Ask Polly: Is He Crazy, Or Am I?

Appearing here Wednesdays, Turning The Screw provides existential crisis counseling for the faint of heart. “Chicken tenders for that empty place where your soul should go!”

Dear Polly,

First of all, you must excuse my English, I’m actually French. Plus, I don’t have autocorrect for English on this thing so I’m kind of forced to go with the flow. Anyway!

I know you already kind of wrote about that stuff but I’m still wondering if you’ll help motivating me: I’m completely — and I mean it, completely — stuck on a guy.

We met each other in high school, kind of fell in love, kind of nothing happened because we were probably too young and shy and whatever. Time flew by, we lost contact — I thought for good — and I remember telling one of my college friends that this guy (whatever I could remember of him from that time anyway) could pretty much have been THE guy. I don’t actually believe in THE one love but I mean it in the way of “he could have been MY choice.” Anyway, he did not turn out being anyone’s choice and life did go on, as it usually (and thank god for that) does.

But we did meet again last year, after 10 years, and both reacted the same way: like complete dumbasses. We hung out a couple of times, nothing happened (he actually lives in south France and I live in Paris, so the timing and place did pretty much suck).

At last, not bearing it longer, I took initiative and told him (texted him really) frankly that I’d just like more. This confession was followed by lots of mutual “I’ve always wanted to…” “I wish we had spoken this out earlier…” etc. etc. So everything seemed good and we were just about to meet again, on purpose and with a plan and then it backfired. It backfired completely and in my face!

He came to me and said something like, “Well, I’ve thought about it, and yeah, we’re like…we’re different.” (Me thinking: No shit? You mean I’m no 5 feet tall man?! And really saying something that vaguely sounded like “Mmm. Yes, I see.”)

And from that moment on we both avoided contact.

Until he texts me again, after months, saying he’s coming to Paris. Of course, I answer. Then, he doesn’t answer back. And finally when I’m about to give up, he answers (remember, HE contacted me in the first place): “Yeah, I’m gone again, I thought it would be a bad idea to see each other, too difficult, you know why.” Am I actually supposed to know that?

So I stay there, cell in my hand, flaggerbasted (not sure I’m spelling it right), in a nice “WTF”-style. So to sum it up, my questions are:

1. Are you actually sure, and I mean a 100% sure, that our common belief in THE one is that stupid?

2. Do you think I’m crazy for thinking he’s crazy?

3. Do you think, as I’m afraid of saying so to myself, that I should actually, definitely, clearly and totally give that guy up?

How can it be that when you like someone for so long, they may not like you back? Love is organized wrong!

Unorganized Beatrice

p.s. I’m really sorry, my English sounds like a bad mix-up of bad bad bad American TV series 🙁

Dear Unorganized Beatrice,

First, I just want to thank you for one of the most absurd sentences I’ve ever read in any advice-seeking letter, anywhere: “He actually lives in south France and I live in Paris, so the timing and place did pretty much suck.” Mmm, yes. What a tale of woe! You in Paris, he in the south of France, and far too different from each other to tolerate the monumental hassles of hopping on one of those clean, delightful trains whizzing hither and thither across the gorgeous green countryside! Yes, too vastly different, utterly too different, to be traveling and making ze hot French love chaque weekend!

Clearly, this man is a fuckwit. Scared or ambivalent, wussified or paralyzed, just not that bold or just not that into you. Who can tell, Beatrice? Quel dommage! And aren’t you French persons the ones to blame for the phrase “Vive la difference!”, which translates roughly as “Long live the motherfucking difference between bold, disorganized women in Paris, and scared but still oddly alluring pussies in the South of France!”?

I am also flaggerbasted (which I think translates roughly as “generously basted in confusion and bewilderment and, um, national pride”) over this guy’s behavior. How do you have the long conversation of “If only…” and “I wish we had…” and then not leap onto the nearest train filled with delightful French folks speaking to their small dogs and eating their baguettes, and then leap off in Paris to do whatever it was you wished you’d done decades prior? I mean, what the fuck? You can’t spend a few empty hours with your delightful French man-purse in your lap, sipping your red wine and pointing your beautiful, pointy French-man nose (God, I love a pointy French-man nose) out the window at the verdant countryside, in order to land in the heart of Paris, where Beatrice awaits, heart pounding in anticipation? Qu’est-ce que your major malfunction, buddy?

It just goes to show that people don’t appreciate what they have, whether they’re in the South of France nibbling on fromage delicieux, or right here in the States, gumming a stale Cheeto. How many times in your life are you truly attracted to a man, attracted enough to ignore his cluelessness and his stank and sleep with him? Supposedly men go through this several times an hour, but women? Maybe once a year? So when women are attracted, they want to make that shit happen. “Get ‘er done!” that’s our motto when lightning strikes. I still remember calling this guy I had a crush on in high school, in order to get ‘er done one summer when we were home from college. He talked a big game about how much he dug me, but in person, he was spooked by my forward nature (or he thought I was fucking gross, who knows?). And now he’s married and he’s some kind of a missionary (which I believe means he always has to use the missionary position). Who’s sorry now, motherfucker?

