How do I handle my best friend’s anger?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I’m physically disabled and neuro divergent with a best friend who is also neuro divergent and my aide. We’ve been best friends for seven or eight years, we have a dog together, we love doing things together, we’re roommates, and she has recently become my PCA*. A couple months ago, we hit a pretty big problem. I ended up having my first (visible to her) meltdown and said plenty of things I shouldn’t have, and I triggered something. I’ve long since apologized and have tried to take steps to clear up the situation. To this day I’m not entirely certain what it was that I triggered and while I can’t apologize specifically I definitely have generally.  There’s plenty of times where we’ve been doing great. The incident happened midway through September, and we’ve managed to do the holidays together and have fun and support each other….mostly…ish…

I am well aware my friend is dealing with depression issues (that have stemmed from the incident in September). I’ve tried to be supportive, to keep taking her out, to ask her opinion on things, and give her space when needed. I’ve also broached the idea of medication and therapy which due to health insurance issues is not an achievable goal at the moment. What’s happening a fair amount is that she seems quick to anger and then stews in her anger. It has been happening a lot. And while she says it is not my fault, I feel hugely caught up within her anger.

I don’t expect her to be a happy go lucky person all the time, and I know she is entitled to her anger, but often it feels that I have been on the receiving end of her anger whenever she has it. I’ve tried being comforting and trying to empathize and she repeats the words under her breath and it sounds very sarcastic. Sometimes it feels like she’s just throwing the words right back to me. She says she doesn’t know she’s doing this when I bring it up. I often try to take what I think is the safer route of being quieter especially as it feels like her anger seeps out until everyone knows and can clearly tell she is upset (I’ve had to keep multiple people from mentioning it  especially during her work hours because mentioning her being upset just makes it more stifling). When I’m quiet tho she gets upset again because I’m not being helpful or saying anything. I’ve asked her multiple times what she would like me to do but sometimes she says she doesn’t know what she wants me to say and sometimes she says she doesn’t want to tell me what to say. 

I’m just so confused and I keep getting hurt in her anger crossfire and I don’t know what to do. I love my friend so much and she’s also really good at her job, I just don’t want to have to keep walking on eggshells and being hurt when I try to help. I also struggle with trying to talk to someone about this as she also sees any sort of talk about her to other people as “talking behind her back”. But I don’t know what else to do. 

Sincerely,
Confused and Struggling 

*editor’s note: Personal Care Attendant.

Dear C&S,

What a rough situation for both of you. Anger is an emotion that so many of us learn is something to be shoved down, unacknowledged, glossed over, or vented and then never spoken of again. And the way your friend is expressing it sounds really agonizing: for you, and for her.

I wish you’d given me more detail about the things you said during the meltdown, and what you mean by saying you ‘shouldn’t have’ said them, but I’ll do my best, here.

You say that you have apologized a bunch of times, but this really stood out for me: “While I can’t apologize specifically I definitely have generally.” 

Why can’t you apologize specifically?

You don’t know what is going on her head (more on that later), but you certainly know what you said, right? (Maybe you don’t know what you said; I know that many neurodivergent people who have meltdowns have trouble recalling the specifics of the event.) If you can remember what you said, you don’t need to apologize in a general fashion. General apologies such as “I shouldn’t have said that” or “I’m sorry for my meltdown,” while sincere, don’t actually help to soothe sore feelings. Specific apologies such as “I’m sorry I said you were weak; I was lashing out and I know that particular word is really upsetting for you — it wasn’t okay or true but in that moment all I wanted was to make you go away” make more sense to people. You’ve acknowledged you hurt them, specifically, and how — and you’ve taken responsibility for your behavior.

If some of what you said was true, apologizing for the way you said them and acknowledging the specific hurt it caused goes a lot further than “I’m sorry you got hurt” or even “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

I think that’s really all you can do: sit her down, be incredibly specific, and offer sincere apologies. Cop to what you were doing. Tell her about steps you’re taking to prevent this behavior again (therapy, preventing sensory overload, etc.).

Although we all need to talk through issues we’re having with our friends, and I don’t actually agree that hashing this out with another friend is talking behind her back, she is the only person who really needs to hear what you are saying, and she is the only person who can tell you exactly what is going on, here.

As for her behavior: oh, boy. This poor person. No one has taught her to deal with anger in a healthy way, and she hasn’t learned it on her own. If I were to hazard a guess, she is still smarting from what you said back in September, thinks she’s over it, and then finds it bubbling up when she least expects it.

Whatever you said and however you hurt her, however, it’s not okay to mimic people and then say you aren’t aware you’re doing it. I’m guessing she’s doing it to hurt you the way you hurt her, but that is just . . . I mean, you know it’s grade school behavior, mimicking. Which tells me whatever happened did trigger some old stuff for her, and pushed her into that place.

If I am not careful, I can be like your roommate. And while I don’t know what is going on her her head, I can tell you what’s going on in MY head when I pull crap like this: I think I’m over something, I’m getting along with whomever hurt me, and then she does something else to hurt or anger me and suddenly everything else that is unresolved comes roaring back into my brain again.

I feel like a petty child for becoming so upset about a small thing, even though it’s actually the entirety of what has happened, and so I withdraw, and sometimes get snide and sarcastic, like she does with you.

That doesn’t make it okay. Even if she has a right to be angry with you, she doesn’t have a right to resort to tactics like this and especially cannot try to pretend she doesn’t know she’s doing it to get out of it.

Even if you don’t want to accuse her of lying about it, you can say firmly: “Well, you are doing it, and it’s not a way to talk to a friend, and you need to stop.” You are allowed to require respectful communication, even if you feel guilty for what you have said to her in the past.

I think wanting to help her and suggesting therapy and meds could be very provoking for her, as well-meaning as you are, since whatever you said was the precipitating event. Although I am certain you are suggesting these things because you’re worried about your depressed friend, it could conceivably come across as blame-shifting.

One thing that really stuck out to me in your letter was this: “Sometimes she says she doesn’t know what she wants me to say and sometimes she says she doesn’t want to tell me what to say.”

This sounds to me like someone who wants you to genuinely apologize and understand the harm you caused, on your own — and somehow she believes that telling you how it hurt would take away from the apology, somehow.

Shushing other people over her moods and walking on eggshells hurts both of you, really.

I think what you need to do is spend some time thinking specifically over what you said and, knowing her like you do, how it might have affected her in very specific ways. After you’ve figured out the extent of the harm you believe you caused, I think you should sit her down during a time you two have alone and tell her you need to apologize for something, and then do it: fully, specifically, completely, and taking all responsibility. And then tell her that you are sure you have missed something and to ask her please to give you the chance to apologize for other things you overlooked.

