Help! My Husband Retired Young and Does Nothing but Goof Off All Day.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 14 2013 6:00 AM

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

My husband is young, rich, and retired—and it’s driving me nuts.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband achieved professional success and wealth early in life. His work involved long hours and lots of stress, and by his 30s he decided that he wanted out. His accumulated wealth could easily support our lifestyle indefinitely, so he retired about 18 months ago, shortly after the birth of our first child. He has not found anything to do in that time! We have an excellent nanny 40 hours a week, and outside those hours my husband is an extremely involved father. We split the domestic duties roughly 50–50, as before, but now I am the only one working and he says he shouldn’t be "penalized" by having extra domestic responsibilities. So he spends the week dicking around (gym, squash, books, movies, etc.). It's making me crazy with resentment, especially when I come home from a hard day at work. He tells me I should just quit if I don’t like it, and that I shouldn’t worry about being dependent because he’s set up a trust fund for me and our son. But I also think it sets a bad example for our son to see a father who doesn't have some productive purpose in life. My husband disagrees and says he will be "an excellent corrective to the productionist propaganda schools inflict on kids to make them the unquestioning worker bees the economy demands." He says he doesn't care if our son grows up to work hard and that work is a lamentable necessity and it is only “false consciousness” to think otherwise. I'm tired of this devolving into a sociological debate! How can we resolve this?

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—Do Something

Dear Do,
Since I’ve grappled with such wrenching issues as where the dog sleeps and how big toddler birthday parties should be, I’m willing to take on the agony of having a young, rich husband who’s thrilled to be doing not much of anything. First of all, whatever your husband did for a living, he must have been pretty good at it if he can finance the next 50 years of high-end hanging out without ever having to earn another cent. Having worked like a demon to accumulate this pile, your husband is entitled to feel he deserves a sabbatical. But while many self-made people do indulge in the luxuries great wealth brings, often they continue to be driven to make a mark. Thus, Michael Bloomberg becomes mayor of New York and Bill Gates becomes a mega philanthropist. I can understand that it would be irritating to have a life partner who while still in his 30s contemplates the rest of life as one long Margaritaville. More irritating would be marrying the consummate capitalist who now spouts Marxist prattle.

The other problem is your resentment of the fact that you’re still out grinding away while he’s perfecting his squash game. But that’s on you. Stop making your husband’s yammering about the oppression of having a job sound correct. If you enjoy your career and want to go at it full bore, then do so. He may not acknowledge the irony that in order for him to pursue his freedom from work, he needs to employ someone to change his son’s diapers. But since you do pay someone to do this, stop insisting your husband take on these duties during the nanny’s work week. And as your son is not yet toilet trained, don’t spend too much time worrying about where your son will align himself in the class struggle. You are having a difficult time accepting that the hard-working man you married has been newly minted as a man of leisure. But instead of carping at him, start having some gentle and genuine talks about what you both want out of life. Tell him you think of him as so accomplished and productive that when he’s done unwinding, you hope a cause of some kind engages his attention. Given your family’s resources and smarts, surely there’s something the two of you could work on together to make your community, even the world, a better place.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Kinky Mom

Dear Prudence,
About a year ago, my mother temporarily transferred a financial asset of hers into my bank account in order to escape a tax issue. Now she's asking me transfer the asset back to her. This is impossible seeing as how I've spent it. It will take a few years to pay her back. We have only recently established a good relationship. Mom was largely absent during my childhood and I carried a lot of anger; she is a self-described difficult and "hard" person. A few years ago I made a conscious effort to start fresh with her. I reached out and we keep up by phone but we haven't seen each other in a few years. We’re getting together for Thanksgiving where she'll meet my child, her only grandchild, for the first time. She said she wants to do the asset transfer then. I'm terrified at the thought of confessing this huge betrayal and jeopardizing our newly established relationship. Should I wait to tell until after she's at least met my child? I doubt we'll go from the airport straight to the bank, so I'd probably have at least a day or two before having to drop the bomb. Or do I come clean before the visit? I think she would cancel and probably would not speak to me for quite some time. 

