Thanks, Me, For Looking Out For Me

Dear Mommy,

I work at a creative tech agency. This is the first office job I have ever had and I’ve had a hard go acclimating to the professional atmosphere over the last year. I’m pretty severely introverted and antisocial and coming to work everyday in an environment where everyone dresses to impress and is always on their A-game has proven to be very difficult for me. I often feel like I’m saying or doing weird things, look like an unprofessional slob, or just sound slow and stupid.

There are lots of non-paid work functions that are supposed to add to the “culture” of our company and be “fun”, but to a person like me these functions make me feel as if I’m working a double without getting paid because of the emotional/social effort they require. Many times I’ve said I would be at one of these functions and then flaked out. I’m worried not going to these functions makes me seem like less of a team player, or sheds some sort of negative light on me as an employee. More specifically, I was recently hand chosen along with a few of my other co-workers to participate in a promotional photo-shoot, which was to take place on a Saturday, unpaid. I tried to wiggle out of it but my co-worker was pretty insistent about me being in it because my scene was very important to highlighting the company culture.

There were a few things that I was irked by – like them wanting me to wear high heels, which I would never do of my own free will – but as some time passed and I learned more and more about what my scene entailed I became pretty disgusted and ultimately flaked out the night before at around 8:30pm. Basically, I was supposed to wear pigtails, which I normally do, but against a backdrop of a bubblegum dispenser and a lamb statue while chewing bubble gum and blowing bubbles and wearing red heart sunglasses. LOLITA ANYONE? I messaged my coworkers and told them that I felt uncomfortable with the “Lolita-ish” vibe and didn’t want to represent that as a professional woman. Ultimately, I think I made the right decision but I can’t help but think that this is just another one of those things that is going to stir up a bad reputation about me being unreliable and flaky. What do you think?!

Ah, the world of young professionals. Since my day job regularly involves getting puked on, it’s a hard world for me to imagine. But as a sort of weird person whose idea of dressing to impress involves wearing pink sneakers and a dress that a 7 year old would covet, and whose idea of fun on a Friday night is listening to the entirety of Jagged Little Pill alone and watching Legally Blonde for the 500th time, I gotta say…I doubt I’d go to those fun (read: unpaid) work functions either. It sounds like a very hard place for an introvert, and my heart goes out to you.

You asked me what I think about all of this and the first thought that came to my mind was, “This woman is brave and impressive.” Girl! Do you know how hard it is to speak up about something that makes you feel icky as a woman in any situation, let alone in the WORKPLACE, when you are ALREADY having anxiety about fitting in with the company culture? I’m certain you do, because you just did it! Wow! Take a moment to place a warm palm on your own shoulder and say, “Thanks, me, for looking out for me.” At the risk of sounding like a poster hanging up in a 9th grade classroom, ~being true to your self~ and ~standing up for your beliefs~ are the most powerful of small, everyday victories against the culture of FUCKIN’ DUMB BULLSHIT that often surrounds us. It acts as a bulwark against the forces desperately trying to pound us all into a single shape who question nothing and accept everything. “You go girl” is essentially what I’m trying to say.

It sounds like your job is the sort of job that is looked at as a career, and though that distinction remains fuzzy to me (and most of us, probably), maybe a career involves a certain level of commitment to something other than just showing up and doing your job for eight hours. Things like “contributing to company culture” and “playing the game” start to matter. Since I have little experience in a working world that doesn’t involve preparing things to eat or taking care of children, I’m not sure what can be done in your situation. I happen to believe that what should matter when you go to work is your work and how well you abide by the rules of basic common decency. But in your job, your willingness to engage in the unpaid labor of “contributing to the company culture” and building a reputation as a team player may matter. Do you feel like it does? Is it a job you want to keep? Then maybe you do have to play the game a little and force yourself to show up for these shitty work functions. I totally hear that it’s a lot of work as a person with anxiety to go out and fraternize with work people, but you know what also is a lot of work? Worrying about your reputation because you don’t ever go out and fraternize with work people. Maybe if you show up to some of these things, some of the anxiety will cancel itself out and you’ll feel better. And maybe if you do bite the bullet a few times, you may find that you have gotten to know your coworkers a bit better and it will all feel a little less like work. That said, even if you do decide to play the game a bit, you are still allowed to have boundaries and pick and choose when to engage in all this unpaid work disguised as fun. Finally, have you thought of just being honest? Being real and saying you’re not gonna go to a thing because you’re usually tired after work or want to spend your weekends at home is a lot better than saying you’re going to go something, flaking out, and then worrying about what flaking out says about you. Make it a rule: say you’re not going if you’re not going to go, and when you say you’re going to go then you have to go. Even if you never go, being upfront about not going might help cultivate a reputation as someone with a rich life outside of work, instead of a flake. Good luck, friend.

