Generation Y

My girlfriend is a doctor

Like all serious literary artists, I exist within a near-constant state of writer’s block and often have to consult other people for ideas. When I ask my girlfriend Quinn what I should write about for my column, she always has the same answer: “Me.”

I ask what I should write about her. She tells me that I should write about how beautiful and wonderful and brilliant she is. Gently, I explain to her that this—though true—would make for a really boring column for every reader except her, and I ask her whether she has any other ideas. But, turning away, she insists that her first idea was plenty good enough.

In fact, I have mentioned Quinn here before, though I’ve done so probably less often than most personal columnists mention their spouses or significant others. In general, I try to avoid writing about my private life these days: at some point I realized that, in print, I’m better at being caustic and analytical than I am at being cozy or personable, which is why, most weeks, I attempt to write forcefully inscrutable cultural commentaries rather than culling adorable stories from my hearth and home. I don’t always like the cold, assertive tone I tend to inhabit here; it’s just what I’m good at, relatively speaking.

But, this week, please forgive me, reader, for I’m about to write what may be a really boring column. It’s been a long time coming—Quinn and I have dated for six years, and I’ve been writing “Generation Y” for the entirety of that stretch. (After six years, words like “dating” and “girlfriend” start to sound a little silly, but so far we’re still too hip to get married.)

Here it is, finally: my girlfriend is beautiful and wonderful and brilliant. She is hilarious, thoughtful, and creative. She is a brave skier, a pleasant movie-going companion, an adventurous traveler, and the best gift-giver I know. She is a stylish dresser. And, just now, she has graduated from one of the top medical schools in the nation.

Quinn is going into ophthalmology, a specialty known for two things: 1) being the most difficult medical field to spell correctly, and 2) being constantly confused with optometry by the general public.

It’s pretty weird for me—my actual girlfriend has an actual M.D. (with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto), like a grownup doctor on a TV medical drama. I’ve already begun to consult her about every minor headache and stomach pain I experience, but she’s made clear that she has little interest in employing her medical education to soothe my hypochondria. Moreover, she won’t make a lot of money until she’s finished her residency four years from now, so the benefits of her achievement are (for me) small so far, but it’s still kind of cool—in large part because now everyone can correctly refer to her as “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.”

It’s been a big, painful journey, so she deserves some recognition.

Of course, Quinn would tell you that getting an M.D. isn’t such huge deal. She claims that she doesn’t really know anything about medicine yet. A lot of people of varying worth and intelligence become doctors, she says. Surviving med school does seem to require a particular set of attributes that many people don’t have—determination, a capacity to absorb large quantities of complicatedly boring information, a facility for navigating chaotic human situations, a willingness to forgo sleep and many other pleasures—but it doesn’t mean that those who do happen to possess these qualities are not simply average or even substandard in any other way.

Quinn isn’t impressive because she’s a doctor; being a doctor is just one of a billion minor and major things that make her impressive. Some of her equally successful classmates are not impressive at all; mostly, they struck me as obsessively diligent but self-involved and dull of spirit. Throughout school, Quinn was a more interesting person, took herself less seriously, and retained a greater number of extracurricular interests than her peers; even so, as it happens, she tended to outscore them on exams.

I watched her struggle (as sensitive 20-somethings are wont to do) with philosophical and human questions that her more narrowly focused classmates probably didn’t have to deal with, and she still beat most of them at their own game. I think she’ll be a great doctor, but I also believe that if she ever gets tired of it, she’ll do something else and be great at that, too.

I’m not nearly as multifariously talented as she is. But she has continued to date me, even though I’m not a “successful” person on a steady or coherent career trajectory, either. In the eyes of the world, my girlfriend is now unambiguously an adult, a real contributor to society—a strange thing for me to behold, since I’ve known her since we were both 12 years old, when we sat next to each other in seventh-grade math class and spent the whole year bickering in a way, that according to our teacher, reminded him of a married couple.

I am not an “adult.” But somehow that’s OK, because my girlfriend is so much more than “successful grownup doctor person”—though she is that, too. Congratulations, Quinn: you’re the best, and I don’t actually think it was boring for everyone else to hear about it.

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