DEAR SJ: My ex just responded after a month of ghosting me. The only thing in the message was “I’m sorry”. What the hell do I do?
— Lonely Larry
Dear Lonely Loser:
Very simple. You may respond in one of two ways.
First option, which is What I (and 11 out of 10 psychotherapists) Recommend, is this: absolutely nothing. Why should you? Were you waiting for an apology? If so, you didn’t get it.
What you got was a passive-aggressive manipulation tactic to get you to respond with For what? Thereby re-engaging with the enemy, allowing her to draw you in to her web once more. And, like the trapdoor spider, you won’t know what’s hit you until you’re back in her clutches and unable to find your way to freedom unless someone else re-spiked your Kool-Aid with the antidote to the poison she’ll be feeding you about how she made a mistake and you two were meant to be together.
Frankly, shit like this doesn’t happen unless she wants something from you. If you’ve been “ghosted”, that means you’ve been initiating contact with her without receiving expected responses during that whole time. That doesn’t happen between people who respect one another. For one, if she respected you, she would have responded. And for two, if you respected you, you wouldn’t have kept reaching out to her during this ghosting period. You would have taken the hint after the first message went unreplied and stopped, and then when she replied with “I’m sorry,” you could have dropped the New phone, who dis? meme and we’d all have a belly laugh.
Also, if you were waiting for an apology, why? If she’s your ex-girlfriend, then that’s in the past. You don’t want to get with her. You and she had your time together, and now it’s time for both of you to move forward.
Basically, there’s a great line that says, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
There’s great advice about life, love, relationships, career, how to live a good life, finances, career decisions, even spiritual dilemmas.
Frankly, I think this should be within reach of every single porcelain throne, nightstand, and above the Gideon Bible in every North American hotel room. But since I don’t quite have the capital to make that happen, I’ll just go with this instead.
I would LOVE for you all to head over, pick up a copy, and leave a review.
So, you know how I’ve been writing extremely bad advice over on my Patreon page? Well, what better way to celebrate over 100 nuggets of pure wisdom inflicted on this modern world than to give back by making them even more accessible?
Targeting November 25 (Black Friday) for release, as this is, in my mind, the ultimate gag gift. Don’t believe me? Here’s the pitch:
In Everything Is Your Fault SJ answers public advice questions with straightforward, no-nonsense common-sense answers that everyone absolutely should follow. But, since basically everybody except him is a raging dimwit, he also stoops to that level and panders to those who just want their preconceived ideas validated.
Great for gag gifts, Yankee Swap, or just to get back at that self-righteous sister who always thinks she’s better than you, Everything Is Your Fault will be a staple in your trash pile faster than you can say “adoofussayswhat”.
Do it again because you did it wrong the first time. Correct the mistake, as much as you can, and attempt to avoid making that same mistake again.
Do it again because you did it right the first time, and yet despite your efforts, the results were not as you wished. Perhaps there were external forces. Perhaps there was a chaotic winds inpired by a toucan flapping its wings inopportunately in the Amazon basin. Perhaps an unforseen tragic cosmic event happened just at the critical moment, a sunspot or a radiation burst from a far galaxy finally reaching us, and the neutrons and photons and neutrinos reacted in the one in ten trillion ways they needed to in order to somehow subvert your efforts, and as a result, reduced your outcome to something unanticipated, undesired, unacceptable.
Do it again because you did everything right and got the results you wanted. It worked, didn’t it? You got what you wanted – the date, the publication, the promotion – and so why should you stop there? Do you have a vision for the next avenue of approach? Pursue then. Are you interested in seeking out alternatives, [illegible], accelerations of what you just achieved? Do those too, building on your success as what you have to make it more special.
But don’t forget, in the real thing in the first time, to celebrate what you have achieved. Do not assume that it is what is not; you wanted that – Do not dismiss it so cavalierly as unacceptable or unfortunate. There is no way to arrange your world in which you are both always leveling up and ever satisfied with your achievements. So take the time, now to celebrate, to bask in the glory of what you have done, to see yourself as an accomplisher of things, of good things, of the ways you attempt and compete for being something valuable in your life. There is more to be done, yes. There is an infinite amount. And thus it is worthwhile to stop and accept your accomplishments as a validation, a positive, a good thing that you have completed.
