Please Advise: My girlfriend patronizes me endlessly.

Nerve readers help out a guy whose girlfriend looks down her nose a little too far.

Each week, the inbox of our venerable advice columnist, Miss Information, is flooded with queries. And although she makes a valiant effort, she cannot answer them all. To deal with the surplus, we've decided to turn to you. So, don your spectacles and help this woman out. You can give her advice in the comments below, or, if you'd like to share what you wrote with your friends, on our Facebook page.


Dear Nerve,

I'm currently dating a girl who I've known for a while. (We met in college and have dated on and off since then.) Right now, my life revolves around waiting tables and shopping my novel around, and she's working her way through med school. She's a great girl, and we have a lot of fun together, except she has one habit that's been annoying the living hell out of me.

I don't know if it's that I'm currently the stereotype of a "struggling artist," or that she just thinks her profession occupies a higher place in the world than mine, but she's constantly patronizing and speaking down to me. I listen attentively to her talk about med school and what she hopes to do with her life, but whenever the conversation switches to my life, she's very dismissive of my work, even though she a) hasn't read any of the novel, and b) actually makes less money than I do right now (just to make clear that this isn't entirely a financial issue). There's always the implicit condescension in her voice that I'm going to have to "find a real job" or move on to something more stable and some point, and it's really irking me.

I've teasingly asked her why she feels like this, and even pointedly made it an issue the first time we broke up. Lately though, it's been less overt "truth-disguised-as-joke" statements and more subtle attempts at undercutting me and what  I do. (Perfect example: she recently casually mentioned an article she read online about how little working novelists actually make per book, without explicitly mentioning me or my book.) What's the best and most constructive way to finally put a stop to this, the dark spot in an otherwise bright relationship?

— Get A Job, Hippie

Commentarium (58 Comments)

Jan 26 12 - 1:16am

When she makes one of those small, undercutting remarks, don't let it slide. Bring it up, specifically, and explain to her how it makes you feel ("I felt really hurt," "I felt really disrespected"; not "you really disrespected me" or "you are so condescending"). Don't assume you know that she intends to hurt or talk down to you when she makes these remarks, and don't use the remarks as a means of making a large-scale attack on her character ("you're thoughtless/patronizing/whatever"). Don't talk in generalities about your relationship; talk about specific things she has said and done. Tell her, in clear terms, what you want her to do to make you feel more supported. And if you feel the argument descending into a bitter, hurtful place, or a screaming match, don't be afraid to put it aside for a bit and bring it up again in a few days.

With that said, it sounds like your level of commitment to this woman is pretty low. If you do your best to speak to her fairly, calmly, and clearly about the problems you're having in the relationship, and nothing changes, it might be time to let this one go. To try to be an artist nowadays is to become a magnet for people unloading their bullshit opinions on your life and career choices, and the last thing you need is to come home and find more of the same judgment waiting for you.

Jan 26 12 - 1:34am

Ask her to read your novel. Tell her it would mean a lot to you. Then see how she responds. If she never gets around to it, if she makes excuses, if she reads part of it and then stops, or if she reads it and has nothing good to say, you can consider this relationship dead in the water. (Constructive criticism is one thing; disdain is another - I'm sure you'll be able to tell the difference.) Being a working artist is a difficult road, and you'll find that having a partner who doesn't support or respect you is a slow poison that dooms not only the relationship, but your inner creative life. It doesn't make her a bad person necessarily; but it does sound like she's looking for a partner with a more stable, lucrative career. She's right that "novelist" is an unstable career path, and it sounds like that may be a dealbreaker for her. Don't let her change you or make you feel shitty about your chosen path. Your path is fine. But if she can't respect it, then you two are not compatible.

Feb 01 12 - 5:06am

Tell her that YOU will do the medical school just as she begins to pull in enough income. I hope you will be successful (I enjoy reading good books).

Jan 26 12 - 2:01am

I am guilty of this myself. Reason being is that I didn't understand the love and effort my gf put into her work. She's a musician and she always talks about not making any. Regardless, its the path she chose in life and is happy with it. If its the path you picked and you are happy don't let her shit on you.
It just sounds like she's not taking your profession(writing) seriously. Or maybe she's the type that wants some security that you aren't giving her(mentioning how little writers make to you offhandedly) so she is acting out.
Its simple. "I feel disrespected because I don't feel that I am being taken seriously as a writer" and if she says something stupid like "you aren't" then you have your answer

Feb 02 12 - 12:21am

The author *could* get a real job. I mean how different is "shopping around" a novel from buying lottery tickets hoping to make it big?

