my career hit a dead end when we moved to a small town

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I feel that I have reached a dead-end professionally and could really use some advice.

I used to be the breadwinner for my family. I had a compliance role in the legal department of a Fortune 500 investment company. I loved my job and was really good at it. I developed a ton of expertise in multiple areas and was recognized as a stellar performer. Nine years ago, my section manager, who was in another location, eliminated our entire section and reposted the jobs in the town in which she was based. This was a big blow to my family since I provided health and retirement benefits, as well as the “bread winner” salary.

My spouse’s job is in a very niche field and his position at the time did not have any type of health insurance, sick days, vacation, or retirement benefits. Due to an untenable work situation, he ended up quitting his job and we were both unemployed. A few months later, he found a dream job in his exact field with a Fortune 500 company. It’s probably the only job in this field that is with a corporation and it’s a very unique set-up. His new position was a godsend on a number of levels: doubled salary, company-paid moving costs, cash bonus for selling our house, amazing 401(k) match, pension, stellar health insurance, stability, respect, and a gorgeous office. He’s now making six figures, which is unheard of in this role.

However, the HUGE drawback is that his job is located in a rural state in an ugly small town in the middle of nowhere with only two major employers (with jobs rarely posted in our town). Since moving here, my career has hit a dead end. There are only a handful of jobs in my field in this town. Everything else is basically low-paying retail and fast-food jobs. I’m not “stuck” on the track that I MUST work in my field; I am thinking outside the box and am being creative in my search and open to new fields and experiences. But there is just nothing in this area.

I’ve also applied for numerous positions with my husband’s company. I got one interview with them five years ago. I was the staff members’ choice, but the hiring manager ended up hiring her best friend. I recently applied for another position there. in my exact field, albeit in an administrative assistant capacity (which would be a step down from my previous compliance position). In my cover letter, I explained that an administrative support position in my field is now my desired career path and would really enjoy working in a support role in a field in which I excel. (I didn’t state this in the letter, but I realize that I will likely not find something in my town that will equal my former position and have lowered my expectations for employment.) I thought I’d at least get an interview. No dice.

We are an hour-plus away from a large city. Due to a chronic health situation, I’d really like to avoid a two-hour commute and stay closer to home. Out of desperation, though, I’ve also searched in that area to no avail. I can’t even get interviews for jobs that have the unique qualifications and experience I have.

My resume and cover letter apparently aren’t the problem — I’ve consulted with professionals and have gotten stellar reviews on its presentation, content, and layout. I’m upbeat in my letters and feel like my tone is can-do/proactive. I can’t help but wonder if it’s my age (I just turned 50 today). The commute doesn’t seem to be worth it because of the impact on my health, and salaries are significantly lower (they are at the level of pay I made 20 years ago; my previous salary was on par with the national average).

I currently work part-time as an administrative assistant. I have excelled in my position and received stellar feedback from our board. There are no raises, no benefits, no sick days, no increase to full-time, etc. I do enjoy it, but it doesn’t pay the bills. I am at my wit’s end and am so depressed that the career that I once loved is dead. I feel hopeless in this dead-end town and like I’ve descended into bitterness. (In reviewing my letter to you, I can see the bitterness and disappointment oozing out of it. I’m careful that my cover letter and resume aren’t portraying this vibe!)

I have even considered leaving my husband (who’s a great husband) just to escape this dead-end town. I feel like I have nothing for myself career-wise. He is unwilling to compromise because the money is just too good (and it doesn’t make financial sense for him to leave the job). The blossoming of his career has meant the death of mine.

I have tried to stay busy all these years and have developed new professional and personal skills and have volunteered. Going back to school is not an option due to my child’s college bills. (I really need a job to help pay for his college!) At this point, I don’t know what to do or where to turn. I’d love some advice, encouragement, or someone to perhaps point out something I’m missing. I have a lot to offer but feel like my education, skills, experience and knowledge have become worthless. Since I am looking at jobs that are professionally a step down on the ladder from my previous position, I’d love to know how to address this in a cover letter so that I’m not rejected outright for being overqualified. We have 15 years until my husband retires and I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this.

I’m so sorry. I’m assuming you’ve looked at jobs that can be done remotely (and looked at them recently, since there are a lot more now than there used to be).

But I think this may be more a marriage problem than a professional problem. Does your husband know how unhappy you are, and does he understand he’s unilaterally deciding his needs trump yours and that his career satisfaction comes at the expense of you being completely miserable? When it’s put in those terms, is he okay with that? Are you okay with that? The two of you are a partnership; when the terms are not working for one of you, both of you have an obligation to work toward a solution. Right now it doesn’t really sound like he is.

Readers, what other advice do you have?

{ 558 comments… read them below }

  1. Foreign Octopus*

    I agree with Alison. I don’t think this is a location problem so much as it is a husband problem. It’s wonderful his career’s going well but it seems to have come at the cost of OPs entirely. Is there room to compromise? I.e. moving to a halfway point between the big city and the small city so you’d both have an equal commute?

    Personally, for me, I think the question to ask is: how will I feel in five years if nothing has changed?

    1. ThatGirl*

      I agree as well – it’s understandable that the husband doesn’t want to give up his well-paying dream job, but surely there’s room for compromise there! Why should OP be the one needing to commute or give up all of her career dreams?

      And, I don’t know if going back to school IS the best option, but it should be on the table – kid can fend for himself at some point.

      1. boop the first*

        Indeed, she’s not only submitting to her husband’s career but also her son’s, even though most kids have to find their own way through college.
        Not that I think she should never help, it’s quite a lovely thing to do and makes sense, but it’s just not the unmovable rock she’s imagining it to be. If they can’t pay the bills in a small town after selling a house, is husband’s pay actually that great?

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          I too was interested in that comment about the husband’s pay being great yet her part-time job can’t pay the bills and she needs a job to pay for her son’s college.

          From my experience of living in the middle of rural nowhere, with the nearest city 1 hour away, usually, the cost of living is less. So a 6 figure income should be more than enough to cover the bills, unless you are living too extravagantly.
          And why is she shouldering the responsibility of the son’s college costs? why isn’t the husband helping? Son should be working part-time and getting scholarships, grants, and loans if he isn’t already.

            1. Lady Meyneth*

              Personally, and considering the sacrifices OP made for his carreer’s sake, I don’t think it should matter much.

              Though I had a colleague who insisted on fronting ALL of her 26yo unemployed child’s expenses (college, then graduate school, living expenses, even party money). Eventually, her husband refused to give up his salary, so she started using ~90% of her own exclusively for the son, and then complaining continuously that she had no money for anything else.

              That’s hopefully not OP’s situation, of course, but I’d also urge her to consider wether and to what extent she should prioritize her adult child’s carreer over her own happiness.

      2. Amaranth*

        If OP could get a job an hour away would husband move so that he could be doing the commute, assuming he is in better health, or at least split the difference?

        However, if its to the point where OP is thinking of splitting, and husband doesn’t show support or any kind of compromise when things are laid out, I’d recommend seeing if there are any jobs at a University where their kid might go to school. First, many college towns are fairly active and diverse, staff tend to get significant tuition breaks for family, she’d be near family (the kid might have mixed feelings or like having family there – my kid has lived with me all through college to save money and concentrate on studies).

    2. Weekend Please*

      Moving so that he is shouldering some of the commute should definitely be considered. Another option would be to look into renting a studio apartment for during the week (either you or him depending on which area makes more sense to rent) and be together on the weekends. It isn’t ideal but I have seen couples who can make that work. That would allow you to expand your search radius a bit.

      1. A tester, not a developer*

        I did that for a couple of years. I missed my husband, but it was kind of fun to feel like we were dating when we got together on the weekends.

        I think not only would it help LW in terms of employment, but it would be interesting to see if she finds herself looking forward to seeing Husband on the weekends, or if she’d prefer to just stay in the city.

        As much as I’d love to say “Go! Be free!”, I know that having a chronic medical condition and no health insurance would be terrifying. Personally, I’d be making a list of the all “showstopper” concerns, and do some research to see how they could be mitigated. For example, lots of kids end up having to pay for their own college – your kid would survive.

      2. Snow globe*

        I think a perfectly reasonable solution is to move to the outskirts of Large Town so the majority of the commute falls to husband. He keeps his job, but LW is in a better place to find employment, and also would probably enjoy life better in a bigger city. LW has been sacrificing for the last 5 years; Husband can do this much.

        1. Hinterland*

          OP here. I am really thankful for all of the comments here. I apologize for the length of my original letter. There are just so many moving parts. We had actually considered moving closer to the larger town to put the commute more on his shoulders. However his schedule often requires him to be at work at 5 AM. Most days he has 12 hour days and is on call for maintenance needs so he needs to be close by his work. (Kind of like doctors hours without Dr. pay.)

          1. Generic Name*

            This is a dream job? I’m really not intending to sound snarky, but 12 hr days starting at 5 AM sounds more like a nightmare to me.

            1. Boopnash*

              Could be something like pharma or oil and gas. Lucrative, interesting, major employers in a particular area, but shift based

          2. Fulano de Tal*

            The answer is both extremely simple and extremely complicated.

            Long distance relationship.

            Your husband isn’t willing to give up his career; I can’t say that I blame him, although I would never be happy living in a small town even if it were Bentonville and I were senior management at Wal-Mart. You’re wasting your life doing what you do now, and you know it. Given these two constraints, you have two choices: either split up, or do the long distance relationship thing.

            1. Lady Meyneth*

              This can work, LW, I’ve seen it.

              My father worked similar hours to your husband. His wife worked out of town for about 8 years, and they only lived together on the weekend. They made it, and their relationship was a lot less strained than when she was trying to commute and spending 3h on traffic. She rented a studio apartment close to town, he visited here there once a week, she went home one day mid-week and for the weekends, and they went out on a date once a week somewhere mid-way.

              I know it’s scary to even consider it, and can fell like you’re slowly giving up your marriage. But it CAN work. Would it be much better to find remote work? Absolutely! But if you can’t find it, this is a god solution and can widen your rsearch radius a bit.

            2. ferrina*

              I came here to say that. If the city is just a couple hours away, what if you set up an apartment in the city for you to work out of, then you can go to the house in rural towns on the weekend? (or vice versa). I’ve known families who did this where the commute would essentially mean that one was never home anyways (one family was even was raising a small child!).

          3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            However his schedule often requires him to be at work at 5 AM. Most days he has 12 hour days and is on call for maintenance needs so he needs to be close by his work. (Kind of like doctors hours without Dr. pay.)

            Nursing was the comparable that immediately came to my mind. I could see that 12-hour shift being 4-day weeks (even 10’s on paper that just become 12’s in the real world).

            Not the easiest way to earn a living, but if the actual work were something that I truly enjoyed and felt rewarded by, I could see myself calling it along the lines of a dream job.

          4. TardyTardis*

            Ah, you almost sound like a military wife (or spouse, though my husband was a teacher and so could work almost anywhere). Military spouses don’t actually *have* careers.

            Are you willing to be one for the rest of your life? Your husband isn’t going to change, because he can come home and not have any domestic responsibilities (because you’re only part time and you’re not making as much as he is). Of course he’s not going to give up a sweet deal like that.

      3. Certaintroublemaker*

        Yes! Plus, moving to/closer to the big city probably means better health care options.

        1. Sylvan*

          OP’s husband makes six figures and they’re in a rural area. Moving might be expensive and having two residences might not be the best move financially, but both are likely doable.

        2. TWW*

          If husband makes 6 figures and OP lands a full-time admin assistant job, that would put their combined income at $120k+. Easily enough to afford one primary home plus one small apartment

          1. Amaranth*

            Thats an interesting point. In a rural area I’m not understanding how COL can require OP to get a job just to pay for their kid’s (one?) college. Maybe there is tons of debt, but I just wonder if OP is taking on too much pressure on that point. Is compliance something that can be done remotely? Right now with the pandemic it seems like there might be more flexible opportunities at companies in other states.

            1. Lady Meyneth*

              I’ve been wondering about this too. Even if the son’s college tuition is outrageous, say 40k, that still leaves them 60k+ to live on which is… quite a good salary in most areas, and stupendous in a rural one. And that’s not even discussing the fact that many children pay their own way through college, or a least a large chunk of it.

      4. Alex*

        I know more than one middle aged couple in this boat, and the separate apartment in large city for work has been a godsend for multiple reasons. I don’t want to speculate on OP’s marriage, but it sounds like she’s missing a lot of her independent opportunities that came with her old career. Having her own space could also help serve that need, and could allow her to stay in this relationship while pursuing the excitement of work, especially if they don’t need both parents at home for childcare at this stage of life. OP, I hope you can try this!

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          Agree. I’ve known married professors who lived on opposite sides of the country; it wasn’t ideal, but they made it work. Lots of good uninterrupted thinking time on those flights, and nobody had to give up their career.

          If the kids are in college or late high school, they’re past needing intensive adult supervision. It’s entirely reasonable to make a 2-hour commute once a week in order to spend the weekend together – especially if the alternatives are divorce or severe underemployment. If the partner is working 12+ hour days during the week anyhow, how much family time will they actually lose?

          1. Whatever*

            I would absolutely agree with this. And the larger town is just an hour away so it would be really feasible to drive home Friday after work and drive back Monday before work and enjoy 3 nights a week at home.

          2. EmmaPoet*

            A friend of mine sublet an apartment from a professor who worked in DC while her husband lived in Vermont. She’d fly up on weekends or he’d come down. My friend got the place when Professor took a sabbatical and moved up to be with him for two semesters.

          3. Lady Meyneth*

            “If the partner is working 12+ hour days during the week anyhow, how much family time will they actually lose?”

            This is such a great point!

            Long distance relationships can be scary, but it’s a lot better to have only two full weekend days where both partners are happy and fulfilled, than including evenings where one of them is miserable and bitter.

      5. Sabrina Spellman*

        My brother does this. He happened to secure a job in the small town my aunt and uncle live in, so he lives with them during the week and spends the weekend in our hometown with his family.

      6. lyonite*

        I had a boss that did this–his job and his wife’s were a multi-hour drive apart, so he stayed nearby during the week and went home on weekends. I don’t know the details of how it worked for them, but it seemed like it was a good solution.

      7. Rachel in NYC*

        I have a coworker who did that for her daughter’s last few years of high school. The commute meant they were constantly late for school (being a little late to our office isn’t a big deal but was to the daughter’s school.)

      8. mf*

        I think this is a brilliant idea. Since the OP has considered leaving her husband (and since he seems so unconcerned with her happiness), this would be a great way for her to test out a new job in the city and to get a bit of space from her husband. After 6 months, she’d have a lot more clarity.

      9. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        Yes – this is what I was going to suggest. If it would be financially viable, living apart may give her the freedom to follow her career. I knew a man who did this. He was a consultant and the companies who wanted him were sometimes several states away from where his wife (and children) were living. They were married, but he frequently had an apartment somewhere else in the country for months at a time.

        I’m certainly not saying that living situation is ideal, but it could really spell out to your husband how important it is for you to be able to follow your career while he follows his.

      10. Sometimes I Use the Far Bathroom for 10 Minutes Because I don't Get A Daily Break*

        My parents did that for about 7 years, long enough for my sister to get through high school and then college. It wasn’t really planned like that, it was more that mom’s job was stable and Dad’s, while it paid a LOT more, was in this nether-realm of shuttling departments around and such.

    3. Secretary*

      I love the idea of moving! Even if the small town is isolated, there’s usually places to live that are more isolated outside of the small town. Maybe you guys could move to a halfway point, so the commute to the bigger city is more tenable?

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. They’d theoretically be 30-45 minutes away instead, which is a pretty normal commute for a lot of people. Possibly less since there is likely be little traffic headed toward a small town during rush hour; they could live closer to Big City to balance it out.

        1. Seal*

          I used to work in a college town that was an hour and a half or so outside of a major city. Many of my colleagues lived halfway between the two so one spouse could work on campus and the other in the city. Those working in the college town actually had the better commute.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            One of my professors in college as also the head of the department. He scheduled our morning classes around his commute because he lived an hour away in the bigger city in order to support his wife’s career. We, as students, loved this because it meant we didn’t have his class before 8:30am. There was once a studio class scheduled from 7:30-10:30am twice a week. He said, “NOPE! Anyone object to coming into studio at 8:30? You can come earlier if you want, but I won’t be here until later.”

    4. Momma Bear*

      I think that LW and her spouse need couple’s counseling because I get the impression that he’s really really happy (which is fine) but does he also see her despair? His response to that will tell her a lot about the viability of their marriage and what her next 15 years might look like.

      Also, I’m wondering if this is a blended family b/c the LW said “my child”. If this is really “our child” then this shouldn’t all fall on her. If she is really the only one supporting this student, then she needs to not only have a heart to heart with her spouse – she moved for him, can he support her by supporting her son? – and her son. It’s probably well past time to have him consider the financial impact of his education. They moved for his job but it seems like she’s doing all the sacrificing. How, other than making a lot of money, is he supporting her? Emotional support is necessary, too.

      1. twocents*

        I unfortunately get the vibe that he knows she’s desperately unhappy and is still unwilling to change.

        The professional advice would be “seek out remote work” but I think this is a marriage problem. Like why are they living in a podunk nowhere town with husband making six figures and LW is still the one desperately trying to figure out how HER job will fund their child’s education? Small town living just isn’t that expensive.

        1. Gravanonymous*

          Not necessarily true! I live in a small town that’s in extremely high demand and prices around here have skyrocketed, especially during Covid. We fill new houses (way, way) faster than we can build them. It makes me nervous because this is a great place to live but the barrier to entry is becoming a definite struggle.

          1. Pippa K*

            We’re feeling the same COVID effect in my area. What used to be affordable towns now have costs of living above the national average, while local incomes have stayed below the national average, and the housing market is really tight. It definitely changes people’s calculations about moving, jobs, etc.

        2. 10Isee*

          My one concern with suggesting remote work is internet access. I live in a rural area and it took us years to get to a point where we could have reliable enough WiFi to realistically work from home. Not that we couldn’t afford it, either; the infrastructure just wasn’t in place.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Oh, yes – my in-laws just got high-speed internet last week. Literally last week, in 2021. We had them living off a MiFi for years after they finally got a cell tower in range of the house, and it was (very bad) dial-up before that.

            I would hope, though, that a town with a Fortune 500 employer might have gotten bumped up the priority list for being wired.

          2. Hinterland*

            In our small town, we have “okay” internet. But people in the outlying areas between here and Large Town rely on satellite internet (very slow and unreliable). Our state is vastly rural and very poor so there are a lot of people “left behind” in the digital age.

        3. Hinterland*

          Hi. I commented in the threads below to clarify some issues.

          Also: Small town living here is expensive, especially with our limited, overpriced housing supply. Taxes are high, wages are low for most people and food is ridiculously expensive here. (Random examples: $7 for a bag of granola that is $3.50 in a large town an hour away. Red peppers cost double here. So weird.) With our limited number of grocery stores, Walmart is even expensive (albeit entertaining). At least gasoline is cheap!

          1. TardyTardis*

            And if you have benefits, you’re aristocracy, even if you make only $15 an hour (which is sadly a high wage for small towns).

        4. Amaranth*

          This also might be a situation where OP was the breadwinner and husband feels like its ‘his turn’ now, whether he feels like he previously gave things up for OPs career or its ego about finally supporting the family, no telling.

      2. AE*

        Yeah, without getting into the particulars of that relationship too much, I was curious about the fact that the spouse is making six figures but her part-time admin assistant salary is necessary to pay for her child’s education.

        1. C'est moi*

          My spouse makes $150K and I make $73K and it would be very, very hard for him to pay our daughter’s tuition without my salary. College is way too expensive these days.

          1. Hinterland*

            Thank you! We are in the same boat. College is very expensive. We are thinking if I have a full-time job (this was my idea), we could just pay cash for college without incurring much debt. We’d live off of my spouse’s salary and save for our future with it.

            1. JJ*

              My parents saved a set amount for college, and anything spent beyond that was mine to repay. Honestly, it was great life experience/financial education/long term thinking lesson.

              I think accruing some college debt is a worthy trade-off for you to find something that works for YOU. Maybe if you took the financial burden out of your decision, you could find different opportunities than you have been, like, say, becoming a full-time admin at a charity you’re passionate about, or some part-time or flex work at a workplace you actually really like.

              Seeing your kid graduate debt-free is a noble goal, but not one that’s worth continuing to pursue when you’re *this* miserable. Good luck!

            2. RecoveringSWO*

              Some financial aid offices will reconsider your aid package if you contact them. I would definitely provide them with information about the financial impact of your medical expenses–both the actual costs throughout the year and the opportunity costs (that you’ve been unable to lose your husbands health insurance coverage and move to an area with full time positions in your field). Regardless of what future career choices you make, I hope you’re able to negotiate a better aid package!

      3. Batgirl*

        Yeah I picked up on that too: there seems to be completely separate decision making going on. Hubby is responsible for optimizing his career and finances, and OP is separately responsible for finding her own opportunities and funding college? Like, no. Couples don’t accidentally succeed in the same place at the same time. If the new town hubby chose doesn’t fund OP well enough, then I guess OP’s salary isn’t paying for college any more: their husband’s is. If that isn’t possible then this town doesn’t provide enough net benefits for them as a couple. (Which usually means that people don’t remain couples) Once the finances are covered they can see if removal of that worry affects OPs happiness; again, to see if the town provides enough net happiness for all, for them to survive as a couple. I think they do need practice making joint decisions, possibly with the help of a counselor. This job of OPs husband probably only pays a lot because of the other financial impacts on the household caused by the location. If they were working together they’d see that, not simply wait for OP’s own miracle job offer to materialise as though she’s his mirror.

      4. allathian*

        Yeah, this. I don’t know if I would have risked Alison’s wrath by suggesting a trial separation if the LW hadn’t hinted at the possibility of leaving her husband herself. He may be a great husband in other ways, but he seems to care more about his career than her emotional well-being, and that’s definitely not good.

        1. allathian*

          Ouch, I read a bit further and looks like I misunderstood a bit. Sorry Hinterland, please disregard my comment above.

    5. Michael Valentine*

      I immediately thought of moving as a way to be closer to the big city. My husband’s home town in Georgia has two major employers and that’s about it. Many people live between the town and Atlanta, so a couple could commute in either direction.

    6. Beth*

      Yes, this is a relationship problem. There are all sorts of ways to work this out (a longer commute for the husband so OP can viably work in the city and live somewhere they actually like; a dual residence household, with the weekends and holidays spent together; lowering their living expenses so OP’s husband’s income can cover all the bills, including whatever commitment they’ve made to kid’s college; seeing if the husband can work remote part- or full-time; seeing if OP can get remote work; etc). But all of these require OP’s husband 1) acknowledging that the status quo is making OP miserable, 2) viewing that as a problem, and 3) being willing to take action, make sacrifices, and compromise in order to fix that problem. It sounds like the real problem is that at least one of these isn’t happening.

      OP, I think the real question you’re asking is what to do about this. You knew when you wrote in that if there are no jobs locally, then there are no jobs; the real question is how to either be okay with that, or give yourself permission to insist on getting what you need even when it’s not locally available. I hope you take the comments here as permission to propose unconventional options, ask your husband to make some sacrifices, and generally insist on your needs being treated as necessities. You deserve that.

    7. Hinterland*

      OP here. Thank you for all of the insightful comments. I didn’t intend to throw my husband (or son) under the bus in seeking for insight from the Ask A Manager community. My husband is seriously a great husband—kind, supportive, hilarious, loyal, great father, etc. The demands of his job are the kicker (he acknowledges this, too). He has been very supportive of me throughout my health situation and encourages me in seeking new opportunities etc. I think he feels bad that I was the breadwinner for so long to the detriment of my health and he sees his job as his way of stepping up to better support our family financially. I do think he’s being a voice and reason in wanting us to stay in our small town due to his concerns about my health. He and I both worry that working full-time could be detrimental to me due to the uncertain and flare-like nature of my illness. I am so desperate for a sense of normality and productivity that I am pretty much willing to take that risk.

      Alison mentioned remote work in her response. I think that I am going to apply for a job in the large town and will gather the courage to ask for partial remote work. (I’m a paraprofessional so my work has to be supervised by a licensed practitioner which I think would still require me to be in the office.) The job sounds like a perfect fit for my background and experience and it is with a large corporation. I am also researching how to stay active when you have a long commute to see if it’s something I could do. Thank you for your input and I’ll continue to read all the comments.

      1. Ginger Baker*

        I don’t in any way want to discount your concerns for your physical health, but I do want to just highlight that mental health considerations ARE ALSO true and real health concerns. I think it is easy for many of us to go “well, for [reason] it makes sense to do this because [my annihilating and debilitating sense of disconnect/mental desolation and lack of engagement/complete and utter burnout and overwhelm] is just something I should Strong Upper Lip Buck Up And Muscle Through Because Emotions Are For Wusses” and ummm…societally, it’s a real bad job we do on *really* considering mental health a Real Thing That Matters. When you run the complicated equation of what tradeoffs make sense for you/your family, I think you would be absolutely correct to give your Work Feelings a VERY high weighting proportionately, especially after nine years (which is a very very long time to feel disconnected).

        I hope you find a solution that brings you to a better place soon. <3

        1. Hinterland*

          Thank you, Ginger! My physical issues and situation definitely affect my mental health. I do a lot of self-care in that area and advocate for myself. My husband thankfully is very supportive in the mental health arena. I tend to run on the mercurial side (my artistic temperament) so I have to stay on top of things. I know it’s late in the game (a year later), but all of the COVID madness and seclusion is starting to affect me mentally! I feel like getting back out there and having work friends, a daily schedule, daily expectations and challenges would go a long way in getting me back on track. The job I have now is isolated: office in a basement, no coworkers near me, odd hours, etc. But I DO love the work though and have really blossomed in certain skill areas and have won the support of our Board with my work.

          Thank you again for your kind words and wisdom. The questions, insight and support from AAM commenters have really provided a lot of food for thought and have lifted my spirits today.

      2. No Sleep Till Hippo*

        This might not be entirely useful, depending on your work skills and goals – but I know there are also places that offer services for virtual assistants and the like. Is it possible there’s room for you to work freelance in some way?

        I know you mentioned your work usually needs to be supervised by a licensed professional, so maybe that’s a non-starter. But maybe, also, there are parts of your work that don’t need to be supervised, or transferrable skills you could take into a non-supervised field?

        I really feel for you, OP – I’ve made similar tradeoffs in the past (though, no kids in the mix and that marriage has since ended). It’s HARD HARD HARD. We’re all rooting for you & wishing you the best. <3

        1. Hinterland*

          Thank you No Sleep Till Hippo! I’m sorry for the end of your marriage–that is such an emotionally wrenching process for anyone to go through. I hope things have turned out well for you.

      3. Batgirl*

        I kind of fell for you both a little here. I worry about my partner’s health way more than I would my own. Your hubs sounds pretty sweet actually.
        Why not take courage? You sound terrifyingly amazing and anyway, what have you got to lose?

        1. Hinterland*

          Oh my gosh Batgirl. You are really sweet (and probably wear cool superhero outfits and stuff). My husband IS very sweet. A lot of society rags on men right now, but I got a good one. He has 2 sisters so he’s got a finely attuned feminine side (girls used to say he’d make a good mother someday haha). Thank you for the vote of confidence and encouragement to be…..courageous. :)

      4. Reluctant Manager*

        “I think he feels bad that I was the breadwinner for so long to the detriment of my health and he sees his job as his way of stepping up to better support our family financially.”

        That’s great, but not really the point. That’s like saying you feel bad that the other person on a road trip drove for a long time, then refusing to give up the wheel even if the other person likes to drive, you get tired, your driving makes them carsick… We don’t really get points for helping if the help isn’t what the other person needs.

    8. meyer lemon*

      My other question is how much of the problem is the career, and how much of it is the location? Even if the OP was able to find a fulfilling remote job, would they be happy living in a small town where it sounds like they feel like they don’t fit in and don’t have any family or social support? It’s possible the career piece just seems like the most fixable part of the problem.

    9. IV*

      Without more data, I’d say it’s a relationship problem (in that we don’t know enough to take sides). But it’s clearly not just a job or career problem. There’s something awry between the OP and her husband that would benefit from some mediated discussion with a neutral third party. All the good solutions here (separate houses, longer shared commutes, remote work) mean nothing unless they can talk honestly with one another about their feelings and situation and what they both need to be happy. Good luck to you OP and virtual hugs.

    10. Tara*

      With this, if the husband is doing well in his job, he already has established trust with the company. Couldn’t he float with his employers the option of remote work post-Covid (at least maybe 2-3 days a week), and them relocate to a bigger city? An hour drive is annoying, but less annoying if you’re not doing it everyday and are driving home to a much happier spouse.

    11. C*

      Do you think that maybe on top of living in a place you dislike that you may be suffering from depression? I Am not a Dr. My question comes from a place of caring. I know this is a business QA but I do wonder if maybe this whole situation has affected you. And if I have offended you with my question I am truly sorry.

  2. Stephanie*

    I can feel your sorrow and desperation in this letter, but I have to agree with Alison – it feels like your family situation revolves around everyone else first. What if your child paid for his own education so that you could go back to school? Personally, I loathe long commutes – I totally understand your point! – so what if you moved halfway between this small town and the large city so that a commute wouldn’t be so daunting?

