Please Advise: My husband's getting too old for his rock 'n roll fantasy.

Nerve readers hold forth on whether to crush your partner's dreams of stardom.

by Nerve Readers

Each week, the inbox of our venerable advice columnist, Miss Information, is flooded with queries. And although she makes a valiant effort, she cannot answer them all. To deal with the surplus, we've decided to turn to you. So, don your spectacles and help this woman out. You can give her advice in the comments below, or, if you'd like to share what you wrote with your friends, on our Facebook page.


Dear Nerve,

My husband of five years is a wonderful, sweet, caring man. He’s thirty-eight and I’m thirty-six. When we met, he was a slightly older-than-average guitarist in a band, and I was a rising star at a PR firm who loved his band and thought he was sexy. Three bands later, he’s now a way-older-than-average guitarist in a band, I’m making three times at my firm what he makes at Guitar Center, and it’s starting to strain our relationship.

I love him deeply, and want him to be happy, but realistically, his chance at “stardom” is fading — he’s had several bands “nearly make it” but fall apart for the same classic reasons. I would never ask him to stop playing music: his passion and talent are still sexy after all these years. But I need him to try and find something that’s going to be a little more stable and a little more... well, “normal,” especially since we’re both getting away from ideal children-having age. (We both want to be parents). How can I broach this topic without being the shrill, demanding wife?

— I’m With the Band

Tags Monogamy

Commentarium (54 Comments)

Nov 11 11 - 1:10am

You met him when he was like this. Now you want him to change. Did he work at Guitar Center when you met? Cause if you did, then you knew what to expect. I have dated music people. Music was there before you and will be after you.
What bugs me most is that you have a problem with making 3 times more than him. If you making 3 times more money than him is straining your relationship its your fault. I bet good money that you could probably live off just yours. Or if you lived a bit lower in quality off of his.
I figure it like this. You are the bread winner. He is the housewife. If you can't maintain your feminine/masculine polarities because of that then that's both of your faults. But mainly his.
You can love him all you want but you really want him to change. And you suck for that. I mean really. Your doing the whole thing that everyone in America does. Get married and throw down expectations you never had before you got married. Then you get divorced. He's still gonna play music after your gone.
On a positive note, you can explain to him that him trying to be in a rock band might not work out if you want to have kids. Tours are a busy lifestyle. He can't have both. You can offer him the kids as an incentive to teach someone to play. Maybe you can have your own family rock band one day.
But really, you should get over making more money than him. He works at a place where he gets to do what he loves all day. If it bothers you that much, you never shoulda got married

Nov 13 11 - 1:52am

Exactly. Plus, she should never have children. She'll only crush their dreams with her selfish, materialistic ambitions for them. Her husband should dump her.

Dec 05 11 - 10:38pm

Bob's mostly right. The truth hurts, and I say this as a woman generally sympathetic to your plight. You knew who he was b4 you got married.

Dec 29 11 - 6:12am

you should take up a selfish hobby. like crack. pawn his shit and fuck some homeboys and when he whines tell him your "pursuing your dream". then kill him and your neighbor.

Nov 11 11 - 1:59am

If he's not normal after 38 years, he's never going to be. That being said, hopefully he is a man of reason and if you broach the subject in a positive way, he may be more receptive. Instead of telling him to give up and get a normal job, ask him what his long term goals are in the future. Goad him to think of a back-up plan and then be supportive in whatever he wishes to do. Does he have any degrees, hobbies or skills? Try to push him to rediscover other passions. If the only thing he cares about is music, perhaps he should become a producer, song writer or sound technician. That way he will still be able to live vicariously through the young whippersnappers who get their big breaks.

Nov 11 11 - 2:21am


Nov 11 11 - 12:07pm

Seconded. Good advice, Squirrell.

Nov 12 11 - 7:34pm

Yup. It's all down to him. Assuming you're sensible and empathic there's not really a wrong way for you to bring it up. Only he can decide how he'll react

Nov 11 11 - 2:19am

Why is his being in a band preventing you from having kids or an otherwise normal life? Is it an issue of touring? It doesn't sound like you're struggling for money. I'm not sure why breaking him of his band habit is a necessary step before getting started on your family.

