Competitive boyfriend


I have a fab boyfriend, but he seems to have a problem with what I'm doing, or what he's doing, I'm not sure which. At the moment, despite having a masters in business, he doesn't have a permanent job and is doing mainly care work. Neither of us are disputing the fact that this is a valuable job to be doing- just that he is hoping to find something to better suit his qualifications and desires. He keeps telling me how clever he is, and I'm not sure whether this is just because he is a bit insecure or something, because the next day he's telling me how he knows that I'm 'the clever one', not him. I never instigate these conversations because it really isn't important to me anyway, but he keeps bringing it up.

A while back he challenged me to an online IQ test- I really didn't want to but he insisted so we both did a couple of IQ tests and I 'beat' him by about 45 points both times. Now he keeps bringing this up, either telling me that IQ tests aren't at all reliable and I fluked my score, or that he's actually more clever than me at other things, or that he accepts that he's the 'thick' one after all. It's really beginning to grate on my nerves a bit but I don't know what to do or say....I try to reassure him and boost his confidence because I know he's upset that he can't find a job that he wants but it doesn't seem to make much difference. The silly thing is, when I finish my PhD I'll probably be in exactly the same boat as him anyway!

Does anyone else have this issue with their other half? Any ideas on what to do or say?
Thanks, KB


======= Date Modified 30 Apr 2011 23:05:23 =======
To me this all sounds depressingly and worryingly familiar: I had a similar situation when I was with a guy who was a bit of a frustrated academic. Despite not having a degree he had done very well for himself and was earning more than me but he seemed to feel a bit threatened by me with my qualifications and ambitions for a research career and was constantly belittling me and trying to put me in my place. When I told him the news that I'd got onto my first choice of MSc he seemed physically incapable of saying "congratulations", and instead told me "that's nice for you, I'd love to go to university if I could afford it". That was the final straw and I finished with him shortly afterwards.

He later confessed to a friend that he had found me intimidating... but that was his problem, not mine. I didn't need someone attempting to erode my confidence while I was on a very demanding and intensive course, and as you're doing a PhD I imagine you're a thousand times more exasperated than I was. I'm guessing he's feeling emasculated right now but taking it out on you is uncalled for- it's the 21st century, men can do care work and women can be academics and no-one should have a problem with that. You seem to be a very supportive girlfriend, does your boyfriend appreciate how hard a PhD is and give you the support you need in return? Maybe you should be more demanding. I don't want to judge too harshly without knowing all the facts but he sounds very immature and having been through a similar experience myself I know how destructive all these putdowns, competitiveness and other insecure behaviour can be. I'm single now but experiencing a sense of deja vu whenever I meet a seemingly nice guy and he asks "so, what do you do?"- for some guys, a woman saying "I'm studying neuroscience" seems to bring out a weird desire to take her down a peg or two. Next time I should just lie and say I do care work ;)

Good luck with sorting things out, I hope it's just a phase he's going through and that things get better for you.


I was in a similra situation also!
My ex-boyfriend was a medical doctor (a "real" doctor as he was constntly saying) and I was (and still am) a PT research student and a FT Special needs teacher.
He never supported me in any way, because he believed that a PhD is something not so important. only a "real" doctor is important in a society!
He believed that him being a "real" doctor meant that he had a high IQ. And when we both took a test (after he inisted) and I had a much higher score, he was almost depressed and lept telling me that he was tired at that day, that the test was not a good one, not a "real" IQ test etc
Also, at a point he told me that he was thinkng of doing some research with another "real" doctor. And when I asked him how he was planning to go on with the research, how they designed it, how they were going to meet ethical issues, he just got real mad and told me that I was very arrogant, that I should have in mind that I was not the only one doing a research, that he knew what he was doing etc.
We broke up after a few months, because I couln't stand his behaviour, the high idea he has about himslef and the fact that he did not respect me and my work (both research and teaching).

P.S. At the end he never got on with the research, because he got stuck with the ethical procedures....


In talking with guys/men in general from time to time about this--and yes this is a giant generalisation and there are lots of exceptions--so please please take it as a generalisation!--they seem to reflect the view that they just are not sure in the modern age what to do with a woman who does not need to rely on them as a "provider." Women's achievements and independence can awaken insecurities in men, and they have not sorted out how to respond to their high achieving partners.

My ex became very funny when I got a job in management ( in the lifetime previous to the PhD) and had to go out of town for meetings overnight. He was out of town frequently for his job, we had no children, etc...he used to pick fights as I was leaving, or would pick fights when I would ring him while I was gone. I finally confronted him about this--asking him why he was always trying to start an argument when I had to go to these meetings (incidentally I did not like having to be out of town for things, I am/was a homebody...). He hemmed and hawed and finally admitted he was insecure somehow because I now had a job in a management position. ( Mind you at the same time, he had his own fab career and made lots lots lots more money than me...we paid more in taxes than I earned...).

So we never really resolved it...but at least he finally stopped fighting with me over it and tried to get to grips with his own feelings about it.

I would say--avoid any sort of situation where you and your other half are comparing and competing. Clearly this is a sore spot for him in some way, and perhaps best handled if avoided where ever possible. Is there something he does particularly well that you can do together? I am wanting to say, tongue in check, is there a spider that needs removing from the bathroom, but I am afraid it will get taken the wrong way so am not saying it. :X


Hi KB, sorry to hear you're having problems with your boyfriend, echoing those who have posted before me I think it's an insecurity thing, and despite being in the 21st century etc. I do believe that men want to be the providers and he may be a bit worried about this as things get more serious between the two of you. He probably doesn't mean to be upsetting you and creating problems within your relationship, so I think you need to alert him to the fact that you're a bit fed up with the constant focus on educational achievement and intelligence. I think that this can be done in a nice and reassuring way - just tell him that he is just as intelligent as you (why does it even matter?), and that you shouldn't be in some sort of competition with each other.

