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Is he a real man or a game boy?

12 Jackson

Dear Jackson,

I am a 21-year-old Aussie girl in a committed relationship with a 20-year-old Khmer boy. I love him to death, but he doesn’t work and just sits around playing video games all day. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to hold a job or attend classes for more than a week at a time. My Khmer girlfriends have implied that it is a cultural thing, that it takes a long time here for boys to become independent adults. How do I get my lazy boyfriend to become a man?

Aussie girl, your question gives me questions of my own. First of all, who’s supporting this deadbeat boyfriend of yours? Are you? Are his parents? And why? My first inclination is to say cut the lifeline – make going to school or getting a job a necessity. So long as he has the means to sit around all day, he will. Pull the rug from under his feet and you’ve unplugged his Nintendo. Another question: what do you really see in this guy? For me, real love needs to satisfy certain criteria. First of all, there’s a spiritual connection – that consuming fire, two souls together, all that stuff. You’ll know if you have it. Second: physical chemistry – that is, great sex. Third of all – and I don’t see this here – you need to be proud of your partner; they need to be wholeheartedly engaged in some sort of pursuit outside of the relationship that they take pride in, something that causes you in turn to feel admiration. Now, this can be anything: work, art, being able to bake the best apple crumble in Indochina. Whatever. But what about your couch potato? Are you proud of his new high score in Angry Birds?

I don’t buy the “it’s a cultural thing” excuse. For a while, I taught at a university in Phnom Penh. While some of my students were idle, Wikipedia-copying – like many in the West – there were numerous young men and women in my classes who were bright, motivated, and ambitious. Being a slacker is definitely not a cultural thing – the problem here, I think, is your boy’s personality.   

That being said, he is only 20. At 20, I was living in a sit-around, rock ‘n’ roll-listening undergraduate marijuana haze. I pulled out of it. Most men do. Think of your 20-year-old male friends back home. Really, how many of them have interesting careers? How many of them are productive and engaged? It wasn’t until they were in their mid-twenties that most of my male friends began to kick themselves into gear. Your lazy boyfriend might just need some gentle encouragement. And time.

But if you still want to work on him fast and hard, all’s not lost. While I rarely recommend game-playing, in this case, it could work. You could easily tell your boyfriend about a handsome young man who approached you at lunch. A well-dressed Khmer guy who’s running a successful business on his own. “He’s from the same area as you,” you say. “Do you know him?” Could this motivate your man? If not for himself, then perhaps to impress you?

Or, failing that, you can try giving him a strict ultimatum. That is, something like, “Get off of your ass, get a job, or it’s over.” If such a last resort ultimatum doesn’t encourage him, that will call into question whether your boyfriend “loves you to death” too – he could be just enjoying the ride.

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