How do I stop resenting my boyfriend?
July 21, 2009 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Help me get over my envy of my boyfriend's deservedly good professional reputation.

I am in a serious relationship with a wonderful guy. We've been together about a year now. We met due to working in the same industry. In fact, we have just about the same job.

The problems started earlier this year when we both accepted a job at the same company, one that we had to relocate for. It's a long story, but I will try to shorten it:

I had a job offer from this company. He did not. They didn't think they would be able to hire him as well as me, despite wanting to, due to budget issues. However, we soon found out that they could hire the both of us after all, and thus packed up our stuff and moved. When we showed up at work that first day, I discovered that I was not hired and was expected to work while being evaluated for a week for free, whereas he was presented with new employee paperwork to fill out. Skipping over the details, we were able to work out my employment, starting the same day as him, paid, although at a salary 15% less than his. My initial experience proved to be quite telling. I was basically ignored or disregarded the entire time I was there. It was a negative work environment for him as well, but in different ways - he was practically idolized there, everyone would ask him for his opinion even in areas that I was more experienced in. My self worth took a nose dive, it was a terrible experience for me. One of the worst parts was its effect on my relationship with him - I started to feel resentful and/or competitive with him, even though I had no chance of "winning" in this environment.

Anyway, we both resigned and moved back to the city I'm from. We took jobs with different companies. However, I accepted an offer from a company he had worked for in the past. I now realize that this was a mistake. They hold him in fairly high regard and bring him up somewhat often.

We went out last night with one of my colleagues and some other friends. During the night my colleague kept speaking to my boyfriend as if he still worked there, asking his opinion on company policies and the like. I realize that I'm pretty sensitive to being ignored and to my boyfriend being favored, but I still think this was outside the realm of acceptable behavior. I lost it. I was crying, yelling, etc.

I realize that I need to do something about this, but I'm at a bit of a loss as to what I should do. I work in a fairly male-dominated sector, and I have spent a long time building up my reputation and career - almost 15 years. I've never run into this particular issue before. I love my boyfriend and I am very happy with him aside from *this*. His reputation is well deserved, and I don't wish to detract from it. I want him to be successful. I want me to be successful as well, though.

Aside from drastic measures like changing my career or ending the relationship - both things I really don't want to do, the latter more so to be honest - what can I do to deal with this? I've thought of seeing a therapist to get over the 6+ month bad job fiasco. I think that minor things are triggering me due to that experience.

Anyone here have experience working at the same job as their SO? Being compared to him or her, and coming out at the bottom?

Thanks. I realize this was a bit wordy, and I did my best to shorten it. I look forward to some good advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Wow! I can totally, absolutely, 100% see why this has upset you, and if anything it sounds like you are being conservative in your justifiably outraged response. That has got to be a really tense situation.

Although I have worked in the same industry as a couple exes, it was never at the same workplace and we never had wildly different levels of success. However, I did learn that having a career in common with a partner is both a blessing and a curse. You've certainly seen the curse side of it...but is there any way to refocus on the GOOD things about sharing this aspect of your lives? Since it doesn't sound like you can change the situation itself (other people are going to expose their intrinsic sexism, blind favouritism, or just simple cluelessness without you having any control over it), that might be better for your sanity. Perhaps you could reflect on the fact that this means he will really *get* your enthusiasm about a particular subject, and be able to contribute to that conversation more than a partner in an unrelated field. Maybe you can share humourous war stories that will bring you closer together. Maybe you can on occasion help one another with an issue that arises in the course of your jobs, drawing on each other's experiences to mutually benefit. Those were all things I loved about sharing a profession with my partner.

But honestly, it sounds like a really crappy situation and I hope things work out!
posted by Pomo at 5:13 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I still think this was outside the realm of acceptable behavior.

