The question I’m a 24-year-old guy studying for my masters while working part-time for a management consultancy and I’m also a qualified associate accountant. I recently met a woman on a dating app after being single for a year since the start of the pandemic. She’s a similar age to myself and we’ve been dating for two months. She’s very attractive and nice, and we have a good time together – she can make me laugh.
There is a red flag, though. Although she is in her mid-20s she still lives at home and seems to have no plans or ambitions to move to living independently. Plus, despite having a part-time job, she doesn’t contribute to the household bills. Now I understand that rent is high and people are staying with their parents for longer, but she isn’t even planning on going to college or progressing further in her career. She spends most of her money on going out with friends, holidays and hobbies.
My friends and family say that she’s a waster who will drain me of money if we ever move in together as she has never lived life like an adult, never had to budget or think about bills, and that I should ditch her. I can see their point, but I’m having a great time with her. It is hard to know what I should do. What would you advise?
Philippa’s answer Your friends and family love you and fear for you. You can appreciate them for that, but it doesn’t follow that their advice is what you need.
You personally are doing so much career-planning for the future that I think you can enjoy yourself in the moment with a special friend who has different priorities. You do not know how this will pan out yet. You have time for things to run their course and discover what that course will be.
A person is not their job. You’ve told me all about yours, but that only tells me what importance you put on these things rather than about you. A person is not just their prospects or their appearance. A person is a soul. Find your soul and find hers. It matters not a jot whether you stack shelves at Tesco’s or whether you are both qualified professionals. I think having the capacity to be happy, knowing how to have interests, friends and connecting with them is worth a great many accreditations. She has got a skill, one that maybe your friends and family could learn from: she knows how to enjoy herself. Yes, perhaps she has never budgeted, but that doesn’t mean she’d be incapable of it.
You cannot tell what a person is like just by what your friends and family think she looks like on paper. However, you can tell whether you like someone or not by how you feel when you are with them. It sounds as if you feel great when you are with her. Feel and listen to what is real and working for you in the present, rather than throwing it away for a hypothetical idea of a future.
I’ve said before in this column how society can burden us with a board game of goals and milestones that we are supposed to reach by certain ages. Now this way of life might be the best way of living for a lot of people, and it might be a game you are very invested in playing, but it is not the only valid way to approach existence on this earth. And are you not allowed, at 24, just to enjoy yourself in the present, rather than prophesise about the likelihood of having to support someone tomorrow? She hasn’t asked you to support her. It would be rather unfair to yourself and to her to dump her because of a fantasy your friends have about what she might ask of you in the future. When that time arrives, you might even want to support her, who knows? And, she might not want that.
Sure, it’s good to listen and take it seriously when our friends and family challenge us, but we are – more than our qualifications – what we like doing. If we don’t listen to that and only stick to what we think we ought to be doing, we might be heading for trouble. You sound like a studious person, so I’m going to set you some homework to help you look at, and think about, your investment in doing what looks sensible on paper. I want you to read Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Jane Austen herself had a young man interested in her who was persuaded by his father to choose someone who wasn’t as poor. Maybe that influenced this novel. I don’t know. In it, the heroine, Anne, has been persuaded by the advice of an intelligent, sensible person whom she respected to turn down a young gentleman whose prospects were uncertain, not unlike your young lady. And you will learn by reading this novel what can be the effect of following sensible advice that goes against the heart.
I’d also advise you to take a leaf out of your girlfriend’s book and take up a hobby – read more classical novels. This will help you to gain insight into people and relationships that you might be missing.
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Philippa Perry and Bernardine Evaristo will be live on stage in London at a Guardian Live event on 6 December. Join the conversation in-person or online, book tickets here