DEAR CAROLYN: My 26-year-old daughter is generally happy in her two-year relationship, but during the pandemic has become frustrated with her boyfriend's lack of motivation. She is a strong-willed, type A personality. She has a postgraduate degree and a good job, and is easily motivated to make herself and the world a better place. Her boyfriend is less ambitious and suits her personality well. He can calm her down and support her but is not a pushover. He is close to his family and has good values. When they met, he partied a lot and didn't have a full-time job, but has since largely completed his high school courses and works full time at a job he likes. He loves to cook and pampers her with delicious meals. We call him the "daughter whisperer": One time when she was extremely upset, he took a towel out of the dryer and wrapped it around her. It shocked her into a calmer frame of mind. He's really quite brilliant. During COVID, my daughter has been working from home while he has been laid off, with government benefits to cover his half of the expenses. She is frustrated that he doesn't do more with his free time. She would like him to get up early with her, study for a couple of hours, work out, drink less and generally be more productive. I am worried she is asking him to change his character rather than his habits, and that the only way they will be happy is for her to accept him the way he is. She argues that people make compromises in relationships all the time and he should try harder to be more motivated. Is there any hope for them?
WORRIED: That towel story, wow. It's genius in nurturing, which is a kind of intelligence too often devalued, especially in men.
Your daughter herself devalues it. The type-A ranks she apparently respects more, though, would likely be better staffed and more dazzlingly productive if they made more room in their lives and world views for the nurturing types.
So we're of like minds there. You have my full agreement, too, that couples' happiness depends on as-is acceptance.
And I will take a special paragraph to express my advisory dismay at the notion he should "try harder to be more motivated" to please her out of some universal relationship duty. She chooses her actions, he chooses his, period. Then they either choose each other or not. Compromise is useless unless it's freely given and leaves the essential self intact.
If she loves him, and if she loves herself, then she will quit acting as if some other reality is owed to her. That belief — "If you loved me, you'd change" — is the runway to righteous coupled suffering.
There's always a but.
Assuming he's as great as you say — you don't live with him, remember — it still doesn't matter one bit if he isn't what she wants. She can throw away utter perfection in an overt quest for misery. Her prerogative.
And your heartbreak, alas. But the best support comes from people who know their place and know what they don't know. Advise her generally against trying to change people, if she asks, but otherwise zip it and let this play out.