It was not. You overreacted. I agree with you -- you need therapist so that you can get a bit of perspective. This isn't just jealousy of your boyfriend's reputation, but also of your larger insecurity in the workplace.
posted by runningwithscissors at 5:14 PM on July 21, 2009 [6 favorites]

If it was me, I would really work on kicking ass in area/issue/technique to set myself apart from him. Everyone needs their own thing, whether that thing is a skill or an area of knowledge.

The problem is that your "brand" is his "brand". People equal your skillset as his skillset. You need to rebrand yourself as something separate from him.
posted by Spurious at 5:18 PM on July 21, 2009

During the night my colleague kept speaking to my boyfriend as if he still worked there, asking his opinion on company policies and the like.

Whenever I spend time around ex-coworkers, the same topics come up: company policies, office gossip, the like. These topics come up no matter how many years have passed since I last worked in that office and with those coworkers. I've always seen it as natural since I was a part of that "family" and it's what we had the most in common.

I lost it. I was crying, yelling, etc.

I agree that this was an overreaction. You are the New Person and he has a history with the office: it stands to reason that they would talk about the office with him. Like runningwithscissors, I suggest you find someone with whom to talk through your workplace insecurities.
posted by rhapsodie at 5:19 PM on July 21, 2009

First, and most importantly, communicate with him. Make sure he knows that you still love him, and your anger and frustration is not at him, but how others treat him. He may be able to come up with something that can help.

The simplest solution I can think of is to put a serious kibosh on discussing work w/ others while not working - put up a united front and say "Change the subject please, this makes US uncomfortable." If you can, find a good job that won't bring this situation up, which may be easier than changing industries.
posted by GJSchaller at 5:25 PM on July 21, 2009

Well, firstly, my sympathies. This is a tough situation and there aren't any easy answers.

A therapist would be my first thought, although in general people at AskMe are pretty therapist-happy.

There are a couple things I can think of off the top of my head, though:

everyone would ask him for his opinion even in areas that I was more experienced in.

If you haven't already discussed this with your boyfriend (and when you do discuss it, I would avoid any suggestion that he is to blame) you might want to do so, and suggest that if situations come up like this, it'd be nice if he would recommend these people your way. After all, if you are legitimately more experienced in these areas, he should understand why you'd be better off answering such questions.

And just in general, I imagine that him being aware of this issue and taking some steps to make you feel included and important would go a long way to helping you feel like you're not just a shadow.
posted by TypographicalError at 5:25 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I still think this was outside the realm of acceptable behavior.

No, it's not. You overreacted. It also sounds like you were really passive - why not jump into the conversation with your own ideas and opinions about company policy (within ethical reason, of course)? It would have been a great way to set yourself apart from your partner's old experience at this workplace. I wonder if you're passive in other areas at work, simply because you're really sensitive about your partner's excellent reputation. I agree with the others who said that you should focus on your own thing and work at your own excellent standards at work, as opposed to worrying about a comparison all the time. That will drive anyone crazy.
posted by meerkatty at 5:29 PM on July 21, 2009

Can you be happy in both your career and your relationship if you're never as successful in your field as your boyfriend or are you always going to measure your own success by his?

Honestly, if you're crying and yelling over friends talking shop with your boyfriend then your insecurity is causing you to cross the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Counselling of some sort seems like a good idea - your boyfriend isn't going to become less successful and people aren't going to stop valuing his success for your benefit. Your resentment could well destroy your relationship and possible your career if you don't get a handle on it.
posted by Lolie at 5:30 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

stop working at companies he works for. don't work at the same company at the same time.

also, the way you reacted to a totally normal conversation (former coworker discussing office stuff with your boyfriend) - is that a normal reaction from you? are you the type to fly off the handle easily? if so, maybe that's why people don't come to you with work issues that can solve.

i've worked in a male dominated industry before - the trick is to realize you work in a male dominated industry and that getting over emotional will never serve your interests there.
posted by nadawi at 5:31 PM on July 21, 2009

During the night my colleague kept speaking to my boyfriend as if he still worked there, asking his opinion on company policies and the like. I realize that I'm pretty sensitive to being ignored and to my boyfriend being favored, but I still think this was outside the realm of acceptable behavior. I lost it. I was crying, yelling, etc.

