A very nice point, FT, about men marrying women who aren't their intellectual/intellectual equal and no one batting an eye!! Thanks for pointing that out.
My mom has just informed me that my entire family thinks that I’m settling by dating my current boyfriend. Naturally I disagree, but how can I discount what so many people close to me think?
I am 22, applying to med school, love to travel and learn, have a lot of hobbies, and volunteer. I’m a busy person and am proud of my drive and my intellect.
My boyfriend is 30 and is in the military. I think he is sweet, caring, good to me, a great lover, has potential to be a fantastic father, and makes me feel good about myself. He doesn’t have the same background as me, and my family believes there’s nothing deeper to him, no ambition. They feel he is dependent on me.
I love him and he makes me happy—but they think I need to be with someone who challenges me and will help me grow, too.
I’m not sure what to do with this information. I disagree, but I have had doubts about him before. For instance, I do wish he could debate with me about the topics I care about. They say I am too young to be considering marriage, but 2-3 years from now doesn’t seem too rushed to me. I have some self-esteem issues so I feel that finding someone who thinks I am pretty is difficult; I don’t want to lightly let him go. I have never met anyone who accepts me as this man does. I really don’t want to lose such a great person—but I admit that my family has been right before.
Thanks so much for writing. If you blink, you can easily miss the most crucial part of this letter: “I have some self-esteem issues so I feel like finding someone who thinks I am pretty is difficult; I don’t want to lightly let him go.”
I agree that it sounds as if you have self-esteem issues. I also think that may hold you back from reaching your full potential and having satisfying intimate relationships. For a marriage—or any relationship—to last and thrive, two whole people have to come together. No one else can make you feel good about yourself. Self-esteem based on something or someone external to you isn’t very deep—and it won’t last.
So, my first suggestion is that you undertake a program of self-esteem building by talking to a therapist who can help you figure out where these issues come from—such as childhood experiences or messages that you were unworthy, unattractive, or incompetent—and how to overcome them.
In addition, there are some good books available to help you challenge your assumptions and habitual thoughts by practicing new ways of thinking. The idea is, do this enough times, and eventually your brain will make the switch.
In particular, I recommend:
- The Self Esteem Workbook, by Glenn Schiraldi, PhD
- Self Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self Esteem, by Mathew McKay, PhD and Patrick Fanning
- Healing Your Emotional Self: A Powerful Program to Help You Raise Your Self-Esteem, Quiet Your Inner Critic, and Overcome Your Shame, by Beverly Engel, LMFT
It sounds as though you have a lot going for you—intellect, commitment to hard work and community, amazing goals—but that possibly you’re overly concerned about your physical appearance.
I have to say that I think the ever-increasing emphasis in our culture on physical appearance, particularly for women, is extremely destructive. Our culture keeps narrowing the definition of beauty and we are bombarded with images of women (often retouched) that are absolutely unrealistic.
But in reality, do you think that prettiness is the only criterion a man has in choosing a partner? Absolutely not. When it comes to forming real, long-term relationships, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Surely you know you know that plenty of ordinary looking women, and even those not considered particularly “attractive” by today’s ever-narrowing standards, can and do find love and have success in their relationships anyway. I challenge you to think about whether you secretly agree with your family about this guy, but think you can’t do any better because you feel you’re unattractive.
It is certainly possible that you really do love this guy and that a relationship with someone with whom you’re not perfectly intellectually suited could work beautifully. After all, we need more than just a spouse to support us and share life with. That said, try to deepen and expand your relationship with him by initiating discussions about issues important to you or your future ambitions. If he’s uninterested, it’s worth considering what life will be like when you can’t turn to your partner for these sorts of things.
Your parents may be right that you could find someone out there who loves and respects you for the whole package, and whom you can love and respect for the whole package, without any doubts of your own. But, really, they aren’t in your shoes, and only you can decide.
My advice, in the end, is to please stop thinking of this guy as your only chance. Whether you choose him or leave him—the choice isn’t “him or no one.” Take care of yourself and get a handle on these self-esteem issues so they don’t follow you through life. There’s not necessarily an obvious right answer about your future with your boyfriend, but start with self-examination, and your path will eventually become clear.
Best to you,
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