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Is my boyfriend entitled or am I being a jerk?
August 25, 2012 10:56 AM   Subscribe

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.

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.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do his feelings of entitlement enter into your relationship at all? If not, then I would let this go.
posted by timsneezed at 11:02 AM on August 25, 2012


Do you feel like he has an inaccurate perception of competition in the world or his abilities? That seems a bit different than feeling entitled to recognition. Is it more that you wished he saw the world like you? Or you're judging him for his inaccurate perception of how the world works?

Alternatively, are you jealous that you aren't applying to jobs that you're overqualified for, submitting pieces to literary magazines, and so forth? Do you wish you were more like him?

One possible angle on this is looking for hooks inside of you that you are making all about him.
posted by zeek321 at 11:07 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a reasonable thing to be bothered by. It's a sort of mix of entitlement and arrogance, and of course it's grating to be around. However, you're right that it's difficult to bring up.

Does this kind of entitlement creep into your relationship with him? Does he adopt a lecturing tone when he's talking to you? Does he get irritated when you interrupt him or aren't enthusiastically engaged with what he's saying, but then act disinterested and impatient with you when you're talking?

Does his behavior irritate or alienate your/his friends or colleagues? Is it just annoying you because you're around it so much and he's more open with you about it, or does he make poor social and professional decisions based on his slighted feelings?

If it feels like he's just venting to you, maybe tell him that the negativity is difficult for you to be around, but otherwise let it go. If this is part of a larger problem, then yeah, ultimately you're going to have to find a way to have a conversation with him about it.

I haven't figured out how to have that conversation myself, however, so I'll have to leave that bit to other commenters. I suspect therapy might be involved.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:09 AM on August 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sounds like he's an optimist and a dreamer. There are enough people out there that will tell him he stands little chance. You don't need to be one of them.

I used to hide the fact that I wrote because of all the people who would say negative things. You won't sell, you won't win, you won't ever make a living at it, etc. If he can't delude himself into thinking he's actually good enough to do these things he'll never be able to muster the creative energy to actually do it.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:12 AM on August 25, 2012 [43 favorites]


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.

Well, it's hard for me to put my finger on what's wrong, exactly, but it might be that your boyfriend's sense of entitlement comes from the fact that it's not a perfectly meritocratic world, so he figures, "why not? my work is good. It should be recognized, because it's not like everyone else's work is that much better than mine, on its merits."

That said, 35 is a bit old to be an "optimistic dreamer". I agree with cjorgensen: plenty of people, day in and day out, tell him he doesn't stand much of a chance, and he receives feedback about that regularly in the form of rejections. You don't need to add to that (but don't be his enabler, either).

When he applies for a job he's overqualified for and doesn't get it, he's not just sad but kind of insulted.

Well, it is kind of insulting, don't you think? Though a truly entitled person would apply for a job he's underqualified for and expect to get it.
posted by deanc at 11:17 AM on August 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


I was going to ask what his age was. This sounds like a cocky mentality pretty typical of a certain sort of guy around age 25 (I include my 25 year old self in that category) but I would expect a man of 35 to have a bit more perspective and to not take it personally when some lofty creative goal doesn't pan out exactly according to his desires.

That said, I think it's pretty common for creative people to feel almost childish frustration when their painting/story/idea that they worked hard on doesn't get any recognition. I know I do. So I would exercise caution when trying to psychoanalyze and figure out how he's feeling about these rejections and superimpose your own thought process on it. The question isn't how he feels – rejection always sucks. The question is how he does he act?

How does he act around other people? If he were to talk to a casual acquaintance about getting rejected from a lit mag, would he act just as entitled and outraged? How does he talk to family and closer friends? It's possible that he has learned to suppress his disappointment to avoid appearing childish and entitled, but that he feels like you're a confidant and that he can lower his guard around you. If that's the case, then you might have to learn to live with it, and try to offer him a bit of perspective when he's down in the dumps, which might be exactly what he's looking for when he talks to you about one of his creative rejections.
posted by deathpanels at 11:18 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's part of being an artist. To succeed* as a (published, recognized, acclaimed, paid) writer, artist, creative or even an entrepreneur, you have to believe you're special, that your works are worthy, that you do have that little extra thing. If you didn't, you wouldn't put

As long as he's not taking his moods out on you or becoming abusive or causing this to interfere with your relationship, I'd say let it go.