    You’re in my thoughts today, hang in there!

    1. MistOrMister*

      I hope OP isnt being too hard on themselves. They said they feel their letter is oozing bitterness and it does not come off that way to me at all. They seem very rightfully) frustrated and unhappy, but not bitter. Maybe I’m projecting, but if I think I’m being bitter I tend to get down on myself about it. Hopefully that isn’t how OP feels.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I agree with you, this letter doesn’t sound bitter to me at all. But it does sound incredibly sad and lonely and a little bit desperate. My heart hurts for this letter writer in a way I’ve rarely felt here. I’m frequently filled with righteous indignation on behalf of a letter writer, but this level of hurt and sadness is much less common.

        1. Hinterland*

          Thank you for being so kind. I feel very invisible right now and the fact that someone HEARD me makes me feel validated. (My husband does hear me, he just doesn’t know how to help me without uprooting us.) I really am feeling desperate to feel a sense of normality and fulfillment. I think a lot of what I am feeling is GRIEF over the loss of my career, my empty nest, loss of my former community (homesickness), loneliness, etc. I guess I am probably trapped in the mindset that things SHOULD be a certain way (ie, the way I think they should be or the way they were in the past), when perhaps I need to learn to better adjust and have the wisdom to accept some of my circumstances and know what areas need to change for the better. I do have a trusted counselor who gets where I’m coming from and understands my sensibilities, but I can’t just call her up to spout off. I appreciate all the kindness people have shown in the comments today. I’ve spent much of the afternoon reading them and it’s very humbling.

          1. Jean (just Jean)*

            >but I can’t just call her {trusted counselor] up to spout off
            Maybe not 100% of the time, but that doesn’t automatically mean that you *never* can vent to your counselor. Ask them about having the occasional 5-minute telephone check-in between regular appointments, or if they’d be willing to receive your venting email or voicemail messages. Life ebbs and flows. Sometimes counseling clients need a bit of additional support.

      2. Hinterland*

        I do feel bitter. But it’s an ugly emotion and I hate the way it makes me think, feel and act. It really distorts the way you perceive things, too. I am very unhappy and homesick, too. I just want something of what I used to have and if I can take some positive steps forward such as working at a full-time job, I can gain a sense of normality and fulfillment. When I have too much time on my hands I feel my thoughts really take over. I can only do so many hobbies and log so much exercise in a day. I’m a person who needs to keep busy!

    2. Ginger Baker*

      ^This is a great idea. Currently if LW *does* get a job in City, the cost of the commute is on her. What if they reversed it and moved where the commute is minimal to City and Husband pays the cost of the commute to Tiny Town? I think suggesting this would also be clarifying to see how Husband reacts to having to *split* the burden/costs of his job rather than allowing them to continue being summarily offloaded to LW.

      1. EmbracesTrees*

        > “I think suggesting this would also be clarifying to see how Husband reacts to having to *split* the burden/costs of his job rather than allowing them to continue being summarily offloaded to LW.”

        This is well stated, Ginger Baker. I do wish LW well in this really tough situation. To be fair to hubs, it isn’t clear that LW has made it clear to him how she is feeling. If that’s true, then I hope she’ll do that and I hope he’ll reply with thoughtfulness and respect for her and their relationship!

        1. Wombats and Tequila*

          He needs to know specifically that she is unhappy enough that she has considered leaving. I can see how this would be incredibly hard to express to someone you love, especially if you are a people pleaser. Maybe it would help if OP found a good couples counselor and expressed this in the safety of their office.

          About the kid in college–for how much longer? Can they take out student loans and pay for some of it themselves? A financial planner told my early on that asking the student to shoulder a small amount of this burden helped them take college more seriously. Even if the student is mature enough not to be a big partier, they still need to contribute to the family welfare and right now the system is that everybody matters except for OP.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            Knowing the long-term cost of student loans, maybe that’s not the BEST way to go about it. But your advice that the college kid find some way to bear a little financial responsibility is a good idea. Maybe a part-time job to cover cell phone, gas money/transportation, or some living expenses and general fun fund. Hopefully that would give the OP some relief, while giving the student more agency over their college life.

            I worked 35 hours a week when I was a full-time college student…and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but I do appreciate that I owned my own education and paid for it myself. My parents couldn’t afford to help much, but they did cover some of my expenses like cell phone and insurance (health/auto). So I wasn’t completely on my own, but I think I’m a better adult because of my experience.

            1. Hinterland*

              The phrase “Rural Juror” is now stuck in my head! What movie is that from?!

              Way to go on “owning” your college experience. 35 hours is a lot of hours on top of full-time college. You must be a very driven person.

              My son is taking loans and his academic scholarships are a big help. He took a gap this year so that he could pick up a really nice academic scholarship next year at a school he hadn’t previously applied to. I’m excited to see what he’ll make of his college opportunities.

              1. Glitsy Gus*

                Oh good, I’m glad to hear your son is thinking these things through. I hope he enjoys his first year! And congratulations to him on the academic scholarship, that isn’t easy.

                I wish I had some good advice for you. I do agree that if you haven’t really told you husband just how sad you are you should. Maybe even have him come to one of your counseling sessions if you think you need a little support with that. It won’t necessarily make the issues go away, but it may help him really understand that this is a big deal. I really do wish you the best, here. you are in a tough spot and, man, it really must be so frustrating.

                My only suggestion, which may or may not be something you have thought of, you worked in financial compliance, medical compliance really isn’t all that different. It’s the same concepts just applied to a different field. Maybe start checking in with hospitals and medical offices in the area that may have an opening in their compliance or legal departments? If it’s a little further than you might like, but a part time gig that isn’t 5 days a week, or maybe partially remote, so the commute isn’t quite as big a burden may be a good start?

          2. MK*

            Eh, just because the OP has to contribute to her child’s education doesn’t mean the child isn’t contributing at all already.

            1. Jaydee*

              It’s also possible that, if child is from a previous relationship, she has a legal obligation under a divorce or custody order to pay some portion of the child’s college expenses.

          3. Hinterland*

            OP here. My husband knows the score and I have told him multiple times that I feel my only option is to leave to escape this place. We’ve explored me working in different towns and states, but we both agree that it probably wouldn’t be the healthiest thing for our marriage. (he’s concerned, actually we’re both concerned, that my health would have a relapse and it would be harder for me to deal with if I’m on my own somewhere. ) We’ve also explored having me take mini sabbatical’s throughout the year so I don’t feel so trapped in our town.

            Our son will be a college freshman this year. He is a great student and got some really nice academic and community scholarships which will definitely help. He is going to take some loans to help pay We made a commitment to him to shoulder part of his college burden. I had no parental support (financial, emotional, etc.) in college so it’s very important to me to provide some financial and other support for my son in college (and I feel like I’m righting a wrong from my own past).

            I do feel like there’s really no right answer. I’m committed to my marriage and my husband but by the same token, I feel like I’m dying inside to be trapped here. In another comment I provided in this thread, I’m going to apply for a job in a larger town near us. I’m going to gather the courage to ask for partial remote work to see if they would be willing to accommodate that. If I get an interview of course!

            1. Ros*

              I don’t know if this helps, but I live in a very rural area, and commute an hour a day into the nearest city for work (2 days a week, remote work 3 days a week, mostly). It’s honestly really chill time to listen to audiobooks and get some peace, and it’s quite manageable, if you’re ok with driving!

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, I’d certainly far rather drive for an hour in a rural area than sit in rush-hour traffic on a 5-lane city highway for the same amount of time…

      2. Momma Bear*

        Moving to an area between his job and the city might be a valid compromise. They could share the commute but make it feasible for her to expand her job search area.

        1. Snow globe*

          Between city and small town is likely out in the country. If LW doesn’t like a small town, they are unlikely to enjoy living even more remotely.

          1. LunaLena*

            Not always? There’s often suburbs or other small developing towns on the edge of big cities. I used to live in a Tiny Midwest Town that was an hours’ drive from closest big city, and while 25 miles of the drive was literally nothing but corn fields, there were plenty of suburban areas as you got closer to Big City.

          2. Librarian1*

            There could also be other small towns. I went to college in a small town that was about an hour from a major city and there were plenty of other towns in between (some of which were smaller than the town my college was in). It’s not ideal for some who really prefers city living, but it would make the commute easier for sure.

      3. Gertie*

        I agree. Especially since the commute out of the city is likely faster than the commute in. My husband and I did this for several years and it was much better than living in the town he worked in.

      4. Reluctant Manager*

        This reminds me of something I read about subtracting the cost of child care from her salary and deciding it wasn’t worth it for her to work, when it should be a cost for the whole family.

        OP, one way a lot of people have done this (especially military spouses) is to make a deal that you do it for him for a while, and at the end of that he follows you. It might mean saving a lot now (a squeeze, I know, but retirement savings are special in many ways), and then at some point your career/interests/preferences take precedence. Not to say that you’d have to earn as much as he does right off the bat–your career took a big hit moving there–but meaningful work is part of a meaningful life, and part of being a team is taking turns.

    3. Hinterland*

      Thank you for your kindness. Seriously. I do feel like our household revolves around my spouse’s job with his odd hours, busy seasons, on-call status, etc. My spouse DOES feel bad about it and has taken steps to mitigate that over the years, but it’s still hard on our family. My health issues play a big part in our household, too, and is part of what traps me in this weird situation. My son has worked hard to earn academic scholarships and will take some loans. My husband and I have committed to helping him in school though. I want to work so we don’t have to incur so much debt to help pay for college.

  3. High Score!*

    The one good thing about COVID is that everyone who can is WFH. Can you work from home for a company in a different city? Can you start your own business? Sell things on Etsy or similar site? Can you teach? There’s now websites where you can sell online classes you record.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      This. Last summer I started working for a company where 90% of staff WFH (this was the case even before COVID). Also, I still get notifications from job hunting websites about openings and I’m seeing more that are listed as 100% virtual, meaning remaining WFH after COVID ends (if it ever ends…).

      I suspect more companies are realizing they can save money, particularly utility costs, with employees WFH. OP, if you can, see if you can find some remote opportunities. Anecdatally, I’m aware of two companies that have switched to permanent WFH for this reason.

      Also, a poster below suggested even living apart from your husband in a bigger city. At my previous job, one of our directors did that (his spouse had to stay in their home state to care for an elderly parent).

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I was thinking the same thing. OP, can you (re)connect with your former colleagues about potential job opportunities? At the very least, you might want to present yourself as a remote resource for them – special projects, work overflow, vacation coverage, etc. Project work could ease you back into your chosen field, and maybe lead to bigger things.

      A lot of employers have found the remote model worked so well for them, they’re not bringing everyone back onsite. I work for a F500 company, but 100% remote with no plans to change that.

      Also, OP, please be kind to yourself and think about what you need and want. You’re important, too!

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        One problem is that the LW left that job nearly a decade ago. LW seems so emotionally and reputationally tied to that job that it’s easy to forget (for the LW and us) that it was a really long time ago in terms of career years. And I think if LW is using it as their main resume and cover letter qualification, employers will raise eyebrows at it at this point. Also, I worry that the LW’s unhappiness is possibly obvious to other people in the town. If there are only a few decent places to work, word might get around that LW won’t fit in. Small towns can be so clique-ish, and also big on town boosterism.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          This is why I recommended networking with former colleagues; they presumably know how she performed and can be more flexible – forgiving? – with job requirements. This happens all the time…besides, 10 years isn’t always a long time for some former colleagues. I’m finalizing a contract negotiation for a project that came from someone I worked with 12 years ago; we reconnected last fall, one thing led to another, and here I am. Last year, 2 people I worked with in 2007 recommended me for a role at their mutual employer, totally out of the blue. And a friend was just hired by someone she worked with 9 years ago, they reconnected last month at some industry event. If you treat 10 years like a problem, so will others. If you don’t, they might not, either.

          I agree that the OP’s unhappiness might be obvious to some local employers, and I can’t blame her for feeling the way she does. Her situation sounds miserable.

    3. EmbracesTrees*

      Yes, WFH jobs were my first thought.

      I wonder if OP is looking really broadly in her field — like in markets across the country, which could be feasible if the position is do-able remotely. I keep reading more and more about how the pandemic will permanently change attitudes about WFH in a vast range of fields.

    4. LilyP*

      I’m not affiliated with them or anything, but I’ve looked at a job board recently called “Remote Woman” which is specifically catered towards remote roles at women-friendly companies — might be worth checking out! It seems kind if tech/software centered but I think they also have design and support roles.

      1. saassy*

        Seconded! It’s a great board. If OP was doing compliance that’s a major gap for some tech companies, particularly as data privacy ramps up. There’s a lot of opportunity for one-off consulting in that field. Might take a bit to ramp back up in terms of regs, but OP could be *really* well placed to start a remote consulting business in that space.

        (OP if you see this – try Remote Women, or come join us on Elpha as well, that’s another board for support! Women in tech more generally; but there are a few sections for compliance and regs and some interesting people you might find worth meeting virtually.)

    5. Susan Calvin*

      Exactly that – reached the end and wondered if I’d somehow missed the part where OP said why remote work isn’t an option!

      I also live fairly rural, and if I had to keep regular business hours in an office, I’d also be driving over an hour to the nearest ‘real’ city (although it’s much less outside rush hour). Looking at my mental state after a year of perma-WFH, the small-town claustrophobia is getting to me, but a “work wherever you have a stable internet connection” type job that expects me to be physically present for a few meetings a week, is pretty much my ideal. OP, even if you find the idea of being stuck in a home office situation miserable, maybe consider a setup like this? I’m almost certain a lot of orgs in your nearby city would be open to that, even if the position is not directly advertised as remote (because they don’t want someone from out of state).

    6. Hinterland*

      Thank you! I have thought about reopening my Etsy store. I love to sew and love to create pretty much anything. I do have one business idea I’ve been thinking of exploring, too. I could work even from home and set my own hours.

    7. Glitsy Gus*

      Along this line, could you look into some of the trade associations and learning websites for Compliance professionals? Maybe you could become a trainer or give lectures. It probably wouldn’t be a full time job, but it is totally remote and would at least get you back into the field that you love.

  4. Glomarization, Esq.*

    Going back to school is not an option due to my child’s college bills.

    I’ll gently challenge this. Depending on how those funds are tied up — for example, is there some wild penalty to pay if you use the funds outside of a designee’s college bills — you really aren’t obligated to pay for your kid’s postsecondary education. If you need to get a degree or certification to make yourself more appealing in the job market (or for any other legitimate reason, including “I’m bored”), please consider spending money on your own career development. Kids can get loans and work them off later.

    Also, even if the funds are tied up in an account with a withdrawal penalty, consider taking the money out anyway. This can be framed as a “secure your oxygen mask first” situation. You have to plan for your retirement.

    1. Observer*

      I’m going to agree to this.

      If the money on your husband’s job is so good that it’s worth tanking your career, then it should be able to pay the college bills *IF* you really need to. If it’s not enough to make ends meet, then it is NOT true that it makes more financial sense to stay where you are than not.

      1. LilyP*

        This, exactly! If money really is tight than the husband’s whole position falls apart. Is he really making more on a single salary than you two *together* could make in an area where you could both get employed? Or has he decided he’s willing to live with (your) financial sacrifice because of the other benefits of this job?

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Seconded. Nobody is obligated to pay for anybody’s college education except their own, if they want one. My parents haven’t put a dime toward any of my degrees, because paying for my life choices wasn’t their responsibility.

    3. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      I’m here to say that my parents were able to only sometimes contribute to my housing bills, and made it clear that we would need scholarships, or to take out loans. I am SO grateful; being responsible for my own education made me take it more seriously. Your child will not sink if you don’t pay. They’ll have to be creative, perhaps switch schools, but having worked with university students all over the world, I can unequivocally say that nobody’s education is compromised by going to a “state school” or “community college”. Yes, I still am paying off student loans five years later, but I am so happy to see my parents enjoying their retirement and not working to support me.

      1. Somebody*

        This! My parents helped when they could (book fees, housing, etc), but not all of it. It helped me take my education more seriously.

        Also, sometimes parents can go back to school for free when there are kids in school. I had a friend whose mom took advantage of this. I’m sure there are income considerations and such, but something to at least look into.

      2. Fulano de Tal*

        If her kid is talented enough to get into an Ivy+ school, he would be a fool, an utter fool, to pass it up to go elsewhere. And yes, that will put you on a trajectory that a community college does not. (To be sure, we don’t know if he’s got the academic chops for that, there are no guarantees about that trajectory, etc.)

    4. TallTeapot*

      I don’t think it is fair to come down hard on LW because they’re choosing to care for their child! Like it or not, parental income is factored into the financial aid calculus. It is very difficult for a child to be declared independent and part of being a good parent is accepting that you have some responsibility for help pay for post-secondary education. I think it’s kind of unfair to be all “LW, throw your kid out and make them quit colleges”. It is impossible for a student to pay for a 4 year degree on their own. It is far, far different now than it was even 30 years ago.
      This is a tough situation, LW and I understand feeling like you’re bending for everyone else’s benefit and coming in last. Assuming that you don’t want to leave your husband and you want to keep on supporting your college-aged child, I think looking for remote work is probably the best option out of many meh options. Also, I don’t know where you are geographically, but sometimes, federal/state/county governments are an option–you’d be surprised what kind of work you can find, even in remote areas and your compliance background could be an asset.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          . . . that may be the outcome if they don’t pay, though. If LW can’t work enough to pay the bills, how can her kid?

          1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

            They can get loans? They can work? Both at the same time?

            Not paying for your own college is a luxury. LW’s kid at least has a home to return to during breaks and live rent free. Many people get through college without even that.

            If you can you should help your kids pay for school, but I wouldn’t want my mom to languish in misery to help me. Her life and happiness are more valuable. And the whole point of this discussion is for LW to get another job? At which point she could help pay again?

            As a young person burdened with student loans, I’m kind of baffled by your responses.

            1. GothicBee*

              This. I think if the LW can pay for her child’s education, that’s great! But if paying for the child’s education comes at the cost of the LW’s career, that’s no so great. I don’t think the LW should just quit paying for their kid’s college and say “Tough luck, kid”, but I do think the LW should consider pushing back on the idea that they must devote all of that money solely to their child’s education. Could they cut back some and use that to go to college? Has the LW looked into what programs are out there and what they would aim for if they could? Is there an accelerated program that would be cheaper and quicker for them to do?

              Also, their kid won’t be in college forever (hopefully). So even if the LW does need to devote the money now to their kid’s education, can they make a definitive plan/timeline for their own career plans? Sometimes just having a plan, even if you can’t immediately act on it, can help with the helpless/dead end feeling because you’re working toward a goal.

              1. Julia*

                Also, if she ends up getting a better-paying job, she can still help the kid pay off the student loans later. In the end, there will be more money if she goes back to work sooner.

            2. Rach*

              I didn’t have help with school and have $50k in loans. It sucks. I can’t imagine a scenario where I would want my mom this miserable because I was getting a degree. It is amazing when parents are fortunate enough to be able to pay tuition and housing for their kids but it is not a requirement and kids will be okay if they don’t get the help. There are scholarships not based on income and great community colleges. There are options.

              1. Sabrina Spellman*

                All my parents did was cosign on my loans and I have about $80k when combining my BA and MS degrees. Student debt sucks, but it’s not the end of the world if you have to take out loans to pay for something if the alternative is letting your parent be miserable so you don’t have to shoulder the responsibility.

              2. LunaLena*

                Yeah, same here. I was the child of a single parent who was already struggling to make ends meet when I was ready to enter college, as well as a sibling who was already in college. My mom was willing to take out personal loans to help me pay for it, but I told her I would drop out if she did. It just wasn’t worth it to me to have her take on that kind of burden. I went to my first-choice school, helped pay for costs for four years, and graduated with tens of thousands in student loans, which I finished paying off a few years ago (one of the greatest days of my life, and I’m still in my 30s).

                So I agree: there are options.

              3. Fulano de Tal*

                “It is amazing when parents are fortunate enough to be able to pay tuition and housing for their kids but it is not a requirement and kids will be okay if they don’t get the help.”

                It is, of course, not a formal requirement in the strict sense of the word. But I think it is part of the de facto bargain of having kids, particularly if you’re in what seems to be an upper middle class lifestyle. It’s about valuing education.

                1. Rach*

                  Lol, yes, of course but if she is struggling to help, she isn’t upper middle class. We aren’t talking about people who can afford to but refuse. As someone who grew up poor and who until a few years ago was poor, I value education tremendously. That isn’t exclusive to the upper middle class. I still can’t pay for my child’s education. If someone can’t afford to on their current, part-time salary and is struggling to find a job, what are they supposed to do?

            3. I'm just here for the cats*

              This! totally this!

              Even if you factor in parents’ income, that means they may not qualify for Pell grants and such. But they certainly would be able to qualify for loans, especially if the husband co-signed.

              I’m on the fence with this on one hand I wonder if Husband is not paying towards the son. Which if that’s true he needs to stop. but on the other hand I’m wondering if the LW is taking on more than she needs

              For some reason I have a feeling that LW is working to cover the son’s living expenses. I know someone who did that and actually kept another coworker from getting full-time who needed it, because she refused to go full time because her daughter (who worked already) needed fun money!

      1. adventurer*

        Their kid doesn’t have to quit school! They’ll just get loans! My parents couldn’t afford to pay for my undergraduate education and I got loans and some scholarships to pay for all of it, and worked very part-time throughout college (just about 12 hours a week, to pay for groceries and some of rent.) My parents just assisted with part of my rent. It took a decade to pay off my loans (I went to an in-state public university.) I always felt very in control of my own education, and I’m not at all angry that my parents (who make about $80 k in combined household income) couldn’t afford to fully cover my and my brother’s degrees.

        1. DataGirl*

          Except for the small town piece, I can really relate to OP. I’m 45, in a dead-end job, and have teens whose college needs to be paid for before I could consider getting another degree myself.

          The thing is most kids in their first year(s) of college aren’t going to have the credit history to qualify for loans. Most loans are going to require a parent or other established adult to co-sign. Even Federal student loans are usually in the parent’s name- and while a parent may tell their kid that they are responsible for paying back the loan, the fact is if the kid defaults the parent is going to be held responsible for paying it back. I can understand how under those circumstances, paying for or taking out additional loans to go back to school herself would not be ideal to the OP. Also at her age, starting a new career would be difficult, even with a shiny new degree. Age discrimination is real, and companies are going to be less willing to hire a 50+ year grad with all the additional costs towards health care, retirement, etc. than a 25 year old one who will cost them less and potentially be with the company longer.

          1. Ismonie*

            None of my student loans were co-signed by my parents, public or private, so I’m not sure where you’re getting your information.

            1. Momma Bear*

              It may depend on the institution and the type of financial aid offered. I was able to get money without a cosigner but one of our children was not.

            2. DataGirl*

              My knowledge comes from my own experience as a parent of a curreny 19 year old college student. Her first student loan (Sallie Mae) required a co-signer ( didn’t qualify for Federal loans at the time). Subsequent Federal loans have been Parent Plus loans as we make too much for her to qualify for grants.

              1. Student Affairs Sally*

                That’s not the case for “most” students as you said in your comment, though.

          2. GothicBee*

            This may be affected by your financial situation, but my parents didn’t cosign the student loans I got through financial aid (I have both subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans). There are specific federal loans only available to the parent (PLUS loans), but the federal loans (direct loans or stafford loans) shouldn’t need anyone to cosign for the student.

          3. Student Affairs Sally*

            It was several years ago that I was in college so laws may have changed (I work in higher ed but not financial aid), but my parents definitely did NOT cosign on any of my loans and would not have any responsibility to pay them back if I defaulted. My federal loans were always in my own name. There ARE some loans designed for parents of college students, but from my understanding the vast majority are in the student’s name unless the parent agrees to cosign.

          4. TiffIf*

            The thing is most kids in their first year(s) of college aren’t going to have the credit history to qualify for loans. Most loans are going to require a parent or other established adult to co-sign. Even Federal student loans are usually in the parent’s name- and while a parent may tell their kid that they are responsible for paying back the loan, the fact is if the kid defaults the parent is going to be held responsible for paying it back.

            This…is very different than my experience. Direct loans (subsidized or unsubsidized) are most definitely in the name of the student, even if they have to provide parental income information on the FAFSA–the loan itself is directly to the student. These loans also don’t factor in credit history. Only Federal PLUS loans are in the parents name and take into account credit history, which at that point is the parents’ credit score, not the student’s. Unless you’re talking private loans? That is an entirely different ballgame.

            Pell Grants and Direct Subsidized student loans are need-based, so college kid may not qualify based on parent’s income, but Direct Unsubsidized loans are not need-based. PLUS loans are not need-based either.

            1. DataGirl*

              My kid has never qualified for direct loans- we make too much. They absolutely take parent income into account for Federal loans- not just grants. We have only been able to do Parent Plus loans ( Federal) or outside loan agencies like Sallie Mae which required a co-signer

          5. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            This just isn’t true. Federal student loans require parents to fill out the FAFSA IIRC, but they’re in the student’s name alone. I think parent plus loans may have more favorable terms than students can generally get privately and thus are an attractive option if parents are willing and able to help out that way, but the only loans I needed my parents’ help with were co-signing for private ones, and even then they were on the hook WITH me, not by themselves. However, once students start earning an income they can likely refinance loans for a lower interest rate in their name alone (I did).

            1. Adultiest Adult*

              Federal direct student loans have ridiculously low caps on what you can borrow–like $5000 a year for the first two years–and anything more than that requires a Parent Plus loan (which absolutely takes both income and credit into account) or a private loan. This is the piece that people are missing: it is literally not possible to pay for most colleges with those loans alone, without outside help. Source: been there, did that, how I ended up cosigning my cousin’s loans. That being said, OP seems to think she should assume all the burden to avoid her child having any debt, and that’s not fair either. Community college? Part-time study and work? There has to be another option rather than OP being miserable and drowning.

        2. Morning Glory*

          Your parents couldn’t afford to help you pay for college and neither could mine. I came from below the poverty line and got a good mix of loans and financial aid.

          My sister’s friend had parents who could afford to pay for college and didn’t. She didn’t have access to the same resources that I did because of her parents’ salaries.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            I got stuck in the gap. Both my parents worked in public service, so they didn’t make much money but had amazing benefits from their state jobs, so they stayed in them to keep us kids healthy and covered in a lot of other ways. I remember applying for some grants to help cover a HUGE portion of my 4 years of college tuition, but my parents combined were $4k/yr over the limit. It was so disappointing… knowing we were so close, but didn’t quite qualify. They really couldn’t afford my tuition, so I took the route of student loans and worked about 3/4 time on top of being a full-time student.

            It was so disheartening to see how my parents had budgeted and sometimes worked 2 jobs through the years in order to make sure their family had everything they needed. Then when it came down to it, their secondary jobs are what made us ineligible to qualify for that college assistance. America…

            1. Rach*

              I love that grants are available for low income people, that shouldn’t change. Separate from that it truly does suck for those in slightly better circumstances who aren’t well off. We don’t qualify for grants for my daughter but we can’t afford her tuition because I’ve only been making good money for 5 years. Before that we struggled to make ends meet and it took a few years to climb out of the hole and pay off debt and buy a house. So on paper who should be able to help our kid but in reality, there just wasn’t time to save up for it. Luckily she got a scholarship for when she starts in the fall. I’m sorry you fell through the cracks. Our system needs updated.

            2. RecoveringSWO*

              Yep. It’s rough. Some of the Ivies and liberal arts schools with big endowments have changed their grant formulas to cover those missed by FAFSA. Which is great for any parents reading this thread who may find a specific school for their circumstances. But not so great for us grads/our parents…

        3. Properlike*

          Exactly. I read financial advice somewhere: “You can take out loans for a college degree, but not for retirement.” In other words, OP, don’t sacrifice your fiscal health now to provide for your kids! He can get loans! And you’ll be in a far better position to help him out on the other end when you’re working. I don’t say this to pile on, but because as someone your age, we both realize you have a limited working window available. Most people I grew up with did not get college paid for, many were working/lower-middle class, and they made it work.

      2. LaFramboise*

        +1000. Please don’t talk about having a young adult pay for their own college, it can be prohibitively expensive, and unless the child/college student has been emancipated, their ability to get financial aid is tied to their parents’ income. Also, leaving college debt-free is a great gift that parents can give their kids. OP, I would seriously consider how much you could make if you took a job away from home (and were psychologically capable of doing this and staying in your marriage) versus what the costs works be. And if not, consider government work.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          As a young person burdened with loans, “Please don’t talk about having a young adult pay for their own college” is a completely baffling statement. LW has already paid for some of her child’s school. The child can figure something out for the rest, or can tide themselves over while LW finds the job they want. Furthermore, LW can help them pay loans later if she wants. LW can lower the amount she contributes and have the child pay some of their expenses, if they aren’t already.

          It is a *luxury* not to have to pay for your own schooling, not anathema to mention otherwise. I would not want my mother to live in misery to support me.

          Obviously, LW gets to weigh what is important to her and decide. Everyone here is giving a reasonable suggestion. Don’t cut the suggestion off as an impossibility through shame. LW has options.

          1. Momma Bear*

            Each of our children has had/will have different circumstances re: college and each has had (or will have) to handle some part of the expense in some way. I agree with Princess that it’s a luxury and sometimes circumstances change. This is something that LW needs to discuss with both her spouse and her son to find a more equitable option. It is not wrong to suggest that the student contribute more to their education. I would love to give my child the gift of being loan free but that is unlikely.

