that going to school is going to give you a better leg up or more money? a MA doesn’t mean that in a lot of industries, so unless you know for certain that a MA or PhD will give you a big salary increase, don’t assume it will.

                Money is important, but what if she takes a higher paying job that makes her miserable or in a place that is toxic?

                A lot of people in my industry are competing for jobs at my level, but even then, most of the LinkedIn messages I receive are crap. Referrals from people she’s formerly worked with should be taken with a grain of salt, too. I’ve had people I used to work with ask me if I want to apply for an opening at their new company and it’s not something I’ve been interested in. I really think you need to sit down and have a long talk about all of this because it sounds as if you’re coming from it without a deep understanding of her thoughts and feelings.

                1. Op*

                  Point one: I’m sure that the degree will earn me more money, the phd is in her passion field and is a combo life dream/career goal.

                  Point two: it’s clear the the LinkedIn messages are not good indicators. However, the former coworkers trying to poach her for their teams, the nature of her work and the city were in all speak to her skills’ worth.

                  I clearly need to get a better sense of what she wants, career wise.

                2. anonanonanon*

                  As far as the former coworkers, it depends. If they were team members, they could just really have liked her. My industry is notorious for having work friends try to poach former work friends to come work with them again.

                  It’s definitely a good thing, but I wouldn’t give it the same weight as I would a former manager trying to poach her. Especially since a referral from someone who isn’t a hiring manager might not end up turning into anything. Sometimes it means you get to skip over the online application process and that’s it.

                3. Ellie H.*

                  FWIW you said that she is in a tech/data field. My ex is in that field and he received many legit LinkedIn messages related to real, lucrative jobs (I can’t remember if that was how he got the job he ended up in, but I think it might have been – anyway even if he didn’t want to do the jobs, they were real jobs making good money). Based on my experience with this I would assume that your initial reading of her LinkedIn contact is correct. Obviously a bunch of that is spam as happens with literally everything, but I would be inclined to believe that someone in programming/data will get a bunch of legit options bc it’s such a hot & remunerative field right now.

        2. Stephanie*

          Or even if they are legit, the posting they’re offering is a job I don’t want more often than not (contract work, way too senior, etc).

      3. INTP*

        TBH I was reminded of my parents telling me I was being down on myself and too insecure for having realistic expectations.

        I don’t know the girlfriend’s industry or region but it CAN be hard to find a part time job, especially a part time job where the employer really respects your hours. (I know I’ve seen at least one post here about someone hired for PT hours and expected to work more.) The girlfriend staying at the current employer might not be a lack of self-confidence, but her making the right decision for herself, since I presume it’s better if, at the start of her PhD, she’s holding onto this job than quitting her new and higher paying job, and she’s just too afraid to be emphatic about it.

    2. Florida*

      I’m not sure whether we should be judging whether it’s weird for OP to check the job applications. If Girlfriend is fine with it than it must work for them.
      Having said that, I think that OP would be happier if he(?) didn’t check it. The information he gets from it makes him unhappy, so I’m not sure why he continues to check it. I’m suggesting he avoid checking it not because it’s weird, but it would probably make OP happier.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        There’s a difference between ‘we share a computer and I don’t care if you happen to see any of my stuff’ and ‘I enter your accounts to check whether you have taken certain actions’. Whether your significant other minds or not, I think you should have higher standards for yourself.

        1. AnonyMoose*

          + 1

          But we don’t have all the details. Maybe they’ve already arranged a system where he keeps her accountable because she’s asked, knowing that she has a tendency to be gunshy. Let’s not assume we’re in their relationship and understand how it works.

          1. SG*

            Yeah, I had an ex that relied on me to help him with job stuff, I had more experience than he did and parents with more realistic advice.

      2. neverjaunty*

        It’s a little weird in that OP is checking on whether Girlfriend is sufficiently aggressive about her job-hunting. Sharing isn’t itself a little weird.

        1. Florida*

          Thanks for correcting me. I couldn’t tell from the original letter, so I had to guess.

          1. Florida*

            I should have said “I’m sorry” too. I hope I didn’t offend. Sometimes I feel weird using “they” as a singular pronoun and “he/she” is cumbersome. I never know what the best way is to handle it when the gender is unknown. In any case, thanks for correcting me.

    3. Roscoe*

      Well, I personally think couples sharing devices and keeping email and stuff open for the other to see is weird anyway, but if they have decided to do it, I don’t know that him looking at job applications is weird.

      But I agree that he should be prepared for nothing to chance, and come to terms with his feelings about that. I could see if someone has been telling your for years that they will do X, if they all of a sudden decide not to, it can really feel like you’ve been being misled.

      1. OP*

        Yes, it is truly not a reflection of my best self that I check her email sometimes. I try my best to keep what I learn through that in a separate box than the mechanics of our relationship.

        1. rory*

          Is she automatically signed in, or do you know her password? You can remove the temptation if she changes her password.

          I say this as someone who has gone in and checked my mom’s email when I’m worried about her. And then she changed her password and I had to ask her what it was so I could forward stuff to her (this gets it to the top of her email so she can see it easier, otherwise if it’s more than a day old, it’s “lost”). But when I didn’t have her correct password, I couldn’t check. :)

        2. AnonyMoose*

          Yes, but WHY are you checking it? Do you not trust her to tell you the truth? I’m genuinely curious.

          1. Lindsay J*

            But apparently she is not telling the truth as she is claiming to have applied for hundreds of jobs, while reality is only reflecting that she applied for a few.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Eh, it depends on if she was exaggerating. I know when I was last job searching, I don’t think there were even hundreds of jobs in my geographical area that I was qualified for. But if you’d asked me how many I’d applied to, I might have said “Zillions!”

        3. neverjaunty*

          But you’re not keeping it in a separate box, as you say in your letter – you’re checking up on what she tells you about her job-hunting, and you feel that it’s “not a reflection of [my] best self” that you check in the first place.

          Stop checking her email. Tell her to change her password, if that’s what it takes.

          1. OP*

            Yes, I should and I will. It comes from a point where we were both applying to jobs and I was using a spreadsheet to track the 117 I applied to in three months. She bragged to me about the “hundreds” she was applying to, but I when I looked at her email there was only evidence for a very small number. And I realize that not all job apps bounce a confirmation into your email, but I hadn’t realized that she was not doing what she told me she was doing. I think Alison is right, that I made it very hard for her to say that she doesn’t want to change, but that she told me she was working much, much harder on her career than she told me she was.

            1. rory*

              You can work on your career a lot without applying to more jobs. You can learn more on the job, you can increase responsibilities, you can cross-train, you can take various training certificates, etc. Leveling up in your career while staying in your current job is totally doable, especially in IT when there are always more systems to learn. If she’s great in System X, but lots of jobs want both X and Y, and she has the opportunity to learn Y at this current job, staying where she is will pay dividends later.

              Also, it’s not really your problem to solve if she’s working on her career a lot. If you are in a serious relationship where you are combining your finances and having these conversations, then it’s part of the deal to talk about long term plans and etc. But if *your* plans require *her* to make more money, then this has to be something you are *both* committed to, and you might have to wait until she gets a raise/promotion or decides on her own that she wants a new job, or be able to do this based only on your own savings. Believe me, I have dealt with a lot of pushing from people around me, and there comes a point where you even if you admit they have a point, the pushiness is *not* helpful. Also, it can take a *ton of time* to find a new job.

            2. OP*

              So yes, I don’t trust her to tell me the truth. And it’s abundantly clear that “when are you going to get a new job?” is not the right question, or likely to produce truthful answers.

              1. neverjaunty*

                If you don’t trust her to tell you the truth, you have a much, much bigger problem than convincing her to get a different job. And as AAM gently pointed out, you should think very hard about why your girlfriend is not being honest with you.

              2. Ultraviolet*

                It’s very challenging and fraught to make long-term plans for a shared future when there are big things like trust issues waiting to be resolved. Do you think concern about the viability of your future together is making your girlfriend hesitate to sacrifice things she likes (the job she has, the fact that she isn’t job searching) for it?

              3. Ineloquent*

                OP, I hate to be harsh but this is where you need to focus your attention. If you do not trust your significant other, and she feels like she can’t be honest with you, your question about incomes in moot. It’s very likely you guys won’t last in the long term if you can’t get to a position of mutual trust and respect, and then it doesn’t matter to you whether she’s in a good job or not. Don’t lose sight of the important things.

                1. Op*

                  And you know, fair. I think all relationships, like careers, are built on some degree of compromise. We’re a pretty clear mismatch in ambition, were a great match in other ways. I know snooping is looked down pretty strongly on, but I think what’s going on is that my girlfriend feels the need to be evasive. And I need to figure out how to communicate with her in ways that makes the truth possible.

                2. Walnut*

                  Hi OP, I can’t seem to reply to your message, so I’m replying here. I want to gently suggest that the reason that your GF is being evasive is precisely because you are snooping and keeping tabs on everything that she’s doing in her job search. You two have discussed a plan, and for whatever reason, it’s not coming to fruition on her end. Maybe she realized it wasn’t the best plan for her. Maybe there’s some other reason. However, you’re looking at what’s going on with such attention that I wonder if she’s feeling that she can’t deviate from the plan, even though it might not be ideal for her anymore. This might be causing her a lot of unhappiness. She might also be trying to kick the conversation of reckoning down the road because she feels like she might disappoint you. I think if you backed off a little, she might be more comfortable discussing this all with you.

                  The other thing I wanted to suggest was to reframe your point of view. Happiness is not always something that is rational, but it is immensely valuable. If your GF is happy in her job, that seems like something worth compromising on. (Are you able to work at all during school to offset some of this earnings loss? Can she take on a side gig, tutoring or something like that?) I’m much more pragmatic than my SO, so I make a lot more choices career-wise for considerations like money and job security. But I can’t demand that of him, because he’s just not that way. What I’ve grown to realize is that whatever is best for my SO is necessarily best for me, and best for us. His happiness has to be my happiness, on a pretty fundamental level, and if there’s something in his life that is making him unhappy and that he wants to change, we’re going to work together on trying to figure it out.

                  I think the problem here is an emotional one, and until your GF feels safe enough coming to you with what she really wants, it’s not going to be solved.

                3. Walnut*

                  Oh, and I also wanted to say that I’m a planner with a capital P. I have a five year plan, a ten year plan, a quarterly goals chart, color coded whatevers, but again, my SO isn’t that way. I had to actively train myself to not bulldoze his way of doing things and thinking about the future in the relentless pursuit of the plan that we had “agreed” upon. I’ve come to realize that when we talk about plans and decide, “yup, this is it!” he might still require some time to process and dip his toes in before the plan becomes cemented in his vision of the future, even if it’s already cemented in mine. I’ve let go of a lot of my need to come up with The Plan in one or two conversations. We generally reach consensus over the course of a couple of weeks to a month. It’s slower, but not necessarily worse, since now I have more time to consider externalities and/or color code things.

