My husband and I went to a fabulous wedding where Joan and Bill got married at a typical chandelier dripping, hotel ballroom. The bride and groom looked so happy. People said wonderful things at the toast, they even gave one of them an autographed bat from a Cubs’ player since the couple loved baseball so much.
Upon returning from the honeymoon, Bill quit his job. Then he dropped out of graduate school and started working out. His tan got deeper, his muscle lines developed. Interestingly, guess who was stuck paying the bills? That’s right. Joan. Joan wasn’t happy with this turn of events and she eventually divorced Boxcar Bill.
The name Boxcar Willie is a historical reference to men who lived in boxcars (the freight cars of trains) during the Great Depression, when times were tough in the United States and unemployment hit an all-time high. Some of the thousands of men who had nowhere to live after they lost their jobs began hopping on boxcars and riding from one town to the next, begging or doing odd jobs for cash.
Today, though, those men who in the past might’ve ridden the rails now just hitch up with successful women who support them financially. It’s a trend I like to call the Boxcar Willie Phenomenon, and it’s more common than you might think, now that so many women out there are making incomes large enough to support themselves and others.
- Does your boyfriend/partner have alligator arms when it is time to pick up the check?
- Is he frequently a “victim” of a “really bad boss” so he is often out of work or laid off?
- Do these temporary non-working times spread out into years?
- Do they somehow find the cash to get what they want (new Iphone) when they really want it? Yet, a lot of the more boring day-to-day expenses fall on you?
You might be hooked up with a Boxcar Willie.
It’s often difficult to spot today’s Willies, however, because they don’t ride around in boxcars anymore; they lease cars on shaky credit (or they figure out a way to get their girlfriends/ wives to pay for them). And instead of dining on baked beans around a campsite, they might even be foodies who frequently “forget” their wallet or plead some other legitimate excuse.
If you are a caring, considerate and loving partner, you might feel stuck in this situation. Check in with your frustration level and your resentment. If it is there, there is probably some legitimacy to it.
These kind of guys (they can of course be women too!) will be really good at convincing you that you are selfish to suspect them of any manipulation. Watch out for these types and check out the 8 Types of Unequal Partnership section in my book about Giveaway Girls.
What’s a Giveaway Girl to do?
- Leave that mother*&&*!
- Just kidding. That is the oldest girlfriend response in the book. Instead of this, I recommend starting to tune in more closely to your feelings. Just take notice at first. No need for a quick decision.
- Get professional support and guidance. A good therapist will not make a decision for you. They will help you to tune into your inner voice and they will help you strengthen your resources.
- Do NOT beat up on yourself for falling into a partnership like this. You can make many healthy shifts in the relationship by calmly and clearly stating your needs and taking better care of yourself.
- It is totally okay to be in a partnership with a wonderful man who may not contribute financially but contributes in other important ways. If you are okay with the arrangement, good for you. If you aren’t, it’s time to listen to those feelings.
Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a counselor and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, a new book about developing healthier relationships with yourself and others. The Stop Giving It Away movement aims to stop the detrimental level of self-sacrifice in which many women live and work. For more insight, get a copy of Stop Giving It Away.