It will be very hard for her to be vulnerable with you, but if you have laid it all on the table and genuinely taken responsibility for what you know, and if you are asking her with an open heart yourself (which is also going to be hard after all of these months of alienation), you have at least given her the room to try.

Your sincere and specific apology might help, but I also think that if you have any insurance or money of your own, a counseling session or three with you two as best friends would be a great way to give the two of you a safe space to discuss this.

Counseling isn’t just for couples and families, although in a way you two are family to each other.

While a trained and compassionate facilitator is a help in dealing with seemingly intractable communication breakdowns (which is what this seems to be), another great help is the session format itself: if dealing with hurt emotions and having to feel vulnerable is overwhelming for either of you (and I think it is overwhelming for her, which is why she’s pulling away so hard), you will both know that it only has to happen an hour at a time. Sessions have a specific beginning, middle, and end, and a compassionate third party helping to guide you in the conversation may be helpful.

Last: have you told her all of the things you love about her lately? After the apology (this MUST come after the apology so that she can genuinely hear it and so that she doesn’t think it’s just you buttering her up), telling her how much you care for her and why can really help hurt feelings and strengthen your relationship.

I’m pulling for both of you. This is all just so incredibly difficult to navigate, especially when something from someone’s past has been triggered. And it sounds like she cares about you as much as you care about her — otherwise, you wouldn’t have had the power to hurt her so much in the first place.

How can this exhausted and burned out mom stop feeling bad about feeling bad?

Dear Gentle Butch,

My husband and I had our second child a little over a year ago, and we’ve been having a really rough time.

Our daughter had a fairly run-of-the mill infancy and is now a bright, verbal, inquisitive, high-energy four-year-old.

Our son doesn’t have any serious medical issues or anything, but he was colicky for the first six months of his life, and had a bunch of random ailments (back-to-back ear infections, a giant canker sore on the tip of his tongue that prevented him from nursing or taking a bottle for 10 days, etc.) that led to a lot of misery and lost sleep for all of us.

He’s physically healthier now, and developing normally, but he’s still an anxious, clingy banshee screamer who hates sleep–seriously, when he’s at full volume he sounds like a concrete saw or a dentist’s drill or a Nazgul or I don’t even know what. The CIA tortures people with noises like this.

I dragged my husband and myself to therapy when the baby was 6 months old, because I could see that things were bad and not getting better, and it turned out we both had postpartum depression–I didn’t even know men could get it. Therapy helped somewhat through the end of the year, but then we had to end it because the deductible reset and it was no longer affordable.

I work a full-time job and my husband is a stay-at-home parent; I’m the primary parent whenever I’m home in the early mornings, nights, and weekends, so we’re actually both doing about 50% of the child care, only I’m working a full-time job on top of that, and he has some sensory issues that take a very high toll on him having to listen to the banshee screaming all day every day.

We’re exhausted and miserable, we’re barely able to be present enough to connect with our daughter and give her the care she needs, and we’ve almost given up on trying to spend time together and connect as a couple. He gets a few hours to himself in the evenings between dinner and bedtime, but my free time is so fragmented and unpredictable that I’ve given up trying to do anything meaningful with it–if I get a moment where no one is demanding anything of me, all I do is scroll mindlessly on my phone, because I have no way of knowing when I’m going to be interrupted next.

Everyone keeps giving me “it gets better” speeches, but I’ve lost the ability to think far enough ahead to believe that. So yeah, we’re pretty burned out.

The reason I’m writing to you is because I feel really guilty for being burned out. We’re white, straight-passing, middle class, and able-bodied, and I have a stable, well-paying job with (mediocre, but still) health insurance. My husband’s parents are local to us and our daughter is able to spend the night over there every week or two, to give us a bit of a break (the baby can’t do overnights yet, he’s 13 months and doesn’t sleep through the night reliably, plus he gets very anxious, unhappy, and screamy when left with other caregivers). We have an amazing community of friends who have brought us meals, babysat the kids for free so we can get out for a bit, and provided endless sympathy and commiseration.

But even with all this privilege on our side and all the help we’ve been able to get, I’m still running on fumes with no end in sight, and beating myself up about it because so many other people have it so much worse than us, and why can’t I do better and be better when I have so much to work with here?

Do you have any advice that could help me stop feeling bad about feeling bad? How do I let go of the guilt so I can move on with just the ordinary difficulties of everyday life?

— Burned Out

 

Dear Burned Out,

I absolutely ache for you.

There is a part of my psyche that is trapped in the hellish twilight of sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and despair that is having very young children.

I was so sleep-deprived that I hallucinated bugs crawling on me. Our baby and then toddler kept having more tantrums than really seemed normal, and it got worse when we tried to rock and hold him. Then when we had two, and everything got exponentially harder. My kid was punching his preschool teacher and throwing fits nearly constantly. When we found out that he had Tourette’s and autism, we added in at least two or three weekly doctor and therapy appointments to our plate. I didn’t make very much money and my spouse stayed at home, we had no relatives in town, and we felt that we couldn’t leave our baby with anyone else, either.

I had a particularly difficult time when raising my boys when they were young, with very little if any outside help.

And I think you have it worse than I did.

I need to say that again to be very clear: You have it worse than I did.

I tell you this because what you are describing sounds just unlivable. A baby who cries especially loudly AND constantly AND won’t sleep, just by itself, is a nightmare. Caring for that baby while trying to take care of a bright, verbal, inquisitive, high-energy four-year-old sounds nearly impossible. It’s exhausting enough to run around with a high-energy kid, especially an inquisitive one, without anything else to do.

You literally never get a break. Ever. Your parents might take the four-year old two or three times a month, but you are still with that baby who screams and screams. And working full time while also taking the burden full-time of caring for your children as you’re giving your husband a break is going to burn anyone out.

Now. Let’s look at your privileges, and how they are helping you right now.

You say you have parents who live close, who give you a break every once in a while. I mean, that’s great, but since you feel you can’t hand over the baby, this is only a very slight advantage, and it’s mainly for your daughter who will get uninterrupted and quiet adult time.

You say you are able-bodied. Perhaps you’re able-bodied as far as mobility is concerned, but one of you has sensory issues that make a crying baby even more difficult for him, which is not only awful for him but also means that the breaks he need are vital, probably daily without fail, and that puts more pressure on you. You were BOTH diagnosed with Postpartum Depression.

So . . . ableds? Not so much.