              4. TrainerGirl*

                OP, I don’t know if Allison paraphrased you by titling this letter “how can I convince my girlfriend to get a better job?”, but it sounds like you’d be better served writing to Carolyn Hax than Ask a Manager. Generally, when you ask “how can I convince someone to….?” to get them to do what you want, the answer is generally that you can’t. If she doesn’t share the same goals as you or she’s changed her mind, she should be honest and say that. Just consider that she may be having a hard time saying so and give her a chance to state her feelings without trying to change her mind or convince her that you’re right.

              5. One of the Sarahs*

                Hey OP, I really, really recommend couple counselling. My partner was completely freaked out that I was going to leave her, when I suggested it, but it was SO useful – and my lovely, freaked-out, introvert partner found having a neutral third party was really helpful to her, especially helping her unravel things she was finding hard to say. It was the best thing we did as a couple, and the things we learned still help us, years later.

                There are tons of LGB-friendly, and LGB-specific counsellors in the world, and I’d really recommend you schedule some sessions, to be able to unpick some of the background issues, and give you the tools to go forward stronger.

            3. Government Worker*

              My wife and I both just found new jobs after a move, and we applied in very different ways. She has a particular set of skills that are widely sought after and needed in many different organizations, and so she applied to a lot of jobs for which she was qualified. I was coming out of grad school with a really strong resume for a very narrow set of jobs, and I think I ended up applying for 5 jobs total. I got offers at two of them and heard back from a third after I accepted my current job (and a fourth was in a different department at my new employer). I put in a lot of time networking and researching to find those openings and know how to make my application as strong as possible, but it didn’t show in my application rate.

              It sounds like your girlfriend is actually more in my wife’s position in terms of the applicability of her skill set, and that she lied to you about how many jobs she’d applied to, so this may not be all that applicable to your situation. But number of applications is a bad metric for how well someone’s conducting a job search.

              1. AMG*

                All this talking about a particular set of skills…I can’t help but wonder if someone here is Liam Neeson.

            4. hmm*

              117 jobs in three months is…..a lot. Maybe she was carefully choosing the jobs she wanted to apply to instead of applying to 100+ and your number intimated her?

        4. Kiki*

          As a HM, I find it super jarring the moment I realize the email/LinkedIn/Facebook/whatever account is shared between two people. One woman responded to an email with “my husband saw your email and suggested I respond ASAP…”. I like to know who I’m talking to! I even dislike my female friends who have a FB account under their husband’s name. It’s just…a bit creepy.

          1. AnotherAnon*

            you want creepy? one time I was going overseas for a conference, so emailed some friends near there seeing if they wanted to meet up for beers. one of those emails got a crazed reply from the guy’s new girlfriend, telling me to stay away from her “future husband” and calling me names.

  2. EA*

    I think Alison has a future being a relationship columnist… :)

    I would like to add… people vary widely on changing jobs. My father stayed somewhere for 10 years and was unhappy, but also uncomfortable job searching. That seems crazy to me; but he was very comfortable and job searching made him uncomfortable.

    1. Bowserkitty*

      She’s said before she used to run a dating blog (Alison, correct me if I’m wrong) I think? I’d love to see that revived so badly, even if just on Fridays here!! :)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes! A bar etiquette column that evolved into a dating advice column, co-authored with a friend. My greatest body of work ever (sadly no longer online).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I just checked to see how much was archived, and for some reason it only has the home page now (it used to have the whole thing). I do, however, have the entire site stored on my computer somewhere. Hmmm.

            1. Jack*

              I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would buy a book of your best relationship advice letters.

              For several values of “best”…

            2. LizB*

              Too late for this year, but maybe next year on April 1 you can publish one of your favorite dating advice letters to give us a taste of an alternate universe where you stuck with giving relationships advice instead of going into workplace advice. :)

        1. Evan Þ*

          Now I’m imagining a blog about courtroom etiquette targeted at lawyers that somehow evolves into dating advice…

    2. the_scientist*

      Well, for a lot of people the devil they know is better than the one they don’t. Job searching and moving to a new job is a risk (also an opportunity) and some people are very risk-averse. Plus, a crappy job might have great benefits, a short commute, a flexible schedule, a reliable 40-hour work week, or a really high salary. All the pros and cons will be weighted differently depending on the individual, their geography, their life stage, etc.

      1. Alienor*

        That’s where I am–my job is boring and stressful at the same time, but the commute and flexibility are really hard to give up. Plus, after reading so many stories of horrific, toxic bosses and workplaces here, I worry that I’ll leave and end up with one of those, even more miserable than I am now.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        There’s that, and then not just any job would let you drop to part time. Op says girlfriend wants to go back to school next year.

        1. myswtghst*

          Definitely. It’s a lot easier to negotiate a flexible / part-time schedule in an environment where you’re a known quantity and know what others have been able to do in a similar situation. If it takes 6+ months to find / interview for / accept a new job, OP’s gf might only be there 6 months (or less!) before asking to move to part time, which might not work out for many reasons.

    3. Not an IT Guy*

      This…the exact reasons that people don’t job search can vary from person to person. Despite how unhappy I’m at my job right now, I can’t look for a new one because both my resume and interview skills are extremely poor.

    4. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I’ve heard my coworkers complain about how much they hate their jobs…yet I’d be surprised were they actually to leave. I’m presuming the benefits/salary/something is too comfortable.

  3. Adam*

    I agree with Alison. I think deep down your girlfriend knows that getting a better job would be great for both herself and you as a couple, but she just isn’t there yet. And a situation like this is essentially the same as when you’d want a partner to do any number of things to take care of themselves like quitting smoking, eating better, etc. Until she decides that she really wants to do it, it just ain’t going to happen.

    It sounds like she may be having a bit of a lag of confidence combined with the fact that she’s in a job currently that works right now and has become cozy even if she understands it’s not as good as it could be. You can help her by being supportive and encouraging, but as far as your future goes I think it’s best to look at the things you know are going to happen (like you going back to school) and how you can best manage that with how your employment situation is right now. It’s great that you two can be so open about finances. So having that budget discussion so you can plan how you will handle money for the next couple years may bring into perspective for her just how tight things might get which may be enough to spur her into action.

    I can relate to your girlfriend in that I can be slow to change and somewhat self-doubting about improving my personal situation, but I find when it becomes abundantly clear that something needs to happen, down to the wire even, that is often enough to really get me moving on making the changes I need to.

    Good luck!

    1. OP*

      I think “just isn’t there yet” is the key here. She’s actually taken some concrete steps since I wrote the letter, and I think it’s just a matter of not being so scare and letting her take it on her own time.

      1. neverjaunty*

        If she’s underpaid at her current position, wouldn’t it be better for her to work on a raise at her own job?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Probably not — if they’re underpaying, her best bet to be paid her worth is to go somewhere that doesn’t underpay. She’s unlikely to get the sort of significant raise that would make up for a serious underpayment.

          1. neverjaunty*

            But isn’t it worth considering whether that is an option at her current workplace? Especially in tech, where salaries can be so variable because of lateral moves and company mergers, it’s not that uncommon for someone to be underpaid because the last manager just hired them at “10% what you made at your last job”.

          2. Brett*

            Companies that underpay in IT (especially underpaying women) generally know they underpay and just count on getting low experience people passing through. They rarely see the light and decide to pay someone what they are worth.
            If grad school is not in the future after all, OP’s girlfriend is definitely going to have to start seriously searching and it could take a long time to find something other than contract positions (which is what a lot of IT recruiters are really offering).

  4. Sarahnova*

    Good answer, Alison.

    OP: the answer to the question in the title is: you can’t. Even if your girlfriend really would like a better job and just lacks the confidence to go get it – and I don’t think that’s the whole answer, based on what you’ve written – it’s not your problem to solve. And the dynamic you’re falling into – where you monitor and judge her job-getting progress – is weirdly parental and will undermine your relationship. You’re heading into territory where she will start actively lying to you about what she’s doing, she’ll resent you, you’ll resent her, and it will be hard to recover from.

    If she stays in the job she’s in, can you live with that? Because it looks like that’s what’s happening. Focus on what is, and please try – for your girlfriend’s sake – to accept that this is her call to make. Because nothing says “I don’t actually respect your autonomy and skills, and the nice things I say about your abilities are total rubbish” like actions which communicate “I don’t think you can be trusted to handle this part of your life yourself”.

  5. Althea*

    Always remember that money is for living; it should allow you to do the thing that make you happy, not be a pursuit for its own sake.

    It could be that your girlfriend is happier earning less and not having to search for a job. If you find that out in your talk, OP, try to examine if you can be happy for her to do that, even if it means less money for you both.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Am I the only one who thinks “Leave her alone if she wants to stay at that job”?

      This bit in particular makes me think there’s no rush to get her out of her job:
      we do an alright job saving while also having fun money.

      Look, I get if you’re being paid $95,000 and could be making $120,000 that you should, in fact, be shooting for $120,000, but a lot of us are being paid $55,000 and living in the same expensive region, because we don’t work in tech and aren’t in highly-sought-after jobs.

      If your girlfriend is happy with her job and you can pay your bills, save money, and have fun, don’t stress pushing her to get a new job. Express your opinion and then support her in what she wants to do.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Oh, also, I don’t think we should discount that she seems happy at her job and likes her co-workers. If you’ve read Ask a Manager long enough, you know there are some highly dysfunctional workplaces (including ones that pay a lot of money and then treat you horribly otherwise). Money isn’t everything.

        1. OP*

          I’ll be real, money is a huge part of why I’m pushing so hard for this. She’s the spender in the relationship, and I don’t think she’s fully grasped the impact a 20k loss in my income is going to have on the household budget. She makes about 40k, and comparable jobs that don’t work with non-profits make about 75k. It is so frustrating to be looking at the budget cuts we’re looking at when she (at the time I wrote the letter) was perfectly willing to let 35k stay on the table out of fear and inertia.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            I guess I made some bad assumptions based on this line:
            My girlfriend works in tech. She’s currently in IT but has skills with data that are highly sought after.

            I thought you were talking well above the “happiness” threshold (which is like $75,000, I think). $40k is pretty darn low for one of the most expensive cities in the states, which I take to mean something like San Francisco or New York.

