I\’m a 25-year-old guy making OK money but going broke thanks to my 21-year-old live-in girlfriend. She\’s chronically unemployed and aspires to be a \”housewife.\” She does stuff like spending her share of our overdue electric bill at the mall. When our power got turned off, she stayed at her grandmother\’s while I was stuck in the summer heat without AC. Last week, I gave her $75 for groceries and she spent it on a laptop I\’ll have to make payments on. When I told her to look for a job, she lied that she was pregnant. She says her actions shouldn\’t bother me if I love her. I do, but less and less every day. Her grandmother might take her in if I make her move out, but we both know she doesn\’t want her around. What should I do? 

— AbuSed

A lot of guys have pet names for their girlfriends — stuff like \”Cupcake,\” \”Pumpkin\” and \”My Kitten.\” What do you call yours, \”Barnacle,\” \”Tapeworm\” or \”My Flesh-Eating Bacteria\”? And what\’s her pet name for you, \”ATM\”?

Now, you aren\’t dumb. If somebody asks you that TV commercial question, \”What\’s in your wallet?\” you know the answer is \”her hand.\” Unfortunately, it seems you\’ve not only bought into that sappyism, \”love is the answer;\” you\’ve taken it a step further to \”love is the excuse.\” That works for your girlfriend. So her idea of housewifery isn\’t dusting, vacuuming and pot-roasting, but painting her toenails 9 to 5 while vacuuming out your bank account. And so her idea of a \”little white lie\” goes a bit beyond the number of guys she\’s been with (the classic answer: \”only you\” — if you don\’t count the high school basketball team, the football team and the guys on student council).

No matter how horribly she treats you, she only has to say the magic words — \”It shouldn\’t bother you if you love me!\” — and you immediately get defensive: \”I do love you!\” You do? Why? Because you think the highest form of expression between people is one bleeding the other dry and leaving him to bake in the heat while she toddles off to climate control in $175 jeans? Love gets way too much credit. Supposedly, if you land it, you\’ll never again have so much as a broken shoelace. \”Wow! No more broken shoelaces?\” you ask yourself. \”Time to jump into a relationship!\” You could do that — or you could buy yourself a pair of loafers and wait to see whether a woman\’s interested in you socially, or as a form of social services.

Love is notoriously hard to define, but sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein boils it down better than most: \”That condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.\” Sound familiar? Not exactly, huh? But it could — once you pack your salary siphon off to Granny\’s. The old lady doesn\’t want her grand-sponge around? Tough tacos. If you want a partner who\’s giving, you\’ll have to get comfortable with being selfish — selfish in a good way. Think of it in airplane terms: Secure your oxygen mask first so you won\’t pass out on your girlfriend\’s new laptop. Next, call the laptop store, tell them you didn\’t sign for the thing and you aren\’t paying for it. Before you get into another relationship, look for clear signs you\’re entering a two-way street — not a one-way alley where you\’ll be beaten up, robbed and left for collection agencies and, even worse, by a woman calling you \”Pooky\” or \”Love Buns\” while doing it.

Legal tender is the night

I\’ve been working a grueling job in Afghanistan — 12-hour days, seven days a week — for a year. My contract\’s almost up, but I haven\’t saved the money I wanted to. My goal was 75K; I\’m at 60K. Before I came, I started seeing a great woman I love dearly, but the distance eventually took its toll and we broke up. She says she\’d like to give us another shot when I\’m home. Should I stay the six weeks it\’ll take to save 15K or pack it up with what I have? 

— Goaltending

Maybe Aunt Fern needs a new liver and you\’re just working until you can make the down payment at Organs \”R\” Us. If so, it\’s a good thing the girl seems willing to wait for you. Then again, she didn\’t mention anything about holding off other guys with the garden hose until you return. Assuming Auntie\’s all livered up at the moment, you might weigh the 15K against the number of \”great\” women you \”love dearly\” that you generally have mobbing you on a given day — or in a given decade. Sure, money talks, but it\’s a remarkably poor listener and unlikely to do more than just lie there in bed looking like Benjamin Franklin.