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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Best-Of Advice

On existential FOMO

Is it normal to have a mini existential crisis over a long term relationship? I’m in my mid-20s, I’ve been with this guy for over half a decade, and it’s really starting to freak me out, but I don’t know why. The nagging voice in my head (which sounds like my mom) says I have to decide right now if I want to be with this guy, if I want to get married, and if I want to have kids, or if I have to go and fuck a bunch of other guys before any of that. But I have no idea where I want to be in ten years, let alone five, and there’s nothing wrong with our relationship. I’m not even bored of him. My boyfriend is equally undecided about the marriage/kids question, but he really doesn’t want to break up. So why does this keep me up at night? I have this intense fear that I’m wasting time, but I don’t know why.

 

Yes, you are having a minor existential crisis, but your relationship is not the cause. It’s merely the focus. The underlying cause of your anxiety is that you’ve hit the coupling stage of the family life cycle at the same time as you’ve hit the self-actualization level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You’ve got all these concerns about realizing your full potential competing with an entire culture’s worth of social programming telling you that maybe it’s time to start thinking about marriage and kids. It’s leaving you terrified that you’re missing out on something, but you don’t even know what that might be.

The good news is, you’re not wasting your time. Not one bit. It sounds like you’re in a healthy relationship that’s meeting almost all of your needs. That’s great. Keep up the good work. If both of you are undecided about the marriage and kids question, then be undecided. That’s okay. No big deal. If both of you are wondering what it might be like to fuck some other people, then talk about that shit together. Better yet, do it together. (Trust me, it’s fun.) Be up front and honest about your sexual needs. Talk openly about what you want out of life. Communicate with each other, keep growing together, and you’ll both be fine.

Most importantly, tell the nagging voice in your head to shut the fuck up. Are you missing out on life experiences? Of course you are. Tons of them, but that’s inevitable. No matter what path you choose, you’re always gonna miss out on something. A little existential FOMO is to be expected every once in a while, but you can’t let that shit keep you up at night.

We only get one life. We only get one path. If you ever wanna be happy, you gotta let that be enough.

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Best-Of Advice

On that time you fucked a cop

Last week, I fucked a cop.  I knew that he was a piece of shit.  I knew I didn’t want anything out of this other than a mind-blowing one-night stand.  He was the hottest guy I ever slept with and 10/10 great in bed.  I never returned his calls, nor do I plan on seeing him again.  It was probably some of the best sex of my life, so why do I feel dirty when I think about it?

 

The simple answer is because you fucked a cop, but you caught me bored on a Monday, so let’s dig a little deeper.

You use two spaces after periods, which means you’re probably in your mid thirties. (You could be older, but I doubt it.) You’re college educated, and based on your phrasing, I’m gonna go with east coast, so I’m also guessing this was NYPD.

Now, if you’re in your thirties and an NYPD officer is the hottest guy you’ve ever slept with, that means you’ve probably spent some time trapped in a long-term monogamous relationship, most likely a marriage that ended some time in the last year or two, which also explains why you’re still confused over how to feel about having a one-night stand.

That’s why you’re writing in to an advice columnist with a list of post-one-night stand clichés. You’re half bragging/half guilty, which is understandable given that you’re experiencing the garden variety cognitive dissonance that occurs when a thirty-something woman finally gets around to a little sexual experimentation.

Fucking a cop is the closest you’ve ever come to having a bad-boy phase. In fact, that’s what your little one-night stand was — a late-in-the-game miniaturized bad-boy phase, and like all women who eventually mature, at some point you look back over your bad-boy phase and wonder what in the hell you were thinking. For most women, that happens over the course of many years. For you, it all happened in the same week.

That’s cool, though. You had an adventure and got your brains fucked out by a guy you’d cross the street to avoid in daylight. Good for you. Feel a little dirty, sort it out, and on to the next.

