Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: I need to break up with my boyfriend, but he's in a bad place

On this week’s podcast, Viv discusses the trouble with working in a family business, feeling like you’ve missed your chance in life, the boyfriend who won’t let you dump him, and what to do when your workmates literally make you sick

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv,

I work for my fiancé and his brother. They own a now successful family business. Working for them, I don't earn the money I imagined I would at this age (I’m 30), currently I earn £300/ week for A LOT of responsibility. I am working in an industry that does not come naturally to me, it can be boring, I find it unfulfilling but I am still good at my job.

I am pregnant and will soon be off on maternity leave, I saw this as an opportunity to cut the tie and when eventually I would return to work, it wouldn't be the family business. The problem is, now my fiancé and his brother want to start a separate business and make me the director. Which means I would have to return to the family business in some way. I feel like my wings are going to be clipped again, I don't know exactly how much I would actually earn and it would just be the 3 of us again in a office.

I run the risk of letting everyone down by turning it down and after my maternity leave I'm worried if I can't find a job somewhere else. If I stay I'm stuck in a position where I am not pursuing my own career choices but I would be able to keep my young family secure and his family happy. My home life is wonderful but my work life is a major disappointment and regret to me.

I would really love my fiancé to give me the unconditional approval to leave and pursue my own career/ job opportunities but alas this has not been the case to date. What should I do?

Oh lovely pregnant correspondent, thanks for writing in. This sure is a tricky one. The main problem has nothing to do with your pregnancy and the new company they want to set up, it’s about the fact that your voice is not being heard in this environment at all. It doesn’t sound as if you have spoken up before. I think now is going to have to be the time. There’s no way you can consider being the director of a company if you’re not really interested in the work. I think it might be time to hold a company board meeting and put your cards on the table.

Certainly you can cushion the blow for your fiance and his family by telling them that the pregnancy has made you re-evaluate. But I would prepare for them to be very shocked. They will probably be so shocked that they will refuse to accept what you’re saying and try to push you into accepting the situation they’ve already set up. The key is, I think, to give them a one week coolling off period. Just say, “I’m just letting you know that I’m not certain how I want to proceed. We all need to come up with some new options. Let’s think about it for a week.” And then refuse to discuss it. Let people go away and accept your new attitude for a start. It is going to take a while to sink in.

You use strong words: “my work life is a big disappointment and regret to me.” I think you know in your own mind that you need a change and you need to do something from your own initiative and not connected to this family business. The pregnancy is a good chance for a new start. Just be prepared to be positive with your fiance’s family. They are going to be anxious and potentially angry. That’s their right. But it doesn’t mean you have to give in to what they want. Given the right time and space, I’m sure you can all figure out a solution that works. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight. Meanwhile, a talk with your fiance might help too: you will now have your own family unit just the three of you, separate to his family business. How do you want to run that unit and what ambitions do you have for it? This is a good time to talk about that too. Maybe just don’t drop the two bombshells on him at once. Good luck and keep believing in yourself and trusting yourself to know what you want.

Dear Viv,

I’ve been out of university for nearly 3 years and I recently hit a bit of a slump and felt like I hadn’t achieved anything in that time. I stayed in the same city as I went to university and that somehow feels like I haven’t progressed. Many of the friends I have made here all stayed after finishing university but there is still this air that you have failed in someway if you haven’t moved on.
I recently was given two different work options, a job in London on basic living wage or a temporary promotion at work via maternity leave. I felt like everyone had an opinion and that I would be disappointing people if I didn’t choose to leave, like I didn’t try or had somehow failed.

I chose the temporary promotion at work as I felt it would be a good boost to move up a position even if temporarily and to try and build on it afterwards. Perhaps consider moving again after the maternity cover is over. But I feel like people now think I have made my final decision and will never leave, like I’ve missed my chance.

I do value all my friends and families opinions. But I’m starting to wish I hadn’t discussed it. I feel like I haven’t been a strong enough independent person by choosing to stay, like I’ve settled.

Dear Not-Sure-About-Settling, I’m so sorry to read how sad you sound in this letter. When in my view you’ve actually made a pretty good fist of things, my friend. There’s no rule written anywhere that you have to leave the place where you went to university in order to make it in life. As you say, many of your friends stayed on too. Maybe it’s just a very nice place that people find hard to leave.

What matters is not some random symbolic gesture of moving somewhere just for the sake of moving. What matters is how you feel and how happy you are. And I can’t get any sense of whether you are happy or not. I think you might actually secretly be very happy. But you’re not allowing yourself to feel that way -- or giving yourself any credits for any of your achievements -- just because of some strange arbitrary idea that you’ve got into your head.

I think you did the right thing to accept the promotion at work instead of taking the low-pay job in London just for the sake of it. Use this opportunity to buy yourself some time to think about you and what you want. Stop thinking about what other people think and what might disappoint them and start thinking about what you want and what would make you feel excited. The opinion of your friends and family is one thing. But they cannot live your life. Make a list of all the things you love about your life and all the things you’re proud of. Don’t stop until you’ve got to a hundred things, I don’t care how small the achievements are, force yourself to list them. Big yourself up a bit more. Celebrate your promotion, you deserved it. Then have a think about what you want and where you want to be. You might just be surprised by the answer. 

You can hear the answers to these and the following questions on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above

Dear Viv,

After a long period of denial and a lot of soul-searching, I have decided to end my relationship with my lovely boyfriend of five and a half years. I have realised and come to terms with the fact that I am not in love with him any more and don't want a sexual relationship with him. We'd been living together since we got together but have been living separately at our respective parents' houses since November, having gotten back from a year-long trip to South America that left us both jobless and utterly, completely skint. I'm feeling increasingly guilty, as my boyfriend rings me up all the time and tells me how much he loves and misses me, and that he is in a bad head-space as he can't find work and feels isolated at his parents' home. In contrast, I've been able to move out as I've found a new job in London. I have no idea how to tell him that I want to end the relationship as it will be a complete shock to him. I also don't know whether to bring it up over the phone, on Facebook, or Skype, or whether to arrange a face to face meeting somehow.

Do I end this relationship now, which I know will plunge him into an even worse place than he is in already, or should I wait it out until he has found a job, is able to move back away from home (when he will expect to move in with me again), and has more of a support network around him? Am I trying to save his feelings (which I know is kind of impossible) or am I just trying to alleviate my own guilt? I'm tired of feeling like a fraud whenever I speak to him, and he has recently said that I sound sad on the phone.

Please help,
Guilt-Ridden GF.

Dear Viv,

My workmates keep infecting me because they won't stay home when they're sick. I'm just as bad. We work at a fast-paced, small company and there are only about 20 of us in total, so we try to avoid being off because it will only cause a huge backlog of work. What can we do?!

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

You can subscribe to The Pool's podcasts on iTunes

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