      3. Glomarization, Esq.*

        I don’t know what to tell y’all who disagree with my suggestion here. My own child is on their own for their university expenses at this point, and they’re doing just fine? Loans, grants, scholarships, lower-cost institutions, part-time jobs — options are there for kids. But the time for LW to make their own money and put it away for retirement is now (and yesterday), while the child has their entire life and money-making career ahead of them.

        1. DataGirl*

          Assuming you are in the US- didn’t you have to cosign for the loans? Your kid can make all the promises in the world but if they default, those would be your responsibility to pay back.

          1. The Original K.*

            Only if the loans are private. Federal student loans don’t require a co-signer – in fact, I think parents cannot cosign their kids’ federal loans. Parents can take out their own federal Parent PLUS loans to help pay for their kids’ college, but they’re not required to do so.

            1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              Yes, I got two of my own federal loans for every semester I was in college (one subsidized and one not), and my parents got a PLUS loan for my first semester to help me out.

              While my student loans are burdensome and the cost of tuition needs to be addressed, I felt just as much guilt as I know feel pressure about my parents taking out that loan. They could not afford it and I wish they hadn’t. At least it’s paid off now.

              Also keep in mind that grants and assistance increase with the more people in your house in school. I have two younger siblings, and by the time my mom went back to school (a year before I graduated) everyone but my dad was enrolled. My mom got much more in grants than I got as a freshman, when I was the only one in college.

            2. Former Fin Aid*

              There is a yearly limit on the amount of federal student loans in the students own name. This may or may not be enough to cover the full tuition amount. There are also parent loan options.

            3. DataGirl*

              Depending on how much the parents earn- their kids might not qualify for unsubsidized Federal loans and Parent Plus loans might be their only option. That’s my kid’s situation.

          2. SoloKid*

            Back when I was in school (early 00’s, as a teen) I signed for a no interest loan as a low income student in Massachusetts. Those were relatively cheap at a max of 4K a year so maybe that’s why students could sign for them. (It doesn’t sound like much but it paid for over half of my state school tuition.) Google tells me MA is still offering this loan so maybe other states have similar setups.

            I also had an actual low income parent, so IDK if OP’s kid should/would have this opportunity with a parent that makes six figures.

          3. lemon*

            Yup. I’m wondering how much people really understand about financial aid these days.

            I’m glad that other folks were able to support themselves through college without any parental help. But… it can be really, really hard– enough to be impossible for some people.

            First, if a student is under 24 years-old, the college *has* to take into account parental income. When I was 21, my parents were contributing *zip* to my college expenses– I was living in my own apartment and worked 30 hours a week. Financial aid told me they still couldn’t consider me an independent student and they only way they could is if in my parents died or I had a documented case of abuse (e.g. a police report filed against them).

            So… get a loan, right? Well, there are annual limits on how much you can take out in federal student loans (the kind you can get without a cosigner). (Most colleges already figure these loans into your financial aid package, so it’s likely that the OP’s child is already maxing out these loans.) If those loans still aren’t enough to cover tuition (likely), your only option is a private loan. Private loans require a co-signer. Most people are understandably very hesitant to co-sign because like DataGirl points out, that makes you responsible for those loans for life.

            So if you can’t find a co-signer, you’re screwed. That was my case– I had to drop out and couldn’t go back to school until after I turned 24, and then I went to the state university that had the lowest tuition. And I still had to work 30 hours a week to be able to afford it.

            So, yeah, sure, technically it’s doable if you’re incredibly persistent. But… I’m a decade behind all of my peers because of how long it took me to earn to bachelor’s, and I’ll be paying off student loans for the rest of my life.

            1. Momma Bear*

              A housemate of mine had to go through some process to prove his parents had nothing to do with him financially so he could qualify for financial aid without them. They basically legally disowned him so he could get through college. (We were not close, so I don’t know the specifics.)

              In my own case, the percentage I could cover with x or y type of aid changed. It’s been…a minute…but I had to lean more on loans as I got closer to graduation. It’s like they held out the carrot of grant money for frosh and once they had you invested, you were stuck with loans instead.

              I’m glad you were able to make it work, lemon. But I wish it weren’t so hard.

            2. DataGirl*

              Thanks for explaining better than I did. My kids are pretty screwed because like you said, they take parental income into account and we currently make too much for them to get grants or federal loans. Unfortunately this higher income is new, when they were young we were living in poverty so were unable to save money for them for school, and now we are using that income to pay off debts so still can’t really help, other than to take out Parent Plus loans.

              We always knew our kids would need loans to pay for college, but never realized they would be so hard to get.

            3. mf*

              Yes, thank you for this — a lot of people don’t realize how much a student’s ability to get loans and scholarship is dependent on their parents’ income.

              Plus college is WAY WAY WAY more expensive than it was a decade or two ago. Tuition for a public in-state school averages about $40k right now for 4 years. Add in another $10k a year for room and board plus the cost of books and fees, and you’re looking at nearly $100,000. That’s a MASSIVE amount of debt for a 22-year-old with no work experience or financial literacy. If they have the option to provide some financial support, most parents will because they don’t want to saddle their kid with that kind of debt.

              My point is, the family finances around higher ed are very complicated right now. It’s not simple as “just have your kid take out loans and pay their own tuition!”

            4. Lora*


              When I grew up, if your parents couldn’t afford to pay for school or didn’t want to pay for school, or if you were stuck in the trap of “Dad makes decent money but owes 10 years of back child support and obviously isn’t contributing,” your options were: get married young so you’d be considered emancipated (what I did), join the military and get shipped to Iraq War 1.0 for a few years, or you could wait until you were 24-25 to start college. In a town with 25+% unemployment, good luck finding a job until that glorious day…and where would you even get the money to relocate somewhere jobs were more plentiful anyway? That was in the days when state school tuition was about $4-5k and private schools were $10-15k, not counting room and board. You could feasibly cover that with a combination of Pell grants, Stafford loans, a work-study job and maybe a side job and summer job. Even then though, if something went sideways with one of your financial aid sources, it was common knowledge that you could sell enough weed or get a job a couple of days per week stripping to make your tuition payment.

              Now? In-state tuition at Big State U is $17k in my state. Private school is anywhere from $30-50k. Tuition, not room and board. And most schools require students to live on campus the first year or two, for exorbitant fees – but the financial aid levels available have barely budged. Tell me again how you’re going to make that money mixing watered-down whisky sours two nights a week in the nudie bar on the edge of town? It’s an absolute racket.

            5. Here we go again*

              First, if a student is under 24 years-old, the college *has* to take into account parental income. When I was 21, my parents were contributing *zip* to my college expenses– I was living in my own apartment and worked 30 hours a week. Financial aid told me they still couldn’t consider me an independent student and they only way they could is if in my parents died or I had a documented case of abuse (e.g. a police report filed against them).

              That could’ve been my story word for word. Except they told me to get married or pregnant to qualify.

        2. Lizy*

          I hear ya, and I agree with you. The thing that I had to caution myself when thinking about a response is that we don’t know their entire situation – maybe they’ve had severe issues with debt in the past and promised each other not to do it again. Maybe out of all the options, they wanted to help their kid with school. That’s their right, and their decision.

          It’s so easy to think “they should do this” but we don’t know the whole situation.

          But yes – I think if going back to school would help OP’s mental health, career, whatever, then she should rethink whether or not it might be an option.

        3. Texas*

          And when did you make it clear to your child that you wouldn’t be paying for college? It’s truly wild all the suggestions of just rip the rug right out from under your kid and stop paying for their college. Making financial decisions clear well before college is one thing, while doing a 180 in the middle of their college career is another entirely. Like others have mentioned, the parent’s financials are considered when calculating financial aid, and there isn’t a box on FAFSA for “my parents aren’t contributing.” There are people with $90,000 left to pay off on a $30,000 student loan they took out two decades ago because student loan practices are incredibly predatory (and would need a co-signer so LW could still be on the hook but for now even more). SMH

        4. Strict Extension*

          There’s also a huge difference between a) a college student who has always known they would be partially or entirely responsible for paying for college and was able to plan for it starting in high school and b) a student who is currently in college who has been told their parents were covering expenses who is told in the middle of their degree that funds are being pulled because Mom decided to go back to school herself. Even with resources available, that’s a big pivot to make very suddenly, and while lots of people might have to do it for reasons outside of their family’s control, knowing it’s happening because your parent essentially just changed their mind about what they wanted to spend money on might be a pretty big point of resentment. If OP’s son knew he would be covering college costs (and I’ll point out that we don’t know that OP is covering 100%; I had scholarships I had to work hard to keep qualifying for and three work study jobs that underwrote my college tuition with family paying the rest, so though OP is paying, it doesn’t mean Son’s necessarily getting a free ride), then he might have made all sorts of different decisions. He might have picked a different school or frontloaded certain classes to graduate early, started in community college for general credits, etc. Changing the plan now if they don’t have to would be pretty deeply unfair in our current environment of skyrocketing education costs and predatory loan systems.

          1. Rach*

            What if spouse loses his job? What if mom has to stop working because of her poor health? It isn’t reasonable to expect that your parents will be able to pay for college unless there is a specific college fund. Circumstances change and that is okay. It sucks but is okay.

            1. RecoveringSWO*

              Then FAFSA is recalculated and kid is qualified for more financial aid. It might not cover things perfectly, but its definitely different than pushing a large amount of private loans unexpectedly.

        5. Rach*

          My loans at 18 and when I returned to school at 30 were in my name only. My daughter has the option to take out loans this fall (at 18) that would cover tuition and they would be in her name only. Cosigners are not required or even allowed on federal student loans.

          1. Florp*

            It’s true that federal student loans (Stafford loans) issued as part of a financial aid package determined by the school are made to the student individually, not the parent. It’s also true that the Stafford loan rarely covers the whole bill for tuition, room and board, books, etc, For most students, the difference is made up by a Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) loan, which is the federally regulated student loan issued by private banks to the student’s parents, not the student.

            It’s probably not helpful to compare your experience with financial aid to a student today; when I went to school the FAFSA hadn’t been invented yet. I had a falling out with my parents and begged for help at the financial aid office. They helped me declare myself emancipated so I would qualify for Pell grants and Perkins loans and nothing was in my parents’ names. Today, if my kid wanted to be emancipated from me for financial aid purposes, he would have to go to court first! I’m legally required to fill out the FAFSA, and the university is required to consider my income when determining the aid my child is eligible for, even if I don’t give him a penny.

            It’s also not helpful to compare your daughter to other kids. Incomes and opportunities vary widely, school policies and endowments vary widely, and state financial aid programs vary widely. Kudos to your kid though: it sounds like she has worked hard to get a good financial aid package.

            1. Rach*

              I was only replying to the cosigner aspect. PLUS loans are parent loans, not cosigned. I’m fully aware of how FASFA works, having dealt with it in 3 vastly different scenarios. My current situation with my daughter is very close to what OP has with her son. Obviously we as parents will do what we can but if a parent is unable to continue to pay for loans, it sucks but the parent shouldn’t beat themselves up.

      4. Rach*

        My daughter is going to college in the fall. We have been very clear with her and my son what we will be able to provide (housing them rent free, help with transportation costs, and minimal financial help). My daughter has kept her grades up and has gotten a scholarship and plans to live at home so she doesn’t have to take out loans. My son struggles with grades (pretty sure he has ADHD) and when he graduates in few years he plans on attending community college, which is something we can afford to pay. Parents aren’t responsible for going into 10s of thousands of dollars into debt to finance their child’s education or to sacrifice their own education for their children. We will be providing what we can because we love our kids and want them to succeed. We’d do more if we could. If LW is so desperately unhappy and not paying her child’s tuition would help her mental well being, that is okay! Parents just need to talk to their kids and let them know what is possible and kids need to be reasonable in their expectations.

        1. Temperance*

          Hey so just gently pushing back on this: if your son has ADHD issues and is still in high school or middle school, get him evaluated NOW so he can develop strategies for handling this.

          1. Momma Bear*

            Agreed. If he can get evaluated and get a 504, that can be taken with him to college and may qualify him for extended time on ACT/SAT, etc.

          2. Rach*

            I really appreciate the concern! It is a long story but we were in the process of getting him help before the pandemic and even tried before that when he was in middle school. He’s a well behaved kid who gets good grades despite not doing homework/not tuning in hw he does do. So the doctor said the inattentiveness wasn’t an issue. Surprise it is only getting worse. There’s a family history, which is why I suspect ADHD.

        2. skipping girl*

          Seconding the advice to get him evaluated now. I have ADHD and wasn’t diagnosed until after college and it’s been genuinely life changing for me.

          I really wish it had been beforehand – it just didn’t have to be as hard as it was.

          1. Rach*

            I’m so glad you got help! I didn’t get my mental health diagnosis until I was 30 and it really does make a difference.

      5. Kotow*

        I don’t think anyone said the kid had to quit school. But it’s also extremely common for parents to refuse to contribute to college for various reasons. I’m in crippling loan debt because of having parents like that! It’s frustrating, it’s angering, but it’s also extremely common and it’s not the parent’s responsibility to pay for their adult child.

      6. Ann O'Nemity*

        If the OP pulls back college support, it will put the student in a tough spot. Financial aid and need-based scholarships are totally based on parents’ income. Most loan options will require a co-signer. The OP’s daughter is already enrolled, and may have limited options for transferring to cheaper schools at this point. I sympathize with the OP’s concerns and feeling like they need to keep supporting them.

        I saw this play out first hand. My mom remarried when I was 17 and my new stepfather had zero desire to help me with college. I was completely unprepared when the FAFSA and all other financial aid, loan, and need-based scholarships required me to include my wealthy stepfather’s income, and he didn’t even want to provide the info. It really sucks when the federal government and colleges expect parents to pay but parents choose not to. At least this all happened during the application process and I could make decisions accordingly.

        1. Naomi*

          I believe the FAFSA does also take into consideration any other household members being enrolled in higher education when it calculated eligibility. While I am not advising OP to just drop helping her son in the way he is depending on, I would encourage her not to assume that it’s completely financially impossible to go back to school herself while her son is in college.

      7. Anon Today*

        A lot of people are referencing paying for their own college–whem was that? I was very lucky to go to university on a nearly full scholarship. The shortfall between my scholarship and the full tuition was $1500 a year. Both my parents went to college on full scholarships. Their ENTIRE TUITION was $1500. It’s easy to say “make the kid pay!” but what 18 year old has $35K or $55K or even $70K at the ready to do that!!!? And yeah, state school, yadda yadda, but if you’ve raised your kid expecting them to get good graded and go to a top school and then turn around and say, “This bill is yours.” that’s pretty crappy. I get why LW wants to handle that bill for her kid. If the parents signed off on a certain school at a certain price putting X dollars in “I’m unhappy” is not a great relationship builder.

        That said, Hubby is making 6 figures in the middle of nowhere. It should go far. If this was my marriage we’d be doing a long-distance thing with me in an apartment somewhere I could have a decent life and him paying for that college tuition, etc.

      8. JelloStapler*

        While I agree that students have a harder time getting loans without their parents’ income factored in (even if they do not intend to contribute), please do not start a “good parent” argument when it comes to paying for college. There is a lot of privilege in being able to do that- none of which makes someone a better parent than not.

    5. WellRed*

      Yep, that stuck at me too as well as the comment about how OP’s part time job doesn’t pay the bills. Husband makes 6 figures and they live in a small dumpy town. OP, do you really have $ problems that are making you feel stuck or is it that, because you aren’t the breadwinner, you don’t feel like you have $? Cause those two things have different solutions.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. His money is your (plural. Y’all’s) money. Six figures in a small town can surely help with tuition?

        Because if he’s one of those “my money vs. your money” types then you needed counseling long before this.

      2. Momma Bear*

        How they view money/bills is probably a big part of this. If LW is now responsible for, let’s say half, but isn’t bringing in half the income into the house, then it’s an unequitable distribution. Not having financial freedom can have a huge impact. If she’s living paycheck to paycheck while he’s rolling in excess cash then he’s not being a good spouse. That’s a bad roommate situation, not a healthy marriage.

        She says she interviewed with his company 5 yrs ago, so she’s tried to make this all work and it hasn’t improved. Five years is quite long enough to say this isn’t working and something needs to change.

      3. MK*

        Someone above suggested that the son might not be the husband’s, so the OP could be in a position of having to both cover her part of the bills (even a small part) and help her son with college out of a meager income.

        Also, the language she uses makes me wonder if the son is from a previous marriage and the tuition contributions are part of a divorce settlement. In which case this discussion is moot, because the OP does have to, legally, cover those expenses.

      4. Batgirl*

        I’m actually struggling to separate the financial issues from the job satisfaction issues. I can’t really tell which one it is that’s mainly causing OP’s unhappiness.

        1. Hinterland*

          OP here. I guess I’m just unhappy all around ha ha. I’ve lost my career and hate living in this small town in the middle of nowhere in a rural state. I am a girl who needs culture, beautiful nature, new experiences, and a sense of fulfillment through work. Part of this is empty nest syndrome. I now have a ton of time on my hands that still isn’t filled with hobbies etc. Part of it is being trapped due to Covid. Probably a perfect storm of major life changes and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

          1. Batgirl*

            That sounds incredibly overwhelming! I’ve been in a ‘everything went to shit’ scenario myself, and you’ve got to pick a priority to start with. I listed the problems in order of what I wanted most. Then the order of easiest to solve. Sometimes you need an easier win and a morale boost while climbing your mountain. For me, I had to figure out a fun way to spend the weekend before I could get the momentum to tackle relationship plus job.

          2. AsWorlds*

            Is there a way to perhaps make your town more appealing to you? Community garden? Form a walking group/nature group?
            You may find there are other people in your town who are as frustrated as you and would jump at the opportunity to work on something with you. (For example, I love sewing – wanted to meet other people in my new town as I didn’t know anyone so set up a sewing club and now know a lot more people and have somewhere to go on a friday night post covid (because I know how to party))
            Maybe you could try getting some kind of farmers market set up? That might help with food bills? or not, I’m not sure how they work in America…

          3. Travel Companion, a little farther down the road*

            I understand how confusing it is, wanting relationship, environment, and work that feels appropriate, and being frustrated. It’s kind of a cultural expectation; we feel it should just happen. Having the life we want requires intentional action. On the work front, my best advice is to let go of the means of reaching your goal state as being a “job,” where the “right” employer has to choose you. Maybe it’s a good time to do a radical review of your strengths and values, your gifts and what gives you purpose. What activities have you been good at and enjoyed in your past work? Is there a low-cost certification that could help you shift into a new role? Being self-employed, finding a niche you can work virtually, would put you in more control of your life and let you explore and re-define yourself. Employment, like the cost of higher education, is just broken in the U.S. – it’a too hard a nut to expect to finesse. You may find your health improves when you find more self-direction. And, what makes you joyful? Add more of that to your life. Taking care of yourself and your future is your work- consider that no one else is responsible for you getting your needs met, and honestly they can’t know what you are “sacrificing.” What will your future self need, and what step can you take now? What can you, as a family, do for your son’s future— this might be a good family conversation? A reset of expectations for each of you, with a focus on well-being and care, might be a good idea: set out goal states for your future selves, and as a family.
            This is advice offered for any new ideas or encouragement it may give. Your instincts are telling you something. Sometimes shifting one assumption can open the door to entirely new possibilities. I wish you well!

    6. Save the Hellbender*

      I think we should take OP at their word that they “have” to pay for their kid’s education. For a lot of families, and in a lot of situations, it would be pretty cruel to tell a kid who’s in college that you’ll no longer pay — especially if that would have affected where they chose to go.
      Also, even if for OP it’s just a non-negotiable to pay for the kid’s education, then we should respect that!
      And let’s be a little cautious with “kids can get loans and work them off later.” Today’s economy sees millions of young people working off tens of thousands of dollars of ballooning debt while working low-wage-but-college-degree-required jobs. OP might (quite reasonably) want to do anything they can to spare their kid that.
      Anway, paying for secondary education can be a “have to” for this family, even if that’s not a categorical imperative we want to apply to everyone.

      1. Esmeralda*

        The thing is, the kid’s ability to get grants and scholarships, and the kinds of loans available, are greatly dependent on the parent(s) income. If it’s all dependent onthe OP, who is working part time, then the kid should have access to at least some funds, since the OP makes so little money.

        But if the parental contribution figured by the financial aid office is based on both the OP’s and the husband’s income, well, then, why isn’t the husband contributing? Why is it solely on the OP?

        Whose income is on the FAFSA? If it’s both OP and husband, he needs to fork it over.

        1. EchoGirl*

          I read it as OP saying that her income helps make ends meet on the kid’s education, not that it’s only her income paying for it. And with the husband’s income alone, the kid might not qualify for need-based aid, so OP’s income might not affect how much they’re expected to pay while still helping them pay it.

      2. cat lady*

        “let’s be a little cautious with ‘kids can get loans and work them off later.'”
        seconding this!

        1. halfmanhalfshark*

          Good grief, yes. I went back to school as an adult, graduated in 2007 with an advanced degree, and am still struggling under the burden of those loans despite having a pretty solid career with steadily increasing income. Knock wood, I should have them paid off well before our kid goes to college, which is good because to me, it makes all the sense in the world to do everything I can to give them the amazing advantage of not graduating with a boatload of debt.

        2. Abyssal*

          Seriously. This was the kind of thinking that is leading to the incredible financial stagnation of America’s young folks. “Oh, just get a loan!” is profoundly irresponsible advice.

          1. Tired of Covid-and People*

            ITA, student loans are a racket. Suze Orman says take out no more than what youvanticipate your first year salary after college will be. She’s conservative, but so many people mortgage their future for degrees that do not translate to higher paying careers. That said, I am a minority and higher education is important for us to advance. I struggled coming from a poor single parent home but managed to get a four-year degree from a highly competitive institution, but did not do as well as I could because of constant money worries and needing to work. So yes, I committed to helping my child get their undergraduate degree. Wasn’t able to pay for it all, but they got far more help than I did. Nothing wrong with helping your children, if you don’t help them, who will?

      3. RecoveringSWO*

        I agree. If the family valued the prestige-level of schools like the OP may value the prestige of “Fortune-500 employers” then there’s a not-insignificant chance that the family finds it important for the kid to attend a $55k+ Per year school. The husband’s low 6 figure salary would be nowhere near enough to cover that comfortably. I don’t think it’s our place to judge whether high tuition is worth it for this family, but changing that value determination while the kid is currently in school is going to definitely cause some friction. Aside from the non-monetary issues, I can tell you that my friends who transferred from expensive private schools to state schools had to take at least 1 extra semester because not every credit transferred (it seems to be a cash cow for the state schools in my state to get more $$ out of the transfers). There was a lot of frustration on their end about still having loans and having a delayed entry into the workforce.

      4. Rach*

        It is also okay to point out to OP that they don’t have to pay for their child’s school. It is nice to do and it helps the child but it is not a requirement especially when it comes at the expense of the parent’s well-being! OP is working part time and spouse makes 6 figures in a small town. I find the wording of this odd and wonder how money is being split in this family because it doesn’t sound fair to OP. If paying for school for the child is that high on the priority list, OP may need to rethink their living situation, unfortunately.

        *note: my child is going to school in the fall and I’m unable to pay for her tuition even tho I would love to be able to, it is a luxury we cannot afford with 2 full-time incomes

        1. lemon*

          t is also okay to point out to OP that they don’t have to pay for their child’s school. It is nice to do and it helps the child but it is not a requirement especially when it comes at the expense of the parent’s well-being!

          Unfortunately, U.S. federal financial aid guidelines disagree with you on this. They absolutely believe that parents have a responsibility to contribute and include parental income in determining financial aid packages. There’s no way for a student to navigate around that until they turn 24 or get married, unless there’s some extreme circumstances (like death of parents or abuse).

          1. Rach*

            Yes, they do and it is unfortunate that that is our system and that my child won’t be able to get grants because of my income. I am giving my child everything I can afford but it won’t be tuition assistance. Luckily she won’t have to take out loans because of scholarships (we will cover books and fees and fun money) and she won’t have to work full-time unless she wants to move out. She’s very lucky and I feel for kids who don’t get scholarships and who’s parents can’t help them. I was one of them.

        2. Fulano de Tal*

          It’s also okay to disagree with you, and to argue that — while there may not be a formal legal responsibility (although see the financial aid guidelines below) — there is a moral responsibility for financially comfortable households that value education to contribute to college tuition. That’s why we have college savings accounts, for example. And yes, I view a household with a six-figure income in a rural area as “financially comfortable.”

          1. Rach*

            But she isn’t financially comfortable. She works part-time, is struggling to find full-time employment and is concerned about being able to enough to help him! Yes, the husband makes 6 figures, and if he is refusing to use that family income to help, that is an issue.

      5. GothicBee*

        I do think it’s worth it to the LW to consider if there’s a compromise there though. Is it possible to cut back even a little in order to fund their own education? Especially since it would likely be easier to get a loan on the child’s education than it would for the parent’s education (assuming it’s a second degree). Also, there are quite a few options nowadays for online accelerated programs meant for people switching careers or advancing their career. I’m not saying it’s an easy solution, but it could be worth considering if they haven’t really looked into anything and just assumed it wasn’t possible while their child was in school.

    7. AndersonDarling*

      Yes, look into reputable online colleges, some are very affordable. If you go to a “learn at your own pace” university, and you have the time available, you can get a degree in two semesters. (I’ve heard of people getting a masters in one semester, but you’d be devoting your whole life to schoolwork 24/7.)

    8. RecoveringSWO*

      If some sort of education program truly makes sense for you, absolutely consider going back now while your child is in college. You might qualify for more financial aid for your program and your kids program as a result of going to school at the same time. I wouldn’t jump into a program just because you’re sick of your current job, but if it makes sense otherwise, there’s a good chance it’ll be cheaper to do it now with aid. Obviously, it’ll depend on whether going now would require loans with interest rates that would outweigh waiting. But don’t write it off as impossible!

    9. MK*

      Taking money that has been earmarked for your child’s college fund is morally little better than theft, in my opinion. And it becomes even more problematic if you are not the only one who contributed, because you would be using money other people, like grandparents, gifted to your child.

      To everyone flying the “you don’t owe your child a university education”: sure, you don’t have a legal or moral obligation to do this to begin with. But if you raised your child with the expectation that their college tuition would be paid for, if you allowed them to pick a school on that understanding, if they are now in the middle of their course, well, you do have an obligation, because you took it on voluntarily and it would be pretty despicable to go back on your word to your own child. Let alone help yourself to money that was set aside for their education.

      I am not saying that the OP needs to sacrifice herself for her child’s college degree. Asking the son to maybe get a part-time job, sitting down with her husband for some financial planning, yes. Raiding the college fund, no.

      1. mcfizzle*

        I understand what you’re saying, and clearly taking from a college fund is not a desirable option, but LW sounds desperate and is even considering leaving her husband. Sometimes life changes things, and her obvious suffering should be considered. I’d hope her child could be compassionate and as you suggested, talk through possible options.

    10. raktajino*

      Going back to school might even help with the college bill for your kid! The FAFSA takes into consideration whether others in the family are in college as well.

      My mom got her AA while I was in college, and it lowered the expected parental contribution. (Though, I was in a much lower income bracket than I bet you are. Maybe it won’t make as much of a difference, especially since you have to consider your cost of college.)

    11. Beth*

      You’re not legally obligated to pay for your kid’s college, but with how high costs are these days and how much of a large-scale, long-term burden student debt has become, it’s hard for me to imagine parents not *feeling* obligated to pay as much as they can afford to pay.

      Even with parents helping, most people still end up with some amount of debt. Most college students end up getting loans and working them off. But parental help can be the difference between manageable debt and crushing debt that the child may take decades to get out from under. Taking out loans for $10k a year vs $20k a year is a huge difference, after all, when you sum it up and take interest into account. (And even at an in-state public college, by the time you take tuition, fees, room and board, and all the other associated costs of college into account, $20k a year isn’t that high.) Financial aid can help with that, of course, but even that is structured with the assumption that your parents will be paying some amount. FAFSA doesn’t care if your parents refuse to contribute; if they calculate that your parents can afford to contribute, that’s what your aid is based on. What kind parent wouldn’t feel a duty to help as much as they can, even if they’re not strictly required to?

      1. mf*

        “But parental help can be the difference between manageable debt and crushing debt that the child may take decades to get out from under.”

        Yes, thank for you this. I think it’s 100% reasonable to ask your kid to work and take out some loans to pay for college. But “just stop paying for your kid’s education” seems cruel considering the massive cost of college these days.

        1. Beth*

          If the parent can’t afford to help, that’s one thing. That can’t be helped. (And the student likely has more avenues for need-based scholarships and other aid in that case, though obviously it’s often still wildly insufficient.)

          But a parent who CAN help, who has the means to give their kid a not-already-miles-underwater start in life, and who chooses not to? I don’t understand that. The costs are enormous, even for ‘affordable’ schools; wages, especially for the kind of jobs a student who doesn’t have a degree and needs to fit work around their class schedule can get, are too low to meaningfully counteract those costs; interest rates on student loans aren’t as bad as credit card debt, but they’re high enough to have a serious impact. Who would willingly sign their kid up for that system, if they had any real choice about it? Even if they can’t 100% cover costs, even if all they can do is defang the system a bit, that’s still huge.

