I’ve of two minds about this piece. The headline is misleading, for one thing. And it starts out as if its trying to bait you – “I went to college… because that’s what people like me did.” As someone whose financial future has now pretty much been ruined by student debt, I have a knee-jerk reaction to people who speak about their college experience this way. Still, considering the debate it has inspired, I’ve been moved to point out that:
1. I have tremendous sympathy for the author. I know what it’s like to be young, earnest, in love – and going through a bunch of complex mental and emotional contortions in order to deny that your relationship is actually failing. There is a sad, Potemkin Village-like aspect to it that breaks my heart. “As my vocabulary expanded among my academic peers, the shared language of our relationship narrowed: What time will you be home? I love you. Pick up a pizza? Touch me. Don’t leave.” That’s one of the saddest things I’ve read all week. It’s also very self-aware. And it’s plain good writing.
2. I also feel that there is something unspoken going on in the piece. I think the author has some insecurities about herself that she is not yet ready to vocalize. I think Duke, the ex-boyfriend who didn’t go to college, actually made the author feel pretty good about herself and to deal with those insecurities – at least in the beginning. He is her foil in the story. She’s ambitious, she’s lived abroad, once again, “[her] vocabulary expanded.” He’s the dude without a job, without a degree – and, it is heavily implied, without any direction. Hey, she’s the good girl from the right side of the tracks, and she tried to work it out, but it still didn’t. There is the distinct air of someone who, while in love, was also “slumming it” with Duke – precisely because Duke was so different from her. His presence must have helped her see herself in a different light, to renegotiate her own relationship boundaries, to appreciate her own intellectual curiosity, to define what she wants and what she doesn’t want. And that is not acknowledged. And this is, perhaps, what really rankled people. There is an aspect of “relationship tourism” going on here which is mostly FINE (plenty of people will say that my ex was “slumming it” with me – his family had money, mine didn’t, for one thing – but that’s not all there is to the story), except that it exists between the lines. There seems to be a lack of ultimate emotional honesty that makes or breaks pieces in the “Dealbreaker” series.
I don’t wish to slam the author – this is her life, she’s just relating it. But I can understand why this piece is garnering an annoyed reaction. Because there is something missing in it, a curious blank spot at the center of her experience, and that doesn’t seem fair – to her, to Duke, or the reader. It’s as if we were treated to a very vivid glimpse of a real-life drama – but only that, a glimpse.