Leave Out the Only Child Mentality

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Dear Hoopers,
I am a 25-year-old successful young woman and have been on my own financially for a long time. I did not have an easy life growing up with a mentally and physically abusive mother. I found my freedom and have built myself into the person I always wanted to be – independent. I love my life for so many reasons and try to enjoy everything I have. I have been dating my boyfriend “Bill” for 2 ½ years and I have never had any doubt that this is the person I want to be with forever. Bill is a big reason I am able to slow down and “smell the roses”. Recently, however, this attitude has led to me to have doubts about his lack of responsibility. My boyfriend is 26 years old, only child, and lives with his mom.

I’ll start with his parents first. His mother is a hard working woman who has risen even through being emotionally abused by Bill’s father. His father would vanish if things didn’t go his way or take money out of the joint account without any regard for bills or basic necessities. He also had a severe alcohol addiction that caused him to lose his job, all of which was blamed on his wife. Bill’s mother finally found the strength to leave while still trying to keep him in the picture for the sake of their son. Bill’s father is in his late 60’s now, unmarried, and a recovering alcoholic with no assets other than an old Porsche in his apartment garage and a massive amount of debt. He is still involved in his son’s life and they both enjoy the same hobby, recreational shooting at a gun range. They both have a dream for him to join the Navy Seals. His father is constantly trying to set up “shooting trips” and meetups with current military personnel. He also pushes him to exercise and even arranging “coaches” to visit him on a whim.

His mother is struggling paying his truck payment, phone bill, car insurance, $700 monthly health insurance payment, and $9,000 credit card bills. Currently he is studying abroad and will be home next month. The program cost 13k and does not count the money he will have spent abroad on other items. What weighs heavy in my mind is the fact that he quit his job, doesn’t have health insurance, has thousands in debt that his mom is paying off, spends excessively, and has no intention of getting anything more than a part-time job OR no job at all when he returns so he can focus on “getting in shape” for the military. His father has enabled him every step of the way and even encouraged some of it. I also believe his mother enables him by paying off his bills.

His “only child” mentality makes it difficult to bring up any concerns I have within our relationship. The backhanded apologies that turn the table onto me are a familiarity I wish I didn’t know. I find myself feeling the same as when I was an abused child, stifled and unimportant. I’m wearing tired of these things and I’m finding myself less attracted to him and more distant. When we have a conversation, even the littlest of things are starting to make me angry and I want nothing more than to be off the phone with him. I’m growing distant in this long distance relationship. Should I talk to him about his lack of responsibility or am I overstepping a boundary that might upset his parents? How do I get him to see the ways of his selfishness? Please help!
-Leave Out the Only Child Mentality

Dear Leave Out the Only Child Mentality,
Bill lives by the seat of his pants including the way that he spends money and the way that he nonchalantly approaches responsibility in his life. Likely because of this, you have found a special bond with Bill. This relationship has allowed you to be more balanced in your life and to slow down to smell the roses. While you love this about him and the effect that this relationship has had on you, his problems are adding up to be too much for you.

The biggest value in your life is independence. You fought to take care of yourself and to do what was necessary to make sure you didn’t have to rely on others. While your drive has pushed you, it sounds like your drive has also had costs for you too. Perhaps you don’t take enough time for yourself or maybe you just have a hard time slowing down, but it’s been difficult to find the balance that you need. Bill has been that for you.    

The choice about this relationship and your future is up to you, but I think you know where this relationship is heading.

-Dr. Ryan

It’s important to know that just because someone has been good for you and has helped you to be a better you, the relationship may not be a forever relationship. We have people that are meant to be in our lives forever and some only for a season. You have learned something valuable from this relationship and will take that with you forever.

The choice about this relationship and your future is up to you, but I think you know where this relationship is heading. You two simply approach your lives differently and while it is possible that he will grow and mature, he is unlikely to do so until he is ready (or his parents push him to do so). That could happen in the next year or it may never happen.

The most concerning issue for me is that he has been unreceptive to your efforts to communicate with him about this. It has left you feeling stuck in the past. I believe that this is a time in your life not to look back, but to look forward to what you want your future to be. Pursue your independence and eventually you will find someone that will not only give you the balance that you need, but will be the partner you need too.
-Dr. Ryan

Dear Leave Out the Only Child Mentality,
Your maturity is admirable. You have established a set of beliefs and values and grown in your independence, despite a victimizing childhood. You have risen above the odds you faced as a child and you should feel proud of the independent woman you have become. I wish that the way you own responsibility for yourself would rub off on your boyfriend.

The intense pressure that your boyfriend’s father is forcing upon his son sounds like he may be trying to live out his own dream of becoming a Navy Seal. If Bill wants to serve and is excited about a future in the military, he should join. However, if he joins only to please his father it is going to be a tough reality that follows.

I would also ask yourself if he can’t support himself, how will he be as a life partner down the road with all things considered?


It does sound like you have doubts about Bill being your forever life partner and the items that you have presented as concerns including holding a steady job and paying bills are reasons to be of concern. If you plan to spend the rest of your life together, responsibility and finances will be a core part of shared living together. If this is the way he has always acted, don’t expect it to change overnight.

This is clearly bothering you, so it’s time to get his attention and address some of these concerns. To begin I would make a list of what you value in a relationship and see where he falls on the list. I would also ask yourself if he can’t support himself, how will he be as a life partner down the road with all things considered?

only child quote