When we first decided to give this whole advice column thing a shot, I think we all had a pretty clear impression of what we were getting ourselves into. And friends: We were wrong. Not in a bad way, of course! It’s just that, when we pitched this venture, we made it pretty clear that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. We, an assorted collection of internet randos, are not qualified for anything more serious than, like, trying to pinpoint the official Best Chris (it’s Keanu, duh) — but that didn’t stop us from opening our inboxes for whatever hilarious conundrums you could throw at us anyway. And so we expected to receive a hodgepodge of funny hypotheticals, or goofy etiquette queries, or the kinds of situations that can only be solved with the strategic deployment of fire or bear traps (or, in some rare occasions, both!).
And, at first, we did get those sorts of letters. But pretty soon we started to get questions that weren’t funny at all. Questions that spoke of real pain and confusion. Heartfelt questions that we couldn’t ignore, or answer with a wink and a smile and a bear trap (even when we tried). It didn’t matter that we’d wrapped ourselves in a false safety blanket when we’d declared up-front that we were “unqualified.” With every new letter we received, that blanket was pulled further and further from our grasp until finally we just let it go. Sure, we’re still unqualified — but that doesn’t mean we won’t do our best to offer our honest perspective and whatever suggestions we can come up with.
Of course, the answers we give are only half of the equation, here. The comments are the other half — and I can’t tell you just how great it is to see your contributions, perspectives, thoughtful tips and (often painful) personal experiences being shared for the sake of the letter-writers as well. You help fill in the gaps we inevitably miss, and it’s indispensable. I thought I’d just be crowdsourcing the answers from the staff, but it’s turned into a much larger communal effort.
From idle curiosity to outright concern, our investment in these stories, in these people, doesn’t end when the column is published. Which is why I thought it was only fair to share some of the updates we’ve received over the course of this column. Because the other thing I never anticipated was just how hard it would be not knowing how things turned out for our letter-writers — or how valuable it would be when we did hear back from them.
The most recent update I received was actually a response to one of the tougher questions we’ve had to answer here. Begging For Basics wrote to us with a fairly straightforward question about a toxic friendship, but it was her backstory that stuck with me — and made it so hard to find a way to answer her. A lot of trauma in a very short amount of time meant that there was nothing simple about the task of socializing. But after a lot of introspection and some healthy changes, it sounds like things are starting to get better for Begging. And I, for one, was very relieved to hear it! Also — hearing how she’s evaluating the relationships in her life has given me some food for thought…
Hi Tori (& fellow Overlords)
I just wanted to say thank you for your kind response to my question a few months ago.
Without getting too deep into it, some stuff got worse for a while. (The ex who disappeared without a word? Turns out he was still married when we first got together, and later was cheating with someone else. Bless his time-management skills, fuck the rest of him.) But generally, I’m doing better. I had been seeing a therapist when I wrote in but realised they weren’t being very helpful, so found someone who specialises in PTSD & narcissistic abuse, which was the thread between both of my relationships. They’re also helping me look at the way unhealthy dynamics are playing out in my friendships, as I tend to be the one always offering support & jokes & entertainment, but never asking for help, which contributed to the multiple friend disappointments this past year - I had never explicitly asked them for support before, & in a similar (though far less abusive) way to my exes, my former friends were only interested in a dynamic where I was giving everything & asking for nothing.
Examining this has been hugely important, & completely proved your point about me needing to figure out what I needed from friendships before actually seeking them out. I’ve also realised that I do have a few people in my life who are endlessly loving & supportive, but I had become so used to prioritising the feelings & attention of people who aren’t very nice to me that I wasn’t recognising the people who were, actually, showing up for me.
I’m still taking socialising slowly, but am getting back to feeling better, and am going to move in the winter - either back to my beloved city I had to leave, or (if Visa stuff doesn’t work out) to a different city where there’s a promising PhD prospect.
