Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Should she vive la difference? Or just say au revoir?
Anonymous: How important are life choices in a relationship? I'm trying to figure out if differences are a sign of incompatibility or more a reflection of my personal hangups. I've been out a few times with a guy I knew when I was younger. I enjoy seeing him and have a nice time when we go out.
One of the issues is that he didn't go to college, despite coming from an academic family. He describes himself as being a headstrong teen. He also said he made bad choices for himself during that time period and would have done things differently (he's mid 30s). I went to school and have a 9-to-5 office job.
There seem to be other differences as well that stem from these life choices. In short, I think he's a bit less cosmopolitan than the people I surround myself with.
I am aware the world would not go 'round if we all had the same kinds of jobs and made the same choices. I'm wondering if these differences carry much weight, or if I am being judgmental and superficial.
Carolyn: Less "cosmopolitan"? Some would see that as a plus.
Get to know him better for as long as you remain interested in getting to know him better, and let him (and his intellect and interests and current choices) answer your questions.
Actually, you're really just asking one question — "Does it matter that he skipped college?" — and the only definitive way to answer it is in the negative. In other words, if the relationship grows into something real and permanent, that will tell you definitively that the non-degree was a non-issue.
If instead you find yourself losing interest, either now or at some point in the future, that won't tell you definitively, "Yes, his skipping college made us incompatible." That's because you can lose interest in anyone, college graduates included, for countless different reasons, right? So wouldn't it be presumptuous to connect a failed relationship definitively to his non-degree? You either enjoy/like/want him, and grow to love him, or you don't. That carries weight.
Find something, anything, nice to say, and stick with it
Anonymous 2: My New Year's resolution was to be less critical, especially of my mother-in-law, who is a piece of work. While she infuriates me (and my spouse), I don't want to sour any grandparent relationship by speaking ill of her in front of my toddler. Any hints for saying nice things about/to people who aren't very nice to you?
Carolyn: Identify her redeeming qualities — most of us have at least one — and say them out loud, first to yourself or to your spouse, just to get used to saying them, then in front of your kid.
Keeping positive thoughts in mind will serve both as a pathway to other good thoughts, and as a constant reminder of her humanity. Negative thoughts don't just sit there harmlessly; they multiply, infect other thoughts and motivate negative actions. If you keep telling yourself, "Mary is doing the best she can," "Mary raised my spouse and got a lot right doing it," or whatever shred of credible praise you can muster, then you're likely to bring down the fury a couple of degrees when you most need to keep your cool.