Long-Term Closet

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Danny Lavery: This Ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership. Lucky you. And. Hello and welcome back to Big Little Mood. I am your host, Daniel M Lavery. And with me in the studio this week is Sasha Geffen, a writer based in Colorado and the author of the book Glitter of the Dark How Pop Music Broke the Binary. Sasha, welcome to the show.

Speaker 2: Lots of Danny. Thanks so much for having me.

Danny Lavery: It’s so cool to have you here. I always love talking to someone who’s based in the somewhere that just always sounds very chic and like jet set, like you might be jetting off to to Cannes or Monte Carlo in another minute. Like, I appreciate that.

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Speaker 2: I’m not I’m based in rooted for the time being, I suppose. I suppose sometimes I’m not in Colorado and I was.

Danny Lavery: Well, I was going to ask them. So like when I think when I hear that somebody is based in a particular city, my assumption is either they have a p ed somewhere or they want me to think they have a p ed somewhere. But the idea is like I’m based in the city, but I won’t say I live here because I spend so much of my time traveling abroad. I’m so often abroad with my.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I didn’t think of that kind of context at all when I wrote out my bio to send to you. It’s just I don’t know. I’ve been I’ve been using using that phrase for some time, but I do spend most of my time in Colorado.

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Danny Lavery: Do you feel like it maybe then is just like a slightly more professional way of saying lives like you’re you’re talking about being based there because this is a professional bio rather than like a personal one where you might talk about like your home and where you live for.

Speaker 2: Yeah, maybe, maybe. I guess one does not professionally live somewhere. One only makes sense in a given state.

Danny Lavery: I do. I want to I want to learn more about how people might use the term because I don’t want to say that everyone is trying to do ed signaling.

Speaker 2: I don’t know. I don’t know.

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Danny Lavery: Such as dilatory domicile is going to be coming out in the next summer. Issue of the social register.

Speaker 2: Oh my goodness. I’m trying to think of like when I adopted this habit of using is based versus lives and I don’t know I like and I think maybe I was trying to come up with a bio for like my instructor page on like this writers workshop that I’m sort of part of in Denver. And I was just reading a lot of bios and I think I just saw is based like over and over again, like is based in like Fort Collins is based on God and, you know, all these different parts of Colorado. And then I just I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s just fun to say best.

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Danny Lavery: I completely understand it. It’s also fun to say bills, very domiciles. And you know, once again, I am available to be included in the social register if anyone wants to put me on it. I very much not. There’s that’s a very silly thing to say. I am excited about the problems that we have this week because they’re fun and interesting. And I think none of them involve like anything too catastrophic, which is just the second one’s kind of catastrophic, actually, or like someone’s experiencing a sense of emotional catastrophe. But like, on balance, nothing about this is particularly bleak, which always cheers me up to no end. So I am heading into this with a song in my heart and I will be see, this is why I can’t be at the social register because I referenced the Three Tenors and that is, is, it’s, it’s not, it’s not the right move.

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Danny Lavery: Anyways. Our first question is about a long term closet. I know you like a low stakes problem. Thanks. Letter writer. About a decade ago, a new at the time friend Kenji came out to me. I’m a straight Asian woman. We met through mutual college friends and formed a close knit circle. And we’re all still attached to this day. Over time, I noticed that he would really clam up when anyone asked about his dating life. Since our friendship was still new at the time, I didn’t want to pry. After he came out to me, he swore me to secrecy within our circle, but said I could tell my then boyfriend slash now husband. It’s a decade on now and I kept my promise. But it makes less and less sense to me, and it feels harder and harder to do.

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Danny Lavery: Kenji was out at graduate school and then with his family, which I know was really tough for him to do. His parents aren’t exactly attending pride, but they’re supportive and loving. I live on the East Coast. Kenji and the rest of our circle live on the West Coast and he doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends outside of work. I wish he had a local support network that he could actually be out to. He has said in the past that there’s no point in coming out to our friends if he’s not seeing anyone seriously. I disagree, but I know I can’t force him to do anything he doesn’t want to. But keeping a secret has required a lot of effort over the years that I no longer feel is warranted. Whenever my husband and I see Kenji or other members of our friend group, I always have to remind him that Kenji isn’t out to them yet. I would love to hear your thoughts on how to talk to Kenji about this.

