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

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

Being In Love Doesn’t Make You More Of A Person

Dear Mommy,

I honestly really feel like no one will ever love me. I feel like every person who’s said they did was either lying or really only liked the idea of me. When I see people around me in love and know it’ll never happen for me, I get super sad and anxious and overwhelmed. How do I deal with it?

Hello, my love. First of all, I’m going to assume that when you say you feel like no one will ever love you, you are talking about romantic love. Because, as I am sure you know, there are most certainly people in your life that love you. But we’re talking romance here, being ~in love~, etc. I hear you and I am here for you, and I know the feeling! I spent every second of my teen years begging the universe for someone to love me. I was obsessed. I thought about having a boyfriend aaaall the time. As a teen, I was prone to insecurity and existential angst and I was absolutely positive that a boyfriend would quell all my anxieties about myself and the world. My self-esteem would rise, I would self-actualize on the spot, and the world would be full of beauty and joy ONLY. And, Lord, I had a crush on EVER-Y-BOD-Y. I did finally get a boyfriend in eighth grade, my brother’s best friend who I had had a crush on foreeeeever. It was only a couple of weeks before he started to avoid me, and finally called to tell me we should break up. I cried in the shower, but I was undaunted. I asked people out! Friends, acquaintances, whoever. No one was particularly interested. I watched my best friends get boyfriends and girlfriends, break up, and get new boyfriends and girlfriends. My senior year, I screwed up my courage to ask someone to the homecoming dance. He looked surprised but said yes. Later that day, he approached me in the hallway to tell me that he had chosen to go with someone else. I was so sure I was going to be single forever, that I would never experience requited love. It seems funny now. Laughable. Not only because I did eventually find love and it’s silly to think that I, as a teenager, could see into the future and predict that it would never happen, but because sometimes it feels like you’re supposed to look back on the emotional pain of being a teenager and see it as funny. “Ha ha ha, look how much I’ve LEARNED! Look how much I have EVOLVED!” says I as I re-read my diary from high school. But when I really think about it, I can vividly remember how I felt, and it was painful and crushing and not funny at all. It became all tied up in my feelings about my body and my feelings about being a girl and, before I knew it, my self worth became tangled up in my ability to get someone to be romantically interested in me. What’s funny about that? And then, when I was 18 and fresh out of high school, I fell in love with someone and they fell in love back. And I’m not going to lie to you, it was great. Incredible, really. You know this. You’ve seen the movies. If you didn’t know this you would not have written me this question. Being in love is THE SHIT. My relationship lasted for 7 and a half years, and then it imploded. And I am now almost 8 months on the other side. I have been there and back. Would you like to know what I’ve learned? HERE ‘TIS: I have learned that, while being in love and having someone love you back has numerous benefits, it doesn’t make you more of a person. It doesn’t make you funnier, it doesn’t make you smarter, it doesn’t make you more interesting. Being loved doesn’t make you any more…you.

According to a million songs and movies and friends who’ve finally ~gotten the guy/girl/person~, “Being in love makes the sun shine brighter!” What a seductive idea, and it’s probably true for a little while. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, forever. I know why you want it, and it’s okay to want it! It really is! It’s okay to feel sad that you don’t have it, it’s okay to feel like you’re missing out, it’s okay to feel however you are feeling about it at any given moment. Your feelings are valid, and when they come up, let yourself feel them because feelings don’t usually go away just because you’re pretending they’re not there. Feel the feelings, but you must absolutely REFUSE to let them shut out your light. You must, eventually, STAND UP and pour yourself into every single crack and detail of your life. Just absolutely pour yourself into it. Because all that sun shining brighter shit? Well, that’s how I felt after i saw Joanna Newsom live. That’s how I felt after I visited the met for the first time. That’s how I felt when I read The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. That’s how I felt at my birthday party in 2014, surrounded by all my friends. That’s how I feel when I spend Christmas with my family. That’s how I feel when I watch either of Beyonce’s visual albums. That’s how I feel every time I swim in the Columbia River. What I am saying is, you can, to some degree, create the circumstances that allow for a complete and total, reciprocal, loving relationship with life. Find the things that give you permission to live the exact life you want to, and watch them/read them/listen to them/go see them. Take your time and fill up your life with people who make you feel good, alive, and loved. Spend your free time doing the shit that lights you on fire, whether it’s cooking or graffiti or playing music or working on your unauthorized biography of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (just please please please send it to me when you’re done). I’m not saying it’s easy. A strange thing about life is that sometimes it’s impossibly hard to do the things you love, because all the feelings get in the way. And it won’t take the pain away completely, but here’s a secret: being in love doesn’t even take the pain away completely. So it’s time, my friend, to put on your gear. Strap on your helmet, your boxing gloves, your Wonder Woman shield – whatever it takes to fight the voice creeping into your head and heart that’s telling you that, because no one has loved you in the past in the way you want to be loved, that they never will. The thing that says you are only valuable to this world when you are in love. The thing that’s telling you that you are more full, more you, when someone loves you. Strap on your gear and fight it, and fill up every inch of this world with the beauty and brilliance that is you and all the things you love and all the things you create. Make us grasp desperately into our purses for our sunglasses when you appear in the doorway because you are so fucking bright. I can’t wait to see you shine.