Assuming he's not doing those things, I'd focus on encouraging him. Making it as an artist/entreprenuer/writer is all about being able to get rejected and then submit something again. Even if he's a bit sulky or upset about these things, it sounds like he's continuing to apply. So keep encouraging him. Maybe point him toward smaller wins, classes, networking groups, artists' groups, etc. Those people have been in his shoes and can probably give him some tips for what the judges/editors/curators are looking for.


*Definition of succeed used in this post and not a definition applicable to all artists or persons, let alone those who do not measure success in those terms. But if that's how he measures success, this definition applies here.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:21 AM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


*put yourself out there. Don't know where that text went.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:22 AM on August 25, 2012


Please, please read what cjorgensen wrote. And then read it again, and tomorrow after you've slept on it, come back and read it again. Anyone who is driven to create things has to believe in their ability to create things of value. If you are tempted to join the very loud, very crowded line of people waiting to tell this guy he's not special, then bite your tongue instead, and break up with him.

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.

The opposite of hopeful optimism isn't pragmatic acceptance, it's jaded pessimism. Bursting your guy's bubble may not result in a level-headed mirror-version of you. It may result in him no longer writing and painting.
posted by headnsouth at 11:26 AM on August 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


It's a reasonable thing to be bothered by. It's a sort of mix of entitlement and arrogance

It's these thing PLUS a real lack of understanding of how the world works. I'd be extremely annoyed by it myself. But that probably has to do with the fact that this kind of thing (submitting writing, etc) is my daily life. If my boyfriend thought like this it would mean he didnt understand such a huge part of me that i dont think i could accept that. However, If it doesn't directly impact your life I could see some people choosing to find this hilarious. And maybe just rolling their eyes and gently mocking him when he does it. I think it's sort of like if he always missed flights, or always forgot important dates and your family members' names. It's potentially serious or potentially a ridiculous quirk he has, and only the degree to which it personally matters to you and the degree to which his other qualities make up for it can be the deciding factor.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:27 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


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.

This seems like the best response, but often the people one loves aren't very good at taking one's advice. Maybe he needs feedback from people who really know what they're talking about and are willing to help him improve or in some cases tailor his presentation of his work so that he'll get more serious consideration.

It sounds as if he has a vision of himself as a misunderstood creative genius--a lot of people do--and writing or any sort of creative work is wrapped up in an awful lot of ego. And it also doesn't have a really good idea of what a selection process entails. So, perhaps encouraging him to, say, sign up for master classes or workshops or read some books about craft might help. Or--and this requires a good relationship with the person--asking his friend-of-a-friend to look at his work and offer some constructive criticism. Then you can sit back and be the one to offer unconditional encouragement.

But I think I'd get frustrated with that sort of thing, too, and I think it would be difficult and even problematic to have a partner who had an inflated view of himself combined with a naive and unrealistic view of the rest of the world. To a certain extent, it's a gender issue: men are more likely to blame others for their failures while taking credit for their success regardless of how much they themselves had to do with it, while for women it's the opposite way round. (Of course, this is emphatically NOT true of all men, but it's kind of endemic to our culture to build men up while tearing women down.)
posted by tully_monster at 11:29 AM on August 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


*And it also sounds like he doesn't have a really good idea of what a given selection process entails

disappearing text seems to be contagious today
posted by tully_monster at 11:33 AM on August 25, 2012


Yeah, I'm sorry, just to clarify -- I absolutely agree that a certain amount of blind optimism is necessary to get anything accomplished. I am also a creative professional, and it's really discouraging most of the time, and if I didn't have a spark of "this is going to go somewhere" I'd have given up on it a long time ago.

