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Here's the Thing: Have a Crush, Have a Baby, Have a Boundary
SOME SWEETIE OUT THERE: Hi Sophia, I’m a 23 year-old queer individual who cannot stop falling for unavailable older men, more specifically unavailable older male professors of mine. I keep going through this habit of falling for these unattainable men, and then being unable to detach my self-worth from how I think they view me. It’s something I've struggled with for about a decade now, how do I break this cycle? I do objectively think I’m a good person! I’m kind and can sometimes be funny and I work hard! However, if I feel like none of that matters if I don’t feel like these men don’t see it. How can i stop placing so much weight on the opinions of these men? How can I stop falling for the same type that i know will (unintentionally) hurt me?
SOPHIA: Ok, first of all, to some extent, as with all perceived personal flaws, you gotta GIVE IN. You gotta look in the mirror and go, “Ok, self, you like validation from older men. It feels nice, and that is perfectly ok, and totally not your fault because society set you up to simultaneously want this validation and to fail at getting it.” Why? Because society is a little bitch. Sorry!!! You positively must do the work to accept that this is an interest of yours because you’re never going to tamp it out entirely. Treat it like you would finding out that you like Bachelor in Paradise: unfortunate? Perhaps! Damnable? No! We all have bad taste in something and yours might be in the sources you seek validation from (MINE IS, TOO!! Or it least it was for a long time).
Now comes some harder work: what to do with this desire to validate older, ostensibly smart men and how to not make it a focal point of your life. (I will admit that part of me wants to suggest you join a sugar daddy website and take money from older men and donate it charity, which I used to kind of do, but also that is a fraught and often dangerous path so I don’t actually suggest it). I think it would likely be helpful to think about what exactly about their attention validates your self worth. Is it that they are smart? Are you worried people don’t see you as smart? How can you address the need to be seen as smart in a different way? Could you volunteer to tutor someone? That’s a single example and might not have anything to do with your own personal need for validation, but I’m just giving you one idea of what it might look like to unpack some of this. It’s ok— nay, healthy— to want to be validated!! To want attention! To want attention from people you admire! The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was telling us that wanting attention from others was base or pathological and not just a normal human need. We just got to get you to a place where you’re garnering that attention in healthy ways that make you feel better about yourself and not cheapened.
While you’re at it, think about the other spaces in your life where you feel really loved, cared for, desired, and appreciated. Seek out extra experiences like that. Maybe you make amazing themed snacks for Game of Thrones night. Maybe it’s planning beach trips with your friends. Maybe you hit your zenith when you nail “I Will Survive” at karaoke. I don’t know! But I don’t know there are other places you likely feel radiant that aren’t just around crusty, dusty old men; you’re likely only focused on the old dudes because that’s the validation source that feels bad and transgressive and makes your own skin want to shrivel up and swallow you whole because why are you still stuck in this pattern, self? Change the narrative. Remind yourself that the pattern you described is not the only fact about yourself, and in fact it’s not even a defining fact. You’re not a funny, hardworking, kind person who happens to fall for unavailable professors. You’re a funny, hardworking, kind person.
As a note on what I hope becomes a little journey of self-care: be gentle with yourself. This growth (if it comes) will not be linear. You can be doing great for months, ignoring the approval of hunky professors, walkin’ to class with a briefcase swingin’ and a coffee mug steamin’ like the opening scene of Devil Wears Prada or some shit, and then one day, BAM! someone you admired (hornily) eight years ago emails you out of the blue and you’re right back in it. That’s ok. That will happen. The job is to recognize your patterns (check! You’ve already done this!), figure out where they stem from (start here!), and then eventually work with your brain to fight against these patterns (we will get there!) so that you can live the life you deserve to live free of the approval of dusty ass professor types. I would strongly recommend therapy if you can find it and afford it— a lot of places have affordable therapy options, but I know they are difficult to find and time consuming to seek out, so I get it if this doesn’t happen— because a therapist is a great ally to have on this fun little self growth journey moment you’re about to embark on.
ANOTHER SWEETIE: As a climate change activist, don’t you think having kids is irresponsible? I’m struggling between all the reasons not to have kids and the very real maternal instinct trying to take over.
SOPHIA: No exaggeration, I think about this question every single day, and have for about two years now. Even if climate change weren’t happening, I am in no place to have children (it apparently costs money??? and you have to make them dinner??? every night???) so it’s very dumb of me to be thinking about this quandary so much, but I also think about Ben Affleck’s back tattoo almost every day, so it’s not like I could be using my brain for other, more valiant things. And now, it’s finally time to synthesize my 10,000+ hours of practice into expertise and answer this question. Let’s do this!!! (I’m panicking about climate change and using a lot of punctuation to stave that off).
