Should You Care About Your Partner's Career Choice?

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boyfriend_messing_up_future_slide_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
My boyfriend and I graduated last year, and I felt lucky that I landed a great job. Meanwhile, my boyfriend told me he got into his top choice for law school. Well, it turns out he was wait-listed — and just found out he didn’t get in. Now, he’s “taking it as a sign” to pursue his dreams of being an actor. Not only am I pissed that he lied to me, but I also can’t deny that I think a little less of him. We’re young, but we had plans, and I feel like that ambitious guy is gone. Is it a deal-breaker if I can’t support his dream?

Bea Arthur, Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Just because he doesn’t want to be an attorney doesn’t mean he’s not ambitious. Maybe Michelle rolled her eyes when Barack first said he wanted to be President, but she supported him for years anyway, and look at how well that paid off! It sounds like you hold yourself and those close to you to a high standard, so while it’s wrong that he lied to you, I can get a sense for why he did. Honesty is the best policy, and trust is a requirement for any relationship. In this case, however, it sounds like his intention wasn't to deceive you, but to please you. He's probably aware of your expectations, and you sound like the kind of girl who knows exactly what she wants — and isn’t afraid to show it. You should never apologize for this, but your boyfriend might have been afraid to show you a part of his personality he knew you’d disapprove of.

It is so, so important to feel safe and validated in a relationship. In fact, one of the main motivations for cheating that people report is feeling "alone" or like they can’t be honest with their partners. So, before we get to the deal-breaker question, I have a few more you should ask yourself: Would you have even been interested in your boyfriend if he told you about wanting to be an actor when you first met? And, if this is truly his dream, how has it never come up before? Maybe he did actually tell you once, and you were so turned off that you blocked it out. Even if the instability and uncertainty of this new path has you worried, I encourage you to base your choice on love, not fear. Everyone deserves to have their dreams taken seriously, even if they don’t sound serious. Who knows? This may not even be a lasting decision. Your boyfriend may be just as disappointed as you are about his law-school rejection; maybe he's searching for a way to feel in control of his destiny. Whatever it is, if you love him, just know he needs support — not judgment.

Finally, you make an excellent point when you say that you’re both young. It would be one thing if you were married and had kids in college when he decided to leave a high-paying job to front a Bruce Springstein tribute band. I actually worked with a couple to whom this happened, and they are still together despite a tough transition — because he is infinitely more happy than he was when he was making money. But, this is your first job out of college, and your own career path could change in many different ways over time. So, why shouldn’t this be a time to take some risks?

Plans change. What if your job doesn't work out, while your boyfriend lands a major commercial? Would you expect him to then think less of you? Relationships can change, too, especially when there’s a lot of pressure placed on them. So, the only thing that’s certain right now is how you two feel about each other. Bottom line: Are you more interested in him as a person, or in how he fits into your future? Answer this question honestly, and you’ll know know what to do. Good luck!

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