Feb 09 12 - 8:54pm

Umm...there's a huge difference. One involves actual work, dedication, perseverance and passion, while the other only involves buying a bunch of tickets and "hoping to make it big." How is that much not obvious?

Jan 26 12 - 2:19am


Jan 26 12 - 3:12am


Jan 26 12 - 6:21am


Jan 26 12 - 12:10pm


Jan 26 12 - 5:37pm

Cinco de Dumpo

Jan 27 12 - 1:32am

Deep 6

Jan 27 12 - 1:51am

Yep. No need to tolerate that kind of passive-agressive crap. It's still true that the med schools weed out most of those with any sensitivity, and encourage the arrogant fucks. Maybe she's secretly worried that she'll end up supporting you (even though you sound like you're taking care of yourself just fine), and that she'll have school bills and you to support later. I say relieve her of that concern, and yourself of any further crap from her. If you've broken up several times already, that's a pretty good sign that something is amiss.

Jan 28 12 - 12:58pm


Jan 29 12 - 8:14pm


Jan 30 12 - 3:47am
um hmm

What the 80 people above me said. Honey, this isn't an "otherwise bright relationship." Your gf doesn't respect you. Keep it moving.

Jan 26 12 - 2:53am

she sounds like a bitch! DTMFA! Seriously you shouldn't have to put up with that. Find an artist chick who understands you. Or another medical student who ISNT a condescending ass

Jan 26 12 - 3:15am

One approach:

This is just a stab in the dark (forgive the awful cliche), but maybe she is just echoing shit she gets from friends or family about you. They could be pressuring her about your apparent lack of a clear career path and she could be defending you to them but then venting some of that pressure on you. She might not even really realize how she is coming off. If the relationship is otherwise solid, help her be better to you. Don't beat around the bush (it's raining cliches!). Tell her clearly what it is that she does that bothers you. Tell her the extent that it bothers you ("I can't see myself long term with someone who would rather I take a job I hate than pursue something I love") and give her a chance to correct it.

Different approach:

Maybe she really sees a future with you and is afraid that this flux stage is never ending and she will be a fancy doctor stuck with a part time never published novelist for the rest of her life. Help her see that this stage is transitional, and that you aren't just excusing yourself for aimless wandering. Talk about the proactive steps you are taking in finding a publisher. If she doesn't listen to that part or still disparages you, then tell her you hope she finds what she is looking for and write your second novel about the breakup experience.

There are so many unemployed lawyers and stock brokers and blah blah. You have the rest of your life to take a job you hate. Enjoy this time and don't give up that dream for someone unless she'd be willing to give up her dreams for you. I think it is awesome you are going for this. Rock on, brother (or sister)!

Jan 27 12 - 11:20pm

Yes, very well thought out response. I agree with both aspects... Unfortunately in this culture you are going to be judged by what you do, at least by those who don't know you well. Her family and friends may raise an eyebrow at your current status, and personally I know having to defend one's choice of boyfriend generates frustration-- towards everyone.

Also, she may be harboring some bitterness because she's signed on for a decade of ass-busting schoolwork and 14-hour shifts, and may not realize that your life isn't so easy either. Even after you're published and "legit", your lifestyles will be extremely different. Hopefully she'll appreciate the difference, though; after all, you would be the guy that makes her breakfast after a long night in the OR.

Jan 26 12 - 6:42am

I think a simple 'who the fuck do you think you are' would suffice.

Jan 26 12 - 10:15am
Buck Nasty

She doesn't respect you bro. Its as simple as that. She's slumming. That condescension is only "implicit" to someone not paying attention. Seriously. You've heard of "He's just not that into you", yes? Well consider yourself served. You're not doing it for her.

I usually say some Nasty shit on here but today I'm being sincere. You're are not the alpha-male for this chick.

What's her orgasm situation?

