Dear Melvin, My boyfriend criticizes me all the time...

Dear Melvin,

I am a 38-year old divorced woman.  The men I have dated have called me a "a catch."  I am educated.  I support myself.  I have many long-term friends.  People say I am vivacious, funny and spirited.  I look about a decade younger than my age.

I recently started dating Eric.  He's a good guy--hard-working, ambitious and commitment-minded. What's the issue?  He constantly critiques everything about me.

For example, we recently attended a party of a good friend of mine.  Afterwards, he told me that I was "too loud." He also said that I am "not funny, despite what other people may say."  He also told me that my perfume is "too strong" and that I "do not look good in hats."  

This is only one example, mind you, of a weekly (if not daily) trend. He says that he loves me and wants me to know the truth so that I can "improve."  My family and friends have always been so loving and supportive that I'm quite confident in myself.  But, Eric's constant critiques have made me doubt myself. I now am constantly watching what I say, wear and act.  But, what happens if he is telling me the things that everyone else is afraid to voice?  

Flustered on Flatbush

Dear Flustered:

I offer my deepest apologies for this forthcoming act of un-professionalism because I'm about to apply my own personal experience (i.e., prejudice) to your situation - I've never met a man named Eric who wasn't a little bit of an a-hole.  And yours sounds like a lot of bit.

I almost stopped reading your letter after you said "he constantly critiques everything about me."  I didn't need any examples after that statement.  My first thought was dump him; he's a loser.  But then I get to the end of your letter and I see that you let this a-hole (who just happens to be named Eric) make you doubt yourself.  I'm confused.  All your prior dates describe you as a catch.  Your long-term friends call you funny and vivacious.  But, this one man you recently started dating (named Eric, no less) is the Jack Nicholson of your life, bringing you the truth about yourself that you can't handle?

Flustered.  Boo boo.  Don't buy his garbage rationale that he is "improving" you through critique.  There is criticism to enlighten and criticism to control.  The former makes us feel like we've learned something and the latter keeps us under someone's thumb.  It sounds to me like your boyfriend is engaging in the latter. 

I noticed in your description of Eric you left out the words "good looking" and "charismatic."  Probably because he is neither.  You, on the other hand, sound like a very attractive and charismatic person.  And it sounds to me like Eric is trying to break your spirit and have you tamp down on these qualities through critique ("you're too loud, you're not funny, your perfume stinks, you look bad in hats").  You seem to me, Flustered, like a woman whose personality shines bright like the sun.  This is intimidating to Eric, whose personality appears to shine about as bright as one of those neon glow sticks after all the juice has run out of it.  But instead of turning up his wattage by becoming more charismatic, he wants you to turn down your wattage, so that you are down at his level (and under his control).  Once he has your personality "dimmed" he will continue telling you what to do and how to be in life, trust me.

I suggest you dump this dude and find someone who appreciates your loudness, your humor, your perfume and your hats.  Stay away from men who try to change your essential nature.  If there's that much to critique, he should be dating someone more to his liking.   Also try to avoid  Eric's when you can. (I already apologized for this).  Let your light continue to shine bright, Flustered.


Melvin Browning