You’re middle class with a stable, well-paying job. Really? I mean, you can’t afford counseling. I’m sure that having a stable job means you worry about money and housing less than many other parents, but that supposedly well-paying job doesn’t leave you with enough cash available for counseling, and I assume that it doesn’t pay you well enough to hire some help to come help a few times a week. And you’re living on one wage, which is really hard to live on for most people, even if your job is stable and well-paying.

I’ve gone through this in painstaking detail because I want you to see that you genuinely have it rough, and some of the privileges you have aren’t quite as privilege-y right now for your family.

Anyone in your situation would be completely burned out. Anyone in that situation would find themselves sobbing in the car on their way to work, probably deeply stressed in their relationships, and barely able to function.

The United States, man. Our hateful late-stage capitalism doesn’t offer many jobs that pay enough to support a family. We do not offer our citizens reliable, quality, or remotely affordable health care, so many of us do without. We have absolutely no preschool or toddler daycare or childcare options that are anything less than insanely expensive, let alone equipped for kids who are struggling like your baby is. Our housing costs are skyrocketing, groceries have become an absolutely giant expense that somehow our government doesn’t have to count toward any measurements of our economy, and then we have this fucking Calvinist bullshit that we’ve taken from those religious lunatics who first came here and started murdering the local populace: if you suffer, it is because God wants you to suffer. If God wants you to suffer, you must be a shitty person.

It’s not explicitly religious anymore, but it sure is woven into the fabric of our society so tightly that even someone like you who barely hanging on feels like she doesn’t have the right to feel burned out by her incredibly high-octane life.

In other words, all of this isn’t the economy. It isn’t a lack of supports for new parents. It isn’t having to work full time to pay the bills when your kids have intense needs. IT’S YOU. ALL YOUR FAULT. YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF.

If we keep blaming ourselves and chasing our tails, we’ll be too worn out and filled with self loathing to make any systemic change, yeah? Our system is specifically designed to make you feel this way, to perpetuate itself.

So, some people have it worse. Why should this somehow sustain you and give you buoyancy and hope? There is always someone, somewhere, who has it worse. This does not mean that we do not also suffer and that we do not also have completely human reactions to inhuman conditions.

You are having a completely human reaction. If you weren’t feeling burned out, I would suspect you of being in denial.

Don’t let your stupid hateful capitalist Calvinist culture and our barebones economy and poisonous messages jammed into your subconscious tell you that you have no right to be miserable in a miserable situation! Sadly, you have earned this burnout and to expect yourself to sail through it like Mary Poppins is just too. Damn. Much.

 

PS PLEASE take a deep breath and leave your baby with other people for a few hours here and there, and even overnight. So what if they need earplugs for a few hours or have one rough night of sleep? You say you have supportive friends. Let them support you in the way you really need it.

How do I deal with other people’s resentment?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I’m a woman in my mid-50’s, and through great privilege and luck I’m able to support myself by working as a writing/editing/website contractor just a few months per year, and go on some great trips, too. I call myself semi-retired. Due to bipolar and some physical limitations, it’s hard for me to work full-time for more than a few weeks, anyway.  (But I’m not able to get disability benefits.)

I know my roommate resents it; she’s said as much. She’s 62 and will retire at 70 at best.  I’ll be moving soon — it was a short-term thing so I could save for travel and she could catch up on her mortgage — but I feel it from other people, too. I don’t brag about my situation, but I don’t want to fake a job or  volunteer more than I want to just so other people feel better. Someday I’d like to find a new partner, too, and I think that will be hard(er), because so many guys are still ambitious at my age, and/or would also feel resentful.

And yes, I do spend a lot of my extra free time second-guessing and worrying about how other people feel.

– Lucky but Guilty

 

Dear LBG,

Oh, wow.

This letter reminds me of how people will say shit to me like: “I wish _I_ could get parking right near the door; or “I wish _I_ could take my dog everywhere with me!”

They imagine how great my life is with my rockstar parking and my mutt always by my side, and think it’s unfair that they don’t get those things. It doesn’t occur to them for even twenty seconds that the reason I NEED the damn parking and service dog is because each of my days is more difficult than each of their weeks.

I am incredibly glad that you have been able to support yourself and even go on trips working part-time contract. That must mean, as you say, that you’ve had the privilege and luck of being able to save for retirement, which so many of us just can’t do living paycheck-to-paycheck and/or just not having the option.

Own your privilege! Great! You know that being able to save for retirement is a privilege that you had.

But don’t paint yourself as an heiress, either.

If you don’t qualify for disability, you are probably paying a shit ton for health insurance since you’re in your mid-50s.

I’m guessing you’re pretty good at living on not too much money. I mean, you moved in with a friend to save up for a trip. That’s frugal as fuck.

Your lifestyle doesn’t seem particularly swank. I don’t know what your physical limitations are, but it sounds like you are both mentally ill and physically disabled, and you can’t work full time for more than a few weeks without it taking an incredible toll on you. Sounds like and you’re making the best of your situation.

I’m sorry your roommate resents someone who has been helping her pay her mortgage. I’m sorry she won’t retire until she’s 70. (I will never retire, and I don’t hold it against someone who will be able to retire at 70.)

But I think if she looks at a very frugal person dealing with multiple disabilities who has been able to call her situation ‘semi-retirement’ and then resents her for it, that says a lot more about her than it does about you.

Now. What do you mean by you “feel it from other people, too?”

Do you mean that other people make passive-aggressive remarks like “must be nice” or whatever other dumb-ass shit resentful people say to make other folks feel bad?

Or do you mean that your roommate’s resentment has made you a paranoid — so paranoid that you seem to have actually considered pretending to work more than you do — and you’re extending that attitude to other people?

Only you know, of course, whether this is real stuff or anxious projection on your part. Either way, I think the reaction is the same — don’t let yourself get baited.

I legit don’t know what to say about men. I mean, don’t you think middle-aged women who are attracted to men have all twisted themselves into pretzels enough to try to fit whatever it is that they think “men want?” Fuck it. Enough. Don’t.

Would you really want to be with someone who found partnering with a woman who is semi-retired some sort of disqualifying event?

Perhaps you can think of this situation as an Asshole Detector. Anyone who responds to “Hi; I’m semi-retired” with “ew get away” just isn’t relationship or friendship material.

