Lifestyle mismatch

Dear Paulo,

How do you reconcile a seemingly intractable relationship imbalance and uncertainty of a future? My significant other and I have been together for 5 years and share many values, experiences, and interests. The imbalance is in how our different scales of economy translate to differences in leisure time, discretionary dollars, and planning for a future. He is proud that he worked hard to create a lifestyle that gives him flexibility in his schedule and ample leisure time to travel, exercise, watch movies, or just hang out.

My work is mostly an 8-5 gig with 3-4 weeks of vacation. I value and maintain a wide circle of friends. This along with cooking nourishes my soul. We spend a lot of time together and maintain separate homes.


To be honest, I am jealous of the free time he has and don’t see being able to join him in his lifestyle for another 10-15 years. That leaves the period between now and then ambiguous. I would like to have a collective sense of direction for a future together if we are going to commit our lives together. I feel the imminence of middle age and need to be aggressive about “catching up” to his economic scale so I can join him in 10 years or create a plan where he subsidizes me so I can join him in the leisure activities he wants me to partake in. Otherwise, it’s hard for me to see a future in this imbalanced situation. Ideas?

— Ellen Portland, OR. Age: 50

I assume you must love him, because you want to be with him more. As a result of what you cannot currently have—and comparisons between the free time he has v.s. what you have—you are jealous of your boyfriend’s lifestyle, an emotion that gets restimulated several times a year. Obviously, if you’re not careful, your frustration could turn into resentment, which is toxic to any relationship.

You have been in relationship for five years now. At this point, what you see is what you get. He’s probably not going to change much. It’s hard to imagine you all of a sudden being able to increase your vacation time from work … are you expecting him to read your mind and step up with an offer of commitment and support? Men are not very good at this. If he hasn’t brought it up by now, there could be lots of reasons (including plain old inertia). It is up to you to come right out and ask for what you want. And try to do it without making it an ultimatum (at least the first time :-).

We cannot change the past or other people. Two things you CAN change are your point of view and attitude. Ask yourself: If your boyfriend does not feel, for whatever reason, that he can give you the necessary financial support for more shared leisure time and a commitment to some future security together, can you find a way to be content with some imbalance and focus on the half full glass? Can you enjoy all the good things that you have in the relationship and stop comparing its imperfect reality with some ideal or dream? After all, nothing in life is ever perfectly balanced.