Carolyn Hax: Vulnerability and self-esteem in a relationship

Carolyn Hax
Columnist December 11, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Okay, I’m dating someone I really like, but he and most of his friends are super high achievers: best schools, prominent careers, athletic, etc. In comparison, I feel very very very average.

I haven’t been hiding anything though, so he already knows the truth about the things I feel insecure about: school, job, etc. So that must mean, in spite of these things, he likes me anyway? Right?

My fear — and this is in all relationships because this happened to me once and completely shredded my soul and my self-esteem — is that he’s just using me “until something better comes along” and I’m too dense to see it.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Shredded

Stay with me here, please, because it will sound like I’m dumping on you, but I’m not.

When you suggest he’s capable of mistreating you like that, you’re slamming his character. Do you have any grounds to do that?

If he has given you any reason to think that’s true of him, then you need to break up for that reason alone.

If instead he’s given you no reason to question his character, then you need to cut it out, and treat him either with the respect he has earned or with the benefit of any doubt.

That includes trusting him to like you for you. Résumés and transcripts don’t talk over dinner; personalities, characters, values, interests and chemistry do.

His liking you for you wouldn’t guarantee you’d stay together, of course; people of fine character have changes of heart like anyone else. The difference is that, going in, their intentions will be sincere, vs. a callous she’ll-do-for-now.

That’s the part about him. The part about you is bigger: Please examine the idea that one person (out of 7 billion, never lose sight of that number) can have so much power over the very essence of you. Any time you feel so vulnerable to anyone, please ask yourself: “What’s THAT about?” There will always be jerks, users, abrupt mind-changers, sooperdooper achievers, and whoever else scares you. They’re just fact.

And so each of us, in becoming whole, functioning adults, needs to find a way to come to terms with sharing the planet with people who are well-positioned to hurt us, be it through intent or merely by proximity.

The one I recommend most is the “whatever” approach: “They’re out there, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.” Treat people as populating one of two categories: those who help you with your purpose in life, or those better tuned out as distractions.

Make sure you’re in the first category yourself. If you think you can do more in life, then take concrete steps toward that. If you feel valuable as you are, then serve as no one’s inferior.

And date accordingly. As long as you and Superman get along well as equals, enjoy his presence in your life. If it isn’t working between you, then it’s not about your falling short, it’s about not being right for each other — and your filing him under “distraction.” Give only the good ones a place in your soul, and recognize your self-esteem as yours alone, a place to which only you have the key.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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