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Parallax - Advice            May 1, 2000



   They have very different educational backgrounds...

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This month will be the sixth since my boyfriend and I began seeing each other. He is a fantastic man: mature, self-confident, and virile. I enjoy being with him, we share as much laughter as other types of intimacy. He works as a restaurant manager in the city. I am a lawyer, two years from partner at my firm. Gradually I've come to accept that we have very different educational backgrounds, and ambitions. At my age, and our stage in the relationship, I feel obligated to face this reality and decide whether it matters enough in the long-term, whether it will eventually pull us apart. Am I too worried?

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Her view:

Dear Ambitious,

Education is important - but I think it is more important that you enjoy doing things together. Education per se is probably not as critical as the interests that go along with it. So, if he hates the black tie events that you anxiously await, you may have a problem. You won't overlap on every hobby, but if you can't find sufficient common ground, then I foresee a difficult future.

My eminent colleague may expound some nonsense about love keeping you together - I beg to differ. Love is a basic minimum, but you also need to be able to form a life together, and that does mean joint activities. If either of you feels like you are sacrificing valuable time to do the other's events, you are setting yourself up for squabbles and disappointments.

If you don't share common ground now, I wouldn't expect this to change, and the relationship is probably unsustainable.

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His view:

Dear Ambitious,

My view is that educational and ambition differences can be very relevant. They usually underlie each person's circle of friends, interests, and hobbies - which tend to be shared or at least complementary in successful relationships.

Furthermore, education and ambition are not easy to fix. A few remedial classes at the university extension, or signing him up for mail-in-degree course work, won't really help at this point.

But I wonder if the educational gap is as drastic as you think. Does he want to discuss the People's Choice Awards while you can't get the damn Nobel Prizes out of your head? Or can the two of you enjoy Ally McBeal together?

And ambition is not necessarily correlated to education. It's not as if you're both finishing college and he wants to stay and work the fields in Rome, Mississippi, while you yearn for a corner office in the World Trade Center. It appears you're both relatively settled, both professionals. Is it so disastrous that he doesn't want to be the next Jack Welch, or John McCain?

The differences you see may not be intrinsically bad.

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