  5. MistOrMister*

    If you’re at the point of considering leaving the marriage, what about a long distance marriage? You apply for jobs in places that 1) you would like to love and 2) give you the level of pay you want. Then when you land one, you move there. Husband keeps his job and pay and you get back to being well employed and see each other on weekends or however often works for you.

    Or would you be open to changing fields? As Alison points out, there are many more remote positions now. It seems likely that you could find something administrative that waa full time and remote, just not in your current field.

    1. Le Corbustier*

      Piggybacking on this, with big city 1.5 hours away is it a possibility to be a “commuter spouse”? If you get a well paying job in nearby Big City, maybe it makes sense to rent a small place M-F and be with your spouse on weekends?

      I seem to remember this being a fairly common setup with some of the professors when I was in school, they would rent a flat in Big City and stay there half the week and then be on campus half the week in their home with their family.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        This is SO common in Europe! I know several couples who keep little apartments in nearby cities for this exact reason, and they do very well!

      2. nnn*

        This is what I was thinking. If you’re considering leaving the marriage anyway, you’d be paying for two homes anyway.

      3. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        Yes, promoting this! My boss is the commuter spouse. Sometimes he’s remote, sometimes in-person (in the before times). His SO loves to come visit (fall tourist spot!), but he doesn’t want to live here FT so my boss splits his time between city and town. They work on making it feel like they get mini-breaks, they stay in contact, work on shared goals, and co-parent dogs (their children are grown). It can work, but it also takes work.

        Also, forgive me if I missed, but could OP’s spouse work remotely?

    2. Captain Raymond Holt*

      I was coming to suggest this! Can you downsize where you’re living and maintain a second apartment or condo in a bigger city where you apply for work? Traveling may be hard with COVID now, but this isn’t an unheard of way for a marriage to work. And with the second income you’ll have the money to travel back and forth.

    3. kt*

      I’ll comment that I did this for a few years — not a 1.5 hour commute, but Midwest/coast. It was amazing for my career and my husband and I actually have a lot of good memories of that time, as every month we’d meet up at a different location (he’d come visit me, I’d visit him/”home”, or we’d go someplace else entirely) and we traveled areas of the US we’d never been to. We took the Amtrak down the East Coast, met up in Louisiana, met up in Vegas and went hiking…. and it was important to my career even though I’ve since changed fields so that I could live in the area I wanted to live in long-term.

      It’s worth thinking about. And looking for work with tech and STEM firms that are generally more open to remote work could also be useful.

      1. Kt*

        I realize though that the LW mentions a chronic health issue — not sure what impact that would have.

      2. Eat My Squirrel*

        This is so interesting, because I did the same thing, and it sucked. Big time. My husband owned a business in the Midwest and I moved to the East coast for a job because where we lived had few opportunities for growth above the level I was at. It took 3 years for him to be able to exit the business and join me. Frankly, I’m surprised our marriage survived that period. Now, I had a 6 year old and basically I was doing the single mom thing, which was exhausting, so maybe it’s different if you don’t have young kids, but I wouldn’t wish a long distance marriage on anyone. Unless they’re already considering divorce and maybe want a trial run. YMMV.

    4. Salt & Vinegar Chips*

      We did this for 2 years and while it was hard at first, by the end we were sad that getting to do the offering in the city was coming to an end. My husband moved to DC for 2 years and rented a bedroom from a college friend to save money. He got great experience that lead to his career now and I got 24 months of diagonal-ling in a king bed at night with our lazy dog, and having poccorn and wine for dinner. We took turns visiting each other on the weekends and holidays.

    5. Annika*

      My condo building has many people in such situations. I also work with a few couples where one works in the big city and one works in my mid-sized city. They found houses roughly half-way between our two cities so each has about a 45-minute commute.

    6. Momma Bear*

      I know more than one couple where one has an apartment in the city and returns every weekend to the country home.

    7. Aggretsuko*

      I agree, it sounds like if literally every other option hasn’t worked, that long distance marriage is the only answer.

    8. Abyssal*

      My parents did this for many years. They were in the same field, in very high career levels, and trying to live and work in the same town was essentially not feasible; they wound up directly competing against each other for jobs and it was horrible. So they became commuter spouses, together on the weekends and living about 150 miles apart during the week. It wasn’t optimal — certainly not what they planned on when they got married! — but it was better than one or the other of them giving up a career.

    9. MM*

      Came to say this. If you’re at the point of leaving, maybe it’s worth reconsidering what “being married” can mean. I’ve known couples who made it work in the following ways:

      – Lived and worked in different states, visited every other weekend (alternating, so each is only making the trip once a month)
      – Lived and worked in different states, had longish visits (a couple of weeks or more) every 3-4 months
      – Two academics lived and worked on different continents, reunited during breaks/summers or sometimes would teach in the other’s location for a semester (this was feasible in academia because both were quite senior and the one university had a US campus and a Gulf campus, but outside of academia this sort of thing would be much simpler to navigate)

      For some of these couples it was a temporary thing to deal with while necessary. For others it was an arrangement they were very happy with; they didn’t need to be living together to be “together.” All of them got what they wanted out of it, one way or another. All of this is secondary to the concerns being raised about the marriage itself and OP’s husband’s role in it by Alison and other commenters above, though–it can’t work if both partners aren’t on board, committed, able to communicate well and truly invested in the other’s needs. On the other hand, even if the husband is not willing/able to succeed at this kind of arrangement, it could be a model for a transitional step or a kind of trial separation–leaving a husband, working out the implications for a kid, restarting a career, and starting a life in a new place is a lot to do all at once.

    10. Renee Remains the Same*

      It does seem like the LW is making all the concessions, but unclear to me whether she’s being forced to come up with solutions that work for her because her husband isn’t quite aware of how miserable she is. (As a person who doesn’t really grasp subtlety, I do sometimes require someone taking me by the shoulders, looking me directly in the face, and telling me something does not work. Rather than hinting at it) With that out of the way….

      In line with lot of the thoughts mentioned here… If the husband isn’t open to moving, I’m not sure why it’s incumbent that LW be the one who has to commute. Why not have hubby do the commuting. It’s the trade off of having his great job. Or, I imagine small town housing prices are not exorbitant and hubby should be able to find a room or a studio to accommodate him during the week. LW’s child is in college, which means, they will shortly be on their own, if they’re not already. So LW could potentially move to the Big Town where some jobs are and her family should be able to follow. It will likely also help LW’s kid, who will come out of school in need of a job and finding a position in Big Town is probably easier rather than Tiny Rural Route.

      So, I’m gonna vote with the others that say LW should move 100 miles away. Hubby keeps his job, commutes or drives the 2.5 hours to spend the weekend with his family. Seems a decent trade off, rather than LW being miserable and sooner or later resenting husband for lack of flexibility.

    11. tab*

      Why can’t you live between the two cities? A 45 minute commute isn’t fun, but neither is divorce or career death…

  6. Lara*

    Oh jeez. This is so, so hard. The first thought that popped into my head was “can you live and work in another city during the week and then commute home on the weekend or have your husband commute to you on the weekend?” I know that’s kind of outside the box thinking, but I actually know of a couple of long distance marriages that work for them. I’m not sure if you only have a college age kid(s) or if there are younger ones too, so this might not work until they’re adults. I’m not sure your husband would like this idea, but you don’t like the idea of being stuck in this town forever so some sort of compromise needs to happen.

    1. nugget*

      My dad did this…. turns out his reasoning was less “shorter commute” and more “hide my second family” lmao.

      But family that lives next to us also had a similar situation – I think the dad worked significantly out of state and flew back and forth every couple of weeks, and as far as I know everything was fine with them.

      It’s definitely a viable option for *some* people, but especially considering how unhappy OP is in her current situation, I feel like there’s a decent chance she would feel a lot happier during the workweek away than on the weekends she’s home, and it might just be faster to consider divorce now, honestly. (Assuming the husband isn’t willing to compromise and move with her, or find a new job somewhere where they can both be happy. But after so many years of stuck resentment, I don’t know!)

    2. Anon Today*

      This would be my suggestion, too. Better two happy people making a long-distance relationship work than one happy person and one hostage.

  7. Colette*

    If you’re putting your career on hold because you’re prioritizing your husband’s income, why are you worrying about bills and college costs? If it’s because you keep your money separate, you need to re-evaluate. (If it’s just because his great salary doesn’t cover it, that’s a different story.)

    Can you move half-way between the city and the small town, so you each have a commute?

    Have you looked into remote jobs?

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Yeah, also wondering about that. In my own marriage, we had to re-evaluate our lifestyle choices and reduce drastically to cope with my husband’s trainee wage until I got a job. It could be that they live in a state with a super high COL, even in a rural town.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      my child’s college bills. (I really need a job to help pay for his college!)

      I’m very curious about this too. “My” child versus “our” child. If the husband is making so much money then his salary should be paying for their child’s college. If the LW’s child is her husband’s step-child and he doesn’t want to contribute to that, well again, sounds like a marriage issue because of the fact that their location because of his job means she’s only working part-time.

      But it really sounds like the family needs to look into moving or the LW needs to look into moving without her husband. She sounds like she needs more fulfillment and full-time job opportunities for her own mental health.

      1. Abyssal*

        Agreed. It may be that there are other considerations going on here, but my read is like yours, that the LW’s child is her husband’s step-child, and I have strong feelings about this. You marry the parent, you are taking on responsibility for the kid. Don’t sit there on your six-figure income and be all “gee kid, sucks, if you had my DNA I’d help you out but you don’t so tough luck.”

      2. Properlike*

        What about the part where she was the breadwinner while he was trying to find a job? Why is he not the breadwinner now with six figures in a lower COL area?

      3. GothicBee*

        Yeah, I mean I would think even if this was his step-child, part of the compromise of them living in an area where the LW is not able to get a well-paying job might mean that he contributes to the college bills if he’s not already.

    3. mf*

      Yup, if his much larger salary comes at the cost of her career, then he owes it to her to carry the burden of college costs and other bills.

  8. Not Alison*

    So sorry that you are in a position to feel that so much is on your shoulders.
    Spouse is making 6 figures in a small town. I’m wondering what the money situation is and why you feel you need to knock yourself out for your child to attend college and deny yourself the ability to go back to school. Is your child working part-time or summers to help pay for college? Are any college loans for your child a possibility so that all of the burden is not on you?
    Have you sat down and figured out what YOU would LIKE to do for the future. And if you would like to go back to college to turn your career in another direction, you should sit with your spouse and talk it over and figure out how compromise can be made so that everyone in the family gets a bit and sacrifices a bit so that you are not the family member having to make all of the sacrifices.

    1. FormerTVGirl*

      It totally depends where the small town is. There are “small towns” outside Boston and Philly and DC and New York and Chicago and San Francisco and and and, where you’re still far enough away from those cities that commuting is rough, but where six figures isn’t automatically going to mean you’re set. I’m wondering whether this is the case for LW.

      1. ElleKay*

        This is true but for the *vast* majority of those towns outside NYC the +/- hour commute into the city is considered feasible and pretty common. If LW has decided this doesn’t work for them (for legitimate reasons!) it may also be putting them on a disconnect with the local perspective

  9. Annie*

    I agree with the thought that this is a marriage problem, but for some tactical advice: What about remote opportunities? It’s now a searchable option for LinkedIn jobs – and many companies have opened up remote work once they realized it worked during COVID. Or, if moving halfway like others suggested couldn’t work, what about a studio apartment in the larger city where you could camp out a few nights a week to minimize the commute? I know it feels like a waste of money, but perhaps your new salary at a new job would more than pay for it!

  10. Rowan*

    I would research companies that are remote-first or remote-friendly. And there are a lot more of them since this time a year ago!

  11. ABK*

    I also just moved to a small town for my spouse and family, and also kind of hate it. 1. seriously look at remote work. there’s a lot of it out there. network with people you know in other regions and see if there are roles that COULD be remote even if they aren’t set up like that now. 2. Entrepreneurship? sounds like you have some experience and expertise, is there a way to take advantage of the cheap human capital available to you and start a new venture? or freelance/consulting work? 3. lean into the small town, get involved in community stuff. make it your home and work to make it better. 4. talk to your husband about long term plans and where you might go next (but only after you do all the other things here)

    1. Nicotene*

      I agree, when my career flatlined I switched to freelancing using the skills I used to use in my job. I didn’t earn much at first, but OP says they already have sufficient income as long as they don’t go into debt, and it did keep me busy and feel “job like.” I also got a part time job that might be similar to the one she has now, except it was remote and very flexible (working with college students on their essays online). It’s a good life and I could do it from anywhere. My freelancing is still pretty sporadic but it feels great when I am able to do it, and at least it keeps the resume reasonable since nobody knows how much I’m making or where from.

    2. Chinookwind*

      Do not underestimate the value of leaning into smalltown life. If you get actively involved you may either discover that there is culture there or find an opportunity to being it in. Before times, travelling live performances and gallery presentations were a thing if there were people who could organize them. I grew up with Chataqua and library travelling shows in rural Alberta that created sich high expectations that I have been disappointed by what I have seen in the big city (the National Theatre in Ottawa jumps to mind). Sure it was held in the local gym, legion hall or curling rink, but the professional performances were great in such an intimate setting.

      1. Fulano de Tal*

        I realise you are trying to make the best of a bad situation, but unless the small town is one of those Conde Nast type destinations (Carmel or Santa Fe or Hilton Head) or a college town, neither of which seems to be the case, this advice is not particularly helpful. For someone from an urban background, it’s downright soul-destroying advice.

        1. Ads*

          Not the above poster, but I highly doubt there are Conde Nast-type destinations in rural Alberta outside of some particularly famous national parks.

          1. Ads*

            (That is to say, I’m interpreting Chinook’s personal experience as being in a normal rural town, not a particular “destination” town)

  12. Just Here for the Cake*

    This is outside the scope of job searching, but I really think you should consider going to couples therapy or at least find a therapist for yourself. From your letter, it sounds like you feel stuck and out of opinions, which can really f*ck with your head! Having an outside person to talk things through with while you deal with a hard job search could be really helpful!

    1. cleo*

      I came here to say the same thing.

      Couples therapy saved my marriage a few years ago. Our situation was completely different but I was like LW’s husband in that my spouse was completely miserable and I was pretty blind to both his misery and my role in setting up the situation. It honestly took sitting on the couch in a stranger’s office for our first counseling session for me to realize how close he was to leaving and for me to realize that I didn’t want him to leave and that I needed to recommit to making things work. I have no idea if LW’s husband will respond the same way, but I do think counseling is a good next step.

  13. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

    Living in a small town can be really rough from an employment perspective.

    I grew up in one, and the thing a few families did, if they wanted to remove commutes for one member who couldn’t work locally, was to find a position for that family that would allow a three or four day workweek, and then rent them an apartment closer to that position. It eliminated the need for long daily commutes, but came at the cost of time away from the family/home.

    Not sure if something like that could work for the LW or not – it sounds like they and their spouse both have the potential to earn enough that it might be economically feasible. Emotionally and health wise? Only they would know.

    1. Anona*

      Part of the reason you may be having difficulty getting a job in your preferred field is that it sounds like you’ve been out of that field a long time (a decade, if I’m reading this right). It sucks, but when we hire for positions, at least at my organization, we prioritize people with more recent experience.

      I know you don’t want to commute, but could you apply for something in the city, and then if you get it make a decision? You could seek part time positions, and consider your commute time part of your work, or you could seek full time, and perhaps talk with your husband about a timeline of moving closer to your job (halfway?) after you’ve been at your new position for X months. I live about an hour from my job and have commuted for 6 years. I don’t love it, but if I didn’t do that, my options would be really limited. Figure out what’s most important to you. You may not be able to get everything you want.

      And like everyone else, I definitely recommend counseling! Good luck!

    2. AVP*

      It’s also possible that OP is having such a hard time job searching in the city because she’s an hour outside of it. It depends on the region but there are plenty where transportation and weather are iffy enough that you wouldn’t really look at candidates that far away even if they’re technically local. Maybe there’s a way to use a closer address on initial applications and move closer if they get a good offer?

  14. Raldeme*

    It is often possible to be a two household family. I hear you that expenses are tight, but renting a studio apartment in the city you’re closest too could be really good for you, and if you find a job in your field that will greatly subsidize the cost.
    You can life your spouse and want to be married to them and also shrug off the expectation that that means you live together.

  15. Mollinator*

    For a long time, my husband’s parents lived as far apart in one state as it was possible to be and met in the middle on the weekends. Both had jobs and that was what they had to do to keep those jobs. They’re still together (50+ years of marriage and still going) and they did this with three kids that his mom was the primary parent for. I’m not saying that living apart like that was easy for them or would be easy for you. But you sound absolutely miserable, and that might be a solution. You could try applying to positions based ONLY on whether you liked the job description/your skillset was a good match/whatever, regardless of the location and see what that turns up. And if your kid isn’t already, he should be contributing to the college costs either by taking loans or working. Or by transferring to a less expensive school. You’ve given so much of yourself away that it’s time to start putting yourself first.

  16. Courtney*

    I don’t want to presume here, but I noticed a theme of a certain amount of status and importance that LW thinks they *should* have. (Or won’t be satisfied/secure without.) I noticed mentions of Fortune 500 companies and large salaries, and the status markers that come with those types of careers. (Status markers in small towns tend to just be different and look different, so adjusting expectations can be really important.)

    I think it’s important to ask whether the issue is the work or the status. If you can’t have both (and it sounds like you can’t right now), you should know which one you really truly need. If fulfilling work is the most important, then let go of the status issue and focus on finding a balance of work and pay that will meet your needs.

    If you know deep down you will be unfulfilled if you don’t feel like you’re living up to the potential that comes with those Fortune 500 careers, then you need to act accordingly. I assume you’ve looked into remote opportunities but maybe a recruiter would help? Is there a possibility for contract or freelance work to keep you advancing in your career as you figure this out? And has your husband inquired about the possibility of doing his job remotely? Now that he’s had this position for a while, has he looked into lateral job moves closer to large cities?

    1. Fortune 10 Winner*

      Yes, it seems like status is important to OP. And it’s interesting that when OP was the Fortune 500 breadwinner and her husband’s career in a niche field was languishing she was fine with that.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I got a different feel…it seemed that he was working in the typical job for his chosen field until he couldn’t take it anymore so quit. But, he was jobless for months until he got the current one which OP stresses is unusual for his field. Then, they moved. Seems to me like OP was supportive.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          Argh. That somehow posted w/o my second paragraph: Mind you, they were both unemployed at the time, so OP was probably overjoyed that one of them had not only a job, but, a well-paying job with insurance. It really doesn’t sound like status-chasing. Besides, a compliance job can be a lot more intellectually fulfilling than admin.

          1. I moved too*

            If they were both unemployed at the time and he got a job offer first, but it involved relocation I’m significantly less sympathetic to the OP. Income matters and you didn’t have any as a household.

        2. Batgirl*

          Sometimes you paint yourself into a corner when you’re desperate. Husband’s job sucked and had done for some time. They both end up unemployed. Husband gets this great offer. You can easily see them just jumping at it without being holistic; especially if it meant they got health insurance.

      2. Forty Years In the Hole*

        Yes, I picked up on that, too – just wasn’t sure how to frame it without it coming across as “the shoe’s on the other foot.”
        Not at all unsympathetic to OP – and somewhat akin – this is the life of almost every civilian military or diplomatic-adjacent spouse. Jobs – not careers – are often the norm: multiple moves; loss of progressive income, seniority & benefits; jumpy resumes; frequent and lengthy member deployments/travel/training. WFH and entrepreneurship has been a lifesaver for many of these spouses (and hence their family dynamics). Wishing the Op well in her ongoing and future endeavours.

    2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      I would say OP needs a change regardless, especially if her current job doesn’t offer sick days or any real benefits. They said they were happy there, but depressed overall, which leads me to think that they’re not totally ungrateful, and just wants to be more challenged and compensated adequately.

    3. anon here*

      I don’t know… if someone was in compliance at a big company and is now an admin assistant, what would stand out to me is not the change in status per se but the difference in impact and intellectual challenge. Like, in my job, I need to stay on top of world economic trends and agricultural trends as well as the latest & greatest in certain mathematical modeling techniques, and I need to have at least passing familiarity with data engineering and infrastructure methodologies. It is endlessly interesting and there is always more to learn, and I can have millions of dollars worth of impact. It is fun. I don’t know how being an admin assistant at a small company would scratch that itch.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, even if I didn’t need the money, I’d definitely be frustrated with a step down in impact and intellectual challenge. There’s no shame in wanting to use your skills and intellect.

      2. Anonymato*

        I am confused about the money piece too – because otherwise I’d recommend looking at unpaid opportunities like being an advisor/board member that would bring a challenge. These can often be done remotely too. I think lots of non-profits would jump at this.

  17. R.Lopez*

    It’s unclear your education level. But if you are an admin assistant, maybe not that much education. All my admin assistants/executive assistance have had 2 years or less of college. If you want to move forward, get a marketable job skill: insurance agent, medical coding, transcription, insurance adjusting, resume writing, start a temp agency, or offer your services locally as “fractional office manager”. Move away from assistant and into manager title.

    1. Magc*

      The part-time admin assistant job is a step down from her former job; she took it to help pay the bills because that was what she could find in the new rural location.

    2. ThatGirl*

      I feel like you didn’t read the first part very well — she worked in compliance previously. She’s doing admin assistant work now because that’s what she can find.

    3. DataGirl*

      My employer requires a Bachelor’s degree for admin assistant/executive assistant positions.

    4. Admin Here*

      I am one of many, many, many admins I know with a master’s degree. So not only did you miss the key points of the letter, but you’re also making a very faulty assumption.

    5. Eether, Either*

      Legal Admin here. Pretty harsh comment “maybe not much education.” I had an excellent education at a top Boston college.

      1. Chinookwind*

        Not surprised though as I have been treated like an uneducated idiot when employed as a receptionist and admin. assistant. Many people do not appreciate how anyone with any degree would dare demean themselves by working in a position they are overqualified for. What most don’t realize is the different type of intellectual challenge such a job can bring while also giving you the perk of being done at the end of the day.

    6. pope suburban*

      This right here is why my Bachelor’s and I would *kill* to get out of admin work. Many people take this kind of job to pay the bills, because we were not fortunate or privileged enough to do something else, and this constant snotty, condescending attitude from every random person makes it even more miserable. God for you that you’ve been handed nice jobs in life; not everyone is so lucky, regardless of their academic credentials or aptitude.

  18. CatCat*

    Marriage counseling. 100%

    It may be there is a compromise here to preserve both the marriage and the professional careers. And maybe there isn’t (doesn’t make anyone the “bad guy” here if that’s the case). A professional should help you with the relationship dynamics going on here, each person’s priorities, and working through possible solutions.

    1. Public Health worker lol*

      My first thought was “therapy” which is honestly what I tell everyone who’s going through a hard time. And bonus bc of Covid it’s much easier to find teletherapy now.

      1. Nicotene*

        I agree only because OP kept listing these outside circumstances that derailed her; boss hired a friend, manager hired people in the region etc. Not that this doesn’t happen but OP really seems to be stewing on this “unfairness” piece in a way that indicates to me it’s worth talking about with someone. No offense intended, OP, I am this way myself.

      2. Anonymously Anonymous*

        Fair to say teletherapy is far more available, but in terms of scheduling — in suburban Big City, a friend with a life-threatening illness was on weeks-long waiting lists to connect with a provider.

        We’re all going through hard times to some degree. So many of us need help that it creates a situation where we go without.

  19. Ali G*

    I’m curious. If the money is so good and this is a small town (so I assume low COL), why is paying for college your responsibility? If it’s so important that your husband have this job, then he needs to be supporting you and the kids 100% (savings, health insurance, pay the bills, etc.). Or you need to take a look at Kid’s college plans and adjust (maybe community college for a year or 2 before transferring to a state school, for example).
    I get the loss you feel of losing your status as the bread winner, but it’s your husband’s turn now. Assuming he is stepping up to that, maybe see that as a positive and use this as a chance to really pivot. Is there a service lacking in your community you can fill? When I was unemployed a few years ago, I seriously started scouting commercial real estate to open a dog day care, since there weren’t any nearby. Things like that.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Right? Small town, low cost of living, big salary– what’s missing? Maybe the health issues LW mentioned? Is the kid from another marriage and the LW’s husband doesn’t contribute any money toward supporting the kid? Rampant speculation here, but it sounds like the family should have some breathing room!

      To the letter writer: if there’s a qualification you’re missing (say accounting degree or certificate) that would allow you to start your career back up, absolutely have a come-to-Jesus talk with your husband about what your family can do financially to make it happen for you.

  20. Xavier Desmond*

    As other commentors have mentioned looking for a remote job seems a great idea or maybe starting your own business.

    And of course talk to your husband about how unhappy you are. I got the impression from the letter that you have talked to him about the practical struggle you’ve had to find work but maybe not about the emotional struggle.

  21. Blackcat lady*

    Recap: nine years ago you lost your job through no fault of your own. Husband in poor job that he lost. Were you both looking at the same time and he found one first? You are now in a job desert for you. Are you on LinkedIn? Using a headhunter? But it does seem you need to have a meeting of the minds before either one of you takes a job that means a move.

  22. cbh*

    I’m reading everyone’s comment above mine. You seem so gloomy. Yes it stinks. Let’s assume for financial stability and family needs, not to mention an awesome husband, you stay happily married. Let’s assume your family unit is living within your means. Maybe look at this as a golden opportunity. As everyone is pointing out, this is a new normal where working from home. Have you thought about starting your own business. Start small build it up. You could have a start up in your current field or even with a hobby! They world is your oyster. I know the financial paycheck you are looking for would take some time, however we’re very very slowly coming out of a pandemic – everyone’s finances (except your husband’s salary it seems) is on shaky ground. You’re starting out on a level playing field. Reach for the stars, try something new. In the meantime continue your job search. Don’t look at your situation as a negative but as a positive.

  23. CatLadyLawyer*

    This would be my suggestion. I know couples who make this work! I’m sure it has downsides, but they have very good attitudes about it and treat their time together on weekends as sacred/special. A Pre-COVID example: Former colleague was a lawyer in Toronto, she’s a practicing physician in upstate NY. This is about a three hour drive plus a land border crossing. They bought a small-but -ice condo in Toronto and they have a lovely house with a yard in Small Town, NY, and honestly, that sounds like an ideal life for me.

    1. CatLadyLawyer*

      Oops this was meant to be a reply to a comment but the suggestion was to turn this into a “long distance” marriage where she works in City A and he stays where he is and they see each other on weekends etc.

  24. Blisskrieg*

    I know you mentioned looking for remote work, but I want to put this out because remote work tends to be overlooked in the field of Healthcare. There’s a lot of opportunity specifically with manufacturers. Some of these are the more tenured large companies, but there are a lot of start ups as well. Manufacturers typically pay well, (better than working in a hospital or physician office) but the trade off is there is less security because the success of products in market is very Darwinian. Usually they prefer to have people peppered across various markets, and so there is a lot of remote work. Now, a lot of these remote positions are sales and involve travel–but not all. They also are just in a position to value remote work because they’ve seen it.

  25. No Tribble At All*

    It sucks that your husband’s company wasn’t willing to hire you on as a sort of “trailing spouse”. It sounds like they’re willing to do anything for him to make him stay, and I bet the reason for such high compensation is you have to live in the ass end of nowhere. Is there any part of your husband’s job that can be done remotely?

    It’s been over a decade since you’ve worked in your industry. I’m not sure you’ll be able to break back in, but you can rebrand yourself. Storytime: My aunt has a PhD in a specialized technical field and had a great career going. She moved to a new area based on the promise of future employment, which fell through. (The lab wasn’t built). Her husband’s career kept them in the new area, and for 15 years she was a stay-at-home mom. They get a divorce, she can’t move away without giving up the kids, but she got really involved in women in science groups and now has a full time job doing analytics 100% remote for a lab in a different field. Not at all what she studied, but still technical, still challenging, and she was first author on a paper last year. I hope this was encouraging. You have solid skills, and your experience and knowledge are not worthless!

    Finally, you don’t have to divorce your husband to move out. If you’re clear about it, you two can be in a long-distance relationship if you find employment somewhere else. I don’t know how that would work if he has 15 years to go til retirement. But I agree with Alison and the other commenters that you need to get your husband on your side and really make him understand.

    1. RC Rascal*

      Your first sentence is interesting. It would seem that if the company was so willing to pay to get the husband, they would have made a “trailing spouse” concession. Especially since she was qualified. Makes me wonder if the husband didn’t adequately advocate for her internally.

      1. Eat My Squirrel*

        I doubt they thought it was going to be that hard for her to find a job at the time, but in all honesty, if I were a hiring manager and my top candidate said he wouldn’t take the job unless the company hired his wife too… well let’s just say he wouldn’t be my top candidate anymore.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Yeah, it really depends on the company. I’ve worked places where “trailing spouse” packages were definitely a thing, and other places that had strict nepotism policies that barred spouses from working there at all.

        2. Diane*

          It *really* depends on the field, and to some extent the seniority of the position. I know that in the world of international schools and academia, this is quite common. I can’t imagine there’s no admin clerk position anywhere in the company that OP wouldn’t be qualified for, and considering they were willing to pay for their move and a bunch of other fringe benefits I’m surprised this never came up.

