On how you look at it

Dear Coquette,

Do you think we’re a benefit to the Earth? Or unhealthy for it?

You would be wise to do two things:

First, don’t flatter yourself. We are of no consequence, and the Earth is indifferent. On a geological time scale, our measurable effect on the planet is a greasy burp.

Second, don’t separate yourself. It’s ridiculous to pretend that the concept of the collective “we” is somehow detached from the concept of the earth. There is no difference between the two.

What you’re really asking is whether our species in its current state of evolution is a benefit to the broader concept of life, and the only legitimate answer to a question like that is a Zen-like shrug of the shoulders.

Maybe we are. Maybe we aren’t. We’ll see.

Do you think a quarter-life crisis is an actual thing? I’m 20 years old and I feel like my life is over.

Your life isn’t over. Your childhood is over, and you just don’t know the difference yet.

As for whether a quarter-life crisis is an actual thing, sure it is. You can have an existential crisis at any age, and it’s perfectly reasonable to freak out in your early twenties when you suddenly realize that life is one big grind.

That’s no excuse to wallow in it, though. You’ve only got a few years in your early twenties when it’s culturally acceptable to screw around trying to find yourself. Don’t waste them being filled with angst and ennui.

As an average American, what do you think about the middle class?

The middle class is a cultural cliché without an internally consistent definition. It’s just an idiomatic device used by politicians and those in the media who want to represent the broadest area under the socio-economic bell curve. When reporters use it, they mean “not the rich and not the poor.” When candidates use it, they mean “you and everyone you know.”

The subtle counterpoint is calling me an “average American.” That phrase doesn’t draw attention to class distinctions, and it also has nationalistic connotations, which is why you’ll find more Democrats using the phrase “the middle class” and more Republicans using the phrase “average Americans.”

And of course, that’s really what you’re doing with this carefully loaded cocktail-party question. You’re just trying to suss out my political leanings.

Fun-Sized Advice

On fun-sized advice

Dear Coquette,

I’m a 28-year-old woman. Are my late twenties supposed to be this crappy?
There is no such thing as “supposed to be.”

Do you try to evolve? Or do you try to know what you are?

Those two things are not the least bit mutually exclusive.

One month into dating this guy, and this weekend he has posted a bunch of pics of himself in Vegas with lots of bikini-clad chicks draped over him. Red flag?

Depends. Was he making a duck face?

How do I release anger whose origin I can’t pinpoint and has caused significant tension in all of my serious relationships?

Identify the origin of your anger. That’s pretty much the whole point of therapy, so maybe you should try that for a while.

What’s the best thing to say when a guy foolishly says that he loves you when he hasn’t even known you for a freakin’ month?

Explain to him the difference between love and limerence. Get technical, and if he won’t acknowledge it, get rid of him.

My boyfriend and I have been dating for four years and have never lived together due to his inability to find a full-time job. Are we screwed once he does? Will he ever?

Stop kidding yourself. Your boyfriend is a loser, and you aren’t living together because he doesn’t want to live with you.

I hate my current boyfriend almost 95% of the time but I can’t bear to break up with him. What’s wrong with me?

Well, odds are you’re a codependent drama queen with garden-variety daddy issues. Act accordingly.

What do you tell a guy who says atheists aren’t protected under freedom of religion because atheism isn’t a faith?

Tell the guy that freedom from religion is just as important as freedom of religion. Be sure and speak slowly, because he’s an idiot.

If so many people are lonely, why can’t they just… get together?

If so many people are poor, why can’t they just… get money?

Why can’t I quit masturbating?

You don’t have to quit, and you don’t have to listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.

I just cut my hair and I think it’s too short. What should I do?

Shave off the rest of it and go volunteer at a soup kitchen.

When do I give up on an unrequited love?

As soon as possible.

Where is the line drawn between optimism and denial?



On beginning and endings

Dear Coquette,

I’ve been hooking up with my neighbor for a couple months now, and I’m starting to catch feelings (like most girls do) but I know that he doesn’t want a relationship, or at least the responsibility that comes with one. Hell, I don’t even know if I do, but being around him is unbeatable, and what can I say? The sex is great. What to do?