Love, Mommy

 


 

Dear Mommy,

How do you decide when a romantic, deeply-entangled, life-partner kinda relationship should (or should not) come to an end?

Hi, darling. I am so sorry that you are finding yourself in a position where you have to ask this question. I was in this position very recently, and it is a position of turmoil, likely of great pain, confusion, and contradiction. My relationship did come to an end, and I knew that it should end a long time before it actually did. But we had been together for over 7 years, we lived together, we moved to the city I now live in together – our lives felt as entangled as entangled could be. The thought of the unraveling of that life we built together was so deeply painful that it felt like I would die, so painful that I couldn’t even admit to myself that I wanted to break up. So I just kept trying to fix it, and the pain got worse and worse, and eventually my relationship became a drain on my entire life, the root of most of my unhappiness. But that day-to-day trudge through the mud still felt preferable to the earth-shattering destruction of a breakup, and I stayed even longer. I stayed far past the point of crying almost every day, far past the point of almost all thoughts about my relationship being accompanied by hurt and confusion. And then, finally, he ended it. It’s scary to me to think about how long I might have stayed if he hadn’t finally put our relationship out of its misery.

So, how do you know when you should end it? Looking back on everything I went through, I should have ended it the moment I knew I wanted to. If you want to end it, end it. The moment you feel like you are worth more than what the other can give, walk away. The moment you feel like you deserve more and they are not capable of giving you more, go. If you feel like you want to get out for no real reason even, just get out. If you’re not sure, maybe it’s not time to leave yet. But the moment your relationship becomes a slow trudge through the mud, choose the shattering instead of continuing the trudge. There are probably always going to be reasons to stay, possibly many. But the only reason that you should need to go is that you know you want to, you know you need to. In the end, by staying in my relationship, I just gave myself many more chances to feel pain. But when you are in a relationship that is that entangled, where your partner feels like a family member, an integral part of your life, and a breakup would feel like a death, how can you possibly find the strength to end it voluntarily? I don’t know, I couldn’t do it. Maybe for you it’ll be easy. Or maybe the pain will be unbearable. But you will survive. Your partner will survive. And if you do want to get out, I hope you find a bravery that I couldn’t. Good luck.

Love, Mommy

Conflict Does Not Mean Something Is Broken

Dear Mommy,

Lately I’ve had a weird sense of resentment towards two of my best friends. I love them dearly, and they’ve never done me wrong, but I find I am irritated with them a lot for no good reason. Like, little things are making me more annoyed than they should. I’m starting to feel a sense of distance from them because of this. How can I spend time with them with this irritation at the back of my mind?

Friendship is kind of a funny thing. “Our bodies force us to have physical reactions that involve making sounds and expelling air when we hear the same joke. Let’s put our bodies in the same place sometimes!” There are lots of different kinds of friendships: true soulmate friends, friend with benefits, friendships of convenience, friends who feel like family. Sometimes you connect with people for no discernible reason, sometimes you share the same interests, sometimes you don’t really like each other but you have years of accumulated shared experience that sort of makes you friends by default. Sometimes you choose your friends. Sometimes you don’t. Friends are crucial. Friends are fun. Friends are supportive. And, sometimes, friends are annoying.