And then, when you have satisfied that itch for confirmation and endearment…
My partner has recently developed a disgusting habit, what do I do?
My partner lately has been picking his nose and eating his boogers and whenever I see him do it out of the corner of my eye I want to throw up. We’ve been together over 5 years and it’s something he’s only started doing recently. I’ve been too grossed out and honestly kind of shocked to say anything about it, what should I do/how should I talk to him about it?
— Can’t Remove the Mental Image
Is this really a problem? How infantile has our society gotten where adults don’t even have the wherewithal to engage in a reasonable conversation with someone they’re apparently sharing your life with?
How hard is this? “Hey, Jack, I saw you pick your nose and eat it the other day. Are you eight? Knock that shit off! At least, when I’m around. And if you do it before you get near me, please have the decency to give the ol’ Listerine bottle a once-over before you toss my salad.”
Good lord. It’s like we’ve created a whole community of seven-year-olds in thirty-year-old bodies with jobs and responsibilities and shit. If I were in charge, first thing I’d do is institute a “Breeding License” test. We start with a simple operation on every boy and girl beginning at about age seven. Then, in order to get your license, you must first demonstrate that you can perform such simple societally-beneficial functions like self-management and having a reasonable conversation with another human being before you could get your tubes un-tied.
Maybe that way we’d give ourselves a bit of time to grow the fuck up and realize that conflict, especially emotional confrontation, is not a catastrophe to be avoided at all costs. In fact, those smaller, seemingly unimportant conversations are actually like an emotional vaccine, strengthening our systems for the harder work that we’ll have to do in the future.
note – this was originally published on the Trailhead Conference blog, which has since gone bye-bye. I subsequently published it on an also-bye-bye Medium.com page (link for teh googlez).
May, 2014. Interior, downtown Indianapolis branch of a large national bank. One personal banker seated across from me in a standard bank chair. One person, me, seated in my standard bank chair, listening to her speak.
The personal banker was, at best 26 years old. She had no clue what was happening in my life. She had no idea what had been transpiring the last six months, or the last six years. And because of that ignorance, what she said next devastated me.
She put her hands together, index fingers and thumbs touching, as if she were about to play a quick rhythm on a small drum. “So,” she said, and as she started to separate her hands (like Moses parting a bowl of soup), the next five words destroyed my life as I knew it and launched me full-blown into my “mid-life crisis”.
I have stated for the record my opinion that the term mid-life crisis is inappropriate, but since it’s still a fairly common term I’m going to continue to use it here. Plus we have the pejorative expectation that if you’re going through your mid-life crisis, that this is some kind of failure of your character. That you are somehow weak because you can’t stand up to the demands of life, and you’re seeking an easy way out.
Well, let me tell you, my mid-life crisis was certainly not a failure of my character. I don’t think anyone who saw me go through that would have said I was weak. That I had failed. That I had given up and was looking for a shortcut or a way out.
No, what happened to me was, essentially, a combination of multiple storms all hitting within a six-month period. And, to be honest, only one of those could be considered my fault.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Your mid-life crisis happens to you, it does not happen because of you. Most often this is a period of searching, of introspection, of exploration, and usually they’re set off by some inciting incident. Mine lasted about two years, kicked off by four different major events all coming together in a pretty short time frame.
Within six months: my car died on the highway; my faith died in the pew; my career died in the cubicle; and my marriage died in a nursing home. I only noticed this was happening, though, when that personal banker spoke five short, simple words.
Before I tell you what those words were…
Allow me to back up a little. I think it’s important you know some of what was going on at the time.
In the fall of 2013 I was 36 years old.
I’d been married for 14 years, and my wife and I had four children. I had a stable job at an insurance company, a reasonable group of friends at church, and some neighbors who knew a bit of what we were going through.