But there's a difference between that need to believe you can accomplish something worthwhile, and the feeling that you and your work are entitled to other people's money and attention. The latter strikes me as amateurish and irritating when I encounter it in my own life, and my worry is that the boyfriend is expressing these feelings anywhere other than in private to the OP and a few very close friends.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:33 AM on August 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


There's not a damn thing wrong with thinking you're good enough to win at whatever you choose to put your efforts toward. The problem is in the handling of losing. If it really is just a "man, can you believe I put all that work into something and didn't win" then I think you're over-reacting and need to either get over your negative nelly ways or let this fella go and find someone else who will believe in him.

If it goes a LOT deeper then maybe helping him see how talented other participants are can make him less likely to sulk about it.

My partner is my biggest fan. She can be a great reality check too, but I know that she's rooting for me louder than anyone. If she started telling me that I wasn't going to get this or that because of *statistics* I would be kind of raw about it.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:35 AM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


This sounds like the Dunning-Kruger effect at work. It's also sometimes called the Lame Woebegone effect, after a part of the Prairie Home Companion show.

He's good or ok at what he does, but has a perception that (to be crass) he shines like a diamond in a goat's ass. And the. He gets upset when his mediocrity isn't recognized as outstanding, which might be what runs you the wrong way.

To set yourself at ease, remember that newel every person succumbs to this. It is seriously the people in the top 5% and those with low self esteem who think they did worse than they did, rather than better. Humans are really, notoriously bad at figuring out how well they did on a completed task. (there's also some interesting socialization about how men are encouraged to overstate their own accomplishments and women to downplay their own achievements/skills, which may also be striking a nerve with you. You were likely not raised to expect so much from others, and while this is usually done subtly, it is vey powerful.
posted by bilabial at 11:43 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you an artistic type? I can tell you that your boyfriend's actions are incredibly common among artists, even very talented artists, and that it's not behavior that is, in my experience, gendered. It's wrapped up in insecurity, impatience about one's career, and awareness of injustices (maybe he didn't have the supportive opportunities that you or others have had; when that's the case, you can feel hyper-aware and even resentful of the way art-world nepotism seems to pass you by). Only you can decide if it's a dealbreaker, but I can tell you from experience that telling him he shouldn't be butthurt about these things is likely to only lead to more butthurt.

Speaking as a writer and artist, I can tell you that I only made progress in this when I decided to focus on improving my work, rather than using my work as a vehicle for my career. Ironically, it wasn't until I became work-focused rather than career-focused that I began to get ahead with the career stuff. But it was also a bit of a personal revelation, and very self-motivated. I doubt you'll be able to change this in him--if anything, he's likely to feel sad and hurt by the implication that you don't feel that he's talented enough to deserve success.

Artists can be kind of fragile, you know?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:15 PM on August 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


So, is he a dilettante? He works, paints, and writes, and expects recognition for being fantastic at all three? (Publication AND sale of paintings AND a job AND he's only 35?)

Dilettante creatives who expect their genius to be discovered are not just out of touch with reality, but frequently pretty annoying generally, because the level of arrogance that says "I just dabble in this, but I'm better at it than the thousands who have made it their full-time life's work," is mind-boggling to me. I think it pushes all my buttons because I both feel an urge to deflate an over-inflated ego like that, and because of the lack of respect it shows for people who work hard at something.

"The world owes my genius recognition" isn't an attitude I'm super-fond of in working artists, either, but I find it more tolerable because it isn't coupled with the lack of respect for others and their work that bothers me so much in ego-inflated dilettantes. (And when I do meet an artist whose attitude towards every other artist is "Their work is shit," I can't really be around that person very long. We certainly can't be friends.)

I don't know. I see where some of these people are coming from, but I'm not sure it's an attitude I could put up with long-term unless it's coupled with at least occasional recognition of the reality the rest of us live in.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:21 PM on August 25, 2012 [33 favorites]


Everyone has great points about how no one needs to shut down for dreaming etc..

