Ian Thompson and Andrea Singleton* are a young couple with big dreams of success. But they've run into obstacles trying to stay together as they pursue their separate goals. Ian, 24, an aspiring singer, worked full-time as a graphic artist-a gig that paid his share of the bills for the apartment he and Andrea shared. When he was unexpectedly laid off, he saw it as an opportunity to devote himself fully to breaking into the music industry. However, Andrea, 24, viewed his decision as an excuse to evade his responsibilities. Since he lost his job, Ian hasn't been able to find steady work that allows him the time to follow his aspirations and pay the rent.
Hurt by what he sees as Andrea's unsupportive attitude, Ian is resistant to her need to be in control. Andrea, who works as a security guard and wants to own a tailoring business, is fed up with Ian's lack of financial contribution and irresponsible spending habits. Both are ready for change, but can they face the music together?
*Names and identifying details have been changed.
"When we first moved in together, Ian was making good money as a designer and took responsibility for all the household bills. When he got laid off, I felt good about taking charge. I thought it would be a temporary arrangement. But at this point, it's taking a toll on me. I had to pick up a second job as a cashier at a local car dealership to cover the rent and both of our needs. I am only getting two to three hours of sleep every night. I was trying to open up my own tailor shop, but I've had to put that on hold for now.
"Ian and I have been on and off since he decided to fully focus on his music. He is a talented singer, but it doesn't seem like he's getting where he needs to be. Ian's career choice has never bothered me. I've been behind him all the way. But I don't think he is being fair or responsible.
"From time to time, he gives me a check from a part-time job, but that is never consistent. It frustrates me how he always finds money for things that are in line with his image as an artist. For instance, when we last broke up, he went out and bought a car. He owes me three months' rent, and now all his money is going into his new car. It makes me furious."
"I will be the first to admit it: My financial status sucks! But that's exactly why I keep pursuing my singing career. If I make it, then I will be able to take care of us both. I realize that there are no guarantees in the music industry, but I am confident about my talent. I'm just waiting for the right doors to open. I wish that Andrea were more supportive of me in the meantime.
"I adore Andrea, but she tends to be too controlling-I feel as if she's always trying to exert her authority over me. I am my own man, and I like to do things my way. This is where our conflicts start. The decisions I make about my money don't have to make sense to anybody else, and I don't want to have to justify them.
"It's not my intention to be a financial burden. That's why I moved out for three months when I lost my job. I felt really guilty making the bills higher when Andrea would have to pay for them. Maybe when I bought the car it might have seemed like an impulsive purchase, but I needed a way to get around to look for a job and to get to the studio.
"I recently started working for a newspaper as a graphic designer. I can share the financial responsibility now. But for us to work together, we will have to change aspects of our personalities-and I am willing to do that. But I don't want to have to sacrifice my dreams. I love Andrea and definitely see my future with her, but I need to know that she will stand by me while I pursue my music."
AN EXPERT'S OPINION by Iyanla Vanzant
Ian and Andrea are locked in a power struggle, and limited funds don't make things any easier. If they want to stay together, they must decide what vision of the future they're going to pursue. It shouldn't be his or hers, but one vision they create together with the relationship as top priority. These tips will bring them closer to their dreams and each other:
- Create a plan. There are spouses who support their partners' dreams even if it means putting theirs on hold temporarily. And there are countless couples who must divide responsibilities to be efficient as a unit. Ian and Andrea will have to find a balance that will work for them. If they continue to follow separate paths without mutual encouragement, they will inevitably grow apart.
- Offer life support. If Andrea is willing to stand behind Ian, the terms should be very clear: They need to set up a timeline and discuss other ways he can support her, even if not financially. If he works part-time but manages their home, she might feel more comfortable meeting him the rest of the way.
- Make a declaration. Ian and Andrea need to state why they're in this relationship. Andrea must be clear about what she wants from Ian. Along the same lines, Ian needs to be straightforward about what he's willing to offer Andrea. This statement will either reinforce their commitment to each other or force them to decide if it's over.
- Nurture the relationship. The two need to make time for each other. Perhaps Ian could invite her to the studio for an exclusive concert on a date night. Or she could share her business ideas with him. The bottom line is that they must find innovative ways to stay connected and support each other's interests.
Iyanla Vanzant is a best-selling author and inspirational speaker. She is a frequent ESSENCE contributor.