Tell Me About It: Divergent values over career and money

Question: My boyfriend believes that, when it comes to a career, the most important thing is to do what you are passionate about, and money is incidental. I see a career as a way to pay bills, save for retirement, vacation, and spend time with friends.

I am happy for him that he's doing something he enjoys (writing). But my priority is to provide, so I'm getting my M.B.A. I really respect his values, I'm just starting to get worried that we have such divergent views. How do we figure out if this can work?

Answer: What does he feel is the minimum he needs to contribute - enough to support himself? Children? Or does he believe money is just one of many things a partner can bring to a family (classic example: stay-at-home parenting)? Or is he happy to take whatever you're willing to give?

Also, consider the lifestyle to which you'd like to become accustomed. Let's say his career allows you one beach week per year, by car, in an off-the-beach condo. And let's say your career allows you to fly somewhere twice a year and stay in plush hotels. Will you resent paying for both of you, or will it be your pleasure to provide the upgrade? What if you can only upgrade half the time because of his low earnings - will you curse the condo all week?

This is about whether you trust each other to be fair, to be teammates, to work equally if differently toward a mutual goal.

Figuring that out will take knowledge of yourselves, honesty with each other, and a string of what-if scenarios. Even then, you can't predict what will happen - M.B.A.s get laid off and writers hit jackpots, after all - but at least you'll be able to poke around for predictable sources of resentment.


E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.