However I see this dynamic as automatically subverting the op into the traditional female subservient cheerleader and that is what's grating. Most people don't want to be someone's biggest support after only dating 6 months. She is still deciding if she wants to be his partner, and is not actually his partner. I think it goes without saying that this is more than just his work stuff if she is going to be forced into buying into supporting his dream unilaterally, including the assumption that he deserves it, without the same in return. It's a recipe for resentment. Don't let these answers make you feel bad.

It's just that uneasy feeling that you might be signing up for the art world equivalent of being a politicians stepford wife. Not for everyone, but great for that guy.
posted by cakebatter at 12:25 PM on August 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh, and some food for thought: I come from a poor family where it was somehow never doubted that I could achieve whatever I worked for. It was either work my ass off creatively or stick with jobs I hated or starve. In four years, I've gone from unpublished schlub to someone who brings in the majority of my income from writing. My husband, in contrast, came from a well-off family but was told his creative dreams were impractical and impossible. He's never taken many of the risks that I have creatively because, well, what's the point?

Hunger--literal or figurative--can be an incredible motivator. And his dreams aren't really as impractical as you might think. I'd wager that it might be difficult to see that depending on your socioeconomic background and the values you were raised with. If he doesn't come from a comfortable upbringing, he might not feel like it's "okay" to not succeed creatively--because what other measure of success is he going to have beyond what he does for himself? In my experience, most creative types take themselves out of the running after experiencing a certain level of rejection. But the road to success is a narrowing one--those who succeed are those who keep trying even though they've been rejected, even though all of society tells them that it's impossible. His "entitled" attitude is a healthy one if it keeps him improbably, irrationally trying.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:26 PM on August 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think, with creative careers, believing you can do it even/especially when people tell you it's impossible, and believing you're as good or even better than others is probably necessary. But what the OP is describing sounds like something different.

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.

This doesn't sound like the inner confidence in your own work that gets you through rejection, it sounds like a lack of understanding of adult life and (I assume) an unwillingness to even do the basic research about the business (or hobby?) he's trying to be part of.

I think PhoBWanKenobi makes a great point about background and hunger and creative success. I'm not sure, however, if the OP's boyfriend's problem is necessarily a creative-person thing. The writing and art could be a red herring. I can imagine someone acting this way about, say, getting hired for financial jobs. Or looking for investors for his tech start-ups or buyers for his inventions. It's the lack of reality (at 35, not 19!) and not so much the arrogant artist part that sticks out for me here.

But again, this could go either way. It could be the tip of an unbearable personality iceberg that you're just going to see more of over time, or it could be "Oh you know Bob, talented and modest, too, haha!" I'm not sure we can tell over the Internet which it is.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:04 PM on August 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think to succeed as an artist you have to believe your work is excellent AND understand that there are a lot of other people doing excellent work so that means you have to work super-hard. And you have to understand that the process of selection is often a crapshoot once you get to the "semi-finalist" or "finalist" stage.

Having confidence that your work is strong enough for success at the highest levels is a plus. Being sulky because other people haven't given you the accolades you feel you deserve is a minus.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:53 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


The best response to a rejection is always, "So, it didn't work for magazine X, now where should I send it?" not "Those fools! They'll be sorry once I win my Pulitzer Prize." Plenty of Pulitzer Prize winners get rejections, too.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:56 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


OP -- one of two things is true of your boyfriend, neither of them "entitlement." He's either a Don Quixote - unrealistic about the risk of failure, and unable to learn from it - or else he's fatally unsophisticated. The one thing that people who sell can't sell creative work have in common is that they are outsiders to the process: they don't know what sells and how it sells. That said, if creative work is really a fantasy hobby which doesn't keep them from paying rent, they might be better off taking up tennis or learning Mandarin, but it isn't harming anyone.
posted by MattD at 2:11 PM on August 25, 2012


Having confidence that your work is strong enough for success at the highest levels is a plus. Being sulky because other people haven't given you the accolades you feel you deserve is a minus.

