Best-Of Advice

On sunk costs and shitty marriages

Hi Coke, as I edge closer to 30 and more of my friends are starting to settle down, I’m starting to notice a weird pattern among some. There’s been quite a few instances where friends who have been in serious relationships with their partners for 5+ years, many for a decade, seem to part ways shortly after getting hitched. They are happy, in love, dedicated, super enthusiastic about their wedding and then they get married and suddenly something seems to crack and they split up very shortly thereafter. In most cases it’s happened in much less than a year after the wedding. It’s so weird. They’ve all lived together for multiple years, had pets together for years, and all that grown up shit but somehow signing a piece of paper changes things? I don’t understand. What’s different? Thanks in advance for your insight!

 

You’re looking at it all wrong. It’s not the piece of paper that changes things. The piece of paper and the marriage that it represents are merely symptoms of the larger problem, which is that by and large, human beings are terrible at making rational decisions where emotions are involved, and people rarely have the self-discipline to cut their losses and walk away.

The phenomenon that you’ve observed is a prime example of something called the “sunk-cost fallacy” applied to relationships. The sunk-cost fallacy is faulty reasoning that further investment (i.e. marriage) is warranted on the fact that the resources already invested (i.e. time, energy, and a sizable chunk of their youth) will be lost otherwise, not taking into consideration the overall losses involved in further investment (i.e. the emotional and financial misery of the inevitable divorce.)

People in their late twenties who’ve spent years in long-term relationships are faced with increasing pressure from social systems to conform to the proper stage of life transitions. Everyone and everything (often times even their own biology) are constantly nagging them to settle down, get married, start breeding, etc., and so they fall prey to this faulty reasoning and decide to plow through to the next stage of life regardless of whether their relationship is healthy.

You’ve got a shit-ton of aging Millennials limping along in stale relationships who don’t know any better because they’ve spent the last half-decade having the same arguments in the same restaurants and then going home and having the same sex with the same person, and rather than disappoint their parents by going through the temporary pain of a much needed break-up, they throw a Hail Mary pass with the mother of all major life decisions and decide to get married. Fuck it. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? So they forge ahead with big smiles.

Of course they’re super enthusiastic about getting married — they have to be. They’re on a year long roller-coaster ride of planning a wedding. Sure, they’re secretly terrified of their relationship’s mediocrity, but all that existential angst gets hurled to the edges as they start doing loops. With a little denial and a decent bachelorette party, they can almost convince themselves that everything is going to be all right. For a good long while they get to soak up all that positive reinforcement from friends and family. They get to be the center of attention, and they get to feel all grown-up. Eventually the big day comes. They say a few magic words, they cut a cake, and then suddenly all the fun stuff stops.

I don’t have to tell you what happens next. You’ve seen it. Within a few months the reality of “til death do us part” comes along and slaps them in the face like a big wet dick. They realize they’re actually pretty miserable, and then it finally dawns on them that they don’t actually have to be together.

Basically, the marriage itself is just an extended director’s cut of their break-up. It’s gross, I know, but we’re flawed creatures in a flawed system. This is just one of those things that happens.

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Best-Of Advice, Thoughts

On walking the low road

“To engage with them at all is to walk the low road”. Coke I have been with you since 2010 when I was fresh out of high school. This brings a tear to my eye. We don’t move forward or have our own ideas challenged without engagement. You haven’t lost a reader, I will never allow myself to be in an echo chamber like you are creating for yourself. I started disliking what you have to say for a couple years now, but recognize the value in hearing what someone I disagree with has to say.

 

You’ve missed my point entirely. I detest an echo chamber. I need to be challenged by people with opposing viewpoints. I long for the dialectic, and I am desperate for worthy adversaries.

You don’t need to tell me that we don’t move forward without engagement. I’m with you 100% on that point. The problem is that the Trump-loving religious/alt-right has degraded into an infantile, reactionary horde of the cruel, the ignorant, and the stupid. When I say to engage with them is to walk the low road, I mean it.

Trump and all his little Trumpkins simply aren’t capable of joining the rest of us on the high road, and by the rest of us, I don’t just mean liberals or Democrats or those who think like me. I mean anyone with the capacity for rational discourse. I mean people who can rub a few words together and form an original thought. I mean folks who aren’t actual fucking neo-Nazis.

There was a time in this country when the political right was represented by some genuinely brilliant bastards. They were privileged pricks with their heads up their asses, but they were articulate and well-schooled, they were worldly, and they could defend their political views with thoughtful debate using legitimate lines of reasoning.

