We all have relationship dealbreakers. Maybe you disagree on issues of politics or religion. Maybe he’s a vegetarian and you miss eating meet. Maybe she’s into Marvel comics and you’re hard-core DC. Maybe he’s left-handed and your elbows bump into each other at the dinner table. Maybe, as with Melissa Jeltsen’s failed relationship, he just wasn’t intellectual enough for you–or as she put it, he didn’t go to college.
I went to college because high school ended, and that was what people like me did. At 18, I moved out of my parents’ house in the country and into a dilapidated three-story Boston duplex shared by an opera singer from San Francisco, a classical guitarist from Florida, art students, writers, and a colony of mice. Our perpetually unlocked door meant the house’s population was regularly supplemented by a straggler passed out on a wine-soaked couch, or–late on New Year’s Eve in our communal kitchen–an androgynous punk rocker named Duke.
Duke was not like me: He was a reclusive Boston native who didn’t read, wasn’t political, and didn’t even own a computer. I grew up overseas, devoured newspapers, and felt happiest surrounded by lots of friends, debating into the night. But our connection ran deep and easy. We spent each prematurely dark night of that New England winter at my house exploring the places our young lives overlapped–laughter, food, pot, sex.
Quick summary: Jeltsen and her Duke had little to nothing in common outside of their “deep and easy” connection. The more time she spent in college, the more she was “intently motivated by the heightened intellectual atmosphere” and wanted someone to talk with about literature and philosophy and brilliance. Duke wasn’t into those things. Duke had a learning disability, dropped out of school at age 16, and had no interest in finishing high school or starting college. But as time passed, Jeltsen became concerned with Duke’s lack of intellectual vigor. When he finally caved and enrolled in her college, he didn’t seem to like it or feel comfortable with it, and their intellectual gap further widened until they had nothing to talk about and started fighting and then he got a cat and the house smelled bad and they broke up.
For want of his college degree, their relationship was lost. Tragic.
How about this as a dealbreaker: I’m into political debate, and he couldn’t care less. I like talking about literature, and he likes drawing and skateboarding. He isn’t interested in procuring income, and I resent having to carry the financial weight in our relationship. Not having stuff in common is a perfectly reasonable dealbreaker. (My partner doesn’t think I’m good enough? Huge dealbreaker.)
But go ahead, cram it all into a superior, elitist backpack labeled “never went to college.” Maybe if Duke actually went to college, he’d discover that he wanted to be an illustrator and still didn’t give two shits about politics or literature. Maybe he’d discover a love for computer science, end up making a ton of money, and still have nothing to talk about with you. Maybe now that you’re free, you’ll meet some handsome literature grad student in the coffee shop and spend your days discussing philosophy and classic texts, but always in your apartment because his smells like cat piss and his mom was late paying the power bill. But at least Cat Piss Grad Student would have the four-year degree that qualified him as people like you.
I wanted an intellectual match. Duke wanted a cat.
I’m super-sad that didn’t work out for you. And I’m sure Duke, if he were to read this (if he read things at all, which he totally doesn’t, amirite?), would cry a delicate, crystalline tear at his loss.
Allow me to throw out a dealbreaker of my own: pressuring someone else into turning into something he doesn’t want to be, just because you think he should be. Maybe he’d actually be blissful and fulfilled if he jumped through your hoop and met your intellectual standard, or maybe he feels blissful and fulfilled right now (or did, until you started hassling him about his intellectual inferiority). Either way, it’s not your call–particularly since you knew from the very beginning that you didn’t share any interests outside of pot and tomato soup. If you’d acknowledged that from the beginning, or at least when you started craving smarty-smart conversation with your college pals, you could have saved him the stress of struggling to be the “intellectual match” you wanted him to be. Wherever Duke is now, I hope he’s happy, and I hope he’s discovered that his dealbreaker is people who don’t think he’s good enough.