It could be useful for you to try to pinpoint where your irritation with your friends is coming from. Try to notice patterns or specific things that annoy you. Is it a particular thing these friends are doing, a particular way they interact with you? A specific subject they want to talk about a lot that just doesn’t jive with you? Is is it environment specific? Do they annoy you when you’re around certain people? Try to answer these questions as honestly as possible, and then figure out if it’s something you can talk to them about. If it is, sit ’em down and be real. I don’t recommend starting with, “Hey you’re annoying the fuck out of me lately!” But do be honest, and tell them what’s bothering you. I know confrontation can be extremely hard, and I think it’s easy to assume if there is conflict that something is broken. With romantic relationships and family members, there seems to be an understanding that you’re going to be mad at or annoyed with each other some of the time. With platonic friends, conflict feels scarier for some reason. Maybe it’s because there is less of an explicit commitment. I’ve been in a few situations lately where I’ve confronted friends. Everything worked out fine, but it sent me into something of a personal crisis. “Am I a good friend? Should I be 100% okay with everything my friends do, even if they upset me? If their actions bother me, is it my job to be ~chill~ and try to stuff that annoyance/hurt/anger down?” After many nights of tortured soul searching, I realized the answer to all of those questions is a resounding HELL NO. I want my friendships to be strong, and they can’t be strong if I’m over here with daggers in my eyes because Sheryl just told a group of strangers at the bar the story where I peed my pants at the mall, AGAIN. Cut it out, Sheryl! That is MY story to tell and I WILL NOT push my feelings down inside! Look at it this way: your confrontation is your explicit commitment. It’s your way of saying, “I care enough about this friendship to bring this up, to explore this painful and scary uncharted territory with you, and try to find a solution. You are worth it.” If you let it all sit within you, the annoyance might grow until the friendship can’t be saved.

But what if you can’t pinpoint what’s annoying you? What if there is no pattern? What if you’re being annoyed by things that you recognize you shouldn’t really be annoyed by, AKA it’s more of a problem with YOU than THEM? What if you’re getting annoyed by little things that trigger you for reasons you can’t name and it would make you sound and feel like an uptight ASSHOLE if you ever brought them up? There is a pretty clear-cut path to peace here. You need space, my friend. You are spending entirely too much time with these people! Get away from them for a little while! Cut down on your hangout time, or impose a two-week or three-week or month-long break from them. This is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing to do! Tell them you’ve been feeling anti-social lately, or just be real and say you need some space. This will allow you some breathing room and time to think about what is getting you down. When everything is up close, it’s hard to see the problems clearly. With space and time away from your friends, you might gain some clarity on what exactly is annoying you and where it’s coming from. Maybe you’ll see that you’ve grown in many different ways since your friendships started and some of your friends’ values no longer align with your own. Maybe you’ll see that it’s your friends that have changed and certain parts of your personality just aren’t that compatible anymore. If that’s the case, and this is something you want to do, it is totally and completely okay to decide not to be friends with people anymore. Friendship is not compulsory, and you never have to be friends with anyone that doesn’t bring you joy. This doesn’t mean you can be an asshole to whoever you want, but you do have every right to stop being friends with people you don’t want to be friends with anymore. You don’t have to keep people in your life just because they’ve been there for a long time.

That said, let me re-iterate that conflict does not mean something is broken. Just because you don’t see eye to eye right now doesn’t mean you never will. Just because you are growing apart doesn’t mean you will never grow back together. Just because things aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you need to cut off any ties. Certain friends play certain roles in your life, and it is okay for those friends’ roles to change over time. It’s really important for us to see that friendship is fluid. It is completely normal to feel like you don’t connect with someone anymore, even when nothing has happened. It is totally okay to be irritated and annoyed with people you love, even for petty ass reasons. It is completely normal to feel distant with your best friends. If you stick with it, you may find that you start connecting again or that the distance between you closes naturally on its own. You and your friends are just humans, flawed and beautiful like all of us. Relationships ebb and flow, closeness becomes distance and then closeness again. There is pain and beauty in every wave. Ride it out. Or don’t.