Is it okay to ask my upstairs neighbors to take down old decorations that are a fire hazard?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I live in a duplex and the upstairs neighbor had a new roommate move in a few months back. She’s apparently told my husband that she likes to “celebrate all the holidays at once!” which sounds whimsical and charming until the rotting pumpkins… now those were finally disposed of, but there are still wispy cottony cobwebs mingling with dried-out, brown boughs of evergreen going up the railing on their outdoor stairs (in the front of the house) to the wooden eaves/ their wood doorway. We live on a busy street and people walking by often toss paper garbage and cigarette butts into our yard.  So it’s not only an eyesore, but also a fire hazard.

The wooden house is over a hundred years old, probably poorly wired, definitely poorly maintained, and I live in California where every year areas around us burn and we can’t breathe properly for weeks. I’m totally paranoid about the fire risks, but I also know my neighbors annoy me more than is perhaps kind (they’re loud and party a lot, but I only complain to my friends, not to the neighbors, because I understand that living in a city means hearing other people’s lives up close). 

Is it unreasonable to send the following to them? If they refuse to take them down, do I mention it to the landlord? I really don’t want to start a war, and would like to get along, but I have an anxiety disorder and hate the worrying.

“Just wanted to know if y’all wanted some help taking down the old holiday decorations? I’m getting very paranoid about the fire hazard of brittle dried branches and wispy cobwebs leading up to our very old, non-fireproof house? It’s also a bit of an eyesore now that the branches are all brown…”

Thanks in advance!

Paranoid About Burning Down

 

Dear PABD,

First, sorry/not sorry for the image that I’ve chosen for this letter. I know you have anxiety. But I wanted to help you keep laser focus on what is at stake here: YOUR HOME BURNING TO THE GROUND.

As I read this, until I saw the part about your anxiety disorder, I found myself wondering: why is this letter writer concerned with whether or not she pisses off her neighbors who clearly give no fucks about whether or not they are pissing HER off?

They party loudly. They leave out rotting gourds. They have festooned the front of the duplex with not only cotton but also dry evergreen.

You want to know my favorite way to start a fire when I’m camping? Dry evergreen. It’s the best fire starter there is because dry evergreen is FILLED WITH EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE SAP.

It goes up like, well, a Christmas tree.

Are you in counseling for your anxiety disorder? Because if not, I think you should be. You seem to be attributing your very reasonable fear of fire to your ‘paranoia’ and your dislike of the neighbors instead of the fact that they appear intent on actually burning down your house. A good therapist would, I think, help you to understand your anxiety and self doubt while also trusting your own instincts about cut-and-dry (very very very dry) situations like this.

I am not trying to yell at you or shame you; one of the symptoms of anxiety is second-guessing your every move and suspecting yourself of having bad motivations (like disliking the neighbors for other reasons). But blaming your own mental health issues for other people’s extremely dangerous and thoughtless actions is something that right now is literally putting your home and life in danger, because you have hesitated to even bring this up with anyone.

Before you go get therapized, though, for the love of all that is holy and unholy call your landlord immediately and tell them about the horrible fire hazard your neighbors have created.

(Say nothing about it being an ‘eyesore;’ neohippies who think they are whimsical and adorable for basically leaving a bunch of crap all over the place are going to fixate on the ‘eyesore’ bit to the exclusion of safety. That’s the sort of wording that might cause them to feel warlike and self-righteous about this, and the sort of wording a lazy landlord might also use to dismiss your concerns and take no action.)

Your landlord is responsible for the safety of the building. Skip the middleman, especially if you have anxiety and struggle with conflict. This is not only a fire hazard, but also a huge liability issue for them. Call the landlord, and if they don’t respond quickly enough, the fire marshall.

This is serious. This is not your ‘paranoia.’ You are absolutely 100% right about this.

I know I’m asking you to do something that will really ramp up your anxiety, by the way. We the anxious feel that sticking up for ourselves is somehow a bad and dangerous thing to do.

But in this case, the opposite is true. Pop a Zanax, some weed (at least 800 feet from your building FFS) or have a drink; take a deep breath, pick up the phone, and call. It will feel absolutely horrible. But you feel absolutely horrible with this fire hazard hanging literally over your head already, and in the long run this will help.

One anxious person to another: I believe in you! You can do the thing!

Now do it. Maybe even before you finish reading this letter.

How do I keep it slow with someone I’m really into?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I have been in therapy for all of my adult life, and have been doing my work and making a ton of progress on myself. As a result, I’ve been generally feeling better, and have had the good fortune to meet a new cute person whom I’ve been dating for a little over a month.

Things are going really well, and I feel safer and more solid in this relationship than I have with any in the past. But I am worried about going unreasonably fast, especially emotionally, since I feel like this kind of healthy attachment is new for me.

How do I keep things at a reasonable pace, while still being authentic about how I feel about this new cutie? We seem to be very compatible, and I want to grow and nurture the connection we are building while not engaging in old bad habits or jumping into anything too serious too quickly. Is this just my anxiety talking?

Femme Avoiding the UHaul Stereotype

Dear FAUS,

So now you know: therapy will ruin your life.

You’re going along, all clammed up and bottled and pressured and squished and alienated or clingy or volatile like you liked it and then you start talking and learning and improving and BOOM there are feelings all over the goddamned place.

I mean, we didn’t like life pre-therapy, exactly, which is why so many of us have started counseling (and I can’t speak to why you went) but it certainly is FAMILIAR, this packed-down/messed up/not functioning well way of life.

In all seriousness, I’m glad that you are feeling better, doing the work, and making a ton of progress on yourself. I know how damn hard the work is. And how much the work is SO worth it.

But I also know that being vulnerable after whatever stuff sent you to therapy in the first place can be like bungee-jumping with a brand-new tested cord and you aren’t sure exactly how much slack there is.

So I can see why you would be worried about taking things too fast, and perhaps this rush of feeling and, more importantly, this sense of solidity is — paradoxically —- shifting ground under your feet. An unfamiliar and therefore somewhat frightening sensation.

But you know what? You have worked DAMN HARD. And you have earned yourself some joy, if you can find it. And it seems you’ve found a chance for a certain kind of joy, now. I say go for the feelings, and the time together, and the delicious heady joy of a new relationship.

Certainly exercise good judgment and don’t demand constant togetherness, but slowing things down through artificial means by pretending to be less available than you are, waiting a certain amount of time before responding to a text, and those sorts of well-intentioned ‘putting on the brakes’ moves can come across as manipulative and perhaps like you’re playing games, and that just isn’t a good way to start out a solid relationship. It can feel unsettling for yourself, as well.

