Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Ask Polly: I Feel Bitter About All Of My Exes And I Can't Get Over It!

Dear Polly,

I'm a 32-year-old single woman. I love my life—my friends, my job, the city in which I live. I have a creative outlet and I exercise and I have a lot of passion for living. But inside I have a problem with bitterness. I feel bitter every single day. I can't stop thinking about the men who have hurt me, and I think about at least two or three of them every day (not always the same ones), sometimes during the day, but mostly at night when I'm trying to fall asleep. I think about when things were good, and then how they hurt me, and I wonder why they didn't love me, and I imagine what I would say to them if I saw them again, and then I tumble into a stony feeling of grit, of wanting to be invulnerable. I have a physical response to these emotions—my chest hurts, my stomach hurts, and the pain stretches out to my fingertips. I lose my breath in the pain. I sometimes wonder if in some way I actually enjoy this awful feeling, just because it's feeling something in my heart. But I fear that it will make me sick in the long run. I feel like it's gonna give me cancer or ulcers just to think these sad, echoing thoughts every day.

I don't want to be bitter, and I don't want to be that friend everyone feels sorry for because she's perpetually single, but that's what I'm turning into. When things do go well with a guy, I am able to forget about my past pain and let myself believe in a future with someone I like, if cautiously. But it never works out, and I don't know why. I'm not clingy or high-maintenance; I like who I am and what I'm doing with my life; I have my own life but I want to share it with someone, and I just keep getting hurt. With the last two guys I dated, I actually felt that elusive "click" of feeling connected to someone and like I could be myself with them and being able to see myself with them for a long time, which hasn't happened in ages, but it turned out that neither of them were interested in trying a long-term relationship with me. And I don't know how many instances of the death of hope I can take, or how many men will fit in my Rolodex of Men Who've Made Me Bitter.

It's getting really, really hard to keep getting out there and trying, and to stay positive and open about myself and about men. I'm sick of convincing/allowing myself to let go and be vulnerable and then being crushed in the end, and I'm sick of feeling this nightly blank emptiness punctuated by the stabbing emotional pain of bitterness. I haven't had a real boyfriend in over five years. I'm tired and I'm lonely and I'm beginning to feel like a ghost. How can I stop obsessing over the people who have hurt me, and how can I move forward in my romantic life without fear, or worse, apathy? Thanks for your help.


Alone Again, Naturally

Dear AAN,
The first thing you need to know—understand, believe, breathe in—is that there is nothing wrong with you. There. Is. Nothing. Wrong. With. You. The guys who hurt you, the guys who don't want to date you: These people are irrelevant. They are not your mother. They are not your father or your sister or your best friend. Compared to your parents, your friends, they are nothing—flies in the room, cockroaches in the cupboard. Nothing. Fixating on them is like fixating on marrying George Clooney. They are irrelevant.

So why do they feel relevant to you? Because you BELIEVE that there's something wrong with you, and you're trying to figure out what it is. That belief is what's wrong with you.

Every night you pray to the gods of rejection. Your prayer ritual involves replaying the past, loading one reel after another, footage of men who broke your heart, as if that's romantic or special, getting your heart broken. Meanwhile, those guys—like so many—were probably just allergic to emotion or seriousness of purpose or vulnerability. I'm not being a dick about it—ask any man and he'll back me up. Maybe they simply weren't mature enough to handle your or anyone else. And yet, the reel footage seems dramatic, the mystery seems compelling. How did you screw it all up? What did you do to turn them away? The problem lies somewhere in you, not in them. They were rational, intelligent beings whose rejections said something important about what's screwed up about you. If only you could figure out what it was!

Cobbling together a string of rejections by men and trying to make sense of them is like trying to read tea leaves. Why? Because single men have many, many allergies.

Most single men are gluten-sensitive, lactose-intolerant, asthmatic mutants. They can't tolerate wheat or soy or fleeting glimpses of heaviness. When they sense substance, regrets, high stakes, potential long-term entanglements, concern, interest, a pulse, they flee in terror like neurotic dogs in the presence of teetering lamps. The smallest change in weather, the tiniest shift in cabin pressure, the most minuscule adjustment in tone or mood sends them running.

It's not personal. It's not even interesting. It's certainly not the stuff of mystery, nothing to build a lifelong religion around. YOU ARE CURRENTLY PRAYING AT THE ALTAR OF THE MOST TEDIOUS RELIGION IN THE UNIVERSE. (I'm not shaming you! Sweet Christ in high heaven almighty NO, I understand. Every single woman reading this understands!) Go ask a man what he thinks about another man having rejected you. He'll snort like even contemplating it for half a second demeans both of you. If you push it, he'll say maybe the guy met someone on the subway, or maybe he had a bad reaction to some mussels and then he didn't feel like explaining it, or maybe he was bored. Guys assume that other guys are indifferent unless they have explicit proof otherwise.

So should you.