One cold Thursday evening in November, on the way home from work, I was driving down I-70 out of Indianapolis. My 1999 Toyota Corolla was flowing along like normal when, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. I managed to avoid getting squished by the passing 18-wheelers and get it off to the side of the road, and then to a gas station, through a clever system of keeping my foot on the accelerator just enough to keep the engine on, but not so much that I sped up and needed to hit the brakes, because every time I did that it stalled out again.
Five hours later, after a tow truck wait and a phone call to my mother-in-law to ask for an emergency run to take care of my kids, I got home with my never-to-run-again vehicle. For some guys, this could be the thing that starts them questioning, “Hey, what’s going on here?”
One of them might take a few days, decide that the repair would be worth more than the car, and just junk it. When he comes back from the dealership with an impractical new sports car, all the neighbors look at him funny. Classic symptom of the mid-life crisis, and the associated judgment, because all they see is indulgence.
What he was thinking, though, could have been just about anything. From “I’ve never had something that’s just for me” to “It’s my last chance before I have to get another minivan,” his thoughts could have been anywhere. Too bad we often judge those who are in the middle of this so quickly.
For me, it wasn’t that momentous on its own. But a flood was building, a silent accumulation of nature’s power that soon I would be unable to ignore. The car, though, was just the start. Strike one.
A couple of months later, around February of 2014,
I realized I wasn’t enjoying my work any longer. Sure, I was productive, as I needed to be. But I was also spending excessive amounts of time browsing the internet at work, doing side projects that made it “look” like I was working, and just getting the minimum done. I guess, since everyone essentially knew my home situation, they gave me some slack.
Yet as I looked to the future, I could see that my heart just wasn’t in it. I couldn’t imagine pushing spreadsheets and databases for the next 30 years. It wasn’t in me to just keep doing a job for that long, and then retire to say, “Now what?”
It would be another year before I actually quit, but that intervening time I was actually dead in the office, just walking around and doing enough to not get fired. Strike two.
A few weeks after that, all of my spiritual questions began to come to a head. I’d been dealing with these issues for nearly a year, ever since God made a promise that did not come true, and I finally could not accept the absolutism, the short-sightedness, the irrationality, and the hypocrisy of my church any longer.
It’s not like there were any big scandals. (Those are often inciting incidents in and of themselves.) It was just that I started to see that for many of the congregants, their professed faith and their actions did not jive.
I saw countless instances of prayer for “a miracle” healing for someone who, frankly, would have been better off dead. And if, as they said they believed, that the home of the soul was in Heaven, why in Hell would they be striving so hard to keep such a soul imprisoned in this sinful, cursed, pained body? It didn’t make sense. That, and dozens of other questions and concerns came together to make me finally say, “You know, I don’t know whether there really is a God or not.”
When I could finally call myself an agnostic, that signified the death of my faith.
Unfortunately, I was so oblivious to it all that I didn’t yet see the writing on the wall. I ignored the incredible tidal wave of change looming, and I continued to push on harder and harder in the things I was doing, to make it seem like I was “okay”.
Finally, in May of 2014, the dam burst.
That young, naïve personal banker put her hands together and spread them apart. “So,” she said, and that was all right. Nothing wrong with that. “If you’re separating your finances…”
And the bell tolled for my marriage.
One more flashback may be in order.
In March of 2013, my wife was admitted to a rehabilitation facility, in order to supplement the stem cell treatment she’d recently received in India. She was having neurological degeneration, causing balance problems, emotional problems, and keeping her from caring for herself. We had spent two months in India for the treatment, and had been home for a month with little progress. The thought was, go live in the rehab facility and get help daily, to get back on track.
Eight months later, without any progress to show for the time, it was necessary to have her admitted to Medicaid, so we didn’t have to exhaust my financial resources to pay for her care.
After admission, the State of Indiana gives you 6 months to get the Medicaid recipient’s name off of all the accounts. Which I did, leading to me in a Bank of America office downtown Indianapolis. I explained the situation, and what I was doing, and how I needed new accounts that were just me and not joint accounts any longer. She said, “So, if you’re separating your finances-” and I didn’t hear a word after that.
