This week, Danny M. Lavery and Slate staff writer Rebecca Onion discuss a Prudie letter: the professional student.
Danny M. Lavery: I suppose I should start by saying this probably isn’t exactly what you had in mind when you mentioned I could save “academic” questions for you as part of your area of expertise!
Rebecca Onion: hahahahahhaha
I mean!! This is not a grad student
But this is a thing that happens with grad students sometimes
Danny M. Lavery: At least there’s the possibility that a terminal degree will enable you to work in your field (although I realize that’s often not the case and that grad students/postdocs are wildly underemployed and underpaid)
but getting undergraduate degree after undergraduate degree is just – who is his academic advisor, for start!
Rebecca Onion: This person doesn’t even seem to want to get that far (which honestly, I wouldn’t recommend for him, it doesn’t seem like he’d enjoy the professionalization parts of grad school)
Right!!! This is malpractice
Though a lot of schools, it’s just fine for them, obviously
They don’t care how many loans
So that’s my first huge red flag here, for the LW. It’s been 11 years and he won’t say how many loans
That could be, like, 100K or more??? IDK
Danny M. Lavery: one can almost admire the bravado of saying “You can’t put a price on knowledge” with a straight face
Rebecca Onion: Daddy Joe Biden may be coming to save us from this kind of situation but he may NOT
There are a lot of things in here that I can’t believe a person could say with a straight face
Danny M. Lavery: yeah, it seemed unlikely to me that he actually believes the things he is saying to her!
it seemed much more like they were indicators of his contempt for her
Rebecca Onion: YES
I mean. I do not believe that we should have to work as much as we do, in American culture, either
Danny M. Lavery: it is such an insult to her intelligence to say “you can’t put a price on knowledge,” like he’s an encyclopedia salesman, when his partner of a decade is saying “I really want to split the water bill someday, how would you feel about picking up a few shifts a week somewhere?”
like it’s such a wild mischaracterization of her request, to me, it cannot be anything but willful and perverse
Rebecca Onion: Yes totally. It’s a misdirection
I’m assuming she’s female? since there’s an implication that she’s oppressing him with her demands for money
If she is, then this line of argument is literally something men’s rights activists say!
The whole “Women are squeezing money out of men” thing
Danny M. Lavery: yeah, I don’t like to always assume couples are straight unless otherwise indicated, but I think this gendered dynamic here is pretty straightforward
Rebecca Onion: I think so
Danny M. Lavery: but even if this were a gay couple I would have the same advice
Rebecca Onion: What do you think she should do
I really don’t think they want the same things
They don’t even know how to talk about what they want because he won’t be honest
Danny M. Lavery: also, there’s a huge difference between “judging someone’s worth based on [their] ability to provide financially” and “after a decade of paying for all of our shared expenses I’d sure like you to chip in for rent”!
Rebecca Onion: completely!!!!
Danny M. Lavery: Rebecca – this may shock you – prepare yourself –
I think they should break up.
Rebecca Onion: My mind is blown
I can’t believe LW even included “Am I in the wrong here?” in this letter
Like, is this a joke
Danny M. Lavery: I just read a sentence like this and feel so unbelievably sad for the letter-writer: “Other than this conflict, we typically agree on most things and he is a loving and supportive partner.”
Rebecca Onion: AGAIN I am not a fan of our toxic work culture in any way and I wish the revolution would come and we’d all have a universal basic income but
In this case this argument is being used to characterize a partner as toxic in order to get out of working!
Yes it’s so sad
Danny M. Lavery: I think you are whistling in the dark, and I think you are worried about feeling foolish if you break up with him – like it will necessarily mean that the last decade was a waste, and that you simply threw away your money and your affection on him, and so part of your own sense of dignity and self-respect is threatened by the prospect of a breakup
Rebecca Onion: He is NOT loving and supportive, any person with reading comprehension could see
That’s a great point
Danny M. Lavery: And apparently it’s fine for HER to have a job that makes life “not worth living”
Rebecca Onion: But nothing he has said has indicated that he wants to turn this around
Totally!!! She can be a drone
It’s so diminishing
Danny M. Lavery: if he really believed in the things he’s saying, about how taking literature survey classes year in and year out is the only way to pursue the life of the mind, then he would presumably also want her to have some of it!
Rebecca Onion: Like, I have been in situations like this - MULTIPLE situations - and to me the difference-maker is when the person actually recognizes the problem and shows signs of trying to work out of it
Danny M. Lavery: He’d be encouraging her to scale back to part-time work, to join him in frolicking in the Thought-Fields
Rebecca Onion: Totally - “Transcendence for me, but not for thee”
Danny M. Lavery: but apparently he thinks it’s just fine for her to be one of those “drones” he’d rather die than be anything like
Rebecca Onion: It doesn’t seem like they have a grounds to connect on this.