Instead of digging into the reasons for this state of affairs, instead treating it as your personal fucking responsibility to root out the problem and eradicate it, instead of redoubling your efforts to be more lovable and better, always approaching some infinite ideal of the whip-smart but easy-going professional with a body like a fuck doll, you need to take a good look at yourself and accept what you see. When it comes to love, at least, you must try to stop being or seeming "BETTER." You need to accept exactly who you are and stop wishing it would change, that you'd be more palatable to the masses. "I am a reasonably good-looking woman with a tendency to cry at the drop of a hat." "I am opinionated and impatient and I have a bad habit of fixating on stuff I don't understand." "I am bored by most people, and I wish I had the money and the space to own llamas."

When I finally decided to stop seeming cooler and more easy-going than I actually was, when I finally stopped pretending that nothing bothered me, that I didn't need to talk about heavy stuff or express my emotions, when I finally stopped seeing tears as a weakness (being utterly unable to cry is a pretty blatant weakness if you ask me), that’s when I realized that I was trying to truss up my weird in a shiny conventional package. Guys always thought I was a Lil' Debbie Snack Cake, but then they'd open the package and find anchovies and feel disappointed. Instead of questioning why I was spending time with guys who only craved fluff and sugar, I grew ashamed of my oily, salty nature. I tried to act sweeter, snackier, Lil'-er.

Anchovies don't have the easiest time imitating Ho-Hos. If you ever want to go insane, try behaving like something you're not. At my lowest points, I was (unconsciously) committed to repressing all ME-ness and approximating what I saw as my current boyfriend's ideal woman. Needless to say, I was not convincing at this charade. But I didn't even know that I was acting! I thought I was just trying to be less WRONG, less BAD, less CRAZY.

Why did I believe these things about myself? Because I often went out with men who liked me because I was semi-attractive and smart and funny. I often attracted these men by pouring on the charm, appearing nonchalant, appearing devil-may-care. My goal was to mask the fact that I was an extremely emotional, thoughtful, moody, obnoxious, demanding anchovy. These boyfriends wanted to make it work because they wanted a semi-attractive, smart, funny girlfriend, not because they wanted ME.

As long as you aim to please men, you don't. The second you decide to please yourself, guess what? Everybody wants a slice of that action. I'll never forget, right after I vowed to stop settling for mediocre, half-interested men (even if it meant becoming a dog lady, which suddenly seemed sort of appealing), I went to this wedding and I was mobbed by guys. I could finally see clearly that half of them just wanted to sleep with me, and weren't looking for anything serious. The other half was deluded into thinking I was super fun and easy going around the clock (um, no) and that seemed like a great kind of a girlfriend to have. Maybe one of them was actually into me, but he was wrong in thinking that we'd be good together. I could see that. It was like that moment where the kid who's never heard a single sound before fires up his Cochlear implant for the first time. My sudden ability to see attraction and rejection as a mere matter of appetite and taste and misinformation transformed my view of the world.

Strangely, everything started to pulsate with possibility! You'd think that marching around saying, "Oh, we wouldn't work. I'm way too bossy for you" might feel a little pessimistic, but instead it felt liberating. I was curious but detached until I could get more information. I wanted to fall in love with someone. That was my goal, and I wasn't shy about saying so. But I needed to see a real hunger for anchovies, to the point where nothing else would do.

So first, you have to break your bad nightly habit. But you MUST be totally committed to cutting this shitty religion of yours off at the knees. Before you go to bed at night, I want you to write down at least three things you're grateful for. They could be people, or places, or experiences. If you think of more, write those down, too. Then I want you to write down at least two things you did that day that you're proud of. If you didn't do anything that impressive, just write down something you did that was really just pure YOU. Maybe you made up a song about armpits, or ate two cronuts in one sitting, or ran four miles and then watched a really stupid episode of "CSI: Barcelona." Notice that you get credit for doing the so-called "wrong" thing, like napping, or eating butter bombs, or crying over a really good performance on "So You Think You Can Dance."

You are going to fall in love with what you have, and fall in love with who you are. Do not take the so-called BAD or WRONG things about you, that boyfriends or men or even women have told you, and try to "get rid" of those things. Put that stuff on the list right next to the stuff you're proud of. "Cried after hearing the 'Hugs are Fun' song on 'Yo Gabba Gabba.'" "Slipped on the stairs and wondered if my landlord thought I was drunk, then craved a drink." "Bailed on the dinner party and made mac and cheese out of a box instead, and it was awesome."

Your bitterness is caused by the notion that these men form one all-powerful, critical OZ that thinks you're not good enough. Everything you do during the day backs this up. You are rejectable. Look at how you fuck things up. Look how not-cute-enough you are. Look how grumpy. Look how not attractive your attitude can be.

You have to quiet the bad OZ voices, during the day and at night. Stop pushing back against a phantom. You are not a ghost, this creation of yours is. Maybe it's an echo of something from your childhood. Maybe it's just a bad cognitive habit you've had for a while. If it helps to map out a life alone—what could make that look better, look ok?—then do it. For me, I needed to think that, if I didn't find the right man, I'd definitely be pouring my time into crazy interesting things. I would learn to sew my own clothes and paint. I would adopt 15 dogs. I would write poetry on the walls of my dining room. Instead of being afraid of getting "weird" and "lonely," I needed to believe that I would engage with the world, create things, reveal myself to others as a serious freak without shame, and just generally throw myself into the world with abandon.

But I also respect your interest in sharing your life. Most of us feel the same way.