Love, Mommy

You Are So Much More Than Your Ability To Make A Person Feel Good

[Happy first birthday, Mommy! Thank you to all my readers and question askers, I probably wouldn’t write a damn thing without you and I love you.]

Dear Mommy,

I have a very good friend who lately seems to exclusively want to spend time with me when she’s in crisis or needs something. I feel like I don’t get my friend for the good/fun times anymore, only the intense/upset/hard times, in which we spend the entire time deeply processing her life, which makes me feel wise, intimately trustworthy, and pleasantly feminist, but also used and jealous of her more casual friends. I feel like rolling my eyes and avoiding her because I absolutely know what’s coming when she reaches out to me to hang out, which then makes me feel mean and sad and wonder if maybe I’m not actually fun to have around for the fun times, etc!

Since it’s become routine for me to always be in selfless therapist mode with her, I feel that I can’t or shouldn’t voice this frustration, or talk about hard things I’m experiencing in the face of what’s she’s going through. But obviously my frustrations are valid and this is causing problems in our friendship! How can I let her in on the problem without a) making her feel even worse b) sounding like an asshole and c) skirting around the actual problem, which is the imbalance of support, not the giving of support itself. How can we advocate for better treatment of ourselves and for respect of the exhausting nature of one-sided emotional labor?

It’s unfathomable to me, but some people just don’t have anxiety about how much space they’re taking up. They don’t worry about being a burden to others just by existing, which is actually wonderful and I wish everyone felt that way. But we don’t, and people like that – that is, people who don’t wait for permission to speak – often don’t realize that other people are waiting to be asked. Your friend may fall into this category. She may go on and on about herself and just assume that if you had anything you wanted to say, well, you’d just go ahead and say it. Maybe your friend is just extremely self absorbed! Maybe she’s not very observant and doesn’t realize how much of the conversation she’s taking up with her woes and tragedy and how little she asks you about your emotional state! Maybe she does notice and just doesn’t give a shit! No matter what is going on or how much understanding you have for the situation, an imbalance of emotional labor is draining, disheartening, and often just hurts your damn feelings.

You have to talk to your friend. There’s no way around it. You can’t just pull back from the friendship and expect her to know why. You also can’t expect her to wake up one day and realize how much she’s hurting and exhausting you. You have to help her get there, and you do it by talking. I don’t know what you should say, or the best way to bring it up. I don’t know how she’s gonna take it, if she’ll be mad or hurt. I don’t know if a letter would suffice or face to face would be best. All of that is your work. What I know is that the only way to advocate for better treatment of ourselves is to…advocate for better treatment of ourselves. And she may think you’re being an asshole. You may actually sound like an asshole! And you may make her feel bad! Like really, really bad! But, hey, conflict sometimes just makes people feel bad. Pointing out to someone that they are not perfect and sometimes just downright not good makes people feel bad. Finding out that someone has been annoyed by them or hurt by them for a long time sometimes makes people feel really, really bad. But it is not your job to make people feel good when the cost is you feeling bad. I’ll say that again: it is not your job to make people feel good when the cost is you feeling bad. You are so much more than your ability to make a person feel good.

It probably never feels this way for either party, but when a friend asks that another friend change for the better what they are really doing is showing how much they value that friendship. It may create conflict, but in the end you are showing trust and faith in your friend. When you say, “Hey, this hurts my feelings, this bugs me, I need to you to stop,” you are also saying, “You and this friendship matter enough to me that I’m willing to go through the discomfort of conflict to come out the other side, where our friendship will be stronger and more loving.” Waiting until you’ve had enough and can’t stand her anymore because you’re too scared to confront her may feel like you are valuing her by sparing her feelings, but what you’re really doing is putting an expiration date on the friendship, which is the day you just can’t take it anymore. And if you confront her gently with all this, and she’s defensive and hurt and never comes around, then turn away and don’t look back because being a good friend should never come at the expense of your mental health. You deserve more. You deserve an army of love and support at your back at all hours of the day and night. And, friend, you do deserve to have some damn fun. Never give the gift of you to someone who would make you doubt that.