So go out with this person. Enjoy their company. Text sweet nothings before bed. Have lots and lots and lots of sex. Become weirdly obsessed and drive your friends nuts talking about this cute person. Shake yourself out of an intense memory of them at an office meeting and smile a secret smile. Do all of these things, as often as you both want, and as heedlessly as you both want.

But it’s not just your anxiety talking when you say you are afraid of moving too fast. Love famously impairs our judgment with dopamine, lowered serotonin, and rising cortisol levels —  triggering the most primal parts of our brain, and diminishes access to the frontal lobe. “When we are engaged in romantic love,” explains the Scott Edwards in a Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute newsletter, “the neural machinery responsible for making critical assessments of other people, including assessments of those with whom we are romantically involved, shuts down.”

So: you need to proceed and live your one glorious wonderful life and dance in the rain and sing to them and find yourself almost skipping as you walk down the block, but you also need to remind yourself that your brain isn’t functioning at its highest capacity.

This is why you need to follow a very specific threefold rule for the first few months to year or so. Avoid the three L’s: confessing your love, making life plans, and living together.

You can really jack things up by labeling a new relationship as ‘in love,’ out loud, too soon. This can add pressure to the relationship to take a shape it doesn’t want to take, and perhaps place expectations on it that the relationship itself cannot sustain, yet. So take your time with those words. Don’t go rushing to “I love you” in the first few weeks or even months. You can also scare the crap out of yourself, if you have issues with past relationships (if you are human, I mean).

Making life plans or even vacation plans early on might feel romantic, but having to walk those back later can be pretty anxiety-producing. And yeah that U-haul. No. Don’t sign any leases. Keep your own apartment, even if you find yourselves constantly in each others’ spaces.

Feeling with abandon (as scary as that probably is for you if you haven’t had solid-feeling relationships before) but not signing on any dotted lines, no matter how much you want to, is going to keep you out of the worst trouble that this altered state can bring you.

I am so glad you have this chance to use your new skills in searching for joy, and enjoying it when you find it. I hope you can enjoy it with as much abandon as your heart will give you.

You’ve got this. Go get ’em, tigress.

 

How do I handle my unapologetically racist son?

Dear Gentle Butch,

My oldest son has become an unapologetic racist. He has opined that black and Hispanic people are unintelligent, destructive, and without self control. He has told me and my husband that we’re naïve and can’t face facts we don’t like. His comments on these subjects have ranged from dispassionate observations to mean-spirited jokes. But, despite what he’s said to us, he seems to function at a diverse high school without incident.

I’m not completely sure where all this has come from. His beliefs don’t seem to be based in any kind of larger right-wing perspective. His girlfriend is Jewish and we have several gay family friends that he’s still quite fond of.

I grew up in a very white bread, religious world. So did my husband. We both wanted to raise our children in a different environment. We made an effort to settle in a multicultural city, live in a diverse neighborhood, and send our children to schools where people aren’t all the same. Almost from the moment our son was born, we tried to teach him that prejudice, of any kind, was wrong.

If any other relative or acquaintance expressed some of the views my son has, I wouldn’t have anything to do with them. But I can’t bring myself to pull away from him the way I would anyone else. We had him young and he was our only child for a long time. The three of us were once very close.

His views have created a big rift between us and put a significant strain on our household. My husband and I have made it clear to him that we don’t want racist statements in our home. And there has been a tacit agreement between us not to bring up issues that might lead to disagreement. I will admit that my son is better at adhering to it than I am. We’ve had several bad arguments. The last one got very nasty and we didn’t talk for a few days afterwards.

In almost every other way, he’s a good son and a good person. He works hard in school, stays out of trouble, and—when I returned to full-time employment—accepted greater responsibility for our three younger children lovingly and without complaint. His brother and sisters adore him. Sadly, I worry about the influence he might be having on them.

In some ways, I feel like this is karma. The arguments I’ve had with him remind me of the ones I had with my parents when I stopped being religious. This worries me because, eventually, my parents and I completely stopped communicating with one another.

My husband has told me that I need to stop “picking fights” with our son. He feels our time to mold him his passed (he’ll be leaving for college next year) and we have to behave accordingly. He says the best thing we can do is avoid talking about certain subjects and hope that our son changes his mind about them. I sense that he’s right and that this is really our only option. But, at the same time, I still feel like I should be doing more. Is my husband correct or is there some other effort I can make?

Signed,

Minneapolis Mom

 

Dear MM,

Oh, WOW.

Of course you aren’t going to cut your kid off. Come on. But you can fight his racism with every ounce of your strength. White supremacy is a hell of a drug, and you need to fight like hell to help get your son out of its clutches — and to keep your younger kids away from it as much as you can.

But first you have to get very uncomfortable. And remain so. And I’m getting very uncomfortable myself, because I am going to say awkward things.

Ready? Your son is probably right that you are somewhat naïve, at least if I’m right about what you mean about your upbringing. When you say “white bread,” do you mean “white?” As in: you grew up in a totally white town somewhere outside of the Twin Cities? You grew up never speaking to or interacting with any black or Latinx people at all as a child? That you probably remember the first time you met a black person?

Is it fair to say that your son has grown up with far more experience with black and Lantinx people than you have, even living where you are as adults, and thus sees you as pie-in-the-sky white liberals who have no on-the-ground experience?

I think facing up to the idea that perhaps you ARE somewhat naïve can help this situation. (Also, all teenagers think their parents are naïve, and fighting that is just a waste of time and breath.)

Ask yourself: am I horrified because he is thinking wrong thoughts? Did I just teach him “prejudice of any kind is bad” and end it there? Have I thought through and presented to him and my other kids what racism IS?

I’m not here to make excuses for your son’s racism, but even if he’s had lots of experience with black and brown people in school, what he might not have seen is how the system treated him and his classmates differently. Did he see kids he thought were lazy because they were disconnected and disenfranchised (or just plain hungry) in class but never learned about the specific, extremely purposeful systemic reasons they might feel disconnected? Does he know about redlining and food deserts and the racism of school funding models?

I think what a lot of white kids fail to realize, unless someone sits down and explicitly teaches them this, is the following: racism isn’t how a certain person FEELS about certain other people. Racism is a supremacist system that we white people set up from the very start of our country to keep the vast majority of the resources, comforts, rights, and power in the hands of a few. We as a country have continued to enforce and reinforce this in overt ways such as police violence and a completely horrifying (and economically disastrous to the future of our country) immigration policy, and in quiet and unseen ways such as making entire companies, schools, public spaces, and governmental entities only comfortable for white people.