But you MUST stop fucking yourself over with this lazy, self-destructive nightly habit of yours. Do the things you need to do (show up to work, exercise, be good to your friends) and otherwise, give yourself exactly what you need to be happy, and do not punish yourself for a second. Give yourself love and attention and respect. Treat your thoughts and feelings like the precious gems that they are. Respect yourself enough to allow yourself to be stubborn, shy, recalcitrant, angry, confused. Forgive yourself for this Bitter Era, but proclaim that it's over.

Today, it ends. Buy a pretty notebook for your gratitude and your self-acceptance, and put it by the bed. Dare to believe that this could change you. Don't be cynical. Don't go through the motions with this. The Bitter Era is done. You are celebrating yourself now, who you are RIGHT NOW, not a week from now, not a year from now. You are looking for someone with a taste for you, and nothing less will do. Believe that there is someone who fits that description. Believe that you deserve it, you deserve to be loved. It's all going to work out just fine.

And when you finally find the right person for you, it will feel effortless. It will feel right. It won't be perfect, but it will still be worlds apart from these other relationships you've had. But you know what? You won't be surprised. Because once you build your own religion around gratitude and pride in who you are, at your best AND at your worst, you'll feel better than you ever have before. It will only seem natural for people to want to be closer to you.

Look around you, the way you're living now. Commit it to memory. Because everything is about to change.



I just started reading your memoir and it gave me an existential jolt already.

"They were young and opinionated and stubborn and overwhelmed by violent emotions."

I am a man and I just turned 30. I definitely want to have kids, just not with the (31-year-old) woman I'm dating. I'm no longer young-young, have lost a lot of my opinionatedness, and my emotions have definitely mellowed. I'm still quite stubborn, though.

At what age should a person have kids? Should I dump my girlfriend (who also wants to have kids, but I just couldn't with her for a whole 'nother email's worth of reasons)?

Please help or advise,

Keenly Inquiring Disaster-Unprepared Sir

Dear KIDS,

If you know you want kids, and your life feels reasonably stable, and you don't feel like missing the occasional late-night party is going to break your heart, I'm an advocate for having kids in the first half of your 30s. You're still young enough that you won't be retiring just as your kids head off to college, and you're old enough that you won't be a selfish, temperamental, short-sighted parent (most of the time, anyway).

You and your girlfriend are still young and have some time. But if you know you don't want to have kids with her, you should do her a big favor and break up with her right now. Lots of women do themselves a huge disservice by playing it cool about kids and then they discover that their boyfriend has been ambivalent about them for years. Getting dumped at age 38 and feeling like you have to rush around and find the right guy immediately if you want kids? That sucks. I even knew a guy who dated his girlfriend for a decade, then married her, and then dumped her after she started doing IVF in her mid-40s. Of course she should've pushed the issue before then, but Jesus, what was he thinking? Once he gave her the heave-ho, he immediately met and married a 15-year-younger woman. Now that's a scenario that justifies a pretty big dollop of bitterness.

Why bide your time with your current girlfriend if you know she's not the one? What's the point? Having a pleasant life with someone who's vaguely ok really doesn't touch having an amazing life with someone you adore. Gently say goodbye to this woman and move on. When you live an honest life, and stand up for what's right, and try to do what's best for the people around you? That will make you a happier person—and a damn good parent, too.


Are you still pretty sure there's something really wrong with you? Write to Polly and she'll be happy to guess at what it is!

Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Beautiful little girl picture by Alan Turkus. Photo of perfectionist weirdo jerk by David Amsler.

69 Comments / Post A Comment

Ren_li (#238,909)

Woah, the answer to no.1 is incredible and exactly what I need (on the day I decide to go back to therapy for something pretty similar). It's so hard to get over the guys who Polly says are 'irrelevant', especially when they still seem kinda wonderful, as human beings.

Even so, this answer is superb. Now to actually put every word of it into practice.

(my only issue, though, is if you're 32 and it's better to have kids in your early thirties – according to the answer to letter 2 – you're gonna scare away a whole load of men…but so be it, I guess).

skyslang (#11,283)

@Ren_li Amazing response to #1. I was letter writer #1 and I should have heard that ten years ago. It's not your fault! However, I do take objection with placing the blame entirely on the guy. My philosophy is: it's not anybody's fault. They weren't immature dicks, you aren't a hopeless mess. You weren't a match. Nobody needs fixing. Follow your bliss. End of story.

bananalise (#13,738)

No YOU'RE crying at your desk.

(Oh my god, Polly is everything.)

Sarahbearhunter (#247,607)


sunnyciegos (#551)

Argh, I posted a response to LW1 and it got deleted! LW1, I feel you so much. But remember that couplehood is not necessarily equal to happiness. A line from a Carolyn Hax column really hit home for me, and she reran it this week: "Sobbing in bed alone may seem like hitting bottom, but imagine sobbing while an uncaring other watches TV two rooms away."

So be happy in yourself now. Right Guy will come along some day, and he might not be in the form you were looking for in your 20s. I know – it happened to me, and I wasn't sure it ever would. Find your solace, because ultimately YOU are responsible for your own joy, not your boyfriend, not your friends, not your mom or dad. Maybe your dog. But that's about it. Best wishes. I know you can do it.

smartastic (#2,437)

@sunnyciegos YES. I have sooooo been LW1, but I have also cried in bed at night WITH SOMEONE I AM SUPPOSED TO LOVE SLEEPING NEXT TO ME. Which is way way worse that crying 'cause no one is there.

