My boyfriend and I are both in our early 20s and have been dating for three years. We have a really strong relationship in almost every way, and I can’t imagine being with anyone else. But here’s the rub: My boyfriend is a genius. In so many ways, I love this about him. He challenges me to think about things, I am constantly learning, and he is always honest and rational. Unfortunately, these last two qualities have caused a bit of strain. I consider myself a very intelligent person also—nowhere near his level, but I’ve always felt confident academically. This sometimes takes a hit when I am around him. I rarely win arguments because I simply can’t keep up with him. In matters of politics or world issues, this can be frustrating, but it doesn’t really raise my ire. However, sometimes his argumentative style and calculating rationale are applied to our relationship. In many situations, I feel as though I am the one who has to compromise because he always wins the argument. I know my positions are reasonable, but I just can’t articulate them as well as he does. I have talked to my boyfriend about this, but I think he has a hard time seeing my point of view—that though my feelings may not always be logical or rational, they are still valid. Am I being unreasonable for wanting a little bit of slack, or should I just accept that I’m dating Dr. Manhattan and let it go?
—In Love With a Super Computer
Dear In Love,
Did you conclude on your own that your boyfriend is a genius, or is this one of the things he had to articulate to poor, dumb you? I don’t know what his IQ is, but his emotional intelligence comes in somewhere around “dolt.” I’ll take your word that you’re dating a virtual Einstein, but take mine that he’s an arrogant twit who’s got you confusing bullying for brilliance. It’s also possible he has some kind of disorder that leaves him unable to process the feelings of others. If so, he should be seeking help, or else he is destined to go through life alienating co-workers, friends, and loved ones like you. Actually, you might want to examine why you have spent three years being told by Mr. Spock that what you say has no validity because it lacks rationality. Mr. Spock and Dr. Manhattan are effective characters because while they seem human, their lack of emotion and empathy means they aren’t quite. So give your mastermind a copy of Emotional Intelligenceand tell him it’s about a subject in which he’s deficient, but it’s important for the two of you that he learn.
I’m a 29-year-old attorney for a technology company. Over the summer, my company hired a receptionist, “Sara,” a 20-year-old student at a local university. As the summer came to an end, we had been chatting more and more, and we finally went on a date. I feel a very strong connection with her. We both suffer from the same rare intestinal disease, can talk about it freely with each other, and have surprisingly similar religious and family backgrounds. Not exactly romantic stuff, but it has made getting to know her and talking to her very comfortable. But in addition to our difference in age and disparity in education, I have been married once before. My ex-wife had been cheating on me for years, and it took many, many months for me to get back on my feet. I have been very up front with Sara about my past, my age, and everything else (all of which she had already found out through office gossip anyway). She claims that none of it bothers her and she really wants to keep seeing me. I worry that I’m possibly too old for her. Is this just an awful idea for both of us? If it is, I want to be able to break it off cleanly and wish her luck before things get serious.
—Pursue or Quit
I don’t think I’ve ever read a better description of kismet than: “We both suffer from the same rare intestinal disease.” But it sounds as if there is more to your connection than just being able to compare cramps. Nine years is a significant but certainly not disqualifying age difference. It’s just that it’s starker when one of you is still living at the dorm and the other is launched on a career and already has been through a marriage. There is no reason not to date Sara, but it’s probably you, more than she, who needs to be careful. She may potentially have serious feelings for you, or she may just be enjoying her first fling with a truly adult man (think of the stir you’ll cause when you pick her up at college). But you sound emotionally vulnerable having just gotten over a crushing romantic failure. You want to see Sara and she wants to see you—so go with your gut (just keep a bottle of Maalox handy) and, for now, guard your heart.
My husband and his family are remarkably unsentimental. He would love to get rid of most of the family heirlooms I have because they are “clutter,” though he did get upset a few years ago when his mother cleaned out a closet by throwing away all of the paintings he made in his college days (he’s very talented). In our decade of marriage, the only thing I’ve ever heard him say he wanted from his mother’s collection of antique furniture is the eye-catching dining room table he grew up with. We just found out my mother-in-law, without saying anything to my husband, gave it to someone in her apartment building. When we found out over the phone, we managed to stay calm, and I quietly told her that it was the only thing my husband ever wanted from her house. I’m pretty sure he’s told her before, but she got upset and said he hadn’t. It’s the kind of thing we could never afford to buy ourselves, and it has always meant a lot to my husband. He and I are working on letting go of the table as just a big chunk of wood, but is it too much to go to the neighbor, explain that my mother-in-law didn’t check with us, and request the table back?
First, look at this from your mother-in-law’s perspective. You’re “pretty sure” your husband maybe said something to his mother at some point about the table. That’s not exactly declaring: “Mom, if you ever decide to get rid of the table, I would love to have it because it’s very special to me.” No wonder your mother-in-law is embarrassed and on the defensive. So you two need to back down, apologize for jumping on her, and explain that you realize you never made clear how you felt about the table. At that point, it would be much better if she were able to go to the neighbor and explain the mix-up, apologize, and ask for the table back. (Your mother-in-law must have very fond feelings for her neighbor if she’s willing to give away an antique table.) If she doesn’t want to do it but is not too embarrassed to give you the neighbor’s name, then you two should call and explain, offering to make restitution for the inconvenience this has caused. Only a jerk would refuse to return the table under those circumstances, but be prepared that the world is full of them.
I am an office manager for a business of almost five dozen people. I’m also an executive assistant and supervise 10 other administrative professionals. I have been told frequently that I am a very efficient worker who learns quickly and is organized. I try to help people when I can, but that is becoming my problem. My colleagues have increasingly been leaning on me for a multitude of so-called “crises,” and I am becoming resentful. I have to learn how to put the ball back in their court without offending anyone. For instance, if the copier jams, or a printer is out of ink, or the temperature in the office is too hot or too cold, or the mail hasn’t been delivered yet, or we need a new stapler, or someone’s computer is on the fritz, there seems to be an attitude of “Jane can fix it!” How do I politely tell my colleagues that I can’t fix everything, and perhaps they should try to help themselves, without seeming like an obstructionist?
Since you’re the office manager, I wish you had made clear which of these duties does not fall under your purview. If an employee needs a new stapler, unless there is someone else handling the stapler portfolio, asking you sounds like a reasonable request. But clearly you have to get the other administrative people to take some of this load. Talk to the boss in charge of administration about the need to better apportion these tasks, then set up some training sessions for the other assistants on how to maintain the office equipment or where to go to order supplies. Then send out a notice to everyone about whom to ask when they have a specific problem. But be aware that the curse of being efficient at running the office is that people are going to come to you when they run into an office jam.