He is basically saying, “This is going to continue this way, get used to it.” She needs to ask herself whether she can stand this going on and on
I don’t think she can!
Danny M. Lavery: this is something that affects every aspect of your life and your relationship, letter-writer, so I think even if he is loving and supportive in issues “other than this one,” it just doesn’t balance the scales
Rebecca Onion: This is a dragon lying at the roots of the tree of this relationship
It’s not going away
And I don’t know how old she is, but as you get older, this kind of thing gets more and more untenable!
Life gets scarier, you see how stressful it is to face things like family illnesses or crises without the money to cushion it
Not to mention shit like retirement
Danny M. Lavery: I’m really sorry – I have definitely been in a relationship where I was supporting someone else financially for a while and realized it was untenable
not because I think all couples have to split every bill 50/50 or make the same amount of money
but because the dynamic was entirely dependent on my not asking too many questions or expressing concerns or suggesting I wasn’t prepared for things to go on like that forever
Rebecca Onion: Totally!! That’s the problem here
If he gets stressed, resistant, and defensive at these suggestions
It’s not stopping
Danny M. Lavery: and so I also had that fear of, “If I take this seriously and end this relationship because it’s not working anymore, I will feel foolish because I gave them money, and I’ll look like a dupe or something”
Rebecca Onion: Hahah yes….a classic sunk costs
Tinged with shame!
(Which I think the problem of sunk costs is always tied up with…)
Danny M. Lavery: and shame keeps you stuck! It’s not a productive foundation for decision-making, shame
Rebecca Onion: Totally. She didn’t mention any family perceptions but in a situation like this, the way the people around you perceive the relationship becomes a bigger and bigger issue
Danny M. Lavery: but yeah, I see a question like “Is there any way we can argue more effectively about this,” and my answer is just “No”
Rebecca Onion: Whoever you care about, they see it and feel a way
Danny M. Lavery: you’ve spent ten years trying to argue about this, and he has compromised exactly 0%
Rebecca Onion: yeah, I don’t think so
Exactly! There’s no space here
I’m very sorry, LW
I think you have to cut your losses
The idea of which sucks even more in a pandemic!
Danny M. Lavery: it does!
Rebecca Onion: I wonder if she’s worried about him sinking if forced to swim in the ocean of real life, which she didn’t mention
Not her problem
But after 11 years it might feel like it
Danny M. Lavery: and I think it’s likely that she’ll feel a degree of guilt over “but how will he support himself if I don’t cover his living expenses”
yes, I think that’s a likely factor!
Rebecca Onion: Totally, she’s not a monster
Danny M. Lavery: I will just say that, based on this letter, I think this guy is unbelievably good at looking out for himself
Rebecca Onion: Hahahahahha lololololol
Danny M. Lavery: I don’t doubt for a second that he will take care of himself beautifully for as long as he lives
Rebecca Onion: He has SOME skills to pay the bills
Danny M. Lavery: his life may get increasingly messy! absolutely! those debts are real
Rebecca Onion: A very fine observation
Danny M. Lavery: but if he got you to subsidize a decade of repeat B.A.s, he’s going to adapt
Rebecca Onion: Honestly, impressive
I wish I could get another BA! I won’t lie
Danny M. Lavery: this guy is the unsinkable Molly Brown and he is not nearly as helpless as he wants you to think he is
I often feel – like Paul F. Tompkins talks about – just a pure rush of relief that I never have to go to school again
Rebecca Onion: Hahahahahah
We are opposite, I’d do it forever if I could, but…I cannot
Danny M. Lavery: I really hated it, and I sometimes have nightmares that I have to go back for some reason
in fairness, I got my B.A. at an evangelical Christian college in the suburbs of Southern California, where I was repeatedly placed on “chapel probation”
Rebecca Onion: Hahahah yesssss
That MAY have something to do with it
Danny M. Lavery: I was not strolling across the quad with the great lords of Bologna
Rebecca Onion: Hehehehehehe
Well I went to an educational paradise where there was no way to take enough advantage in just 4 years especially if you were also trying to get laid
So I’d go back, sure
Danny M. Lavery: learning is great, books are magic, knowledge is powerful etc, you can learn in lots of ways while also helping to support your partner and having a day job
Rebecca Onion: Yes!!! That’s what I’d say
Life itself is about using knowledge in different ways
We agree then
Danny M. Lavery: we do! also, I truly hate this guy
Rebecca Onion: Hahaha me too!! I was saying it as a by-the-way but honestly I feel like he’s an MRA at heart
Like I think the guy hates women
And what you say about his contempt for her….yeah
Danny M. Lavery: I could spend a lot of time speculating about the source and focus of his contempt, but I should get back to my other job
Rebecca Onion: Hahah yes
Danny M. Lavery: look at us, having jobs and still occasionally trying to learn new things
Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You. Get it from Slate.