The Son Almost Never Rises
Two years ago, after dating a wonderful lady for a year, I married her and moved in with her. The problem is her 23-year-old son. He lives with us, has never held a job, doesn't go to school, and does nothing but eat, sleep, and poop. I've worked since I was 14, my wife and I both work hard now, and it's grating to have such laziness always in my face. My wife knows this and says he's been trying to get a job for more than two years. (He shows no signs he's looking.) I'm starting to feel played by my wife. How long should I put up with this?
Of course it grates on you, providing free room and board to an adult man whose main source of income is birthday cards from grandma.
And yes, you've been played -- not by your wife, but by what economists call "optimism bias." This is the human predisposition to believe things will work out for the best and to gloss over worrisome details, like how your wife's layabout son would suddenly become industrious at something besides being a role model for moss.
Your wife has confused coddling with love -- maybe for 23 years or maybe since feeling guilty about getting a divorce. After years of go-right-ahead mommying, it's no small task to inspire your step-slug to expand his life goals beyond napping more, watching more interesting porn, and trying all the varieties of Doritos. (The guy standing in the traffic median holding a sign asking for spare change shows more autonomy and dignity. At least he wrote a message on a piece of cardboard and is ambulatory.)
Give your wife props for trying to be a good mother, but explain that by supporting the kid as she has been, she's actually holding him back. He may not get his ideal job (video game tester or human slipcover), but he'll get on the road to self-sufficiency by flipping burgers or bagging groceries if it's either that or sleeping in a doorway.
Propose that she gives him 30 days to get a roommate situation and tells him she'll pay two months of his rent while he job-hunts and gets working, and then he's on his own. Propose that she also acts like she means it, but be prepared for him to test her and for her to cave. Ultimately, you need to decide whether you'd rather live with La-Z-Boy than without your wife. If push comes to nap, it may come to that -- assuming you're unsuccessful with various passive-aggressive measures, like installing a coin slot on the bathroom, refrigerator, and cable TV.