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I’m close to graduating with a doctorate degree in a lucrative field. About a year ago I met my boyfriend, whom I love dearly. We have a great connection and have started talking about marriage. However, he has no college education. He was in the military and had planned to make a career of it until he was medically discharged following injuries he sustained in Afghanistan. He currently draws enough disability to live on, but he works full-time at a fairly menial job for additional money and something to do. He enjoys his job, there’s room for advancement, and he has a desire to move up. My friends keep telling me that he is nothing but a freeloader waiting so that he can enjoy the bounty of my hard work. A very close friend says there is no reason for him not to pursue higher education, and his failure to do so indicates he’s a poor excuse for a human being. Because we’re in a long-distance relationship, my friends don’t know him well. His friends have suggested to him that I’m going to dump him once I obtain my degree because someone making the money I’ll be making won’t want to be with someone like him. I don’t have a problem with the fact that he doesn’t have a degree. I would support him if he decided to pursue college, but we’re both 30 and he doesn’t seem interested. If we were to get married, we agree he would stay employed. Is this relationship doomed because we differ so much in education and earning ability? I hadn’t considered this to be an issue until our friends started weighing in. My parents, who always have my best interest in mind, have said nothing to this effect. They really like him and seem on board for the marriage thing as well.
Your boyfriend sounds like a keeper; it’s your friends you might want to get rid of. That’s a nauseating level of arrogance and ignorance if they think that by pursuing university degrees they were doing something superior with their lives while your boyfriend was risking his. They need to climb down from their ivory tower, get out in the world, and discover that there are successful, interesting people who lack a higher education degree—and disappointed, fatuous ones who have strings of them. Your friends barely know your boyfriend; to them he’s just a collection of stereotypes. (His friends, meanwhile, are worried that you’re out of his league.) But the people who do know you two as a couple—your parents, and, well, the two of you—think you’re potentially great life partners. Even though your boyfriend draws significant disability payments, it’s commendable that since he’s able to work, he chooses to (in general, veterans’ disability payments do not preclude employment). If he is willing to find similar work anywhere, the two of you will have lots of flexibility when it comes to weighing your juicy job offers. Don’t let your friends’ ugly judgments worm their way into your brain. Then there’s this to consider: If you two have children and you want to maintain your demanding career, you could be the envy of your friends if the bulk of the child care is done by the bravest, strongest, most fun dad around.
Dear Prudence: Disgusting Dining Companion
When I was in high school my parents had a nasty divorce: nasty because my mother was nasty, spreading lies, slashing tires, you name it. She never took responsibility for all the terrible things she did, but apologized generally, and we have built a decent relationship since. Or so I thought. I’m 30 years old and just found out that over the last decade my mother has been telling people my father molested me. Unbeknownst to me, she even spread this lie to guests at my wedding. The idea that people have been looking at me and at my father, with whom I am close, with that thought makes me sick. But when I confronted my mother, she denied everything and claimed these multiple people all misheard and are victimizing her. I don’t want my poisonous mother in my life, but I also don’t want her to keep spreading this disgusting lie. Is there anything I can do?
—Unmolested (at Least Sexually)
You can take comfort in the fact that the people who were reporting the news back to you were likely skeptical about the claim, considering the source. I hope that after watching you happily share a father-daughter dance, those who heard your mother’s malicious tales assumed that that the person who needed help was your mother. After all, consider how bizarre it is to go around your own daughter’s wedding pulling people aside to whisper that the bride’s beloved father is a monster. Even so, your mother has spread one of the most vile lies that can be told about another person, and I agree something has to be done. Given that she’s been going on about this for a decade, it’s lucky that these calumnies don’t seem to have affected your father. When people told you about what your mother’s been saying, you surely responded by explaining that she is lying and unstable. So let’s hope that word has been spreading among family and friends. But you and your father should talk to a lawyer. It may be that receiving a cease and desist letter, with intimations of a slander suit to follow if she doesn’t stop, could shut your mother up. When you confronted your mother about what you’d been told, she denied all and had a pity party. I agree you should tell her that you are taking a possibly permanent hiatus from your relationship. You can say that if there is ever to be a glimmer of hope that you two speak again, she has to acknowledge the gravity of what she’s done and seek mental health counseling. If she does come to you to say she’s sorry and she’s gone to a therapist, ask to see the receipts. It’s going to be a long time—if ever—before you believe anything your mother has to say.