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Best-Of Advice

On being smart and bored

I’m lazy and I have the attention span of a chicken. Somehow I’ve managed to collect pretty diplomas (with zero debt, by the way) and I am now in the middle of getting a phd in a shiny top 10 institution. But I am still lazy and unproductive and easily distracted. I avoid challenges all the time. Sometimes I feel like I got this far academically because I was a good student so why not keep studying forever? I continue to half ass everything and get away with it by being just smart enough that people can’t tell whether I have reasonably limited abilities or if I’m just not even trying. I have a very mediocre scientific career ahead of me. I tried therapy, I tried prescription drugs, I continue being a lazy ass who would rather do literally nothing the entire day. You seem like a focused, energetic, disciplined, hard-working person who didn’t rest on being the smart kid. Are we just not made of the same thing?

 

We’re made of exactly the same thing. I know what you’re about, and I understand why you hunkered down in a PhD program. Your problem isn’t that you’d rather do nothing. It’s that you’ve got nothing better to do. You’re smart and bored, so you figure why not get a doctorate in self-loathing?

Obviously, you haven’t found your thing yet. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. It ain’t science, that’s for sure. I mean, yeah, you’re good at it, but you don’t give a fuck one way or the other. It’s another passionless life choice made while walking the path of least resistance.

You’re passionless, but that’s not the same thing as being lazy. You’re still showing up and getting the work done. You always will. It’s always the bare minimum, but again, I know how you think. It’s on them, not you. If someone needs to get more work out of you, all they have to do is raise the minimum expectation. You’ll meet it. That’s the deal you’ve made with yourself. That’s the great rationalization that justifies your existence.

So, stop calling yourself lazy. You’re not. You’re just smart and bored, and you’ve made the boredom a part of your identity. Don’t do that. Separate yourself from the boredom. The boredom is your enemy. I’m not saying you should run out and find something to be passionate about (you ain’t there yet), but at the very least, stop acting like the boredom is an inevitability. It’s not.

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Best-Of Advice

On your disillusionment

I feel completely disillusioned by the American government (the 2 party system, electoral college, etc) and in a broader sense, capitalism. So much so that I don’t want to vote in any elections and thus condone our shitty system. I’m into civil society associations and other discourse along those lines, but I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance. I feel like by not voting I’m lumping myself into a group of unengaged, nonpolitical people and it doesn’t feel good. Thoughts?

 

Fuck your disillusionment. It’s boring. Of course the system is shitty. The system has always been shitty, and the system will always be shitty. That’s the very nature of the system, and the system will do all it can to resist change. It takes ridiculous amounts of energy to force progress onto the system — the collective will of entire generations sometimes isn’t enough.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we can make the system grow a tiny bit less shitty over the course of our shitty little lives, but there’s no guarantee of that either. So I say again, fuck your disillusionment, because disillusion breeds apathy, and apathy is how entropy and ignorance win, and that’s how things get even shittier.

As a citizen, you are obligated to engage in the system. It’s your civic fucking duty. It doesn’t matter that the system is shitty, because engaging with the system isn’t the same thing as condoning it. If you want to manipulate the system, you have to participate in it, and the very fucking least you can do is vote.

Seriously, vote. It matters. It literally counts. People who go around saying your vote doesn’t count are enormous gaping assholes. That goes double for the mealy-mouthed shit sacks who insist there’s no difference between the two parties. Fuck that noise. Every single decision we make in this shitty world is a choice of lesser evils, so suck it up and choose.

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Best-Of Advice

On ego death and spirituality

You’re the first person I’ve heard explain ego death as a constant gradual process (re: is your ego really dead?) rather than some kind of singular, life-changing event an ex-frat boy experienced after sucking on three tabs of acid. Would you care to elaborate?

 

The constant, gradual process of ego death. Yes. You’ve just tapped into the core of what spirituality is to me.

I’m not religious, and I don’t hold any supernatural beliefs, but I am still very spiritual. I believe that spirituality can be a rational and valid practice of philosophical exploration, and that exploration most often comes in the form of some kind of ritualized exercise in killing one’s ego.

The human condition comes with a built-in capacity for mystical states of transcendence, ecstasy, and bliss. Unfortunately, for most people that capacity either goes largely untapped or it ends up warped by religious flimflammery.

