Ask Natalie: Relationship equality

“Dear Natalie, 

I have been wondering about the possibility of a relationship with this person for some time. His personality is fine, but it's just that there is a huge disparity in our academic and career status. He is extremely well-accomplished in almost everything but I am still toiling hard to complete my degree. Just thoughts of our difference in strengths can be overwhelming sometimes. Do partners always have to be doing equally well to have a successful relationship?"

You don’t need to be “equal” in order to have a successful relationship — although I think there are far too many ways to determine how “successful” a relationship is — but a couple being “unbalanced” can often lead to other problems in a relationship.

I have a friend who is wonderful, funny and really incredible, but she’s dating an older man. He’s still in his 20s so it’s not creepy, but he has a condo (that he owns), a career and, most importantly, an air of superiority. The amount of times she’s called me in the middle of the night because she feels like a child play-acting as an adult in the relationship, she feels that her feelings are immature and therefore wrong, or because she feels like he won’t take her seriously, is too many.

She won’t listen to us when we tell her it’s unhealthy because, when you’re in the middle of a power play, it’s hard to see it. She’s a strong person and I have no doubt that she’ll figure out what’s best for her, regardless of if that’s leaving him or telling him to quit it. But I don’t know about you.

Can you tell when a power play is happening? Does he make you feel inferior? That your feelings are worth less because they’re younger or from someone less experienced? Do you feel the need to always defer to his knowledge, his wants, his needs because obviously he knows best?

If yes, that’s a really bad sign, honey. Even if he’s not doing that on purpose (which he very well might not be doing), it’s still an issue because it’s happening. Don’t ever, EVER feel like your feelings are second-rate in a relationship. A relationship should be of two people who respect each other and that has nothing to do with age.

If you don’t feel these things, then you can probably just talk to him about it. Your feelings are still valid. You don't deserve to feel this way. If he’s as awesome as you describe — even with a “fine” personality — he’ll be open to discussing your feelings with him in a low-stress environment.

Communication is always the key to a “successful” relationship. That’s the key. Not if you’re the same age or in the same year in university. Not if you both have a job or enter your career fields at the same time. There’s always going to be someone “winning the race,” but hopefully you can always count on your partner to be cheering you on.

Need advice? Contact Natalie anonymously at and have your questions answered in an upcoming issue.