            In that case, I would frame it in the nicest way you can (not as a threat but as two viable options), which are for her to spend less (if she’s the spender in the relationship) or to make more. It may feel better to her to have some measure of choice in the matter instead of it being “You must make more money!” It could basically be “You must make more money” or “You must spend less money.”

            1. OP*

              Yeah, that feels much more fair. It’s the difference between being able to go out and eat a few times a month, or not being able to buy coffee out for the time I’m inschool

              1. Anonymous Educator*

                Well, I can’t really tell you how to live your life any more than you can tell your girlfriend how to live hers, even though your two lives are intertwined.

                All I can say is that my spouse and I have gone through various periods of relative wealth and poverty together (and going back to school), and we made it through. Sure, you want to be comfortable and prudent about savings. You want to do what you can. But, at least for us (and everyone has her own different level of tolerance for this sort of thing), it wasn’t the end of the world when we temporarily had a hard time making ends meet, especially with one of us in school.

                This honestly may be one of those things that’s essentially an unspoken ultimatum or, as Dan Savage says (yes, I know there are some Savage haters here, but sometimes he speaks truth), “the price of admission.” It may either be the price of admission for her (“Get a better-paying job or spend less money… or maybe this relationship isn’t right for you”) or a price of admission for you (“Deal with the fact that your girlfriend is not ambitious… or maybe this relationship isn’t right for you”).

                I know nothing about what you two have been through. But if my spouse and I were in your situation, there’s no way in hell I would think this is the hill to die on. I’d say my piece and then leave it up to her, even if it went against everything “we” agreed on. And if her spending is that much of an issue, I’d recommend three checking accounts—one to pay mutual bills, and then spending money for each of you with predetermined direct deposits on all three. That way, whatever’s in her spending checking account she gets to spend and not feel guilty about… but when it’s gone, it’s gone.

                1. Op*

                  Totally worth the price of admission for me. We’d make it through if everything stayed the same, I’d just rather figure out the inertia/trust/ambition thing sooner rather than later.

                2. Anonymous Educator*

                  Cool. It may be super frustrating… it may even be a mistake (either way), but it sounds as if you two will figure it out and make it through.

              2. Murphy*

                But! If you give her the choice to either make more money or spend less money, you have to be ok with her picking the second otherwise you’re not being fair to her.

          2. AMG*

            That’s a really big deal. That changes things significantly from my POV. Not okay for her to be sitting on this, IMO. Everyone is different, but for me, huh-uh. Just one opinion FWIW.

          3. i'm anon*

            Start living as though you had $20k less/year now. Put that extra money into savings for when you are in school.

            She’ll see the tangible effects soon enough.

  6. Mona Lisa*

    Alison, I’ve been getting ads at the bottom of the posts this morning even with an adblocker turned on, and the one that just showed up plays unprompted sound. Thought you’d like to know about the issue.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Apparently that’s an intentional set-up with the ad above the comments section – it’s set up so that the sound plays when your cursor is over it. I’ve asked them to develop a version that doesn’t do that, and it sounds like it will be changed very soon. (I removed it altogether last week when they first made this change to it, and site revenue plunged … so it’s back, but I’ve made it clear they need to fix this.)

      1. Mona Lisa*

        Interesting. I’m getting sound even when I’m scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the comments section without my cursor hovering over it.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Yes, me too. I use adblockers on this site because of the constant ad problems, and it’s a big bummer that even with that I’m getting this.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I had that problem and blocked that particular element. It hasn’t been back.

              I try not to use one on my phone or at home, but I do need to use it here.

  7. Brett*

    Just to defend the OP’s girlfriend’s position a bit…
    She was with a different company in 2014 and left for her current company? Had a lateral change to a completely different job in 2015, would switch to another company in 2016, and then leave for grad school and a different part time job in 2017.
    That’s a somewhat troubling level of hopping around, even in IT. It’s not a completely unheard of level of hopping (especially early in your career and coupled with school), but it still could be enough to raise some flags. A lot of people would be resistant to that level of change. It might not be that she’s over-resistant to change; it could be the OP is highly tolerant of change.

    On the recruiters: When I was at my last job, I received 3-6 LinkedIn messages a week from recruiters. Some digging made it pretty easy to reveal that there was almost always 1-2 contract openings being recruited by multiple agencies. I applied for several of these, and most of them turned out to be pretty bad mismatches (skill level was too low and well below my current pay, or too high and required core competencies outside my field that I did not have) where I would not even get an interview. Quite a few ended up not existing.

    When I switched jobs, I put my departure on LinkedIn, but not my new position. Recruiters started flooding me with openings, and roughly 1/3rd of those openings were actually the job I had just accepted!
    Just because you see a ton of recruiter messages does not mean that she is missing opportunities to apply nor that there are really a large number of openings being offered to her.

    1. Michele*

      I wonder if she wants to stay in her job because the employer might be open/understanding of her plans to go back to school. Plus I’ve also worked recruiters when I’ve learned the hard way that they’ve been looking to fill jobs whether or not I was a fit.

      1. OP*

        To clarify the timeline a little: she graduated college in 2014 and started working a role supervised by her company in a nonprofit the same year. Last year the contract ended and she took a lateral position in company she was supervised by. So she’s been working at the same company for around two years.

        1. Brett*

          So, college until 2014, new job in 2014, lateral shift in 2015, and then potentially new job in 2016 followed by grad school and new part-time job in 2017?
          Still not unusual in IT, but a lot of change in a short period of time.

            1. OP*

              Well, maybe. The goal, as we’ve both talked about it, is for her to find a higher paying job she can work at full time until she starts school, and then go to part time in the same job, which isn’t uncommon in the industry she’s looking at.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Is that a goal she enthusiastically buys into, or is that a goal you think she should follow?

                I don’t mean to sound like I’m hammering on you, OP, because I tend to be a lot more like you, and I also find it enormously frustrating to see somebody (especially a partner) not make changes that are super obvious, or to refrain from doing things out of fear or inertia. But I suspect your girlfriend is dragging her feet less out of anxiety than because that’s the only way she can really ‘disagree’ with you. You’re in a place where you’re guiltily checking her email to see if she’s looking for a job or not. How do you think she feels about that? Or about your saying, in essence, “I’m going back to school, so it’s your task to find a better-paying job to pick up my slack in the short term”? Probably a little resentful, I would bet, and passive resistance is how she responds.

                1. OP*

                  I mentioned this up-thread but the full story, which I left out of the email for brevity, is that we were scheduled to deploy together for the Peace Corps last summer. When that was cancelled at the last minute, I wanted to travel. Her compromise was that we stay in our city, I apply to and attend grad school, then she pursues her Phd. Part of the deal is that I go first so I can make more money to support her more when she takes her turn, AND that she would get higher paying work while I was in school. I think what I didn’t convey in my letter is all of this isn’t MY plan, it’s OUR plan

                2. neverjaunty*

                  But it’s no longer “our plan”, because she’s actively resisting doing what the two of you agreed on. That’s the part you need to figure out. And it sounds like there’s a whole ton of other stuff tied up in there – your resentment that she is the ‘spender’, the fact that this plan came as a compromise, etc.

                  It doesn’t sound like a fun conversation at all, but hashing this all out is what you need to do before any job-changing can happen.

              2. Brett*

                Okay, since her industry is IT, I am liking this plan less.

                If she tells the new employer (paying her a higher salary) up front that she is going to shift to part-time next year to work on her PhD, it is going to be hard to get hired in the first place. PhDs never lead to IT jobs (IS, data science, software engineering maybe, but not IT), so they would know they were getting a little more than a year out of her, some part-time work, and then she would be gone. With on-boarding costs being somewhat high in IT, that’s painful. Stack with that her leaving a current employer in less than 2 years after that employer pays for certifications, and that makes her a tough hire even with her skill set.

                If she doesn’t tell her employer, she will get what she wants (higher pay up until grad school), but possibly lose her job when she reveals she is starting her PhD and burn some bridges in the process.
                If she stays with current employer, she earns less but gets a solid reference at the end, more likely support for part-timing while a PhD, and really the salary and experience level is going to matter less since it sounds like she is completely switching industries anyway.

    2. Jady*

      Amen on the recruiters. I’m sure some are great, but I’ve had nothing but awful experiences with recruiters. They just want a warm body. I get endless emails, ranging from things I am in no way related to and have no skills for, through contract positions for 1 to 6 months in other states! Recruiters have done nothing but waste my time, and every position I’ve ever had I found by myself.

      1. rory*

        I made the mistake of putting my resume on Dice. Within 24 hours, I got a ton of messages from recruiters, all of them who clearly had not looked at my resume.

        I took my resume down. It wasn’t worth the hassle.

        1. OP*

          I feel like it’s not so much the linkedin messages themselves; it’s that she is clearly a valuable commodity and could find better paying work with even a moderate hunt. She’s previously complained to me that no one wants to hire her after two unsuccessful job interviews in three years, and it’s incredibly frustrating to me that even these low level indications of interest probably mean that there’s a lot more substantive interest in her abilities out there if she’s willing to put in the work for a job search. It sounds like she doesn’t, and that’s a whole different conversation.

          1. Ultraviolet*

            Is it the LinkedIn messages that lead you to conclude “she is clearly a valuable commodity and could find better paying work…”? If so, I think that’s actually still an overestimate of the meaning of those messages. Keywords in your LinkedIn profile can lead you to get plenty of messages for things that are totally out of your field, or in a totally different subfield. On that note, if you don’t work in the same type of job as your girlfriend, don’t underestimate how hard it can be to tell from the outside whether a given job listing is actually a fit for her. Lots of jobs about networks or data look similar when they’re extremely far apart.

            1. Op*

              Sure, I’m probably underestimating how hard it will be for her to find a new job. That’s why I’m trying to start talk with her way ahead of time. I do research positions in her field and see what looks like on the surface level jobs with the same title, same duties, 35k more in salary.

      2. Jennifer*

        My friend is working with like 14 recruiters and they all sound truly godawful and useless.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          View from the other side: I’ve gotten my last three positions through a recruiter and had no bad experiences. The only negative for me is that it’s pretty difficult to negotiate for a higher salary when using a recruiter because they don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize their commission.

  8. GigglyPuff*

    On this site, a main topic is trade-offs. Willing to put up with something to have the thing that means more than the negative aspect. Like a shorter commute for less money, or a longer one for more money.

    You mention your girlfriend is shy, applying and interviewing for jobs is stressful all around, and it’s possible this is just not something she wants to do. She’d rather have a decent job with people she likes for less money and boring work than making more money. It’s also possible that she knows her current job will have no problem with her going part time when she goes back to school, which is a big perk.