Love, Mommy

Your Life Is Yours, Part Two

Dear Mommy,

All my friends from high school are getting engaged and having kids. I can’t help but feel bad about it even though I KNOW that’s not what I want. How can I keep from feeling down about it?

Hello again. I’m sure that, after reading my entry last week in which I said I would give you two concrete pieces of advice, you have felt a radical change come over you and your problem is halfway to being completely, 100% solved! All you are missing is part two and, lucky for you, it’s here! You no doubt remember that my first piece of advice from last week was to do a little work on your relationship with you by making a list of some good moments in your life. I’m sure you have integrated this into your daily routine and you are feeling more loved and beautiful than ever. The second thing I want you to do may take a little more time. It’s a long game and it can be hard, but don’t give up! I believe in you.

To recap: you already know that you don’t want to be married and you don’t want a baby, but you want to feel loved and like you belong (as we all do!). Besides your relationship with yourself, I can think of another extremely important, loving, and special relationship that is not a spouse or spawn: friends! My second piece of advice is to start investing very heavily into the relationships you already have, or want to have. I’ve been known to say, when I get very drunk, “I want to text everyone I love and tell them how much I love them!” I have very vivid memories of that instinct, and also of carrying it out and feeling embarrassed the next day. (I also tend to do that in person, so if you were at my New Year’s Eve party and I accosted you in the doorway and made you feel uncomfortable but also very loved, well…I’m sorry and you’re welcome!) This is exactly the type of thing you need to do, though maybe leave out the drunkenness. If there is someone you love, text them right now and tell them! An obvious choice is a best friend, but I’d suggest also sending one to someone more peripheral in your life that you do truly love but want to be closer to. These declarations of love can take the form of a novella about your appreciation of the specific qualities that you admire in your friend. They can take the form of a simple “I love you!” out of the blue. They can take the form of, “I saw this movie and it made me think of you!” or “I think you’d really love this book/podcast/TV show I’m reading/listening to/watching.” The key is to let your friend know that you are loving them or thinking about them when they are not around. I think this is such an important way to show love to people! It is active and intentional and, like most important things, a little scary to do. It makes you a little vulnerable, but all you’re really doing is making your loved one feel known, which is such an incredible way to feel. And I’m fairly certain you will find that once you start to send the love out, you will start to get it back. It may take a while, but it’ll happen. Maybe not with everyone, but it also doesn’t have to benefit you in that specific way to be worthwhile. When I send out love, I just start to feel more love in general – how could that ever be a waste of time? And I have found that when people feel sure about their place in your heart, they are willing to be more vulnerable with you, they are happy to be there for you when you need them, they are more honest and at-ease with you, and they share the love they have to give with you. That is a recipe for supportive, loving, committed companionship with endless room for growth, which is exactly what you need to cultivate.

Your life is beautiful, and it is your own. And yeah, I know, it’s soooo easy for me to say that to you when I’m not inside your body, inside your life, when you’re up at 3AM feeling more lonely than anyone on the planet has ever felt, when you’re walking home from the grocery store alone carrying the heaviest bags anyone has ever carried and wishing someone was there to take one, or when you’re at work and you’re the most exhausted you’ve ever been and nothing feels right. I haven’t been there in your life or your body at those moments, but I have in mine. I have them too, and so does your friend from high school who just had a beautiful baby. And so does your cousin who just got engaged. It’s tempting to look at other people’s lives and imagine that they have exactly what it is that you’re missing in your own, but I promise you that you know people who wish they had your life or your job or your apartment or your group of friends. Try to appreciate you and your life for exactly what it is. Try to bring love and a sense of belonging into it by aspiring to healthy, long-lasting, fulfilling relationships that aren’t with significant others or offspring. I’m positive that you can think of a million more genius ways to do this than just the two I’ve mentioned here.