First of all (even though this is like the fifth thing I’ve said), understand that a lot of calls for population control/overpopulation as an issue are about racism more than anything else. The calls always “slyly” mention that people in Africa are having a lot of kids, WHICH IS A RACIST THING TO SAY. And if you google the history of eugenics for even 12 seconds, you’ll understand that one thing genocide advocates like to start their genocides with is the premise that people of a certain group are having too many kids and thus straining the economy. This is bullshit and evil, which is a big reason I loathe all these people who say that overpopulation is the problem. Also, the carbon footprint of someone living in a third world country and someone living in the US is fucking MASSIVE. Plus, not only are these calls to cull the population usually racist, they’re often wrong. And that brings me to the first prong of the question: the will this actually help with climate change part.
There is a way for our planet to sustainably hold 10 billion people and to feed them and care for them. (This is a utopian ideal, I know it won’t happen unless we really get to eating the rich). But that is an option. Caring for more people without CO2 emissions going up is possible. Not only that, between natural disasters and antibiotic resistance rising and food shortages and refugee crises etc, etc, most models show that the population is going to plateau soon (around 2050 in most studies) and then start going downhill. So the population is likely going to fall whether you have a baby or not. Now, here’s where the pro-child camp often adds, “YOUR CHILD ALSO MIGHT BE A GENIUS WHO SOLVES CLIMATE CHANGE!!!” Which is dumb as fuck. Your kid is not going to solve climate change. We’ve already done that. We know what to do, we know what we need to do. Most likely your child is going to add carbon to the air and take nothing out of the air. Your child will not be a net positive for the carbon emissions problem; that’s a weird fantasy and a lot of pressure to put on a baby. Let that idea go. But it does bring me to the second prong of the conundrum: is it ethical for the kid.
Is it ethical to bring a kid into a world that is mostly likely going to suck a lot? That might even see major societal collapse? That might end? And here, for me personally, is the real rub. Because it can seem cruel to bequeath this shithole world to a sweet little baby who just wants to shit her pants and put choking hazards in her mouth. In the words of Beyonce, “What a fucking curse.” HOWEVER— and a lot of people rightfully disagree with me, and your job is now to decide if you think this next part is utter bullshit or makes enough sense for you to use it to justify your choice— I’m not sure that the sole point of creating new life is for that life to be good or easy. Or at least, I don’t think that only people who can give their child an easy, breezy, beautiful life should feel ok having kids. Were that the case, it would be unethical for anyone other than rich, landed, white men to procreate. A lot of people throughout history have had kids into pretty bad times. Times that saw their people face existential threats. As Mary Annaïse Heglar so brilliantly explains, “Climate Change Ain’t the First Existential Threat.” In a very cynical, reductionistic view of what it means to procreate (if you are willing to, for a quick second, indulge me in acting as if humans are purely animals without the ability to philosophize and reason), in times of crises, there is some argument that it is more important to continue to procreate to make sure some babies survive.
Now, that is a wide view of what the world is dealing with in terms of the future of humanity and all that jazz, plus I have VERY LITTLE INFO ABOUT WHAT IS COMING NEXT. But I would encourage you to add joy to your life wherever you can, and to prepare yourself and your potential future children (if you choose to have them) as best as possible for pain and grief. They will be born into a world of a lot of those two things. The glimmer of hope is that throughout history thousands of people have survived being born into a world of pain and grief. There is no guarantee that life will be easy for anyone. Even rich people are born with chronic illnesses sometimes. There’s nothing you can do to make your baby’s life a smooth ride, and I suspect that’s the hardest part of being a parent at any point in history.
Anyway, don’t let anyone make you feel like this personal choice is theirs to make for you. Even that stupid Forbes article that ran yesterday. No matter what you do, it will be hard, but it will also be good. You can’t go wrong.
YET ANOTHER SWEETIE: My husband and I were friends with a couple (T&S) for about a year and the 4 of us were pretty inseparable. We are non-monogamous and had hooked up with the other couple both separately and also together. When they started to have relationship issues I got the hint that S was trying to use sex with my husband and I as a replacement for intimacy in his relationship. We stopped hooking up with them. They eventually broke up, and T seemed to move on with his life. S, on the other hand, moved into an apartment a few floors below us and has become increasingly clingy and has spent the past 6 months buying us gifts and desperately trying to hang out.