    Take Alison’s advice, it’s awesome. And make sure to have the budget conversation because it’s possible she just hasn’t make that connection or admitted yet, that things are going to change and possibly a lot. This might force her to weigh the trade-offs again.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      She might also be waiting for an opening that really grabs her. When I’ve been job searching whilst employed in a job I could stand, I waited for adverts to come up that really seemed like a great fit. It seemed like a better use of my time than casting a wide net.

      1. anonanonanon*

        Yes, this! I’m at the point where I’m looking for a new job, and I’m finally in a place where I can bide my time until jobs I really want come along. I’m not in the position where I need to apply to everything I might be remotely qualified for if I’m not interested in the job. It gives me more energy to tailor a resume and cover letter for a job I’m interested in than writing hundreds for jobs that I might not care about.

      2. Chris*

        Yes, this. When have a job I like, I typically don’t want to leave it simply for money. There has to be something else – career progression, a company I want to work for, a job I’ll like even more, etc.

        1. OP*

          Yes, and I think that’s a big part. We’re six months out from when I’ll start school, and so I want to start having the conversation about a possible change now, even if it’s uncomfortable.

          1. requiredname*

            If you’ve got Uncomfortable Conversations, I highly recoomend Captain Awkward. She’s got a lot of great advice in her archives.

  9. Mando Diao*

    I saw something really similar happen with some friends of mine just this year. The woman always had loose plans to eventually go back to school, but she was generally content in her current job. Her boyfriend quit his job to go back to school and their finances became a huge problem. She’s the one who had to pick up a second job because her boyfriend was so rigid in this decision that she was never really behind to begin with. They broke up and both had to move because it was no longer the relationship that the woman thought she had committed to.

    I’ll be blunt: I’m not sure OP can make this huge life change “no matter what” if his girlfriend is also committed to staying with her current company. He can’t assume that she’ll change her life around and leave the job she enjoys to accommodate her boyfriend’s decision and cover his finances for him. This is part of the compromise of relationships. Women are more used to making these compromises. Why can’t the OP meet his girlfriend in the middle by going back to school part-time? Why is she the one who has to work around his goal? He might have to wait another year to go back to school. It’s okay. Women do it all the time.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yeah–I wonder if she’s valuing stability because she knows OP is going back to school and cutting back her hours.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Judging from the name on the email, the OP is a woman.

      Re: “Why is she the one who has to work around his goal?” it’s possible that they came up with the plan together.

      1. Adam*

        Indeed. I know the general idea is that relationships should be 50/50, but very often life gets in the way and one person has to contribute more than the other person can, however you choose to define “contribute”. Maybe one person has to work a bit more while the other goes back to school so they can better their employment opportunities. And then later one the other person may have to do more because now the other partner is having a rough time emotionally or with their health. Ideally, both partners should contribute as much they can, but life’s twists may be more of a drain on one person then the other at any given point. Realistically you approach these things as a team and have a plan in mind that works for both of you.

        1. Mando Diao*

          It’s also up to the partner to decide that this particular compromise isn’t something that she signed up for. The notion of quitting a job or moving in to accommodate your partner’s career is hugely serious, and it’s something that leads to a lot of breakups. It’s not something that’s in the “Oh come on, just do it for me” category, and IMO it’s not entirely appropriate to build up “logical ammo” by writing to an employment blog when you’re trying to get your girlfriend to leave the job she enjoys.

          This is very “your mileage may vary” (as we all have different priorities), but if my boyfriend said, “I just made this decision about my future, whether or not you’re on board with school at this exact moment, and I need to you leave your job to support me” …Nope. For me, the sticking point is that the OP is going back to school no matter what. If the girlfriend stays in her job no mater what…well there it is.

          1. Rat in the Sugar*

            You have no idea what their conversation was or what OP said to GF, though. Also, I don’t think it’s very kind to OPs to assume that they are seeking “logical ammo” just by asking for advice. Isn’t what people should do when they are frustrated and not sure what action to take?

        2. Overeducated*

          I want to print this comment out and give it to all the couples I know, including my past self.

      2. Mando Diao*

        I’m just offering insight based on the version of this scenario that I happened to observe: one partner wanted to go back to school eventually, after they had perhaps bought a house and had more security/flexibility to play with. She assumed her boyfriend’s plans to go back to school were similarly nebulous. That’s why she was thrown for a loop when he announced he was quitting his job to start classes a few months later. He hadn’t really talked to her about his plans. He just went and did it, and assumed that she would work around it, since she always talked about going back to school too. Each partner was assuming the other was on the same page because they weren’t being honest with each other. Was the girlfriend ever reaaaaaaallly going to go back to school? I don’t know, probably not. She might have just been talking about fantasy goals, and she thought her boyfriend was the same way. But when he talked about his REAL plans, he thought her plans were solid too.

        This is digging a bit, but is OP’s girlfriend fully aware that OP is actually definitely going back to school? Has OP been accepted anywhere? The other side of this is that the girlfriend might not be clued into how serious the OP is about this. OP seems to have this idea of “She’ll support me while I’m in school, and then I’ll do the same thing when she’s in school.” Make sure she’s not just feeling pressured to say that we wants to go back to school. She might not, and if that’s the case, the particular arrangement that the OP has in mind will need to be tossed out.

        1. Rat in the Sugar*

          I think you’re being uncharitable to OP by assuming that what’s happening is exactly like what you’ve seen with this one other couple.

          Re: your last paragraph, it sounds like they have had multiple conversations about this. OP says they talk openly about money and have discussed job prospects and futures before.

      3. neverjaunty*

        It could well be possible. It could also be that Girlfriend is a little apprehensive about “how about you go get a better job while I go back to school?” in a dating relationship, even a long-term one, and isn’t comfortable saying so. Regardless, they need to have a conversation, rather than OP assuming Girlfriend is the problem.

        1. Mando Diao*

          Yep. If the girlfriend has always been this way about jobs, and she’s happy where she is, well, this is the girlfriend you started dating all those years ago. If she changes in a positive way that benefits the relationship, great! But she’s not wrong for failing to magically change. OP is kind of hoping for an all-over change in work ethic and educational level, and that’s hugely unfair.

          I realize I may sound uncharitable toward the OP and I’d like to apologize. Ambition is a wonderful quality to have, and to ambitious people, a lack of ambition can seem like something to fix. Unfortunately, it’s not. You’re the one who is making some changes. You have the same wonderful girlfriend you’ve always had. Please don’t pressure her to change for you.

    3. OP*

      I mentioned this up-thread but the full story, which I left out of the email for brevity, is that we were scheduled to deploy together for the Peace Corps last summer. When that was cancelled at the last minute, I wanted to travel. Her compromise was that we stay in our city, I apply to and attend grad school, then she pursues her Phd. Part of the deal is that I go first so I can make more money to support her more when she takes her turn, AND that she would get higher paying work while I was in school. I think what I didn’t convey in my letter is all of this isn’t MY plan, it’s OUR plan

      1. misspiggy*

        Well, it sounds like it’s actually her plan, which you have accepted but she isn’t now delivering her side of the bargain. I wonder whether an even bigger conversation is needed about what the two of you really want out of life, taking everything off the table and starting with a completely blank skate.

        I ask because I’m much more like you, and my partner sounds like yours. At one point I was clear that I wanted to travel and work abroad. My partner never wanted to do that, so we had to have some very big conversations about how each of us could be happy. We got there, but it took years for him to articulate what he did and didn’t want. Probably not helped by my enthusiasm to make every suggestion into a life plan, before he had had a chance to try it on for size.

  10. kiwibkute*

    I’m in the same situation with my very soon to be husband. We used to work at the same retail company, which is where we met. It was really miserable and we had no money. Thankfully I found a different job and he got a full time position that opened up. He still doesn’t make nearly enough, we live paycheck to paycheck, and I eventually want to go back to school. I spent forever pushing him to get a better job, to clean up his resume, to maybe go back to school, something! Recently it’s become very obvious and he’s basically told me that he actually really likes his job and he clearly is not ready to move on. I just didn’t like his job for him, because I know he could do better things that would make him so much happier. Alison’s advice is spot on. Having that conversation about the things you want to do and how you can make it work together is not easy to have. We’ve had a sentence of that conversation, have not made it to the full conversation yet. Anyways I don’t have any advice really, so much as an I’m in the exact same situation and I know exactly how you feel. You just want the best for someone you love and sometimes that can also overlap with your needs and making your life easier. Totally can make you feel like a horrible person sometimes, but you’re not. Those things just happened to coincide at the same time, more often than not. I think it just comes down to being a team and realizing sacrifices have to be made. It’s up to the two of you together to decide what those sacrifices are.

    1. Zahra*

      If you haven’t tried it, may I suggest “You Need a Budget”? I like it because you budget the money you already have in hand, not what you’re planning to get. This allows you to get an accurate idea of what you can spend and make sure that you have enough money to cover regular bills (monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc.) when they are due. For me, it makes it clear where I put my priorities and spend accordingly. It’s important to me that we pay off our credit cards AND get a similar amount of discretionary spending, so that’s where I put my focus. If I want to buy something more expensive than the money I have in a particular category, I’ll have to save for it.

    2. HappyHedgie*

      I know you didn’t ask for advice and I’m sorry if I’m overstepping but, please have this conversation before you get married. It is a big commitment to make and you don’t want to have regrets later. He is being clear telling you he has no desire to change jobs, take him at face value when he says this. Are you willing to accept living “paycheck to paycheck” for X number of years maybe forever? What will this mean for your goals? Will this mean putting off school, having kids, whatever other goals you may have? Make sure you are willing to accept these things before you get married and tie your finances/future to this person.

      Good luck :)

    3. neverjaunty*

      “I know you would be happier doing _______” is never, ever going to be a productive conversation. You’re telling the other person that you know better than they do what they want.

      I think it’s fair game to point out if, say, your husband is always griping about how he hates his job, or he wishes he could do OtherThing instead, or that he always is unhappy and snappish when he gets home from work. Pointing out someone’s behavior seems to reflect unhappiness, or that they’re saying one thing but doing another, is VERY different than insisting you know what’s best for them (and they, by implication, don’t).

    4. Lily in NYC*

      This is a very good thing to figure out BEFORE you get married. My sister met her husband in college when he was in grad school. After his masters, he started on his PhD. What my sister didn’t realize was that he was continuing his education only to delay “real life”, not to gain experience that could help him with his career. This was not clear until AFTER they got married. He told my sister that his only work goal is to have summers off. That’s it. He is an adjunct professor who teaches maybe one class a semester. And you know what – I can’t blame him for not being ambitious – it’s not like he was lying about it; my sister simply assumed that someone getting a PhD had ambition. She should have had a conversation about this kind of stuff with him before agreeing to marry him. It works out ok because my sister has a very high-powered career and he was the primary caregiver of their daughter when she was younger.