—Don’t Want to Talk Turkey

Dear Don’t,
Since Thanksgiving is a holiday at which sharp knives are used, I urge you to tell your mother before she gets on the plane. Alternately, if she arrives without your having told her, the first thing to do is sit her down and have a family viewing of The Grifters. There’s some kind of karmic justice in a long-neglected daughter making her own use of the fraudulently deposited funds of a tax-evading mother. But since your mother is a self-described “hard” person, let’s assume she won’t see this through a Buddhist lens. Upon establishing a tentative détente with you, your mother thought it was a good idea to use you as the bag woman in her plan to defraud the government. So I don’t have much hope for the long-term quality of your relationship or her devotion as a grandmother. Tell your mother now, assume the festivities are off, and find someone else to share the bounty of the season with.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I'm in a happy, loving, stable, and trusting relationship with the woman of my dreams. We are engaged to be married and share a home together. I have only one issue with our relationship, and frankly I know it will make me sound weird and overly sensitive. It’s the evil photograph. There’s a photograph of her dressed up, looking dazzling, in a red dress. In its original state, which I saw once on social media, she’s with her former boyfriend. Recently I joined Twitter, and when I followed my fiancée I saw that this photo, with the ex cropped out, was her profile picture. It made me really mad because I knew the original was associated with him. Needless to say, that ended my tweeting. I tried to block the photo out of my mind, some time passed, and then I got a request to connect with her on LinkedIn. There’s the photo again! Suppress, suppress, suppress. A month later we’re ready to watch one of our favorite television shows and she's messing with some social site and again, there’s that damn picture. My mood immediately went from excited and happy to cold and withdrawn and she definitely noticed because she asked if I was OK. (I said I was fine.) I know she looks beautiful in the photo, but I hate it. Is this worth mentioning to her or should I just put my big boy pants on and continue to suppress the image and feelings that are pretty likely to surface again?

—Out of Focus

Dear Focus,
Please tell me you’re not one of those guys who demands that because your fiancée once went to Italy with her ex-boyfriend she can never eat spaghetti in front of you. If you are that guy, get out of her life and get some help. But I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that this photograph is a singular point of irrationality. Given that this picture has meant the loss to the world of your thoughts in 140-character bits, something must be done. First, please read your own letter pretending it’s not from you. I’m pretty sure you’d conclude the letter writer has gone a little off his nut. Your girlfriend uses this photo not to remember the guy she’s Photoshopped out of her life, but because she looks gorgeous in it. People tend to really like flattering photographs of themselves. But if trying to see this objectively doesn’t help, then you have to speak up. Explain to your fiancée that this photo is eating away at you and acknowledge that your reaction is irrational, embarrassing, and silly. (Please don’t characterize the picture as “evil.”) Say you agree it’s a wonderful picture of her, but you’re asking that she not make it her public face. Say since she’s so beautiful, you’d like to make a gift of a session with a professional photographer. This will result in a bunch of gorgeous headshots she can use for professional and social media purposes, ones that will make both of you happy.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My mother-in-law refuses to schedule her holiday meals for any time other than right in the middle of the day. My husband's two younger siblings still live with her, so it’s fine for them. I, however, also want to be able to see my family the same day, and they live two hours away. My mother-in-law also doesn’t want her children to go to their dad's holiday meals and when they do, even after they've been to hers, she gets upset and tries to make everyone feel guilty. I've asked my husband to ask her to have her meal either earlier or later to no avail. Last year we were only 20 minutes late when we got to her house and everyone had already left. I feel it's unfair to have to have Thanksgiving breakfast every year with my family just because she is not flexible. 

Thanksgiving Scheduling Problems

Dear Scheduling,

Your mother-in-law is going to continue to have Thanksgiving dinner at 3:00 p.m., so the rest of you must decide what you want to do given that unnegotiable fact. Many people alternate holidays or years. That is, if you spend Thanksgiving with one family, you spend Christmas with the other. Or you go to one side of the family’s Thanksgiving on even-numbered years only. Some people have the main meal one place and drop by for dessert at another, as your husband and his siblings seem to do. Your mother-in-law has a fixed menu at a fixed time, so you just need to work around it. Make a decision with your husband that suits you and tell her what your plan is, not what her plan should be. Then stick to your schedule and ignore her pouting. I’ll note it is odd that you say you arrived 20 minutes after the announced start of her meal to find everyone gone. I’m assuming you’re exaggerating, or else her tradition is that everyone eats a Lean Cuisine turkey dinner while standing by the sink.

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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