First, know that your perspective is quite skewed at the moment; people talk to ex-employees this way under social circumstances, much like people who used to go to/still go to college together talk about the current state of affairs at said college. Your reaction was over the top, and a clear indicator of the stress you are in.

Ultimately, this is a question of your own insecurity, and possibly perfectly reasonable feelings about your treatment by the first company being unfair. There's nothing your boyfriend can do to help -- the best he can do is try not to make things worse. On the other hand, you can possibly make this better by seeing a therapist to help bring your perspective back in line -- after which perhaps you'll be able to get over these feelings.

One thing I would not suggest until after a reasonable amount of successful therapy is ask your boyfriend for advice on being better at your job. There's very little he can do at this point that won't be taken in the wrong way by you, given the current level of your stress about it. It's not his fault or yours, it just is.
posted by davejay at 5:36 PM on July 21, 2009

It sounds like hell. It sounds like you may have over-reacted in the scenario you describe but I can completely understand why. Because of built up frustration from the previous job experience, and feeling generally under-valued. Women are often in this position, especially in male-dominated industries, and it's so frustrating. I guess you need to figure out how much of this is happening and how much is your insecurity, if that is the case. Just something to look at.

One thing you didn't really address is, how does your bf respond to all of this? Do you have good talks about it? Does he see the sexism and feel frustrated by it as well? Or is he sort of oblivious to it?

It would seem to make a big difference if he really got where you are coming from and did what he could to shift the dynamics in social situations, for example when everyone is addressing him and seeking his expertise he could say things like, "Well actually (your name) knows more about this than me..." and defers to you, including you in the conversation, validating your knowledge etc. Men who are conscious of sexism and other ugly social dynamics can sometimes do this sort of thing gracefully.
posted by beccyjoe at 5:55 PM on July 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

You might want to consider apologising to your work colleague for your outburst, too. I know you feel that it was justified, but it does reflect on your professionalism and you have to work with this person. Better to take the high road and apologise straight off the bat than hope they'll simply forget it ever happened.
posted by Lolie at 5:57 PM on July 21, 2009

I sympathize. It's a rough, rough situation. (I've been in the very rouh ballpark in the past, and also work in a male dominated field.) At the same time, though, you should also recognize the grain of truth in what others are telling you: you may well have overreacted and flipped out over nothing. You are getting bothered by completely genuine stuff -- that's what's in the background -- but it's easy to let that blurp out in inappropriate ways at inappropriate times, over a perceived but nonexistent slight. That is: genuine slights, over time, can lead to crazy outbursts at the wrong time when there has been no slight. Not that *I* would ever engage in a crazy outburst at the wrong time for such reasons... yeah, right.

Anyway, moving back to your city and working at a different company from your boyfriend is absolutely a step in the right direction. Give it some time, and recognize your own awesomeness. Also remember that they are probably bringing up your boyfriend because they know you are with him, possibly to be friendly and let bot of you know that he was and is valued. That is a NICE thing. It doesn't mean they value him more than you.
posted by kestrel251 at 6:19 PM on July 21, 2009

This phenomenon is extremely common among academic couples in the same field. I'd be surprised if there aren't resources or articles that discuss how couples deal with it (but I'm afraid I can't point you to anything in particular).
posted by painquale at 6:55 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Regardless of how you may have been mistreated, it's clear that your emotions have become involved to the point where you're beginning to drastically misjudge situations. You can't tell which instincts or feelings are real and which are delusional. You don't need us to tell you that this is eating like acid at your relationship as well as your career, but at a certain point you are implicated for self-sabotage.