Jan 26 12 - 10:43am

Cut your losses, friend. When one person in a relationship disrespects the other it's a relationship killer. Be the bigger person and politely, respectfully disengage. And best of luck to you with your writing!

Jan 26 12 - 12:09pm

she doesnt seem long term intrested. and if she is, its only because shes hoping to mold you into a respectable husband for a Doc.

Jan 26 12 - 12:24pm

"dark spot is an otherwise bright relationship"???????????? How is this possible?

Jan 26 12 - 2:05pm

That's code for "she's really hot"

Jan 26 12 - 2:38pm

haha, so true

Jan 26 12 - 12:43pm

Have you considered the possibility that she hasn't read your novel because you're not a very good writer and she wants to spare your feelings? Maybe she's hoping that she won't have to come right out and say that you will never make a living as a novelist, and that you'll get a job you can make a lifelong living at.

Jan 26 12 - 12:49pm

She is who she is and from what you've written sound's like she's a bitch. You want her to be someone she's not, someone who cares about you and what you do and how you feel but she just gives you ridicule. Time to pull your head out of your ass and see you're trying to make this something it's not.

Jan 26 12 - 1:56pm

Look dude, I'm a MFA candidate working on a novel too. Yeah, we're both taking a very long shot, but we're doing what we want to do. You can't have people in your life who are undercutting you. And I HAVE dated a doctor and they do think about and prioritize things like money and stability.

Walk away. Good luck on your book.

Jan 26 12 - 2:33pm

not all of them! what about newly minted doctors who pack their bags and take their degrees to the slums, the countryside, or the third world? they exist, i've met two.

Jan 26 12 - 2:58pm

This brings to mind this BBC skit:

Jan 26 12 - 5:39pm
Saratoga Slim

As bad as her attitude toward you seems now, the real indication of how she feels will be determined if you can find out how she talks about your profession (or it AND you) to her friends. If someone asks about your career, would she champion you or put you down? If it's the latter, kick her to the curb so hard sparks fly off her butt. She'll never respect you, and you'll be miserable until she dumps you for someone "better." Don't wait that long to see the light. The light will come in handy when you take a stab in the dark...

Jan 26 12 - 5:40pm

Comments like hers spring from a lack of respect. Either A: she doesn't respect how you provide income, or B: she doesn't respect that you don't stand up for yourself when she belittles you.

Either way, stand up for yourself. Firmly, but gently. If she can't handle that, show her the door.

Jan 26 12 - 5:56pm

There is some great advice posted i'll focus my thoughts on HER motivation.

Think about the people she interacts with every day at school and in the medical field. Now think about their conversations and banter about social stuff and relationships. Someone says to her, "Kathy, what does your boyfriend do for a living?" Right now her mind is in panic mode about how best to respond. Saying you're waiting tables right now wouldn't be an issue if she could say, "Well, right now John's waiting tables until he (insert some "respected profession here, like, finishes law school or get's his PhD, etc.). But no, she would have to say, "Well, right now Johns waiting tables while he shops his novel around." The problem with that is, she knows people will say, "Really, he's a novelist? What's his book about?" PROBLEM - she hasn't read it.

I'm sorry to sound crass here my friend, but she has NO respect for you, your dreams or aspirations. If she did, she'd have read your book and been proud of what you've already accomplished (how many people have even ATTEMPTED to write a novel - let alone shop it). I think you're a "placeholder" in her life right now. You're a support function (physical, emotional) for her, but it's clear she's starting to worry as much about "appearances" as she is anything else.

She's probably already projecting those conversations at dinner parties with her fellow Physicians and is feeling she'd be embarassed to introduce you to her social circle of collegues.

Does this mean she can't change? NO, but like others have posted, you should nip those comments in the budd. Now, what i've found very effective in this situation is that when she drops and off-handed comment again, you look her in the eyes and say, "When you made that comment about most novelists never actually making money - that hurt me very much and i'm disappointed that someone i care about so deeply would say something like that to me." AND THEN SHUT UP! Using the word DISAPPOINTED is one of the most powerful words in the English language and it RARELY needs to be expanded upon once said.

Then, just watch and listen. What she says or does next will tell you VOLUMES about her real feelings.