First of all, quit denying that you are in a relationship. Yes, you are in one.

Don’t freak out. I didn’t say it was a committed romantic relationship, but it’s ridiculous to assume that a couple months’ worth of friendship and sex doesn’t count as a relationship. You’re definitely not girlfriend and boyfriend, but so what? Labels aren’t as important as you might think, and you certainly don’t need them to comfortably define the parameters of this thing.

The next step is to figure out what you want. Relax. There is no rush. All you have to do is stay honest with yourself. If your emotions for this guy keep getting stronger, acknowledge them. If you feel like you need a certain level of commitment, let him know. If you start getting jealous or possessive, air that stuff out. Whatever you do, don’t deny your feelings.

Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t, but the most important thing for you to focus on right now is emotional honesty.

I was reading The Coquette from way back, back in 2010, when I got to a post you wrote about a relationship ending that was wonderful while it lasted (you spoke about externalizing your pain with exercise, which I thought was pretty great and I may try it out). I’m rounding the corner on what has been the most perfect and honestly fun relationship. It’s ending too soon, due to renewed distance, and there’s nothing to be done. I want to just be grateful it happened and enjoy the end of it, but my heart creaks and breaks when I think about leaving it behind. How do I deal? Will it just go away? I really don’t want it to.

You’ve got the right idea when you say you want to be grateful and enjoy the end of the relationship. More that that, you can even enjoy the heartbreak. It’s not as difficult as you think. All you have to do is accept the inevitable.

Everything ends, and acceptance of that fact will lead to a more peaceful experience. You’ll still have negative emotions, but they will manifest as sadness instead of anger or frustration.

That’s a good thing, because a little bit of sadness accompanied with fond memories is something you can learn to enjoy for its own sake.  Bittersweet is an acquired taste, but it can be savored nonetheless.

Your relationship is ending. Don’t bargain with it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t bang your head against it. Just accept it, and allow your heart to break.


On the little things.

Dear Coquette,

I am an 18-year-old waitress with $2,500 to my name. Although I am making this decision after Occupy has gone into hibernation and moving money from big banks might seem passé, I am still having trouble deciding where I should put it. Should I find a groovy small bank or credit union to support with my big bucks? Should I yield it gracefully to Chase or Citibank? Should I put it under the mattress and sleep on it? I understand that my case doesn’t really matter, but I have gotten the impression that in the aggregate it might, and since you seem like a woman with the temperament for banking, I thought it might be worth it to ask.

It’s your money, and it does matter where you put it. All politics aside, choose the institution where you get the best product. It’s not just about interest rates and ATM fees. It’s also about customer service, and these days, a local bank or credit union is a solid choice if you’d rather do business with human beings than robots at the other end of 1-800 numbers.

I told my boyfriend that a guy at the office was harassing me and I was going to report him, and he flipped out at me saying I was hiding things by not telling him right away. He said it was nearly cheating on him since I let the harassment happen. I’m totally justified in kicking him to the curb, right? Or should I listen to my mom who says he’s not out of line here?

Your boyfriend’s ego was bruised because you didn’t confide in him about the harassment, but that’s no excuse for his victim blaming. It’s outrageous for him to suggest that you “let the harassment happen” as if it were somehow your fault, and it’s a huge red flag for him to associate infidelity with someone else’s inappropriate behavior. If you’ve told me all there is to the story, then he’s definitely out of line and you’re justified in kicking him to the curb.

I am terrified of the imminent climate change catastrophes our lifetime will bring. I’m prepared to face the end of our standard of living in the U.S., but the rising temperatures and burning forests don’t lie. Should I just savor the present moment until I can’t anymore?

It’s kind of hard to savor the present moment when you’re busy projecting your own fear of mortality onto the weather. The sky isn’t falling, Chicken Little. You’ve just got a mild anxiety disorder.