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Danny Lavery: I love this one because I feel like the implicit question is like if you come out to someone. It’s sort of universally understood that, you know, you thank them and you don’t out to other people. But yes, this is sort of like that test case of like, well, how long do you like the the understanding is always like they’re probably going to come out in, you know, a few weeks or a year or something to the rest of the group. What do you do when it’s been a decade and it feels like.

Speaker 2: Ten years and you’re the only person in the friend group? Still, it’s not like it’s a slowly expanding circle. It’s like one person, which is kind of like my big question about this letter I feel like is like, why? Why just one person or why this person? Why this friend? Right. Like, is there like are there behaviors within the friend group that maybe signal to Kenji that it’s not the safest place to talk about stuff like this?

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Speaker 2: Like, I don’t want to read too much between the lines, you know, but I guess I have two questions, which is just like, why? Why only the letter writer and and her husband? Like, I think it’s wonderful that Kenji considers them both to be safe people and entrusts them with with the secret. I guess I don’t I don’t fully grasp why it’s effortful to not talk about it, you know, unless there are maybe like moments where there is the presumption of straightness kind of broadly among everyone in the friend group and like, are people kind of like rebelling on Kenji like with the assumption that he’s going to be dating a woman? Like, I don’t know.

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Danny Lavery: Yeah. I mean, certainly part of me was like. One possible reading was absolutely. Unless Kenji has like made up girlfriends for this group of people. If he has over the last decade come out to pretty much everyone else in his life and has, I think been in relationships of some sort. Like my guess would almost be like it would be kind of surprising if the rest of the friend group didn’t mostly know already. And like, it’s probably more like an open secret than anything else. But that’s not the only reading I could imagine here. I also was curious about that. I didn’t necessarily get a sense that the letter writer was like holding back information of like, by the way, they’re all super homophobic. Except for me.

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Speaker 2: Sure, sure, sure.

Danny Lavery: Usually in a letter like this, there’s like a throwaway line of, like, I know everyone in the group would be comfortable. Or maybe there’s one person who’s kind of a missing stereotype. Yeah. So I just wonder. Letter writer has anyone in this group ever given you reason to think that they’re a little homophobic? You know, even if that’s not the case, sometimes people are just a little weird about coming out for a variety of reasons. And I think especially if somebody is, like really anxious about coming out to their family and they feel like they can’t exercise a lot of control in that front, they sometimes then can get a little bit more weird about coming out to other groups of people just by way of like the transitive property. Like, I can’t push back against the weight of my entire family, but I can at least hold like my college friends at arm’s length. And so sometimes that happens as well.

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Speaker 2: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I definitely don’t get the sense that this is like a homophobic group and that it’s like, you know, drastically unsafe for Kenji to come out. But I wonder if the letter writer, like, could maybe they just tune in to the group dynamics with this in mind? Like, are there like kind of light jokes that are happening that maybe make this feel not great, like just kind of ambient and ambient vibe of like that and not really entering the picture. You know, I think like there’s there’s a big difference between like explicit homophobia and just like presumptions of heteronormativity or like, you know, slight mockery of anything beyond those norms or whatever. And I don’t know. And I think it can be easy to mess if you’re not tuning into it. So that might just be like something to try to tune into and maybe it’s not there and maybe it’s something else that’s going on.

Danny Lavery: Yeah, I can. To imagine, especially if the letter writer only sees this like circle of friends once or twice a year. And it’s always in big group settings, like because she has to travel all the way from the East Coast. I can imagine that it’s like sometimes weird. I don’t think that’s necessarily just, like, totally invented or misplaced. Like, I can imagine. It’s like, weird. Like, it’s been a decade. I’d love to be able to, like, while we’re all kind of talking about our lives, ask Kenji if he’s seeing anyone and not feel like I’ve just, like, committed a faux pas. So I can imagine that it’s weird. I guess I would just say, like, letter writer, you know? Talk with Kenji. And I think like it has been a decade. As long as you don’t, like, knock on his door in the middle of the night and say like you need to come out to everyone in six months or I don’t want to talk to you anymore, which it doesn’t sound like you’re there, so I’m not too worried and just say like, hey, you know, you said before that you don’t really want to come out to this group of friends unless you’re seeing somebody seriously.