Nov 11 11 - 11:16am

I think they probably are struggling financially, at least enough that they think they wouldn't be able to add a child on their current incomes. Think about it if she makes 3 times what he does at Guitar Center (which can't be more than like $30k max and that's pushing it) then they leaves them in the low six figure range. Certainly not starvation wages, but if they want to maintain their current lifestyle and have kids (and probably move to the suburbs and eventually send that kid to college) then they might want a better cushion. Plus, retail stores are constantly going out of business, so his job (and maybe even hers, you never know) might not be so secure.

Nov 11 11 - 2:23am

Have the talk again with your husband about having kids & hash out all the practical logistical concerns that would entail. Just ask really open ended questions about it to him and listen to what he has to say before you layout your thoughts. But I'm gonna guess you already tried to have these conversations before.

My personal preference would be to slowly ease into the discussion over a week or two. How does your husband feel about your lives right now? (Does he want or feel the need to adjust the trajectory of his work life?) How soon would be a good time for kids? Then ease into the all the childcare related stuff. Would you both work full time or would he consider doing more of the childcare in the early years since his job seems more flexible?

Talking about how your genuine fears doesn't make you a shrill wife, but forget about what would be "normal." Just consider what would work best for the two of you.

Nov 11 11 - 4:45am

It sounds like you just want a traditional husband/wife situation, but lets be real, you married a middle age guitarist. If you wanted normal you got on the wrong ride.

Nov 11 11 - 5:18am

ho's come and ho's go, but a les paul is forever.

Nov 18 11 - 7:14pm

Werd to that.

Nov 11 11 - 9:08am

Eve gets it.

As a onetime aspiring filmmaker, I understand your husband's pain, but I put my dream on hold before I put several years (and thousands of dollars) into it. The US is not friendly to artists, and your husband's ongoing attempt at stardom is proof of that. It's damn difficult to break through, and at some point you really do need to throw in the towel and consider 'real' jobs. The key here is that you can still reach for your dreams part-time. He doesn't have to sell/destroy the guitar, he just needs to figure out a source of stable income first. Once he has steady pay and a steady schedule, he can maneuver around the job and play guitar with his band(s) in his spare time. Not only this help give you the money you need, it's also likely that he'll begin to weigh the benefits of longterm employment vs. perpetual starving artistry.

I realize this^ is basically corporate America propaganda, but America is basically one big corporation now anyhow, so I'm coming at this as a realist. Artistic breakthroughs died with the 70s. Even the Internet has hardly changed that.

Nov 11 11 - 9:20am
Saratoga Slim

If the only problem in your marriage is what you wrote, and unless you gave him a deadline from the start ("If your band doesn't make it in five years..."), I think you're possibly being unfair. He's still all of the things you liked in the beginning but now you want him to bring in more cash so you can relax and have babies. His lack of what you consider success may never happen, regardless of his career choices. Has it occurred to you that he just doesn't have that kind of drive? What other skills does he have? He probably can't walk into a company and land a major job if he's not done that before.

It may be that your relationship is one of those that reverses the traditional male-female roles - that he mostly stays home while you work. If he's a decent fellow, you may want to accept and live with that. If the idea of money is more important, dump him now and hope that the man you find with a stack o' cash is going to treat you as well. With the extra time your husband has after you dump him, pouring his emotions into his music, he'll probably churn out some great songs and bust out a hit record...and make that money, finally.

Nov 11 11 - 9:36am

Agree with some of the posters above. If it were the other way around, ie if you didn't have a "normal" job and let's say you painted or something and he was a PR exec making 3 times more than you, then nobody would think twice. It's society's expectations that you're dealing with. However, society is actually changing, but these expectations remain. If you have some balls and stop caring what your friends think, then you won't let it bother you.

Nov 11 11 - 10:34am

Sounds to me like you're on the verge of leaving this man. Just do it. You obviously don't respect his lifestyle any longer.

Nov 11 11 - 10:35am

A couple thoughts: while I sort of agree with the "you married a guitarist" reasoning, I do understand the frustration that come froms you working 60 hour work-weeks at a lucrative job, while he gets to pursue his dreams. At some point, "pursuing your dreams" is really just hanging with buddies, while busting your ass.