My good friend “Laura” has a dog named “Faith,” and I have never seen such a strong bond between pet and owner. Sadly, Laura is terminally ill. Laura told me last week that she and her husband were in the process of recording her voice—the sounds and words she uses exclusively to talk to the dog. The idea is that her husband will play the recording for the dog after she is gone. I have a huge problem with this. I think animals have the ability to grieve, but they don’t understand why something has changed. Years ago a friend had a German shepard and a cat that were best friends. The cat was killed by a car and every time a cat meowed on TV or outside, this dog would tear around the house, whimpering and crying looking for his friend. I want to tell Laura this story and explain that her idea might not be the best thing to do, but I want to be sensitive about her condition. Am I wrong in wanting to tell her?
—Please Don’t Torture the Dog
What you describe about grief was beautifully captured by Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska in the poem “Cat in an Empty Apartment,” which reads in part:
Footsteps on the staircase,
but they’re new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.
Something doesn’t start
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.
Your friend is soon to stay stubbornly disappeared. Perhaps her ghostly voice will both comfort and disconcert her beloved Faith, but I assure you, the dog will cope. When Laura’s gone, if her husband can bear it, he will occasionally play her voice to the dog. I’m sure he will cry, Faith will nuzzle him, and slowly they’ll help each other through their loss. What you should do now is quietly be there for your friend, and stay silent about your qualms over her desire to live on in this small way.
My birthday is coming up and it’s a bit of an issue with me. I’m not sure why, but my birthdays make me sad. Thoughts enter my mind of the invitations from friends I’ve turned down, the mistakes I’ve made, the people I’ve hurt, and whatever else I don’t like about myself. My girlfriend assures me that these feelings are not normal and that people should be happy on their birthday. She loves to organize and celebrate birthdays and I know my attitude is distressing to her. Furthermore, the new office manager I work with is big on birthdays and is planning a celebration. How do I tell people my birthday is not something I want to celebrate? Or should I just put on my best mask of elation?
I have a suggestion for a birthday present: Get yourself a copy of Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis and read how all of us struggle like riders atop an elephant to control our thoughts. What you describe is pretty much the human condition, and if you are only tormented by regret and self-criticism at birthday time, instead of nightly at 3 a.m., then you are lucky indeed. When your age is in the single digits, birthdays are a big deal and you can count on your parents throwing a party for you. But by the time you’re old enough to have co-workers, you should be able to decide how you want to celebrate—or not. If you’d prefer to note becoming a year older with a quiet dinner with your girlfriend, tell her so and say you’d have more fun enjoying a big blowout on her birthday. I don’t even know why your office manager knows your birthday. But it sounds as if you work at a place that loves an excuse for cake, so put on a brave face, blow out the candles, and wish that this time next year, everyone forgets your special day.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Mind Your Own Birds and Bees: Do my friends and family really need to know how my same-sex wife and I got pregnant?”
“Prisoner Wife’s Dilemma: If I don’t sign a horrible postnuptial agreement, my husband will divorce me.”
“Sexual Reeling: My wife had more sex before our marriage than I did—and it’s driving me crazy.”
“Papa Don’t Speak: My father is threatening to tell my twins they were born after selective reduction.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“But the Kid Is Not My Son: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man whose wife is pregnant with another man’s baby.”
“There’s Something I Have To Get Off Your Chest: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man bothered by his girlfriend’s extra hair growth.”
“My Best Friend’s Funeral: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who must pretend to be her dead roommate’s fiancée.”
“Working Out Kinks: In a live chat, Prudie advises a man too scared to confess his sexual fetish to his girlfriend.”
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.