I am gay and live in the South. As silly as it is, the Chick-fil-A thing is troubling. How can so many people be so proud to get in line and make the statement that they are opposed to my existence? This includes coworkers and my boss. And how do I avoid degenerating into a clot of anger and defensiveness?

Do your best not to take their ignorance personally. It’s ugly and pathetic, but it isn’t worth your anger. Let the pointy-headed numnards eat their stupid chicken, and take comfort in the fact that history will not be kind to them.

How do I tell my boyfriend that I hate and am terribly unattracted to his new goatee?

Use your words, darling. Just look him in the eye and say, “Dude, I hate your goatee. It makes you look like a pretentious douche, and I want you to shave it off immediately.”


On breaking it down.

Dear Coquette,

To others, I look like a success. I know what a screw up I really am. I never really live up to my potential, have bad habits that don’t amount to addiction but aren’t healthy, etc.

I’ve gone farther in life than anyone would have expected from my beginnings. I don’t care about being rich or famous. I could make real contributions to the world, but I can’t motivate myself to work hard.

What the hell is my problem? Why can’t I make a reasonable effort in life? The easy answer is that I’m just smart enough to get away with it. I sort of want your existential answer mixed in with a bit of ass-kicking, please.

No problem. Let me break this one down for you line by line:

To others, I look like a success.

Actually, no one cares. Appearing successful is merely part of the identity you’re trying to project.

I know what a screw up I really am.

This is self-loathing or false modesty. Either way, shove it up your ass. We’re all screw ups, and no one’s ever gonna throw you a pity party.

I never really live up to my potential, have bad habits that don’t amount to addiction but aren’t healthy, etc.

Yeah, this is called “being human.”

I’ve gone farther in life than anyone would have expected from my beginnings.

What do you want, a cookie? Tell you what. If you put down that yardstick you’re using to measure how far you’ve gone in life, I’ll give you a cookie.

I don’t care about being rich or famous.


I could make real contributions to the world, but I can’t motivate myself to work hard.

Sure, sure. You’d be Tony Stark if you could just put that bong in the closet.

What the hell is my problem?

Nothing. You don’t have a problem. You’re perfectly normal. Totally average. That’s what really scares the hell out of you.

Why can’t I make a reasonable effort in life?

Reasonable to whom? Your parents? It’s a bit too late to be bargaining with the cosmos for their approval, isn’t it?

The easy answer is that I’m just smart enough to get away with it.

No, that’s the bullshit answer. The easy answer is that you’re lazy.

I sort of want your existential answer mixed in with a bit of ass-kicking, please.

My answer is that you are nothing special, and that’s perfectly okay. Don’t be so afraid of your mediocrity. Find freedom in it, and just enjoy your life.


On the worst kind of girl.

Dear Coquette,

So, here’s a shameful confession: I have a pattern of falling for/going for guys who are already taken. Why? It feels safer to cultivate emotional intimacy under the guise of a platonic relationship. It’s more exciting (because they might end up preferring you to their current partner — the rush of competition), and more ambiguous (who ever knows who will fall first, if anyone? hence the thrill). The last time this happened, my best friend cheated on his girlfriend with me. Ok, SO — believe it or not, I really do want to be a good person. I’m not trying to justify my previous immoral behavior; I swore I’d never cheat with anyone ever again. So for the future: should I avoid becoming friends with guys who are in relationships? Is that really reasonable or fair? Can I help it if at present I’m attracted (both emotionally and physically) to my friend’s bf? I know we can’t control our feelings, but we CAN and should control how/if we act on them. But if no one cheats (albeit emotionally, I suppose), is it wrong to become close friends with him, hoping someday he’ll be her ex? And 2, if this works out, would it be reasonable to expect forgiveness?

There’s a reason you call this a shameful confession instead of a guilty one — you’re such an antisocial little personality that you aren’t actually capable of feeling guilt, and the only reason you feel any shame is because your reputation has been damaged.