          1. Fulano de Tal*

            Personally, I think that if universities can offer trailing spouse professorships, major Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Podunk, Nowherestan, ought to be able to also. The above-market wages are surely necessary to entice people to relocate there, but I am sure this is not the first story this company has of the location wrecking havoc on a marriage.

      2. Student Affairs Sally*

        Alison has written several times about how inappropriate it is for a someone to pressure or push their employer to hire their spouse, so I don’t think him “advocating” would have helped the situation and may have hurt his career.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Trailing Spouse hires are relatively common in Higher Ed, but I’ve never seen one in a non-higher ed situation. Have people seen that? Am I wildly off base in my experience?

      1. No Tribble At All*

        I’ve seen one that I suspect was a trailing spouse (dude brought his wife with him as an admin assistant) but that was also an internal move. The company moved him halfway across the country and hired her on as well. I think it’s fairly uncommon except in academia, and maybe in a huge company that’s likely to have lots of open positions that don’t overlap (so partner A doesn’t have to interact with partner B at work).

        Even in academia it’s controversial. But I also feel like Husband’s Company should’ve thrown her a bone.

        1. RC Rascal*

          But I also feel like Husband’s Company should’ve thrown her a bone.

          This is where I’m at. She says in her letter the opportunity she was qualified for only came about 5 years ago, so 4 years after the move. I don’t expect them to negotiate a trailing spouse up front and I agree, they probably didn’t expect her search to be so difficult. But considering she was qualified for the role and the hiring manager chose a friend instead? That has a bad feel for me.

      2. Hillary*

        I’ve seen it very occasionally in business. The one I work with now involved an international transfer where both were already employees. They really wanted one half of the couple and they found a role for the other half.

  26. AdAgencyChick*

    I would rethink whether a man who won’t consider your career and fulfillment as worthy as his, is a great husband.

    That being said, at least in my industry, companies that would never have been open to fully remote workers are now into it, because we’ve seen how effective we can all be without being in each other’s physical presence. I now manage two people who live hundreds of miles away and will not be moving to be near the office when social distancing restrictions have been lifted. Is there anyone you used to work with whose current company might also be more open to remote workers than they were pre-Covid, whom you could talk to for leads?

    1. Weekend Please*

      To be fair, it doesn’t sound like he has said his career is worth more. My impression is that he said that the financial security his job provides is not something he wants to give up. Not wanting to leave a job when neither of them has something else lined up is reasonable. This situation is awful but he is not a bad husband for wanting financial security.

      1. Weekend Please*

        I should add, I have been through something similar with my husband. We were living over an hour outside of a big city (where I worked). He already had a house before we married so he wanted to stay there because it made the most sense financially. He wasn’t wrong. But the commute was killing me. I was constantly exhausted and had almost no social life between work, chores and sleeping as well as some significant health issues. He is a good husband who loves me but he was trying to do what he felt was best for our future. He couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stick it out a few more years so that we could afford to buy a house in a great neighborhood closer to the city. Eventually I broke down crying and he saw just how much it was taking out of me and agreed to move sooner and compromise on location. He wasn’t wrong for wanting to do what made the most sense financially (which I had previously agreed to) and I wasn’t wrong for not being able to stick it out when I was miserable. Not every conflict has a bad guy. Sometimes you are in a shitty situation and have different priorities. I do think counseling may be a good idea to help them to really see each other’s point of view and come up with a solution where neither of them is miserable.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I think this is a really important contribution to the conversation. Thanks for sharing your story.

          LW, where have you traditionally drawn the line between being honest about your feelings and putting on a brave face? Is there any part of your feelings about this situation that you’ve been masking in your conversations with your husband? Is there a chance he might not fully understand the weight you’re struggling under?

        2. Batgirl*

          Most people aren’t empaths and just can’t tell the difference between Monday blues and hitting a wall; I used to know a marriage counselor who said there was always one person in the couple who’d been “blindsided” by the news one person was thinking of leaving. It was always after months of the other one saying they were miserable; which doesn’t always necessarily translate into “so I’m leaving”. My friend said the people who spelled out that they only had x months tolerance left in them had a chance. Too many waited for tolerance to run out before speaking.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        It’s easier to say it’s better to live on the street than live off your spouse’s income when it’s not you who will be scrounging for the refrigerator box.

      3. sunny-dee*

        Especially since it sounds like the OP would have to move to another state to find a job, and even that may not happen.

        Despite everyone saying to move closer to the city – she’s already been applying in the city and hasn’t gotten an interview. While opportunities are limited in small towns (by definition), it’s not clear to me that the OP has better options somewhere else right now. She’s a decade out from her previous career; it’s entirely possible that the type of career she had before isn’t available or isn’t the same as it was back then.

        There are a lot of layers to this onion.

  27. PolarVortex*

    A lot of your misery seems to be tied up in the location you’re in. “rural state in an ugly small town in the middle of nowhere”, “dead end town”, etc. I’m wondering if half your frustration is your location too. I’ll be the first to admit not everyone is made for small town life or rural life, it’s very, very different than being in a city. While there’s a lot of people who’ll give solid recommendations for job searching: remote, live halfway between city and town, etc, I’m not going to focus on that. I’m going to focus on how changing your attitude towards your location might make you feel less frustration while you job hunt.

    It’s hard when your location means no career, but are there benefits you’ve seen since you’ve moved? Do you have a huge backyard you’re able to go out daily and just enjoy the sounds of nature instead of the noise of the city? Walks or Sunday Drives through the country where you just take in the beauty and tranquility? Not having to live on top of a neighbor who has 5 barking dogs and 3 screaming kids and no desire to follow typical sleeping patterns nor pick up dog poop so it smells like that day in and day out?

    I love living in the city, but I grew up in the middle of nowhere. I lived there when the economy crashed and believe me, it was impossible to find a job where I wasn’t traveling 45 mins for minimum wage part time at a fast food joint. But, conversely being in the middle of nowhere also saved my sanity while I dealt with being a “burden” on my parents with making no money. I adore the scenery, the gosh darn peace of being outside. Of being able to see the stars. The nature of birds and deer and coyotes and foxes and turkeys and so on. Wandering through the woods or along a creek. Kayaking in the middle of nowhere. A diner where you’re a regular and everyone knows your name and your order. (Something I’ve specifically cultivated in the city because I miss that!) There’s a large part of me that if I ever am able to fully go remote, I’d live outside the city or at least get a cabin up north somewhere.

    Find some peace in your location outside of the Work Problems and the Small Town Drama, and hopefully that’ll help make your life more tolerable while you find a work solution. Coming back from yet another interview that went nowhere and being able to just sit on a deck with a beer in the sun and listen to the birds can be a moment of relief in a chaotic time.

    1. Lizy*

      Hard agree.

      Someone could absolutely look at my small town and think “gaaaawwww I’d never want to live there”. My sister has, actually. She does not understand the appeal AT ALL and thinks I’m certifiable for living where and how I do.

      I freakin’ LOVE IT. There’s so much more flexibility and calm and when COVID hit my kids literally spent weeks catching fish and riding 4-wheelers and having fun.

      Realigning your perspective could help a ton, OP.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        I think the LW is like your sister. If she’s lived there for almost a decade, she’s had time to consider the pros and cons. Plus, not all small, remote locations are in beautiful areas. Sometimes it’s just cornfields.

        1. mf*

          Yup, I grew up in a small town, ages 10-22. HATED IT the entire time. As soon as I graduated from college, I moved to the nearest big city and was so much happier there.

      2. Fulano de Tal*

        I freakin’ LOVE IT.

        Well and good for you, but OP clearly does not. I for one don’t blame her.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I’ve spent most of my life in super small towns. I’ve also lived in moderately sized cities. I love my isolated rural home, but it is 100% not for everyone. I think that if OP can reframe some of their thinking about the location it would help. One of the things about small towns is that they have amazing community (this can be good, it can be bad), so if there are local groups the OP can get involved with those often lead to job leads and other opportunities.

    3. Here we go again*

      I’ve tried living in cities and I can’t do it. I love living on a dirt road with a 20 minute commute to work. I’ve probably sacrificed a career in my chosen field for it. But I’m happier for it. You work to provide the lifestyle you desire not to live for work. This year has been difficult for everyone. I would hesitate to make and rash choices.
      Also I want to add everyone is throwing the spouse under the bus and we only know a small snippet of the story. But from my experience jobs come and go but my husband has been by me through all of it.

    4. Fulano de Tal*

      “Make your peace with Podunk, Nowherestan and enjoy nature sounds in a huge backyard” is tone-deaf advice for someone who really wants to be in a city. More like, “backyards mean yardwork.” Yuck, no thanks.

      1. PolarVortex*

        I think you missed the point, mine was finding some joy in what she has right now even if it isn’t perfect. I love living in the city, I can also find the joy in being in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t say they’re the same, or that there isn’t downsides to both of them. I just said try to find some positives to help balance those negatives. Nobody said she had to find joy in yardwork, that takes a special kind of person (of which I am not and I have a ‘backyard’ in the city).

  28. New Mom*

    OP, I’m so sorry. This was a jarring letter for me to read because it’s a current fear that I have about my potential future if my family moved back to where my husband is from.

    Some of the things that I’ve been doing in preparation for that potential move is trying to find ways that I can work remotely (I’ve even posted questions here). From your unique skills is there a way you could set up a remote consulting business? Or even reach out to your previous employer to see if they would contract with you (remotely)? I also agree with Alison about looking for remote jobs, that relate to what you used to do.

    But also, I think your husband is being unfair. It seems like when the tables were turned you were willing to give up your life for an opportunity for him, so its too bad that he’s just shutting you down now. But I know that relationships are complicated and that there is probably a lot more there. Good luck! Hopefully, we get a good update from you!

    1. AllTheBirds*

      “Open an account on” is what I always say to anyone looking for remote work. Good way to ease into the idea for someone who isn’t sure what direction to move in.

  29. Dorothy*

    The way I read this is that they both lost their jobs so spouse getting a good job was fantastic with the drawback being the move to the small town and the impact on the OP’s career. But they needed a job for one of them and one of them got a good one. Should he have refused the job? Could OP wait until he is there for a couple of years and then look to relocate to a larger city or another office while OP goes back to school in the meantime? And regarding the college thing….I think people are too harsh here. If I can pay for my child’s college I will but not without some sweat equity on their part nor to the detriment of my own finances. Nobody helped me and while I don’t think it should be a free ride I do get why parents want to help foot the bill and if mine could have, it would have helped a lot. The OP did not explain exactly what those bills were but maybe shifting some to the child’s responsibility would help. We just don’t know all the details there. But to say nobody “should” pay for a child’s education is too general and not fair. There could be other circumstances at play.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      they both lost their jobs so spouse getting a good job was fantastic

      The other thing to think about here is what if the spouse didn’t have the job any more (due to layoffs, other company instability or whatever), it does seem to be a “all eggs in one basket” scenario from the perspective of their ‘unit’ as a whole.

      Is there any possibility of the husband working remotely (or from another office of this company if they have more than one location) and moving to somewhere a bit more lively jobs-wise?

      Are other people in the company in a similar position in that they have moved out to the middle of nowhere for the job (it sounds like perhaps it’s an established pattern, since the company had a program in place for relocation assistance etc). If so – OP has applied to several positions at this company but is there any possibility of the husband advocating for her in a “spousal hire” sort of situation as often happens in academia? (Clearly there are jobs she could do even if it was ‘just’ something lower status than her actual capability, at least initially)

  30. Jackie Of Tarth*

    I mean… I feel like the solution here is moving a half hour closer to the bigger city, if you find a job there. That way you’d each have a half hour commute. If your husband isn’t willing to do that then obviously there are bigger issues here.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I feel like the solution here is moving a half hour closer to the bigger city, if you find a job there.

      That’s not necessarily a panacea; there has to be housing around the midway point to buy/move to, and if they’re selling a house they haven’t lived in very long, the losses there may well wipe out months of salary.

      1. Jackie Of Tarth*

        That’s true, but I also think whether or not the husband is even willing to consider this will be very telling in regards to whether the marriage itself is worth saving.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          If LW is hellbent on uprooting the family and torpedoing the job that’s in-hand and supporting them to incur the cost of the move back to a higher CoL area chasing jobs that she can’t even get a cursory interview for that she was qualified for a decade ago, I think Husband is justified in asking the same questions. The more I read and think, the more this sounds like a mid-life crisis.

  31. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    There are plenty of marriages that do semi-long-distance for a few years due to one spouse’s relocation, etc. Get a cheap apartment wherever your job is (1 or 2 hours away), drive home every weekend. If you can get a 4×10 schedule, even better – then you’re only away from your real home for 3 nights a week.

    It’s honestly not any different than having a job in your hometown, but having to travel to a client site frequently, and their are loads and loads of people who do that.

  32. Carolyn*

    I agree with Allison. My partner and I both has unique careers and struggle to make this work at times – we tend to alternate who gets the “dream” job for a few years at a time.
    OP since your husband has the job he wants – perhaps you can all move closer to big city and he could be the one with the long commute? That seems like a fairer compromise from the internet :-)

    1. juliebulie*

      I think that’s fair, actually. This is the husband’s “dream job” while OP has to eat a bug. It’s perfectly fair to ask him to take on the longer commute, especially if a city job will mean a bigger paycheck for OP.

      And if the husband loses his job, he’ll be glad he lives closer to the city.

  33. Pretzelgirl*

    I would 100% go the remote route. I have seen countless job postings that are 100% remote. Companies like Appen have lots of small gigs, that you basically act as contractor for (not affiliated with them). There are virtual assistant gigs as well.

    Or compromise and move halfway between both cities.

    1. Pretzelgirl*

      Also I would apply to jobs in that “big city”. You may be surprised that due to the pandemic they have gone remote. Maybe you would be just have to go in every now and then for a meeting or something.

  34. Nona*

    I’m with Alison here, this is a marriage problem. My husband and I have been in a very similar situation, except he’s the one that struggled to find work in our small town (and spent three years commuting over an hour each way to the nearest city for a job he loathed while looking for something closer, which he eventually found after four years and many many applications). The difference is that we moved here to be near his family, and he’s the one that wants to be here. I’d move back to our former big city in a flash. Even then his difficulty finding decent work has been really difficult on both of us, and our marriage. Your husband is expecting an enormous sacrifice of you, with no real compromise on his part – at the very least, the possibility of moving to be closer to somewhere where you could get work, and both commuting should be on the table (we managed this by living somewhere we didn’t particularly like to make his commute more manageable). The downside of both having long commutes, rather than one long and one short, is that you’re both getting home later so that grocery shopping / meal prep etc, need to be done on weekends. It was worth it though, for his sanity.

  35. Creative at a Big 4*

    One other thing to think about in addition to remote roles is how could you possible plug-in to the rising gig economy for more professional roles. At my Big 4, we have a lot of contractor roles that we are looking to fill that are not location specific but rather experience-led. I don’t know enough about your experience to know if it is a fit but I’m always surprised by the types of roles on the gig site. We’re also usually wow’d by experience at big name companies and don’t really care where people are based.

  36. Esmeralda*

    If your husband is making 6 figures, why do YOU have the responsibility for paying for your child’s college? I’m guessing that your child is not getting much or any financial aid due to your husband’s income. What’s up with that?

    Can you work remotely (WFH) in another field?

    I’m very sorry about this. I have a relative in exactly the same position (except that her children in college are funded by her husband because her income is so low). That doesn’t solve your larger problem, but maybe you could be more satisfied with less money if the college expense weren’t there, allowing you to move into a different field more easily.

    Also, I hope that your husband has contributed generously to a retirement fund for YOU, since you are so dependent on him.

    And finally, yes, I think being 50 is not helping you get jobs…

  37. Rich*

    Having a corporate compliance background with Fortune 500s is impressive, and it means you have valuable experience in an area that’s very challenging to mid-sized companies.

    Have you looked into consulting?

    There are lots of regional consulting firms that need domain-specific expertise on projects. Having you on the team could give them a real competitive edge in winning projects (“Our SME did this for years at the Fortune 500 level” is something I’m willing to bet most of their competitors can’t say), and gives you a way to take advantage of our experience helping companies that don’t have enough need for an FTE in that area.

    Working with a consulting firm (either as an employee or a subcontractor), insulates you from a lot of the baggage associated with consulting, and lets you focus on your strengths in a productive way.

    I expect it would be a remote-friendly option in most cases, too.

    1. anon here*

      This is worth thinking about — working in consulting could take some of the geographic issues out of the picture, and a mix of travel and remote might be easier than commuting, commuter marriage, and other options proposed here.

  38. E.N.*

    This is more for other commenters rather than OP, but suggesting she stop paying for her child’s education is probably not helpful. When your family makes a certain amount of money, the child is no longer eligible for any kind of financial aid and is ONLY able to take out loans for the full amount of tuition.

    That can be okay if you start at community college and transfer to the least expensive state college available (which is what I did in that situation) but if your parents tell you they’re paying and you use that information to pick a school (involving the parents in the decision making process, of course) it would be extremely difficult to then have that offer ripped out from under you.

    Two years at my cheapest possible state school was more than $30,000. In another world where my very well-off parents had agreed to send me to the art school of my dreams for four years, that would have been $160,000. Without their support I knew that wouldn’t work. If I thought I had their support and then suddenly didn’t partway through, it would have obliterated my relationship with them.

    1. PT*

      My in-laws did this, sort of. They directed my husband to attend a pricey private school, on loans, with the promise that they would help him pay the loans off. “A good education is worth the price!”

      He took out the loans, they got divorced and both hit financial bad times, we graduated 15 years ago and we’re still paying the loans (they were deferred during grad school.) Four years, full price, private school, the payments are $800 a month, or equivalent to 40% of our mortgage payment.

    2. Esmeralda*

      My observation is: why is OP the only one responsible for the child’s college?

      Your point about family income is spot on. But in that case, why isn’t the husband contributing, since it’s his income that’s making it hard for the child to get financial aid? (Outside of loans, which are always an option, but for less expensive loans, parental income has to be lower.)

      1. RecoveringSWO*

        Is that the case? I don’t think that’s clear. I wrote something similar to E.N. in the replies above. I think it’s just as likely that kid is attending a $160k school and thus the financial concerns, including his salary. But if he isn’t, yeah that’s a lot of sacrifice being made on the husband’s behalf.

      2. The Original K.*

        I don’t get the sense that the husband isn’t contributing – OP used the phrase “help pay for,” which sounds to me like she wants/needs/expects to contribute to the cost of her kid’s education, not that she wants/needs/expects to pay the whole thing.

      3. MissCoco*

        I believe OP mentioned in comments above that the plan is her income pays for the child’s college, while she and husband live off of his income.
        My parents did something similar, I don’t think they would have described it as my mother paying for our college, but my mothers salary was the money our tuition came out of, and my parents effectively lost her salary as income for a couple years when me and my sibling were both in school

    3. Batgirl*

      I think it’s an important part of OP’s happiness too. If her last job could have covered it, and her husband’s new job can’t; it’s harder to make peace with the status quo. Maybe their kid can do without help and shift for themselves, but presumably even if that’s possible it doesn’t really help OP feel happier and more settled in a place she hates.

    4. Dancing Otter*

      My parents’ circumstances changed while I was at University. My father retired for health reasons; in fact, he died during my senior year, but the big financial change was earlier.

      I transferred to a state school. I worked for one of my profs during the school year, in addition to the usual summer jobs everyone worked. I took heavier class loads to finish a semester early. I graduated broke, but it never occurred to me to blame my father for not being able to fund my education all the way through.

      One of my classmates had to give up attending Stanford because her father lost her college fund in the stock market the summer between high school and college. (The market was doing well, he was just dumb.) I suspect she was somewhat bitter, or she wouldn’t have told everyone and their cousins, but OP wasn’t reckless. Life happens. Circumstances change.

  39. Sylvan*

    OP, you’re miserable and you’re staring down the barrel of fifteen more years of this. You’ve gotta get out of there, and in the meantime, find ways to make yourself feel a bit better. (I’ve been there, but single, which made the escape easy.) Does your husband know exactly how you’re feeling? Can you participate in therapy as an individual or see a relationship counselor? I know therapy isn’t a solution here, but it is a means to talk to someone honestly about how you’re feeling instead of dealing alone. Would it be possible for you to move to the nearby city, while your husband takes the long commute and you look for jobs in the city and surrounding it?

  40. Amy*

    My husband does Fortune 100 recruiting. It’s almost unbelievable how many jobs have opened up as remote or partial remote in the last year. And they are hiring people with the understanding they will stay that way. However, they are only rarely advertised as such. You apply and then discuss if they like you. He says it comes up more than half the time.

    In his own career, we recently moved to a more rural low-cost area. He negotiated going into the office (2 hours away) 1x- 2x per week in the first 6 months and then more like 1x per week after. It’s worked out very well. He’s also seeing a lot of higher earners simply getting hotel rooms 1 night a week (allowing 2 days in the office) because even 4 hotel rooms a month is significantly less than the cost of living in a HCOLA.

    For my job, we’re downsizing the office by 75% and we’ll be primarily remote with meeting on-site maybe 2x per month. But you wouldn’t know that unless you spoke to the company. I think they’d fear putting “fully remote” in the listing because they’d like one to be close enough to come in sometimes. They don’t want someone who would need to fly in but if you’re in Western Mass, it’s okay for a NYC office if it’s 2x per month.

  41. irene adler*

    LW, you wrote: “compliance role in the legal department”

    Here’s long shot suggestions: Quality Assurance. Regulatory Affairs.

    Your role in compliance could translate into a regulatory role or a quality assurance role with a minimum amount of training needed to do the job.

    There’s auditing, assuring a company is compliance with any number of gov’t or industry regulations or international standard(s). Sure, you’d have to learn these gov’t regs or industry regs or international standards.

    There’s managing a Quality department to assure the company is in compliance with the regs, standards etc. it is supposed to follow. There’s the regulatory dept which ascertains the regs/standards the company must comply with and how to apply them (there’s often updating of standards -which means the process repeats and there’s new rules to implement).

    Some of these jobs are 1oo % remote.
    Some require travel for a portion of the time, but you are based at your home.
    You might look on-line at professional organizations for quality assurance and for regulatory affairs (industry specific) for information and to ask someone how one might join the field.

    1. Eat My Squirrel*

      I currently work in Proposals for a Massive Global Defense Contractor You Have Definitely Heard Of. We have a compliance department that reviews all proposals prior to sending them to the government, to ensure they are DFARS compliant. We do A Lot of proposals. It’s not just the new programs that make the news, it’s all the piddly little add-ons and scope changes that happen along the way.
      I would be willing to bet that any Fortune 500 company in any industry that interfaces with the government would be similar, and as many others have pointed out, pretty much sticking with remote work forever at least on some level. Maybe OP could find some remote work in proposal management or that sort of compliance. Keyword Proposals added to the job search.

      1. Eat My Squirrel*

        Oh, forgot to add, QA is probably a nonstarter for OP. There are a whole lot of career QA people out there who would be better candidates for anything but an entry level job, and it’s a very different skillset from compliance. QA is more about dealing with physical mistakes, root cause and corrective action, etc.

        1. irene adler*

          Well, in biotech a lot of people go into QA from other disciplines. Auditing being just one avenue. Can’t say for other industries. Some pay quite well for this.
          Some of the notified body companies hire/train auditors to check compliance of their clients with international standards.

      2. irene adler*

        My angle on this was from the biotech aspect (pharma, medical devices, ivd). But this is even better!

  42. Heidi*

    My heart goes out to the person who asked this question. I’ve moved twice for my partner’s career and, even though I work in an industry that encourages movement to some degree, I’ve always been afraid that I’ll find myself in a similar predicament. I agree with Alison—this is a marriage issue. Even though I’ve moved twice for my partner, we both talked very candidly about which locations would serve BOTH of us. Had we not talked so openly (because my partner also wanted to choose a very rural area two years ago) I think I would’ve been out of job as well.

  43. Mental Lentil*

    Have you considered consulting? You sound really good at what you used to do, so if there’s any chance you could do consulting, you could possibly develop a strong client base fairly quickly.

  44. Secretary*

    OP just some other perspective. I’d like to challenge the idea that your career is “dead”. It sounds like this has only happened in the last couple years, your husband hasn’t necessarily finished his career either, and that things change! Your husband loves where he’s working, but in 5 years the job market will open up to him in a different way. This position may be well paid for his career, but I’m sure there are other similar jobs to his out there, just fewer of them. Keep in mind, the stack of applications for a 6 figure job tends to be smaller than the stack of applications for a 5 figure job.

    The other readers are giving a lot of solutions that can work for a while like moving somewhere that shortens your commute and lengthens his, or doing a long distance marriage, or cutting back on expenses, or getting creative and going in a completely different direction. Things can change! You are not trapped, you two have options.

    You say you love your husband, and he probably loves you a lot too. It sounds like you guys would benefit from ordering from your favorite restaurant, sitting down with a notepad and pen, and brainstorming the next 5 years and solutions to this situation. Your husband might have some ideas too that he’ll feel comfortable sharing if he knows you respect and want his opinion the way his new job respects and wants his opinions.

    1. Batgirl*

      I was wondering about this; rather than waiting for his retirement can he use his training and development at his job to expand his options somewhat sooner?

    2. Chidi-Janet & The Tarantula Squids*

      Yes! Also, he’s been working with this employer for at least 5 years, possibly up to 8 or 9 years. Alison often recommends not staying with the same employer for any more than that.
      It’s potentially time for Husband to leverage his experience and success in his current role to look for new opportunities in a better location for OP’s career.

  45. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    Remote work!! Any of the other search engines that specialize in remote jobs!

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Is there a website like FlexJobs that doesn’t charge a subscription fee? I’m interested in remote work, but I’m not able to swing the subscription prices at FlexJobs.

  46. Small Town Remote Worker*

    I live in a small town and work remotely for a larger company in a different state. Many companies have increased remote work capacity during the pandemic.

    I also want to address your attitudes about the small town you’re living in. While rural towns have limited resources, calling a town ugly or dead-end is not going to win you any favors with the locals. Have you shared this terrible attitude publicly? If so, you’re limiting building your local network which could help you secure a better local job. Especially if folks perceive that you hate it there and are looking for any opportunity to move elsewhere. And remember – the blessing and curse of small town life is that word travels fast so sharing your ill perception of the small town can really impact your overall opportunities within that space.

    1. PT*

      Some small towns really are dead, though. They’re a Dollar General and a methadone clinic. She may live in one of those.

    2. wv gwynedd*

      Bingo. The situation is a tough one, but your feelings about the town are pretty clear even in the letter and that’s something I believe many people think they hide better than they do. At any rate, it may not be helping.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Small town life is not for everyone, though. You cannot just fall in love on command with living a life that’s not you. And honestly, no matter the attitude, OP may not ever have a chance of getting a job in her town just for being an outsider (i.e. not born and raised there) and not a relative/high-school classmate/what have you/ of a manager that has a job opening. (Another facet of small-town living that I do not love.)

    4. Ali*

      What you’ve said is true, which is why some people just don’t like or fit the small-town lifestyle. Without getting into details, I’ll say both sides have their reasons and we just need to make the right choice for ourselves.

    5. Sylvan*

      OP’s a 50-year-old woman who’s had a professional career. She probably has the social skills to not announce her hatred for the town to the locals.

      Some small towns and larger cities just suck and it’s okay to say so when you’re asking for advice on an exit plan. Many people in these places also dislike them and want to leave.

      1. Chinookwind*

        Not necessarily. She may think her opinions aren’t being signalled but locals can smell contempt a mile away. I am wondering if they were seeping out during her interviews, which would make a poor fit for any employer that has any sense of civic pride. Even if the locals think they live in an ugly, dead end town, they really don’t appreciate cultured city folk an career paths looking down their noses on them.

        Hallmark movies may perpetuate tropes, but they do get some bits of small town life right.

    6. Batgirl*

      To be fair to the OP, she knows and acknowledges the lack of options is creating a problem with bitterness which needs to be overcome. You can’t just say buck up to yourself if you’re seriously unhappy and completely panicked about the bills.
      What you say about small town networking is pretty wise though. It’s strengthened a feeling I had that OP might need a job hunting break after some significant rejections she’s clearly experiencing as real blows to her morale. If she does some self care locally, takes a breath and connects with people… who knows? At the very least she might get an idea.

  47. Jess*

    Assume your husband is staying where he is. That leaves you with two courses to choose, both with struggles attached. You can stay where you are for the next 15 years (assuming he can keep his job that long) or you can live away from him if you manage to find a job you’re enthusiastic about elsewhere.

    I don’t know your situation, but the second course shouldn’t automatically mean the end of your marriage, especially with the kid(s?) being out of the house.

  48. Daffy Duck*

    You may live in my town. Moving for my spouse’s job tanked my career. I couldn’t get a paying job in this town and spent hundreds of hours volunteering at schools and organizing local community events instead. I was overqualified for retail jobs (they wouldn’t hire me as they thought I would leave) and I couldn’t get an interview at the local company doing the exact thing I had done at a big, national company and won awards. Part is being overqualified for many jobs but in true small-town fashion outsiders (especially those with previous success) can be considered threatening.
    I worked as a substitute teacher for a decade before landing a remote job (pays well and I love, although I never would have thought of this path). I really suggest looking into remote work or picking up a job in a nearby big city and commuting home on the weekends. There are many things I love about this area, but job hunting isn’t one of them.

