Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 19 2007 7:20 AM

Oversensitive New Age Guy

My new boyfriend cries all the time. How can I get him to grow a pair?

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Dear Prudence,
I have been dating this guy for about three months. When we first met, I was struck by his gentleness and kindness. The sex is great. I can express myself, all my quirky idiosyncrasies included, and not fear judgment or ridicule. He understands me and accepts me as I am. Which is why I'm having such a hard time with this dilemma: I've never dated anyone so sensitive before. He has his bad days, as we all do, but his bad days make him cry. His mood spirals down into an abyss of self-hatred and emotional despair. I try to talk him out of it, and often I'm successful. He says that just seeing me and holding me boosts his mood considerably. I've tried to help him figure out how something like a tiff with his boss can make him feel like the world is ending. I've suggested therapy, but he gets defensive, and I don't want to shatter the tiny bit of ego he has. The other (bigger) part of me just wants to yell, "For God's sake, grow some balls!" When we started dating, I had the "wow, he could be the one" thoughts. Now, I can't imagine spending my life with this man, having kids, etc., because I feel he's weak and it disgusts me. It's infuriating because the rest of him is so great. I love him and want to see where this can possibly go, but if I can't find a way to overcome this, then I may as well end it now.

—Distressed

Dear Distressed,
Talk about spiraling down. You start your letter rhapsodizing about this wonderful new guy and end it describing your fury and disgust. You love that you've found someone so sensitive to you, but can't stand that he's so sensitive. Your guy already has balls—as you note in your third sentence. Being supported and understood, and giving that in return, is the magical part of a relationship, but I agree that feeling you also need to be your partner's therapist isn't. Your boyfriend needs a therapist, because what he's experiencing is crippling emotional distress. I've recommended it before, but he sounds as if cognitive behavioral therapy could help him to reorder his reactions to the world and give him some much-needed ballast. It could also be that he could benefit from short- or even long-term medication for relief from his frequent downward spirals. You say you love him, so when you talk to him about this, be gentle, but don't dance around it. There's nothing embarrassing or ego-shattering about needing help to make your life function better. Explain to him that you want to be the love in his life, but you can't be his doctor. If he refuses to get help, then your relationship is doomed—feelings of contempt will poison even the best sex life. But if he does get help, then you have to see if you can get past your own restrictive notions of masculinity so that you can fully understand and accept him.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I live in a comfortable studio apartment, well within my nonprofit salary means. My boyfriend of three years recently asked if I wanted to find a new place and move in together. And I do, oh, I do ... except for one thing. He makes nearly double what I do, yet insists that if we live together, we should split the rent and utilities 50/50. I'd be all right with this if we were looking for a modest one-bedroom apartment, but he insists on a two-bedroom with all of the granite-countertop bells and whistles. If we did split the rent, I wouldn't actually be paying so much more than I am right now. I could find a way to swing it. Still, I'm upset by his proposal. Is it because I'm annoyed about being asked to shell out money for apartment features I don't really care about? Is it because his philosophy of living together doesn't match my "from each, according to his ability" philosophy of relationships? Is it because I feel I'm being treated as a Craigslist roommate rather than a serious romantic partner? My secret fear in all of this is that I'm just playing a gender game—that some deep part of me thinks that I deserve to pay less because I'm a woman, and the man should have the financial responsibilities in the relationship. Is my desire for a percentage-of-income-based rent system totally off base?

—Tentative Tenant

Dear Tentative,
I've had to fan myself with a scented hankie because I'd fallen into a swoon over the romance of your boyfriend's proposal. Did he get down on one knee, real-estate section in hand, and ask if you'd prefer polished or honed countertops? It's true that even in the most romantic of relationships, the reality of paying the utilities and picking the underwear off the floor intrudes, but I have the sense you are bothered by a larger question—you're wondering just where this relationship is going. It sounds as if your boyfriend makes the decisions about it: He's finally ready to move in together, he insists on splitting expenses 50/50. Before you take a hit on the monthly rent, you need more clarity about what you both want out of moving in together. As for your sexism question: Ask yourself this—if he were an elementary school teacher and you were a partner in a law firm, would you insist he pony up for the countertops of your dreams?

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Last year my paternal grandmother took a trip to Disney World with her two daughters, their daughters, and two great-granddaughters, and when they came back, she showed me the pictures and told me all about it. I didn't realize until then that they all take annual trips together. The other day, she told me about the trip they have planned this year, and how they will have to buy a ticket for her 2-year-old great-granddaughter (I also have a 2-year-old daughter). She is normally a kind person, and I don't think she's trying to be rude, but I think she somehow believes that excluding my mother and myself isn't strange. I can't invite myself to spend time with my relatives if I'm obviously being excluded, but neither do I want to sit by passively and listen to her recount the details of their fun trip. Can you please help me?

—Confused

Dear Confused,
Presumably, your grandmother has two daughters and a son (your father), and has decided not to include any grown men on this family vacation. Maybe your father is thrilled about this, but if he's in the picture, and has a decent relationship with his mother, it would be helpful if he could be the first line of defense with his mother for discussing this slight against you and your daughter (and his wife, if she's at all inclined to be included). You're right, it doesn't sound as if Grandma is malicious, just deeply oblivious to the fact that she is gassing on about her wonderful trip with her other granddaughters to the excluded granddaughter. If your father won't intervene, then you should speak up. When she next mentions the preparations or wants to show you the cute snapshot of little Ashley with Mickey, tell her, "Grandma, I love you, and it hurts very much that I, and my mother and daughter, have not been asked to join the rest of you on your annual vacation," and see what happens.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I'm a third-year medical student at my home state's medical school. I went to an Ivy League college as an undergraduate, then worked for a few years before going back to school. Inevitably in conversation, fellow students will ask each other where they went to college, and when they hear from me, the response is almost always the same: "Oh, don't I feel stupid now," or, "I better be careful about what I say around you." Most of my peers attended the state college or local schools, but my feeling is that we're all now at the same place, so why make a big deal about it? I don't advertise where I went to college, and attitudes only change after I answer this particular question. I don't want to be snarky or defensive, and it's come up enough that I'm getting tired of the whole thing. Can you suggest a few polite rejoinders that I could use, because I truly hate these situations.

—Third-Year Scrub

Dear Third,
Unfortunately, your classmates are exposing their own insecurity about something that's ridiculous—and by the third year of medical school, haven't they all started thinking of themselves as gods? Almost any rejoinder is bound to make things worse. You don't want to say something humble that actually implies, "Yes, I have an Ivy League diploma, but I'm really just average like you," or, "Don't be jealous, my superior undergraduate degree doesn't really mean anything to me." Sometimes just a shrug, a smile, and a change of subject ("Did you see the size of that polyp on the guy in room 317?") is the best approach, particularly when someone is daring you to start pouring gravel on that chip on their shoulder. You've been together for three years, so they know you don't flaunt your degree or have an attitude about it—do your best to ignore theirs.

-Prudie

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