My boyfriend of 6 months is great in many ways: kind, supportive, funny, etc. But (of course) there's one thing about him that's been bugging me, and I can't tell if I'm being unreasonable or not. The best way I can come up with to describe it is that he seems to feel... entitled.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
It's all subtle stuff that I'm only beginning to be able to put my finger on. When he applies for a job he's overqualified for and doesn't get it, he's not just sad but kind of insulted. When he submits a piece of writing to a literary magazine and gets rejected, he's baffled, and complains about not even getting a personalized note from the editor. When he enters his writing in a contest and doesn't win, he's upset that he wasn't "even a semi-finalist." When a friend-of-a-friend, who's moderately famous in an art-world way, comes to town, he assumes she's going to want to see his paintings and probably even buy one. When she doesn't, he's minorly put out.
None of this is dramatic behavior, just a minor sulkiness, or expressions of "Can you believe....!?" Which, well, yes, I can. It's really hard to get jobs/win contests/get published/sell art. Skilled, talented people go unnoticed all the time. It's sad and frustrating and dispiriting, but it's hardly inconceivable.
I've been expressing sympathy for his disappointment and frustration, but it's his utter surprise and bafflement when things don't work out that's started to irk me. And when I hear him talking about some new job/contest/whatever that he's sure he's going to get chosen for, I start to shut down a little bit. Saying "I think you're great, but I also think, statistically speaking, you're probably not going to get that prestigious gallery show," sounds harsh and mean and non-supportive. But going along with his (seemingly) misguided confidence feels dishonest.
I guess I tend to assume that if I'm doing something well, other people are also -- so if I don't get chosen for a job/contest/whatever, it's not that I'm being rejected, or that the people making decisions are stupid, but that they were looking for something other than I was able to provide. And then it's just, oh well, better keep trying until a better match is made. My boyfriend's brain doesn't seem to work this way, though. I can't help feeling that he expects a certain amount of attention/validation/support/cheerleading from the world -- not just friends, but strangers, and the public at large -- and something about that makes me kind of wilt inside.
It's not like I'm a person who had to pull herself up by her bootstraps, either; I've been lucky enough to have an incredible family, a great education, many opportunities, etc. I wonder if it's maybe that as a woman, even a woman growing up in pretty progressive communities, I somehow absorbed the fundamental lesson that we don't exist in a meritocratic world, that just because you do a good job doesn't mean that anyone will care, or give you praise or money or attention. Maybe they will, and that's great! But also, maybe they won't -- and that has to be fine, too, because it's the way of the world.
And this is where I wonder if I'm being too critical, whether I should just figure out a way to get over being irritated by this. After all, it doesn't really affect me at all, other than that I listen to him talk about it. As far as I can tell, he's not making life decisions based on a grandiose or inflated sense of his own importance; even though he talks about how he thinks he can "in a couple of years" make a living through his art/creative writing alone (a dream that seems a little unreasonable to me, but whatever), he's not quitting his job or anything. He's super supportive of me, and of his friends, and just seems to be a kind person at heart.
So, is this a reasonable thing to be bothered by? If it's not, how do I go about caring about it less? If it is, how can I bring it up without sounding like a total jerk?
If it helps, I'm 30, and he's 35.