May 22, 2018
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My girlfriend is smart, but I want her to be smarter. How do I keep her from making me dumb?

Emily Yoffe
By Emily Yoffe, Slate magazine

Dear Prudence,

I have now been with my lovely, wonderful and smart girlfriend for nearly three years and I love her. We started dating as we were nearing graduation at different colleges. She has settled successfully into fashion merchandising, her area of study, while I have struggled to find a footing in a creative field after studying liberal arts. We enjoy each other’s company immensely and I am mostly content. But there is one thing that undermines my full contentment: She is uninterested in pursuing intellectual hobbies and interests outside her work and social life, while I am committed to discovering and pursuing cultural and intellectual stimulation.

She has a naturally high intellect, but it would seem she has a lazy mind. She rarely reads anything but online articles, displays no interest in developing an ideological or political viewpoint, and ignores most news. I have encouraged her repeatedly to seek out books, hobbies and pursuits of more cultural relevancy rather than shopping and being social with friends, but this is met with a shrug.

Am I crazy for wanting to raise the bar of my intellectual entanglement as a necessary part of my romantic relationship with this girl? Or have my liberal arts studies and well-adjusted, progressive middle-class background made me a pretentious blowhard? Her family background is one of economic hardship, divorce and no higher education.

— Smart Girlfriend, Lazy Mind

Dear Mind,

The question you pose has an inherently paradoxical nature. It is perfectly reasonable to want a partner you feel shares your intellectual bent; you’re also a pretentious blowhard.

You say your girlfriend has a lazy mind, but your being unemployed (and apparently not having to worry about student debt) leaves you with many hours to devote to perfecting your intellect. She’s actually busy with her career, which must be as satisfying as it is necessary since you say she comes from a family with no financial resources. You put her down for enjoying shopping and hanging out with friends. But since she’s in the fashion industry, shopping is part of her continuing education and a professional necessity. Maybe she also has more friends than you do; I’m liking her better than I like you.

However lazy you say her mind is, I bet your girlfriend understands that though you can transform someone’s fashion style, you can’t remake someone else’s mind. If you wish you could totally do over the way your beloved thinks, maybe you need to apply your own intellectual firepower to the question of whether you really love her.

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

Several years ago, my widowed mother moved across the country to be nearer to me and my family. She was in her early-70s, and subsequently fell in love with a wonderful widower around her age and they married. To their surprise, his grown children began to exclude him from their family plans soon after the ceremony. It’s been over nine years, and he no longer gets invited to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter with them. His grandchildren have been pressured to not see him. What’s confusing is that my mother’s husband and first wife were amazing parents who raised their own children and several orphaned relatives. All these siblings and cousins get together regularly, but leave their father and my mother out of their plans. The father and my mother have reached out many times, but his children said they want a relationship with only him, not both of them. I have tried to bring the families together, but was told not to get involved.

One of his relatives confided to us that toward the end of his first wife’s illness, she had instructed her oldest daughter to take care of her father after she died, so now his family feels my mother has made it impossible to honor their mother’s wishes. The stress has caused both my mother and her husband to be hospitalized several times. They remain committed to each other but recently told us that they have decided to move on and share their elder years only with our family. Is there anything else that can be done to repair this rift? When is it OK to stop trying?

— Saddened and Confused

Dear Saddened,

There are families who continue to get together for the holidays even after members have committed assaults, embezzlements, sexual improprieties and general outrageousness against each other. Either there’s some part of this story that’s being left out, or your mother’s husband’s children are a bunch of cruel, heartless ingrates.

Grown children generally are thrilled if a lonely, elderly parent finds love and companionship and does not need their constant attention. (The objections tend to be about a newcomer threatening a potential inheritance.) Even if they resent the arrival of a replacement, they are supposed to pull themselves together and welcome the new spouse, not alienate their parent from all his loved ones. I’d say after nine years not only is it OK to stop trying, it’s necessary. These are two old people who have been hospitalized for the stress this situation has caused them. You should reassure them that you respect their decision and are delighted they will be able to spend the holidays with you. Make sure your children treat your mother’s husband as if he is their grandfather. The poor man will go to his grave with a wounded heart. But when he’s at your Thanksgiving table, let’s hope he feels thankful to be part of your family.

– Prudie

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