This. Is he just disappointed that a particular effort didn't pan out? Or is it more like "They were wrong to reject me! Cat Fancy should run that article I wrote on tractor maintenance because my awesomeness transcends their guidelines!"? If it is the latter, you may have a problem.

I was once in a relationship with a guy who really had a tough time understanding why the world did not recognize that his awesomeness should transcend any guidelines he didn't care for. He also had a sense of entitlement so powerful that everyone in the entire world--except him--was wrong about everything; I do not know if the two were related, but I will tell you that even nice, supportive people are sometimes unable to be wrong about things. You should stay away from people like that.
posted by corey flood at 2:34 PM on August 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


You should read your boyfriend this Stallone monologue. It is the appropriate attitude for an artist as he/she faces inevitable crushing rejection to do what he must. And often it is only through this process that his/her stuff becomes any good.

Also I don't think 35 or 95 is too old to be an optimistic dreamer.

And I dont think it is Stepford Wife-ish to be the one person that supports someone's crazy dream. I think that's a good role for any Significant Other. It's just a matter of whether this is a dream you want to get on board with. If his stuff is really misguided like Pete's stories from Mad Men, maybe not.
posted by steinsaltz at 3:15 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you're completely reasonable in disliking this behavior. Maybe creative people are more prone to behaving this way than other people, but there are plenty of creative people who do not behave this way (likewise, there are lots of people who I wouldn't describe as creative who also behave this way). Either way, this behavior is pretty childish.

Having said that, people are more than just one kind of behavior. We all exhibit bad behavior of one form or another from time to time, so even if you just hate that he acts this way, there's more to him than just this. There are all sorts of wonderful things about him, too, and you'll have to decide whether you can tolerate this part of him that you really don't like.

Bottom line--you're not unreasonable for disliking this behavior, in my opinion. But whether it's a dealbreaker for you might be a difficult question, because if he's made it to 35 with this attitude, he's not likely to change.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:40 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you do sound like you're being supercritical and not supportive enough. As long as he's not quitting his job and repeatedly asking you for money, I don't see what the problem is with supporting him. The older he gets, the more frustrating it will be that he doesn't get those wins - he could at least have you in his corner at bit more - he doesn't need you to be realistic, he needs you calling them jerks alongside him, regardless of whether they're 'right'.
posted by heyjude at 4:32 PM on August 25, 2012


I relate to your question in general and love this discussion thread. For me, the irksome thing is the sense of unconscious privilege. Regardless of whether the person in question has the talent or not to back it up and knows it, it's the lack of awareness of the work involved, the work of others to help you get where you are, the cultural factors, the family background, the level of monetary wealth - not being aware of how all of these factors have created an environment where you have the privilege to be where you are - that's the stuff that grates.

Without a sense of conscious privilege you're unable to judge others fairly, or judge yourself. You may feel entitled to things, you may assume certain things should come your way and if they don't, you may feel harder done by, you may not have the grace to accept the knocks if they come, or you may be puffed up more by the successes.

It's not unreasonable to be bothered by it. I'm grateful to have a partner who is acutely aware of the privilege he comes from - and I don't mean monetarily, he just has a wonderfully supportive and loving middle-class and creative family - and every day I learn from the way he's driven to do his work based on the support he's received, because I came from a creativity-crushing family myself. If he was clueless about how he's got where he's got I'd have DTMFA.

In conclusion: self awareness is hot.
posted by scuza at 4:43 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


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.

I actually think that sounds fine. Everyone is going to great lengths to tell you about his artist snowflake personality, but a lot of this depends on your personality too. Me, I can only deal in reality. If it is statistically unlikely that my spouse is going to win X art prize, I proceed as if he is not while hoping that he does and making sure he knows I have my fingers crossed. If we have to spend a lot of time talking about "When I win that art prize" and then later how stacked against him the world is when he doesn't win, I would have zero patience for that. Huge percentages of this shit is just luck and I have very limited capacity for railing against the roll of the dice. If you don't like the odds, don't gamble. Otherwise, you accept the risk.