  49. Sled dog mama*

    My husband and I have twice done the long distance marriage thing and while not ideal for us it is a viable option for some. I should say that it’s a lot easier when you have children old enough to be self sufficient or no children.

    Also something to consider along the lines of changing careers. My husband has been a stay at home dad for 6 years and he fully considers it a career (and has found it more fulfilling since he began viewing it that way). He has a weekly schedule for himself and our daughter and he approaches everything about keeping house and caring for our daughter and dogs as a must be completed during his “working day” task. While this means that a lot of household tasks like laundry and grocery shopping fall on him it also means we always have time in the evening to sit down and talk or sit outside and watch the stars like when we were dating. One thing he has taken on as a “job duty” is saving money. He’s managed to find ways to save $800 a month in expenses over the last 3 years because he has the time to call different insurance companies and compare rates etc. He has also found local sources for most of our perishable food, and I’m not talking a grocery store, he and our daughter sometimes take a drive to go see the cows at the farm where we purchase beef.
    This may all sound like torture to you and I realize that not everyone would thrive in this situation but my point is that there are lots of options if you think outside the box on how to apply your skills.

  50. onwings*

    LW, you sound so unhappy, particularly with where you live. I agree with the suggestions that many other commenters have made, but I’d also like to suggest that another option if you feel like moving is not an option, and full-time remote work is *also* not an option, one possibility that may work for you is part-time remote work in nearby Big City. Pre-covid, I worked from home 2-3 days a week, which made the 2 hour+ commute much more bearable the days I did have to go into the office. (And depending on your disability, you may find that offers you much more flexibility–on good days you can go in to work, on bad days, you can work from home.) You may also find that getting out of your small ugly town 2-3 days a week has a significant effect on your mental health that makes the commute more worth it.

    The other suggestion I have, echoing other commenters, is to consider whether your income is really needed by your family. And if you take a look at your budget and financial burdens and realize that it’s not, or even that you can remain at the part-time job that you seem to like, perhaps you might find fulfillment through volunteering instead of through work. Does your chosen field have a professional association you can volunteer with? Or maybe there are organizations in or near your town that help with a cause you can be passionate about. And you might also find that dropping the emotional weight and burden of constantly looking for a full-time job lifts a huge weight off your shoulders.

  51. FashionablyEvil*

    I just want to say that you have a really strong foundation for a conversation with your husband here—you’re clear about the trade-offs you’ve made and the impact on your family. Wishing you good luck!

  52. Beancounter*

    You can also work for a temp agency if you don’t feel you can start a temp agency. And tell temp agency you only want temp remote work. Or do the commute temporarily while you get your feet wet again. (I’ve done this.)
    Or teach a free community class on topic you are good at: time management, project management, organization, managing up, etc. (I’ve also done this.)
    Write an article about something related to your field (also done this).

    Join or start a women’s business leader group.
    Offer to help with an after school program like Junior Achievement.

    And if your husband’s benefits include an Employee Assistance Plan (lots have this!) they often include 6 counseling sessions, so you can ask a clinician (masters degree + state board license) to counsel you in goal setting and help you get unstuck in your thought pattern when you are at your wits end so to speak.

    Any one of these can lead to a business opportunity but it often comes down to contacts, timing, and putting yourself out there in new ways.

  53. Not your average Jo(Leone)*

    I am so empathetic to your position. As a lady growing up in a small town that married a guy from a large area, I have a different take on this. My husband is also in the legal world and good at his job. He moved to me (in a small town) when we got married. But then, he became unemployed and it was so difficult for him to find something—even at the local state university. I had a lot of connections, and that’s what matters in most small towns. But he couldn’t even get interviews for jobs way beneath his skill set. I saw how miserable he was, but I had to keep working to pay the bills. Everything came to a head with us when my job restructured and I was transferred to a boss that I had heard bad things about. Turns out, he was alright with me. But in that time period, it was hard on our marriage. But we stayed together and sought God (we are both Christians) and we had a great group of friends around us. He was unemployed for a long time (2.5 yrs). His job offer came from a person in our church group. And he excelled in that small town up the road. It was such a small town that they had him coaching football after being in court all day. Struck up a friendship with the prosecutor. This is a very impoverished area. He had to really get in the area and earn their trust. During that year of his new job, we did some soul searching and I asked him about different career paths since he wasn’t happy. We decided to uproot the world I had always known in the small town and move back to his metropolitan area. He has his JD but is pursuing an MBA and focusing on HR. This has been a hard move for us because it has almost destroyed my career. But we know this was better for us in the long run.

    I say all that to say hang in there. And I don’t necessarily think this is a marriage problem. It might be that the work situation was a primary issue and now the marriage is the collateral damage. In reading your post, I have seen how much I have given up by staying in the small town and how it stifled my own career. I really hope you find peace and a great job! (And sorry for the book!)

  54. Ali*

    Small towns operate in their own unique way. Skills and qualifications are equal to, and arguably less important than, connections and nepotism. Some people are happy with it, others are not.

    You’re not. Again, as others have said this is a marriage/family problem. The small town won’t change.

    I sympathize. I left the small town. It wasn’t for me.

  55. buzzbuzzbeepbeep*

    Wow! Are you me?? I am stuck in a similar, rural town, low job prospect situation. My husband has a very profitable business and I am in a dead-end job with no hope of improvement because we live in a small, rural, and economically depressed town. I have a lot of experience in my particular field but that doesn’t get me anywhere in a location where I have already been employed at the only two places that are in that field. My current workplace is a toxic mess and I don’t know how much longer I can stay here before I lose my mind from stress. My career has peaked in this area and I am looking down the barrel of 30 more years of needing a job before I can retire. Right now, I am looking at moving across the country for a job. My husband is being supportive but I am not sure if that is because reality of moving hasn’t hit him yet. I can commiserate with your frustration!!!

  56. Sparkles McFadden*

    The person with the dream job gets to shoulder the burden of the commute. Move closer to a place where you can get a job.

    I don’t want to get into analyzing/judging someone else’s financial situation, but if your spouse has a six-figure income, and you are living in a dumpy kind of place, you should be able to tighten things up for all the expenses. It almost sounds like you are still trying to carry the burden as the main breadwinner and that shouldn’t be the case.

    Imagine if your husband lost his job, and what you’d do then. That should form the basis of your plan. It’s dangerous to center all of your lives around this one job because, as we all know, jobs can disappear in a day. Start working it out with your husband that way. It’s better for the both of your regardless, and you deserve to be happy too.

    1. Woman Behind The Curtain*

      Yes. This. He shouldn’t get the dream job AND the dream commute. Especially since OP said they have physical issues that make a commute difficult for her. Move an hour to the larger city with job opportunities for OP. If hub won’t consider this, then it really is more of a marriage issue.

    2. Batgirl*

      I agree with your last paragraph. Maybe he should be retraining if this job is the only one in the world who’ll pay him well enough. What happens if they go under?
      “It almost sounds like you are still trying to carry the burden as the main breadwinner and that shouldn’t be the case.” I can’t tell if it’s that, or their expenses are unexpectedly high, or if it’s important to OP’s happiness that she is contributing, but I agree that the main job has to cover the bills to be considered irreplaceable.

  57. Ellen Ripley*

    Oof, this is really hard and I look forward to reading everyone else’s thoughts and suggestions. I went through something similar, in that I had goals that I put off or interests I chose not to pursue so that I could stay in a particular geographic area with my husband, and serve as the primary ‘house manager’ while he worked a lot of hours in a demanding job. In the end, we ended up divorcing, not directly because of those issues, but it didn’t help. My cynical side sometimes thinks that if I’d known that we’d end up divorced anyway, I would have prioritized my own goals and ended up a lot better off, at least financially, and with more interesting and high-status work. At this point in my life, I only have so many years of working left and I’ve had to compromise as far as what positions I can get. Sometimes you do have to make choices about what’s most important to you and accept that you won’t be able to get everything you want at the same time.

  58. crchtqn2*

    I am very worried about the situation the LW is in and that it might be leaning towards financial abuse. One spouse makes all the money and the other spouse cannot use it for their career, can’t find a suitable sustainable job for themselves and is stuck in a location. This means she’s stuck (or feels stuck) in a hole she can’t get out of. This is why it is so important for both spouses to have stable sustainable job because financial dependency can go wrong. Hopefully LW can find a remote work job to gain some financial freedom or maybe do the long distance marriage some other commenters are suggesting while their marriage issues are being addressed.

  59. Jessica*

    Husband won’t consider leaving his job because the money is so amazing, but what is he doing with it if he can’t pay for Kid’s college? Lavish lifestyle? I know college is expensive, but making six figures in a low-COL small town/rural area, he ought to be able to do it. It sounds like LW has sacrificed everything and Husband has sacrificed nothing.

    Maybe an option is “scale back lifestyle so a second salary isn’t needed,” let Husband be the breadwinner, and LW could maybe find volunteer work that would be more challenging and interesting if she doesn’t need the income. This is less good if there are a bunch of younger kids we haven’t heard about, and I’m also hesitant to advise LW to put herself in a position of greater financial dependence on a guy I’m already side-eyeing.

    Better alternative: move into/close to Big City for more job opportunities and a richer life. Let Husband carry the burden of the long commute, since he’s reaping the advantages. Presumably whatever he does can’t be done remotely, but everyone’s rethinking that since pandemic. If he could be even partly WFH and make that long commute less than every day, that makes it better.

    1. ElleKay*

      Good point! If Big City is an hour away, could you move halfway so that both LW and Husband have 30 min commutes?

  60. Twenty Points for the Copier*

    In my experience, a lot of the compliance roles went remote even before the pandemic because they’re supporting multiple offices. I think there’s also a big space in compliance outsourcing with the rise of smaller RIA practices as people break away from the big investment companies. So definitely take another look at what you can do remotely if you’ve been able to stay up to date on the compliance skills. What others have said about a compromise between commute/location and generally making sure everyone is valued in the marriage also are great advice.

    Lastly, I don’t think anyone’s brought this up yet, but the husband’s ability to support everyone on his salary actually sounds very precarious. Yes, he’s in a great position for now, but if this is the only company and only role that pay remotely close to what he’s making, then the family is one bad manager, business downturn, or restructuring away from a major drop in income in a place with limited job opportunities.

      1. RecoveringSWO*

        Yep. If they’re becoming empty-nesters with the kid in college, downsizing seems like a no-brainer to try and lower some of the risk of relying on his exceptional job. If that includes a move closer to the city or a smaller place in town + rental apartment in the city, OP could increase job options while lowering expenses/secured debt.

    1. emmelemm*

      That was also my thought. Husband has a great job, but one that is fairly rare in terms of his field and experience. It may seem very secure, and there are jobs that may be secure for the next 15 years, but… *nothing* is certain. What happens if he loses that job?

      OP, who had a very good job earning high pay, is now 9-10 years out from having had a good job, so even if she manages to get back into her field in a larger city or whatever, she’ll definitely have taken some steps back in terms of pay, etc. So this is now an “all eggs in one basket” situation.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I don’t think anyone’s brought this up yet, but the husband’s ability to support everyone on his salary actually sounds very precarious. Yes, he’s in a great position for now, but if this is the only company and only role that pay remotely close to what he’s making, then the family is one bad manager, business downturn, or restructuring away from a major drop in income in a place with limited job opportunities.

      Yes! I alluded to it in another comment (no idea if it was before or after yours) though didn’t make it as explicit as you have, but fully agree. It does seem to be a “all our eggs are in this one basket” sort of scenario. It assumes that nothing will change for the worse in 15 years (OP said that’s how long her husband has until retirement)…

      Of course things can change for the better as well, maybe he’ll be able to get a similar role but paying (e.g.) 2/3rds of what he is now, but in a place that has a more lively job scene in OPs field, so that both of them could have good jobs and thus be earning more than they are currently!

      It does stick out to me that y’all are now dependent on the business plans / solvency / success of a single employer. Although if it went wrong would you be able to move again (to somewhere more lively job-wise)?

      Here’s something I haven’t seen mentioned yet: is there any way to apply some of the principles of FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early … which can have some quite extreme parts but also some sensible advice) to shore up your finances as much as possible and be more secure? I appreciate that FIRE is more ‘traditionally’ for people in their 30s-40s and that you are a few years older than that, but perhaps some of the principles could still be applied.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Posted too early! I was about to add — At the least, ensure you have enough money put away that you could relocate again to a more promising area (taking into account both of your prospects) without relocation assistance from an employer, plus ideally around 3-6 months of living expenses.

        And if you haven’t already it might be good to have the conversation with your ‘children’ at University about the importance of getting jobs and contributing to their own costs.

  61. MA Dad*

    Do you HAVE to work? 6 figures with insurance in a rural area seems like it should be easily affordable coming from someone making much less near Boston unless I’m missing some big detail. If it’s a boredom thing, there are so many hobbies to pick up. Work doesn’t define who we are so don’t treat it like a dead end. Treat it like winning the game of life and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

    1. Lizy*

      I thought this, too, at first.

      But, she said her kid is in college, and really, it’s not our business to determine if someone HAS to work or not. There could be a lot more that we’re not aware of – maybe they’re also helping out a parent or her medical bills are obnoxiously high because of her chronic illness or they like travelling and take ostentatious trips ever month that cost a bajillion dollars… Technically speaking, I don’t HAVE to work – we could get by without my salary. But our quality of life would suffer and I’m the type of person who needs to work outside of the house. Hobbies are nice, but I do best when I’m working in an office-type situation. So maybe, for their particular situation, she has to work.

      I do agree, though, that work doesn’t define who we are. It just can be hard, sometimes, to convince ourselves of that.

    2. Ali*

      She might be very bored. In my rural town, there was nothing to do but maybe go to the library two days a week from 10am-2pm.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Honestly, I’m not a big fan of one spouse being 100% financially dependent on each other, because life happens and you never know when you’ll find yourself (heaven forbid) being on your own. But even aside from that, LW says she loved her job and was really good at it. Why throw away a perfectly good talent if LW still wants to continue using it and it would bring her joy?

      1. quality of life*

        Seriously. It is entirely correct to want to use marketable skills and talents one has in a job one enjoys.

        Frankly, we don’t know what LW means by “six figures.” There’s a huge gulf between 100k and 900k. If Husband is on the lower end of “six figures,” they may not actually have that much to sock away.

        The other thing is, as a person who has a college-aged child, there are only so many years either LW or husband have to put away money for retirement. Given how long people can live while needing care, it’s no small thing to want a job with a retirement fund.

        I am in a similar position to LW in that my husband had a well paying-job, which theoretically could pay all our bills. However, I needed a career of my own for my own sanity and to make sure I had marketable skills if anything ever happened. Also, his well-paying job is not well-paying enough to set us up for the retirement we would like to have, where we can not worry too much about things if we are wise. It did entail a few years living apart for me to get skills to find my current job, which is remote, pays decently, allows me to have my own retirement savings and gives me a growth trajectory. I have a higher quality of life doing work that means I can support myself than I would faffing around having hobbies.

        1. Masa*

          Speaking of college-aged children, I think a lot of people overestimate how much free time and money they’ll have when their children are off to college. If you are comfortable enough to help support them, you might not be rolling in the dough as much as you think.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I was paying for my oldest in 2011-13 and the youngest 2014-18 and omg cash was tight. The oldest had scholarships and finished college quickly, but with the youngest it was harder for me. Still worth it. It was the cheapest state school and he could live at home and commute. I may have had the free time, but definitely not the money.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Frankly, we don’t know what LW means by “six figures.” There’s a huge gulf between 100k and 900k.

          I had to read it a couple of times, but this information was actually provided in the OP!

          She said that the company provided:

          doubled salary, […] He’s now making six figures, which is unheard of in this role.

          So he is “now” making six figures but wasn’t before. So he was earning between 50k and 99k (resulting in a doubling to 100k – ~200k).

          I inferred from the context that it was closer to the 50k/100k case than the 99k/198k case, because double figures wouldn’t be characterised as “unheard of” if his salary before was, say, 90k.

          That tells us that it’s very much at the lower end of the 100k-900k range, anyway.

  62. Lizy*

    My first thought was “give it some time” – it took me almost a year of searching before I found a job in NewSmallTown – but then I saw it’s been 9 years…

    Have you made any community connections? Local friends that might have job leads for you? From your letter, it doesn’t sound like you’re really that involved in the community. That can be horribly detrimental in small, rural areas – networking and knowing the right person is arguably so much more important than in cities. Volunteering or otherwise getting involved might help with your perspective as well.

    That all being said… I, too, think a hard and honest conversation is needed with your husband. Probably more than once. Would he be open to moving halfway between SmallTown and NearbyCity? What if you were able to find a job in NearbyCity – would you be willing or able to get a small apartment and commute on a weekly basis (M-F in City, weekends in SmallTown), verses a daily basis? Would you be open to 2 part-time jobs?

    I’m sorry. I hope you and your husband are able to figure out the best way forward.

  63. Rachel*

    I can so relate! My husband and I both found ‘good’ jobs when relocated to our small town. Over the past decade, he’s been fortunate to lead meaningful projects which have generated a lot of local and state recognition, the kind that you would include in an obituary. My job fizzled and I’ve felt stuck for years, made worse by Covid.

    With your admin and compliance background, there are start-ups who are looking for this type of support remotely, particularly part-time. Picking up a side gig could help you financially and develop contacts and resume beyond your current town. Another consideration would be to explore community college or continuing education courses via Coursera, which are now more remote than ever before, to update your skillset without jeopardizing yourself financially.

    A final thought: Can you put you and your husband on a timeline? If you need to stay in your town and maintain one household while you’re paying for your child’s college education, will you have more flexibility to do so in two to three years, and work towards that goal (even if it means temporarily maintaining 2 households)? Good luck!

  64. staceyizme*

    You can’t go back in time, OP, and redo the decision chain that got you to where you are now. What you CAN do, however, is to stop trying to function within constraints that are simply unsustainable, professionally speaking. You don’t like where you live, work in your field isn’t available there and you’re not getting any younger. Take off the blinders of “I should”, “I ought”, “I must” or “He expects” and take a good, hard look at what you’ve got to work with. Clearly, you’ve got some thinking to do and some choices to make. More delay isn’t going to take you anywhere good. You’ve done things one way for some time. It’s time for a New Deal, professionally AND personally speaking. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel stuck. Don’t feel like you can’t choose what you want just because things are currently in a small-town living pattern. Every option is on the table. Make sure your spouse understands that.

    1. mf*

      Yes, I love this comment. “Every option is on the table.” Not only will this help lead the OP towards new solutions, it will help her feel empowered. She’s not stuck because she has *choices*.

    2. Fulano de Tal*

      Exactly. There is nothing that says “everyone must be married and every marriage is worth saving.” There is nothing that says “successful marriages cannot be long distance.” Both of these options are much better than the anti-education messages above (“kick the kid out of college and put him in community college”).

  65. Ariadne Oliver*

    Some food for thought. Why can’t your husband commute since you already made all other concessions? Why are You responsible for child’s college bills? How are You set up for retirement? Why are you putting everyone else’s needs ahead of yours? What is it You really, really want if you had no one and nothing else to consider? What price are you willing to pay to get it?

  66. Ups and downs*

    Is relocation possible? So he can keep his job but you can be closer to a larger city and can look for a different job? I dont think all pf the burden should be on you.

  67. LadyByTheLake*

    I am in the financial compliance field and nine years ago working remotely would have been unthinkable back then. That changed a lot starting a few years ago, and obviously changed dramatically last year. I would concentrate on looking for remote positions.

  68. Cant remember my old name*

    Wow. This is tough and I certainly don’t have any marriage advice. But a few things you try:
    – freelance work that can be done remotely. Maybe look at startups that have non-traditional work settings.
    – colleges and universities. I feel like these are generally well distributed across the nation, so maybe see if the closest school is hiring.
    – maybe admin work K-12 schools since they are everywhere.
    – can you hire a head hunter that specializes in remote opportunities?

    I wish you luck and I’m hopeful we will have a positive update from you soon <3

    1. Batgirl*

      Do schools in the US have business managers? My sister is on great money after she went from admin to financial officer for the district to being a business manager for schools. Schools are good geography; they’re everywhere, and the qualifications were ones she could get in the evening. It’s HARD work running a school, but OP seems down with that.

  69. Environmental Compliance*

    My husband and I have played that kind of dance for years.

    For the first handful of years, he made more than 2x my salary. We moved initially for his new job, and I had *nothing*. Nothing within an hour radius. Finally after some time I landed a job 1.5 hours away. He negotiated with his workplace and was able to work primarily remotely. We moved to be closer to my job, since he could go remote and I could not. He was *still* the breadwinner, but his job had the flexibility that mine did not.

    Then we moved again for his career. He took the longer commute (45 min), as he started the moving process, and I could be in a better spot geographically to find a new job.

    Then we moved for *my* career (and at this point, I am now the primary breadwinner). We found a place to live that was part way in between a few major hotspots for jobs. And we recently bought a house that will give us each about 30 minutes commute.

    Our agreement was that neither of us should suffer unduly because of the other’s career. If we moved somewhere and the other could not find a new job (or hated the little they could find) with a good faith effort within a year, we would look elsewhere. When we moved about a year ago back to the same state as family, we both carefully checked industries, job boards, etc. to both choose an area that would have something for both of us.

    To be honest, OP – none of this was a Career issue. This was a *marriage* issue. And I think this is the same for you. Marriage requires some degree of compromise, which requires negotiation. If one party is miserable, the situation is not sustainable. I’ve known couples to do long-distances marriages – with the right couple, and plenty of communication, it seems to work out pretty darn well. It’s not fair to you to have you completely lose any career choices. Moving closer to split the commute distance is also really not unfair to ask, especially when it’s only 30 minutes (!!) each way.

  70. Lilyofthefield*

    I have a different opinion; yeah, it’s a marriage problem, but it’s not only the husband. In fact, I am not sure it’s the husband at all. This wife was okay with her husband working a dead end, soul crushing job for years, while she worked her dream career and reaped all the benefits of that. But now that she is in the same position that her husband was in for all those years, it is unbearable for her? How does she think her husband probably felt all those years, watching his wife soar while he plodded along in the dirt? Marriage is NOT about only one person getting their needs met 100% of the time. If she loves her husband and is committed to her marriage (you know, for better OR for worse?), she should maybe consider putting her wants on the back burner for just a little bit. Her husband obtained a, by her own account, a once in a lifetime job, and I see no support from her for husband. It’s all about her wants, and not his needs. He has zero choice. His job is there. Marriage is a forever committment, not an only as long as I’m having fun and things are going my way fling.

    1. Boof*

      I think this is a little harsh. She’s trying to find ways to be happy and fulfilled with her husband staying at his current job. That’s a legitimate question. She doesn’t just have to be miserable for the sake of marriage and stop trying to do anything, and no good partner would want that either. It’s a work in progress and she’s asking for advice on what else she can do to make this situation better.

    2. Ali*

      Sacrifice in a marriage, on any side, breeds resentment. Good marriages strive to make both parties happy.

    3. Anonymusic*

      I’m confused by your use of “for just a little bit”. She says in the letter that it’s already been nine years and there are 15 more to go until her husband hits retirement age. 24 years, that’s, what, close to a third of the average U.S. lifespan? Your phrasing heavily implies that you see the LW as thoughtless and self-centered for not wanting to spend a third of her life- not her adult life, not her working life, but her entire time on this earth- frustrated and miserable. Is that what you meant to say?

    4. kt*

      I am glad I am not married to someone who sees moving for them, giving up my career, and working in dead-end jobs for nine years as “nothing”! You sound like you’ve had a lot of problems in marriage and it’s made you quite resentful.

    5. Cant remember my old name*

      It’s been several years, so “ a little while” has been passed. Also the husband does have a choice….People change jobs all the time. Lastly, they are not even asking him to change his job. They are asking what their options are.

    6. Ups and downs*

      We have no idea how the husband feels or felt we only know how the letter writer feels at this money. LW only asked for advice.

    7. Batgirl*

      This is an interesting retelling, but I somehow doubt that the husband was sacrificing offer after offer and only working a dead end job for the OP because, you know, he thinks this current job is a one time only miracle never before known to mere mortals. And, as soon as he got it she supported him in getting it. You might have a point that the years of misery make him feel like he’s owed/unduly attached to a job over his spouse. But the bad guy is not OP; it’s his terrible field where a job that doesn’t make him miserable is considered a hole in one.

    8. biobotb*

      She moved with him to a town with no job prospects for her, has stayed there for years, and you think she’s not supportive enough of him? How does that suggest she’s not committed to the marriage, and treating it as a fling, as you imply?

    9. Fulano de Tal*

      Marriage is a forever committment, not an only as long as I’m having fun and things are going my way fling.

      Uh, no, it’s not. I am not saying “get divorced at the drop of a hat,” but there are plenty of reasons why life circumstances change and why two people who might once have made good partners should not longer be married. I am not saying that is necessarily OP’s situation — it might be, it might not — but the idea that “all marriages MUST be saved at all costs” is ridiculous.

    10. Dancing Otter*

      The thing is, marriage is NOT always for life. What will OP do, after being out of her career for a decade, if the husband decides he’s tired of her misery and finds someone more fun? (Not that I’m saying she doesn’t have a right to feel miserable.) After all, he’s spending his working hours with interesting people while she mostly stays home searching for jobs and getting more and more frustrated. It’s hardly unknown for men to trade in an aging spouse for someone younger.
      She has given up not only the satisfaction of her career, but most of her earning potential for LIFE. I certainly hope he’s maxing out a spousal IRA for her every year.

  71. Pamanda*

    LW, this happened to me. I was fresh out of school and moved to a dead-end town because my new husband had a long-tenure job with a great pension. And I hated it. I never could find a job in my career. But the thing that I think was the hardest for me, and might be part of your struggles, was that I make a lot of my adult friends via work. And not having a fulfilling job meant that my corresponding friendships were also non-existent.

    I gave it my best shot for 5 years. And then I moved to city that had all the career opportunities that I needed. And I’m so so glad I moved. My husband followed and moved to my city about 6 months later. He’s since struggled to find meaningful work and has had his share of sadness. He’s currently going back to school. But both of us now have amazing friendships, primarily based on my work relationships, and that makes it all bearable. For both of us.

  72. DJ Abbott*

    OP, do you have any activities or hobbies that make you happy? I have one that turned my life around, and I highly recommend finding one, or if you already have one, make time to do it often.
    Mine is music and dancing. I got a bad start in life and had a lot of bad job experiences, dead-end, toxic bosses, etc. After I got involved in music and dancing it made work much more tolerable! I had/have something else in my life that makes me so happy.
    If you have an activity you enjoy, life will seem much better even though you still have other problems. If you don’t have one, start by exploring things you’ve always wanted to try, or always felt drawn to.
    For work, remote jobs sound like a good option. I recently learned of the site Remote Woman which might help (not sure if you’re a woman, I’m just saying). There’s also a site where people can find freelance work as a virtual assistant, I’ll try to find it. There are probably remote work sites for every specialty.
    If you start working as a virtual assistant, you might be able to build a business!

    1. DJ Abbott*

      It turns out there are several virtual assistant companies, and some are not based in the US. So do research and check reviews. I googled “virtual assistant America” and got some sites that might be good.
      Good luck!

    2. Batgirl*

      When I was kinda directionless, had way too much time and feeling like I didn’t have what I’d worked for… I found helping people is what did it for me. It got me out of my own head, made me feel valuable.. and it did lead to a new career indirectly.

  73. CatPerson*

    “does he understand he’s unilaterally deciding his needs trump yours and that his career satisfaction comes at the expense of you being completely miserable? ”

    This seems a little unfair considering that you only heard one point of view. LW described his new job as a “godsend” in a number of ways, and if they were both unemployed at the time, it does not sound to me as though the decision was unilateral at all. That’s not to say that they should not have a deeper discussion about the future, but let’s face it, for a number of years he had no insurance, benefits, and could not support the family so it’s more like they swapped places and need to figure out what to do next.

    1. Abyssal*

      I think you may be reading this a little differently. At the time, his new job was a godsend, but he is choosing to remain there now, and that choice to continue is the one that is trumping the LW’s interests and leaving her miserable.

  74. Malarkey01*

    One thing to keep in mind is evaluating salaries against your old one. I went through this when I moved from one of the most expensive COL areas to a midsized metro. I was taking a 20% cut in all salary offers and thought it was a major step back..except those new income offers allowed for me to buy a house for less than a million and the cost of everything from food to entertainment to home repair was almost 50% what I was used to. It was a huge mental adjustment (and made me feel I was worth less) until I was able to make those calculation adjustments.
    That might not be your situation but something to consider if it’s relevant.

    1. Adultiest Adult*

      It sounds like the OP lives in one of those small towns where things (with the possible exception of land itself) cost more because of the costs incurred to get everything shipped in. My parents who live in a small-ish town pay 30% more for gasoline/oil and for almost all food items than I do, which astonished me when I moved to a major metro area known for being expensive, but made sense when I realized the shipping costs involved to get the products to them. Unfortunately it means that the OP probably isn’t realizing much cost savings day-to-day, and is another strike against this particular small town.