You don’t even think this kind of behavior is wrong. Not really. You recognize that other people think it’s wrong, and that’s the only reason you’re making overtures of self-improvement. It’s not genuine, though. You know how to make some apologetic noises, but when I scrape all the bullshit off of your question, you’re really only asking me one thing — how can I keep getting away with this?

It’s disgusting. You don’t really want to be a good person. You just want people to think you’re a good person, but it’s too late for that. You’ve already acted out. You’ve destroyed at least one friendship, and now nobody trusts you anymore. Nor should they. You swear that you’ll never cheat with anyone ever again, and in your next breath, you admit you’ve still got your sights on some guy who’s already taken. That’s a remarkable combination of narcissism and denial.

Here’s the fun part where I tell you all the things you’ll refuse to accept. First, contrary to everything your horrible mother taught you about the world, not only can you control your feelings, but you are responsible for them. That means yes, it is absolutely wrong to get close with your friend’s boyfriend in the hopes that you can swoop in on him after they break up.

The fact that I have to tell you this means you are morally damaged beyond my ability to give you advice. There’s nothing I can say that will get you to do the right thing. You’re just not built that way. All I can do is hold you up as a warning to others and an example of how not to behave.

I sincerely hope you develop some integrity one day. In the meantime, I hope you choose not to continue spreading chaos in your relationships.

Fun-Sized Advice

On fun sized advice.

Dear Coquette, 

I’m a 29 year old woman — am I way too old for a nose piercing?
No, but you are way too old to be asking anyone’s permission to stick things into your stupid face.

I don’t think you’re very nice.

Thank you.

Why is it that I know everything that’s wrong with me, and my life, and how to fix it, but I can’t seem to want to change it enough to actually do it. Why?

Self-awareness is not the same thing as self-control.

I am relatively sought-after, but my high standards have made me lonely. How do I fix this?

Your high standards aren’t the problem. It’s your unreasonable expectations that are keeping you lonely. There’s a difference.

Why do I feel bad about being a routine person who isn’t constantly out and about having new experiences?

Don’t worry. You’re just feeling the effects of advertising.

My girlfriend just confirmed my fear that I’m selfish and inconsiderate. How do we make this work?

There is no “we” who has to make this work. You are the one with your head up your ass. You are the one who has to remove it.

Why do so many people feel they are entitled to happiness?

The problem isn’t people feeling they’re entitled to happiness. The problem is people feeling they’re more entitled to happiness than others.

I have 3 kids and a great husband. I live in a small town and don’t work. Why am I not happy? Why do I want to move to a bigger city? Why won’t my hair grow faster?

The answer to all three questions is simply that you’re bored.

Do you think that people such as Courtney Robertson always get their way?

Please do not idealize reality TV personalities. They are cartoons, a grotesque collection of narcissists and imbeciles willing to sacrifice their dignity at the altar of celebrity culture. They are never to be taken seriously.

When someone says, “I’ve fallen out of love with you,” does it really mean, “I think I can find someone better?” I just wanted to know if it’s a line like, “it’s not you” where it really means something else.

“I’ve fallen out of love with you” is significantly worse than “I think I can find someone better,” but you can’t see that because your wounded ego is trying to process your pain with jealousy instead of forgiveness.

We hooked up, he hasn’t called. Would it be insane to try to have a relationship with him?

A relationship? Slow down there, Zippy McCrazypants. Try finding out what he looks like in daylight before you start planning the wedding. Baby steps.

I keep retreating into inactivity and mindlessly surfing the web. I’ve been asleep for at least ten years now. How can I wake up?

There is no grand answer to that question, nor does there need to be. The point is that you keep asking yourself every day.

What are your thoughts on boycotting Chick-fil-A, whose CEO recently slammed gay marriage?

Feel free to boycott, but don’t expect it to make a dent in Dan Cathy’s ignorance or his bottom line.

If he’s under police investigation, he’s not at all boyfriend material, right?

If you have to ask this question, you’re not girlfriend material either.

Why do I always go to the bathroom during work to masturbate?

Because you’d get fired if you did it at your workstation.

