Dear Prudence

Pressure Cooked

Is it OK if I don’t want to be Superstudent anymore?

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Dear Prudence,
I attend a university on full scholarship, but as part of this scholarship, I’m required to keep a 3.5 average. This isn’t so easy in the sciences. Many of my professors won’t even give an A. I live in constant fear that my grades aren’t high enough, because if they aren’t, I’ll get kicked out of the program and have to find a way to pay for college by myself. I am beginning to think that fearing the loss of my scholarship is actually worse than losing it would be. I’ve been in high-level classes my whole life, always made to feel like I have to be amazing to justify my existence, like it’s never OK to mess up. I don’t think I can take that kind of pressure anymore and it makes me very depressed; the downward spiral this causes has been going on for about two or three years now. In the last year (especially the last few months), I’ve lost a lot of weight due to the constant stress. Is it wrong to want to be just a normal student like everyone else? Am I really wasting my potential if I decide I’d rather be a good student with a healthy life instead of an amazing student who’s a constant wreck? My family tells me it will be a horrible waste of money if I don’t have free college anymore, but I’m not sure it’s even their business, since they won’t give me a dime. Am I a bad person just because I don’t want to push myself anymore?


Dear Tormented,
Make two appointments, and make them today: one with your academic adviser and the other with a therapist at the school’s counseling office. Yes, you are entitled to be normal; yes, you are entitled to not be amazing at everything; yes, you are even entitled to mess up now and then. Are the people who’ve pushed you so mercilessly to always excel perfect themselves? Not everyone finds college to be one of the greatest times of their lives, but having it be a torment means something’s got to stop, and fast. Ideally, college should be a time not only of achievement but of exploration. Maybe you’re in the wrong major, or you need to take a semester off. Maybe you need to take some art classes, or spend a year abroad. Your academic adviser should be able to talk to you about how to figure this out and how to deal with the requirements of your scholarship, or find another one that’s more suitable for you. Your therapist should help you look at how to shake off the burden of others’ expectations and find out what you want to do with your own life.


Dear Prudie,
For over 15 years I have corresponded with my favorite college professor. We seldom visited each other, but stayed in regular touch with letters. Just before the holidays, she wrote me that she has late-stage cancer. I called her immediately and we talked calmly and easily of her plans for this last stage of life. She has perhaps a year to live. I haven’t written her again, as I’m not sure what to say—I do not want to be maudlin or self-centered. My friend is a kind, brilliant, and courageous woman. She has helped me enormously throughout our friendship, especially after the death of my own child. Still, I can’t seem to begin to write, though our last conversation was not at all awkward. Can you help?


Dear Blocked,
During your time of terrible grief, she showed you what it means to stay close, and how to find the right words. By doing the same for her, you will let her know that she has continued to be the best teacher you ever had. Tell her what she has meant to you and how extraordinary she is. Then fill your letter with the kind of news you would normally share. Yes, she is facing the end of her life, but she sounds like someone who will be fully engaged with that life until the end. Don’t let your discomfort mar this rare friendship.


Dear Prudie,
I became engaged to a wonderful man a few months ago, and will be married this year. The question of my married name has come up several times. I want to change my maiden name to my middle name and have my husband’s last name as mine. For example, once Betty Jane Doe marries John Smith, her name would become Betty Doe Smith. My husband-to-be, however, would prefer I drop my maiden name and use my middle name and his last name: Betty Jane Smith. He thinks my preference is “snobbish.” I chose it because I like what it represents—me before I met my husband and after. We both feel strongly, and cannot come to a decision. I realize marriage takes sacrifice, but is this something I should have to give up?

—What’s in a Name?

Dear What’s,
Is Hillary Rodham Clinton considered a snob because she uses her maiden and married names? Was Harriet Beecher Stowe? Yes, marriage involves sacrifice—but what is the sacrifice being offered by John Smith here? It just sounds as if he’s bullying you. Certainly a couple should be able to discuss their feelings about the name question—but ultimately a husband has to respect his wife’s decision to keep her maiden name, or make it her middle name, or hyphenate her name, etc. In your case, I’d be tempted to tell him you’ve decided to call yourself Harriet Beecher Stowe, and he can stuff it. He may be a wonderful guy, but until he can say that Betty Doe Smith sounds beautiful to him, I wouldn’t take that walk down the aisle.


Dear Prudie,
I have been with my loving, attractive, intelligent boyfriend for three years. I’m genuinely happy in the relationship and have no intention of not being in it. I work in public relations, and often flirt with other men, innocently, at networking events or otherwise. The problem is, I have a really difficult time telling people that I’m already spoken for. I fear I’ll offend a man who’s potentially interested in me, and thus lose a business contact. How can I politely, firmly, and honestly tell someone that I’m off the market?

—Off the Market but Still in the Marketplace

Dear Off,
What is the nature of this flirting if it results in your constantly having to say “Down, boy!” to potential clients? Are you using the Samantha Jones character from Sex and the City as your role model for how to advance in PR? Sure, if you’re young, attractive, and friendly, men will come on to you. But it sounds as if you’re sending off vibes that announce your sexual availability more than your professional skills. If every time you’re out to increase your contacts those contacts want to increase your physical contact, something is going on. Do you have a trusted friend, male or female, who has seen you in these settings, whom you can talk to about whether you’re coming on too strong? And what’s your hesitation at saying to an interested man, “Oh, thanks, but I have a boyfriend”? Could it be that you enjoy encouraging the sexual intrigue?