Nevertheless, those transcendent states can be discovered, studied, and developed like any other human experience, and if you devote yourself, those states can be sustained for longer and longer periods of time. (And yeah, there are those who say a transcendent state can be sustained permanently, but I find those claims are almost always adjacent to religiosity and charlatanism.)

As a general rule, anyone who claims that ego death is a singular life-changing event is either missing the point or selling something. I don’t mind the ex-frat boy who sucks on three tabs of acid and then gets smacked in the head with a little taste of transcendence. Good for him. That kind of thing can certainly be life-changing, but he is woefully mistaken if he thinks that experiencing ego death means that he’s actually killed his ego. (This is especially true for those whose first and only ecstatic experience is chemically induced.)

I guess part of the problem is in the phrasing itself. “Ego death” and “killing your ego” are useful as conceptual shorthand, but they imply a certain finality. Perhaps “annihilation” is a better term. Then again, perhaps “self” or “mind” might be more useful as terms than “ego.” Regardless, it can all sound like a bunch of eye-roll-worthy mumbo-jumbo to someone who’s never personally experienced it, and even for those who have, it’s still intensely personal and nearly impossible to describe.

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Best-Of Advice

On self-worth and acceptance

All my life I’ve been told I’m gorgeous and talented. Modeling contracts, Ivy League college, NYC, Paris, Milan, LA. Now I’m 40 and have no self love and a string of failed relationships. I’ve tried everything: therapy, drugs, sobriety, vision quests, psychics, celibacy, meditation, reading all the books, whatever. I’m no closer to accepting that soon, “pretty” will run out, and then what will I have going for me? Point me in the right direction, please.

 

Your relationships didn’t fail. They simply ran their course, and the part of you that believes you were a failure in love is the same part of you that believes your value as a human being is directly tied to an arbitrary beauty standard you happened to meet in your youth.

I can’t point you in the right direction. There is no direction. There’s nothing out there that you can smoke, seek, fuck, find, or read that will suddenly give you the self-love and acceptance you’re so desperate to discover.

You wanna know why? Because all those things you tried were just different flavors of the same old broken-souled search for external validation. All that bullshit, and it still never occurred to you that the only thing you ever had to do was forgive yourself.

Just fucking forgive yourself. Let go. That shit was never yours. It didn’t belong to you. The beauty and the talent and the hubris and the superiority — they were all someone else’s idea of you, and they felt so good for so long, you made them a part of your identity. It was all a fucking fiction, and you can just let it all go. It’s okay, really. Have a good cry, shake it off, and then forgive yourself.

Keep forgiving yourself, and keep rejecting every instinct you have to seek external validation until one day you wake up and realize that you are worthy.

You’re worthy of love. You’re worthy of acceptance. You’re just plain inherently worthy. Trust me, you don’t even know the meaning of real freedom until you finally discover what internally validated self-worth feels like.

All you gotta do is let go.

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Best-Of Advice

On the concept of a soul

Serious question: what are souls?

It really depends on who you ask. Asking for a person’s soul concept is like asking for their god concept. The definition varies wildly according to a person’s individual belief system, and it’s usually tied to a bunch of metaphysical nonsense bought wholesale from a religion during childhood.

Generally speaking, a person will define their soul as the qualitative variable they need to balance out the equation of their own mortality.

For instance, the average American simpleton might define their soul by saying something like, “my soul is the part of me that will go to heaven when I die.” The average skeptic clinging onto dualism might say something like, “my soul is my spiritual essence separate from my body.” Atheists who practice transcendental meditation might say, “my soul is the part of me left over when my mind is silent.” Materialists flirting with Buddhism might say, “there is no soul, and yet we are reborn from nothing.” Hipsters into existential nihilism might tell you that soul is just Aretha Franklin on vinyl.

You get the point. The soul concept is basically there to cancel out whatever existential dread is built into their personal belief system.

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On magical jesus baby souls

I am pro-choice. But when those pro-lifers start banging on about abortion being murder and “your choice? what about the child’s choice?”- I hesitate… maybe due to years of religious brainwashing.

Help me be smarter about this?