Drawn7979 (#242,134)


@smartastic That is 100% true. Being lonely and married is a million times worse than being lonely and single, believe me.

annejumps@twitter (#233,527)

#1 response is GOLD.

PistolPackinMama (#231,054)

@annejumps@twitter IT SURE IS. Oh, bravo!

This: My sudden ability to see attraction and rejection as a mere matter of appetite and taste and misinformation transformed my view of the world.


I think it actually helps to realize that some people who want to be partnered do end up alone, and it has largely nothing to with anything other than luck of the draw. That's it.

It makes being alone and having a life as a single person easier to plan, since the plans you made are the plans that meet your needs and fulfill you. It also makes being open to new things suit who you really are and not who you think you should be.

Also, I quit dating and got a dog. My dog is so, so perfect. She also is a reason for dudes of all flavors, as well as kids, grannies, and other women to talk to me in public for no real reason. So. Become a dog person, and you will make friends. Get a big dog and some of those new friends will be dudes, for sure. In fact, greyhound dogs, I have come to the conclusion, are the muscle car convertible of the dog world. Everyone wants to talk to you about your canine version of a 1972 Kelly Green Skylark.

A dog might not connect you to a boyfriend, but it will surely keep you entertained while you don't date.

PistolPackinMama (#231,054)

Also, from one anchovy to another, the strong, distinctly flavored food metaphor is one close to my heart. I've been calling myself Stilton for a long time: appealing to a limited audience, but that audience are loyal fans.

I love anchovy. Mmmm.

bananalise (#13,738)

@PistolPackinMama Between this and the greyhounds, I just continue to adore you.

Don'tcallmeJenny (#245,210)

Polly: I think I've said this on other letters, but I find you to always be so incredibly negative when it comes to younger parents. Look, maybe you were a selfish party girl who was in no way, shape or form ready to have children before 30 (unlike LW2 I have not read your memoir), but the fact is that while your personal experience can be a useful tool it is not the be all and end all. It's disappointing because I generally enjoy your column and advice, but I also think you have these blind spots of prejudice that you simply refuse to look beyond.

I know a decent amount of parents (being one myself) who had kids everywhere from 19-42. I can say with absolute certainty that of all the parents I know the age they were when they started having kids had exactly ZERO to do with their ability to parent. Some people are selfish at 20 and grow up by 30. Others are giving and nurturing from birth. Still others will never lose the unerring narcissism that allows them to skip out on their daughter's dance recital because of "work", but take a spontaneous week-long trip with some college buddies the same week.

And you know what, Polly? I actually know plenty of moms like you. The kind who snidely remark on how they thought I was "the nanny" and who pointedly leave me out of conversations and assume that I'm not interested in helping out at the bake sale because clearly my age means I'm too self absorbed to care about being a presence in my child's life. And you're wrong and they're wrong and frankly your snobbish bigotry is making you miss out on a lot of cool, awesome people.

HeatherH (#241,099)

@Don'tcallmeJenny It sort of sounds like people might have other reasons for leaving you out of conversations.

Don'tcallmeJenny (#245,210)

@HeatherH: Really, and what would those be, Heather? Since you are making assumptions about me based on a visceral response I have to you (and other parents, *mostly* women) like you who judge my parenting based on the fact that I'm young. This is the third or fourth time you have made snide and frankly inaccurate assumptions about the ability of younger parents to be good parents based solely on your life experience as an older parent and in every single case where you have done so it hasn't even had anything to do with the LW's question.

And your defensiveness and inability to see past your own navel gazing and actually respond in a sensitive way really gives me hope for your parenting style.

Don'tcallmeJenny (#245,210)

@HeatherH Seriously, you are kind of being an insensitive and hurtful human being right now. I'm pretty sure if your child grew up, had kids at an earlier age then most of the people around her and then was purposely ignored/treated badly every time she attempted to talk to a group of parents with similarly aged children at the park/school functions/etc because they assumed she was a shitty parent since she happened to make a *choice* to have kids at a younger age than most you would be pretty pissed that people were treating her like shit and would maybe not make some snide, shitty comment about how people are obviously treating her like dirt for other reasons.

Jinxie (#240,695)

@Don'tcallmeJenny How about this? "If it's not about you, then it's NOT ABOUT YOU." Heather was not talking about you, personally. I'm sure you've done a great job being a young-ish mother. Go you, high fives all around. etc. The LW, however, is no longer young. (I mean, 30 is still young, sure, but it's older than 19.) He wants to have kids. He does not want to have kids with his girlfriend, who is also not young. THAT is what we're talking about today, wanting kids/not wanting kids/relationships/the unavoidable march of time/the fact that women cease being able to have kids after a certain age. Heather made one comment in favor of having kids at the LW's current age, and I assume she made that comment based on her own PERSONAL experience (and maybe, also to console the LW that he hasn't yet blown his chance to be a good dad).