Love, Mommy

Forgive Yourself For All Of It

Dear Mommy,

Recently I was out at a bar, feeling tipsy, bored and lonely, and I impulsively went home with someone, even though I wasn’t very attracted to them and thought they were pretty weird. We had a nice time but the next morning, when I sobered up, I was pretty shocked at my choice.

The thing is, this a pattern for me. I’ll sleep with someone because it feels fun in the moment and then the next day feel so ashamed, like I have no self-respect or restraint. I imagine what my friends would think if they saw me with the person I slept with and I feel so embarrassed. What also feels shameful is that some part of me actually enjoys these encounters – there’s not a lot at stake in them for me, so I feel more free and relaxed than if I were sleeping with my big crush. But part of me is also aware I’m going to regret them later. I usually keep the stories from my friends because I’m embarrassed, but that only makes me feel worse.

What do you think about this pattern, Mommy? Am I being heartless and disrespectful, towards myself and/or towards the people I’m sleeping with?

My love, you have nothing to be embarrassed by. I don’t know what you’ve heard, but it’s time to set the record straight and categorically say that there’s nothing embarrassing or shameful about sleeping with someone you don’t know, sleeping with someone because you’re lonely, or having a “have banged” number that reaches to the stars. As far as I’m concerned, you can get it on with whoever in whatever way or place or time as long as everything’s consensual and respectful, you’re not lying or intentionally misleading anyone, and you actually want to be doing it. What do you have to be embarrassed about? Absolutely nothing, in my opinion.

I think you need to identify where the shame is actually coming from. Is it coming from your true voice because you don’t enjoy these experiences, you don’t feel safe during them, and/or you regret them? If the answer is yes, and you don’t feel safe or enjoy what you’re doing, then that’s a problem. simply saying, “Hey, don’t do that thing again!” doesn’t account for moments of self-destructive weakness, extreme loneliness, and just general “time to fuck some shit up” moods that we ALL experience as humans. So I won’t say it, but I will urge you to try find another way to fuck shit up or deal with loneliness that doesn’t put you in the way of harm, emotional or physical. Maybe like breaking plates in the street or performing a gentle catfish on an unsuspecting loved one (I’m JOKING, please do not catfish anyone). In all seriousness, you deserve complete 100% bodily and emotional safety all of the time and you have the right to steer clear of any situation, to the extent you are able, that makes your safety feel compromised. It doesn’t sound like you feel unsafe, and you did say the stakes feel low, but I wanted to throw this out there in case you needed to hear it.

So, if you do feel safe and you are enjoying what you’re doing (and so does your partner), then it sounds like the shame and embarrassment afterwards is the biggest bummer part of this arrangement. So again, where is it coming from? Is it society’s fake ass voice? The voice that says you shouldn’t enjoy getting it on with a stranger? That it’s slutty or wrong or shameful to enjoy it? That the people you’re hooking up with need to look or be a certain way? Indulging in some low-stakes fun when it comes your way is as necessary and important a part of life as paying your bills. I don’t see anything disrespectful or heartless about it.

But it’s also just occurred to me that maybe it’s all the options. Maybe you don’t enjoy it and you do at the same time. Maybe you have fun and the stakes are low, and you still feel like you shouldn’t have done it. Maybe it’s not just internalized crap shaming you, maybe it’s you not feeling like you line up with your own view of yourself. Maybe you feel like you do want to be doing this kind of stuff and that you don’t at the same time. Maybe you feel different about it every time. Maybe life is complicated and the absolute only thing you can consistently get right is to forgive yourself for all of it and move on when you can, to try to do right by yourself next time. Promise yourself that next time you will only go home with someone that you actually want to go home with, and if you break that promise simply make it to yourself again, and again and again until you can keep it. No one is watching you, no one is keeping track. There’s no big bearded dude up there making a list of all the times you told yourself you were gonna do something and then did the opposite. You get to start over every single day, you have all the time in the world to bring yourself in line with your image of you. If it takes your whole life and doesn’t happen ’til the day before you die, well, that’ll be a hell of a day. I’ll meet you in the underworld and we’ll party.