Take William F Buckley Jr. for instance. That dude was one of the most gaping assholes of the 20th century, but he was smart as a fucking whip. His positions were loathsome, but he knew what he was talking about, and his arguments were exquisite. Say what you will about Buckley’s opinions, but the man didn’t just walk the high road; he fucking paved it. Is there anyone in Trump’s camp articulating the conservative world view at the level of someone like William F. Buckley Jr.? Fuck no. Even Buckley himself thought Trump was a monster.

Take Henry Kissinger as another example. He’s one of the most evil motherfuckers to have ever walked the earth, worse even than Dick Cheney, but he was dangerously intelligent and he knew his shit. He was the very definition of a worthy adversary on issues of conservative diplomacy, and when it came to public discourse, he always walked the high road. Is there anyone amongst Trump’s nominees who has half the brains of Henry Kissinger? Fuck no. They’re all Kissinger-sized scoundrels, to be sure, but with the added indignity of being a bunch of lackeys, lickspittle, and know-nothing corporate goons.

Over the years, there have been a number of right-wing thinkers with whom I have vehemently disagreed, but I still followed their work, because I knew they were making the very best case for the other side — magnificent assholes like Thomas Sowell, George Will, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum, and occasionally even David Brooks — but their voices have been drowned out by idiots of such magnitude that I can barely stand to keep listening.

The death of the eloquent conservative voice began during the era of Reagan and finally reached what I thought might be rock bottom during the era of George W. Bush, but things have gotten cartoonishly worse since the rise of Donald Trump. It’s gotten so embarrassingly bad that even Glenn Beck has taken a step back to wipe the shit off his shoes. I’m sorry, but when the likes of Tomi Lahren and Alex Jones are considered legitimate news sources worthy of citation, you can’t deny that there’s nothing left but low road, and you can fuck right off if you think I’m going to walk it.

I refuse to engage the opposition at so low a level, and I refuse to normalize Trump’s administration by dignifying its mouthpieces with any kind of legitimacy. They are simply not worthy of my validation. They are not worthy of yours. If you can’t see that, maybe wipe that tear from your eye and start paying attention.

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Best-Of Advice

On grief

Dear Coquette,

Eight months ago today, my husband killed himself. Last weekend, I finally held his memorial. I’d been planning it since the day he died. It was a big party, with food and drink and fireworks and friends and so many memories. Lots of family, too–including my in-laws, whom I met for the first time (he’d been estranged from his family). It was both very good and very painful, which I expected. I didn’t expect the emotional aftermath. I’m spacey, exhausted, irritable, fragile, unstable. Can’t eat. Can’t sleep. Can’t read. Can’t listen to music. I feel like I did in the first weeks and months after he died. Before the party, I was feeling ok. Not great, but better than I had in a long while. Now, the grief is raw and fresh again. I’ve learned that grieving isn’t a tidy, linear process, but I’m desperate to make some sense of it. If I could parse it, I think I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed, but I can’t. It just seems chaotic and terrifying.

Can you explain grief?

Thanks for everything you do, always.

 

It’s never going to make any sense. That’s not part of the deal. We don’t get answers to those kinds of questions. Never have. Never will. There’s no point in trying to parse it. You’ll spin yourself dizzy and just wind up confused (or worse, religious.)

Instead, sit down next to it and just be. Feel all of that shit. Let it wash over you and through you. Do it again and again, as many times as necessary. Don’t be afraid of it.

In a few days, you’ll be back to relative normal, but four months from now on the anniversary, be prepared for this to happen again. It won’t be quite as intense, but it will still be significant. Let that be okay. (And when the day comes that you finally move on, let that be okay too.)

Your grief is real, and nothing real is tidy or linear. You’re doing it right, though. You’re supposed to be exhausted, irritable, fragile, and unstable — but you’re also resilient. One day food will bring flavor again. Sleep will bring rest. Books and music will bring joy.

That’s how this works. It’s not the same thing as any of it making sense, but it’s all we’ve ever had, and on most days, it’s enough.

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Best-Of Advice

On being present in your terror

I’m 28. I tested positive for HIV today. I have all the education to know precisely how grave this is (and is not) as well as a network of friends and family that are stunning me with their fortitude right now.

