Prudie on Having a Starving Artist for a Partner: DTMFA

blue valentine relationship, exhibit aA long-suffering wife wrote to Dear Prudence about her husband, who quit a lucrative job six years before to try to write a screenplay and had accomplished nothing since. Should she leave him? She was conflicted; Prudie was not.

I love my husband, he understands me and encourages me to be creative, fun, inspired, and authentic. I married him because he is fearless in his artistry and living with him makes me feel as if everything is ahead of us. However, I have considered leaving him for all the obvious reasons: his having no real work ethic and my feeling used. 

“Hopeless leech,” Prudie responded, meaning the husband. “I see him as a pair of cement shoes, and if you stay with him, you will eventually drown in your tears.” !! And she’s not done.

If your husband had a story in him, he would have gotten up early, stayed up late, and spent weekends writing it, while still employed. A goal of five pages a week would have produced a script in less than a year. It’s notable that upon marrying you, and locking in your income, he took to the couch with the remote and hasn’t been motivated since. You say he’s a fearless artist; I say he’s made an art of being a bum.

Um! So, it can definitely be tricky to live with, love, respect, and support a creative person with little work ethic who is not producing any income, at least over the long term. But, like, maybe talk to him before moving straight to divorce?

The LW never says that she confessed any of her dark, confusing, and increasingly resentful feelings to her freeloading husband. Possibly she was preoccupied by the stress of trying to be the Cool Girl + the Breadwinner. Possibly she’s not good at articulating her needs, except to an advice columnist after six years have passed. Regardless, Talking to the Person is almost always better than Talking about the Person, especially when the Person’s behavior is the problem. That’s made very clear in the advice columnist handbook. Of course, Prudie’s been doing this for a long time, and her handbook is probably under a cold mug of coffee somewhere.

Part of me is sympathetic to the deadbeat dude who’s been screenplaying without success for so long. It’s like my friend who was stuck at a subway station for 45 minutes at 3:00 AM waiting for a Q train that wouldn’t come. After a while, why not maybe try a different train? I asked. Because, he said, you’ve invested all this time and energy waiting for this train.

Adversity can make a person stubborn. So can #SunkCost. That’s why it’s often nice to have a life partner, someone who can gently (or, whatever, not so gently is ok too) suggest that maybe the Q is broken and let’s try the 2,3, and as long as we’re on the subject maybe screenwriting is not cooperating right now, maybe you could try a different format or a different project, and maybe a PT job would help jolt you out of your rut. At the very least, it would help us afford Health Insurance. Fact: art is fun, but once you’ve been a grown up for a while and you’re still barely getting by to the degree that you can’t afford routine coverage, something needs to change.

At least give the struggling artist an opportunity to be that change, though, before you write him off as a pair of cement shoes. If he really can’t or won’t respond to your concerns, then sure, DTMFA. But not everyone is able to get up at 5:00 AM and write five pages and work eight hours at Office Depot and come home and kiss his wife and go to sleep and wake up at 5:00 AM and do it all again. Maybe Mike Dang could, maybe Nicole. Not most people. Or hey maybe we’re all bums. Bums unite!

Sidenote: I really enjoyed that Gawker rant about the opacity of health insurance prices and think you might too.

I am not recommending that anyone opt out of necessary medical procedures because of a lack of price transparency. I am simply asking: Why is there such a lack of price transparency in health care? Where are the prices? Look up a doctor online. Do you see a price list? No, you do not. Can you comparison shop for non-emergency medical procedures quickly and easily? No, you cannot. Are you, the consumer, in any way empowered to make an intelligent purchasing decision by the amount of knowledge that you are given by the medical establishment? No, you are not. Why not? (“Because of the Byzantine, illogical, and consumer-unfriendly nature of the private health insurance industry” is not an answer to this question. It is a description of part of the problem.) …

I propose that you should be able to know how much shit costs before you buy it. I propose that doctors post price lists for common ailments and procedures on their websites. I propose that doctors and hospitals tell you how much a surgery might cost you before you get the surgery. I propose that if we can’t fix our fucking outrageously expensive and inefficient health care system itself, we at least make it transparent enough that people do not tremble in fear and ignorance when opening doctor’s bills.

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