Q: Dear APW,
My husband is the most driven person I know. We met and fell in love in high school and have been together ever since. Through the ten years we’ve grown together, he has been laser-focused on his life goals. He’s known since day one that he wanted to be a VFX artist and work for his dream studio. I still have a copy of his “goals” sheet that he filled out with his high school counselor. One by one, he has been knocking out every goal he wrote down those many years ago. Attend his goal university and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in less than two years? Check. Move out of the USA? Check. Become the youngest & fastest-promoted manager in the history of his company? Check. Work on his favorite movie franchise? Double check. There is only one goal left on that sheet: to become a full-time artist at his dream studio.
Last week, he got the call. There is a position waiting for him if he wants it. It’s across the country, so we would have to move. But he would make his current salary, plus my current salary, PLUS about 15% more on top of that—all on his own. He would get to work on his favorite movies, doing what he loves. It’s been his dream for as long as he can remember. He was so excited about the offer that he called his high school guidance counselor (the one who filled out the sheet with him) with the news. But when he told me, all I could think was, “… what about me?”
My past ten years have not been as successful as his. I’ve grappled with mental illness and a general sense of being direction-less. I spent so many of the early years of our relationship making sacrifices of my own personal growth and development to put his dreams first. I did it because I love him. And honestly, I did it because, at the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of my own life. So how could I put my half-baked ideas before his meticulously planned-out life?
We married and moved to our current country after university, and I tripped and fell into the film industry myself. I now work for a small film studio and spend my days soaking up as much experience and knowledge as I can get my hands on. It was an admittedly rocky start, but two years later, I feel like a valued, important member of my small team. The problem with my job is that, while I enjoy it, I don’t make much. It’s actually about half of what he currently brings home in a year. And there is exactly zero upward growth. All I will ever do or make at this studio is about what I do and make now. Is this job my dream job? No. But it has provided me with the first thing that is “mine” in ten years. It’s given me a purpose. And I’m not sure I’m ready for the uncertainty of a new city and job search.
My husband tells me that if I’m not ready to leave my job and move to a new city to start over, he will pass on the position. As he says, maybe the chance will come up again (but maybe it won’t). I’m so afraid of giving up my first real sense of adulthood and success. But on the other hand, I’m not sure I can live with myself if I ask him to pass up his lifelong dream so that I can stay comfortable at a job that is not my future.
He’s put the decision in my lap and says he’ll be okay with whatever I choose. I’m so torn. How do I balance his dream with my newfound stability? Am I horrible for being more concerned about my personal growth? Do I ask him to pass up such a huge leap in his career, one that is normally reserved for the veterans of the industry, so that I can continue to work at what is essentially an entry-level job with no upward growth? I’m so incredibly proud of him, but I’m not sure I’m ready to start over…
I know it’s tough, but the only way you can make this decision fairly is if you stop weighting your needs the way you are. Both of you have equally valid needs. His may be better articulated, or more specific, or higher paying, or more outwardly impressive. But they’re not more important.
With that said… I think maybe you should go? I know, I’m surprised at myself, too! I stand by the above: the factors of the money, his dream checklist, and everything else do not make it important for you to sacrifice what you want for what he does. Instead, what I’m saying is: I wonder if this might be good for you.
It sounds like this next step is the culmination of all of these years of setting yourself aside. You definitely, for sure, need to get a turn. It almost feels as though not making this final move would be a disservice to all the work you’ve put into this.
Also, I mean, whew payday! That money doesn’t matter when weighing whose needs are important, but it is money that can foot the bill of whatever your next step is. Like I said above, you’ve been setting your dreams aside (though they’ve maybe been foggy), and it’s about time you get a turn, too! You haven’t been able to articulate it up until this point, but maybe some wiggle room and some cash can help you figure it out. You’re not motivated by productivity or a paycheck, so it’s pretty frigging lucky that your turn doesn’t have to be motivated by those, either. What do you wanna do, girl? Take a class? Start a hobby? Take a really comfortable low-paying job in a field you’re passionate about?
But. Balance that with the knowledge that both change and aimlessness can trigger depression and anxiety. So you’ll want to be really, really introspective and establish a plan first—not just hop on over to the other side of the country and see what happens.
It’s been a long road of both ignoring your needs and not being quite able to figure them out. And even this current job, that sort of seems to fit comfortably, might not actually be it, at all. So, sit and assess. Look at what it is about this current spot that’s working for you, and try to articulate what that means you want moving forward (whether here or elsewhere). Then, express those things to your partner in a measurable and specific way. If it seems these are needs you can meet in another place, set an amount of time for how long you’ll wait to see if this move is working. And then establish a plan for if it doesn’t work—maybe he actually hates the job, maybe it’s demanding and he ends up centering himself (again!), or maybe you find that you really just cannot find your footing at a new place. Lay all of this out with him, because you need to decide together. It really cannot be up to just little old you.
Right now, he’s nice-guy forcing you to be the decider, which SEEMS conscientious, but ends up being pretty unfair in practice. It sounds really very nice to be like, “Whatever you say, babe!” but that puts the onus on you to, by default, make the whole decision—to either “let” him go take this job, or to be the bad guy and say that he can’t. When the conversation is positioned this way, it’s a given that he wants to go and would, if it weren’t for you. Which isn’t fair! It really should be a decision for both of you, with your individual needs weighed equally important as a team, rather than two sides pitted against each other. He will always, always have a new dream to pursue. That’s how he’s built. Yep, he’s checked all of the boxes on his list of goals. But that just means it’ll be supplanted by a new list. Embrace the idea that your needs are important too, even if they’re not flashy. Get comfortable telling him what they are and setting boundaries around ensuring that they’re met. Insist on taking your turn!
Maybe you read all this and think, nope, nope, wrong, I cannot go. It is completely fair to tell him, “I can’t survive a move. I need to cling to the stability I’ve created for myself.” Valid. (Just as valid as his desire to move, remember.) But when you do that, be prepared to take it to therapy. Because this decision, in either direction—whether you do his thing or stay here and do yours—is rife with the possibility of resentment.
Listen, I will be the very, very first to tell a woman not to set her modest needs aside for the grand dreams of a man. But in this specific, particular instance it sounds a lot like this could add up for both of you, if you tread thoughtfully and introspectively and communicatively. You’ve just got to make sure that your needs are considered equal first.
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