I didn’t cry, then, but that was the moment that I lost my marriage. It was at that point that I realized we were separated. As much as I’d tried to fight it, as much as I’d denied the fact that we hadn’t had any kind of relationship for over a year, my marriage was done. We were separated, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and, now, financially. My marriage had died in that nursing home, and I had only just realized it while sitting in a bank.
Four momentous, life-changing, potentially tragic events
that, yeah, reasonably would make one stand up and ask, “What in the world am I doing here? What does this mean for me? Where do I go? How do I move forward, when everything that I used to know just keeps changing on me?”
With all of those things coming at me, who’s to say that I was weak? That I was a poor judge of character? That I was at fault for any of that? Perhaps you can perhaps blame the religion thing on me. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith. But isn’t that just a demonstration of actual faith, that it’s not something imparted upon a soul, but it is an actual article of belief, that you choose to believe or not? And if I was finding more information that contradicted my original belief, do I not owe it to myself to at least consider that maybe my beliefs are wrong, and that I would do well to reconsider?
So… that’s how I came to my mid-life crisis. My journey out from that bottom took about two years. Lots of introspection. Lots of crying in the car, questioning and yelling and singing silly songs because I just didn’t know what else to do. Lots of long walks by myself, talking to myself, talking to the voices in my head, talking to the geese on the side of the path. Did those things make me weak? Did those things make me a bad person?
And they are not for any other person who’s going through similar, or even very different, circumstances. There’s a real good reason why, even without major inciting incidents, that a mid-life crisis happens to good people, even if your car is still running and your faith is still flowing and your job is still reasonable and your marriage is still intact.
For the rest of us? Those who had some big “F you” from the universe that kicked us out of our comfort zones? We know better. We know we were actually doing a lot. We know we were sometimes doing much, much more than those who looked down their noses at us for being weak or self-indulgent. We know that we knew better than they did just what, exactly, was going on inside our own heads. And our results afterwards showed.
Experience. Transformation. Growth. We did these things and we came out of our mid-life crises set up for great things in the future.
It turns out this post was not about my mid-life crisis at all.
I’ve said that mine was all four of those things falling apart all at once, but, really, it’s probably more the two years that came after that were the crisis itself. Those events were just instigators.
And the straw that broke the camel’s back was, after all, really simple. Just 5 little words: “If you’re separatingyour finances.”
Be careful with your words, friends. You never know when they’ll have the power to change lives.
I don’t have space here for a full discussion of all that went on in my head (and in my house) over those subsequent months, but I probably will write about that in the future. For now, though, I just have a couple of take-aways.
For someone going through it right now: Keep going. You are the only one who knows everything that’s going on. And, yeah, it probably feels like you’re inadequate to the task, and that you are an impostor, and that you really just wish everyone else would shut up about it and let you get on with your life. You’re right. They should. But they’re probably not going to, so you’ll just continue on faking it, hoping to outlast the crisis as it blows itself out. You can do it.
And for those who are watching someone go through it, whether that be a family member, friend, or co-worker: Cut them a little slack, please. Let’s not pretend like you have any clue what’s going on inside that head, or inside their house, or inside their church, or inside their body. Let’s also stop with the hollow attempts at encouragements like “I can’t imagine what you’re going through! You must be so strong!” You’re right, you can’t imagine it. And I, while I’m in it, don’t feel that strong. I mostly feel like a fake, and if I really let down my guard and showed you the terrible thoughts inside my head, I imagine you’d run away screaming.
So let’s stop with the empty gestures, huh? Just be real, and give people some space and time to explore. You might not like where they’re going, but, hey, you don’t have to live their lives.
My dad is a veteran and a goofball who is not very in touch with his emotions. Our childhood dog passed today, and I want to send my dad something to show him some love. He often feels guilty for showing emotions and despite that, he is clearly heart broken about our dog passing today. He could barely tell me. Our dog was the best companion to our family the last 16 years and she really helped my dad as an emotional support dog, especially when he was struggling with PTSD. He lives far away, so I want to send him something to show him some love. Any ideas?? He’s not really a flower guy and I don’t think anything overly sentimental would be right either.