      But I don’t think she would have married him if she learned this while they were still dating. And honestly, she would have been happier with someone else. He’s happy as a clam, though! He does no house or yard work and works maybe 15 hours a week. Not a bad deal.

  11. voyager1*

    You can’t force someone to get a better job till they want to do it. I left an employer last year, best choice I made, but it took several things to make me do it all the while others were telling me it was time to move on. Something has to happen to trigger the desire to leave.

  12. Cambridge Comma*

    OP, I think you may be overestimating the significance of a recruiter contacting someone on LinkedIn.
    I can understand that it might be frustrating to see the person you think of as the most brilliant and gifted person in the world underselling herself and lacking confidence, but you can’t change that. It isn’t an equation where number of compliments paid is proportional to confidence in self or welcoming of change.
    All you can do is provide an environment where she feels free to share her ideas without immediately being forced into a course of action with specific measurable goals and a commitment to a timeline.
    Your image of work is very quantitative. You seem focussed on salary and on maximizing your potential earnings (this might be a European perspective, but I have never heard anyone talk like that about a career). Please consider that her image of her career may be more about quality and job satisfaction.
    Also, you might want to look again at what you think your role in her career should be. “We both agree is much more customer service oriented than she would like’ — she doesn’t have to agree with you on what she would like.
    Stuff you do get to agree on: What kind of lifestyle you would like to have together during grad school, how much that will cost, approximately, and can you both commit to earning 50% of what you need plus what you want to save.
    Let her decide how she is going to earn it. Try just listening for a while.

    1. themmases*

      I agree with this. Managing two careers as partners is delicate: your finances affect one another and decisions about that should probably be shared, but a person’s career is really theirs alone. You can’t really tell someone else what to spend their day doing or where or with whom.

      My partner works in IT and I wish he would move to a different company for a few reasons. It really is hard to see someone you think the world of insist they’re not ready or competitive, especially when you have good reason (besides loving and admiring them) to know that they are. But being supportive is really the only way to get past that. My partner didn’t move companies but he did eventually get invited to apply for a job he’d previously told me he was interested in. I knew he was still interested in that career because we would talk about what we saw ourselves doing and why, so I encouraged him to put his name forward and he got it.

      I do think things are different if you feel your partner is being mistreated in some way. When things were bad in his old position, I would tell him point-blank, “you should leave.” Seeing your partner be paid way under market, especially as a woman in a male-dominated industry, might make me feel they were being mistreated.

      1. Op*

        Sure. And while it’s about money on some level (we’d be going from about 80k as a household to about 55k in one of the most expensive cities in the us), she also doesn’t like her job! She complains to me about the work every day. The things I listed in the email are the parts she likes, everything else is a wash. I understand staying in low paying work for passion (I’m in a do gooder profession, I get it) I dont understand leaving money on the table because of inertia.

        1. themmases*

          Oh I totally see where you are coming from, the money and her happiness are both important! I would personally find it frustrating if my partner were leaving a lot of money on the table at work because on some level it is “our” money, and especially if it affected my planning about my own career.

          It can be very hard to leave that first company or long-term job in your career (I got the impression that is what this company is to your girlfriend). There is always a reason to stay. Things are going well enough and they can see a path to things being a bit nicer (never mind that’s a 3-year path and they could get it now by leaving). Or things are going badly and they have to be loyal to their coworkers (who are job searching themselves) or the terrible job has convinced them there’s nothing better out there.

          I think unless a situation is truly toxic, the best thing you can do as a partner is keep engaging them in talk about their goals so that never just falls by the wayside. And act as a human compliment file– don’t let them forget their successes and think that they’re somehow not qualified to move on.

        2. neverjaunty*

          And that’s the problem – you don’t understand, and you need to. You can’t assume it’s inertia or dishonesty (I mean, maybe it is one or both of those things, but you don’t know). It could be self-esteem, it could be that she likes her job but also tends to gripe about it, it could be that she is digging in precisely because you are pushing her. Honestly, it really sounds like it’s become a power struggle between you two – you’re doing the research to ‘prove’ she could get a better job and reading her email, she’s lying to you and stalling.

        3. Cambridge Comma*

          (OP, it’s really impressive how you’re taking all of the comments here on.)
          I’m in a similar situation in that my fiancée continually complains about her job yet is not doing the thing she would need to do to leave or looking for another solution.
          I think it’s reasonable to say, and I say sometimes, “I feel very frustrated and sad when you complain about your job because it seems to me that it would be in your power to change jobs, and you don’t. It’s hard to listen to.”

          1. Sophie*

            That is a really great line – saying that ‘it’s hard to listen to’ doesn’t make it sound like you just don’t want to hear it, just points out that it’s an issue for you.

  13. kraken*

    My partner and I are having a similar issue with my brother-in-law. The best we have been able to do is swallow our frustration and be supportive of what he wants to do, while gently making suggestions for how to find a new job. He’s really insecure and we are afraid to be too hard on him in case he shuts down and isolates himself.

    He’s refusing to face reality, and I think will only accept it once it smacks him in the face hard. He has some pretty common financial issues plus a low-paying, high-stress job he doesn’t like, and he knows he needs to find a new one. Problem is he refuses to even apply for a job he isn’t passionate about (he doesn’t know what he’s passionate about) and he is looking for a salary that will allow him to live in his own apartment with his own car. We live in an expensive city where people who make double what he can reasonably expect to make have roommates or take public transit. A lot of people do both. He also refuses to use Craigslist or an employment agency to look for jobs. It’s been a year and he hasn’t applied for anything.

    He’s been living with family, but they are moving and he has to find his own place fast. He’s still not being reasonable; he’s only looking at apartments and they are all way too expensive for his current and any future salary, and still hung up on the perfect job thing. I’m afraid he’s going to end up sleeping on my couch, which will not make me happy. I think the time for gentle suggestion is over, but I’m not sure how my partner can proceed without causing an emotional breakdown. This guy is not a recent college graduate by the way; he’s been in the real world for at least 7 years at this point.

    1. some1*

      You can’t make your brother-in-law get a job, but you can definitely say no to him crashing with you (job or not).

    2. JoJo*

      I’d be wary of the couch crashing. In some states, a houseguest can’t be evicted if they’ve only stayed for a few days.

  14. themmases*

    I left a full-time job for grad school a couple of years ago and my partner refuses to leave a company I’m not wild about, so I can really relate to this letter. :)

    If the OP’s girlfriend wants to start a PhD soon and keep working part-time, she is probably right to be reluctant to leave her current job– she’s more likely to get permission to be part-time where she’s already known. However, she should be sure she would even be allowed to do that and still have the outcome she wants. Many programs “support” all their full-time students but they work as teaching or research assistants in return for that tuition waiver, and there may be restrictions on what or how much other work they can accept. Part-time students generally avoid that restriction, but a PhD takes years even full-time. Being available to work in the department also benefits grad students in networking, gaining relevant experience, and the opportunity to essentially get paid to work on your dissertation. Basically getting into a PhD program *is* getting a new job.

    For that matter the OP might want to look into their own employment options at their future school before promising to stay on at their job part-time. Grad assistants obviously don’t make a ton of money, but the perks can really soften the blow of working less. The tuition waiver I got from working for my school is worth way more than the tuition remission at the job I left would have been, and it waived other fees such as the fee for student health insurance. My hourly rate is actually higher than my old job, too, so it reduced the impact of working fewer hours.

    The OP and their girlfriend might want to talk about how they can avoid both working part-time at the same time. If their girlfriend is happy with her current job, maybe she wouldn’t mind waiting a year so the OP could finish faster and they can trade being the main earner.

    1. Stephanie*

      That was my thinking. Many departments have restrictions on outside employment if you’re being funded (which you should be for a PhD). And even if they don’t, from what most people have told me about PhD programs, I’d imagine it to be difficult to do much more than a super part-time job and make satisfactory progress on your degree.

      1. Amadeo*

        I help with our grad students in our academic department and while I don’t believe we’ve got restrictions on outside employment, frankly I don’t see how our assistantship supported students would be able to *have* outside employment. On top of their own schooling they teach classes, usually several – and that means all of the prep, coaching and grading that includes. They get a monthly stipend in addition to the tuition waivers, so that helps, but if they had outside employment they’d never sleep.

        1. Ultraviolet*

          I think the contractual restrictions are more common in fields where almost all PhD students can count on having a teaching or research assistantship every term. That’s usually the case in science departments, for instance. (I have the impression you are not describing a science department-sorry if I’m wrong!)

          1. Op*

            Yes, yes, and yes. She’s also 9 months out from the deadline for applying to the program she wants and hasn’t started researching opportunities like this, studying for gres, getting letters of rec, which is a whole different conversation.

            1. Ultraviolet*

              It’s sounding to me like you two just aren’t on exactly the same page about the plans you made for the future anymore, and you need to figure out how far apart you are and how your plans might need to be amended. My unsolicited advice is to just sit down with her and say, “I’m worried we’re not on the same page about our plans for work and school for the next few years. I had thought you’d be closer to finding a higher-paying job by now. Am I misunderstanding the timeline you had in mind originally? Or are you not feeling like that’s a good idea anymore?” and see where the conversation goes from there. You don’t have to resolve anything in that first conversation. Just get a better understanding of where you’re both at.

            2. BeautifulVoid*

              OP, I’ve read all your responses here, and yeah, there’s a lot going on. But to this point of yours, I’ll say (in a broad generalization) there are two types of people: 1) people who want/like someone to help them out with tasks like deadlines, give them reminders, even push them to be more ambitious, and 2) people who want to be left alone to do their own thing, and any amount of pushing from external sources is just going to make them dig their heels in more and resist. Basically, if your pushing her to do XYZ hasn’t resulted in the outcomes you want yet, it’s probably never going to. Whether or not that’s a dealbreaker, that’s something only the two of you can decide. But the tension surrounding this issue is going to bleed into other areas of your lives together, if it hasn’t already, and as others have pointed out, your best bet is probably to assume she’s not going to do anything to change her job situation in the near future. (And again, what you do with that information is solely your decision.)

            3. overeducated*

              9 months is a long time! I wasn’t even in the country 9 months before my PhD program deadlines, much less studying for GREs and getting letters of rec.

              1. Ultraviolet*

                OP’s girlfriend has been out of school for a couple years, so if she has to take a subject-matter GRE I think studying now isn’t a crazy idea. But yeah, most programs won’t even have their online applications for entering in 2017 available yet.