Love, Mommy

Get Off The Web And Get Into Your Damn Life

Dear Mommy,

Sometimes (mostly while browsing social media), I feel like my life isn’t as breezy and beautiful as the lives of other people. I’m thankful and happy with my life and I know that pics on Instagram don’t tell the whole story, but even with my rational brain it still ends up making me feel crummy, weird and inadequate. What should I do about it? Care less? (I’m trying!) Stay off the internet forever?

I have to agree with you: your life isn’t as breezy and beautiful as the lives of [some] other people. That will always be the way it is! There will always be lives we look to as the ideal. And, continuously throughout our lives, we will want lives that we do not have. So should you just give up? Hell no! But you can accept that that feeling will rear its head from time to time, especially if you choose to stay on social media. And you’re so right! The pictures aren’t telling the whole story. The jealousy-inducing things you see on social media seem noteworthy because they have been chosen to be witnessed, right? You’re not scrolling through a person’s actual camera roll and seeing the 15 other selfies they took that they thought were unflattering. But still, you can feel terrible even while being fully cognizant of the fact that all the shitty moments that exist in your own life that you’re not seeing on social media are still present for others. Boredom at work. Being exhausted in the morning. The crushing weight of the passage of time. Feeling lonely. Even if social media posts do discuss these things, they can’t be truly felt, because they are just representations. That’s why a movie about depression can be somewhat pleasurable to watch – suffering can be rendered beautiful by its representation. But the actual crushing weight of depression is anything but satisfying or beautiful. Even knowing all that, representation can still trick you! You seem to be aware of this. You seem to know that what you’re seeing isn’t 100% representative of the way things actually are, but you’re still getting sucked in. What do you do?

Something that I’ve done in the past is avoid and unfollow a lot of the accounts that make me feel what you’re describing. I used to follow a lot of style and fashion Instagram accounts because, well, I love clothes. And lots of celebrities too because, well, I love celebrities. Following these accounts was cool and interesting sometimes, but then I began to realize that every time I looked at Instagram I: 1) wanted to be rich, 2) wanted to buy A LOT of things, 3) suddenly hated my life. I was buying in! I wanted the things, the beautiful things. I wanted to go the parties, the beautiful parties. I wanted the hair, the beautiful hair and the beautiful clothes and beautiful apartments and a million record deals AND THE FANS, THE BEAUTIFUL FANS. I don’t know what your buy in is. Maybe it’s the damn hiking pictures. “I go to really beautiful places in my hip-looking workout gear!” Maybe it’s artist accounts. “I have seemingly endless time to effortlessly create beautiful things!” Or maybe it’s the accounts of your own friends. “Look at us at this low-lit bar, having sooooo much fun WITHOUT YOU!” Whatever it is, you gotta unfollow those accounts that make you feel terrible about your life. Even if it’s stuff you want to see. Is it really worth it to see what Mary-Kate and Ashley are up to if it’s gonna make you feel like crap about yourself? (No. It’s not.)

I definitely don’t think that you have to avoid the web forever. If you’re anything like me, the feelings of inadequacy are intermittent. Sometimes it hits me like a ton of bricks when I’m cruisin’ the web, sometimes I don’t feel it all. It’s crucial, though, when you begin to recognize those feelings and thoughts creeping into your heart and brain, to get off the web immediately and get into your damn life. Crack open a book. Take a walk. Make some art. Go see a loved one IRL instead of URL. The web will still be there when you return, and you may be more equipped to actually enjoy it! This is about to sound like one of those framed photos with an inspirational quote inside that you find in the housewares section of a Ross Dress for Less, but the key is learning to revel in the simple, beautiful things that are already in your life. The stuff that you already love. The alienation and inadequacy you feel is really just robbing you of feeling gratitude for everything you have and everything you are. You already have so much. You already are so much. It’s okay if you have to repeat that in your head over and over again. I do.