But Coke, I am so lost. I imagined this moment a hundred times, but I have no idea what to actually do now that it’s happened. How do I move forward from here and allow this experience and permanent life change to enrich my experience? I am filled with terror right now, but the deepest one is that my life will just continue status quo, only with an added layer of crippling regret and internal stigma that will diminish me. How do I handle this?

 

Many years ago, I had a day like you’re having today. I didn’t test positive for HIV, but you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that the news I got was equally life-changing and equally devastating.

I know exactly what you mean about the existential terror of the status quo — that dreadful feeling of sameness that comes from the world not even noticing how suddenly awake you are. You’ll walk around like that for days, maybe weeks, a completely different shade from everyone else. Some days brighter. Some days dimmer, but never quite matching the intensity of your surroundings.

I also get that you’re lost, but I can’t tell you where to go from here. Nobody can. You have to figure that out for yourself. Don’t worry. You will. Unfortunately, you can’t skip ahead to the part where your life is enriched from the experience. You gotta go through some shit first, and it’s gonna be fucked up for a while.

In the meantime, the best advice I can give you in this moment is to go out tonight and have a really good meal. Go to your favorite restaurant. Order your favorite dish.

I know that seems trite, but it’s not meant to be. I’m quite serious. When I was having a day like you’re having today, that was the single best piece of advice that anyone gave me — go treat yourself to a special meal. Take advantage of how awake you are.

Have an extravagant dinner and notice everything about it. Get dessert. Indulge. Use all your senses and be present in your terror and let your perspective shift just a little bit — that’s all, just the tiniest little shift — and let that be the place where you start, and then just go from there.

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Best-Of Advice

On why you weren’t good enough for him

Why wasn’t I good enough for him?

 

Life will be miserable if you think like this.

In one simple sentence, you’ve managed to cram together an invalidation (why wasn’t I) , a value judgment (good enough), and a personalization (for him.) Let me help you see it another way.

First, you can’t take this personally. It’s not even about you. I know this is difficult to accept, but you have nothing to do with what he wants or doesn’t want. His personal preferences do not speak to your quality in any way whatsoever.

While you’re at it, stop judging yourself. This has absolutely nothing to do with you being “good enough.” Your value as a human being is not connected to his romantic whims.

Finally, don’t invalidate yourself. This isn’t a failure on your part. There is no reason to frame this negatively. I know it hurts. Believe me, I know how much unrequited feelings suck, but don’t let the pain trick you into believing you deserve it.

Strip away the invalidation, the value judgment, and the personalization, and “why wasn’t I good enough for him” becomes simply, “he prefers something else.”

That’s it, really. He prefers something else, and it’s not a reflection upon you, nor is it under your control.

Accept that. Learn to think this way. You’ll still feel the pain, but it won’t be agony. It will be bittersweet instead.

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Best-Of Advice

On a beautiful mess

I was given the name of this blog by a personal role-model, a mental health counselor from the Eating Disorder’s Inpatient unit that I’m currently on, fighting for my life back from Anorexia Nervosa and related disorders. She struggled with depression and anxiety when she was younger, and her story inspires me so much. I want to thank you so much for impacting her life so much that she was able to impact mine, with the same wisdom that you shared with her and that she read on your blog a long time ago. I have so much love for the both of you for that.

I had some questions that I really need advice on regarding life in general, and I don’t know if you can answer them, but I hope that you can.

How does someone decide that they want to live? How do they decide that the little things that are good in life outweigh all of the horrible things in their lives? I have teetered on the edge of wanting to live and wanting to die. I cling to very small things and hope that they are enough to motivate me, but sometimes it feels hopeless. Especially when I am in my eating disorder, without recovery, life seems dreary and monotonous and nothing I want to involve myself in. I don’t think you know the answer on how to stop restricting, over-exercising, and purging, but any advice that you have about eating disorders would be much appreciated as well. I guess it boils down to, what little things make life worth it? And what big things make life worth it? And how do you decide that you want to live rather than dig your grave “with your own fork and knife”? I want to live, but I want to die. I am a mess of contradictions, a mess of a girl. I don’t want to be a mess anymore, but I’m lost as to what to do with all of the hopelessness, worthlessness, loneliness, and feeling undeserving of life and food that I’m dealing with even as I type this.

 

I like the way you speak of being “in your disorder,” and how you’re fighting for your life “back from Anorexia Nervosa.” I like the way that you’ve separated yourself from your disease. You recognize it as something apart from who you are. Yes, it’s something that wants to kill you. Yes, it’s something that you have to fight every goddamn day. Yes, that’s fucking exhausting, so much so that I understand what you mean when you say you’re teetering on the edge of wanting to live and wanting to die. I understand how it would be so fucking easy just to give up and let it win.

