Communication and insecurities

I thought a lot today about your post and our conversation. I mentioned that the post reminded me somewhat of our conversation a few weeks ago, when you told me I should break up with you. I almost wrote a blog post a few days after, but it seemed too raw. What I wanted to say that I felt it was unfair for you to threaten our relationship and then, shortly after, to ask me to say that I would love you even if you continued to be rude to me in moments of insecurity.


The reason that yesterday reminded me of that moment is because I think that the only real threat to our relationship right now is our own insecurities, and those were very present when we talked last night. You fear being abandoned. I fear that my ability to be a good partner, and my own happiness, is too tied up in my perception of my own career. We’re both competitive, and we both have anxieties about being outshined, and also about our experiences with education, all of which were present in our conversation last night. It’s hard to tie them all into a single post, so I’ll just note each one...


Disaster / relationship failure: I don’t have much to say about this beyond what I wrote in our texts. We have a great relationship - happy, loving, full of trust and shared vision. The only time it’s been threatened is by our own insecurities, and I see no reason to look for reasons to pull back when they don’t exist. That doesn’t mean I want us to move faster, and I’m generally the one advocating for a more ‘normal’ timeline - but I don’t see good reasons why we should slow down.


Being outshined: We’re both competitive people, which is generally a virtue but has vices that need to be managed. I’ve realized that I feel nervous about your success when I’m feeling down about my own situation, and am trying to recognize what my triggers are and also articulate to you that when I feel this way, it isn’t personal to you but a reflection of how I feel about my own situation. Of course I should still work to change it, though, and I am. On the other side, though, I know I’m attracted to ambition and competence, and know that seeing those qualities in you will win out over any insecurities that I have about my own work.


Education: Most of my thoughts today were focused on this, especially since we talked about it directly last night in our argument about how much to encourage our children to go to college. Though it might seem like we’re just speculating about hypotheticals, I think what was under the surface was some of the insecurities that we both have, and have discussed before. I’ll start at the beginning, hoping that the connections will be clear a bit further down.


I believe that going to college significantly increases someone’s changes of happiness and success. I feel safe in saying there’s a pretty strong consensus around that. Millions of people take out huge loans to go to college; perhaps the loans they take out are irresponsible, but if anything they’re evidence of how strongly people feel that college is a necessary step in their lives.


Perhaps things will be different in 20 years. If they’re similar to today, though, I’m going to very strongly encourage our children to go. I think it would be irresponsible not to. I don’t deny any of the pitfalls of going to college, but done the right way, I believe it is one of the best experiences we can have. Study seriously with the aim of growing and learning how to live a good life. I tried to do that, and think I was pretty successful, to the point where my own exposure to ethics and political theory is exactly what made me so aware of my privilege and led to later decisions about the work I choose, giving away inherited money, etc. Though many of the qualities that I know you appreciate about me might not have started in college, that is where they first had room to grow. Can those experiences be gotten elsewhere? Yes, but I think it’s more difficult. Combine that with the large increase in opportunities that comes with going to college and I think the burden of justification for not going increases a lot. That’s all to say, I can imagine a scenario in which I’m convinced that our kids don’t need to go to college, I just don’t think that scenario is very likely - but I’m open to it if it comes.


I say this without denying any of the pitfalls to college. I just trust that we’ll raise our kids to be responsible and mature about the path they take once there, getting a lot out of the experience while avoiding some of the uglier parts. And that very act of preparing young people to use their education as a way of building character and opening their lives to possibilities is exactly what I’ll have done professionally for nearly a decade of my life. It would be such a shame for us not to lean into that experience.


The value of college has always seemed obvious to me, and while it’s good to interrogate that from time to time, I was still confused by how adamant you were that it’s not so important to go. It was especially bizarre knowing how sensitive you are about where you graduated from. If it truly doesn’t matter where you go, or even whether you go at all, then how should I understand your sensitivity about telling me that you graduated from Georgia State, or the fact that you don’t disclose that in public?


I bring this up because I think our shared insecurities about education were pretty close under the surface, and the conversation about college felt like a sort of proxy discussion of those insecurities. One such insecurity that we both have is around me going to business school, and I’m not surprised that the conversation eventually turned to that.


Here I agree with your view that I don’t need to go to business school. Could I have a happy and successful life in the States without going? Sure I could. Do I believe that going will make me more likely to have the kind of career that I hope for? Yes, that is how I feel right now.


Of course there are other reasons, too, and even some of the things that I think you view as negatives, such as seeking the comfort of a well-worn path, aren’t bad reasons at all. Being a student is something that I enjoy and am good at (one big blip notwithstanding). It doesn’t seem unreasonable to reach for that kind of familiarity - plus the comfort of having a broader array of career options to choose from, a solid network in a short time, etc - during a period of transition back to the US that is likely to be otherwise disorienting and difficult. Sometimes, a more conservative path is the right one.


I also have been up front about my own insecurities related to business school, even admitting that some percentage of the reasons that I want to go isn’t particularly noble (school brand, etc). Yet I think even those unsavory parts deserve some forgiveness, as they’re not too dissimilar from things that you support like wearing makeup, building a personal website, etc. I don’t believe for a second that the mere brand of a top business school will make me a better professional, just as I know you don’t believe that, say, marketing yourself through a personal website will make you better at your job. But both give us more of a platform to allow the skills that we do have to lead to opportunities for financial security, meaningful work, contributing to others’ lives, etc. I hope in that context you’ll be more understanding of my desire to go. And in asking you to be more understanding of my insecurities I note that I should be better about giving you the same understanding when we talk about things like makeup, personal websites, botox, etc. We each do this type of branding, in different forms. But the branding itself is less important than the reasons for doing it. And as with whether our kids will go to college, I hope that we’ll look more at the reasons for the act than we do at the act itself.


Finally, I hope that in being honest about my insecurities related to business school, I’m actually making the choice in a healthier way than most people. If I decide it’s worth doing in the end, then I’ll have at least questioned that decision, rather than just staggering blindly towards it. And I hope that my history of making significant and unconventional choices in my life, after careful thinking, adds credibility as well.


***

I hope this makes clear some of my thoughts about our conversation. While I wasn’t offended or hurt by it, the tendency to fall back onto some of our own insecurities during important or emotional conversations is one that I want us - both of us, I’m not directing this at just you - to break.


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