Don'tcallmeJenny (#245,210)

@Jinxie Read up on some of Heather's other posts. If there is an opportunity for her to make a snide comment about young parents (including telling one LW to try and talk her sister into an abortion she didn't want) she takes it. I'm not the one who made this about young parents, she did. She implies all the time that young parents are selfish and incapable of good parenting when the question has NOTHING to do about it. And when I ask her about it and explain how this sort of assumption has hurt me personally in the past as a way of explaining why her doing so in an advice column that I generally like reading and agree with and that seems to be written by a rational, caring human being most of the time she ignores my point and takes the opportunity to make fun of me and imply that I'm somehow causing people to ignore me before they've ever even made my acquaintance. So, yes, it is pretty personal to me. And maybe if she'd answer me in a respectful and thoughtful manner and perhaps admit that she could maybe not attack young parents because–like all parents–we have it hard enough already she wouldn't need a flying monkey to also upbraid me for asking her to cut that hurtful shit out.

HeatherH (#241,099)

@Don'tcallmeJenny You're comin' in hot, striker! The guy asked the ideal age to have kids. I offered my opinion: Early 30s. Please note, that's about 5 years before I did it. I didn't say people in their 20s are shitty parents, nor did I say that people in their 40s are too old and crusty to be good parents (even though, in my personal experience, they really are) (god my ass hurts). I absolutely never claimed to be an amazing parent. Honestly, the women you're talking about probably ignore you because your youth makes them feel old. That's it. You'll understand that sensation when you get there. I'm not condescending when I say that, see, I'm just saying: I didn't get that when I was your age. My opinion that early-30s is ideal for parenting doesn't mean that it is. Just means that I wasn't ready in my 20s.

This column is highly subjective. I do my best with the information I'm given, and I often draw conclusions based on my personal experiences. If you still feel enraged by what I've written, feel free to send a letter to Ask Polly about your experiences with bitchy older moms. But as I said, I really don't believe that they're all awful fucking people (although plenty of awful fucking people do exist in the world — what kind of setting are we talking about here? Some settings attract more awful people than others). My guess is you make them feel a little bit awkward because there's a giant gap in your ages. I would highly doubt that they think you're a shitty parent just because you're younger than them.

And to be clear, I don't think that either. All the best – HH

HeatherH (#241,099)

@Don'tcallmeJenny Looks like our messages crossed. If you want respectful responses, you really should consider toning it down a little. In your original comment you refer to my "snobbish bigotry." Not the greatest way to start a productive conversation, particularly in the context of a very neutral letter you for some reason encountered as deeply hateful to young parents. Again, I don't doubt that you're a great parent, probably a better one than me. Best wishes – HH

Don'tcallmeJenny (#245,210)

@HeatherH: I am sorry for the initial "snobbish bigotry" comment. It really wasn't fair. I definitely *am* a bit on edge about negative perceptions of young parents because of my own bad experiences–and especially because parents not wanting to hang out with me also equals less chances for social interactions with my 6 year old since we are still by and large in the "playdate at the park" stage. I responded emotionally because I am emotional about this, but I will admit that my reaction was above where it needed to be and that I can say what I felt was important without the personal digs. I often need to take a breath and edit myself to make sure I don't do that and in this case I didn't because I was taking things too personally. And so I am sorry.

Now, with the knowledge that I a)do not think you are a terrible, snobbish bigot and b)that you do not think that I am a terrible horrible parent/person; may I make a point? The original one I was trying to make? You did imply in this answer that people in their 20s are too "selfish, short sighted and tempermental" and have said similar things in other columns. Even in your responses right now you've implied that there is some sort of "optimal" age to have kids. And that is the kind of thing that gets no one anywhere good.
You are a parent. You know how much shit parents (and especially mom's because patriarchy, hooray) get on the regular. Feeding into, even in small ways, this idea that there is some way to do parenting "right" is harmful. Frankly, parenting has become this crazy zero sum game for so many people where all you see is blogs about how terrible anyone who isn't doing things exactly the way you would is and how much "better" your kid is than anyone else's. And it starts right with this optimal age crap and doesn't end until you are dead as far as I can see.

I think you're column is pretty awesome and cool which is why I started following it and frankly if you were the kind of person who wrote stupid shitty advice all the time I wouldn't give a crap what you thought or wrote about this.

Sorry this is so long and again, I'm sorry for being so overly heated.

volerat (#247,326)

@Don'tcallmeJenny for what it's worth, I have seen the trend you're pointing out in Polly's columns that mention young mothers, and I think you're right–there's no need to reassure someone that they'll be a good parent by disparaging some imaginary past version of him/herself who would have been a bad parent. And there's really no way to know how good or bad of a parent one will be, right? Some people rise to the occasion, some don't…

HeatherH (#241,099)

