I'm a 22-year-old woman dating a man who is five years older. He works in money management and is very successful. He's generous and showers me with nice gifts. He also listens carefully and, I think, takes me seriously. But he has one trait that annoys me. He's not nice to service people, such as waiters, taxi drivers, or doormen. For example, when he orders in a restaurant, he doesn't say "please" or "thank you," and his tone is very demanding. I challenged him on it once, and he said that you don't have to say "please" and "thank you" when a person's just doing his job. My mother and a few of my friends think I'm exaggerating the significance of this, but his behavior concerns me.
--Worried, Brooklyn, N.Y.
It should concern you. There's a good chance that if you marry this man, a few years down the road you'll find out that when you do what he expects of a wife, like making a beautiful home or a great dinner, you won't be entitled to a "please" or "thank you" either. Years ago, my friend the essayist and radio talk show host Dennis Prager started advising people that "when you go out on a date, it is more important to see how your date treats the waitress than how he (or she) treats you. Since it is important at the beginning of a relationship for your date to make a good impression on you, he will treat you well. But how he treats the waitress will reflect how he is going to treat you once he can take your love for granted."
As far as I'm concerned, the best guideline on what character trait to look for first in a spouse was set down over 3,000 years ago in the book of Genesis. In Chapter 24, Eliezer, the trusted servant of Abraham, is dispatched to the town of Nahor to find a wife for Abraham's son Isaac. When Eliezer arrives at Nahor, he stops at the town's well at the time when the local women are coming out to draw water. Eliezer prays for a divine sign by which he can choose the right bride for Isaac: "Let the maiden to whom I say, 'Please, lower your jar that I may drink,' and who replies, 'Drink, and I will also water your camels,' let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac" (Genesis 24:14). Shortly thereafter, Rebecca arrives at the well and not only offers Eliezer water but then brings water for the thirsty camels (no small task, given that camels can drink up to 20 gallons).
The trait that clearly distinguishes Rebecca is kindness. She sees a thirsty man and thirsty animals, and her immediate desire is to relieve their plight. And while our contemporary urban society hardly lends itself to precisely this sort of test, what remains relevant is Eliezer's awareness of kindness as the supreme virtue in a spouse.
If you truly believe that except for this trait, this relationship has potential, then you must make it known to your boyfriend that kindness to others, including those he regards as his social inferiors, is very important to you; indeed, it is a deal breaker. And it should be. Tell him that you don't want to raise children with a man who will teach the children, both by word and example, that there are classes of people to whom one does not owe courtesy.
If this man's bad manners are indeed deeply embedded and not susceptible to change, then you will be better off without him. I know you mention that he is very successful. In current American parlance, the word "successful" has but one meaning--money. For example, if somebody makes a lot of money--even if he has few friends and a dysfunctional family life--we call him successful. Conversely, if somebody makes little money but has a beautiful family life, we call him unsuccessful. What a narrow view. If you want to have a successful life, by which I mean a life imbued with goodness, love, and respect, marry a person who is filled with goodness, love, and respect for all people.