      2. davey1983*

        I was going to comment on the PhD part– I don’t see how someone pursuing a PhD can realistically have a part time job (well, and graduate anytime within a decade).

        If you are getting a PhD, you should be getting a tuition waiver and a monthly stipend (some are only for 9 months of the year, some are for 12 months, depends on the field and program). So, you will be getting some money while getting a PhD.

        I guess what I’m saying is that part of your plan sounds unreasonable, but only because most people are unaware of how PhD programs work, and the time commitment involved (I’m half way through a PhD program, and I would kill for being able to get 8 hours of sleep for just one night). However, if you were thinking that you would need to pay for tuition and have no money coming in going to school full time, then you can relax about that aspect.

        1. Ultraviolet*

          Careful, this is really field-dependent. In some disciplines funding is harder to come by than that. And (partly) because of that, people do work part-time and finish their PhDs within a decade. I don’t have numbers on how common that is though.

          PhD experiences vary a lot depending on field–there’s an especially huge gulf between STEM and humanities. Advice that applies to one can be awful for the other, and vice versa! To the best of my knowledge, davey1983’s advice is reasonable for a STEM PhD student but not accurate for a humanities PhD student, and I’m not at all sure how social science fits in.

          1. Myrin*

            It also really depends on location. OP hasn’t indicated she’s not in the US but still, one needs to be aware that norms around education and PhDs (or their equivalent) are much different in other countrys (for example, where I am, unless you’re wealthy or have someone supporting you you have to work to actually get any money because stipends are rare and it’s not incredibly interfering with your PhD work at all).

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Your last paragraph was my idea of a compromise – why are they both dropping to work and going back to school in a year’s time? Don’t know about Op but if Gf just graduated in 2014, they’ve got time. She could get more experience at her current job and maybe look into asking for a raise but I assume they’re young and don’t get why they both need their graduate degrees asap. Or, conversely maybe she could go back first and Op later.

    3. A grad student*

      also, OP, I’m not sure what PhD programs your girlfriend is looking into, but I know for sure the one I’m in is at least a full-time commitment, and at most a double-full-time commitment, and that goes for every PhD program at my large, research-oriented university. As far as I’m aware it would be

      1. A grad student*

        Ugh, sorry. That sentence was supposed to end:
        very unusual for a program, particularly in STEM, to allow work on a PhD while working part-time.

  15. some1*

    What everyone else said, plus, are you both sure that the extra degrees will be definitely translate to a higher salary? I know many people who went back for a Masters and really struggled to get any extra compensation.

    1. anonanonanon*

      Yeah, I think people need to be careful about assuming a Masters will net more money. I went back for mine because my company was paying for some of it and I was genuinely interested in what I was studying, but it’s not like it got me a significant raise. In fact, most of the interviews I went on didn’t really care that I had a Masters. They cared about my work experience.

      I think a higher salary is true in some fields, but it’s not true in all fields and I don’t think that’s the only reason someone should seek one out.

      1. some1*

        This is what happened to my friends who graduated with MBAs during the recession – they got interviews but no offers because they had no management experience. PLUS student loans to pay.

        1. anonanonanon*

          I know a few friends with MBAs who haven’t had much luck either. I always tell people if they’re not in a field where Masters are required, don’t go back for one unless you want to spend the money or you really, really love what you’re going to study.

          Also, the same goes for people who think a Masters means they get to skip entry level work. Again, in some cases this may be the case, but a lot of companies are going to want you to get that work experience. What you learn in school is often very different from on the job experience.

          1. Anxa*

            And then I think there’s the trap of not being able to find entry level work, rather than not being willing to do it. I think a lot of people feel the need to keep progressing and keep from stagnating and applying for school is something you may have more control over than applying for work.

            But it can be shortsighted. If you were overeducated and underexperienced with a bachelor’s, that gap may just widen unless your program has a lot of practicums and internships. And that’s another problem: when entry level jobs are hard to find and you need more experience, you might need more internships. But often you need to be a student to be an intern. And some people feel odd getting another bachelor’s, so they get a master’s.

    2. rory*

      Huge +1 to this. My first three jobs after my masters were way below what my Dad felt someone with a masters should be getting as a starting salary, the first two were half of what he thought a masters degree “earned you”. All of the jobs required a masters, and one of them was at the org my dad worked. Just today I saw a job that only required a bachelors offering 10K more than the first two jobs. (My dad actually does some hiring but his ideas of starting salaries are pretty out of date. )

      1. Op*

        I’m sure. I’ve gotten my undergrad degree in the field and worked for three years in the same field. This degree is the simplest way to advance my career and salary.

  16. Bookworm*

    I’m sympathetic to this question, because I did something similar when my boyfriend and I got serious. Part of that decision involved a long talk about what we wanted in life, and I made it clear that I wanted him to leave his work and look for something else.

    There were a few factors here:
    – he was miserable at his job, and his only reasons for staying were ones of inertia or loyalty to the other coworkers who were also miserable
    – he had a very in-demand skill set
    – I had to hear about how miserable he was pretty often

    We had a lot of talks about moving on, I pushed pretty hard for him to be proactive in that, and it worked out super well. I agree with Alison that you very much have to make sure you’re on the same page…but I also understand that sometimes people get stuck and want to move on, but can’t seem to get the gears in motion.

    If it really is the latter though, it might be helpful for her to try and recognize or deal with some of that insecurity before pushing herself up the latter.

    I also think the misery aspect is a big deal. It’s a lot easier to push someone to move on when it’s clear they’re unhappy where they are.

    1. Op*

      Yes! It’s the hearing about how miserable she is and the not taking steps to change that is so aggravating about this!

      1. Kora*

        Maybe this should be one of the things you’re talking about. I personally don’t think it’s unreasonable to say ‘If what you really want is to stay where you are, I respect that, but I don’t want to be your go to complain-about-your-job person.’ The same way you could tell a friend whose partner you hated that you respect their decision to stay in the relationship but you can’t be the person they complain to about how much their SO sucks.

        I feel your pain on this, btw. My husband stayed in his first job after graduation at least two years longer than he should have, when they were seriously underpaying him and repeatedly breaking their promises to move him to the kind of work he enjoyed. There was a looong time where the only conversations we had about his work were Him: Thing at work sucks! Me: That’s because your employers are terrible and taking advantage of you. You know what I think the solution is.

        But ultimately I couldn’t do anything to make him leave before he was ready to, and I knew that and had to do my best to make my peace with it. Best of luck to you – it’s a hard situation to be in.

        1. mskyle*

          Him: Thing at work sucks! Me: That’s because your employers are terrible and taking advantage of you. You know what I think the solution is.

          Oh gosh that is familiar. I am still very much in the “doing my best to make my peace with it” phase. The worst is when it seems like things are coming to a head and things are finally getting bad enough that he’s going to take action – this is when I let myself get sucked into the “work sucks, let me tell you how it sucked TODAY” conversation, because it feels like it might actually go somewhere.

          I want to be the person my partner comes to with the big stuff, but I am SO EFFING TIRED of hearing about his crappy workplace. I guess I need to be more consistent about maintaining that boundary.

      2. Kelly L.*

        I think, to some degree, people tend to talk about the sucky parts of their job way more than they talk about what they like, which can give their partner or friends a skewed idea of how much they hate it. When something goes well at work, it flits out of my mind pretty quickly, while the annoying stuff is what’s still stewing in my mind later.

        To build on Kora’s analogy about a bad SO, people do the same thing sometimes with romance–they vent to their mom whenever their partner’s being an ass, but they don’t call mom when their partner is being wonderful, so mom thinks partner is an ass 100% of the time.

        1. myswtghst*

          It’s funny, but I’ve found one of the things which really helps me when complaining about work to my SO & my mom is that when they start going “yeah! they all suck and you’re amazing and they don’t appreciate you!”, I wind up defending my boss / coworkers and reminding myself what I do still like about my job. I’m sure it’s frustrating for them, but it’s helpful for me! :)

          1. neverjaunty*

            Oh my god, yes, it is frustrating to be on the other end of that. It always feels like “here, I’m going to assign all my bad-guy feelings to YOU so I don’t have to take care of them anymore.”

      3. One of the Sarahs*

        OP, I feel for you. I love problem solving, it’s my skill, and for years, when I heard someone present a problem, I’d want to dive in with solutions. But it took a really long time before I realised this didn’t help, and a lot of the time, what the person wanted was sympathy and acknowledgement, or just a place to work off steam – and I learned this from being on the other side.

        It’s hard to see someone you love being frustrated – but having been on the other side too, sometimes someone jumping in with solutions (“You hate your job? Apply for this now!”) can make the other person feel super-defensive, and dig in. When I’ve been depressed and people did it to me, it would just reinforce my feelings of helplessness and despair, even though they were trying to make me feel optimistic – and it was gutting to realise I did this to other people too.

        Of course, this might not be happening here (and believe me, I relate to you about wanting your partner to realise how awesome she is, and get paid what she’s worth), but it’s worth thinking about it, and allowing her space to vent sometimes.

  17. fposte*

    If I was pretty sure I was applying for a PhD in 18 months, I liked where I was now, and I was hoping to work part-time during the PhD, I’d totally hang where I was. That’s a reasonable decision given the challenge of a PhD.

    1. Stephanie*

      That was me. My current job isn’t great, but I was pretty sure I was applying for grad school in the fall. Once I got an acceptance, I realized it was just easier to stay at my current job.

    2. Rat in the Sugar*

      I agree that it’s perfectly reasonable, but in that case GF should come out and say it. If she’s too shy to or whatever, I think Alison’s advice to hash it out so it’s all in the open is great.

    3. davey1983*

      I agree.

      However, I wonder if she can truly work part time while getting a PhD? I tried to do the ‘work part time’, quickly found out that 1) the department paid a stipend (very low, but enough to pay the rent), and 2) I didn’t have time for part time employment if I wanted to graduate within 4-5 years.

      1. A grad student*

        For my university, we’re paid and are contractually prohibited from taking other employment part-time. Even if they weren’t, people have a hard enough time volunteering 5 hours a week at something they enjoy, much less 20 hours/week somewhere they only put up with to pay the bills. I’d be incredibly surprised if working part-time to earn extra money while doing a PhD turns out to be feasible.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          I disagree – I know a load of people who did part-time PhDs and worked alongside them. Her ideal PhD is dream-goal, so it might be normal for that field.

