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Trials of a Stay-at-Home Boyfriend

I realize now that life with a liberal arts degree is self-inflicted. Every day the gap in my job history expands is another day I struggle to find myself.
 
 
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I am a stay-at-home boyfriend. This lifestyle was dictated by circumstances – not choice – but it’s hard to deny it has benefits. Showers: optional. Getting dressed: optional. Human contact: optional.

Still, I squirm every time my girlfriend, Stephanie, and I go out to dinner and she reaches for the check. Sometimes I snag it from under her lingering fingertips and whip out my Visa – for which she pays the bill — as if that’s somehow less demeaning. Say what you will about modern times and gender roles in the 21stcentury, but there are still certain behaviors associated with manhood. Providing. Protecting. Being a stay-at-home boyfriend may look easy. But let’s say I’ve forsaken a certain amount of pride.

Last August I earned my master’s degree from Northwestern University. I have now been unemployed for six months. I realize now that life with a liberal arts degree is self-inflicted. It turns out that few job descriptions list a base understanding of semiotics or rote memorization of the oeuvre of Alfred Lord Tennyson under necessary Skills/Qualifications.

But give me a  Break, Break, Break.

It seemed like worthwhile knowledge for those of us naive enough to believe English, history and philosophy were rewarding academic pursuits. What else could allow me to play the sophisticate at parties, wearing tweed jackets, or quoting Nietzsche on nihilism when someone asks if I’ve seen last week’s episode of “The Walking Dead.” What I didn’t realize is that first you must earn the money to buy that tweed jacket, which is damn expensive.

Instead I have discovered I am over-qualified, under-qualified, wrongly qualified. At this point I just want a job to resent. Late at night, lying belly-up on the mattress, I long for the discordant beep of a malfunctioning fax machine or a bumbling secretary to diagnose a case of the Mondays.

Day-to-day, the single-most intimidating obstacle I face is not the unemployment rate or another round of hapless job interviews, but attaching an identity to the man I make eye contact with each morning in the vanity mirror. Every tee ball trophy I was given as a child, all those words of blind encouragement in the classroom —  be whatever you want to be — were just another ingredient in a soufflé of grandiose expectations.  And every day the gap in my job history expands is another day I struggle to find myself.

- – - – - -

My girlfriend was more practical than I. She is an engineer, and was offered a job immediately upon graduation. In Cincinnati. So I followed. Every morning she scurries out the door at 7 a.m. to enjoy a concrete career while I watch the “Today” show in my underwear. Stationed in front of my laptop, I refresh my email on 30-second intervals to the soundtrack of Kathie Lee and Hoda sipping syrah and discussing Justin Bieber.

As an unspoken agreement, I keep the dishes washed, the carpets vacuumed, the mantel dusted. Hot meals are attempted on a nightly basis, but my range has yet to exceed pasta and the occasional chicken sandwich. Though not treated as such, I can’t help feeling like the lonely house pet, whimpering at the door when she leaves in the morning and standing sentinel at the window when she returns at night. During the day I fetch staples like bread and milk from Kroger, and at night, if I’m good, she’ll take me out to the all-you-can-eat pizza buffet at the local bowling alley.

The hand that feeds, shelters and clothes me is hers, and for that I’m sincerely grateful. Between rent and food, gas and cable, my financial debt to her will soon match my student loans. Which, for frame of reference, can best be described as a ton. Yet she is supremely sympathetic, never begrudging me a cent.

 
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