I also have zero tolerance for whining. Like really none at all.

This does not make me a bad person. It may make me a bad partner for an artist or writer, however.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:48 PM on August 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


I find this sort of thing irritating, unless the person has absolutely given their all and then some to their art--but he sounds more like a jack-of-all-arts in your description of him. But what I would feel doesn't matter. What do *you* think of his work? Because at 35, he isn't going to change, and I bet anything he doesn't want to hear anything moderate or logical about any rejection of his brilliance. He wants to hear that you think he is wonderful and brilliant and *should have* won. Do you feel that way, sincerely? If you don't feel this way, it's far better to leave now. Otherwise, in the long run, neither of you will be happy.
posted by uans at 5:51 PM on August 25, 2012


After reading the question, my first thought was that this guy sounds insufferable and naive.

After reading the comments, I realize I've started to lean rather far to jaded pessimist side myself, and I haven't been creating much recently. I've even made someone cry when I was attempting to encourage their artistic ambitions. Hmmm... maybe I should give this hopeful optimism thing a try. Thanks, headnsouth!

Yes, it sounds like an annoying reaction to listen to, but maybe this is how he keeps his confidence up enough to keep creating? Some people follow the "talk as if it's already true" school of thought, perhaps what seems like entitlement is more of a pep talk ritual for him.

I suppose if people applied for jobs, entered contests, created websites, and so many other things based on their statistical probability of success, there would be far fewer people vying for success in all sorts of endeavors.

Some people tell themselves overly optimistic stories about absolutely everything, to the point where they will persist with optimism in the face of things that are actually literally impossible. I find such unrealistic expectations make for difficult communication, which annoys me. Some people aren't bothered by that, and some people delight that someone else is so assured that everything is going to be wonderful.

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?


It doesn't really matter if it's a reasonable thing for the average mefite to be bothered by or not. You're not required to not care about it based on majority opinion -- you are an individual with your own feelings and opinions about things, rather than a carefully crafted "average ideal girlfriend." Neither of you is perfect. Maybe he is a bit entitled at times (as we all can be), and you are a bit of a jerk at times (as we all can be). You can ask him to avoid telling you about his disappointments so much, and maybe he'll think badly of you for it or maybe not, but he'll still think the same way.

Your question, the actual 3 questions at the end, comes off as though you are trying to figure out which of the two of you to change to make this into the ideal relationship. There is no ideal that real humans can actually meet, so some compromise is necessary for people to get along. The way to do this is not to convince yourself not to care about something, but to make a decision on whether it's something that is a dealbreaker or not -- really, would you want to put up with something for years just because other people find it reasonable? He's not going to suddenly end up with a different personality.
posted by yohko at 7:50 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


The older he gets, the more frustrating it will be that he doesn't get those wins - he could at least have you in his corner at bit more - he doesn't need you to be realistic, he needs you calling them jerks alongside him, regardless of whether they're 'right'.

I don't think the bf is approaching this issue the right way (like DarlingBri, I believe in "no whining"), and if what is necessary for a long term relationship with such a person is to adopt his outlook and approach, then that might be a bit much to ask. I think that crosses over into enabling behavior.

"Supporting" someone's dream, to my mind, means giving someone space and opportunity to pursue it (eg, if he needs to spend a Saturday night writing instead of out with you one weekend, give him that space), and possibly being a "supportive coach" when necessary. It doesn't mean being a reflexive cheerleader for work that it's not warranted for.
posted by deanc at 8:51 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm intrigued by your boyfriend. I agree with PhoBWanKenobi, that this tendency to be hurt is kind of part of being an artist. What strikes me as unusual with this guy is, it seems like he's doing it in several areas of him life, not just the one artistic endeavor. A person can go on indefinitely believing they're a talented unrecognized writer, but with him it's writing and painting and even jobs, so he must have had a certain number of reality checks. If it was just writing, there would be all kinds of things you could do to nudge him- and yeah, I'd be nudging the hell out of him. But it's everything. And also, it doesn't seem like he's just a dreamer. Apparently he has some output, like completed paintings and writings he can submit and he has a (good?) job. And he's not putting off the rest of his life because of some kind of dream about writing. (Or is he?)