I drew a card to show the way forward, and got the Hanged Man. It recommends that you don't make any decisions until you know you're seeing things as they really are -- don't quit your job, don't give up on your relationship. You may feel victimized or trapped in this situation, and the urge to struggle against the binding is only natural. But if you relax a bit, you'll see that there is no direct threat to you here -- in fact you may benefit greatly from this temporary inversion of your expectations. From your uncomfortable vantage point, you see the harsh realities of the world as they really are, and you'll begin to get ideas that you never would have considered otherwise. Think of this as an upsetting but necessary trial of endurance, one from which you'll emerge with wide-open eyes and newfound transformative energy.

That really makes me think that you're going to be looking for a new work environment pretty soon, though -- that may be the only way you'll truly be able to feel like you and your gentleman friend can rediscover your courtship and proceed on even footing. But you need to be as sharp, realistic, and enlightened as possible when you make that decision -- if you let the panic and insecurity of that first card interfere, you'll end up dangling in the wind like a traitor for betraying your true self.
posted by hermitosis at 8:02 PM on July 21, 2009

I'm going to ask you a question.

What if your boyfriend were actually pretty much way better than you at your job? What would that mean? Would it mean you were worth less than him as a person? Because there's no scorecard. Every measure is subjective because selecting a nominally quantitative number is still an act of subjective selection. I will personally guarantee to you that there is no secret vault on Mars with a tablet telling us what the thing we're measured by is.

How do I know this? Because I've got the power to see how it all turns out: we all die. Same thing happens to the high and the low.

So its your call. You can chose to measure yourself by whatever criteria you want. You can decide to think of yourself less if someone is better than you or not. But be aware of the pluses and minuses of doing each--write them out on a sheet of paper, pluses on the left, minuses on the right.

Usually the indirect result of thinking as I've described is a much more robust appreciation of one's self.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:45 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

When you do not live up to your own expectations, the result is guilt.
When someone else doesn't live up to your expectations, the result is resentment.

re: guilt, you can change your behavior.
re: resentment, only one choice. Change your expectations.
posted by bleeb at 9:13 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

What, really?

I thought some of the comments in this thread was pretty bad before, but the claim of delusion (followed by a tarot card reading, no less) compels me to say: Anonymous, ignore everyone here who is telling you there's something wrong with you.

It's clear that you're being passed over because of your sex. I think this is a much, much more likely explanation for your frustration than your being noticeably worse at your job. And even though you don't use the word 'sexism', you know this. Although you say that your boyfriend's good reputation is deserved, you do not attribute his success to his having more skill, but to your environment. So you went out, a straw broke the camel's back, you responded understandably though unfortunately, and now you are getting sexist responses in return (you're delusional, you're overemotional... no 'hysterical' yet, but wait). If a guy flipped out, the responses would be different: note that Henry Gates just got in hot water because he lost it in response to discrimination, but no one in that thread is calling him "overemotional".

You are unfortunately in a situation where sexism is going to permeate even your most personal home life. That sucks, and I don't know how to tell you to act in a situation like that. This issue grates on me because I'm a grad student in philosophy, which is probably one of the most sexist disciplines there is. I see time and again men getting more attention and plaudits than women -- this is especially true among couples, I think -- and the women have no ability to complain without making themselves seem like they are hysterical and deserve to be ignored. There's never such an obvious moment of overt sexism that a display of anger would seem appropriate; any angry response to it would only be interpreted as unprofessional and a display of deserved insecurity. So the women begin to believe that their insecurity is deserved. I am almost positive that's what's happening in your case, and I bet that you know it. There's no one thing that's "outside the realm of acceptable behavior", but they do add up to something that is not acceptable. You deserve to flip out in anger, but there's no one thing to flip out at without vindicating every else's biases!

I dunno, there are no easy answers about how to respond here, and I'm not really the right person to say; therapy is probably a fine start, sure. But I am sure that it is not the case that you are misjudging the situation because your emotions are clouding your judgment.
posted by painquale at 9:41 PM on July 21, 2009 [30 favorites]

Not sure I can get the right words while treading on sensitive ground, but... is it possible that to some extent, your reaction when y'all were out is part of an approach/mindset/something along those lines that leaves colleagues being less comfortable with you than they are with your BF?