Basically, I am feeling more human, & like there are options - & with options comes hope, which was in short supply for a long time.
I think the other thing I realized through your advice & the comments was how much horrible shit had happened within a short space of time. I knew that intellectually, of course, but your compassion & validation of that at the start of your response, & the comments acknowledging it all broke me a little (in the good way), basically because my friends never had acknowledged it. There was just a very blaming sense of “your anxiety’s a drag” & “you ruined our trip.” There was no sense of how sexual assault plus a messed-up break-up plus PTSD plus being sick plus an unwanted move across continents maybe deserved some extra attention & patience, not less. I mentioned in my letter that I didn’t leave my house for a few months because of my PTSD, which I was open about - my friend never once offered to come visit me, so we could still hang out. Therapy’s helped me realize those little things & how they are indicative of a larger dynamic.
So thank you again, & to the commenters. If anything, I think the experience showed me that people who aren’t terrified of or begrudge vulnerability are the people I need to value & hold on to, & the comments were filled with those kind of people. You & the community you & the Overlords have built are all wonderful.
Another recent column that has stuck with me has been the one about Still Reeling, who was processing her grief and shock and guilt over her friend’s overdose — and focusing on the band he listened to the day he died, Greta Van Fleet. In our answer, we focused on the nature of addiction as a disease, and the secrecy surrounding it. And though we didn’t hear back from Still Reeling herself, we did get a response from a father who lost his son to this same disease about 7 years ago. Below are his insights about living with grief, which felt too important (and too goddamn beautifully stated) not to share:
Our son Andy died of an overdose 4 Nov., 2012. He was 27. His birthday was this month, 16 April. He would have been 34(!).
My wife and I will never completely be over this loss but, I want to share something with the group about Grief. It helped. A bit. It’s going to sound possibly trite but, it isn’t.
For about five years, I wandered all over in my mind, trying to sort it all out. Some questions can never be answered, other questions likely never will even though there is that possibility. Those that Andy took with him are lost. This is…presumptuous but - You would have liked him. A lot.
So. Past why and why has all this been taken and and and and - it’s a cycle of spinning you may put yourself through and, part of the heart of it is the private wonder at your own victimhood.
Why did I Only get 27 years with such a wonderful person?
It finally hit me: You got to Have 27 Years with a wonderful person. You can call it a loss and, it is that but, what it is far more is the love, the privilege, the gift, the grace of each moment of all those 27 years. That’s …a comfort. And, an important one. For me, it’s often salient.
We shared music a lot. We shared a lot of things. When I didn’t know, I got informed so we could share. When I knew and perhaps he didn’t, I often wracked my mind to find a way to teach or counsel. And we shared a shitload of humor.
He was creative, intuitive, smart in an inoffensive way and giving about it if he could. He was gentle, patient and worked toward communion with others rather than conflict. He was a defender and a caretaker. 250 people showed up at his memorial service with as little notice as four days, from all over the country. He wasn’t..Famous but, everybody knew him. Including cops (who didn’t show up).
Again: I am grateful for every fucking moment I got to share with him and for all the good he shared with others.
It’s not right. It ain’t ever gonna be right. And, that’s …ok.
What did his mother or I need, this past seven years?
We can’t do much but we can be a friend. It’s very difficult for all the people outside the clusterf*ck griefstorm to know what to do. They can do that. Stop by. Share a memory that’s fun or funny, how he lived, not how he died. Send a text or a picture. Even ‘thought of Andy, today’. And, be strong. People in deep grief are not someone else’s emotional toilet.
That’s what I know.
There’s an important thing I left out:
Guilt. Addicts lie because they’re profoundly ashamed. They struggle with who they’ve become and, in spite of the lies that are part of addiction, they also want to protect their friends and parents and loved ones and don’t want anyone to know the Horror their lives have become. Many live in hope. There were ten used Suboxone wrappers in Andy’s wallet. He didn’t want to die and he had hope. Many addicts are like that.