@Don'tcallmeJenny My two other posts disappeared! Which sucks. But yes, I can see how implying that young parents are hot-blooded and selfish wasn't that sensitive. You know, I wasn't mature in my 20s. I look at 20-somethings now, and I think they seem very very young, mostly because I'm much older and I was a wreck back then. Totally subjective perspective, and clearly it doesn't apply to everyone or even most people. I honestly thought that was assumed, but I wasn't clear about it. If someone asks me "Should I have a kid at age 21?" I'm going to have an opinion, but that opinion doesn't really apply to the 21-year-old mother at the school yard. She's already made her choice, and she's doing her best just like everyone else. I can totally see how play dates would be a massive problem for you, because they're so often built around who is socializing together already. I think if I were you, I would just keep inviting and insisting to make sure that your kid is in the mix. Most mothers aren't actively trying to keep anyone out, they're just doing the easiest thing. Those "snobby" moms are probably just talking to the women who seem the most like them. Parenting culture is definitely reaching an absurd moment, but it's important that you separate the perfectionist advice from the real-live, humble, flawed moms in your midst. It's very easy for moms to seem bitchy when often, they're just uncomfortable with this new totally arbitrary socializing-around-kids thing. Anyway, send me a letter and I'll go on about this for several pages! Very best wishes – HH

sarahplain&tall (#247,612)

LW1 – Great response from Polly. Just wanted to add that in reading your description of the physical reaction you have to these thoughts of ex-boyfriends, I wondered if you might benefit from sensorimotor psychotherapy. At a very simple level, it helps you deal with trauma (and trauma doesn't have to be something major — it can be as "simple" as a feeling of rejection) as it manifests in the body. The physiological reaction you are having is a coping technique that your body has developed in response to the trauma(s), and it is serving a purpose for you emotionally, but it can be good to identify what that is, and to help you develop strategies for how to navigate those feelings and the emotions they arise from. I am a skeptic by nature, and to begin with this all sounded a little woo-woo to me, but I've seen very real impacts through this therapy in my ability to engage safely with and ultimately resolve many of the traumatic experiences I've had. A slightly technical but still accessible article discussing the approach is here:

Tenar (#246,961)

I'd like to say that the answer to LW1 is generally wonderful, BUT. If you loved a man, isn't it problematic to simply dismiss him as fickle, shallow, indifferent, etc? Isn't that tantamount to discrediting yourself, the person who loved him, and did it NOT because you were crazy, silly, blinded, stupid, fooled, or overly vulnerable? Part of self-acceptance, is, after all, being ok with the fact that the former you is you, too. I think one can reach such self-acceptance while honoring one's own past feelings of love. Because love is really important, and respecting your own heart is pretty key to loving in the future, too. Even if it turned out wrong in the past.

HeatherH (#241,099)

@Tenar You make a really good point. Personally, I've tended to put men on such a pedestal that I've sometimes needed someone to walk up and say, "That guy? Are you serious?" But those are my anchovy ways, aimed at offsetting obsessiveness over rejection by men who weren't a good match in the first place, and therefore shouldn't be rattling around in your head forever.

franceschances (#96,473)

@HeatherH And truly, isn't it a real privilege to run into these guys after you've gotten your head right and feel like you're in a good place? You've idolized them so much it's a treat to look down on them.

Bittersweet (#765)

@franceschances Or, rather than looking down on them, you could realize that you both weren't a good fit, or you were in different places in your life, or both. Sometimes relationships don't work out, and it's not necessarily because one or both people is a major dingdong.

cardiganboots (#232,781)

@franceschances I'm glad you like that part, but that's the worst part for me. When I realize what a fool I dated, and how foolish I seemed to others, the nausea of self-recognition is overwhelming. At least for a couple of years. I can laugh about my bad college and early-twenties choices now.

franceschances (#96,473)

@cardiganboots @bittersweet I guess I've found this useful because looking down on them is a step to getting to equanimity, simply because I've let myself make these guys SO GREAT while I am SO TERRIBLE. If I wasn't terrible, why would they have left? Reversing that perception has been part of the path to seeing how things actually were.

bureaucrab (#247,615)

The advice to LW1 is the best advice I've ever read. I have much more I could say, but it's all fluff so I'll just leave it at that.

chevyvan (#201,691)

I'm not LW#1, but I could be. It hasn't been that long since my last relationship fell apart, but I am trying to get over these bitter, hateful, victim-ish feelings. What he did to me was truly rotten. And he was a BIG LOVE. And he fits this statement – "The smallest change in weather, the tiniest shift in cabin pressure, the most minuscule adjustment in tone or mood sends them running" – to a T. I need to get away from these thoughts I know the breakup was about his emotional stuff and not me…it's just so much easier for me to fixate on the drama that was our breakup.

I'm taking these words to heart, Heather. I have already started thinking about what it would be like to live the rest of my life alone, but I get scared to go down that road and I stop myself. I will try to embrace it…

cheapchampagne (#209,625)


sevanetta (#14,222)

For LW1 – useful things I did when single for a long time after horrible relationships: When you start thinking about those guys, imagine a big stop sign, or (I had to go a bit further for myself), imagine smashing your fist into their face, and it explodes into a million bits. Interrupt those thought patterns and ask yourself, do I want to give more time in my head to these guys, or would I like to fall asleep thinking about a wonderful man I might meet, or renovating an awesome house, or what cool things I will do on my next holiday?

I also liked 'act as if': act as if you were going to meet the love of your life in a year's time. What would you do in that year knowing that would happen? Makes it easier to enjoy all your single-girl activities.