I’m attracted to my boyfriend’s sister. How do I deal with this?

Whatever you do, don’t suggest a threesome.

My boyfriend has never eaten a girl out, and refuses to eat me out. Advice?

Find a new boyfriend.

Would you do it again?

Twice and harder.


On heroic melancholy.

Dear Coquette,

My boyfriend is reluctant to seek professional help for his severe depression because he believes it will hinder his creativity. What are your thoughts on the idea of depression as a “heroic melancholy” rather than a dangerous mental illness?

“Heroic melancholy” is just a stupid cliché for drama queens who want to romanticize their insufferability. Unless your boyfriend has already sought out professional help and knows firsthand the effects of treatment, he’s just talking out of his ass.

Antidepressants might very well have a noticeable effect on whatever your boyfriend considers to be his creativity. Then again, they might not. That’s not even the point, really, because the problem here isn’t that your boyfriend is legitimately concerned about side effects of medication. The problem is that he’s clinging to severe depression like it’s a part of his identity.

You can’t let him get away with that kind of thinking.


On imminent divorce.

Dear Coquette,

I’m 19 years old and my parents have been married for 25 years. Today, my mom confessed to me that she’s fallen out of love with my dad. She said she has lost a lot of respect for him over the years because of how certain situations have been handled.

In the past year, our dog died and my family has gone into financial ruin. My mom and I have severe anxiety (and she has depression), so I try to help my mom by talking things out with her when she is worried. She’s developed a lot of guilt for the lack of love she feels for my dad, and in turn contemplates a divorce. She has already let my dad know all of this.

My parents’ marriage has always seemed so picture-perfect. This is why I was so surprised to hear what my mom had to say today. My parents never fight (mostly because my dad is super passive) so I wasn’t aware of anything.

I respect both of my parents so much, and I just don’t understand why two good, intelligent, caring people could fall out of love with each other. I don’t know how to approach this situation while I am home from college for the summer. I know I can’t control any part of the situation at hand, but I can’t shake the feeling of helplessness. I wish I could convince my mom to maybe consider the fact that she is going through a very tough time right now, and that maybe she feels that way because of everything else happening at the moment.

Sorry, kid. It’s time for a little brutal truth. The only reason your parents aren’t divorced yet is because they can’t afford it.

It’s one thing for your mom to fall out of love with your dad. That happens. People in committed, long-term relationships can fall in and out of love with each other, but once the respect is gone, that’s it. If your mom is capable of effectively communicating to you that she’s lost respect for your dad, the marriage is all but over.

You’re right that your parents are going through a very tough time right now, and they definitely feel the way they do because of everything that is happening at the moment, but that doesn’t mean the damage done to their relationship is reversible, and it certainly isn’t on you to fix it.

Your parents definitely need marriage counseling, but you can’t be their therapist. You are the child in this family, and even though you’re a college-aged adult who has essentially flown the nest, the parent/child dynamic you’ve always known isn’t going to change all that much.

The best thing for you to do is embrace the helplessness you’re feeling right now. In other words, face your fears of your parents’ imminent divorce. By all means, try and get them into couples counseling, but don’t try and be the one to referee or repair their marriage.

Make sure they both know they have your unconditional love, and make sure you know you have theirs as well. Beyond that, you really have to accept the fact that you can’t control the situation.


On plus-ones.

Dear Coquette,

What are your thoughts on getting an invite to a wedding without a plus-one when you’re single, but everyone else who is in a relationship gets to bring their boyfriend/girlfriend/partner?

If a conservative estimate of 25 invitations per wedding go out to singles, who are all given the option of adding a plus-one at an average cost of $200 per head, that’s $5,000 that the bride and groom have to pad into the budget so a bunch of wild cards can show up at their wedding.

Should they have to shell out an extra five grand so their single friends can date at their reception? Hell no. Especially when you consider that bringing a date to a wedding is like bringing sand to the beach.

Just suck it up and do what all the other singles do. Hang with your friends, or find a hottie on the other side of the aisle and get some.