Love, Mommy

So Many Feelings Are Allowed To Exist In Our Hearts At The Same Time

Dear Mommy,

Not too long ago, I met a friend of a friend at a party. He asked me for my phone number and I said sure. I think he is gay (I am not) and I felt like he was asking me out, which is no big deal, so I gave it to him and figured I’d be able to give him a tactful and private decline later, or maybe he was just being friendly? Who knows.

Fast forward a month and this person has been texting me a lot, usually a few times a week, making conversation or asking to hang out. For a while I gave him polite declines or short answers, and then I stopped replying at all. After a while of not replying, he texted me saying that he was getting ready to commit suicide! I was totally unprepared. I had never given him any indication that I would be an appropriate contact person during an intense crisis. We shared no strong connection, or even a friendship. We were acquaintances at our friendliest. I did my best to talk him out of it and he has since sought professional help.

After this incident, I had a lot of feelings. First, I felt totally alienated. Then I felt very violated and angry. I felt like this person had attempted to drag me into his emotional and personal life by taking himself hostage. Like, if I hadn’t tried to talk him out of it, he would be dead and it would be my fault because I was too squeamish to help. He still texts me sometimes and I don’t reply. I don’t have the emotional energy to invest in this person, and I feel like he blackmailed me to make me involved in his life. I want nothing to do with him.

I also feel like a selfish asshole. It’s totally contradictory to my values to have this kind of emotional response to a mental health crisis. I want to be the kind of person who is emotionally supportive! I feel like by ignoring him, I am making him feel alienated and possibly making his mental health worse. And I feel like I am making his crisis all about me by having this response. He still follows me on social media and we have some mutual friends who I have been scared to connect with following his experience, because as bad as I feel about it, he makes me totally uncomfortable.

What can I do? Am I a giant, selfish, unsympathetic baby?

Well, first, I have to say – I am not trained in any way as a mental health expert, nor do I have any training on how to best help someone in a crisis or someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts. If you think this guy is still at risk of suicide, I encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional. You can call 2-1-1 to see what resources are available to you, or use the internet to do some research. There are resources out there that can help you help this person. A reader suggested the crisis text line, http://www.crisistextline.org/how-it-works/, which “is free, available 24/7, and allows anyone in any time of crisis to get immediate support from a live crisis counselor, via text message.” (Thanks, reader!) If you do know of a way to help him, some kind of support you can connect him to, I encourage you to give him that info. I also encourage you to reach out to check on him if you’re comfortable. For whatever reason, you may be the only person he told about this crisis. Making sure he is out of harm’s way might be good for both of you, but it doesn’t mean you have to engage with him any further than that or that you have made any kind of commitment to be in this person’s life. You can tell him that you wanted to see how he’s doing, encourage him to seek help from people more qualified if he needs it, and then say, explicitly but kindly, that you don’t wish to talk to him anymore. You’re allowed to do that.

As for the guilt you are feeling, I think you should let yourself off the hook, friend. I don’t think that you are being selfish, nor are you making his crisis all about you. I actually think you’re being very thoughtful and sensitive. You do not owe this man your friendship, your emotional energy, or your presence in his life. The only thing you owe him is the care and sensitivity which we must show to all human and non-human beings, and maybe a little extra care because he seems to really be suffering. From what you’ve written here, I think you have given him that. You’ve been polite, and when he went to you with his intention to commit suicide, you helped him to the best of your ability.

I also think your feelings of anger and alienation are justified. I think you’re right – he forced you, someone he doesn’t even know, someone who has continually, politely turned down his attempts to hang out or even converse, to become a part of his life in a big way when you made it clear you were uninterested in being a part of his life in any way. I’d be angry, too! So, you have my permission to drop the guilt you’re feeling for being angry, or feeling any kind of way, and no longer engaging. That sounds like the safest course of action for your emotional health. We can’t control the emotions we feel, so feeling guilt about feeling any emotion is completely unproductive and makes everything harder and more confusing for you. So, to the extent that you are able, be gentle with yourself about whatever emotional reaction you’re having. And recognize that you don’t have to engage with anyone that makes you feel alienated, uncomfortable, and manipulated – even if they’re in crisis.

