Dear Captain Awkward,
My boyfriend and I have both just started law school in different cities, and I’m having trouble adjusting to the change in our financial situations. For the last couple years we have been living together, making roughly the same (small) amount of money. I’m going to a good school and have gotten some scholarships but I will be graduating with at least $50,000 in debt, and I expect to be paying it off for many years since the field I’m interested in is not exactly lucrative. My boyfriend got a scholarship that gives him a full ride and very generous stipend at a top school. He’s brilliant and hardworking and amazing, and he totally deserves all the good things that are coming to him, but it’s been a little tense between us lately because A) I can’t help being sort of jealous, and B) he’s not being particularly sensitive about the fact that he’s won the law school lottery. I am having trouble figuring out where A ends and B begins, and how to deal with it.
First off, I am definitely feeling not-related-to-the-BF anxiety about going into debt. But there are also things he’s doing that are making me feel worse. He’s never been particularly focused on making money, and he’s not fazed by the prospect of debt, so he really doesn’t empathize with my concerns about my financial situation. He also sometimes makes jokes about how non-selective/non-impressive my school is; I know he thinks it’s all in fun, but I don’t find them funny since objectively, his school IS more selective and they DO have more resources. This is compounded by the fact that as we talk, I feel like I’m making more of an effort to learn about his new friends/classes/school than he is to learn about mine. And, it often feels like he’s one-upping me when I talk about my circumstances and he follows up by comparing them to the better options/well funded opportunities he has. But then again, I’m also kind of hypersensitive to these issues by now, and I don’t want him to have to tiptoe around my feelings just to state a fact about his school or his life at school. I want to just be happy for him and the good things that are happening to him but it’s hard. MEANWHILE we’re both totally caught up in the excitement of settling in at our respective new schools, and I know that as we transition into a long distance relationship we are going to need to work hard to stay close to each other, and I don’t want to poison this by flipping out about money issues or developing an inferiority complex. I feel like this calls for some combination of attitude adjustment on my part and better communication on both our parts but I don’t know how to get there. Any advice?
I think you guys need a tough, honest conversation and then a break from talking about law school. I don’t know which order those go in.
The tough, honest conversation goes like this, probably as a direct response to something he says that ticks you off:
“I am happy for you. You deserve everything good that is happening for you. But I can’t help being jealous. That’s not your fault, and I’m working on dealing with it, but I need you to not make “funny” comments about how much better your law school is than mine. Also, just because you are not worried about money, I AM worried about money and debt, so I’d appreciate some more sensitivity from you about that – it’s not a “funny” joke, and I’m not overreacting when I express anxiety about it.”
You’re not poisoning the well, or, if you are, you’re not the only one. He’s also poisoning it when he dismisses your concerns as not a big deal, and he will continue to poison it if he treats his incredibly lucky break as proof that he is somehow more awesome than you. I mean, is he going to pay back all your loans? Is he going to shoulder all the travel costs of your long distance relationship? Is he going to always make sure you are fed and have a roof over your head? You have that in writing? Then by all means, stop worrying about money!
The taking a break from talking about law school is a tough one, since you’re in law school and it’s all new and shiny and you’re both going through this enormous change, and really, what else do you have to talk about? But you can’t settle in and be fully happy and satisfied with your program if you’re constantly comparing it to his. You need to delete the idea of his program as a possibile alternative from your mind, and focus on your own education. Start from the assumption that you are exactly where you are supposed to be and this is exactly how it is supposed to work. Make sure that you are making friends and investing fully in your own experience. And sometimes when you talk with your boyfriend, change the #@*$! subject.
That sucks, because he wants to share his experiences with someone, and that’s a valid thing to ask for within a relationship. But if he’s not asking you questions and he’s constantly one-upping you when you do share stories, that’s really not cool. And you shouldn’t have to abase yourself during these discussions just because his school is somehow “better.”
I guess this is where I ask you: What’s your plan for how this all works out when you’re done with school? Do you guys both have your eyes on the prize of being together in the same place, each practicing your own brand of law and being happy, and this really is just a temporary separation? What are your plans for summer internships – can those happen in the same place? Can you keep your conversations focused on stuff you share besides school – sex, shared memories, plans, other hobbies – at least for a little while? Can you take a break from talking to each other for a few weeks and let yourself really settle in without damaging the relationship? If you raise the things that rankle you, does he hear you or tell you you shouldn’t be worried about it?
I’m hopeful that the commenters will have better advice than I do. What I know is that 1) long distance relationships are hard 2) law school is hard 3) trying to pretend you are cool about something you are not cool about is REALLY hard – The price of a relationship isn’t having to always be the bigger person. So whatever solution you come up with, let it be one that lets you go easy on yourself and be honest about what you need.