That said, assuming you and he both want kids, I think that could potentially get you the win-win situation you're looking for (and a way to gently crush his dreams). You get to sell him on the idea that you'll be the primary bread-winner (which you already are), and he'll be the hip-stay-at-home dad (or part time employed dad) that brings his acoustic guitar to the playground, and takes a heavier burden for taking care of the kids since he'll be making less (or nothing).

And if he raises the whole "crushing his dreams" defense: here's the sad reality, which actually helps you: The music industry completely sucks balls now. It's near impossible for the vast majority of musicians to make a full-time living at it anymore. No one buys albums; gas prices have made touring on a budget virtually impossible; massive festivals have ruined the a good chunk of the concert scene; etc. So you get to blame society, and your husband's ego stays in tact.

Nov 11 11 - 10:36am

The first thing you should do is invent a time machine, then go back and tell your younger self not to marry someone and expect him to turn into something other than what he is.

Then maybe he can find someone else, who actually appreciates that he's passionate about something, and not just some cubicle jockey. And you can marry someone in PR or advertising, and raise soulless children. Win win!

Nov 11 11 - 10:49am

Way to be a dick. Why is it that every "artist" needs to shit on everyone who doesnt chase the same dreams they do?

Nov 11 11 - 5:18pm

I just don't know why you'd marry a musician if what you want is someone who makes a bunch of money or has whatever you deem to be an "adult" job.

I'll admit I do tend to shit on PR and advertising people, because they make their living lying to people. So, fuck them

Nov 11 11 - 6:19pm

Another good reason to shit on advertising people... they use the word 'creative' as a job title, maybe born of the insecurity that most of them would rather be just that than hawking shite to the masses.

Nov 11 11 - 10:49am

I don't know, but I've been told, you never slow down, you never grow old.

Oh, wait, it didn't work.

What kind of normal job do you think he could do and be happy, that would pay more than what he's getting now? From what you've written, it sounds like he's happy where he is, and that's the way it's going to stay. Now you've got to figure out what YOU want.

Nov 11 11 - 11:19am

Let's separate two issues:

1. Passion for music (never sleeps)
2. Stardom (past his shelf life)

Having "the talk" about how to make the passion work, in addition to a family life, is both valuable for both of you and "safe." If he works at Guitar Center, it's probably frustrating to some degree, to sell gear to 16 year olds who have dreams (and plenty of shelf life)...while knowing you're past your prime...

So, what are the options to fulfill the passion? Forget private teaching (dull), but think about giving back at the public schools where they need volunteers (right no money) to fill the gap left by funding cuts. Hopefully, he's in an old guy band that has some regional gigs. I know guys that get together, jam and get gigs every couple of months and it fulfills their needs. Heck, throw your own party in a park and wail away...and, start getting gigs writing music for ad agencies or even college film tracks...very little money, but doors may open from the effort (and, don't be a dick about "royalties," do full buy outs including digital rights reproduction)...

Basically, enjoy the music.

Ah, the stardom part, that's what's hard. Stay away from the subject. Make sure each day counts now...stick to the passion part. If he's "your star," then that may be second best for him, but, as long as he knows he has that, he'll come through on his end (if not, dump him). But, if you're questioning him and doubting him...if he isn't "your star," then you guys are doomed.

Now, on the upside, your situation is far better than friends of mine where the husband, a drummer in a VERY famous '80's band, basically peaked early and never was on a stage with more than 200 people in the audience after his "stadium days." You want sad? Be a 38 year old drummer, on tour with 20 year old band mates traveling around in the back of a van (with wife and daughter at home).

Bon chance. Rock on. Rust Never Sleeps.

Nov 14 11 - 11:26pm
Ben from KC

Is he the drummer from Toto?

I bet he's the drummer from Toto.

Nov 11 11 - 11:26am

He'll be a great Mr. Mom. Have kids and let him stay at home with them.

Nov 11 11 - 11:54am

First, pick your major problem: are you frustrated because he's not making enough money, or are you embarrassed because he's still playing in bands? If it's the former, it's not that hard to say "Honey, I want to start having kids really soon. That's a big expense. I would feel a lot better about it if you started looking for a job that paid more." If it's the latter, suck it up. Playing in a band in your 40s is no more embarrassing (and a lot more profitable, actually) than managing a fantasy football team. Trust me, your future children will find just as many things about you to be mortified over.