It can be difficult to be a woman doing a PhD sometimes, I personally just see it as something that I'm doing because of my career and because I want to - it certainly doesn't make me feel clever at all, my idea is that if I can do one then anyone can! From my experience it seems to be quite attractive to men at the beginning, but then it doesn't make a lot of difference. I often date men who are a few years older than me and they always earn more than me and have better jobs than me, so I guess they feel like providers then :-).

My ex boyfriend (we broke up last November after 4 1/2 months) seemed to have a problem with my PhD although to my face he kept saying how great it was, he didn't like the fact I might be moving to another city in October and that I couldn't have children for a few years. I don't think he liked that my PhD would slow the progression of our relationship, that problem has been repeated but not to the same extent. I think he was a bit of a frustrated academic as well, he's gone to a very good London university to study Philosophy when he was 27 (he was 31) and was very intelligent and talented at writing; when I met him he was in a bit of a rut career-wise as he was writing a novella and making money from managing a property in an expensive part of west London. In my opinion he should have done a postgrad degree as he wanted to and had the mind for it (he was much cleverer than I am I think), but he was so undecided. I had my future for the next few years basically mapped out, and I was working and teaching as well and I think that made him feel bad, especially as I was 9 years younger than him. I tried so hard to make him feel better but I couldn't and it was quite upsetting for me, I just constantly felt guilty. I finished it in the end, we did have a good time but it was just too emotionally demanding when I had my own problems to deal with.

Anyway I'm rambling now, but I hope that's helped in some way, basically just try to take the focus away from intelligence and qualifications, you are together for more important reasons than that and should be happy. Nxx


Thanks all, seems my situation is pretty common! It's not really causing arguments or anything, it's just getting on my nerves as he keeps bringing it up and it goes from one extreme to the other. He goes from being very confident about his abilities (some might say arrogant, but it really is just that he can be quite self-assured) to telling me how I'll be the main earner in the relationship because he won't ever get a decent job (no pressure!).

We've also started bike riding together recently (his idea, but I'm really enjoying it!), and I think he's feeling a bit inferior/embarrassed because he's really not very fit and I exercise every day, so I can go a lot faster and cycle up hills where he has to get off his bike and push! Again, I try to go slowly so he can keep up, and encourage him etc, but I think he finds it hard to take. I think his confidence has taken a knock, and I feel a bit guilty for being responsible for it. Will have to try and find something that he is better at (pool might be a good one) and allow myself to be thrashed on a weekly basis to see if that helps! He really can be quite competitive about everything and I can't be bothered- I just find competitiveness stressful and unnecessary most of the time!

Cheers, KB


Having been in a relationship with someone else doing a PhD there was not open competition but when he was struggling with his PhD my publications, scholarships, and approaching the end of the PhD were a obvious source of tension.

Now when dating, the PhD does sometimes appear a source of competition or "special status" - even when the other people have had achievements of their own that are equally impressive :( I've often been tempted to just not mention it... but then what to talk about!? ;)


Hello KB...just saw this. I am so sorry for you :( Being competitive in a relationship is a hard thing to accept. Is there any way he can be involved in your PhD, so that he feels that he can help? For example, I cannot, simply cannot coordinate colour or am even the slightest bit bothered with confirming images in a poster or so are in line. So my boyfriend, who has a degree, and will be starting his masters this October, gets to go through all my presentations and posters before I submit them. Similarly I am good at proofreading, so that whenever he has any document he needs to write I get to go through it. By doing the projects 'together', rather than being competitive, it could be a sort of joint achievement - that way he does not feel the need to compete with you, cos he is part of your process, and feels that although yes you are doing a PhD, but you definitely need him to help you out. To end, I truly believe that doing a PhD has very little to do with intelligence and much more to do with determination.


Haha, I'm so glad I wasn't the only one badgered to take an IQ test by a man I then beat! My ex boyfriend wouldn't stop badgering me, presumably because he was so sure I'd never top his score. Awkward when, like all of you, I did.
I suppose what's even funnier is how desperate we are to "make it all better" for them. Reminds me of a time when husband and I were out hill walking, at the start he felt a bit off, so I deliberately slowed my pace and pretended I wanted to trundle along gently, so as not to bruise his ego. Later on, my knee was playing up and he was feeling better - he raced ahead as fast as he bloody well could!


======= Date Modified 26 May 2011 00:26:25 =======
Haha, that's true- if he can beat me at something he makes sure he does, usually completely mercilessly! Maybe I should stop worrying about it after all and enjoy the 'victory' of the IQ test! The issue has actually subsided a bit over the last few weeks- he's applying for a new training course and I think he feels a bit more confident that it will help him find a job he actually wants to do, and that will use his qualifications, so things are better. I feel a bit guilty about even posting the above because he's so lovely and thoughtful, and very understanding about PhD stresses and strains...sometimes I think he's too nice for me lol! But glad to hear I'm not the only one who's faced the IQ challenge! And you are right, I will make more of an effort to make use of his strengths as well- there are lots of things I'm rubbish at so it shouldn't be too hard to find something he can help me with! KB


======= Date Modified 19 Dec 2011 09:11:03 =======
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Tell him to get a school leaver maybe his confidence and ego will get back, anyways it's hard to accept that your partner is much wiser than you, it's more about manhood that ever. But anywyas is there Love involved or not? I don't know
But if there is love involved and you love this guy, stay
but if it's not, just leave it and be alone