The cool and terrible thing about “feelings and all that” is that so many are allowed to exist in our hearts at the same time. I think in this instance, it’s cool, because you totally have the ability and agency to feel your own feelings of anger and resentment toward this person while, at the same time, recognizing that he is suffering, feeling compassion, and hoping he gets the help he needs. The dude was in crisis! You don’t really know him, I don’t know him at all. Neither of us knows his story, we don’t know his motivation, we don’t what the hell he needs. But we do know that life is shitty a lot of the time, we know that people go through very hard stuff, we know that people react to trauma in all kinds of ways, ways that may not seem socially acceptable to us or other people. Should this guy have involved you, someone he doesn’t even know, in his crisis? Well, no. Does it seem a bit manipulative? Well, yeah. But can we still have empathy and recognize that humans sometime do some weird stuff when they’re in pain? Hell yeah! Recognizing that can help you remove judgement from your feelings. There’s no need to judge someone having a mental health crisis. How boring! Empathy is where it’s at these days. So, we can put on our anger and resentment hats, and eat our empathetic cake too, and it doesn’t mean we are at odds with our own values. It means that we are multifaceted. Good luck, friend.

Love, Mommy

On Wednesdays We Wear Pink

Dear Mommy,

How do you get through heartbreak?

Oh, my love. Heartbreak is different for everyone. In my experience, it has phases. The first phase is pure hell. Everything feels wrong. Reality seems different. Your heart feels gigantic because it’s so sad and your head feels gigantic because you’ve been crying so hard and so often. Nothing anyone says to you matters. Nothing makes you feel better. I hate to tell you this, but the only thing that gets you through phase one is time. Bummer, I know.

Phase two is better than phase one, but it still really sucks. It took months for me to get to phase two. Maybe it’ll just be weeks for you. Maybe it’ll be years. Either way, you’ll get there. Phase two is when the pain is no longer at the surface of everything. It’s still there, it’s just subsided a little. Reality starts to come back. Everything no longer reminds you of your ex-loved one. You’re not really moving on, but you’re not terrified of moving on anymore. This is when you have to remind yourself of the breadth and depth of the world, and of your own life. The worst part about heartbreak is how it tricks you into feeling like you and the world are small when you and the world are actually gigantic. You can’t feel or see anything but your own pain, nobody exists but you and your ex-loved one. The key, once you hit phase two, is to undergo an extensive process of reminding yourself who you are and what is fascinating about the world. That’s what helped me most. Learning new things, reading new kinds of books, watching weirdly specific documentaries. Engaging with politics. Becoming better friends with my friends. Starting a blog (I’ve heard this works really well.) Seeking out lots of new music to listen to to ring in this new phase of your life. Expanding your worldview however you can. You are trying to show yourself how much more there is in the world than romantic love, or lack thereof. Another good thing to do in phase two is to re-engage with things that are already a part of you at your very core. For me, this meant re-watching Legally Blonde. I’m kidding…sort of. I re-read some of my favorite books from high school, re-watched lots of favorite movies (that didn’t remind me of my relationship). I read sooooo many memoirs. I started making collages again. I wrote a very long list of the key values in my life and why they are important to me. I fortified my relationship with myself by reminding myself who I already was through the things I already liked, and built on that by showing myself how much more I can still learn, explore, and do. It was the only way.

Phase three is moving on. You’ll know you’re in phase three when you no longer identify with the word “heartbroken.” It’s the best of the phases, though it’s not without pain. The pain comes more from remembering the heartbreak, though, instead of actually feeling it. It still hurts, but remarkably less. Phase three is a Scorpio’s dream – all about shedding skin, all about being reborn. We know all kinds of new things, some we never wanted to know and some we never knew we needed to know. Mostly, we have learned that we are strong as hell. I can’t wait for you to join the phase three club. On Wednesdays we wear pink.

Love, Mommy

The Guilt Just Ain’t Serving You, Sister

Dear Mommy,

I just started a new job, and I think I might have a crush on one of my co-workers. I don’t really know him and we have nothing in common, but I like him for some inexplicable reason, and I think he might like me too. I feel very guilty about it, because I’ve been with my boyfriend a long time, and I’m in love with him, and things are great with us. The guilt is a big thing, but the other part is that the crush takes up so much brain-space and I’m not focusing on work and other things in my life. Instead of contributing the way I want to, I’m thinking about how my hair looks and finding weird reasons to walk past his desk so I can “casually” bump into him, even though I don’t actually enjoy bumping into him! It’s an adrenaline rush, but I feel nervous the entire time and weird, self-conscious, and guilty afterward.

