On writing him off

I have a right wing friend who is using his intellect to construct monumental rationalizations as to why he should only wear a mask when the situation demands it. Oh, he’ll cough into his elbow, but not going to a restaurant is more than “just an inconvenience”, it’s “dangerous for the economy!” He believes that the chances he’ll infect someone are about the same as “accidentally running someone over with a vehicle” and therefore a calculated risk. He discards data I show him if there’s one wrong number, but if his other friend says “wearing a mask is pointless” then that’s all he needed to hear to make his decision.

This is the guy who ran around high school bragging about getting into Mensa. But it’s also the same “genius” who uses Bing to search for Covid information!

Is there one last simple appeal I can make before I completely write him off as a selfish crybaby?

You should have written him off the very moment he bragged about getting into Mensa.


On relationship cancer

I’ve (29F)  spent the last 2 years fixated on what my alcoholic ex boyfriend (30M) thinks of me and I realise my self-worth has become dependent on how he sees me. On the multiple occasions when things have ended between us, he’s always turned the demise of the relationship on me, even when his behaviour was so attrocious and his blaming so unreasonable. But when he sees me in a positive light, I feel on top of the world.

He has a lot of remorse for the way he’s mistreated his other ex girlfriends and will persistently apologise to them and own up to his mistreatment. He constantly tells me how much remorse he feels for treating these girls so poorly. However, he has never once expressed this sort of remorse with regards to his treatment of me and when I’ve tried to explain the hurt he has caused me, he will either lash out at me or cut me out  for long periods of time.

Due to serious health complications resulting from his drinking and his refusal to get help, I don’t think he is going to make it very long. I can understand why others would find it questionable, but I keep him in my life because I care about him deeply and we do have a solid friendship beyond the tumultuous romantic history. In all honesty, most of the time I dont really understand why I keep sticking around, especially when he gets so mean. At this stage, I have to keep our friendship a secret from friends and family as they are seriously concerned with his previous violent/abusive behaviour.

Is there a way I can make this friendship work or am I just being reckless keeping him in my life?

This is not a friendship. This a codependent relationship with a narcissistic addict that has merely reached a new, more stable stage of dysfunction no less toxic for you than it was when you were a couple.

This relationship is a slow poison that is highly corrosive to your mental and emotional health. It is preventing you from even the possibility of entering into healthy romantic relationships, and it is destabilizing your support system by degrading the integrity of the relationships you have with friends and family. 

This man was never your friend. He is relationship cancer, slow-growing and malignant. If you want any chance at becoming a healthy, independent woman in your thirties, you need to immediately, completely, and permanently cut this man-sized tumor out of your life.


On classic advice

Is 27 too old to be attractive? I’ve been in a relationship with my boyfriend for less than a year, but the lust has always gone out of the window. It fucking sucks, and I miss having fun. I don’t want to deal with feeling unattractive and undesired and bad about myself.

You’re hot. Dump your boyfriend. Use the rest of the pandemic to do some work on yourself, and by work, I mean an intense emotional and cognitive inventory of why you even feel the need to be partnered in the first place.

Honestly, what’s in it for you? I am challenging you to stare long and hard at your programming and assess why you allow yourself to stay in relationships where you feel unattractive and undesired by your partner. 

Life is too precarious to waste your time with mediocrity. Your relationship expired months ago, and I get that you’ve been afraid to toss it because all the stores are closed, but I promise, at your healthiest, you will realize that it’s better to be in no relationship at all than be in one that’s gone sour.

In other words, stop fucking settling, especially now.


On sharpening other people’s axes

Started a PhD program a few months ago. I’m surrounded by people with an ax to grind. Insecure, trying to find ways to look down on the people around them (especially regarding intellect). It’s also almost entirely men, and the toxic masculinity is palpable. Is there any way to influence these guys, make them see themselves and others differently? In other words, can I help people to grow the fuck up? Believe that they’re worth something and that the people around them are worth something too– even if they can’t see it right away?

Can you help people grow the fuck up? Yeah. Should you? Fuck no. You’re not their mommy, and you should never give away emotional labor for free, especially in a PhD program where you’re surrounded by narcissists with inferiority complexes who have neither status nor money.

You’re going to get eaten alive if you don’t recognize your environment for the shark tank that it is. These guys are not your friends. They are your colleagues and your competition. If you don’t believe me now, that’s fine, but I guarantee that one day you’re going to look back on this question and laugh at how naive you sounded.


On what to do next

I finish grad school at Harvard in May and will be living in D.C. I am lost. I will be well positioned to work in the nonprofit sector. What should I do?

Pick your favorite Democratic candidate for President, apply for a job with her campaign, and spend the next twenty-two months saving the world.


On forgiveness

He told me I’d amount to nothing and I’ve believed him ever since. I can’t seem to shake it and hate that any success I have will feel like revenge. I don’t want to live in constant reference to him. Is meditation the only way to deal with this?


Nah, boo. Meditation is lovely, but forgiveness is the weapon you need. Forgiveness will allow you to rise above him. Forgiveness will let you move on. Forgive that pathetic piece of shit for everything he put you through. Forgive every abusive word or deed.

Just forgive him.


On failing

You say you’re here to relax, and I believe you, but how do you manage to not feel or become involved with how your words impact the life of others? I’m doing my PhD in clinical psychology. While my life has constantly provided me with evidence to believe I can sit in front of another human and be present with them, I can’t help but feel an incredible amount of anxiety in regards to the possibility of failing them. I’m 36 thousand dollars deep into student loans, and I’m terrified I’ll fail my future patients. Yet, I look at you, and maybe you’re free of certain anxieties because you’re anonymous, but I am convinced that you have a heart and soul that beats to the pain or vanity of those who write to you. I guess I’m trying to ask, how do manage to believe you won’t ruin those you answer to?