Seems like there's gotta be some reason(s) why your BF is apparently held in higher regard in two separate places.

Challenging to articulate how toxic it is to have the mindset of resentment, things down that road.

How does your BF sell himself/come across in professional situations? There are people who are good at what they do and good at navigating the waters, winning hearts and minds. (Of course, the opposite, some people are more sizzle than steak.) It is something some people do better than others (without getting into being slimy, dishonest, etc).

To address the question, I have worked with a significant other, was happy to see her do well, crack off a good story, get the recognition she deserved. She was happy and proud when I'd smoke the competition, get ahold of something zesty, get to do something unusual.

"Inspired" feels a bit cheesy, but I think we were both... motivated? spurred on? by what the other was doing, getting done.

That element of things worked out well. We were much each other's cheerleader, support, agony aunt.
posted by ambient2 at 9:50 PM on July 21, 2009

Following beccyjoe, I think your boyfriend really needs to be your ally in this. From this distance (through the green, small white text and comment box) it seems like you're taking this all on yourself ("I am jealous and need to not be."). This is an issue you are both implicated in and that you both need to work to remedy.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:49 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wish I could favorite Painquale 30 times.

OP, it sounds to me like you're in a horrible Catch-22 and I also don't have a real answer for you. But I feel you and I think this is an enormously shitty situation. I'm also curious to know if your boyfriend acknowledges the sexism at all, or if he gets mildly irritated when you aren't basking in his 'glory'. Because it sounds to me like on the one hand this means either sacrificing a 15 year career or sacrificing your relationship (which if it's become this competitive maybe isn't the safest place for you). Either way, it seems like something's got to change pretty dramatically here for you to feel valued and honored in the ways that you should. Best of luck to you.
posted by ohyouknow at 11:00 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

What painquale said, yes. Please don't spend any time mulling over the "gawd you're so over emotional, what's wrong with you, woman?" replies - they're not going to help, only make you feel more shitty because they imply that it's all in your head, rather than with the way your colleagues have been treating you / ignoring you.

An awful lot of women working in a male dominated industry and/or office know where you're coming from. I know I do.

Please explain how you feel to your bf, so he knows what's up. Ask him to take a stand for you and if he's asked about something you're better at than him, have him say "hey, what don't you ask my girlfriend? She's ace at that particular topic you know".

Also if the outburst was in front of your colleagues - briefly apologise, but keep in short and sweet.
posted by Sijeka at 2:39 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is telling that you not only stuck around when you and your boyfriend moved to the new city, to work together at the same firm, and you found that they wanted to withdraw that offer to you, and have you work on a trial basis, but that you actually accepted a 15% lower salary, for the same job, as he took. Something seriously doesn't compute, about all that.

How did you imagine you were going to be treated, thereafter? You demonstrated, on Day One, that the backseat, or even the back of the bus was acceptable to you, and that being paid less was fine, too. Why would people who mattered in that company, respect, or even preferentially seek out, your opinion, thereafter. Many people believe that to get respect, you have to give respect, or at least be willing to grant respect if it is earned. This process has to include yourself, first.
posted by paulsc at 3:59 AM on July 22, 2009

You can either play the blocking information game (cheaper) or go to therapy.

The only nice thing about your situation is that you are not married, and I'll tell you why. Nobody at work needs to know everything about who you are as a person. I know it's harder for married couples because they're usually walking around with a ring, but nobody else has any obligation to advertise their significant other. If you like talking about him to coworkers, that may be something you could learn to curb. If you don't want to be compared to him, then don't speak in specifics about him.

Lest you think that I'm too harsh, be assured that I have a similar problem but with my brother. He got into a better school than I did, his coworkers really admire him, his supervisors speak very well of him and his teachers in school did the exact same thing. Therefore, it is about 100% easier for me to get through the day if people don't know we're related. There is no way to convince a family member or significant other to be more of an asshole or less competent at their job, so you'll have to do the work on your own.