My gut is, you're a placeholder, and that as she gets closer to residency, going into private practice (ie: finshed school), she's going to cut you lose.

Jan 28 12 - 1:34am

to bob in Tampa:

your response is insightful and well-reasoned. and I agree with you.

Jan 26 12 - 7:42pm
been there done that

Borderline Personality Disorder under abusive relationships. Probably a pattern of this abuse in her family. Read all the stuff on abusive relationships. If it rings true talk with her about it... If she won't cop to it walk.

Jan 26 12 - 9:03pm

These comments are really a way to say "I'd respect you more if you did what I want you to do rather than what you do". Which is not good if you are supposed to be in a relationship based on equality. This could be a learned thing on her part. For example, her parents want her to marry a lawyer, not a struggling artist. My mother is sort of like that and I think after 30+ years of me telling her that I do not care what a person does for a living as long as they are happy doing it, she finally realizes that success is not related to a profession or to money and does not equate to happy. I think. You need to have a real conversation about this, such as, "What is it that YOU think I should be doing?" and go from there. A lack of respect for your career choice and happiness is a lack of respect for you.

Jan 26 12 - 9:46pm

Contempt/disrespect is a relationship killer. There's not a lot to do after one partner feels that way about the other. It's time for an honest discussion about this, and how she responds to your concerns (e.g. dismisses them, takes them to heart, etc) will tell you a lot bout the future of the relationship.

Jan 27 12 - 1:33am

Dude, sounds like you're the one who needs some work.

Here's the deal: she is launching herself a career. You are being a waiter and 'shopping your novel around'. That's not a long-term plan. Kudos to you for pulling your weight financially, but say no one wants to publish your novel. Then what? Are you content with being a waiter for the rest of your life? Do waiters and doctors date a lot in your world?

it's not too much for a someone to require a partner to be career-minded. I've got sympathy for the struggling artist and love the success stories. We all want to be published novelists. But what she wants from you is a more workable plan.

Don't get me wrong, she is also a bitch for expressing it the way that she is. Still, sooner or later you're going to have to decide if you can offer her or any other partner after her the stability and pride that comes with making a living doing something you love.
Or not, if you're a trust fund baby, win the lottery or make enough off of your book to never have to do anything else. The latter two having equal probability.

Jan 27 12 - 7:08am

The workable plan thing is true. I think that it's wonderful that you are following your dreams and trying to publish a novel, but that's a hard road to hoe, and you know that it doesn't work out for many people. So you have to do two things:

1) Confront your gf next time she says something nasty about the book or you as an author. Tell her that that shit hurts your feelings, that it's a big problem because she does it a lot, and that she needs to stop. But

2) Your gf (and you) need to know that if the novel doesn't sell, you have some sort of life plan aside from waiting tables until retirement. Think about what else you could do with your life. Explore some options. Take a couple of college classes if that will move you in the direction of a career and more gainful employment. You don't have to be sure what you will do with the rest of your life, but think about it and seriously look into what it would take to land that job.

If your gf won't stop with the snark or you won't seriously consider your career options, then this relationship is dead in the water, and you and your gf need to acknowledge that your life goals are too different for you two to work as a couple and move on.

Jan 29 12 - 2:24pm

I can't honestly believe you're actually advising him to consider a different career path just to make the relationship work. He has been clear enough that he is writing, and he is doing it seriously - you should NEVER give up what you love to do for the sake of anyone. Anyone!! Esp since he's not sitting on his ass smoking weed all day.

On a side note, I think your gf is frustrated. Either with the amount of work she feels like she puts into medicine, or the fact that maybe she would have liked to pursue smting else but didn't have the courage, and seeing you doing everything for your passion makes her feel like crap. Or maybe she feels pressure from friends&family - society - to worry about what you do for a living.

Either way, just talk to her and ask her.

Jan 30 12 - 2:52pm

Doe the "anyone" in "you should NEVER give up what you love to do for the sake of anyone" include kids? (Serious question, not rhetorical smartass huffing). It's tough to tell how serious they are about their future, but if it does potentially include marriage, kids, etc., then I think he should at least come up with a time frame that he will shop his novel around. Pursuing dreams is ok, but if it's not working out, then you need a reality check at some point in time. Sometimes you just have to let the dream die and get a real-world shitty job. Yeah it sucks, but that's what the rest of us do.