So if you brought him up just saying: “don’t be racist,” and since our schools in Minneapolis don’t actually teach about redlining and the reservation system and Indian boarding schools and the Dakota 39 and our hideous policies and practices in exploiting migrant workers for sugar beets and the reason why we built 94 with an awfully strange route to destroy a row of black businesses and divide African-American and Jewish communities in North Minneapolis while conveniently destroying a multi-racial neighborhood in St. Paul with a strong black community in one fell swoop — kids just hear: ‘prejudice is bad because we are all the same and it is bad,’ and they look around themselves and see that white people sure do seem to be doing well for absolutely no reason they can see, well then why wouldn’t they draw racist conclusions?

I’m not saying all of this to make you tear your hair and feel bad about yourself. I’m saying all of this because you said you have younger children.

While I don’t think it’s too late for anyone to learn, I especially don’t think it’s too late for your young kids to learn. Teach them some of this racist history. Help them to see the system of white supremacy for what it is, instead of just telling them prejudice is wrong.

As for your son, and for your husband: when it comes to race, too many white people tacitly agree not to bring up certain topics. I know your spouse believes it’s too late to ‘mold him,’ but that is two kinds of bullshit: 1. It was too late to mold your son after you finished knitting him together in your womb. I know some of us THINK we have molded our kids into some shape, but really all we can do is try to educate them, rain down love on them, and keep our hands and feet clear. They are people, not clay. 2. You never stop teaching your children, and they never stop teaching you.

And one thing you can still teach your son is this: that you will NOT avoid topics to make a racist more comfortable. That until he either gets himself educated or keeps his mouth shut in your house and around your other children, he is going to be very, very, VERY uncomfortable.

And in doing so, you teach your other kids: we do not remain silent in the face of racism. We do not help other white people feel comfortable in voicing their hateful bullshit, even if they’re family.

Especially if they’re family.

So if your husband doesn’t like it he should get some ear plugs and go play video games or something. (I’m pretty annoyed with him, in case you haven’t picked up on this. He should care about this, too.)

Now. As for karma.

Western people often see karma as, basically, God’s judgement. Kind of like, yanno, a conservative Christian might see the world. And that’s how you seem to be talking about it. It’s not a thing. It isn’t. Knock it off.

But you’re right in one way: these arguments seem reminiscent of the ones you had with your mother. She thought she was fighting for your soul too, I imagine.

Here’s where I feel like they are similar, and why I mentioned your possible naiveté, at the risk of not being terribly Gentle: if you were just telling your children what to think and how to behave based on the idea that prejudice is “wrong,” it could be reminiscent of the idea of sin: racism is a sin, end of story.

It also possibly has the same urgency as those with your mother: our country is on a razor’s edge right now, with our Bigot-in-Chief. The stakes are so, so high.

Shifting the conversation to information on our nation’s white supremacist history, with specific examples, (within earshot of the younger kids) allowing him to draw his own conclusions? That’s breaking the cycle.

Good luck.

 

Her fiancé’s oversharing gets under her skin.

Dear Gentle Butch,

I am the luckiest woman, engaged to a sweet, soft butch (my term, not hers) who loves me as much as I love her. One of the things that I love most about her is how she loves so many friends and family and builds deep, emotional relationships.

On the other hand, I open my heart to her, my kid, and just a few others.

My fiancee is willing to share just about anything about herself whereas I’m very strategic about what I share and who I share this with, too — erring on the side of caution.

Unfortunately, she shares things that are too private about me, too. And the way she represents me isn’t always right, either. For example, she told a friend that I don’t care for someone in the queer community — and although I’ve heard a bit of crap about her, I don’t personally know her, and I am publicly neutral about everyone unless they are abusers.

I think there’s a fine line between being able to process things about me with friends and making representations of me. She doesn’t get this because she’s just sharing things with people she loves.

Our relationship is based on love, trust, and consent. I know I will need to go out of my comfort zone, too. I’d appreciate strategies and vocabulary to help us get on the same page.

Dyke Disclosure Overexposure

Dear DDO,

I’m going to level with you: I’m the ‘open book-connector-person,’ and OH did I have things to learn.

It takes screwing up a few times to get it right, I think. It’s probably unavoidable.

But telling a friend that you don’t care for someone in the community, regardless of whether she misrepresented you, feels like it crossed the line from processing into gossip. That’s a fairly big screw up.

Has it affected your trust? Has it made you feel a little unsafe? Do you sometimes find yourself dreading what you will hear next?

If so, then tell her. Let her know exactly how you feel when she exposes you like this.

You say she loves lots of people and forms deep relationships. That must mean she is very empathetic, and cares about feelings and a sense of connection.

So one really important thing your fianceé needs to know is exactly how much pain this causes, and how her revealing things erodes at your trust. The very thing she fosters closeness and builds trust with in her relationships with others has the potential to harm your closeness and your relationship.

So what I would suggest is being very clear about those boundaries so she knows where not to overstep, give her categories of information you want held back.

It may be very obvious to you that she shouldn’t talk about, say, your sex life or your family of origin’s alcoholic tendencies. Not to mention whom you care or don’t care for in the community.

But it will not be obvious to her.

Talk to her. Share with her the impact these disclosures have on you emotionally. Give her clear guidelines.

And give her a release valve. People who think-through-talking-and-connecting need at least one friend they can really open up with: to complain about how you keep forgetting to unload the dishwasher but also to work through thornier issues, which may involve revealing some of your sore spots.

But she needs to ensure that it is only one or, at the most, two people she shares with this way, and that they understand this is just between them.

It may sound like I’m coming down a little hard on her, and I really do understand how confusing and even frustrating it can be to hold back when you’re a talker.

But she’s the one who needs to do most of the transforming here. Respecting a partner’s boundaries should supercede nearly all other considerations.

Your job is to be extremely clear about what you need to feel safe — and to be as forgiving as you can when she invariably messes up in the process of figuring it all out.

Is this couple childish, sullen, petty, and very immature for having feelings?

Dear Gentle Butch,

A few years ago, my husband and I introduced two of our best friends (a couple) to another pair of our best friends (our cousins). All of these friends are about ten years younger than us, and run in somewhat different circles.

Now, these two couples we love often hang out together without us, post fun photos on social media of adventures we weren’t invited to join, and sometimes even of family events they were invited to but we were not.

We want to be mature and grounded, gratified at the joy they bring each other, happy our loved ones have more love in their lives. Instead, we are ridiculously jealous and hurt over this, wondering if we are unlikable or less fun or just too old to be cool, and we feel childish, sullen, petty, and very immature for feeling this way.