That’s the thing, though. By simply not giving up, you’ve already decided that you want to live. Actually, that’s not even quite right. You do want to live. All you’re really deciding is why. You want there to be a good enough reason, something so profound and so obvious that you don’t have to keep burning all your energy scavenging around for a bunch of little things to keep you going. You want the magical secret answer to the question why that will finally and permanently beat down all that horrible shit that keeps trying to kill you.

The answer does exist. I discovered it. Your counselor discovered it. It really is profound and it really is obvious and it really will save you. You have no idea how much we wish we could just whisper it in your ear, but that’s not how this answer works. It has to come from inside of you. The most fucked up thing is that the answer is already there. It’s been inside of you all along, and once you discover it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

In the meantime, embrace your mess. Allow your contradictions to exist in the present moment. Practice radical acceptance of all the hopelessness, worthlessness, and loneliness. That’s all you have to do. Just let that shit be okay, because it is.

There is peace in the dreary monotony. It’s not the same thing as happiness. It’s not the same thing as health. It’s simply peace. That’s where you will find your answer. Come to a place of acceptance, unconditionally and with no expectations, and you will discover that there is no difference between the big things and the little things in life. It’s all one size and it’s all one thing, and yes, it’s all a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess. So are you.

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Best-Of Advice

On a fucked-out cliché

There’s an asshole who doesn’t give a shit about me except for when we’re fucking, who I’m a little bit in love with. And then there’s the super nice guy who cares for me a lot, who I don’t feel anything for. Help me break out of this, Coquette.

 

I can’t do shit for you if these are the choices you bring me. Have some fucking self respect and get rid of them both. Go be something other than a fucked-out cliché from the first act of every teen romantic comedy.

I mean, how hard is this? Once you’ve established that a guy is an asshole, stop fucking him and move on. Once you’ve established that you’re never gonna have feelings for a guy who’s romantically into you, set firm boundaries and don’t lead him on.

It’s bad enough to get either one of those things wrong, but to fuck up both at the same time and then bring it to me like it’s some kind of dichotomy? Honestly, get your shit together.

Don’t act like you’re trapped between anything here. You created this triangle, and you maintain it for a reason. You can walk away from it any time you want, but you get something out of it, so don’t come whining to me like it’s beyond your control.

This is some silly girl shit. Start acting like a woman and handle your fucking business.

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Best-Of Advice

On being worthy of friendship

You answered a question about fixing your own broken-ness and not allowing broken people to burden you anymore by deciding you’re worthwhile. I get that in theory but I’m a people-pleaser all the way and I don’t know how else to make friends. Does the friend-making get easier when you decide you’re worthwhile or do you realize the friendships you wanted are less necessary because you don’t need to be validated? I want very much to be unbroken but I recognize that doing shit for others and letting them cross my boundaries comes from a place where I’m terrified people won’t like me otherwise. I don’t think I’m a funny person and I’m very shy but I’m capable and trustworthy and that’s what I’ve been trying to prove to people. I have a habit of ruining friendships and I’m just so terrible at relating to people and I’m so lonely. What happens when you decide you’re worthwhile anyway?

 

You don’t decide that you’re worthwhile. It’s not a decision. You simply are. That’s the thing you’re not getting.

You are worthwhile. You are worthy of friendship. It’s okay that you’re shy. It’s okay that you’re not funny, and being capable and trustworthy are good qualities, but they’re not the reason why you’re worthy of friendship. Again, you simply are.

Also, you don’t have a habit of ruining friendships. Stop thinking that about yourself. Those weren’t friendships. Those were just people you knew. While you’re at it, stop thinking that you’re terrible at relating to people. You know how to relate to people. You related to me just fine. You’re just a little socially awkward, and that’s something you can easily take steps to improve.

Speaking of improvement, you’re already halfway to a breakthrough by acknowledging that your people-pleasing behavior is based on the fear that people won’t like you otherwise. You recognize the problem. All you have to do now is let it be okay if people don’t like you.

Fuck ’em. It really is that simple.

Knowing in your heart that it’s okay if people don’t like you is the foundation upon which all of your boundaries can be built. If someone violates your boundaries, fuck ’em. You don’t need a person who does that to like you. If someone only sticks around to take advantage of your people-pleasing, fuck ’em. That’s not a friend, and your life will be better without them.