But I digress. No, I don’t think believing in true love is stupid, but I tend not to refer to it as The One because that mostly tends to get you hung up on flaccid little dipshits from high school. Just because you’re worked up into that “Get ‘er done” state doesn’t mean you should start attributing magical qualities to the guy even before you so much as hold his stupid hand. (I’m not blaming you for that, of course — I’m just saying that believing in The One can be pretty fraught. Plus it’s far healthier to keep your mind open to The Many.) Your guy seemed to want all of those magical imaginings to happen, too, but then he couldn’t follow through. Doesn’t that say it all, really?

Because love is organized in lots of different ways, actually, depending on who’s doing the organizing. Deeply disorganized, pathologically hesitant men can be intriguing, sure, but it sounds like you might be more suited for someone who shows up at your door and speaks using actual words and doesn’t disappear when confronted with tough questions and doesn’t fear la difference.

But Beatrice, do you get less interested when a man is interested? Are you hung up on ambivalent men from the past for a very good reason, because you tend to undervalue those who actually seem taken with you in the here and now? I’d suggest opening your mind to men who don’t seem very romantic at the moment, but who might just seem romantic once you get to know them a little better and realize that they’re much more complex and charismatic than they at first appear. One of the crazy things that happens as you get older is you start to pay less attention to how someone seems (mysterious, provocative, sexy) and you pay more attention to how someone actually is (talkative, responsible, smart). I’m not talking about looks, to be clear. I’m talking about intrigue, which is absurdly overrated. Mysterious men, as they age, often transform before your eyes into insecure, self-obsessed control freaks. Regular old dorks, though, become more and more lovable and sexy. Personally, I favor the dork who doesn’t realize how very sexy he is — but these are mostly hunted to extinction.

At any rate, the world is filled with les hommes delicieux, is it not? Or at the very least Paris is. Stop mooning over this refrigerator monkey and find yourself someone who isn’t afraid of trains, and girls, and differences.


Dear Polly,

Can you tell us a little bit about your qualifications for this job as the Awl’s new existential crisis counselor? Because I think I could probably counsel people, too. Maybe they should hire me instead of you.


Dear Ben,

I’m sorry, you lost me at “job.” And what is this word “hire”? Is that a verb of some kind? Does it mean “approve of” or “condone”? Or does it mean “endure” or “loosely tolerate,” something like that?

Are you picturing me in a plush office with a view of the Manhattan skyline, sipping gourmet coffee with Choire, whose pants fit perfectly, and Chris Lehmann, whose pants are ill-fitting? Does Choire talk too much in meetings while Alex rolls his eyes? Does Carrie look like the assassin girlfriend on “Archer”? Does John order in tapas? What am I wearing? I’m hot, right? Really hot or just a little hot? Do I have a husky voice?

And people respect me and stuff? They listen to me when I open my mouth and talk using words? Mmm. Maybe I manage a few people? Bright young men who spend their lunch hours at the gym, right? And I’m a little bit arrogant and demeaning to them? I point out which muscle groups need more work? I make them run to the beauty store to pick up my overpriced skin lotions, and then I insult their prose, and I draw dirty cartoons and leave them on their desks, and I make other bad choices that give my poor, hunky underlings post-traumatic stress nightmares?

Do the bathrooms have stalls, or are they more private than that? Are there good magazines in there? Do we order in really excellent Indian food every Wednesday? Do we get a bonus every time our columns get more than 30,000 page views? Is there an annual Awl employee retreat, in northern Italy? With really good chianti and quality narcotics and high-priced Italian hookers?

Do literary types flock to the Awl offices, to praise us and to take us out to lunch and to edit our novels, for free? Does my office have a door on it? Is there provocative art on the walls? Is their really good cocaine in the top drawer of my giant polished oak desk?

How much do I make? Can I afford to summer on Fire Island or just somewhere in the buggy hinterlands of Maine? No, no — maybe I summer with wholesome New England intellectuals, like in a Wallace Stegner novel? And sometimes I skip work and drive down to Maryland, just to eat oysters and clams and stuff out of a big silver bucket while getting fall-down drunk on cold pilsner? But I look hot even when I’m slurring my words and stuffing my face with shellfish, right?

Do I eventually leave my perfectly good husband for one of my hunky underlings, causing a sordid office scandal? Does my hunky underling turn out to be kind of a boring person with whom to share an impeccably decorated brownstone? Does my husband get full custody of the kids? Do the kids start to hate me because they’ve noticed that I care more about my fabulous literary friends and my quality narcotics and my Indian take-out and my Italian leather boots than I care about them? Do I laugh loudly and engage in witty banter around the clock, but secretly live a desperately lonely existence? Do I almost die one night, in a pool of my own vomit? Do people eventually stop listening when I talk, and then I get fired and I have to sell everything, even those great boots, and I’m living in a shelter? And does a reporter end up doing a New Yorker profile on my fast rise and fall in the go-go, topsy-turvy world of underfunded web start-ups? And then everyone in the civilized world reads it, and they laugh so hard that coffee shoots out of their noses?

Because that sounds awesome.

Look, Ben. I have no doubt that you’re much better qualified to fill my very lucrative position of Senior Vice President of Existential Affairs. But let me refer you to rule number one in the existential crisis playbook: 1. Life is no-fair.

Keep those dreams alive anyway, you!

Feeling flaggerbasted? Write to Polly immediately!

Previously: Ask Polly: Should I Quit My Job To Be An Artist?

Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is our new 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. Photo by Anthony J.