Plus, right or wrong, her resentment is only going to grow once she graduates and really has to start working. Everyone pretty much knows that the worklife of doctors is insane. If she's feeling resentment now, just wait until she's worked 14 hour shifts for 21 days straight. She'll need to come to terms with the fact that she chose the life of a doctor; but there's a pretty big disparity between the life of the doctor, and the life of a waiter. You'll either have to close that gap somehow, or hope she comes around to your way of life (which sort of sounds unlikely given all of her passive aggresiveness).

Jan 27 12 - 10:07am

Ditch the sensitive guy crap and dump her. Then go to therapy and work on your self-esteem issues. There's a world of cool women out there who aren't condescending.

Jan 27 12 - 10:47am

Seems like there could be all sorts of things going on here on her end. My guess is that they all have to do with her feeling anxious about what she should be doing and who she should be with, which is probably related, as someone else wrote, to her perception of other people's expectations and perceptions about you (and thus her). The question is whether there's enough that's good about the relationship to get over it. In all likelihood, you will never make much of a living off of your writing, but this could actually balance out well with her career choices if she valued whatever it is that you bring to the relationship. I know a med student who is married to a musician who is relatively successful but will never make much money, and she clearly considers herself lucky to have him and the music in her life even if she ends up paying most of the bills. I don't think that your girlfriend necessarily needs to read your novel or like it. It's not like she's a literary expert. But that's exactly the thing: since she's not a literary expert, it's not her place to judge whether you're a good writer. Since she's your girlfriend, she does need to respect you and your choice to pursue whatever you're going to pursue. Seems like you really just need to sit down and explain that this is what you're doing, you may never make a lot of money or be the kind of professional that she will be. If she can't be supportive of that, or if the things that she does like about you as you are aren't enough, then you need to move on.

One other thought: is it possible that you ever make her feel like she's sold out or doing boring work or something like that? Maybe her way of defending her own choice is to denigrate yours (and vice versa). It wouldn't hurt to start your conversation with something like "I really respect your choice to become a doctor..." and check that that's actually true.

Jan 27 12 - 1:01pm

Oh GAJH, Don't you worry your pretty little head about it. Be nice and get her a drink.

Jan 27 12 - 2:25pm

Oh blah blah freakin' blah. If someone acts like an a___hole, get rid of them. Life is too short.

Christ, no wonder this generation is so screwed up.

Jan 27 12 - 7:39pm

With her going to be a doctor, and you working some kind of a regular job, chances are you two would be fine financially speaking in the not too far future. It just sounds like a classic case of the woman not being willing to take a step outside the social norm and accept that she will probably be the primary breadwinner, at least for a little while.

Ask her about this, and assure her that you are working very hard at your passion, writing, and that her support would truly mean a lot to you.

Jan 28 12 - 12:19am

Two possibilities:

1. She is in love with you and wants to marry you but doesn't know how to say so. At the same time, she is worried that she'll be the sole wage-earner and she doesn't know if she'll resent you for that or if you'll be the resentful one.

2. She doesn't love you and is trying to sabotage the relationship.

Jan 28 12 - 3:10pm

Creative jobs that are few and far between (novelist, painter, musician) take more committment and obsession then others. I know an artist who purposely chose not to marry or have kids because he realized early on that that kind of obsessive creativity (that is necessary to be succesful) is a relationship-killer for most 'normal' people.
I was a struggling artist, but now I make unreal amounts of money. My husband is supportive - but the first one was not. I know from experience that unsupportive people can KILL your creativity. If that is your dream, then dont put up with anyone putting it down.

Jan 28 12 - 4:06pm

I think an open, honest, and direct conversation is in order. Explain how you feel and give her a chance to respond. If it bugs you that she hasn't read your novel, ask her to read a draft and - here is the really important part - prepare yourself for her disliking it. Writing is a unique medium. Not everybody can write well; but nearly everybody can read a novel and develop an opinion. You cannot ask her to read your novel and then expect her to mask her feelings. Of course, tone, inflection, and phrasing are all important when communicating important issues with a partner.