I haven’t had a crush like this since high school. It’s so overwhelming that I almost want to quit, but it’s my dream job and I don’t want to lose it because I think some guy is attractive. I just want to enjoy it and do the best work I can, and it weirds me out that I seem to care so much about what this random man thinks of me…even though I don’t want to like him, the fact that he seems to like me too makes me feel proud in a weird way? It’s like a gross patriarchal seal of approval on the least feminist part of my self-esteem.

I guess my 2 questions are:

1. What do you do when you have a possibly requited crush you can’t avoid?
2. How do I stop caring what men think of me?

Hi, my love! Ouch, the painful crush. I’ve had this crush. Your crushee walks through the door and your heart starts beating a little faster and you are instantly weirdly self aware and you start doing all these calculations in your head: how can I get them to come over here? What is the most interesting thing about myself I can casually slip into our next conversation? How can I walk by them but make it seem like I am not walking by them on purpose, and not even noticing them or aware of their existence, but also perfectly poised with an intelligent and thoughtful look on my face, a look that says, “Ask me about myself, trust me…you want to know.” It can be sort of fun and exciting, like a little private project. But it can also be SO annoying, particularly the way it makes you do things that feel beyond your control, like the constant checking of appearance when they are near or inconveniencing yourself so you can have an ultimately disappointing two minute conversation. And it can make you feel disillusioned with yourself, especially during the comedown when they’re no longer in your presence and you’re left standing alone thinking, “What the HELL was I just talking about? Who was that person, ’cause it sure as hell wasn’t me!” Not to mention the constant self esteem boosts and crashes! He seems to like you back? Boost. You are not being true to yourself? Crash. You think you looked good when he walked by? Boost. You think about your current relationship and feel like an asshole? Crash. You picture your future together? Boost. You realize you are being ridiculous ALL OF THE TIME? Crash crash crash.

I know it’s hard and overwhelming, but I think you probably just need to give it time. Crushes, especially the really obsessive ones, tend to have an expiration date. Sure, maybe you’ll always think they’re cute and have fun picturing what could have been, but I feel confident that as time goes on the obsession will at least wear off. That said, your current state seems a little dire. Thinking of quitting your dream job because of the crush?! That makes me suspect that it’s not just the crush itself – the annoying obsession and fuzzy-brain stuff that I’ve already mentioned – but that it’s the guilt you are feeling, both because you have a boyfriend already and because you aren’t living up to your own feminist standard, that is hitting you hardest. I urge you to be gentle with yourself. I admire anyone who holds themselves to a really high standard, and I am not advocating for lowering it. But the guilt just ain’t serving you, sister! It’s not making the crush go away, it’s not making you neglect to check your hair in your laptop screen’s reflection when your crush appears at your side. What if you tried to accept the crush? What if you were able to ride it out, do your thing, and accept it as a fact of life and not a reflection of who you are as a person? You aren’t a bad partner for having a crush, not for talking to your crush as much as possible, not for wearing a certain thing for your crush, not for fixing your hair when you are about to see your crush. You are just a human. Nor are you a bad feminist for getting a self-esteem boost because a man seems to like you. You can absolutely reach for the stars and try to be the kind of person who gets all of their self-esteem and self-worth from a deep, crystal clear well from within themselves. I totally want that for you! But if a dude likes you and it gives you a little boost, well…I don’t know. Maybe that’s ok? I’m trying very hard to stand on both sides of the line between validation and gentle suggestion that you give yourself a break. Stick to your feminist ideals, we NEED you in this world, but beating yourself up and racking yourself with guilt because a guy likes you and that makes you feel good? I must have missed that meeting, ’cause that doesn’t sound very feminist to me. As for how you stop caring what men think about you in general, this may surprise you as I put forth the image of having mastered all things, but honestly…hell if I know! All I know is that you have to practice it every single day. You have to start over every single day. And you have to listen to Bikini Kill.

Love, Mommy