If the picture I'm getting is right, this is more or less a way of talking with him. It would really annoy me. I wouldn't bring it up in a vacuum, as an issue with him, but I would push back when he complains about this stuff and encourage him to do specific things-- what things would depend on him, but maybe something like going to writing conferences or taking classes or just finishing a novel or whatever, depending on the stage he's at.
posted by BibiRose at 6:54 AM on August 26, 2012


In my experience, the artists who win prizes, get published, etc. don't do art for prizes and recognition. They do art because they must. It is rewarding/fulfilling in itself. Prizes, sales and publications are often truly surprising bonuses. Those who are motivated by the pursuit of recognition from strangers seem to remain dilettantes. Their work often stagnates...how can it grow and evolve when it is perfect and only misjudged by morons? These are also the folks who only see others' work (especially that work that bested them in the latest show) as shit. Your partner needs to realize this.
posted by txmon at 10:25 AM on August 26, 2012


In my experience, the artists who win prizes, get published, etc. don't do art for prizes and recognition.

This is a false dichotomy and in my experience in writing (both in an MFA program and in mainstream publishing) and art (my sister is a fine artist), many, many successful artists create because they want accolades and an audience. That an artist need to create in a bubble outside the concerns of an audience is a popular culture myth--particularly popular among the upper class where no one needs to make a living off of art--but it's a false one.

Her boyfriend's attitude reveals nothing about whether his work is good or not. It might be obnoxious, but it's not, at all, an indelible mark of future failure.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:02 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd like to re-iterate with EyebrowsMcGee and cakebatter had to say.

I dated one of these guys for five years- sounds just like yours. In a nutshell: dilettante (love this word), grew up spoiled rich kid/high school art teacher's favorite. He is very talented, and good at everything, but not AMAZING at any one particular thing. Painting, sculpture, music, digital art, you name it. Went to one of the best art schools in the country.. schoolmates found that "art stardom", he didn't, and over ten years later, he still harbors intense resentment and bitterness towards "them". All of the thems- it could be a former classmate, a colleague in the art world, someone who was chosen over him for anything, gallery owners, the "choosers" and the chosen ones. He has the aforementioned need for a cheerleader or politician's wife (I'm glad to see someone else use the term politician's wife- its exactly how i described it during the breakup). After awhile, he started to take out these art-career-related bad moods on me, claiming I wasn't supportive enough, and I walked on eggshells for years, always afraid today might be a day full of what my friends and I called his "art PMS". It was to a point where we'd have to AVOID galleries and museums and Art Forum and all of that, because it would just spiral him into a bad mood. I eventually dumped him for it, because I couldn't stand the negativity and entitled-ness and "I deserve this just as much as they did" being a part of my daily life any longer. A year later, he still refuses to admit that he wants/needs the cheerleader. Some personal issues of mine contributed to the breakup too- I am codependent, so him needing taken care of and soothed played right into me. I'm just saying, I know where you are. I LOVED this man with all of my heart and soul, supported his career best I could, and believed in him (and I still do). It still wore me down into a shell of a person. I was the artist's groupie, mother, cheerleader, AND therapist, and it was just too much.