          (I say this, not to jump on you, but because it makes me worry when people put absolutes down like this, as it might be putting off people from pursuing education, who can find solutions to issues like “I need to work”)

  18. Snow*

    It could be that she doesn’t want to change jobs and go back to school at the same time. I went back to school part time a few years ago and changed jobs shortly after – I don’t regret it as I hated my original job but it was much harder as the new job was much more challenging and I still had school on top. It seems reasonable to maybe stick with a job you know to free up energy for school.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Oh, good point, and maybe they’ve already given her some indication they’re willing to work with her when she does go.

    2. Government Worker*

      Or even that she doesn’t want to change jobs and *apply* to grad school at the same time. Some programs at some schools are a sign-on-the-dotted-line situation, but I was switching careers when I went back for my masters and ended up applying to 6 or 8 different programs because I wasn’t sure how competitive a candidate I was and funding varies a lot. The applications themselves were a giant pain – researching programs, reference letters, transcripts, essays (which for a PhD need to be a pretty sophisticated discussion of your academic interests), the FAFSA, visiting the schools which were in different cities once I was admitted, etc. Plus for some PhD programs you need a really good idea of the faculty at each school and exactly who you would want to work with as your advisor, and maybe to have already met those faculty members. It’s not the sort of project I’d want to do if I were someone who disliked change and had just started a new job.

      1. Op*

        These are all pretty good points. Her skills are in demand enough that her current employer wants to keep her through the degree, and we have tons of friends doing similar work and going to school. It’s reasonable, and I should hear her out more about that.

        1. Deareditor*

          “Her skills are in demand enough that her current employer wants to keep her through the degree.”

          That’s a really important point. Perhaps she doesn’t want to risk changing jobs, then find out that her new employer is not supportive of her doing a PhD and have the whole thing to do again, with the stress of studying as well.

  19. Kate M*

    Yes to the conversations AAM suggested. Some things to think about – could she be depressed? Has she ever been in a really bad job situation before? I ask that because my first job out of college was just terrible: toxic, abusive, etc. With the place I’m at now, I need to move on sometime soon (I’m a little bored, I’m underpaid, etc), but sometimes I think, “although this job isn’t perfect, it’s so much better than the last job. What if I end up in a horrible job again?” That can sort of make me feel like I should just stick it out sometimes, even if it would be better to move on.

    So, say you have these conversations with your gf. What if she decides that she’s happy where she is now? What if she ends up wanting to get her PhD and not work at all? Or take an even lesser paying job during her degree? I think you need to decide how you will react to these. Are these things you can live with? Are you ok living pretty bare bones so that you can each get more education? At what point would you not be ok with an option? Would you be not ok with it enough to leave?

    Also, as others have said, please make sure that getting more degrees absolutely makes sense for both of you, and don’t necessarily bank on that earning you more money.

    1. Mando Diao*

      This is a really good point too. Maybe the girlfriend is also an AAM reader and is committed to making sure she can list a long-term job on her resume. For the girlfriend, staying where she is for a long time is the best decision if she knows she might be out of work next year anyway.

  20. LQ*

    I could totally be your girlfriend (you know what I mean). I’m highly risk adverse, I have a very hard time with dealing with new groups of people, I’m extremely introverted, I like routine, I do not have a ton of confidence in my skills.

    I’ve had people tell me I could make more, I’m actually fairly confident I could make more at another place. But I’m comfortable here. I make enough to do ok in my city with my lifestyle. I know my coworkers and their quirks, I have strategies laid out for dealing with them. The work for the most part is pretty good, but I absolutely have blocks of time where it is painfully dull and not interesting enough.

    But when I have sat down (which I did recently) to think about am I good here? The answer is always a resounding yes, because the chance that I’d end up at some place worse, the work would be many more hours, that I’m not entirely sure I could do it, that I’d have to learn an entirely new group of people? For 18 months? Nope. Sort of like moving, those moving costs can be much more than you’d save by moving to a new place. Some people like the change, some people don’t.

    The things I think you can do is help her confidence, say she comes home and tells you a story about how someone complimented her work? Tuck that away in your brain and remind her of it. Highlight the points of the story that are about how awesome she was, especially if she has a tendency to tell a story of yeah yeah good things whatever, but this one tiny tiny flaw that only I saw. Just being like WHOA Go back, tell me the part where the entire department said you were awesome? That’s so cool! That can make a difference.

    Good luck to the both of you. (But don’t push her into something she doesn’t want, if she’s risk adverse, or shy, or doesn’t want to learn a group of brand new coworkers…that’s ok.)

    1. M-T*

      Taking the words out of my mouth! You can’t make her leave if she doesn’t want to or isn’t ready, but if she’s struggling with self-confidence, you are excellently-placed to be a vault of “stories about how awesome X is, and how utterly able to get a new job”. Has she gotten good performance reviews? Compliments from a boss or a respected coworker? Awards or other special recognition? Remind her of those if she’s in a “everything I do is awful and garbage” headspace.

      (My wife also reminds me regularly of my most incompetent coworker’s greatest hits, on the logic that, as long as I’m doing better than that moron, I can’t be doing that poorly, can I? …but your girlfriend’s mileage may vary on that one.)

  21. Chameleon*

    As someone just finishing a PhD, the thought of also having a part-time job on top of it makes my skin crawl. I know that programs vary, but most programs I know of won’t allow students to work, as you are already putting in 50-70 hours a week on your research.

    1. Shelly*

      I’d like to second this comment. I work in academics. One of my many jobs is helping new students in PhD programs. Their ability to hold down a second job while completing the degree is entirely based on their subject. I tried to hold down a second job in grad school and failed miserably.

      The point I am trying to make here is that you both need to rationally look at your finances and at what sort of degree she is getting and decide if this is even a rational plan. I realize this isn’t what the message was about, but I would urge you to consider it. And don’t talk to the advisers at the school, talk to actual students in the actual program and see if they are managing.

      The exception to this tends to be programs designed for people with full-time jobs, like evening Education Phd programs which are meant to be taken over a longer period of time & take into consideration that the students are likely working.

      I’d also like the second all the comments about absurd recruiter emails. I work in a very specialized field and you would think people would notice that, but they never seem too. I get recruiter emails for jobs which are only very vaguely related to what I do. I ignore them, but I’d hate to have my significant other look at them and think, “Why isn’t she applying to a job in Hedgehog Wrangling?”

    2. Anonacademic*

      Thirding this. In my program you needed approval to have a part time job. Something like teaching a course 10 hours a week would be fine, but say 20 hours/week of IT would be seen as a distraction that could impede progress in the program.

  22. Cubicle Four*

    So if your girlfriend is not pursuing a new job, it’s because looking for a new job doesn’t matter to her. Might be she’s happy where she is, might be she’s scared of rejection, might be a billion other things. But if she’s not doing it, it’s because she doesn’t want to. The End.

    Trying to over talk, over analyze, or over bully her into coming around will just make you crazy.

    Sorry. And good luck!

  23. BRR*

    I can semi relate with a husband who just got their PhD. Here are my thoughts:
    -Does she have blinders on about this PhD program? Does she have another plan ? It seems like a lot of eggs in one basket.
    -As part of the focus on the program, she might not want to put in the effort to job hunt when the new job might not let her go part-time along with the other reasons she likes her job as you mentioned.
    -If the school provides support to PhD students, she may not be able to have an outside job, I wonder if that’s on her mind?
    -She may be thinking about her career post PhD whether it’s a different or the same field. Is there a long-term goal that might be trumping getting a salary bump now?
    -There’s also the possibility it’s not related to the PhD. I’m having this issue right now. It doesn’t seem like my husband it terribly motivated to get a better job. He says there isn’t anything posted and that he wants a better fit than his current position (which I can get behind). But really I would say it’s due to laziness.

    1. Overeducated*

      If your husband is looking at academic jobs, I absolutely believe there isn’t anything listed right now. This time of year is slow and only the visiting one year postings are popping up. I think I have only found 2 academic positions and maybe 7 non academic ones to apply for in all of April.

      1. BRR*

        He’s looking beyond academic jobs. I would be surprised if an academic job opened in April.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Your third point is a very good one. My bf is a funded doctoral student– he’s not allowed, per his contract, to take on an outside job. I don’t think he’d even have time for one. In our case, the PhD was a godsend because he was making next to nothing in NYC and we moved to an area with a much lower COL (his PhD can actually support him here). He also works his butt off to get grants and fellowships– so that’s another piece of the PhD puzzle.

  24. AnotherAlison*

    I love this question & the answer.

    My mom & I just had a convo along this topic over the weekend. Sometimes, you just actually aren’t going to do things that you say you are going to do, and it’s complicated territory in a relationship. I’ve been married 18 years & still come across things that my husband says he wants to do, but never has (like, for years). In my case, it’s not so much about motivating my husband to do those things, but rather just get him to own that he’s probably not going to, ever. That would be fine with me!

  25. animaniactoo*

    A word on “potential”. Every single report card I had from 2nd grade to 5th grade said “animaniactoo has great potential but does not apply herself”.

    Absolutely true. I had a chaotic childhood in many respects and no way to get myself (yet) to a place where I could focus my energy. Despite bring home city and state assessment test scores that were so high that they created a slight uptick in the school’s overall statistics. Primary was a need for emotional stability.

    It’s a piece of me that remains true. I did not pursue the much more stressful paths that I could have which would have made far more of my intellectual potential. I have pursued one which has fulfilled a different piece of potential. Even in my current field, I have the potential for more. But here’s the thing. Overall, I enjoy what I do. I enjoy the incredible amount of job stability/security that I have. I value those things over a higher salary, more job responsibility, more risk, etc. I’m a *high-enough* flyer that I am absolutely “successful” by most standards. That I have the *potential* to be more is nice, but it’s not necessarily something that will ever happen. If I were to be pushed into it by forces beyond my control, I could cope. I’d make it happen. That’s what I *really* need to know about me, and that’s what my partner in life really needs to know about me.

    You are not dating your girlfriend’s potential. You are dating *her*. Please do not mistake her potential for somebody that she has to be, or even necessarily should be. Not even for her benefit. The question is whether she is doing well enough for her own comfort, and whether you are comfortable with who she is. Are each of you willing to live with the results of who she chooses to be, regardless of her “potential” to be more in any particular specific way?

    1. rory*

      Yes, exactly. You don’t have to live up to someone’s idea of what you could be. We all have potential we never realized or could realize (maybe I could have been a great violinist, but I have never picked up a violin in my life). Someone might think you could be a brain surgeon if you just “applied yourself”, but if you decide being a brain surgeon isn’t something you want to become, that is completely fine.

      Then again, my goals in life are along the lines of “pay my bills, read good books, spoil some babies”. I don’t care if I don’t reach my potential at work. My life is more than work.