 

When religious wingnuts chant on about how “life begins at conception,” what they’re really expressing is their ridiculous belief that White Jesus up in sunny heaven reaches down into every woman’s uterus the very instant that a sperm fertilizes an egg and magically imbues the resulting single-celled zygote with a fully formed human soul.

They really truly believe this, and you will never convince them otherwise, and that’s why this is a dumb-fuck religious issue instead of a pragmatic scientific one.

Here’s the thing, though. There is no Jesus. There is no magic. There is no soul. THERE IS NO CHILD.

More to the point, a zygote isn’t a child. It’s just a clump of cells. Same goes for an embryo, as it’s just a slightly bigger clump. Hell, a mid-term fetus still isn’t a child, even though it kind of looks like a squishy one. Only when we start talking about later-term fetuses that are viable outside the womb can anyone start making a rational argument that it’s a child, but post-viabilty abortions aren’t even an option unless the mother’s health is at risk.

So, why is any of this still controversial? Because babies are cute and make people emotional and America is full of half-wits who believe in magical Jesus baby souls.

That’s why you hesitate, because there’s enough irrational static out there to make you feel like somehow an innocent child is involved, but there isn’t, because THERE IS NO CHILD.

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Best-Of Advice

On not going places

Hi, Coquette. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m doing. I’ll be 26 in 2 months, I’ve dropped out of school hmmm… 4 times now? I’m in massive amounts of debt. I currently don’t have enough to make rent next month so I’m taking a bus from my dream city back to my hometown. I just got fired from the best job (on paper, at least) that I’ve ever had. The only serious relationship I’ve had was emotionally and physically abusive (that ended about 2 years ago). And I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, or how to dig myself out. I read a lot new age-y self-help stuff about staying positive and shit because I’ve dealt with depression on and off and it seems to help. But honestly, I just want someone to give it to me straight – is there any way out of this? I wasn’t always this way – I was a star student and the girl that was “going places”, and I just want to be productive and happy and driven again.

 

What the fuck? Fired from the only decent job you’ve ever had? Dropped out of school four times? New age self-help books? Ugh. You’re a fucking disaster.

You were never going places. You were never productive and driven. Get that public high school pep-talk bullshit out of your head, because you’re remembering yourself as happy during a time when all you were was innocent.

Stop romanticizing the past, because the brutal truth is that you were weak and unprepared. You couldn’t cut it in college. You can’t hold down a job, and now you’ve got a one way bus ticket back to what I’m guessing is one of your family member’s guest rooms.

Yeah, your life fucking sucks right now. You’re getting your ass thoroughly kicked by the real world, and you’re not even bothering to give me a list of excuses — probably because you know I’d call you out on them.

Please, do yourself a favor. Take all your stupid self-help books down to the local thrift store and trade them in for one decent Tina Turner album. I swear to everything holy that you’ll get more useful inspiration out of one of her B-sides than you will from an entire wall full of positive-thinking books.

I’m serious. Self help books are for fucking losers, and staying positive for people like you means living in a constant state of denial. Stop blowing sunshine up your own ass. Your life is a steaming pile of shambles, and a bunch of smiley-faced wish-thinking won’t make it any better.

The only way out of your situation is through slow and steady progress. It will not be easy. It will not be fun. You need to come to terms with the inevitability that you are going to have to work a shitty job, and since you’re a flighty mess, you’re going to have to summon all your willpower just to hold that job down.

You don’t get to sulk. You don’t get to whine. You have to be thankful and grateful and show up every day with a good attitude. (There’s your positive fucking thinking for you.) You will do this week-in and week-out for the rest of your life. Maybe you’ll meet a guy who doesn’t treat you like shit, and maybe you’ll squeeze out a rugrat or two, but odds are good that you’re never leaving your hometown again.

And you know what? You’ll be just fine.

You’ll make your way. You’ll have your set of friends. You’ll do some cute local Etsy shit on the side to occupy your spare time, and then one day you’ll wake up and realize that this is all there is to American adulthood. It’s all there ever was.

The whole time you thought you were “digging yourself out,” that was actually your life, and sure, it could’ve been easier, and it would’ve been nice to have more money, but really, on the whole, it wasn’t all that bad.

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