If his ART PMS starts to become a prevalent vibe in your relationship, I say either scale your time together back a bit, or try to find ways to deflect it- maybe he can talk to a therapist, or another artist friend, or someone else other than you. You're still very early in the relationship. But if you're kind of codependent or over-empathetic too then please, for your own sake, get the fuck out immediately. These dudes will suck you dry.
posted by ElectricGoat at 11:46 AM on August 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


OP, I'd like to add that aside from the codependency I mentioned, I think and feel just like you do when it comes to these kind of things. Please feel free to memail me if you have a username and would like to talk more.
posted by ElectricGoat at 11:58 AM on August 26, 2012


Here's a question I don't think anyone has asked yet: in your opinion, regardless of his statistical probability of success, is he any good? A lot of people here are using the word "dilettante," although it's not clear that he actually is one.
posted by tully_monster at 4:36 PM on August 26, 2012


Overconfidence is an important ingredient of success.
posted by grobstein at 7:41 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love cjorgensen's response. I think he's hit the nail on the head.

It's possible that you're the only person he has to talk to about his rejections. Writers tend to be secretive about their work to protect themselves from the casual rejection of acquaintances. I don't tell people I write because nobody has ever had a positive reaction to hearing that I was working on a book or a story. Not once. I told a group of coworkers on my last day at my previous job and the response was awkward silence followed by "oooohhh... I don't know about that." I flat out lied at a social gathering last month when asked if I write. I said that I didn't, because I don't want to have the conversation, not in front of a bunch of strangers, on an otherwise pleasant night. If you tell someone you're working on a novel, most people will react like you just told them you're digging a hole to China in your backyard. I'm sure the same goes for recording an album, painting, and sculpting.

I love my girlfriend for many reasons, one of them being that she never questions me when I decide to spend a year working on a first draft, or spend most of my weekend banging out a story idea I had. And when I feel like I'm stuck or I'm ready to call it quits she doesn't sigh in relief like, "Phew, finally, he's given up on that ridiculous novel!" Instead, she gives me some much needed perspective: lists of authors who wrote three or four novels before they produced anything publishable; books about the writing process; reassurance that, even if this project doesn't pan out, it's not the end of the world, I can put it in a drawer and come back to it in ten, fifteen years if I want; reassurance that my inability to get the recognition I would like is not a reflection of my value as a person but only a symptom of wanting it too badly, or of taking myself too seriously.
posted by deathpanels at 6:34 AM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do you respect him/his work?
posted by infini at 11:14 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


What deathpanels describes in his last paragraph is kind of what I mean by unconditional, constructive support. My husband isn't an artist (oh thank god ;)) but a scientist, and when he was a graduate student whose lifelong dream was to make a career of studying and teaching astrophysics, I made sure to be behind him 100% and to encourage him by pointing out his strengths and always expressing faith that he would improve in the areas about which he was most concerned (and he did, of course). There are more than a few similarities between academic science and publishing/exhibiting one's work--there just aren't enough academic jobs to go around, and even a lot of highly intelligent, talented researchers end up leaving the field because of lack of funding or poor job prospects. I believe that if something makes one's partner happy or gives him a reason to get up in the morning, one should be as supportive as possible (and yes, to a certain extent that does mean cheerleading), not because you want him to delude himself into thinking he's great when he isn't, but because you want him to get what he needs from it. (I say "him" because the OP's partner is male, but this goes for a female partner as well--I don't know what I'd do in turn if my husband didn't support my efforts to learn math and computer programming--he really is my biggest cheerleader.)

So, as I tried to say in a previous comment, I think steering him toward other people whose opinions he can respect as knowledgeable experts in the art/lit world, who can give him critical, blunt advice or tell him, quite frankly, to cut his losses and do something else, is likely to have more of an effect on him, and it means that you don't have to be the bad guy and tell him not to waste his time.

If it turns out that he's immune to constructive criticism and continues to believe that he's a natural genius and God's gift to beaux arts/belles lettres, well, then...at some point, you'll either need to try to accept it as a harmless self-delusion that merely makes him happy, or re-evaluate whether you can really live with and tolerate this particular character flaw...especially if he insists he can make a living from it but you're actually carrying him financially.
posted by tully_monster at 10:13 AM on August 29, 2012


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