Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: “Romance Ruined”

This week, R. Eric Thomas and Madeline Ducharme discuss a Prudie letter: “Romance Ruined

R. Eric Thomas: Hi Madeline! Thanks for chatting with me. So, what did you think of this week’s letter and the Notting Hill of it all?

Madeline Ducharme: Oh man, I really struggled with a lot of this letter because they seem to hold all the blame for the way their life turned out squarely on their own shoulders. While I think it’s good to hold oneself accountable, I really wanted more details so we could be able to say that this letter writer isn’t solely to blame for how their life has turned out.

I’m sure there were things beyond their control that led them down this path, and it bums me out that 1. they can’t see it and 2. this baggage is weighing so heavily on future decisions, like this relationship with a semi-famous individual.

Eric: I completely agree. There are so many letters that make me want to ring up the LW and ask a thousand follow-up questions. I wondered a lot about how much perception was changing the LW’s current reality. And what the substance of the past “mistakes” were.

Madeline: Exactly! The other thing I want to know is just how badly they believe these “mistakes” have ruined their life. Because right now, they seem to be on a path towards a potentially wonderfully fulfilling relationship! Not that a relationship is ~everything~ (because it’s not), but that’s not a life I would consider ruined by any means.

I know it’s a Prudie cop-out to be like, “Hey, it sounds like you’re being really hard on yourself and you could use a little outside perspective to feel more content with your life” buuuuuuuuut….

It feels so true here!

Eric: Ha, yes! And I think it’s harder for the LW because they’ve preemptively put up roadblocks to alternative interpretations. When you say “everyone would say this is a good idea but it was not a good idea,” it’s hard to offer a new perspective. That’s one of the things that I worry about as they think through venturing into this relationship. How open are they to seeing things, including fame-adjacent love, in a new way?

Madeline: That’s such a good point. I think that in addition to your good advice of running these various concerns by the potential partner (and the people he employs), this LW might want to do quite a bit of soul-searching to see if they’re even ready to let themselves be at peace with the decision they make here. They really just don’t seem to want to extend themselves some grace.

How do you think one can go about trying to be more open to change and more comfortable with making decisions about their life without some kind of absolute certainty that it’s the right choice?

Eric: I completely agree about extending grace. I feel like that’s the thing I write the most in these Prudie columns. Everyone deserves grace!

In terms of being open to change, I think it’s useful to demote oneself as the expert on one’s life. You can feel confident that you know yourself better than anyone while also embracing that you can’t control everything or everyone around you and so often decisions have to be leaps of faith or group decisions. I don’t think it’s ceding power so much as recognizing that none of us get very far alone.

Madeline: Yes! We’re all very much a product of the people who raised us, the communities we inhabit, the places we choose to spend our time. You can’t hold responsibility for absolutely everything! Maybe this LW should try to find grace and practice not blaming themselves by finding an alternate outlet for the thoughts they typically perseverate on. Maybe when they find themselves thinking back on how different their life could be if they made a different decision, they could take 10 minutes to walk around the neighborhood, write in a journal, even call an old friend. Sometimes all you need is a little reminder of the many good little things in your life to let go of those “missed” opportunities.

I really believe that this LW has good things in their life. This relationship, but also because we weren’t given many details about their “ruined” life, I think there are probably little delights that they can find in something as simple as a walk around the neighborhood. Is that a kind of stupid, live/laugh/love response to a much more fraught problem? I fear it might be.

Eric: No, I don’t think so! It feels like the heart of mindfulness. As someone who spent the better part of a decade rehashing and regretting past decisions before working with a therapist who was like “Eric, the past is unchangeable. Be here in the present,” I think that focusing on what’s working and what’s changeable in the present can be revolutionary.

Madeline Totally agree! How do you try to focus on the present? I’ve found that also plotting an exciting future (even if it’s just a few weeks away) helps me a lot. It also gives me something to focus on and prepare for in the present.

Eric: Yes! Plotting for the future is great. It may sound twee, but hope is transformational and powerful!

Madeline: At the risk of being sentimental myself, I totally agree that hope is transformational and powerful and that hope can be itty bitty and still work! Planning and preparing for that future can be as simple as making a short list of new restaurants, or public parks, or nearby towns that you’d like to check out and committing yourself to seeing one or two of them in the next couple weeks. Being in control of your own destiny doesn’t need to be connected to a radical, life-changing decision. It can also just be something small you’ve devised for yourself that you know will give you some short-term pleasure.