He has spent hundreds of dollars on random gifts for us, most of which I have politely declined, or at least tried to. One night we were hanging out and I told S we had to go to bed early so we left. We went home and watched TV for a while before bed. S texted my husband asking if he could bring over a gift he got us and my husband lied and said I was asleep and he was in the bath. I said to my husband that S was being weird and that he was making me uncomfortable. S texted my husband again and said he would slip the gift under our door. Then he did, immediately afterwards. It was clear that he had been standing outside our apartment door, probably listening to us talk about him. I've mostly tried to avoid hanging out with him since. When we ask if he's going on dates he says he's not ready. When he planned his birthday party he invited us, and all our friends. I'm worried that he doesn't have any other friends and that he's desperately afraid of losing us. His friendship is becoming an emotional burden on both my husband and I and don't know how much longer I can hold out. I don't want to end our friendship, but something needs to change. How can I convince him to meet (and bother) other people again?
SOPHIA: I need to warn you that I’m about to use caps lock, not to yell at you — because you do not ever deserve to be yelled at— but for emphasis of how serious I am. Are you ready? (Again, this is not a yell).
THAT PERSON IS NOT YOUR FRIEND.
That person seems like your friend because you’ve known them for a very long time, you’ve given them a lot of emotional labor time, and you’ve had some level of sexual relationship with them, all of which are things that your brain is telling you are part of being a friend. But your brain is being a little brat right now!!!!!!! Actually, your brain is being a total fucking dick and tricking you into thinking you owe this person time simply because this person “hasn’t done anything wrong,” and because, you have been trained your whole entire life to be more kind to people than you need to be.
Well beep beep times up bitch!!!! (You are NOT a bitch, that’s just a saying that I invented right now.) If you go back and read what you wrote, you describe this person as clingy, bothersome, and an “emotional burden” and you mention quite literally nothing good that they add to you or your husband’s life. All I see is a person who used to be a sexual partner who is not respecting boundaries AT ALL. That is not nice or kind or anything else that you want in a friend; that’s cruel and manipulative.
This person has gone so far as to become an enemy to the main relationship in your life, which is not only wildly inappropriate, it’s potentially ruinous for you and your husband. In my opinion, you cannot afford to wait until an uncrossable line is crossed by this person. Luckily, your husband seems very onboard with setting these boundaries and seems to understand the severity of the issue at the same level you do, but you both need to wake up and change the terror alert level to orange or red. There is a threat to your marriage and mental health happening here and you both need to go into mama bear protective mode.
I think the first step is to communicate new (FIRM, NONNEGOTIABLE) boundaries with S, immediately. I would send a text so that you can’t walk back what you were planning to say or soften the message face to face because you feel bad for them. I would send something like this (after editing 1,973,932 times in the notes app first), “Hey, S, Husband and I are feeling uncomfortable with how this new situation has unfolded. We had really great times with you in the past, and this doesn’t erase any of that. We’re a little concerned that because of that closeness boundaries got blurry. We feel like you deserve our honesty. You’ve been incredibly thoughtful with gifts since the break up, but we no longer feel that’s appropriate as the relationship between all of us has changed. We trust that you understand this. Also, we know that living so close by means that we get to see you more, but we need more space as a couple.” (Put it in your own words obviously)
Do not include the word sorry in this text, do not open the door to more invites or more time spent with this person. Don’t end this message with an invite to something because you feel guilty. BE HONEST. All of what I wrote above is honest. It’s not harsh or mean. But it will likely be hard to hear for your friend. That’s ok. They may get angry, which is fine; anger is often a cover for embarrassment, which is what they are likely feeling after behaving as they did (I mean, wouldn’t you be embarrassed to move into someone’s apartment building and pseudo stalk them?). Hold firm. Get your husband on board when you write the message. If you guys can stay somewhere away from the apartment building for a night, that’s probably good (especially if you think S is the type of person to come knocking on your door demanding more energy from you or worse).
You do not owe people who do not respect your boundaries time, love, or attention. In fact, you don’t owe anyone that. Even if they have no other friends. Even if they’re mostly “nice,” just a bit desperate. That is not why you are on this earth for 80 years. There are plenty of kind, lovely people who deserve all the kindness you’ve wasted on a person who is manipulating you. You can feel bad for someone and still not give them your time, ok?