(Note: Neither couple is intentionally rubbing it in our faces, we always hear about this through another person, such as another mutual friend at a gathering.)

Why can’t we be happy for the joy new friendships brought our friends? How can we get over our insecure jealousy and get into a healthy headspace on this?

Best,

Left Out

 

Dear LO,

So, let me sum this up: you introduced some of your favorite people in the world to each other. They now spend more time with each other than they do with you, and don’t invite you along on their adventures. People are holding family events and inviting your cousins but not you.

And you get to see it all on social media, or hear about it from friends because they aren’t telling you about their get-togethers.

And you dare to have hurt feelings about this.

Yep. You sure are a couple of childish, sullen, petty, and very immature people. Also old, uncool, unlikeable, and no fun. CLEARLY.

Everything you are describing here is objectively painful, and feeling jealous, left out, and hurt are the feelings that are natural to feel in this situation. Do you think that grownups can’t have feelings? You’re an adult, not the Buddha.

Don’t pressure yourself to be all good and giving about this, because OWTCH.

I’m guessing that these feelings and lack of benevolent joy are so incredibly intense because this is triggering childhood misery.

That’s why you are using all of this ‘child’ language to yell at yourselves.

We all have intense and painful memories of feeling left out — everyone, at some point in their lives. These might even be some of your earliest memories. And when you are being left out (and you are most definitely being left out), our bodies remember what it felt like — and push us right back to that childhood place in our lizard-brains: the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain that connects you to your past by aligning current happenings to old memories. It’s also the part that offers us fear, anger— and the fight, flight, or freeze reflexes. Right back there? That’s our REAL gut.

And the jealousy and hurt feelings you feel in that gut are so powerful you’re shocked by yourselves, because they come from way deep down inside.

But there is a reason, and it is not your fault. This does not mean you are bad people. This means you are people with feelings and pasts and stuff.

So, please. Allow yourselves to feel these deep, connected-to-childhood feelings, and stop calling yourselves names. Take some time with it.

I mean it– remembering and talking about the specific memories these emotions tie back to can help them to have less power over you.

When you’re done, if you still like your friends (and I hope you do; their crime seems to be thoughtlessness rather than malice), turn the script around: include THEM in YOUR plans.

Take a deep breath, or seven, and invite them to dinner.

How do I support my awful coworker’s daughter?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I work in a small office of only a few people. My least-favorite coworker (I’ll call her Susan) has a teenage daughter (Hannah), who is queer, but is not out to her family. (It’s complicated how I came to know this.) And, while I have met Hannah a few times, we don’t have a close relationship. My coworker frequently laments her daughter’s rejection of boys (chalking it up to immaturity) and tells us her plans for “socializing” her daughter (with or without her consent). Hannah is involved in drama club at school, which seems pretty social to me, but Susan is dismissive, saying Hannah is too introverted to be good at it (which is not necessarily true).

Most recently, Susan told us about Hannah bringing a boy home. Susan was glad that Hannah is making friends with boys, but disappointed that her interest in him is only friendly. On top of that, her husband freaked out and went full-on patriarchal. He insisted on meeting the boy first to see if he “looked scary,” imposing time limits on visits, making sure she keeps her door open, etc. Susan told this in a smiling dads-will-be-dads kind of way. I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to laugh or what, but it was all I could do to contain my horror.

Susan always sounds exasperated when she mentions her daughter. I hate to hear Susan sound so down on her daughter all the time and I am never sure how to react. I don’t want to accidentally out Hannah, or make it sound like I’m telling Susan how to raise her children. But they way she talks about her daughter, queer or not, is appalling to me.

I should mention that I am also queer and quite out about it. My wife and I have casually offered to spend time with Hannah after she and my wife bonded a little bit over a shared enthusiasm for YA fiction. Hannah is very shy about reaching out and when we have made tentative plans, Susan tends to make it inconvenient so that Hannah cancels. We have not persisted, afraid it will look like “recruitment.”

I really want to be an ally to this girl, but I don’t like her mother at all. How should I respond to my coworker’s stories and comments about her daughter? Do you think we should try contacting Hannah again?

–Coworker Didn’t Get the Memo

What a heartbreaking letter.

It’s so incredibly hard to watch a parent pull this crap when you are helpless to intervene.

Well, mostly helpless.

I think you have done what you can with Hannah. You have made it clear you’d be willing to hang out. Her mother has made it clear that she is going to passively resist this as much as possible, but Hannah will eventually have more mobility and freedom. I imagine she will learn to drive or take public transportation, for instance. If her father allows it. (I HOPE I am joking about that.)

I assume Hannah knows you are a couple. She knows who to turn to if she needs to, when the time comes. And that is so, so important.

Now, the next stuff I’m going to say is fully optional. You are hereby cleared by me, as a queer and a parent of a queer, from any other responsibility. You can back away quickly when she talks about her daughter. You can change the subject or put your fingers in your ears and hum. She sounds like a very irritating person, on top of everything else.

But.

As a parent, I’m feeling like I need to at least give this damn lady a sliver of the benefit of the doubt.

To be clear: I think she is just a thoughtless parent who believes its her job to control her kid’s life and that there is only one way to be happy and she knows what it is, so she’s going to try to force her daughter into the shape she thinks is best.

Oh and that she thinks her husband believing that he owns his daughter’s sexuality and body is funny.

But.

On the off chance she is sharing this with people because it was a bit unsettling to her and she wants to see a reaction to gauge how weird some of this is, responding naturally might be just what she needs.

And she might be deeply frustrated with her daughter’s refusal to fit into the shape she’s trying to jam her into, and talking a little might help her see how ridiculous she is being.

You don’t have much to lose — she is already passively-aggressively keeping you from her daughter, so it’s not like you have a connection to her that will be in jeopardy.

So there are two ways to go, and this probably depends on how comfortable you are with confrontation.

One: I think she needs to see that some people are horrified by her husband’s behavior. I think she needs to see you recoil and say something like: “Actually, some of the best actors are introverts.” I think she needs to see you narrow your eyes over her bemoaning over her daughter not having a boyfriend already and looking skeptical. And if you can have a natural, honest reaction to what she says without telling her off, you will probably empower others around you to do the same.

Two: you can be empathetic. Or mime it. When she starts talking about her daughter in that antagonistic tone, you can say in a warm and kind tone: “It sounds like you’re pretty frustrated with her.” If she is, and wants to talk, she can — and increased intimacy might give you a chance to offer her other insights. If she isn’t, and hadn’t realized she’d taken on this tone — well, that’s information for her, as well.

