Wednesday, July 30 — Q: My girlfriend of a year is really pretty and sweet, and we love all the same outdoor activities. However, I feel there’s a ceiling on our connection because she lacks a strong personality of her own. Whenever we discuss something to do, she defers to me. Also, I care deeply about politics and ideas, but she doesn't read newspapers or books or develop her own opinions. Two days ago, I asked about something we’d just heard on the news, and she basically parroted my opinion back to me. I pressed her, saying, “But what do YOU think?” She couldn’t answer. This led to my suggesting that maybe she needs to see a therapist to learn to open up more. She was pretty offended, and we haven't talked much since.
A: When you say to your girlfriend “So, what are your thoughts on the Middle East?” you’d rather she didn’t respond, “Like, you mean, Philadelphia?”
It is nice that you both enjoy the same outdoor activities. Having shared interests can sometimes be essential. For example, a guy who lives to sail would find it a downer to date me. As I wrote in "Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck,” I have motion sickness issues, “which is to say I get carsick on any street with more than five turns in it — for example, the winding mountain roads of Washington, DC.”
But barring an obsessive attachment by one partner to a sport that, say, makes the other hurl her insides into the ocean for days, people put too much emphasis on having a lot of interests in common. You just need to have enough in common. And in addition to physical chemistry, you need to have what I call a crush on your partner as a human being. This means having respect and admiration for them and a sense of excitement about who they are and how they go about life. Respect is the opposite of contempt — the sneering disgust for a partner that marriage researcher John Gottman finds is the biggest predictor a couple will divorce. And unfortunately, respect is also the antithesis of what you, as a guy who cares about politics, have for a woman whose favorite Supreme Court justice is probably Judge Judy.
The reality is, your girlfriend isn’t going to lean back on some therapist’s couch and find her opinion between the pillows — at least not any time soon. Chances are, she has little innate curiosity and has maybe spent much of her life under the mistaken impression that you can keep a man by keeping mum and nodding yes. In the future, when you meet a woman, instead of just taking stock of all the reasons you’d work as a couple, look for reasons you wouldn’t — like if her peers as political thinkers appear to be your hamster and the paperweight that fell behind your desk. A woman who’s right for you will take your thoughts, political and otherwise, and run with them and sometimes bring back something better — making you better for being with her instead of making you suspect her skull contains only a goldfish swimming around a little castle and a couple of plastic plants.
Q: I am dating a guy in his early 20s who is very nice, very fun, very cute — and very much in the habit of mentioning that he went to Harvard. He finds a way to weave it into all sorts of conversations it really has no place in.
A: He probably mentions Harvard a lot because it seems more tasteful than the alternative -- having his diploma laminated and wearing it around his neck. Guys in their early 20s have it rough. Just as girls their age are coming into their prime hotitude, the guys are entering a work environment where they are the gum on the pavement that the 30-year-old successful guy runs over in his Mercedes. If your guy is feeling this way, it may explain why no subject is too far-flung or random to connect to a reminder of where he went to school. (“Pass the milk? I sometimes passed the milk at Harvard.”)
Ask whether you can give him your opinion about something you’ve noticed. Assuming he says yes, say something like, “I have no doubt you’re going places, but you seem to mention Harvard a lot. This might make you sound like you need to ride on the name, which you clearly don’t.” If he’s got more than school smarts, he’ll recognize that it says something about him that he went to Harvard, but not when he advertises it so often that it starts to sound like the DeVry of the Ivy League.
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