Nov 11 11 - 12:33pm

How do I get my wife to read this? I'm a professional musician. Wife asks what I want to do when I retire. piano?

Nov 11 11 - 1:22pm

another point: in this economy, a lot of us would love to have something more lucrative and more stable, but there ain't a lot of it out there, and i'm thinking a 38-year-old dude whose primary experience is being in bands and working at guitar center isn't going to be able to just go out and snag something 'more normal' just because he feels like it (or you make him feel like it). if he is making money and you are making three times that money, then no matter how i calculate it y'all are doing far better than a lot of couples out there who have two normal jobs and no artistic ambitions whatsoever. this is a hard world: count your blessings, love your husband, and have the damn kid already.

Nov 11 11 - 2:54pm

^ totally agree. There is no perfect time to have children; if you want to be parents, just go for it. If you placed enough love and trust in him to marry him, and he wants to be a parent, then I am sure he will rise to the occasion and make a lovely dad.

Nov 11 11 - 1:33pm

I'm a musician, and so is my Father. He raised me (and has done a great job) while playing in his own band, recording albums, owning a small music store, and playing in cover bands for money. All of those revenue streams added together so that he was able to help support our family and still be around. I teach music in public schools, private lessons in the afternoon, play gigs at night, and compose my own music. There are a lot of ways to earn a living as a musician other than working at guitar center.

I do have to say this though, why do you expect someone to change so drastically after you've married them and they've been this way their entire life?

Nov 11 11 - 3:30pm
Bob in Tampa

Hmm, it sounds like you had some internal "success" clock going on here. You had a clear career-path mapped out in your mind - progress from an "up and coming" PR professional to a now-successful PR executive and he's still working for the same company (Guitar Center) doing the same thing for work and jumping from band to band chasing his dream. Um, the two paths to success (PR and Music) couldn't be any different.

Now, if you told us in your post something to the effect: "When we discussed the issues of work, money, careers and children before getting married, we both agreed on a timeline (5 years) to pursue our short-term goals. If, after 5 years, his band wasn't successful and my PR career was stalled, we both agreed to make changes so we could be sure we'd be able to financially support our family (children).

BUT YOU DID'T POST THAT! Sounds like you were making "assumptions" about careers, success, etc.

Oh, and please tell me that NOW that you're a successful PR exec. you're embarassed to bring your husband to corporate gatherings (or your now-expanded circle of successful friends).

I agree with the first poster here too - you can't love, accept and marry a guy for who he is, was and wants to be 5 years ago, THEN decide it's time for HIM to change.

Nov 11 11 - 5:54pm

I think it's a little weird that you don't want to support his career unless he becomes a "star". There are tons of musicians who can survive without fame and fortune. For many, the love of the music is all they need. And I suspect that's part of what attracted you to him in the first place.

You're entitled to change the way you feel about your husband and his lifestyle, and you're entitled to ask him to discuss his long-term plans. You should not, however, complain if he doesn't want to change. You should also be thankful that your husband has a passion that he is following instead of pushing it aside like so many other people who end up empty and unfulfilled, regardless of whether they have kids.

In any case, if you give him an ultimatum, be prepared for him to call you on it.

Nov 12 11 - 8:35pm

Well said. I agree entirely.

Nov 11 11 - 5:58pm

You're thirty-six. That's a little far from "getting away from ideal children-having age."

Nov 13 11 - 10:30pm

right, she's well past her shelf life - should she give up her dreams of having kids.

Nov 11 11 - 10:43pm

Sounds like he'd make a great stay-at-home-dad. If his income is minimal anyway, maybe you could make it on your's alone and he could stay at home with a baby?

Nov 12 11 - 11:10am
Felipe Arcano

Honestly, it's not his problem, it's yours. If you don't like him still wanting his dream of rock stardom, or think he is to old for it, break it up and move to greener pastures. Or at least pastures where you are not judgmental about what the other person in the relationship aspires to become regardless of his age.