You won’t fail your patients. You won’t break them. You won’t ruin them. It’s not like that. You will have a responsibility to your patients, but you are not responsible for your patients. They are the ones who will do the work. You will not do it for them. You will help. You will guide. Maybe sometimes it won’t be as efficient or as tidy as you would like, but that’s not failure. It’s how you will grow as a clinician.

The anxiety you feel is perfectly normal, and it can be quite useful if you channel it towards self-improvement. It can keep you frosty in the room and hungry for the latest research, but don’t let it paralyze you. Don’t allow your anxiety to become a false belief about failure.


On being pursued

If a guy doesn’t offer to pay for the first date I never see him again, even if the date was really good. After about a month of dating it’s fine to split the bill, but until then it’s a deal breaker for me. My friend says it’s because I think they owe me for my time and I consider my time more valuable than theirs. It’s probably true and I’m embarrassed to be that kind of person. Thoughts?


Your friend is a closeted misogynist who thinks that all women are inherently prostitutes, and not in a cool way. Don’t listen to them.

The simple truth is that you were taught this rule, and you’ve never really bothered to question it. As you mature, you’ll start to realize that you were taught a whole bunch of rules that you’ve never really questioned. Some of them are useful. Some of them are shit. This one is a mix of both.

Courtship rituals are constantly evolving, but it is still reasonable to expect the guy to pay for the first date if he is the one who asked you out. That’s the underlying rule here: whoever does the asking out is the one who pays. It’s not about him “owing” you. It’s about a pursuer/pursued relationship dynamic implicit in the initial phase of the courtship ritual. It’s about you believing pretty strongly that you should not have to pay to be pursued.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking like this, but it’s a lot better if you understand why. The useful part of this rule is in respecting the relationship dynamics of a healthy courtship ritual. The shit part of this rule is that you can too easily make it about the money and not about the fact that your date isn’t pursuing you properly.


On how to stop dissociating during sex

Every time I go to sleep with someone, or when it becomes evident that it’s a real possibility, something in my body always recoils and shuts down. It’s less shame and more abject terror. Even if I’m the one who initiated. Something in me can’t handle the reality of sex with another person. I always fake it through and give it my best shot, but my shit is numb and it doesn’t feel like anything for me. And there’s no connection; it’s like my head is at the bottom of a well somewhere. Then before I know it I’m some dirtbag’s sexual servant because he catches on to the fact that I’m never gonna get off while he’s in the room, and he stops caring. Therapy isn’t helping. If you have any advice for me, I would greatly appreciate it. Love you.


You’re describing two distinct problems. The first is that you dissociate during sex. The second is that you fuck dirtbags. These problems are interrelated, and you have to solve them both or you’ll stay stuck in this larger pattern of unhealthy intimate behavior.

Here’s the question: Do you feel safe enough with any of your current or potential sexual partners to openly discuss the terror, recoil, and shut-down you experience during sex? If the answer is no, then do yourself a favor and stop having sex until the answer is yes. If the answer is yes, then do the hard thing and have the discussion. Be vulnerable and ask for help from your safe partner.

To be clear, a safe partner is one who cares about you enough to help you work through this, one who is willing to set his needs aside and do what takes to slow things down, remain connected, and allow you to experiment through your sexual response cycle until you figure out how to stay present.

One place to start might be allowing your safe partner to be present while you masturbate. Literally see if it’s possible to get off while he’s in the room. Start out with him just laying next to you with no physical contact. If that works, move on to masturbation with some kind of physical contact. Keep testing your ability to stay present with ever increasing amounts of intimacy throughout each stage of your sexual response cycle until you figure it out.

Now, if you’ve read this far and you think that sexual experimentation with a safe partner sounds like a ridiculous impossibility, that’s fine. After all, you do have a problem fucking dirtbags, so I can imagine how that level of intimacy and vulnerability sounds like advanced math in a foreign language. I promise you, though, it’s not impossible. This is the part where you’ll need a damn good therapist to help you understand your process of sexual parter selection.

You say therapy isn’t helping, but I wonder, are you doing the hard work? Are you addressing any past history of trauma that might be contributing to your problematic partner selection and subsequent sexual dissociation? Would you feel comfortable talking with your therapist about how best to discuss your dissociation with a safe partner? Be brutally honest about how much effort you’re putting into the process, and if you really are doing your part, then be willing to go find a different therapist who is a better fit.

This is a complicated question with lots of ways it can go, so feel free to meet me in the comments section for a deeper discussion about how to move forward.


On pretending to know things

I get the feeling that you’re really good at pretending to know things, but you don’t actually know anything.


Well, yeah. I’ve said from day one that I am completely full of shit. That’s not really the same as pretending to know things, but it’s close enough to what you meant. I’m also totally cool with the Socratic paradox, which is to say I agree with you that I don’t actually know anything.

So, now what? Are you done coming at me like I owe you some lengthy treatise on Camille Paglia’s brand of feminism? Are you done being butt hurt that I called you a child for suggesting that I support the worst politicians?

I don’t owe you anything. You seem to think you’re entitled to me, but you aren’t. You don’t know me. I’m just a figment of your imagination. Every single opinion you have about me is pure, uncut projection. Every single emotion you have about my work is a reflection of how you feel about yourself.

This ain’t about what I know, honey. It’s about what you know to be true when you look in the mirror.

(And of course, feel free to meet me in the comments section. I know you’ll have plenty more to say.)