  75. CatPerson*

    “Since I am looking at jobs that are professionally a step down on the ladder from my previous position, I’d love to know how to address this in a cover letter so that I’m not rejected outright for being overqualified. ”

    This was actually the advice she asked for.

    1. Chinookwind*

      AAM has answered that in other letters. You spin it by pointing out that you are more focused on location and recognize that it will entail a different career path. You state that you look forward to the reduced stress and commute and are willing to use you previous experience to ensure that you fill the position in a manner that will best work within the existing team.

      I know this works because I have done exactly that.

  76. Boof*

    Sorry OP. This is sort of a marriage issue, but I don’t think your husband is being unreasonably selfish by not wanting to give up what he has (which is also in many ways good for the whole family given the benefits and income), any more than you’d be unreasonably selfish for having had your old job, or wanting a new job. The problem is right now the two are at odds and is there a way forward from that?
    — is some kind of remote work in your field an option?
    — is this the kind of relationship that can can work as long distance? Some relationships are fine that way, some are not. If considering this, try to be honest whether it is a move towards a good long distance relationship or a move towards actual separation.
    — how close are yall to retirement? Would your husband want to move after retirement?
    — would it work for you and your family if you didn’t work? If you tried to do something totally different (like start your own business, maybe consulting, etc?)
    Maybe a lifecoach would help? I’ve never tried one and I’m sure there are good ones and bad ones out there, but they’re supposed to be oriented towards achieving goals, not “talking out feelings” or whatever.

    1. Boof*

      Sorry OP, reading comprehension fail, I see you discussed some of the above about why you need the work and time to retirement.
      I think the thing I can see that would be the easiest focus/change on is paying for college – yes it’s nice to pay for children’s college, and it’s a personal life goal of mine, but you do not HAVE to. There are ways and there are ways. I think maybe a serious discussion with your husband, and then your child, would be the best starting point – can you cut back on expenses enough that you do not HAVE to work?
      After that, you can continue to look for work but not feel so desperate I think?
      Three, for improving the mood, is finding more things you enjoy outside of work that are available to you where you are.

      Afraid it’s hard to have specific advice on the CV/interview without really going over those actual materials. Try to sound enthusiastic about the job I suppose – and all of allison’s other advise. I think it may be easier to do this if you are overall feeling better about the situation, though, and also it will make waiting for it to happen more bearable.

    2. Fulano de Tal*

      I love and celebrate entrepreneurship, but there’s a reason why Podunk, Nowherestan, isn’t Austin, Boston, or Boulder, let alone Silicon Valley. The client base and financing isn’t there, unless it’s something directly adjacent to the Fortune 500 company the husband works for (and even there, God knows whether anti-nepotism rules would preclude the Fortune 500 from becoming a client for OP’s startup).

  77. Archaeopteryx*

    Sometimes a compromise means finding a solution in the middle, but sometimes that isn’t possible and the compromise is, “We’ll meet my needs for x years and then prioritize yours instead.”

    When he married you, your problems became his problems too; he can’t just leave you on your own to figure something (or nothing) out. It may be time for him to hold up his end of this implicit bargain and start being the one making some sacrifices. Can you move halfway between small town and city, so you both have a doable commute but neither has an hour each way? Can he go remote at his own job? Would your kid’s college financials work out if he didn’t have this job and you both started fresh?

    What should not be on the table for him is the status quo; you’ve already put in your time doing that.

  78. Data Analyst*

    Husband’s company sounds like a good one that values employees, any chance they’d let him go remote and you could move somewhere with more opportunities for you?

  79. Erin*

    I deeply don’t want to be insulting or minimize your obvious anguish. But I’ve been an admin assistant nearly my entire working life. I’ve worked in quite a few different industries but always in a support role. Over the years I’ve learned so much that I can apply to the “next” job – each job has prepared me to be much more valuable in the next. What I want to say is – don’t discount your professional skills and abilities as they apply to an admin support position. If you really don’t mind being in a support role, that’s where you should be looking. Your compliance experience and all the other attributes you bring to your job can be applied to quite a few industries, but you’ll have to think outside the box. I realize you’re saying that you’re in a sort of “job desert” but I’d be willing to bet that there are remote jobs out there too. Best of luck to you.

  80. SeluciaMD*

    It sounds like you did some very different math when your husband took this job that looked like:

    Husband new job $$ + OP’s regionally lower salary = new household income > old household income (worth the move)

    But what has actually happened is:

    Husband new job $$ + OP’s part time much lower income = new household income < old household income (not worth the move)

    OP, I so feel for you. I get that a huge part of this for you is that you are no longer feeling professionally fulfilled and are, instead, feeling stuck and sad and discouraged. I don't want to devalue that piece of this equation, but I think it's the one above that you and your husband really need to revisit. It's awesome that this move was huge for him and doubled his salary and gave him great benefits and perks. And I'm sure at the time you both thought "this is such a big leap for hubby that OP can afford to take the pay-cut we assume will come with the move because we'll still come out ahead." But that is not the reality you are living as a couple or a family! So I think that the two of you have to have a big heart to heart about this where you put all of these factors down in black and white – including your need for healthcare, your chronic health condition, kid's college tuition, the whole shebang – and decide if living where you are is worth his increased salary. Just based on what you've included in this letter? It seems pretty obvious to me that it isn't. Which means you both have a big decision to make in terms of either reprioritizing some things to fit your current budget, or you need to consider moving with the understanding that a new job for him will be a cut in salary and perks again but the amount YOUR job/salary will go up will compensate for that – and then some in a way that makes your life much more liveable and balanced.

    Good luck to you both! Sending you jedi hugs if you need them.

  81. Hiring Mgr*

    If it’s at the point where you’re considering leaving, i’d consider taking this out of our hands and speak with a counselor of some kind (individual, couples, financial, etc..)

  82. Prof Ma'am*

    In the engineering world we call this the ‘two body problem’: a couple where each has a unique/specialty career will always struggle to find a location where both can be employed and happy.

    I’m in the situation myself. Currently I have the dream job while my husband is working on his PhD. I know that in a few years a big decision will have to be made and we’re both aware it will involve compromise. I think a lot of other commenters have said the same thing. COMPROMISE is the only solution. That could mean trading back and forth between who gets the dream job over time or it could mean you both settle for perfectly fine but not dream jobs.

    At the end of the day though AAM is right, this is a marriage issue, not a career issue. And at the risk of being presumptuous, does your husband know how miserable you are? Cause if he does and he still won’t even discuss compromise he doesn’t sound all that great to me.

    1. Fulano de Tal*

      That could mean trading back and forth between who gets the dream job over time

      This is a lovely plan on paper, but it is unlikely to survive first contact with the next recession/pandemic/war whatever.

  83. Florp*

    Oh, my gosh, I feel you. Eight years ago, we followed my husband’s career from a region where my industry was thriving to a region where my industry had died–there was one company left, and they folded a few months after we arrived. We had been within an hour of world-class museums and entertainment, and now we are in a fading rust-belt city. My husband fortunately makes enough for us to live well on, and he’s positively lousy with opportunity at the moment. At first, it seemed cool that we’d save on childcare, and they needed some support due to learning disabilities–who better than their loving mother? After a year of truly enjoying being a mom and sort of enjoying putting a new house to rights, I was bored, we needed money, and my old company realized they missed me. They figured out a way to hire me to work part time remotely. This was OK, but I am in manufacturing and I don’t work in a factory any more. I miss it intensely–I relish watching something I developed roll of the factory floor. I haven’t used the tools I normally use to develop a product in years. I am frequently out of the loop–so much so that one of our more recent hires was surprised to find out I had a whole host of skills she didn’t know about, because she just thought I was the ‘computer person’. I have the skill and experience to start a company myself, but like you, I am spending what little capital I have on a kid in college. My kids, by the way, have more or less outgrown needing intense support, although the pandemic has taken a toll. My work as a Mom is coming to an end, and I will have more hours to fill.
    It’s been a blow to my identity, and a real detour in what I thought my life’s path would be. Here’s what’s helped:
    1. Online classes. Depending on what you might like to do, you might not need to go back to traditional college. I have taken a ton of online classes either for fun or to add (laterally) to my professional skills. Many of them were free or very cheap. I got a certificate in sustainability specific to my industry, so I am keeping my marketable skills current.
    2. Consulting. I’m not sure what kind of compliance you are in, but could you develop compliance programs for smaller companies that can’t afford an in house compliance department, or teach them how to do it themselves? I take the odd job here and there, and it keeps me from getting bored.
    3. Attend every online conference in your industry that you can. In my industry, all of the tradeshows and conferences went online for free during the pandemic, and some of them may keep an online version in perpetuity. It really helped me feel connected when I was isolated, and reminded me that there’s a world still out there. It might give you ideas for a direction to head in if you do go back to school or start a company of your own. It also sucked a little, because people had taken ideas similar to my own and run with them, while I had…saved them for later?
    4. Volunteering is great, but be careful. I fell into the trap of volunteering for things my kids do, but that I don’t necessarily care about myself. I regret that…
    5. I have already informed my husband that once the kids fledge, it’s my time, I might not retire and he should come along for the ride or get out of the way. For a long time, his attitude was that I had it sort of easy and I should quit complaining about being bored, or just get some other job to get out of the house (like you, it’s retail and restaurants around here, so that seemed unrewarding both mentally and financially). “Great!” I said. “Let’s move somewhere where I have a lot of opportunity, and you can go work at the mall, I said.” That ended that argument. One good thing out of the pandemic is that he’s been present to see how much relentless, never-ending, mindless, wheel-of-misery administrative shit is involved in filling out permission slips and making orthodontist appointments and mopping up cat puke and listening to your neighbor complain about the dandelions on your front yard and taking the cars in for an oil change. He was just never here to witness it, and I think he has a better idea of how my being partially employed has given him an awful lot of flexibility in pursuing his career. I had what can truly be called a Breakdown last fall when I realized not only did I have to do this stuff, but pandemic schooling and work meant my whole family was going to be home, watching me do it while trying to tell me about youtube prank videos and asking me if we’re out of milk (Do you see any in the fridge? Figure it out, Sherlock) AND ALSO I would get to watch them do fun learning and working stuff while I clipped the dog’s toenails. Please make clear to your husband that while you don’t blame him and are happy that he is fulfilled, the cost is that you feel untethered, bored, resentful and frustrated, and that you need to make both short- and long-term family plans to balance the scales.
    6. If someone asks you what you do, answer in the present tense: “I develop and manufacture llama grooming tools,” not “I used to…”

    Sorry it’s long, but I really identified with your letter! Triage, plan, take care of yourself, and I’m pulling for you.

    1. JSPA*

      I love, “Let’s move somewhere where I have a lot of opportunity, and you can go work at the mall.”

    2. Style points*

      pandemic schooling and work meant my whole family was going to be home, watching me do it while trying to tell me about youtube prank videos and asking me if we’re out of milk (Do you see any in the fridge? Figure it out, Sherlock) AND ALSO I would get to watch them do fun learning and working stuff while I clipped the dog’s toenails.

      <3 <3 <3 <3 :D

    3. Abogado Avocado*

      This x 1000. I have been in your shoes, Florp and OP, and Florp says it way better than I could have. You and your marriage can survive this, but it helps to have an understanding spouse and the willingness to spend time and money on YOU, whether that means a therapist, additional training, or both.

    4. mf*

      “I have already informed my husband that once the kids fledge, it’s my time, I might not retire and he should come along for the ride or get out of the way.”

      I love this. You deserve happiness and fulfillment too.

      Also your point about volunteering is really important. Don’t just volunteer for your kids activities. Pick something you care about or that is a resume builder.

  84. Temporicide*

    I work remotely (even before the pandemic) for a company developing software for e-discovery, and we’re branching out into the compliance field as well. Your experience in compliance would be a huge asset for a sales or product management role here, and we’re even more open to remote work than previously.

    I’m not going to name-drop the company unless the LW specifically asks, though.

  85. No Name Today*

    I have read through the comments. Nobody has commented about OP’s age. Being part of that group, I am curious if nobody thinks it’s an issue at all, or just insignificant compared to the marriage and college education issues.
    Ultimately, OP isn’t getting interviews and I am interested in other’s opinions of ger age as a factor in this.
    Anyone want to share?

    1. Colette*

      Ultimately, I think it doesn’t matter. The OP can’t change her age, or others’ perceptions of it. And there is a lot of other stuff she can actually act on.

    2. kt*

      I think age is a factor but it’s hard to deal with, as it can’t be changed.

      I am no expert here but the book Edge by Laura Huang did explicitly address ageism and might be useful to the LW.

    3. RecoveringSWO*

      It definitely could be an issue. Which is why I hesitate to advise the OP to pay for further education. The last thing she needs is to graduate with debt only to continue to not be hired. My Mom went back to school and changed career fields at the age. She ended up working at an employer that she had direct ties to, in her new field. Without those ties, maybe age discrimination would have hurt her in the career change.

    4. Masa*

      I think the real issue is not being “part of the group” in a small town. If you don’t fit in, you don’t get hired.

  86. Anon Please*

    This may have been mentioned upthread, but have you considered living apart? My husband and I have been doing it during the pandemic and it has not really been so bad. I listen to my music and watch my TV shows, and he does the same. We meet up every weekend and it’s really been fine. We are able to flex our hours where we often work on 4 or 4.5 days per week so the traveling spouse can leave at noon Friday (or arrive at work at noon Monday). We take turns traveling so that burden doesn’t fall on only one of us.

  87. JSPA*

    Spouse and I have been doing “two households” for what’s become over a decade. We patch together at least 6 to 8 months together, per year, in a combination of locations (without a particularly egregious carbon footprint).

    If there’s a city where you could have a comfortable pied-a-terre, work on-site two weeks a month, and remotely another two weeks a month, advance your career, and make enough to cover travel and (fair!) wages for a live-in helper for the kids…it’s not nuts.

    If there are no kids, something seasonal may work better.

    There are any number of jobs that have busy seasons (tax season, holiday season, summer, something specific to any seasonally-produced or seasonally-used product) where doing so for “a season” is not a huge disturbance.

    I will say that if we’re separate for more than about three months, there’s detectably more, “oh, you put the spare toilet paper there now? No wonder I couldn’t find it” or “why is the measuring cup with the cups, instead of with the pots and pans” readjustment. But in the scheme of things, the change is actually nice. And even small strip-mall-y towns in flat places have hugely more charm if you don’t feel stuck and abandoned there.

    And…that’s the other thing. Your town may be unprepossessing. Many are. But your distress at your circumstance and loss of career is exactly that; it’s not “caused by” the town, and it’s not fair to funnel your distress into anger at the town for being what it is. It’s hard to want to hire someone who’s telegraphing, “I’m deeply unhappy here, and making do.” You will be a lot more employable in that little town if you’re feeling better about your options. In that sense, taking a job out of town may eventually pay off in town, as well.

    The final suggestion is that if there’s a single amenity that your town is dramatically lacking–ideally one that’s not a money pit / labor of love, but that’s negotiable–consider being the person who starts one of those, there. Could be anything from a used record store to an arboretum to a spa to a food bank; only you know what makes you feel that your town is bereft of possibility. On six figures in a small town, your spouse almost certainly can pony up, and (in that you’re a partnership, and in that you’re there because of him) it’s not an inappropriate “ask.”

  88. Evonon*

    Hi OP,
    I had a similar situation to this occur last year with my husband. My husband graduated with his MBA in May 2020 and has been struggling to find a job as a lot of other grads are. In October, he received his first/only job offer…that would have sent us out of state and back to a smaller city.
    Literally the same day he got the offer, I received a promotion. When I got home we had a long discussion weighing the pros and cons. I offered for us to be long distant and he said no as we had just gotten married and wanted me to come with. We would have had to move cross country in 2 weeks, find a new apartment, break our lease, and have me quit my job (my job can’t be done remotely).
    I put my foot down and said “We are not moving so you can make $9,000 more than me. I will resent you if I have to be unemployed in an unfamiliar city that doesn’t have any foundations/hiring non profits (I work in private philanthropy where jobs cannot be found in smaller cities/places where the millionaire population is low)”.

    We thankfully didn’t move and he has been able to network better and get more interviews as things open up. It was a tough month but if we had moved, that would have turned into a tough year and may have ended our relationship.
    My advice is honestly knowing your worth to yourself and understanding that we get one life and decisions in a partnership cannot be made without the other person in mind. If being long distant so you can get out of there is the solution then that’s it.

    1. Anony4735*

      I’m in the same boat as you, except on your husband’s side. Do you think your husband will always have some form of resentment over having to turn down the job and moving to a new city?

      I’m newlywed as well and would not want to move without my spouse. If I was given an offer at a new city for a better job that I had to turn down because spouse didn’t want to move, then I would always have those feelings of “what if?” On the other hand, I would not want my spouse to be unhappy and unemployed if we moved, so I am always torn.

      1. RecoveringSWO*

        I don’t know you’re exact circumstances, but many couples (including my marriage) have a number of moves and trade-off decisions regarding job offers, especially in the first decade or two of marriage. I don’t have any resentment because it’s easy to look at the totality of our career choices and see where each of us have sacrificed throughout the years. That’s not to say that you need a perfect ratio of sacrifices in order to stop resentment. But no, I wouldn’t worry about lingering resentment over the first career sacrifice of a marriage.

  89. Knope Knope Knope*

    First off I am so sorry you are going through this, OP. I think I would feel the exact same way as you in this situation. My advice would be to apply to the jobs you want, regardless of location (or in locations where you would like to live). You say your husband refuses to compromise, but I wonder how that would change if you had an equal or better offer on the table. Things may look different to him then. Or maybe they would not, but it would give you a concrete choice to make–stay or go. It sounds like your husband’s current job was a lifeline when you needed it, but it doesn’t sound like you are in that situation now. If he just chooses to stay despite your unhappiness when you actually have another choice, that will be a hard conversation but one you need to have. Also consider Alison’s advice. Many more jobs are remote nowadays. I know my job postings list job locations for bureaucratic reasons though in reality all my employees are remote for the forseeable future and I will and can approve permanent remote for all of ny employees. So don’t limit yourself! Apply apply apply everywhere.

  90. Properlike*

    After reading commentsto this point, I feel I have a different perspective on the OP issue. Yes, it’s a “marriage” issue, but it’s also a relevance/identity/feminist issue. When you’ve been successful for so long, and then leave that environment – to a small town where your primary identifiers become “mom” and “wife” rather than “accomplished, independent, high-power woman” it does a number on your identity. I had this issue when we relocated for my husband’s job, even though it was to a different large city, because that success I’d worked so hard to build for myself evaporated and I was just another SAHM to everyone who met me. It hurt! I spent a lot of time trying to wedge my resume into conversation. “I’m accomplished! I’m smart! I had a whole career!”

    Also, since OP and I grew up in the area of girls being told they should aim to support themselves (unlike the generations of women before us), I suspect that expectation is in play here. Even now, though I can afford not to work, I get really stressed at the idea of relying solely on my husband’s income and rendering the workforce as one of those “stayed home to raise kids” moms; not that it’s what I’ve done, but it’s what they’ll see.

    Add in health issues and that does a whammy on your self-esteem, in a town the OP clearly senses has not much use for her anyway (whether true or not, I can see why she feels that.) I would suggest therapy too, but for YOU, OP, to remember yourself and your values, to get some outside validation, because then you can determine your next steps from a position of strength. I’m rooting for you!!

    1. Diane*

      I like your perspective! So much of our self-worth is tied up in careers and how much money we make. Untangling that web can help OP figure out her priorities for whatever her next step ends up being.

    2. PT*

      Read the comments on any advice column where a woman wants to be a stay at home mom, or has chosen to step back and is now in financial need of stepping forward (marriage fell apart, husband’s industry fell apart, husband is disabled, husband passed away, etc.) and you’ll see why this is such a sensitive subject. It will be literally hundreds upon hundreds of comments berating the LW about her bad choices and the importance of women being able to support themselves and maintain their careers independent of their spouses. Even though we know that this isn’t possible because a lot of people are two-income households out of financial necessity (two adults one bedroom apartment,) not because they have two jobs that standalone support two people individually and now have a mega-income.

    3. mf*

      This is great insight, and I agree. Since the OP’s career woes are probably going to take a while to address, it might benefit her to find another avenue where she can build an identity for herself beyond “wife” and “mother.”

      Maybe volunteering for a cause or a nonprofit that she’s passionate about? “Activist” is a pretty badass way to identify yourself! Or picking up a hobby she can get serious about? When people see you’re spending serious time and energy learning how to play the cell or how to code, you stop being just a wife and mother and starting becoming known as that woman who plays cello, or that lady who’s getting into programming, etc.

      1. Fulano de Tal*

        Properlike is 100% right but OP’s first step absolutely needs to be to get the heIl out of Podunk, pronto, and back to a vibrant, urban economic center.

  91. AmosBurton*

    Right now, it would be insanity to give up the husband’s six-figure job to move away. If the writer was only a step or two above an administrative assistant (no offense intended, just being honest), then it’s not terribly likely that her next job will exceed his salary. Add to that that the costs of living in a big city (where a compliance role would likely be located if it cannot be done remotely) add 25% to the costs of living in the small town, making it even more likely that they would be moving backwards economically.

    Also, in fairness, the OP stated that the blossoming of her husband’s carrier meant the death of hers. But given the niche nature of his job, it’s likely that returning to a large city to restart her career would be the end of his.

    There is probably not a good solution, but it sounds like the worst among many bad ones is to try to compel the husband to give up a well-paying, stable job (at the age of 50) in this economy. Perhaps therapy would help.

    It’s certainly a painful solution, but like the Dali Lama says “Pain is mandatory. Suffering is optional.”

    1. kt*

      I don’t think you quite parsed the letter correctly; she’s an admin now because she can’t get compliance roles due to the lack of business in her region. When she was in compliance she made six figures.

      1. AmosBurton*

        Did she say she made six figures, and I missed it? I looked again and didn’t see it (it’s possible I’m just not reading something correctly). While there are plenty of compliance roles that *do* make six figures, if she was only a couple steps above admin (as suggested in her letter), unless she was in NYC or another similar area, it may well not have been six figures (but still be “breadwinner” level). Overall, it looks like the median salary for a “Compliance Manager” is about $82k nationally.

        There is one other thing; depending on the area of compliance (I work in IT governance, risk, security and compliance), being out of the field for nine years could very well be extremely problematic. While in some areas it has stayed the same (much SEC stuff, SOX/GLBA, etc.), a great deal has changed (GDPR, CCPA, a bunch of stuff in IT risk), which may make it even harder to find a good compliance role right now.

        I wish her the very best, and hope she finds happiness, but I fear there may be no good (certainly no easy) solutions here.

        1. Jerusha*

          You say “a great deal has changed” – could that be argued as a positive instead of a negative? No, I don’t know all the ins and outs of $newrules. But who does? People currently in the field also need to learn the $newrules. (And, depending on the set of rules, possibly even an argument could be made that not having worked with version n-1 of the rules (if it’s an expansion/revision of a prior rule rather than something completely de novo) is an advantage because you won’t accidentally (automatically) use the version n-1 rules instead of the now-current version…)

  92. Rez123*

    My mom used to work for a non-profit and then the non-profit reduced the numebr of employees and decided to have more volunteers. She struggled for a long time. My dad made pretty good money so the salary did not have a massive change to our lifestyle and my dad had no problem (to my knowledge) being the only earner. Her struggle was about the loss of identity, loss of freedom that financies gives (she could access family money, but she didn’t feel like it was her own). She was very sensitive to any comment about money. It took maybe 5ish years for her to accept it. She wasn’t fine with it until she retired and her income returned in a form of a pension.
    I wonder since LW was the main earner if this is more about the loss of status and identity?

    If you need the job because you need to contribute 50% or something similar then this is a marriage issue. Same if your son is only your son and your husband refuses to contribute eventhough his career is a reason for lack of yours. Also I do wonder what is the compromise that has been discussed. Refusing to move 30min to increase employement options or refusing to quit and moving to old place again?

    If it is the first one, then that can change with time. Re-arranging your financial arraingements. Therapy. Finding non-employment things you enjoy. Changing mindset about being a unit with your husband and having everything joint and accepting that you contributed towards his success and therefore deserve everything that he has earned. If it is a latter, then that is a very different issue.

  93. Brett*

    As someone who works a lot with our compliance teams in a fortune 100 company, the last year has led to a lot of compliance moving to remote. Odds are there are way more opportunities now to get back into compliance than there were previously.

  94. Generic Name*

    Yeah, unfortunately small towns can be “professional job desserts”. My husband’s and my long-term plan is to move to his ancestral small town (it’s really more of a hamlet, 200 people, mostly related to him, and unincorporated). His career is very portable and he will be able to get a job there no problem. I’m a seasoned professional in an industry that tends to stick to big metro areas. Honestly, the only reason I’m even entertaining such a move is that my company is very remote friendly, and I’m a longtime employee, and I know it will be no problem for me continue working from a remote location.

    My career advice would be to try to find a fully remote position. It seems like now’s the time to do it when it’s been proven that remote work works. I agree that you need to have a conversation with your husband. I’ve heard that it’s hard for couples who both have high-powered careers to navigate this. You can’t prioritize both careers at once. For some couples that means they prioritize one partner’s career over the other’s in general (a relative is a petroleum engineer, and she’s moved her husband and family all over the country for her career), and other couples trade off. Meaning, they move to city X for Partner A’s job and then 5 years later focus on Partner B’s job and stay or move based on that. It’s really tough.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, this.

      There’s a lot of times when the stars don’t align for both spouses to be able to pursue their best career opportunities at the same time while still staying together. Compromises, sometimes painful ones, have to be made. My husband followed me for seven years, and now we live in our current city because it was “his turn.” It sounds like the OP has made extremely painful compromises for 9 years, and it’s (past) time to re-negotiate.

    2. Fulano de Tal*

      “I know it will be no problem for me continue working from a remote location.”

      I would not bet the farm on this.

  95. voyager1*

    So basically you have been unemployed or seriously underemployed FOR 9 YEARS and it’s your husband’s fault!!!! Seriously???

    The reality of it is this, you can leave your husband for a job, but there is no way that job is going to be the same as before. Your experience is 9 YEARS OLD.

    Honestly you need to make the best of what you are in, assuming you want to stay with him in the first place. But if you want out, then leave. But don’t make this about him making more money then you.

    I get some serious jealousy vibes from you that you aren’t the breadearner anymore.

    1. pope suburban*

      This was manifestly, breathtakingly unkind and reductive. What was meant to be constructive here? I assume there *was* some intent to be that, but the mark was missed so widely that you might want to clarify.

    2. Consider*

      Letter writers seem to be making you very angry lately. I feel that way sometimes too, and I have found that it’s an indicator that I need to take a break from the site. If there’s anything going on that’s creating stress in your life, you have my sympathy.

    3. biobotb*

      The LW *has* been making the best of it–or she wouldn’t have stayed for nine years, she would have left long ago. Jeez.

    4. Troutwaxer*

      Reading the first few comments it’s obvious that the issue of whether it’s the husband’s fault is something some of the commenters were asking, not a major concern of the OP’s, so you might tread gently where that’s concerned.

  96. ElleKay*

    “In my cover letter, I explained that an administrative support position in my field is now my desired career path and would really enjoy working in a support role in a field in which I excel. ”

    Upon re-reading I realize that I got this wrong but I’m going to comment for the sake that my mistake could be what HR is also making.

    I read this line to mean that you were writing a cover letter that said something more like “Yes, I’m applying for the AA position and I’m interested in it BUT I’d really enjoy working in a support role in a field in which I excel.” IE: I read this to mean that you saw the Admin position as a stepping stone to get you back on track to where you want to get back to.
    Again, on a second read I realize I misinterpreted but I’d caution you to be extra, extra sure that what you’re saying and how it might be read by an outsider are clearly in alignment.

  97. Christina*

    Might I suggest becoming a notary public and loan signing agent? I have a regular 9-5 with a company I love and great benefits, but the pay is less than I need to live comfortably. Last fall, I looked into becoming a notary public, and since November, I have been pulling in extra money almost daily. In January, I took the test to become a loan signing agent, and I began that work in February. I get offered jobs every single day, and I have to turn down most of them because they fall within my standard workday, but I still conduct loan signings on evenings and weekends. While it might not be something you’ve considered, it’s the type of work that would fold nicely into your compliance background, and you can make pretty solid money depending on your location.
    P.S. As the (now ex) wife of a firefighter, my whole life was always put on hold so he could follow his dreams. When his schedule changed, mine did too. When he got held over or was called out on a strike team, I had to call in sick to stay with our kids. I spent nearly 20 years genuflecting to his career; I get what you’re going through, truly. I’m sorry.

  98. BlackCatOwner*

    My husband and I, who I love very much, lived in separate states for *years* due to diverging career needs.
    Before you consider divorce, maybe explore a physical separation. You could move into the city that is an hour away or to another state and travel home on weekends.

    Being married doesn’t always mean living together. There’s a middle ground that you could explore.

    I also recommend seeing a family counselor, both separately and together. Outside help and support is just that: help and support.

    Good luck.

  99. Chriama*

    From the way you’ve written your letter, OP, you’re not going to last 15 more years. Something is going to give, and you can initiate it or you can fall victim to it. If there’s going to be a radical change in your life, OP, I’d rather you be in the driver’s seat. A lot of commenters have offered these suggestions, but I’ll sum them up.