I hope, wherever she is, Still Reeling reads this and perhaps finds some comfort here.
We’ve gotten other updates from our letter-writers — some simply to say thanks, or to keep us posted on how things eventually turned out with the issue they were grappling with. I didn’t get permission to share all of those, and honestly, we don’t get as many as you might imagine or I might wish (note to future advice-seekers: you don’t have to leave me hanging, yo!). Of course, it’s hardly unusual for the letter-writers to pop into the comments on a column and engage directly, so sometimes we get to learn more in the moment! But there is one very important update we did receive, from the letter I’ve often referenced as the one that I simply can’t forget.
That’s right: We heard back about the infamous Dick Art conundrum! And it all turned out just fine (and penis-free!):
I’m the guy who married the guy who collected fake flowers and penis art here with an update. (I lived in Florida, married a guy who lived in New Jersey, and we bought an apartment in New York. I worried he’d bring his fake flower and penis art collection to our beautiful new place.)
Shortly after I wrote, we got the keys to our New York apartment. Between my job and my apartment I couldn’t leave Tallahassee right
away, but one weekend I flew up north to visit hubby and check out the apartment.
One day he announced he had an errand to run: he wanted to pick up six boxes of stuff he had in a friend’s storage unit. Everybody I know has a storage unit, since apartments are small and clothes go out of style, so it didn’t raise any red flags. I’m not the smartest person around. When I went back to Florida, the new apartment was still empty.
A month later, I said goodbye to Florida and finally got to our New York home — only to discover that all of the cabinets were full. Not like “pleasantly curated” full but more of a Jenga-style “pull out one piece and the whole thing collapses” full. Remember how those six boxes used to be in storage? That was because THEY WERE FULL OF CRAP. It wasn’t cheap crap, since hubby made enough money to support an upscale shopping habit, but it also wasn’t remotely useful, and everybody knows in a tiny New York apartment useful is the key word. I ditched half of my belongings before my move from Florida only to discover my husband had brought along his oyster forks.
And Tupperware. Literally hundreds of Tupperware pieces. Seriously, there was one giant twelve-part contraption that for all I know is a kohlrabi steamer. There’s a bread machine, an iced-tea maker, three big plastic cake totes, dozens of coffee mugs shaped like marsupials, and on and on and on.
Clutter. Everywhere. Clutter.
And you know what? I didn’t care. Why?
BECAUSE TUPPERWARE, CAKE PLATES, AND ICED TEA MAKERS DON’T HAVE PENISES ON THEM.
Between your reply and the commenters to my letter, I learned a lot. I learned that hubby and I were a team, that we needed to work together, that selfish me needed to compromise occasionally, and that ultimately some things didn’t matter. And then I told him I had a problem with clutter, boxed up half the kitchen, and stuck it in OUR storage unit. He appears okay with it although probably once a week he says, “I STILL DON’T KNOW WHERE MY OYSTER FORKS ARE.”
Why didn’t he bring fake flowers or penis paintings? Two choices: either getting married made him grow up, or he knew the Big City would demand a bit more taste than penises deliver. Either way, it’s a happy ending here. Our apartment is beautiful and I love New York! Between the new hubby and the new city I am content. I really want to thank you for your patience and kindness, but also thank the wonderful commenters who wished me luck. I definitely got it.
Awww, I just love a happy ending. And while I’m going to start using “They don’t have penises on them!” as the ultimate sign of my grudging approval, I have to admit — I definitely wanna know what the hubby did with all his fake flowers and dicks. I like to imagine there’s a Goodwill that got a VERY interesting overnight donation…
That’s all for this special edition! Thank you to everyone who has written in with their questions, and to everyone who has read the columns and shared their own insights. We’ll be back soon with some more fresh advice that we’ll maybe never get a resolution on BUT THAT’S OK IT’S NOT ABOUT OUR NEEDS ANYWAY.
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