I’ll leave you with this anecdote: a few summers ago, one of my professors in college died very unexpectedly. She was a teacher who was extremely loved, with a large and devoted following of students. I attended her funeral, and the church was packed. At one point in the eulogy, the pastor asked us to raise our hands if we knew exactly how my teacher felt about us. Hundreds of hands went up. I remember being amazed at the kind of legacy my teacher was leaving behind, one in which love is spread around generously, and given so freely. One in which empathy, honesty, and kindness are radical acts and vulnerability is strength. That’s the kind of legacy I want to leave behind, and I vowed that I would try really hard to be the kind of person whose loved ones were always sure how much I cared for them, through my actions and my words. What kind of lives, what kind of world, could we build with this as our goal? Try to find out.

Love, Mommy

Your Life Is Yours, Part One

Dear Mommy,

All my friends from high school are getting engaged and having kids. I can’t help but feel bad about it even though I KNOW that’s not what I want. How can I keep from feeling down about it?

Hello, friend. I was writing a response to your question and I couldn’t stop! I wrote you a letter way longer than I’d expect anyone to read in one siting, so I’m going to break it up into two parts. Today I offer you Part One!

What really stands out to me about your situation is that you don’t want to be engaged or have kids, yet you’re still feeling like shit when you see 500 baby pictures on social media when a friend gives birth or get a wedding invitation in the mail. I’m going to make the leap and assume that, while those aren’t the specific life events or lifestyles you want, you really want to experience the feelings that you imagine are associated with those particular milestones. Let’s break them down:

  • a feeling that you are loved and cared for
  • a feeling that you are needed
  • a feeling that that you are moving forward in life and building something
  • an outpouring of love built into your day-to-day life
  • a feeling that your life really means something
  • a feeling that you have people you belong to and who belong to you
  • a feeling that you have people that give a shit if you get out of bed in the morning

In the best-case scenario, those things all seem to be part of the package that is marriage and/or parenthood. And because those two particular milestones are given such importance and heft in our culture, you can be absolutely positive that they are not things you want for yourself AND still crave them in spite of yourself, or at least what you imagine accompanies them. It’s so confusing! And you may also be experiencing that more general, crappy feeling that can happen while perusing various media, where you see what you think are insights into people’s perfect lives, so different from your own. But those are really just snapshots of a small and possibly aesthetically pleasing moment in a life that is no doubt as messy and full of pain and confusion as yours! You are, without a doubt, not alone in this. So, where does this leave you poor, pathetic souls? (I’m listening to Johanne Bach as I write this shit, so I’m puh-reeeety confident about my place in this world and don’t consider myself affected by this particular issue! (I am joshing you so hard. Not about the Bach though. Don’t be intimidated! I’m just your average classical music-loving genius (I put on Bach by accident)))

To answer your question directly, I don’t know how you can stop from feeling down about it. But I think I can offer some hope that you can carve out a small place on this earth where you feel loved, appreciated, and less alone. I can think of two concrete things you can and should do.

The first thing I want you to do can be done in mere moments, or it can take all day or the rest of your life. Make a list, make it right now or after you finish reading this. In your notes app, in your journal, on a piece of scratch paper, a pizza rolls bag, whatever. It can be huge, It can be tiny, It can be medium. Make a list of all the good shit in your life that transcends the crushing weight of this shitty feeling. Just absolutely every moment and every thing you can think of, big and small, that makes your specific life worth living. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL!! You have to do this, and you have to repeat as often as necessary. We can get pretty stuck in the mudslide of going to a job every day where we don’t feel appreciated, of the big or small dramas of our various relationships,of all the little hurts and insecurities swirling around in our absolutely precious and sacred hearts and minds all the goddamn day long, of a scarcity mindset we can’t seem to shake, in which we never have enough – enough money or love or friends or anything. This list is to act as a metaphorical… stack of sandbags (???) that will help stop that flow of negative feelings about your own life, just like a real-life stack of sandbags stops a real-life mudslide! Is that how you stop a mudslide? I’ll offer up a few items from my list:

  1. My inexperience with serious, life-threatening natural disasters. Mudslides, for example.
  2. I recently got to see Joanna Newsom live, who occupies a position in my life I can only liken to a pastor or other spiritual leader. Not exaggerating. My sensitive little heart was burst wide open. I smiled and I cried, an hour and a half went by in ten minutes, and I saw everything in this world exactly as it really is.
  3. I watched Good Will Hunting the other night, in my bed on my laptop. I’ve seen that movie three times and I just love it for some reason. It’s cheesy at times, but it moves me. And yeah, I cried at that part where a young and skeletal-looking Ben Affleck is all, “Every day I come to pick you up I hope you’re not there! You owe it to me to work for the NSA or whatever!” to a baby-faced Matt Damon. I cry at that shit every time! As Matt Damon drives down the highway in the shitty car his friends built him and the credits start to roll, I took a screenshot to remember that evening by. A few days later, I went to a Paige Powell exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. Paige Powell is a photographer from Portland who worked for Interview magazine in New York and became friends with Keith haring and Basquiat and all those other New York artist-types. The exhibit was a re-creation of a 1984 exhibit of her photographs from that time. It was held in this little enclave and I walked in and walked straight up to a picture of a baby-faced Matt Damon! I don’t know! I don’t really give a crap about Matt Damon, but it was a special moment, if minuscule and meaningless to everyone in the world but me, so it’s on the list.Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 11.23.53 PMIMG_3106
  4. Last weekend I was at my best friend’s house and I walked home at 2AM. I stopped at a late-night pizza place on the way and got a slice of pizza. It was full of people emptying out of a dance night next door. It was really weird to be alone at 2AM, very close to my house, a little drunk, not know anyone around me, and order a piece of pizza. But it was kind of exciting too! It made me feel young and anonymous and alive. I walked the rest of the way home and ate the pizza listening to Joanna Newsom. It was really hot and burned my tongue. I didn’t care.
  5. A few months ago, I started to tell all my friends that I was going to start a blog called Mommy and it was going to be an advice blog. I would be so excited about it every day, but then in the dark hours of the night I’d start to feel stupid and silly. “Who the hell am I to even think that I could offer advice to random people on the internet? Who the hell am I to even think that I could call myself a writer? Everything I write is crap! I am crap!” There were moments where I almost let nighttime-me win and told everyone I changed my mind and stopped doing the thing. But I persevered and wrote in tiny bits and then in larger chunks until I had my first post, and here I am writing my second post to you and feeling so proud and alive and joyful. Because I’m doing the thing.

My list could go on and on and on, and what’s intentionally missing from it is all the moments in between where I am lost and confused and crying in public, and I assure you those moments are MANY (many many many). But I find that I spend lots of time focusing on those crappy moments, and this list helps bring my focus to the fun, sweet, and fulfilling aspects of my life. This list also helps me in a way that is related to your problem. It makes me feel like my own wife! Some things that are really appealing to me about having a relationship are having someone to share those small special or funny moments of life with, the feeling of being known really intimately by someone, and having someone to love. When I look at the list above I realize that I am sharing all those moments with myself, I know myself more intimately than anyone ever could, and that I have someone to love! She just happens to have the same body as me and also…be me. I am in a relationship with myself! I am not saying that I feel like this all the time but, as I’m making the lists and reading them, I’m reminded. Make a list whenever you need to be reminded that you are your most important relationship.

I also want to acknowledge that your relationship with yourself is likely extremely complicated in ways no one else will understand. I have a hard time loving myself almost all of the time, so please don’t think I’m advocating this as a quick and easy road to self-love. I don’t want to make it seem easy, because you and I both know it’s not and there are many other things you need to do to get right with your own heart and brain. I understand that through trauma, other people’s actions, systematic oppression, and media you consume by choice or not, we can be poisoned against ourselves and that it takes so, so much work to get that poison out. I say all this because I sometimes read an article or comment on the internet that’s like “Just love yourself! Stop feeling bad about [thing you feel bad about]!” and I’m like, “Fuck you! You have no idea what it would take for me to love me!” I want to be clear that this list is a tiny thing toward that step, but that tiny things can also turn out to be very worthwhile.

Stay tuned for Part Two next week, in which I illuminate my second piece of advice!

Love, Mommy