I get it. I want to save all the queerbabies with parents like this (and worse, of course), too. But you have truly done what you can right now for the girl, and you’re continuing to be. And for her mom . . . showing her that it’s possible to have a happy life and a stable relationship even if you’re queer might help her to stop frantically attempting to force heterosexuality on Hannah. 

Good luck. And remember it’s always an option to just change the subject or walk away, for your own mental health.

Yet another woman thinks everything’s her fault.

Dear Gentle Butch,

There was a guy, “Joel,” who I had some feelings for and ended up sleeping with once (we were both single at the time).

After that happened, we never actually spoke about it, which was occasionally awkward since we both did a lot of work for the same small organization and had some of the same social circle.

Less than a year later, I was having serious roommate problems that made me feel unsafe at home. I brought up the situation with many people, including Joel. He said that he had been looking for a roommate, and that I could consider that as a possibility. I pursued that, although I sensed he had reservations about the idea, and ended up moving in with Joel and his other roommates.

Joel had recently entered a relationship. I was glad about that, thinking it would be clear boundary. Although I still had some feelings for him, I didn’t want to act on them in any circumstances. We were simply cordial roommates the entire time I lived there.

However, a few months after I had moved in, a friend of mine brought up the subject of Joel’s girlfriend. She was unaware of the fact that Joel and I had slept together. My friend thought it was unethical to live there if the girlfriend was in the dark. She argued that while Joel was the one keeping this information private and I was not responsible for that, I was condoning it by staying, and had created the situation in the first place– Joel’s random sexual history would not be relevant to disclose to his girlfriend, until he was living with a former hookup. I hadn’t considered it in that light and wasn’t sure what to think. After some agonizing, I brought up the subject to Joel, and as I suspected, his girlfriend did not know about our history. I ended up staying at the place a while longer, before leaving just a month or two earlier than I had planned.

So was it morally wrong — or at the least suspect — for me to live there, knowing his girlfriend was unaware of our past? I’ve never been able to really decide. Did Joel’s girlfriend have a right to that information? Was my behavior irrelevant to the entire situation, and the responsibility to act/disclose or not on Joel? Does the issue lie in a different area, in the fact that I did not discuss these issues with Joel before moving in? Or that I suspected Joel had misgivings about me living there, and I ignored that and moved in anyway? I feel that I was in the wrong somewhere, but I have had a hard time putting my finger on it. How can I go about evaluating and coming to a decision about right and wrong in this, or in future dilemmas I might face?

–Rueful Roommate

 

oh my GOD RR staaaaaaaahp.

Stop taking on everyone else’s feelings, real or imagined. Stop being so certain you did something wrong.

I know that our society has taught you that as a woman it is your job to take care of everyone’s feelings and to stay out in front of everything and to read people’s body language and react in ways that are best for them regardless of your needs and to take on everything everything everything, but STOP.

You were not wrong. Anywhere.

Lots of people have a one-night stand and then go back to their lives without ever mentioning it. It’s a little awkward, but lots of people do it. Unless you wanted to talk about it but didn’t because he never brought it up, you did nothing wrong in this instance. And if you did, the person you wronged was yourself.

Moving in with him in a whole house full of roommates wasn’t wrong, either. You were in fear for your safety. That is a seriously awful situation. You needed a place to stay, and you needed it fast, and he had an open room at his place that needed filling. Not wrong.

As far as your ‘sense’ that he had reservations about the idea: he was the one who told you he needed a roommate. He didn’t have to do that. He could have said: ‘bummer if I hear of a place I’ll let you know,’ or simply remained silent — which seems like his style. If he had second thoughts during the process, it was on him to say something. (FWIW, he sounds like an absolutely terrible, selfish communicator and I don’t like him.) It’s not on you to read people’s minds. Many men will do that: say something with their mouths and then use reluctant body language, to try to make you do all the hard emotional work and read between the lines. Fuck that.

Your ‘friend’ laying all of the responsibility for communication at your feet . . .  she’s just plain wrong about so many things.

First, I see no reason why you need to tell someone you slept with her boyfriend, once, a YEAR AGO, because you are one of his many housemates. What would be the purpose? This information says nothing about you, her stupid boyfriend, or her situation in regards to him. One. Time. Around a year ago.

Second, I don’t really see a reason he should tell her, either.

These two facts make all of your friend’s arguments moot, but I just HAD to address this little mindfuck she was doing: blaming you for ‘putting him in the position’ of having to tell his girlfriend about you two by moving in with him.

He knew he had a girlfriend and that you two had fucked a year ago. Knowing this, he invited you to move in.

Imagine believing that a friend of yours who was IN DANGER should have, instead of getting the fuck out of an awful situation in the fastest way possible, bent herself into a zillion pretzels to think about the POSSIBILITY that she might put her male roommate into a position where he might have to OPEN HIS GODDAMNED MOUTH AND SAY SOMETHING.

To recap:

  1. You did nothing wrong.
  2. Your friend was engaging in patriarchal blame-the-woman-ing and protect-the-man-at- all cost-even-when-the-issue-is-imaginary and was full of shit.
  3. I don’t like this guy.

Stick to your guns. Don’t let these assholes push you around. Believe that you are allowed to take care of yourself instead of all of the grownup people around you who should be looking after themselves and interrogating their OWN lives instead of yours.

She is not your friend. She is a sadistic little mindfucker. And he ain’t no prize, either.

Your last question was how to evaluate situations and decide on what is right and what is wrong in the future. You don’t need the answer to that question: you know what is right and wrong, and you acted accordingly.

You just need to believe that you are a smart, capable grownup who knows what to do and when, who has a sense of self preservation and privacy, who perhaps doesn’t need to burden random girlfriends with weird ‘fun facts’ about their boyfriends, and doesn’t need busybodies picking apart your decisions.

I will tell you what I think you might need to look at more closely: perhaps pay more attention to picking better friends and crushes.

Friends should be supportive, not cut you down and accuse you of nebulous and ridiculous ethical crimes. Friends of all types — the ones you’ve hooked up with and the ones you haven’t — should communicate clearly, without any manipulative bullshit. They certainly shouldn’t just skulk around silently expecting you to do all of the emotional work.

So what do I think you should do?

I would start by noticing a few things about people you’re with now: how do they make you feel? Do you feel stupid and second-guess yourself after you were with them for a few hours? Are you anxious around them, never feeling like you’re doing or saying the right thing? Do you feel judged? Do you fear bringing up topics with them because you don’t want to seem uncool or vulnerable and their reactions and the way they talk leave you feeling unbalanced and unsure?

RUN.