My now-partner was single for a long time as well and we had a similar journey in terms of wanting to be loved, a lot, and having difficulty enjoying dating due to being rather intense, difficult, anxious personalities. We both found we had to 'love ourselves', dumb as it sounds when I write it here, in order to feel happy. We also worked well together as we both understand what it's like to be intense – I loved what Polly wrote about being an anchovy – THAT'S ME! I used to get so irritated at dating profiles about how guys were looking for a laidback carefree girl who enjoyed a laugh and walking on the beach, I would draft profiles that said I was a highly strung anxiety-head who hated to laugh and would never be caught dead near a beach. It stung a bit more because I really am an anxious person, no one would ever call me laid back. But find another stress head and it's ok. My partner is so 'intense' that his sister tried to warn me about it when we first met! My theory is that since we are both difficult and intense people, we each get the other and what it's like to be that way. So… in conclusion… bringing it back to you… look for people who are like you and who you enjoy… not those who fit a weird ideal. oh god, this is so long, I hope there are some useful things in here!

M Dubz (#247,064)

So Polly. If you accept that it is them, not you, and you live your life according to the dictates of what you want, and make sure that your own life is going brilliantly, how do you deal with the exhaustion of continually putting yourself out there, wanting a partner so badly, and getting continually rebuffed?

I'm like LW1 in that I haven't had a serious boyfriend in almost 5 years. I'm not bitter or regretful (now) about any of the dating experiences I've had then or since (it's a combination of me liking guys with too much shit, coming on too strong, and timing not working out). But that stretch of loneliness hurts, especially as I'm getting older, all of my friends are getting married or were married when I met them, and the interest from guys seems harder and harder to attract. Whether it's me or them or just bad timing, I think about living the next 50 years single and I want to cry. Yes I have amazing friendships and great life experiences and that's all great, but it just feels so painful to keep having to do life unpartnered. And for me, it's worse if it's something in the guys I'm meeting. Because if I have a dysfunction then I could go to therapy and fix it. If I'm perfectly fine and it's the guys I'm meeting, then the situation is out of my control, and that's really scary. Is all of this just because I am 26 and there aren't a lot of mature guys at my age and things will get better? If that's the answer, I welcome it, and will sit tight and be patient. But I'm kind of worried that it's not the answer, especially since I know older guys who are full of relentless fuckery and younger guys who are awesome.

blueberry mary (#247,625)

@M Dubz Damn. Are you me? All of the hugs because yes yes yes a million times over.

gulleyjimson (#235,121)

@M Dubz You may be alone for significant portions for the rest of your life. Things may not get any better. This may be very hard.

There is a quote, attributed to Joyce Cary (I've never been able to find it in one of his books), which, however trite it may seem, sums up some essential things about life:
"The truth is that life is hard and dangerous; that those who seek their own happiness do not find it; that those who are weak must suffer; that those who demand love will be disappointed; that those who are greedy will not be fed; that those who seek peace will find strife; that truth is only for the brave; that joy is only for those who do not fear to be alone; that life is only for the one who is not afraid to die."

Poubelle (#214,283)

@M Dubz Dude, you're 26. You are not "getting older." You could only rent a car a year ago! Plenty of people the same age as you have NEVER had a serious relationship, let alone even come close to marriage. Heck, I know perfectly wonderful, attractive folks who've made it to your age still virgins, and some not even technical virgins or voluntarily-waiting religious ones at that. So, PERSPECTIVE.

gulleyjimson is right–sometimes you're going to be alone, sometimes for a very long time. If you need a companion, look into a dog or a cat. Then you won't be alone for the next two decades. (If you really want to make it through the next 50 years, then you should probably look into parrots or turtles.)

Seriously, I got to the end of your comment and was all WTF at it being written by someone roughly the same age as me. Unless you're posting from a century ago, you are nowhere near spinster/old maid territory. People don't even seriously use those terms these days! Maybe get to know some people older than you, or talk to your parents' friends? Because plenty of happily-married/committed older people were still single at 26. (And on the other side of things, plenty of people who were married or in serious relationships in their 20s wound up divorced or broken up.)

Ren_li (#238,909)

@M Dubz you'll be alright. More than alright. I was single throughout my 20s, am still single now at 32, and I know i'll be alright (in whatever form that takes). People you want to be in relationships with come along, things don't work out, you soften up, you toughen up, you become resilient. You find a way (a thousand ways) of continuing to be optimistic.

I think it was in one of Polly's age-old Rabbit blog columns I came across a brilliant bit of advice from her, which went something like: 'I've been hurt and hurt and hurt, but you have to believe, every time, that round the next corner you'll find what you've been holding out for'. Or something far better expressed but to that effect! Sit with the hurts and fears for a while, see if there are patterns (as opposed to a dysfunction) not so much in you or the guys you're choosing but in your reactions to what happens with them…and eventually, deep down, I swear there's a zillion reasons to be optimistic. And I say this as a 32 -yr-old single person who's had her heart broken a fair few times. But yeah, the advice to LW1 really is wonderfully on point about a lot of the underlying problems some of us seem to have about our experiences, and is well worth giving a lot of thought to.

hulahula (#247,637)

@M Dubz I was also surprised at the end of the comment to read that you're 26, I was expecting 40-something! Seriously, where do you live that so many of your friends are married already?! My parents didn't even meet until their mid-thirties!