Which brings me to my next point. Is it possible that you are feeling insecure about the differences between a waiter and a doctor and interject that into the conversation, thus misinterpreting the tone of her comments? If you are super sensitive to the differences between you, perhaps you are putting tone or words in her mouth when she did not intend to come across a certain way.

If you feel strongly about this relationship, I think this is something worth talking about and hopefully resolving.

Jan 29 12 - 11:45am

She's right. I have an MFA from one of the best programs out there and let me count the number of rich writers I know....none. It's very rare that a working writer would make anywhere close to what a doctor makes. This girl loves you, but is secretly worried that she's going to have to support your ass for the rest of your life. And she should be. If you're cool with not making much money, that's fine. But obviously she's not, unless she's just incredibly altruistic. This relationship is doomed unless you have an honest talk about both of your expectations for the future. You really should be working toward something else in addition to your novel, because chances are that will come to very little. Artistic intentions are lovely, but they don't pay the bills. But you might make a good house husband if she's cool with that. Day care is expensive. Ask yourself how you will feel in 10-15 years if your novelist aspirations don't take off and your wife is much more successful than you? Time passes much more quickly than you realize.

Jan 29 12 - 5:47pm
Brad Pitt

I'd quote Floyd from True Romance: "Don't condescend to me, man. I'll fuckin' kill ya"

Jan 30 12 - 5:49am

Well maybe if your novel wasn't self indulgent and autobiographical you'd sell it and not have this problem.

Jan 30 12 - 1:34pm

Quit with the sensitive guy bull___t and get rid of her. Stop being a wimp.

Jan 31 12 - 6:51pm

Belittling, condescension and disrespect -- whether passive-aggressive or active-aggressive -- should be a deal-killer to anyone with self-respect. I know it's hard, but her contempt will never be cured by your "success" -- no matter what you achieve in your career. That's the fact, Jack.

Feb 01 12 - 12:07pm

Have you considered the possibility that she's jealous? She went the responsible route to be a doctor but maybe she has a secret desire to be an artist/writer/chef/something else and is trying to convince herself that she made the right choice by finding all this evidence that your choice is wrong. It's a shitty situation but one I recognize in--I went the responsible route and sometimes felt like I needed to prove to myself that I'd made the right choice. But that's MY issue; if/when I found myself putting others down because of my own insecurities... I got my ass a therapist.

How to approach the conflict depends on where you think the relationship can go. If you're just "having fun" see if a conversation makes a difference. If not, it's not sustainable. If you are serious about this person and see this as the one issue you need to get around, then do whatever you need to in order to make it work. Therapy, multiple conversations, emails, notes...a rubber band on her wrist that you snap every time she gets in condescension mode... It's not a deal breaker but you need to think about how much work you're willing to put into the relationship in order to fix it.

Feb 02 12 - 5:06pm

Some people are driven to become doctors because they really want to heal people.
Others do it because they are concerned with social prestige, money, status, family's expectations.
Is becoming a doctor her way of following her bliss? Or is she following something else?
If the answer is "something else", run away fast now.

She'll NEVER be down with someone driven primarily by the desire to create.

Feb 10 12 - 1:58am
Does she realize it?

As a competitive student myself, th0ugh in a science PhD rather than med school, you might want to consider the environment she finds herself in every day in her school. People are brutal, and the work is beastly hard. She's likely pitted against all the people in her classes for the best grades, which will give her the best residencies, which give her the best jobs. And as a woman in science, I've found it to be even more difficult. Every day in lab, I put on an aggressive attitude, since my small frame and big eyes don't tend to impress people. And I'm not the only one - a lot of women I know feel like they need a condescending attitude in order to be respected in a culture that is still very male-dominated.

However, you're outside of that stupid rat race. You don't have to be brutal to everyone you come across in your work as a potential rival for that prime research position or the perfect residency. She might just be having trouble getting out of her aggressive mode, and not even be realizing it. If you make her aware that she's being condescending in a polite way, and talk about it without an accusatory attitude at first, you give her a chance to see what's going on. Try to be understanding, and frame it like it's not her fault, really. If she's still condescending, suggest that you give her a signal when she's acting like an ass in conversation. And if that doesn't work, it suggests that she really thinks of you as less important and capable than her. At that point, talk about it seriously, with more of the blame on her, and consider calling it quits.