      1. Op*

        I think this is really true. She had s traumatic childhood in ways that I didn’t, and I think our perceptions of safe/good/sustainable are really different.

        1. animaniactoo*

          That sounds like a really useful conversation to have with her in terms of understanding who each other is and where you are each coming from and why.

  26. Pollyanna*

    Surprised there aren’t more mentions of possible mental health issues. Depression and anxiety can definitely cause a person to *want* to do something but not be able to actually go through with it. My husband is always after me to find a job that pays more, and that sounds awesome in theory, but thinking about taking those steps is terrifying and crushing.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      That’s true, but Alison asks us to avoid any internet diagnosing of the OP or people mentioned in the letters. (If the OP divulges a diagnosis, that’s different.)

  27. Minion*

    Well, if you’re the man of the house you basically just tell her she’s getting another job. It’s really for her own good. Don’t feel bad about being a little harsh. Women are often quite silly and find it hard to make difficult decisions. Keep some smelling salts nearby – the overwhelming emotions could cause her to faint. You know how girls are.
    Of course, I jest.
    Sometimes looking for another job can be a daunting prospect. I know that I get a little upset to my stomach when I think about throwing myself back into the job search arena. I tend to get very anxious and nervous and I don’t do interviews very well – don’t know if that’s what your girlfriend is feeling, but it’s possible. Sometimes it’s easier to stay where it’s comfortable or at least where you know you have a job.

    1. Minion*

      Oh and do consider AAM’s suggestion that maybe she simply doesn’t want to make that change right now.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Well, if you’re the man of the house you basically just tell her she’s getting another job. It’s really for her own good. Don’t feel bad about being a little harsh. Women are often quite silly and find it hard to make difficult decisions.

      I think Alison said the OP is also a woman.

      1. Minion*

        Yeah, I saw that afterward. I was joking, though…wasn’t trying to make a statement of any kind. Just a silly joke based on outdated attitudes towards women.

    3. Ivy*

      OP’s a woman. Not sure if this is what you think of men or what you think of gay/bisexual women…

        1. neverjaunty*

          Okay, you win the thread. And all the rest of the threads for this week, I am confident in saying.

      1. Minion*

        I didn’t see that OP was a woman. I read the letter, skimmed through the advice, then came down to comment.

        It really doesn’t matter, though, because I was joking. Which was why I put “Of course, I jest.”. On its own line, even. So that it would stand out.

        I wasn’t aware that I was making any statements about what I think of men or gay/bisexual women. I like men, in a general sense and I like gay/bisexual women, also in a general sense. Of course there may be one or two of either category that I don’t like very much – a specific man or a specific gay/bisexual woman – on a personal level…can’t think of any right now, but I’ll be sure to fill you in if I think of any later.

        My joke was meant in a lighthearted way as a kind of throwback to yesteryear when women were believed to be fragile, overly emotional beings who couldn’t be trusted to know their own emotions, let alone make important decisions. I’m assuming you’re aware of that mindset having been a thing.

        The heart of the matter, however, is whether or not I have offended OP with my joke. I sincerely hope not, for it was not intended to offend at all. Though, if I did, I hope OP will let me know and I will heartily apologize. I was reading it as a guy and a girl and just thought of a silly joke. So, OP, I am truly sorry if you saw this and were hurt by it. I definitely didn’t intend that.

  28. Jill*

    OP I would really urge you to have the conversation Alison suggested. You sound like you’re a go-getter/career climber but some people just aren’t. Believe me, I have a few people in my life I look at and think, “They could be doing so much MORE.” Some people just find their sweet spot and have no desire to climb even if it means they aren’t earning what they could be or using all the smarts that they have. This will be an important thing for you to gauge about your partner. If you can’t envision a life where you’re a climber and your partner is happy to stay at the same spot until retirement that’s really something that can become a sticking point in a relationship.

  29. CM*

    OP, I totally feel you on this… I think my husband COULD be in a job that he enjoys more and that pays him more, but he has never been inclined to make a move. Even at times when he is unhappy over a long period of time, even when there are lots of excellent reasons for him to at least put feelers out for new opportunities, he won’t. I’ve come to accept this. I think it’s one of the challenges of being in a long-term relationship. This is his style, even though mine is completely different. My approach has been that, every once in a while (like once or twice a year, when he seems really unhappy or there’s a lot of instability at work), I’ll remind him that other opportunities are out there and it’s worth at least being aware of them and keeping up his network, and will remind him that his skills are valuable and could be useful in other contexts/companies. Otherwise, I just try to be supportive of whatever he wants to do. (Even if I secretly think he could be happier and making a lot more money!)

      1. Dr. Speakeasy*

        Hrm… but it’s not actually, you are.

        I’m trying to write this in a way that is sensitive, yet still getting at the point that you are making choices (grad school) that is putting pressure on your household finances too. It’s not just girlfriend.

        1. rory*

          Yeah. Grad school is not an inevitability and it’s not a (current) requirement. You might need a degree to progress in your field, but you don’t need it *now*, unless you are up for a promotion that comes with strings (and, in that case, I suspect your employer might help cover costs?). So you can wait. Your GF can wait. You can save up money and figure out a different plan. You don’t have to do it this way.

          You may have agreed on this plan, but your GF seems to have concerns. But there is more than one road to Both Of You Get New Degrees. You can find another path.

        2. neverjaunty*

          This is an excellent point. OP, your girlfriend could lose her job. She could break up with you. She could have a personal disaster that sucks up all of her extra ‘new’ money.

          How would you pay for grad school then?

        3. anooooning forever*

          This. Also the comment about OP wanting to travel and the girlfriend wanting to stay in their current city before they came to a compromise makes me wonder if maybe the girlfriend is conscious about money, but in a different way about the OP?

  30. Mabel*

    My former fiancee and I used to have stress over money, but after we went over our expenses and income, we got on the same page because she was able to see in black & white what was worrying me. Both partners having the same information can be really helpful in making financial decisions as a couple.

  31. Dr. Speakeasy*

    Agreed with many of the previous commenters – if you cannot afford graduate school without your girlfriend’s support then…. you cannot afford graduate school. It would be different if she was offering to support you, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    I will say for those concerned about the PhD program – many CS programs or engineering programs function differently in terms of offering assistantships. Some programs do have working students without assistantships – more in line with an MBA model then the traditional GA/tuition waiver model.

  32. Anxa*

    I think I’m more like your girlfriend. I know that theoretically I should be making more money; a lot more money. Not a lot of money, but a lot more.

    I have a very hard time feeling like I have skills, but in my case that’s because I don’t really have anything I’m great at. I just…kind of get work done when someone asks me to.

    The other part of it is that I’ve gone through a lot period of rejection. It’s very hard not to internalize the messages that I’m not special, that I don’t have anything to offer, and that the competition is just too fierce. You both seem much younger and as though you haven’t had those years after years of rejection, but to be honest…it only really took about a year of unemployment to feel that way.

    Do you think that maybe your gf has a reason to be more risk adverse? Has she been burned before by taking chances?

    Do you think maybe you have a reason to be more of a risk taker? In your experience, do things tend to get progressively better instead of worse? Has your hard work paid off? Has your education thus far improved your station in life?

    I’ve noticed that many of the people who don’t understand why I’m trying to stick around at a current job that pays so poorly and has no room for advancement don’t have the same experiences of internships/education/volunteering only to tread water. Or they are used to getting a return on their investment when they work harder. I’m looking at my current job as a rare opportunity for work to pay off, even if only by building up a good reputation.

    It’s frustrating because I agree that maybe I could be doing better, and that on the surface it looks like maybe I should be, but I do shrink back from too much praise or encouragement, because then their optimism seems unrealistic and I distrust it.

    I really wish I had gone worked harder throughout my life to develop more quantifiable skills so I’d have a little more confidence.

  33. Abby*

    Point #2 is absolutely key, and something I think a lot of couples would benefit from, regardless of if they have any foreseeable employment changes.

    I’m not very familiar with how engineering/tech PhDs work, but my doctorate experience in biology is that PhD programs are essentially full-time jobs (you typically earn a stipend which is ostensibly there to cover your cost of living so you don’t have to find additional employment), particularly once you pass your qualifying exams and are expected to dedicate your time to research/completing your dissertation.

    That said, I do know of one graduate who was able to set up a collaborative dissertation project between a local university and company (more specifically, Stanford University and a relatively large tech company). In that situation, she was able to get her degree while earning far more money than a university stipend. If there’s a possibility of your girlfriend finding a similar opportunity in her field and your area, I would suggest that she seriously consider it. In addition to getting a bigger paycheck, it would position her very well for a future job in industry.

  34. Brett*

    One other thing I think the OP has to really consider is how much flexibility is built into this plan if her GF changes jobs and then heads off to grad school….
    Getting your advanced degree is not guaranteed. I went to a very solid school in my field, and still watch roughly 1/3rd of candidates fail to get their MS/MA and the completion rate for PhDs was hovering around 40% (our field was particularly low because of high availability of ABD jobs). If you want to talk about how many people actually finished their PhD in under 4 years (MS/MA was required for our program, so equivalent to a 6-year completion), I think it dropped under 20%.
    Does your combined plan have the ability to deal with taking longer than expected for either one of you? Losing funding? Failing to complete altogether?
    It can work. My wife and I succeeded in getting our master’s degrees in under 5 years combined (she started after I had my defense scheduled). But it worked for us because we had extra support and some amazing luck with our funding that landed us both master’s fellowships.

  35. One of the Sarahs*

    OP, you mentioned your girlfriend is working for a Not For Profit, and you wanted to go off to do Peace Corps, which makes me wonder if working for a NFP is more important to her than making more money? It definitely was for me, and right now, in our early 40s, my partner and I both include “make money doing something we believe in” in our personal-happiness parameters, even though we could make more money elsewhere. Now, tons of people would disagree with us, but it’s a completely legit parameter to have – and you saying “But you could make double your salary at BigCorp” isn’t going to change that.

    I also wonder if there’s something going on with the thing that you were both expecting to be off on this amazing adventure at this point in time, and you’re not. The disappointment could be effecting her differently, and while you’ve bounced back from it, she might be still there.

    But ultimately, like I said upthread, the easiest way to unpick a lot of this is in couple counselling, which was super-helpful for my partner and me. You’ll need to be careful how you present it, and ideally not push it as an ultimatum unless things are in a really bad place – and also give her time to get used to the idea rather than expect a yes/no (so presenting it along the lines of something you’ve been thinking of, and what does she think about it, rather than “we should go to a counsellor or split up”).

    Anyway, I feel for you, and your partner and hope, whatever happens, it happens well and ends up a positive.

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