Nov 12 11 - 9:25pm

it's weird that you call him an older than average guitarist. he's older than average for a famous guitarist, i suppose. seriously, tons of musicians who never become famous have small followings and play and tour until they die, because that's what they love to do. people who are really musicians are never too old to be musicians.

Nov 12 11 - 9:32pm

You should have the kid... His innate sense of responsibility will change once he has child-care duty, and less time to worry about "rock stardom"... having a kid is a higher value than making a good album anyway... (take it from this single 40something writer)... if you both love each other, then stay together and have the kid. The money will work itself out.

Nov 12 11 - 11:06pm

Ideas like this are why so many kids end up so screwed up.

You don't have kids to salvage a damaged marriage. It's not fair and it doesn't work.

Nov 13 11 - 1:47am

Would a man complain that he's making three times more than his wife who is pursuing her dream?

Nov 13 11 - 5:04pm

You're a corporate scumbag and you;re very conflicted. grow the fuck up!

Nov 14 11 - 3:51pm

i'm a little surprised from all these knee-jerk reactions about gender roles and corporate whore-dom. being a musician doesn't entitle you to a lifelong ticket to never compromising for a person you love, just as being a "corporate whore" (or someone who just made more conventional choices) shouldn't saddle you into that decision for life. The thing not being mentioned here is that *whoever* is the 3x earner will never be asked to switch their job, whether it's the male or the female. The question is, would he be supporting himself if he was on his own, without you? And if not, maybe he should ask himself what he would do in that situation. I don't mean as an ultimatum - more as a thought exercise to try to unbiasedly think about what else would interest him as a career path outside of music. Or maybe he could stay in music, doing sync work or scores or something.

I think you can handle this in a reasonable way. Be encouraging, stay pragmatic, don't set ultimatums, but make it clear that to have a life together, you both have to make sacrifices. Honestly, the musician sacrificing his dream to become a suburban dad is a cliche, but they usually produce cool kids :)

Nov 14 11 - 11:59pm

Unfortunately for the LW, the guy IS living his dream: His wife makes all the money, so he never has to figure out a way to try any harder than pulling in $10/hr at Guitar Center and playing with his weekend rock band for a cut of the cover charge. He doesn't NEED to make it "Big," because he's already got it made. He gets to be 28 forever!

If the guy's nearly 40 and he's still covering his receding hairline with knit hats and wearing Affliction T-shirts so he can wale on the cover tunes with guys who look increasingly like they could be his kids, then this is a guy who is NOT going to get weaned off the tit with any sort of grace or internal motivation. It's not like he's going to wake up some day and figure out a new income stream.

LW, you may not have the right to demand that he give up his dream, but you certainly have the right to stop bankrolling it. And if you feel like he's choosing to do what he does in order to avoid contributing to both of your futures, then you should stop. It's not a good partnership when one person is expected to do all the heavy lifting so that the other person can gallivant through life. That's not "changing the rules," it's enforcing the rules. What would happen if you got sick and couldn't work anymore? It's one thing if a partner's running the house and raising the kids, but it's another when one spouse decides THEY get to be the kid. Nobody smart would toss an actual baby into the mix when the spouse already shows disturbing signs of unreliability.

LW, give this guy a year to figure out a way to turn his "dream" into an actual source of income. Music lessons, mix-mastering, jingle-writing, band management, whatever. It's not realistic to expect him to start pitching in equally right off the bat, but there should be some sort of predictable trajectory that points to the fact that in another 10 years or so, he can pull in enough business to make a comfortable salary.

And if he balks, drags his feet, subverts the process, or just doesn't get on board, then it's time to "cut him from your label" and "look for new talent."

Nov 16 11 - 3:31pm

yes. you sound like Dan Savage. xo.