The thing is, that if you want to meet someone and fall in love, and have a life together, you only have to meet ONE person who is just right. You'll meet loads of people who are not right, and I think the exhaustion comes in when you try to make those relationships work – either by making changes in yourself, your attitudes, or trying to change the person you're with. You need to accept that some people are *so hot* or *so funny* and also so not the right person for you have a relationship with. And then move on. And just try to make sure that your life is filled with things that make you happy – friends, family, pets, hobbies – whatever – so that you have more going on than just the quest for love.

annejumps@twitter (#233,527)

@M Dubz You've gotten some great feedback, but if you don't already, I advise reading Captain Awkward, particularly this tag: CA has been instrumental in me realizing a lot of things and I can't recommend the body of advice enough. While I can't think of one column that specifically addresses your concern, I know that reading a bunch of them has helped me come to terms with the "but what if there's no one" question — at least more so than before — and also help me be much easier on myself by pointing out that it's actually quite rare to hit it off mutually with someone.

M Dubz (#247,064)

@Poubelle I appreciate the perspective, and in my saner moments I know that I'm a baby. The problem is that I'm going into a field where it becomes incredibly difficult to date once you're in it (I'm in seminary. It's really hard for rabbis to date because of the ethical constraints of who they are permitted to enter into a relationship with). So part of the angst comes from knowing that, in four years, I enter a lifestyle that will make it really hard to find a partner, which gives everything an artificial sense of rush. Ugh.

M Dubz (#247,064)

@annejumps@twitter I LOVE Captain Awkward so much. I credit her with helping me to stop contorting myself to relationships that aren't working. Now I just have to do part two.

testingwithfire (#244,161)

@gulleyjimson Amen to that. Better to accept that there might be no one who's a suitable match, and start living your life, than to keep chasing mirages. Feh on that. I think if I'd heard this in my twenties and had really be able to swallow it, I would have been much better off.

I highly recommend Eva Illouz' "Why Love Hurts" on this topic. Main takeaway: it most likely is NOT you, which is essentially what Heather said. Where I think Illouz parts ways with a lot of folks on this topic is that she stresses the way we (over)value romantic love in modern society as the source of a lot of grief for both sexes but particularly for women.

skyslang (#11,283)

@M Dubz Hey, going to offer a different perspective here. I was in your position in my 20s and 30s. Finally, at 38, I was like Fuck it. I'm not going to meet anyone. Why am I wringing my hands over this? I fucking love my life and when I'm not sitting here feeling sorry for myself/wondering what's wrong with me, I have a lot of fun. Plus, a lot of my friends were in a similar situation. It took a while for me to go from THINKING this to FEELING it, but once I did? I was like, DAMN, I wish I had not WASTED my youth feeling bad about being single and pining for dudes who weren't into me/trying to force myself to date dudes I didn't really like. It was fucking magic. I had a goddamn blast and was the happiest I've ever been.
Then I met someone. But you know, conjuring that feeling of FREEDOM and JOY is not about trying to catch a lover. It's all about just enjoying your life as it is. I know it's easier said than done, but let those negative feelings go, they are holding you back. It helped me to stop dating, and stop looking–that shit never works anyway. Just be free and enjoy yourself. That's what life is about.

Philmosk (#247,649)

Both pieces of advice seem sound, just wanted to comment on the choice of header photo;
Could somebody get that poor girl a cupcake/trip to Build-a-Bear/whatever?
Saw that picture, and it hurt me in my uncle-ness. Makes me want to take my nieces to Disney again…

boxes (#75,654)

"Why did I believe these things about myself? Because I often went out with men who liked me because I was semi-attractive and smart and funny. I often attracted these men by pouring on the charm, appearing nonchalant, appearing devil-may-care. My goal was to mask the fact that I was an extremely emotional, thoughtful, moody, obnoxious, demanding anchovy. These boyfriends wanted to make it work because they wanted a semi-attractive, smart, funny girlfriend, not because they wanted ME."

Oh my god, YES. I've never thought about it that way before. I'm pretty much caught in the death throes of a live-in relationship because of this exact thing.

Tenar (#246,961)

Another thought: one thing that really helped me was reading Cristina Nehring's A Vindication of Love and finally letting myself feel all the feelings, which meant taking them seriously. LW1 is feeling grief. Maybe recognizing it as a legitimate, serious thing instead of trying to shut it down is worth a try.

Also, guys, no matter what you do, the, uh, broth culture in which we all swim is made up of other humans, so the answer is never "get a turtle."

SarahTheTechXplorer (#247,793)

"There. Is. Nothing. Wrong. With. You" – I second that. Don't let these men change you. You were okay before them, you will be okay after them. Cliche, but I honestly believe that somewhere out there, you will meet that one man who will make you feel loved and will give you that sense of completeness. You just have to believe. For now, live. Live like you own the world. And everything will follow. :)

lemmycaution (#243,936)

Good advice on both of these letters. Especially letter 2. Guys should break up in that situation. Don't mess with the baby making years if the significant other wants to make a baby and you don't.

The advice to lw1 is good as well. Being honest to yourself and others about who you are and what you want is a good idea. No sense attracting people who don't really want the real you.

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