    1 – move to the city. Husband’s commute into the small town will likely be easier than your commute into the big city (going against the flow of traffic), and with your health issues the big city will probably have better public transportation options.

    2 – move to halfway between the city and your current town. Cons are that it might be more isolated or you’ll could both be stuck with sub-par commutes, but it could make your job search easier. You could even try it as a

    3 – split your household. Get a small place in the city and you and your husband can take turns visiting each other on weekends. Others have mentioned that there might be bigger relationship issues at play here. Spending more time apart could give you both some perspective. It could help you appreciate your time together more. If it doesn’t… well, it was probably going to happen anyway. At least this way you have a decent and a place to live, instead of being underemployed and financially dependent.

    4 – reevaluate son’s college expenses. Transferring schools, student loans, a smaller course load so he can work, a leave of absence, etc., are all options. Right now you’re setting yourself on fire to keep everyone else warm. Eventually you’re going to run out of fuel. Don’t listen to people who want to criticize your devotion as a mother — your son is young, and he’ll be ok. If you keep going at this rate, you might not be.

    5 – Others have mentioned marriage counselling. I agree. I don’t think your husband doesn’t care about you, but I do think he may not understand just how desperate you are. Hopefully you guys can find a safe space to communicate clearly.

    6 – remember that whatever decision you make, it doesn’t have to be permanent! Try renting an apartment, or applying for a job that looks interesting, or talking to a recruiter or a temp agency. If it doesn’t work out, you’re no worse off than you were before. But you might find something exciting.

    1. Chriama*

      7 – I can’t believe I forgot remote work. I think the biggest concern right now is that your experience is 9 years out of date, but you could reach out to professional connections from your old company and see if they have anything, even temporary contract work. We’re just trying to take the first step, remember!

  100. Chickaletta*

    This is a marriage issue. However, I know people who live in small towns and make a ton of money in a trade business: plumbing, electrical, construction… I know this can be a real mental jump to consider when you’re going from a white-collar Fortune 500 job to blue-collar. But that’s where the money’s at in smaller towns – if you learn a trade (women can! My electrician is a woman and she’s the best tradesperson I’ve ever hired) – you will likely earn 2-4x or more than what you’re making now as an administrative assistant.

    Just a thought!

  101. ocelot*

    For 9 years you have lived in a small town. It has not become your home- just a place to put down. You turned 50. You looked in the mirror and said ” I coulda been a contender!” But it is everyone else’s fault- the town, your husband, your son’s education.
    Sorry but a 5 figure income with great benefits in a presumed lower COL area should not mean that you have to make money to pay the bills unless you are living much higher than the average person in your area.
    9 years outside your prior career means it is highly unlikely that you could rejoin it at anywhere near the same level- and particularly if there have been substantive changes in technology or regulations.
    You are unhappy and think that changing your location will result in not being unhappy anymore. Nope.
    I often think that therapy is recommended too glibly- but not in this case.
    Or give yourself a good talking to and deal with life as it is not as you wish it could be.

    1. Student Affairs Sally*

      I don’t think it’s about the money or even really the town – OP is unhappy because she no longer feels challenged and feels like her hard-earned skills and experience are going to waste. Even if my husband made more than enough money to support us alone, I would 100% want to get a job – and not just a job, but a job that felt rewarding and challenging to me. That doesn’t make me, or OP, a bad person. And her letter wasn’t so much about “how do I get out of this town” but “how do I find a job that fulfills me, especially when living in a small town with minimal opportunities”, so to say that she thinks changing her location will solve her problems kind of misses the point. I’d bet dollars to donuts that the small town wouldn’t bother her as much if she had work that felt fulfilling to her.

      1. Fulano de Tal*

        OP is unhappy because she no longer feels challenged and feels like her hard-earned skills and experience are going to waste.

        Well, yes, but the reason her skills and experience are going to waste is the absence of opportunities in the small town.

    2. J.B.*

      That’s pretty mean. Being a trailing spouse and becoming an empty nester are hard things. It is also a time when change is possible. I believe marriage counseling may help, as it helps spouses communicate.

  102. Rowan*

    OP, you may want to look into “returnship” programs. These are like internships, but designed for people who have been out of the workforce for some time for family reasons. Search for “remote returnship” to find opportunities.

    They’d give you a chance to try out remote work for a relatively short, defined period, would be something to add to your resume, and also might lead to some helpful connections.

  103. BV532*

    OP, I am in a similar situation as you and when I discussed it with my spouse, what we decided was that if an offer for me in a new city does come up, then we would live separately and we would see if I could negotiate 2 weeks onsite and 2 weeks remote work in which during that time, I would travel back to my spouse’s place. This would work because spouse is currently unsure about the new city and whether he could find employment there. Plus, neither of us had ever lived in that city before so living separately would allow me to “test drive” the new city. If I didn’t like it, then I could just move back without sacrificing his career or our time and resources to move and then having to move back again.

    Ultimately, one of you will have to “give-up” something for the benefit of your relationship. If both of you are stubborn (which describes myself and spouse), then you will have to take the risk of doing a longer commute or live separately until one of you is willing to move to either location.

    1. Hinterland*

      I’m sorry you are having to deal with this, too. Have you moved yet or are you still deciding on what to do? I’d love to know how things turn out for you.

      I think you are very wise to recognize each of us have to “give up” something. I agree wholeheartedly. We can both indeed be stubborn, but we do know how to compromise.

  104. Just a thought*

    I don’t intend to sound like a Pollyanna or to sound like I’m making light of your very real and painful plight, but I’d like to suggest a different perspective.

    My wife was in a similar situation. We relocated for my work (though not to a small town) and her previous career path just never got off the ground in the new location. Like you, she was around 50.

    What she realized is that in a way, this was a great opportunity. She had 15 plus years in front of her to go in any direction she wanted. Sure, she had to make money (we also have kids in college) but since she wasn’t the only earner and I had insurance for both of us, she had a lot more flexibility than she had in previous job searches.

    She ended up enrolling in a 6 month certification course and now has an independent business doing something she really enjoys. But she never would have found it if she didn’t ask herself what she REALLY wanted to do and my job stability gave her the freedom to pursue it.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      I’ve been thinking similar thoughts about this, (though the OP will have to decide for herself about her husband) but maybe there’s some room for the OP to start their own business, take some classes, open a consultancy, write their novel (or record their album, or whatever,) ask around the small town and find out what the town is missing that they could provide, start a youtube channel, etc.

      It’s certainly possible that the husband needs to consider how badly his job/security/small-town success is hurting his wife, but I’m also seeing that the OP is not considering any path other than working for someone else, and I think this really limits their options.

  105. archangelsgirl*

    Marriage is a chess game. Each person has to make their move when it is their turn. You can’t make a move for your partner or instead of your partner when it’s their move. What we have here is a situation where he made one move… to the job. You have made about 10 moves, and then said to him, “I don’t have any more moves.” To which he has replied, “I made one move, and I’m not making any more.”

    Therefore… He is no longer playing the game. It takes two players to play the game. You can’t play alone. I’m sorry.

  106. Hinterland*

    OP here. Thank you for all of the thoughtful–and thought-provoking comments! Just want to clear up a few things instead of responding willy-nilly.

    – Child: When I said “my child”–it’s the child of my marriage with my husband. I probably should have said “our child.” (There’s no hidden, subliminal messaging by me saying “my child.”) He’s a good student, mature and responsible.

    – Spouse: We have a solid marriage and my husband looks out for me and our son. Supportive, kind, generous, loyal and understanding. He feels helpless because he wants to make me happy and I’m just….not. His reasoning for not wanting to leave is that it will take 2 of us working full-time to earn what he alone earns. Jobs in his industry rarely have health insurance and benefits (in the non-profit, small business realm). Many businesses in his industry permanently closed due to COVID so he’s also fearful he wouldn’t be able to find a job. (Very few jobs open up in his niche field each year.) He’s fearful if we HAVE to rely on my job for income and health benefits, that it will put a lot of undue pressure on me and doesn’t want me to further decline in health (I share these concerns, too). If I have to quit due to health concerns, he’s worried we’d get into financial straits. He has said he’d be willing to move for the right position but those very rarely come up. Some posters said it’s a marriage issue—I agree in part. However, a big part of it is my health issues. If I didn’t have those, I would commute no problems and I feel like I could more nimbly handle things.

    – Finances: We pool ALL of our money together. My husband makes right at the entry level of six figures and that includes any bonus monies. His company’s salaries are higher in this area I think in part to draw people to the small town to work (hard to get people to move here.) Cost of living is much higher here than where we used to live: housing, taxes, food, insurance and utilities. My medical expenses can sometimes exceed 7.5% of annual income and I often have to travel several hours including big out-of-state trips for health care due to the lack of it where I live. My income is low because my hourly rate is half of what it was from 10 years ago and I work part-time. I want to work because I want to contribute to our household financially. (I grew up with nothing and like to have a little cushion “just in case.”) I have been either unemployed or underemployed for the last 5 years. We don’t believe in carrying debt and only have a small car loan and a mortgage. We don’t live extravagantly and don’t spend a lot.

    – College: We don’t qualify for financial aid due to income. Any scholarship/merit monies are from our son’s diligence in the classroom. He is a student-athlete but will not get any athletic scholarships. Our son will take student loans and we will pay for the majority of his college because we made that commitment to him. Our continued financial support in college is contingent on him earning good grades. We’ll draw college monies from cash, investment and loans. Ideally, we’d like to use my salary from any future jobs to pay cash for our son’s college to avoid debt and we’d live off of my husband’s salary. (We really don’t want to be in debt and incurring debt is expensive!) I don’t want to go back to school while our son’s in college.

    – Job for Me: I’d like to work full time to have a more regular schedule, keep myself occupied, obtain professional fulfillment, etc. I’m not a “lady-who-lunches” so I like to be doing art/hobbies, working and staying physically active. My self esteem has taken a big hit moving to this place. (Prior to moving here, I experienced a legit trauma so I just somehow associate where we live now with that trauma. I feel like I was “exiled” here—the move happened soon after the trauma.) I feel like a full-time job doing something I’m good at would build me back up, take my mind off “this place” and contribute to our household income/college expenses/retirement planning.

    Hopefully this clarifies things.

    1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

      Hi, OP. Thanks for clarifying. Like another commenter said above, there can be a difficult situation without a “bad guy”, and that sounds like what you’ve got! I don’t have any advice that hasn’t already been stated, but I just want to say I hope you keep exploring to live the best life you can, and I really wish the best for you. I hope the partially remote work happens and you can start reconnecting with your work self.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      . (Prior to moving here, I experienced a legit trauma so I just somehow associate where we live now with that trauma. I feel like I was “exiled” here—the move happened soon after the trauma.)

      I’m generally skeptical about “therapy” as a panacea but I feel like you could benefit from a discussion with a professional in order to “unravel” those sentiments, and I feel like it would help you.

      1. Cant remember my old name*

        I made a comment a little earlier but since I found your reply, I’ll restate it. School tend to be everywhere, could you look for admin work at a local school? I’m talking K-12, but a local college might be a good option too. Good luck!

    3. Ellie*

      Hi OP. Have you considered going to therapy to help you to deal with the trauma you experienced, and your feelings about where you’re living? I know some people have a perception about therapy but it can really help, for small problems as well as large ones. Losing your job and then your career, and then moving to another location would affect anyone’s sense of identity, and it sounds like your mental health is really suffering.

    4. RecoveringSWO*

      OP, thanks for your participation in the comments. I think your circumstances reflect some challenges that many of us (especially Americans w/college & health care costs) have dealt with separately but not as many have had the perfect storm of all of those issues coming together at once. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we’re cheering you on and sending a lot of empathy your way.

      I reread this sentence, “I often have to travel several hours including big out-of-state trips for health care due to the lack of it where I live” and had a related suggestion to the others. If you’re open to the long-distance marriage option, consider applying to areas you have to travel for healthcare as well. It sounds like you’ve been limiting your search to specific listings in the closest city. But if you opt-in for getting an apartment elsewhere, I don’t think you need to limit you applications to the closest city. It may be a longer drive, but it sounds like your husband would be willing to drive up on weekends. And if it lowers the hours spent driving for healthcare, you may be more up for meeting him at a halfway point for dates or even driving to him sometimes.

    5. J.B.*

      It all sounds tough. I do think it would be tough to go back to your old field at this point, and I wonder if you should look for a new job with openness to moving especially if you find a position. Instead of pre-discarding the idea of moving, look around and see what you can get then decide. Universities are strapped now but in a year they may be worth looking at for interesting part time that can lead to something else.

  107. old biddy*

    I have nothing to add other than been there, done that. Good luck, OP! I’m a chemist and turned down a job in a location very similar or perhaps the same one as OP describes.

  108. I'm just here for the cats*

    I could be wrong, and I hope I am, but could the husband LIKE that the wife is dependant on him? I mean she has to work part-time to “pay the bills.” What bills where 6 figures is not enough in rural area? are they living to extravagantly? Or is it just the kids college and if so why isn’t the husband helping.

    Also, being that he is working at the company, isn’t there a way he could help her network to get a job.

    I think she needs to see a therapist who can help her. Maybe marriage counseling

    1. EchoGirl*

      OP (the posts are under the name Hinterland) has clarified in comments that even though it’s a small town, it’s an area with very high COL and she also has significant medical expenses, and that she and her husband have fully comingled finances (so it’s not a matter of just OP paying for college and husband not helping, it’s one expense that they as a couple have in their budget). It doesn’t sound at all like he’s trying to control her, as she says he’s supported her efforts to find work, but that him leaving his job would put them in a potentially precarious financial situation (and that he’s extremely unlikely to find an even remotely comparable position anywhere else) and that’s why it’s not on the table.

  109. Data Bear*

    OP, I’m going to offer some advice that’s very different from everyone else so far. It’s challenging and may feel unsettling or even threatening. It may not be the right thing for you, but I hope you’ll give it some serious consideration; even if it turns out to be wrong, you may find it illuminating to think about.

    It seems to me that the root of the problem is that you’ve defined your self and your identity in terms of your career, and now you feel lost without it.

    What if, instead of trying to filling that hole and feeling bad that you haven’t been able to, you just… didn’t?

    Which is to say, what if you decided that what you do to contribute financially just isn’t important, and to redefine who you are in entirely different terms?

    I realize that this is a crazy-sounding idea (especially in a forum dedicated to advice about jobs), because our culture places an enormous emphasis on work, and we are continuously bombarded with messaging about how important it is. And, make no mistake, deciding to ignore all of that and live your life differently and on your own terms is difficult.

    But the thing to consider is, what if that’s the thing that would make you happy?

    You mentioned that you do want to contribute to your household finances, so you might still be working. Plus, you probably want to do something that makes you feel like you’re contributing to your community — that’s a big factor in feeling content and happy. But you could do both those things outside of A Career. You could volunteer at the library and work a series of part-time jobs that you don’t feel attached to, and when you meet someone new and they ask “so what do you do?” your first answer could be “I like to go out in the field to paint landscapes.” Oh, and of course you also do some volunteering and lately you’ve been doing paperwork for Bob at the garage for spending money and you have a kid who’s off at college, but that’s not what’s important for getting to know who you are.

    Or, to put it another way, suppose something happened that made having a career neither an option nor an issue for you anymore. Maybe an injury or disability of some kind, or maybe an unexpected inheritance from the rich uncle you never knew you had. What would you want to do, who would you want to BE, without a career?

    Now, what if you recast your current situation not as a failure to maintain your career, but as something that happened that resulted in very early retirement? How would that feel?

    Like I said, this might not be the right solution for you. But give it a think and see what it tells you about what you want and why.

  110. Des*

    This is a two body problem similar to academia. His company might be willing to give you a bigger shot if they knew he’d leave the company for another place if you can’t find employment. This happens a lot in academia. Worth discussing with him, at least.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      I would wonder whether there’s something the company needs to attract people to the small town, like a book store, art gallery, or coffee-house. Maybe the company doesn’t want spouses working with each other, but would like some improvements to the town. Could you take part in that at all?

  111. catinahat*

    Two thoughts from this post:

    1) I completely relate to feeling like my career is at a dead-end. I’m currently trying so hard to get a new job and constantly fight hopelessness as it’s been over 3 years since I felt like my work meant anything. The hardest thing to do, yet the most important thing is to remind myself that work is not my identity. It’s a big part of it and we should absolutely strive to fit the right fit job, but at the end of the day, our career is not the only thing that defines us. There is a lot more I can offer and get out of life than just what I do for a job. And in the meantime, I’ll still look for a better role and not settle for less out of desperation.

    2) I hope you and your husband can have an understanding of where you both stand on this. Marriage is not 50-50 (he gives this much, you give this much). Marriage is each person giving 100% and sacrificing for the other. If the situation was reversed, how would you think you should support your husband? Did you husband ever feel this way when you were the breadwinner of the household? I’m not saying he knows how you feel now, but perhaps you both want to just feel understood and supported. The “right” answer is not necessarily staying in the rural town so he can keep his job or for him to give up his job so you can both move to a better area…but ultimately, you want to have a partnership where you support each other.

  112. Beatrice*

    Have you considered moving for your career and leaving him in the dead end town, but keeping your marriage intact? I work for the only large employer in a dead end town with nothing nearby, and once had a coworker whose husband lived 900 miles away in a metro area that worked for his career. They visited each other once a month or so, and the arrangement seemed to work for them.

  113. Sanders*

    What about getting involved in town government? Heck, you could be Mayor in 5 years! But I’m sure there are a few other government positions that could be interesting.

    You said you’ve volunteered, but have you taken on a leadership role? Are there any non-profits in your town where you could angle to eventually become a senior person?

  114. LilyP*

    You talk about doing a looooot of job-hunting work and soul-searching and really being broad with your search (adjacent industries, lower-level positions, etc). Has your husband done….any of that at all? I believe you that his current job is unusual and unusually awesome, but I’m skeptical it’s truly The One And Only Job He Can Ever Possibly Have. Has he really looked — recently, not five years ago — at his options? Has *he* considered other companies, adjacent industries, minor steps down, remote work, consulting, going back to school, taking a longer commute, working part-time, or any of the other wide range of options and compromises you have? I’m really curious what you both might find if you started from “my wife is miserable and desperate, so staying with the status quo is no longer an option for our family” and both considered all your options.

    1. LilyP*

      I found your comment further up after posting this and I think I was a little too harsh with this. Your husband sounds like a good guy. Just make sure for this bit: “He has said he’d be willing to move for the right position but those very rarely come up” that he’s actually searching regularly and also thinking outside the box in terms of the exact role/industry/perks. Are there any ways he can grow at his current company that could be translated into a role with more stability/money somewhere else down the road? He can also search and even apply places without moving first, or 100% committing to moving, since it sounds like risk is a big factor for him.

    2. LilyP*

      I don’t know if you’re still reading comments day two, but I wanted to add: There’s nothing bad or wrong about wanting the structure, respect, and sense of accomplishment that comes with a full-time, career-path job doing work you like. That’s not like, ceding your identity to capitalism or whatever. Our society still has a lot of Gender Stuff about women who care a lot about their careers, especially in the context of a heterosexual marriage, so know: there’s nothing selfish or vain or cold or ungrateful about wanting a career path and lifetime career accomplishments for yourself, and expecting your partner to support those goals and make some sacrifices for you sometimes. It’s normal to feel disappointed and yeah, even kind of bitter about losing this career that you had built and loved. Freelancing or volunteering or starting a business are great options for some people but it’s ok if they aren’t for you and if what you really WANT is the structure and support of a full-time job and career path.

  115. Noelle*

    If there’s any way you can shoot for remote work, I think that may be the route to go. I’ve run up against this issue before: my husband is a forest ranger, and while there are some ranger positions closer to metro areas, the job almost necessitates living in the middle of nowhere. I work in a completely opposite field: I’m a software developer. You can imagine the issue trying to find work in a town of 500 people, especially one geared around the tourism and outdoor industry. And I don’t drive due to anxiety issues, so commuting wasn’t an option. What I did was find work with an online job board specializing in remote work. The company turned out to be a fantastic fit, and was actually more within my expertise than any jobs I had worked “in person”. My husband got to keep his dream job, and I didn’t have to put my career aside. Obviously you know your own industry, capabilities, and situation better than I do. (If internet access is an issue, mobile hotspot plus VPN worked OK for me). Here’s hoping you can find something that works for you and your family!

  116. Raida*

    The fact that you describe the place you moved to as ” in an ugly small town in the middle of nowhere” suggests that getting a small city apartment would definitely be one of the first options to consider, for you to use for the work week – or part time work – in the City centre.
    You. Don’t. Want. To. Live. There.
    *and* you don’t have a job you want
    *and* you resent your husband’s job
    *and* you describe yourself paying for college, not “us”
    *and* you say you can’t cover bills with your income, not “us”

    Talk to 1) marriage counseller and then 2) financial advisor.
    Look into options for a) small place in the City, b) lowering the portion of what you are paying for your son’s college and he can shoulder some of the costs moving forward c) online and remote and consultant jobs – you could maybe sell your expertise as a consultant to businesses and make your own hours.

    1. Lanie Webster*

      The only issue is that we don’t know that the LW is a woman. Just because they have a husband and child does not necessarily mean they are female.

  117. PrarieEffingDawn*

    I’d suggest rethinking the long commute and pouring your energy into a job search in the big city. If you have public transportation available it could be worth it. Maybe you could find a job that would let you work from home just one day a week? 4 days there, 3 days home might be manageable.

    When I first moved in with my now-husband, I was commuting 2 hours each way to work in our nearest city. It wasn’t ideal but I liked my job a lot and used the train ride to listen to podcasts or watch shows. We have a baby now so I decided to get a job closer but I think when my son is older I’d consider doing it again.

    I know you mentioned you have a health condition but the unhappiness you’re feeling can’t be healthy!

  118. Anita*

    Lately there are more and more companies going 100% remote, so I’d suggest you searching for a job in one of them.

  119. Candace*

    I wonder if the letter writer could move halfway between the bigger city and her current town? They could split the difference in the commute and she would have more opportunities.

  120. Roscoe da Cat*

    I think the major problem is not the career but that you hate living where you are living. This is something you need to discuss with your spouse. You work only part of your life but you live in a place all the time.
    Some people have suggested that you live somewhere else during the week – I would flip that and suggest that you and your husband move to a place you both like and he lives in this small town during the week. That way you at least live somewhere you like and, from your description, the town where you are would be cheap to have a second place to live.

  121. Chicago reader*

    Lots of great ideas from readers, including moving to the city and managing a long-distance relationship; looking only for remote-work you can do from the small town; moving half way in-between big city and small town; starting your own business. I would suggest OP map out every possible option and start thinking about pros and cons, and then explore WHY she’s feeling that way about each option. That might help sort out whether this is only a career issue, discontent with the new location, or relationship troubles.

    For example, in looking at one scenario, OP should imagine she can find remote work that includes possibility for future advancement, and she can do it all from the small town. Would she still be unhappy? And would that be because of being stuck in a small town or because of the husband? If she imagines moving to the city with a good paying job but is long distance with the husband, would that feel right? Does she fear it could lead them to be driven further apart, and how would she feel about that? Just a suggesting for helping understand what may be at the root of the unhappiness (realizing it may be multiple things tied together). Understanding it may help OP be able to figure out next steps.

  122. C*

    I’m not sure what kind of compliance you were in before but I’ve had great luck with remote jobs for affordable housing compliance. There is a lot to learn but if you can remember laws and are detail oriented it pays around 45-85k. I wonder if your husband’s company has an Employee Assistance Plan accessible to family, maybe a few sessions with a counselor would help you clarify your priorities and options.

  123. Lanie Webster*

    Is the LW’s son also their husband’s son? If so, I am confused how they are not able to afford to pay for the son’s college tuition with his salary? I know that this is more about LW being unhappy in a small town, but their husband sacrificed himself for them too with his crappy job. Marriage is about compromise and sacrifice. If the husband is making good money, is it possible for LW to find a hobby or charity work that will be more fulfilling?

  124. Reggie*

    Has she considered creating her own opportunity. A friend of mine left her employer over a moral objection to her company. Lost of a lot of reputation in the field and couldn’t find a job. She started a non-profit. Spent months studying laws and regulations and three years finding funding and support. By year five she had won multiple awards and gained regional recognition. Most of her work is done remotely and she works with people all over the state. Obviously, I not suggesting the exact same situation but employment may not be her only option to use her talents in a meaningful way.

  125. Umbrella*

    OP what is not clear to me here is what you want.

    It’d be great if both you and your husband had awesome fulfilling careers, in a location you both enjoyed, that paid top dollar so your financial concerns disappeared. But that is an unlikely scenario if you want to live together, especially if one of you is in a niche field.

    It sounds like you want your husband to leave his job, but what isn’t clear is what for.

    Would you be happy if your husband quit his job and worked menial positions he didn’t enjoy to follow you to a new career somewhere? Would he be happy with this?

    It is true that right now your career is sacrificed to his, but it seems equally true that you were unemployed for quite some time when he got this opportunity. I’m not sure how him sacrificing his career for you is any genuine improvement to the situation. It just switches who had the career they don’t enjoy.

    Is it just the career issue for you, or do you also not enjoy where you live (so is you had the same job but in different city would that make a difference?). Understanding exactly what you don’t like is important to finding the solution to the actual problem.

    I really think you need to figure out what you need and want, and how you can see happiness for both of you. Look into long distance, commuting, volunteering and not working (can you cut living expenses?), living off one income, both of you doing totally different jobs, you getting dream job and both moving etc and see where you would be happy, and where you think your husband would be happy.

    I can totally understand why your husband would be very reluctant to quit his job. He has a dream job that pays well (although not enough to be a single income family it seems) and he enjoys. Even if he were willing to give up his career for you – can you realistically match that income (+extra cost of living not in small town) when you’ve been struggling to get interviews? If he quit his job you again have no health insurance – what happens if you don’t find work quickly? You’re talking about leaving your husband – what if he quits his job to follow you and you leave him anyway?

    Personally, I don’t think I could cope being the trailing spouse while still being expected to work. I could do trailing and unemployed (so focus on volunteering in things I enjoy), but if I have to live wherever to follow someone I don’t want to also be in a job I dislike. Unless long distance is an option, the two body problem is hell on keeping two separate careers alive.

  126. Ally*

    My husband has an awesome well paying job with great benefits but requires we move every 2-3 years. I’m stuck interviewing for a new job way more often than I’d like and sometimes for jobs that are less than ideal. I’ve been lucky that his company has hired me in positions that are intellectually stimulating and high paid for the last two moves, but there was a 10 month period I could not find work and it was awful. Not financially, it just really sucked emotionally and caused a major identity crisis. We were thinking seriously of him quitting and moving back to major city where we both could work, albeit without the great benefits and with average pay. I was reading your post and at first thought this was a recent situation but then I was shocked it has gone on this long. If you have exhausted all efforts to get meaningful work in this small town, then your husband needs to start making some compromises and think outside the box on how he can find work somewhere else. If I had my dream job but meant my husband was in your situation, it would be a dream job no more.

  127. NonprofitExec*

    Hi OP. I’m late to posting but read through most of your replies. Here are my thoughts:
    1) You deserve to have a fulfilling career.
    2) Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
    3) You should look at options that make working the the larger city viable – moving to split the difference (yes, I read about your husband’s work demands but this can be his/their compromise), getting a small apartment in the city for the week, working partly remote
    4) Can you start your own business/consult in your professional field? This would allow your flexibility for your health needs and could be fulfilling. It may mean some travel but you could do this mostly remotely.
    5) Consider pursuing continuing education in a form of a certificate or something else that you might be able to afford. This could make you more competitive for jobs, open you to a new career, and give you something to accomplish during this time.

    Please advocate for yourself with your husband. Continue to seek mental health assistance. Get on meds if you need it. This year has been incredibly difficult for many – all – of us. I see you. Now you need to see yourself.

  128. PJ*

    I live in a very rural area and used to drive 200 miles a day round trip to work. I understand what a long commute is like, but it’s really not a big deal when you’re literally the only car on a good highway! Very different than heavy traffic and fairly relaxing and kind of decompressing. If you’re only an hour away, you might be able work your schedule so you can work longer days or like you said, work some from home. It sounds like you really need the city life and I just want to encourage you that the commute seems very doable.

  129. Kansas City Girl*

    I was shocked at the end to read they are only an hour away from a bigger city. Is moving closer an option? If they both had a half hour commute – him to the rural town, OP to the city – that would be a lot more manageable.

    1. raincoaster*

      Now that’s a smart solution.

      But I do have to wonder about a person who doesn’t have the initiative, after years in a town she despises, not to even consider consulting or starting another business.

  130. WegMeck*

    LW – this is something that other folks have mentioned, but I wanted to highlight – have you given serious thought to freelancing? My former employer REALLY needed good, competent legal writers and researchers specifically in the financial legal/compliance field, and we found some great folks on UpWork over the years.

    I agree with everyone else’s comments that it seems like there’s a lot going on here that a counselor could help you work on, but I hear a lot of grief over not being mentally stimulated by a career track you loved in your letter. Freelancing might not be THE answer but it might be a way to exercise some of those old muscles while you’re working through therapy, looking for other remote work, etc. It might also be an opportunity to test some of your assumptions (how much of what you miss is the work itself, how much was the prestige, how much is the stimulation of the location, etc) – in a fairly low-risk way as you’re working to figure out your next step.

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