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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyDecember 26, 2023

Help Me Hera: Is my famous boyfriend too good for me?

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

This week, Hera Lindsay Bird explains why caring about fame is a big waste of time.

First published on 16 March, 2023.

Help Me, Hera: I’m dating someone mildly famous and have yet to complete even one of my life goals. How do I rid myself of this crushing inferiority complex? 

First of all, I have good news for you, which is there is no such thing as being mildly famous. There is being famous (Elizabeth Taylor) and then there’s being invited to spin the wheel at the local rotary meat raffle.

If your partner is famous (Elizabeth Taylor), you have two options. Either you can skulk in the shadows of their limelight and dedicate your life to making nasty little dioramas that will garner you an air of mystique in their future biographies. Or you can Sylvia Plath them, aka intellectually and creatively dominate them, and shackle their legacy forever to your star, like an office chair to a beautiful runaway horse.

I’m assuming your boyfriend isn’t famous (Hugh Grant) otherwise, you’d be too busy laughing in a jacuzzi in a limousine to write to me. I’m willing to bet your boyfriend is – like a beautiful scarecrow – admired and respected in his field. But the world is full of people who are admired and respected in their fields. Every time I catch a plane I wonder how many international ice hockey champions or award-winning biographers of Plato are probably lurking aboard. Everyone’s famous to someone. This is Richard Scarry’s Busytown, and we’re all pigs in aprons.

Still, I understand the cause for concern. If the past has taught us anything, it’s that some of us get to be Charles Dickens, and others get to marry Charles Dickens, give birth to 10 of his children, and spend the next three decades stewing mutton, while our husband is off changing the face of Western literature. But it’s 2023, and now women can be Charles Dickens too.

Above all else, what you shouldn’t do is compare yourself to your boyfriend. Not only is it fundamentally detrimental to your relationship, it’s criminally unambitious. Instead, why not compare yourself to Emily Dickinson. Or Sun Tzu. Become the Barbra Streisand of whatever it is you want to do, even if that’s systems maintenance for online weapons infrastructure. Look beyond the accomplishments of your peers, and raise your eyes to the dead. My thinking is, if you’re going to feel inferior to someone, you might as well go all in. Feeling inferior to George Eliot is a lot more fun than feeling inferior to your boyfriend. And by setting your expectations outrageously high, you’re more likely to produce something good. Who knows. If you try to write The Great American Novel and fail, you may accidentally discover you’ve written the Great Canadian Novel instead.

You say you have goals you want to achieve. Congratulations. The hardest part in life is deciding what to do with it. That being said, achieving things is overrated. The moment you’ve achieved something, it’s already halfway gone, like a sausage roll dropped into the path of a golden retriever. But just because all the other girls are in a hurry to write their first opera before they turn 25, doesn’t mean you need to. You didn’t say how old you are or what your goals are (get published in the Paris Review? Avenge your dead wife?) But sometimes it’s advantageous to wait, and avenge your dead wife later in your career when you have more wife-avenging experience, and already know the sort of brutal, humiliating punishment you want to exact. In any case, the hardest thing about goals is learning to enjoy working towards them. If you can find a way to trick yourself into loving the daily routine of whatever it is you want to do, whether that’s long-distance running, writing philosophical treatises, or memorising every bone in the human body, that’s half the battle.

Right now you’re in the best possible position. By far the best time to make anything is when you haven’t already done the thing you’re going to do. You have time to copy. Invent. Make hideous mistakes and file them in a manila envelope titled “juvenilia”. Decide you’re going to direct a western, then change your mind and start researching neuroendocrinology halfway through. And the best part is you don’t even have to tell anyone what you’re doing.

You have to rid yourself of a crushing inferiority complex, by taking yourself seriously. You have to wear an invisible beret – the sort nobody but mimes can see. You have to pick your own grave and write your name on it. And if you get a few free lobster dinners out of your mildly famous boyfriend along the way, bon appetit!

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to helpme@thespinoff.co.nz

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