Your Partner Should Not Be A Full-Time Job (Probably)

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“Getting a man is simple,” say the advice columnists. “All you have to do is look beautiful, cook well, be a raging demon in the sack, learn the art of Laotian massage, don’t nag him, keep your money issues in line, and – oh yeah – devote your life to pleasing him 24/7. And then you’ll keep your man! Forever!”

That does not sound like a partner.

That sounds like a full-time position that I hope to hell you’re getting health care for.

And yes, in the halcyon days of the 1950s when single women couldn’t get their own credit cards (seriously, they couldn’t, look it up), “caring for your husband like he was your full-time job” was a valid strategy because honestly, other employment options were hard to come by. So you latched onto a decent man (hopefully) and treated him like that job at McDonald’s – smile for the boss, slack off in the corners.

But it’s seventy years later, and your options are now wider! You can probably earn money on your own! In fact, since the Baby Boomers crashed the economy for your sucker millennials, you probably have to earn money on your own, even if you’d rather be a one-income household!

At which point, the question becomes:

Is treating your partner like a full-time job healthy for you?

Which is not, of course, to say that your partner should be an eternally ephemeral vacation. Real relationships take work sometimes – you have to condense slippery thoughts into concrete communication, you have to make compromises and shape expectations, and yes, even argue a bit. Generally, steering two boats in roughly the same direction will take labor.

But there’s a difference between “maintenance work” and “sculpting all your behaviors to please one person.” Sure, you can probably get someone to stick around for a while if you shave off all your rough edges, but that presumes you’ll never have a day when you need to be catered to.

Truth is, eventually you’re gonna have a shitty day when things aren’t going your way and you just can’t forge ahead with the “Please your partner 24/7” plan. And there’s two basic ways your partner can then respond:

  • “Wow, I’m sorry things are going so badly for you, what can I do to help you?”
  • “I’ll excuse this failure on your part for now because of exceptional circumstances, but I’ll have to put a mark on your record.”

Enough black marks, and you get fired. Because you’re not someone who is loved or cherished; you’re someone who is there to do a job.

(There’s an even more subtle trick here, particularly when someone is rich: they’ll often say something like “What can I do to help you?” when what they’re really asking is, “How much money do I have to pay for someone else to fix you?” If they’re shelling out for vacations and psychiatrists and shopping trips and yet aren’t taking a direct hand, that’s usually a sign that their ROI for you is going down.)

Yet my point is that perpetually playing the perfect partner is problematic. You want someone who actively shares interests with you, not someone who’ll magnanimously let you run off in your spare time to have adventures. You want someone who still loves you when your makeup’s off and you’re a little snippy because you’re running late to the DMV. You want someone who values you as a person, not just what you can offer them.

Or maybe not! Because there’s nothing wrong with a negotiated tit-for-tat situation. If you decide, “This person has things I desire, and I will devote my hours to catering to them so they will cater to me,” well, at least you’ve made an active decision. And you don’t expect love out of it, necessarily, just a healthy exchange of goods and services.

But too many people – men and women and genderqueer – unthinkingly buy into this idea of “I must shape myself into a perfect pleaser” and then acquire the sort of person who all too often wants a perfect pleaser – which is to say, someone selfish, shallow, and short-sighted – they wind up astonished when the relationship is as emotionally fulfilling as scrubbing the fryers at McDonald’s. (If, hopefully, a bit more lucrative.)

And that’s not to say that there aren’t times you may choose to make your partner a full-time job. If they become sick and you opt to become their caretaker, that’s something you chose to do out of love and compassion. But the point is: choose it actively. Don’t seek out people who you need to continually pour energy into or else they leave, unless that’s a bargain you have carefully contemplated.

Because what I think what most people want in a partner is someone who reaches back across the aisle – someone who is equally devoted to them in the same way.

And there’s nothing wrong with getting a paycheck. But please don’t put in an employment application and expect to get love in return.


  1. Anonymous Alex
    Jul 15, 2019

    I think if you’re using the term “partner,” it should be a partnership, i.e., the parties are more-or-less equals. If you want to have the kind of relationship you’re describing here, as you say, if you walk into that with eyes open, that’s just fine. But you should use a different word.

    Also, I don’t know why the employer in these relationships feels like they’re getting a good deal. But that’s probably just me being parochial.


    • Yet Another Laura H.
      Jul 28, 2019

      Man, I miss your commentary on LJ, AA.

  2. Yet Another Laura H.
    Jul 28, 2019

    I just want to say that I went to Fet just to read the comments on Mr. S’s posting, and there was, as foretold in prophecy, a man was saying:

    I. This is not a thing because I haven’t experienced it;
    1. Other commenters saying that yes, absolutely a thing they’ve experienced;
    a. OC doubling down;
    II. This is not a thing because you used the term “advice columnist” in a manner different from the one in my head. Therefore, the whole premise is invalid;
    1. Literal link to Dear Abby saying pretty much this exact shit;
    a. OC doubling down;
    III. This is not a thing because I have Strong Females in my family and therefore anything else is bullshit and everyone perceives gender dynamics in the way that I do or is terribly wrong;
    1. Anyone notice a pattern here?
    a. OC doubling down.
    IV. I got bored and did not waste one second more of my precious time seeing if OC saw the point he was making for us (anyone doubt that coddling this man’s entitlement and self-centeredness would make a relationship with him a full-time sick-systems job? “I think I am doing cunnilingus right, so your lived experience of me giving terrible head is wrong.”)

    Sometimes, you can substitute “a block button” for “time” in the “comedy= tragedy+ time” equation, am I right?

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