— Long-Distance Mourner
Okay, clearly, this is a little out of my league. I know, I know, shocker that SJ would admit he’s not quite up to snuff!
But, yeah, every once in a while even a blind pig finds an acorn. See, this seems to be out of my usual realm of expertise because it’s clearly not about you. You’re not trying to manipulate your father into loving you again, or it’s not one of those situations where he’s been moping around the house for three months because Fluffy died and the dishes are piling up and the toilet’s dirty and you just want him to get off his ass already and contribute again.
Those situations are right up my alley because, generally, the problem is not the problem. It’s a symptom of something deeper, and just manifests as emotional distance or laziness. If those were the case, I’d blame the dog’s death, rather than laziness or your father’s drinking problem or your own whoreishness that’s instilling a negative reputation upon the whole family.
But here, the dog has left the building and that is the problem. You want to know what to do? Let’s start with what to don’t instead.
Don’t tell him that “It’s okay, she’s in a better place now.” That’s just ridiculous, facetious, and doesn’t do anything for his feelings.
Don’t tell him not to feel sad. We don’t choose our emotions. They’re an evolutionarily-crafted signal about the environments in which we find ourselves. We can’t decide not to feel something. We can only decide how to act.
Don’t tell him to “Get over it.” Even if this funk or fugue lasts months, that’s not doing anything for him. You think he doesn’t want to just get over it? Fuck! That’s exactly what he’s been hoping for!
You don’t get what you “want”. You get what you work for.
A friend once said, “It’s not real unless it’s on the calendar.”
For a long time, I “wanted” to do stand-up comedy. I would see the people on Comedy Central or late-night TV, and laugh, and think, “Hey, I’ve got some good jokes. I bet I could get a laugh or two.”
But then, I’d never do anything about it.
For years, I “wanted” to write good stories. But did I? Nope. Oh, sure, I wrote stories, but did I make them good? Did I get critiques? Did I revise and refine? Did I study the craft of plot, and characterization, and setting?
Nah, I just wrote whatever came out, and called it “good enough”.
For a long time, I didn’t really “want” to be an actuary. But I passed exams, participated in ethics trainings, completed monthly deliverables, cashed my paychecks, etc.
I was a hell of a lot more actuary than I was stand-up comic or writer.
So what’s the difference? It’s all in what you’re willing to work for.
See, when you “want” to be successful, or when you “want” to go to Italy, or when you “want” to someday do stand-up comedy, you’ve already achieved the goal. Your brain calls the “wanting” good enough and doesn’t worry about following through.
Mindset and deadlines give you something to work for.
With the stand-up comedy thing, I didn’t really have a deadline. Until I heard that there was an open mic at a bar on a night I was already planning to be at. So I put it on the calendar – I said, “I’m going to be at that open mic and I’m going to try my jokes!”
When it became I will instead of I want, it was real, and then it actually happened. I told a few jokes, got a few laughs, and I’ve done it a handful of times since.
The big difference was, there was something on the calendar. There was a real, concrete date with real, concrete expectations. And there was a change in how I talked to myself.
When it was Someday I want to do open mic, my brain did its standard shortcut thing and decided that I’d already achieved the goal.
When it was Next Wednesday, I will be on that stage, my brain couldn’t ignore the reality staring it in the face. While my subconscious produced tons of doubts and fears that were trying to get me out of being vulnerable, my conscious mind said “You don’t have control in this situation,” and did the thing anyway.
The thing is, you never get anywhere by wanting something. You can only make change by doing something.
Lots of people want to be a world traveler. Or in a healthy relationship. Or a successful CEO. But they don’t actually do the things that would get them to that place. Again, I think it’s because when we think of ourselves as wanting things, our brains assume that wanting is the end goal and don’t see a need for more effort.