Also, in your case I'm not sure there's a case for sexism. Personally, I hate unpaid evaluation periods. I think that's something you do to people who are entry-level or crossing over to a different field, not someone who's been in the field for 15 years. But, if he's remembered fondly by coworkers and bosses, then his resumé and references probably reflect that. He probably is going to be paid more than you.
posted by fujiko at 10:07 AM on July 22, 2009

OMG. Yes, people, it's sexism. Don't be stupid. Sexism comes in all sorts of guises -- some are overt and stuff like this is both overt and covert. The key here is that for sure, she KNOWS! Sometimes, you're not quite sure for all the reasons stated above (maybe I'm just not as qualified? maybe my interview was not as good?) but that is all bullshit. It's maddening that we can't just grab some of these guys by the neck and force them into the same situations so they could understand the cold and clammy feeling of wondering if you're not being taken seriously just because you have boobs.

I agree that the OP and her boyfriend need to come to terms with this themselves. He should advocate for her just as she for him. I don't think there's an easy answer here. I mean, in these male dominated fields you've have to play hard, play tough and brush yourself off at the end of the day and give it all the one-finger salute while you enjoy a much deserved cold glass of something. Yes, you overreacted (and I'm guessing she did this at home with the boyfriend, not at the table. Sheesh.) but the feelings are normal. It's just a lot harder for us then it is for them.

Just the other day I was touring a project with a group and asked a question of the owner, he started out by looking at me and then expounded at length but after the first sentence he was making eye contact only with the guy behind me. I actually looked over my shoulder, puzzled to see if there was an enthusiastic nodder or something that got his attention. Nope. Just a dude. And old dude, standing there impassively. Perhaps he was an old friend, you say? Perhaps the owner know that he is an expert on this? It really was none of those things. It's just a guy being uncomfortable with women. Maddening. You expect me to play perfectly at your game but you won't play mine.

I think the dream solution to this would be to magically find another company without those ties. You could also break up with the boyfriend. Your new company really hasn't done anything wrong but I understand the frustration.
posted by amanda at 11:31 AM on July 22, 2009

First, how independent is your idenitity from his? Are you known as his girlfriend? You need to develop a completely independent personality from his - you should always be seen as you, and never as his girlfriend. Think about never ever mentioning him, or referring to him as your boyfriend, and keeping your personal relationships out of the workplace altogether.

People tend to underestimate the danger in developing personal relationships at work. I understand we all want to be friends with our workmates, but goddamn it can open a jar of drama-for-your-mama. I believe people need to develop their professional identity at work before you develop personal relationships.

I'm afraid that the only way for you to stop resenting your boyfriend is by being better than him - if that's the case, then you better break up with him. Romantic relationships based on competition are doomed.

Don't give in to the knee-jerk reaction that it is sexism; if you do, and it's not, then it just becomes an excuse to not take responsibility for your own career destiny. I'm not saying that your gender had nothing to do with it, but I know bitter people who are convinced that they are victims of discrimination (because they have lots of experience but weren't promoted) when in fact, they just arent' as good at their jobs as they think. It is one thing to have experience, another to excel at a job.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:38 PM on July 22, 2009

As a way to help deal with the sexism (explicit or insidious) you encounter as a woman in a male-dominated field, what about finding some kind of group of women who also work in your field? It might be very empowering to talk with other women who experience the same kinds of issues you're going through, and they might be able to help you come up with good strategies for dealing with the sexism and with how it makes you feel. The really daunting thing about sexism/racism/oppression of all kinds is the way it subtly interacts with and affects your self-image. It gets near impossible to work out which issues are your own "personal" issues and which ones are the result of working in an oppressive or devaluing environment. Regardless of where this insecurity and feelings of resentment are coming from, I'd imagine that getting some perspective from other people in your situation will help you find ways to counter them.
posted by aka burlap at 2:22 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

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