I’m recently engaged to the most honest, thoughtful and loving man I’ve ever met. He has supported me through many hard times, including losing my job and being assaulted. Here’s the but about him: He makes no money. He has ambitions, and he’s smart, but will likely only bring a middle-class income at best. I have an OK job and I’m self-sufficient. Now here’s the but about me: I’m really, really pretty. My whole life people have told me I could get any man I want, meaning a rich man, and are shocked that I’m engaged to my fiancé, nice though he is. I’ve never dated a rich man, but it does make me curious. So part of me thinks I’m squandering my good looks on this poor man, and the other part of me thinks that I’m so shallow that I don’t even deserve him or anyone else. Am I a fool for thinking that a poor man can make me happy or an idiot for believing a sexist fantasy?
— Sincerely Shallow
It’s a delicate thing to sing “I Feel Pretty” and keep the audience charmed. Many people will be repelled by your acknowledged superficiality and wish that a string of rich men use you, then dump you when you start to lose your looks. But surely your fiancé delights in the fact — and surely his friends have noted — that he’s nabbed one the prettiest girls in the room. When considering possible life partners, people should bluntly assess each other’s intangible and tangible qualities. Of course character is central, but if the person you’re dating is a wholly admirable person who doesn’t attract you physically, that’s a serious problem. So, too, is being with someone who gives you pleasure in and out of bed, but who’s hiding from creditors. You have asked an unattractive question about monetizing your beauty. But I think there’s a more accurate way to look at what’s troubling you.
You’re really wondering whether you can be happy in the long run with a guy who treats you great, but who’ll never satisfy you financially. “Middle class” is a very elastic term, but I assume you mean that while you and your fiancé will be able to meet your basic needs, you’ll mostly be living paycheck to paycheck. You say he’s smart and ambitious, and I’m assuming you both are young, so you haven’t made it clear why these two qualities can’t propel him further professionally. Maybe he’s prone to pipe dreams the marketplace rewards with minimum wage. It’s fair to want a fully contributing partner in life, but if you think the bulk of a couple’s earning should come from the man, you either need to re-examine your assumptions, or clue in your fiancé. You and he need to discuss what kind of life you’d both like to lead and how each of you can map out career choices that will make this possible. Of course there are no guarantees of financial success, just as there are no guarantees that good looks will lure a guy with a bulging wallet (or that he’ll stick with you into middle-age). But if you’re filled with dread over the certainty that marrying your boyfriend will consign you to forever dreading when the bills come, this will tarnish your perception of his sterling qualities. You’re not a shallow fool for thinking that a life of scraping by won’t be so pretty.
I am a happily married professional in my late 20s. I grew up with wonderful parents and an older brother who was bright but suffered from mental illness. When we were teen-agers, he committed suicide in our home. It was a difficult time for me, full of the insensitivity of junior high school students. I moved out of state as an adult, so very few of the people I know now are aware that I had a brother. Often, when I meet new people or chat with co-workers, people talk about their families and someone asks if I am an only child. I tried answering yes, but it felt dishonest. Now I tell people that I had an older brother who died when we were younger. It makes other people feel awkward and brings the conversation to a standstill. I have no desire to disclose the details about what happened. Is there a way that I can answer this question in a way that does not invite probing, yet is polite and does not make others uncomfortable?
— Not an Only Child
You do not want to erase the existence of your brother, yet you don’t want to create awkwardness or provoke questions. I agree with you that saying you’re an only child can feel disrespectful to your brother’s memory. So I think you should tell the truth. The truth indeed is painful, but with practice, you will be able to smooth over the silences. You could say, “I did have an older brother who unfortunately suffered from mental illness. Sadly, he died about 15 years ago.”I hope most people are able to summon up a simple, “I’m sorry to hear that.” But after you’ve explained this, then you say, “So do you have siblings?” Or, “Did you grow up in this area?” Your being able to confidently move the conversation along will alleviate the discomfort. As for those who go on to probe, you can reply, “It was a very painful time, so I’m sure you can understand I’d rather not talk about it.”
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