Instead, what if you thought in terms of “I’m becoming a…”?
I’m becoming a world traveler. My next trip is to Italy in the summer. Wouldn’t that constantly remind your brain that you’ve got to book the ticket, get the passport, buy the new luggage, save for the plane trip, and hit the gym?
I’m becoming a stand-up comic. I’m searching for open mic nights within an hour from me. Wouldn’t this demonstrate just how much opportunity there is, give you incentive to talk to the others after the show, and actually do something with that Twitter handle you registered years ago?
I’m becoming a newscaster. Wouldn’t this lead you to practice in front of your mirror nights and weekends, write and rewrite your copy, and make the LinkedIn connections you need in order to get the entry-level producing job that leads to the field reporting job that leads to the weekend desk job which leads to the 6 PM anchor position?
Nobody every got where they wanted to go just by wanting to go there. They actually worked for it. That’s the big difference.
Me? I don’t “want” to be a successful author. I am, however, becoming one.
I have been blessed with a gorgeous 4-year-old daughter who is (even more importantly) smart, funny and kind, but I have an issue. Every time we go anywhere or meet someone new, the person feels the need to comment on her beauty. We receive comments like, “Just wait till she’s older. Boys will be all over her!” This happens not only with older distant relatives and my in-laws, but also random people at the grocery store.
I understand they are trying to pay a compliment, but I find it disturbing that they are thinking about my little girl in this way. I’m tired of it, but I’m not sure of the appropriate response when people make these comments.
— Protective Mom
Let me get this straight. People are complimenting your daughter, and you’re upset? What is it about this world do you not get? In case you haven’t noticed, pretty people have the most advantage of all. Forget white privilege, male privilege, Ivy-League privilege. Sexy privilege tops all those in terms of the opportunities it offers a person.
The world is very shallow. Pretty people get more job offers, bigger raises, more sex, and more free shit when they don’t actually need that free shit. I mean, have you ever seen an ugly newscaster? Or a 3 on the main stage at Madison Square Garden? No, no you haven’t. And you’re not likely to, either. “A face for radio” isn’t just a funny joke. Sex sells, and it will continue to dominate the minds and wallets (because it dominates the genitalia) of this world for a long time to come…
Hey friends! Your friendly resident ass back again. Just wanted you to know that I’ve launched a new blog on Patreon! This one will stay up for the SEO and for longer works, and act as a funnel to the Extremely Bad Advice blog itself.
I’ll still post here to drive additional traffic, so if you want to read and be entertained, by all means. Here’s one that is now live over there, and will be for at least a week after launch.
Dear SJ: I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time, this is my first time writing. I have to admit, I’ve been having major anxiety for the past few years and only recently found a therapist I like. Sometimes he is very helpful. He helps me through some rough patches, but, to be honest, he’s not that professional. Sometimes he’ll go off on tangents, talking about topics I’m not interested in or that don’t really affect me. It’s frustrating. We’re supposed to be there to talk about my issues, not his problems. When this happens, how can I get him back on track quickly? If something doesn’t change soon, I’m going to have to stop seeing him. I need help for my anxiety and he’s not doing that.
— Seeking Real Change in Raleigh
Dear Seeking, I’m so glad you wrote.
This is bound to be one of my best columns, if I do say so myself, because, believe it or not, I am uniquely qualified to give you advice in this area. You see, I happen to know, for a fact, that anxiety is not real, you’re just making it up. I know this because you state that this “therapist” sometimes helps, but you and I know that the only person who’s really doing anything for you is you.
First of all, if this guy really were getting you results, he would be consistently doing it, not only occasionally. “Sometimes”? That’s not enough. Teeter-totters don’t only sometimes go up on one end when you push down on the other. Gravity doesn’t only sometimes work. And by the same token, if a therapist actually worked to help with your anxiety, it wouldn’t only be sometimes. The fact that you sometimes feel better after talking with him, and sometimes not, is more likely just due to random fluctuation than any kind of cause-and-effect.
And second of all, let’s be honest, anxiety isn’t even real.