Anthony Scaramucci — aka “The Mooch” — has forever skewed the term mooch. While he may have been a shitty partner, he’s also a workaholic careerist. His soon-to-be-ex-wife Deidre cited his naked career ambition as a reason for divorcing him—and he texted her congratulations on the day his son was born rather than making a personal appearance.
But he’s indisputably an earner. The real mooch boyfriend — deadbeat, freeloader — is lazy. He’s unemployed or underemployed and he somehow missed the memo that men are still defined primarily by their ability to provide. Two recent television depictions of mooch boyfriends—HBO’s Insecure and Crashing—remind us that in popular perception, they’re also rendered unfuckable as a result.
In both depictions, the unemployed or underemployed man ultimately becomes an undesirable, sexless burden to a woman who runs circles around him economically. Neither man attempts to contribute in by cooking, doing laundry, or otherwise relieving the women of the sorts of mundane, menial tasks women are usually stuck doing even when they work full-time jobs.
Take Lawrence, the unemployed boyfriend played by Jay Ellis on Issa Rae’s HBO show, Insecure. In season 1 (spoilers), Issa cheats on Lawrence with an old flame after becoming increasingly frustrated with his refusal to get a job. Lawrence has been trying to sell an app for years, and faced with continual roadblocks in securing funding, he sinks into a depression. Meanwhile, Issa remains employed at a nonprofit and tries to be supportive, but it’s been a long time and her goodwill is wearing thin.
As Bene Viera wrote at The Frisky last year, “Lawrence is not a catch.” Viera elaborates:
He’s moping around the house because his job search turns up fruitless. (Been there, done that, wore the T-shirt.) Shit happens. The typical man — or one worthy of being with — would see his girl out-hustling him and get motivated real fast to get to the money. Uber driver by night, designing websites by day, bartending, something. Not Lawrence though. He’s too good for the jobs that aren’t a good fit because he has a degree. When he finally does take a job to bring in some coins, it’s at Best Buy. I mean, it’s a job, but he may as well sit home to collect unemployment because that hourly wage check is being gobbled up by taxes. Best Buy, dude?
Lawrence is so depressed and sulky about being unemployed that he even forgets Issa’s birthday. But then Issa cheats on him and he moves out. At the Season 2 opener, Lawrence has gotten a real job; now he’s a sympathetic character, and Issa is trying to win him back.
Similarly, in the HBO show Crashing, about standup comedian Pete Holmes freeloading off his wife, we learn in the first episode that Holmes can’t possibly work a day job because he’s workshopping jokes during those hours to be ready for any open mics he can scramble up at night.
In the opening season, he comes home to find her fucking someone else. Not before she tried to fuck him first, though! Wife Jess literally asks him while they’re in the kitchen making food to “fuck her on the floor.” “Sure,” he says awkwardly. “I have onion hands though.” “Let me touch your asshole,” she asks. “No, it’s not a good area for me,” he says.
Both shows present these women as unhappily settling for men who aren’t good enough because they don’t meet the one criterion we demand of men: employment. Society is particularly brutal on men who don’t earn — treating them as unmanly, undesirable partners.
Forums online and advice columns geared toward women tell stories of frustrated women with mooch boyfriends who feel guilty for wanting those men to show some initiative. There are guides to signs you’re dating a mooch (“Your fridge has become his fridge”), and guides on how to “unload your freeloader.” He’s a recurring type to avoid in dating advice, on par with the mama’s boy or domestic abuser.
But we find no real indictment of Pete Holmes’ character in most reviews of Crashing. Instead, they are largely defenses of Holmes as a good guy who, sure, maybe wasn’t totally holding up his end of the relationship, but who suffered disproportionately for his sins. He’s trying to make it! Just give him a minute!
Slate called it a “good comedy about a decent man,” and AV Club takes a similar stance. “Viewers aren’t given too much background into Pete and Jess’ relationship, but it is glaringly obvious that she’s been a bit neglected so Pete can focus on his career,” Andrea Reiher writes. “That doesn’t mean it’s okay to cheat on him, but people do make mistakes and Pete wants to try to make it work.”
These “a bit neglected” women, such takes imply, should have rolled through a period of total financial, emotional and continued sexual support for their mooch boyfriends and husbands who are just trying to get their shit together. For their wives or girlfriend to seek satisfaction from theoretically more virile (i.e., employed) men is the ultimate treason — like bringing a gun to a knife fight.
In Crashing reviews, at least one reviewer called bullshit on the premise that Pete Holmes is a good guy who has been wronged. Writing at Paste, Seth Simons argues:
The premise of the show is that Pete’s wife leaves him because he loves comedy more than her, something which is never articulated with any greater clarity than that their sex life is dull and he is gone at nights sometimes. So far we know next to nothing about her inner life beyond that she dislikes comedy, or his inner life beyond that he loves it. More bizarrely, the show frames Pete’s pursuit of comedy as some brave Quixotic act. In the third episode, “Yard Sale,” TJ Miller tells off Jess for failing to support Pete’s art. She retorts that stand-up is for narcissists who crave attention and gratification. A schoolteacher, she balks at the notion that comedy could put any goodness into the world. TJ, who literally says that comics matter more than teachers, rejoins with the story of an email he received from a fan: TJ’s podcast, the fan said, saved his life. The scene ends with Jess stony and silent, TJ having won the argument and Crashing having implicitly taken his side. If that sounds like an extreme reading, consider the choice Jess offers Pete in the episode’s climax: She will take him back if he gives up comedy. Seriously! None of this is played with any hint of irony. Pete is the good guy, Jess is the bad guy.
Weirdly, this doesn’t mention the critical fact that Pete Holmes is a classic mooch. In the first episode, Holmes asks his wife to understand that he can’t do stuff with her all the time because he works at night, “like a cop.” She replies, “It’s not really work—you go do shows that don’t pay you and you have to buy two drinks to do ‘em. It’s not really work.”
He ignores this completely, and goes on to complain about how hard it is to be up there alone onstage, ultimately guilting her into supporting him. (The New York Times review makes a passing mention of his man-boy unemployed status, but doesn’t get into it.)
Let’s be clear: No one is saying that an unemployed man deserves to be cheated on. But in a world where women are increasingly more educated than men and some 38 percent of households have female breadwinners, it’s an interesting shift to see this as a female response. Women now initiate 69 percent of divorces, which is generally believed to be a direct result of their increased earning power.
This is not remotely to suggest these women are also cheating, but the pattern is clear: The more earning power women have, the more likely they will leave relationships or get their needs met in other ways, reversing the longstanding trend of staying married to a man who wasn’t good to you because you literally needed his paycheck to survive.
The societal and cultural requirement damage men, too. Studies show that unemployed men are more likely to be divorced by their wives, whereas as a woman’s employment, or lack thereof, had no bearing on whether her husband would leave her. About 22 percent of women in one survey said they refuse to date men who earn less than them. In another study, 69 percent of women said they would not feel comfortable paying for everything.
And it’s worth noting that we rarely see depictions of women as “mooches,” because what we call a woman who doesn’t want to work or is between jobs and who is happy to do nothing while riding on a man’s earning coattails is a gold-digger at worst. At best, she’s just a woman who didn’t find a job she liked. Ultimately, for women, work is still to some degree considered optional.