You are worthy of friendship, and it’s okay if people don’t like you. This isn’t a theory for you to get. Those are already stone cold truths. All you have to do now is believe them.

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Best-Of Advice

On a broken-people magnet

I seem to be a broken-people magnet. They come to me with their problems and because no one else will step up, I try and help them and end up wasting time that I don’t even have to waste. How do I walk away from this? Some of these people are suicidal and refuse help, I can’t just leave them like that. I need to focus on my own life right now and I can’t keep doing this. What do I do?

 

You are a broken-people magnet because you yourself are broken. You don’t recognize your brokenness, of course. You think you are helping, and no doubt you provide a certain kind of support, but it’s not healthy, especially for you.

Here’s the thing you need to understand: People don’t come to you with their problems. That’s just your way of framing it, and it removes your agency from the equation. What you must acknowledge is that you allow people to burden you with their problems. You allow it.

You allow people to burden you with their problems because you are an enabler with boundary issues who feeds off of being in overfunctioning/underfunctioning relationships.

It makes you miserable, but it also validates you, and you’d rather be miserable than invalidated. That’s the part that cuts to the core of who you are. You’re a person who is so desperate to be validated that you let emotional vampires feast on your time and energy just so you can feel needed.

That’s where you’re broken. That’s the part of you that needs to be fixed, and ironically, there’s no one out there who can fix you the way you keep trying to fix other people. You have to do it. You have to learn how to establish boundaries. You have to recognize when you’re overfunctioning in a relationship. You have to find healthy ways to validate yourself without enabling people.

You say you can’t keep doing this and that you need to focus on your own life right now. Okay, then. Stop doing it. It really is that simple. Just stop. Refuse to allow all these broken people to burden you with their problems.

Oh, but wait. That little voice in your head is already crying out, “but no one else will step up. I can’t just leave them like that.” Yes you fucking can. Not only that, you should.

That little desperate voice is the sound of your brokenness, because it’s not coming from a place of healthy concern. It’s coming from a place of pathological need. It’s coming from your emotional void.

This isn’t about you becoming heartless. This is about you having enough self-respect, self-worth, and internal validation that you no longer need these sad broken people in your life.

If you recognize your unhealthy patterns that are filling an unhealthy need, if you find some internal validation, if you have a little self-respect, I promise, the broken-people magnet will shut off automatically, and you’ll be free to enjoy the company of unbroken people, because you won’t be broken anymore yourself.

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Best-Of Advice

On the eye of the beholder

I can’t help but envy the depth and texture of your life glimpsed through the anecdotes you’ve shared. It feels like my life choices, or maybe just my nature, have limited my opportunities for adventure and spontaneity. Then I remember conversations where friends or strangers would gape at my own more modest experiences. Is it all in the eye of the beholder? Is there some Rock Star bell curve we all fall onto or is it all in the presentation?

 

Both. There is a rock star bell curve, and still, it’s all in the presentation. There are echelons of heiresses and overachievers who make my minor adventures seem quaint, but I tell a better story than they do. Not that any of it really matters, because you can find depth and texture in any experience — and in anyone’s life — if you only bother to look. It’s the looking, the examination itself, that reveals the depth and texture.

Don’t envy the life you’ve glimpsed through my anecdotes. Don’t compare my life to yours. That feeling you have about your nature, that your life choices are somehow limiting your opportunities, it is the essence of wistfulness. Feeling wistful is a powerful emotion, one that can easily turn into envy and melancholy if you start comparing yourself to others. Resist the urge to compare, and never let the thought of missed adventures bother you.

You and I and everyone else are all inherently limited by our choices. There are an infinite number of adventures that we will never get to experience — some beautiful, some tragic, and some so magnificently transcendent that our tiny brains aren’t even capable of imagining them. Every choice we make collapses the possibility of every other, forever limiting our opportunities for all those grand and unknowable adventures, but that’s the singular nature of time and the human condition, so fuck it.

We only get one go of it, and the brutal truth is that some people have more fun than others. Some get a few more spins around the sun. Some get a pile of shit and suffering. None of it’s fair and none of it matters and the only way to get it wrong is to live an unexamined life.

The most important question you asked me is whether it’s all in the eye of the beholder, because that’s exactly where it is. All of it. The eye of the beholder is everything, and the sharper your eye, the closer you look at the world, and the deeper you examine your experiences, the more depth and texture you’ll reveal about your own life no matter what adventures come your way.

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