Nov 15 11 - 12:49pm

How would they live and what kind of lifestyle would they have and would he make the same decision to stay in a band if she were not making 3 times what he makes.. if she made the same as him..well then. they could be destitute.. but he doesn't have to make that decision... they are more than stable on what she provides... but if you want to be in a band and get paid to play, then you have to get paid.. otherwise, its like any other career.. is it dead end? Is it a hobby or passion that you just couldn't be successful at? is it time to say I can't live this lifestyle whiel putting everything else in my life on hold.. like my marriage and career and having children.. if he hasnt' made it yet and they want children.. then what happens when she has the baby and needs time off..or wants to stay at home a little longer than most or maybe be a stay at home mom.. could he support that family? No.. they would be making 25% of what they make now. If she feels this is uneven (and she has every right to) now financially.. what if alll they could afford was him to be a stay at home band, then what? he'll play gigs in his band while she works.. then who is with the baby..when is family time.... because working at guiter center..I guarantee you, after day care expenses, that guitar center paycheck, the commute or transportation to get there, working expenses like lunches out, work attire, it would be better off having him stay at home w/the baby that work... Daycare is that expensive.. and then if he does continue this.. bands usually play gigs at works all day as the breadwinner then has to be up all night w/the baby because daddy is in a bar until 12, 2 or 4 in the morning.. and then wired when he gets home..has to take time to unwind.. so then get to bed when? Maybe by 2 or 3 am ideally..then up @ 7 because mom has to go to work and somene has to watch the baby? so they are both sleep deprived, never spend time together, are constantly juggling "shifts" with the baby.. He hasnt' been successful financially in a band.. and he can still have that passion and still play and still try to finally "make it", but only after his first priority of taking care of his wife and family(not just financially) and providing a stable loving home together for them and for them and their children if they are blessed with children.

Nov 15 11 - 1:28pm

In a way, the core issue is: do women have the right to expect their husbands to make it possible for them to be stay-at-home moms? Because on some level, that's really what's going on here, I think: the LW wants to quit work (or at least scale back), have kids, and be a full-time mom, and is worried that her husband isn't willing to do what it'll take to support them in the lifestyle to which she's accustomed.

If that's what she really wants, this relationship is probably doomed. When you marry a person for whom wealth and career success aren't #1, you're implicitly promising never to say "OK, fun's over, now it's time for you to provide me with the comfortable life I deserve". For a lot of guys who aren't interested in making lots of money, getting that message from their wives is a confirmation of their worst nightmares about women.

Also, the notion that she's "bankrolling" his dream assumes that he wouldn't be OK with a lifestyle that's dramatically scaled-back. If she wants to live a $36/hr. life, and he's content with a $12/hr. life, then is she really "bankrolling" him?

Nov 15 11 - 10:04pm

Dear Mrs Guitarist,

Shame on you! You should be happy that your dear, loving husband is WORKING, that you have the wherewithal to be the 'main breadwinner' and that said husband is, from your lack of description otherwise, a faithful man pursuing success in an industry that is legendary for female groupies.

Now, if you are one of these women who is embarrassed by the fact that she is more prominent in her field, shall we say (and there is some evidence in your letter that is the case), that's a shame. I'd have to go all Dear Abby on you and suggest counseling or couples therapy.

The world needs as much music as it can get. It sounds like your husband has talent and he should be allowed to pursue it. His employment situation sounds like it would be ideal for a "stay at home dad" situation. Retail is lots of nights and weekends and holidays anyway, as it gigging. If you two can get over this "I make more than him" crap you may be ok.

Wishing you the best of luck!

Nov 16 11 - 3:34pm
buck hunter

Money ain't gonna buy happiness. Leave him before you have kids. Pursue your gold and let him live his dreams.

Nov 20 11 - 10:40am

Now that's sbulte! Great to hear from you.

Nov 24 11 - 2:10pm

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Nov 29 11 - 1:44pm

Its hard to fit a square peg in to a round hole. i'm 54 now but, since i was 18 i've tried 3 different colleges, 3 different majors, 4 or 5 different jobs, worked in the family business to support my
desire to play music. I didn't feel i 'sold out' or gave up my dreams. But you give up part of your identity when you are not doing what you love to do. i'm not here to whine or complain about the choices i've made. The US is brutal on people who want to take an artistic track and end up as a 'starving artist'. You get labeled a slacker, Peter Pan (a guy who refuses to grow up )
or feeling like a misfit, a stoner, lazy, etc. I don't tell other people how to live their life nor do i have any sage advice to give out. I suppose all we are guaranteed is the ' pursuit of happiness'.
Good luck to all those on the journey.