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Danny Lavery: And I just I want to to, like, check in with you on that, partly because, you know, it’s sometimes strange for me, not that you should be taking what’s cool for me primarily into account, but like I just like if, if all things being equal, it’s not a big deal to you maybe take into consideration that we might be able to have slightly more like open and free flowing conversations when I come visit, if you hear that and that just sounds way off to you and you don’t want to do it, you know, feel free to ignore it.

Danny Lavery: But I just thought I would let you know, like, and then also like on the on the heels of that, is there something that I could do that would be helpful to you with this? Like, is there something I’m missing? Like, do you feel like the group is maybe more homophobic than I’ve been aware of? Is there like one person in particular whose response you’re worried about? Is there anything that I could do to smooth a path for you towards coming out to them? And then, you know, if you think about it, if the answer is no, like just know. I’ll respect that. It’s your call. You get to do decide to do it whenever you want for your own reasons. I just thought I would make my thoughts known because like it has been a decade. I think you’re allowed to say I have a slight preference without worrying that you’re like pushing him out of the closet or like giving him undue pressure. Does that strike you as reason? Like, do you hear that and think like, I actually think no straight person should ever say you should think about coming out because it would make things a little easier for me.

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Speaker 2: No, I think it’s it’s more like if if you approach it with that kind of stance of like, thank you for your trust. Like, I’m glad that I’ve been able to be there for you and like know this about you. Like, how can I support you, you know, being your fullest self, whatever that means for you in this friend group, you know, whether that is continuing to keep the secret or whether it is helping in whatever way as the secret becomes less of a secret. Okay. I think that is that is reasonable for sure.

Danny Lavery: Yeah. And then, you know, hopefully that moves the needle a little or at least gives you some more insight into how Kenji is doing. You know, maybe he’ll share something that you weren’t aware of or maybe he’ll say there’s actually kind of something else that’s been going on or, you know, maybe you’ll you’ll get a chance to, like, feel a little closer to Kenji, if only because you’ve now shared with him a little bit about why this is sometimes been challenging for you.

Danny Lavery: And again, like based on this letter, I’m not worried. You’re going to say like I’ve been carrying a cross around for a decade, like this is killing me. Like, you seem to have a pretty appropriate sense of scale here. So I’m not worried that you’re going to like put a guilt trip on him. But I also think, like, he’s a good friend. You’ve been doing this for a decade. It is not inappropriate for you to bring up the possibility. But if he’s just like, Nope, I really don’t want to do it if he hears you out and he just is totally committed to the same course of action, even if you think it’s like really dumb, you know, I think stay the course.

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Danny Lavery: And like, again, I can both appreciate ways that that might feel kind of strange with people you’ve known for a decade. But I just also think, like, while I don’t think you need to like wake up your husband the night before your annual trip and say like now we got to go through every possible scenario again. So like, you never, ever slip out of this. Like, you don’t have to go to heroic measures here. But also, like, if it’s just once a year, you’re like, Hey, husband, you know, Kenji is not out yet, so don’t ask him about boyfriends. Keep doing that or tell your husband to just remember it for next year. I don’t want to be like and women have to remind their husbands how to keep the peace because that’s their job.

Danny Lavery: Like you could also just like guess what has been like, I’m giving you this information for the last time and it is now yours to remember, especially, I think, because that can strike a kind of useful balance between absolutely not going out of your way to out someone who doesn’t want to be outed, but also not taking responsibility too. It’s like irrational, extreme, where you’re like, I now have to make sure that my husband never accidentally slips up. Like, That’s actually not your job. That to me does not fall under the category of like honoring a trust. Someone has confided in you like you’ve told your husband multiple times. Don’t forget this. I hope he doesn’t forget this. I think odds are great that your husband will be able to remember, and if he does, at some point forget and slip up. Let your grown man husband deal with covering his ass, fixing the situation, possibly dealing with Kenji, getting cross with him. You know, you’ve done your part. You don’t have to mother your husband about your friend’s closet, if that makes sense.

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Speaker 2: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point because I think after a decade, you know, there probably has been that’s probably also pretty friendly with Kenji and can also be considered a friend who is has part of the responsibility for sharing what has been entrusted to him. It does not have to offer. On the letter writer to seal up every possible leak.

Danny Lavery: Yeah, it is. It is kind of funny, though. I do occasionally hear from somebody who’s like, I’m in a weird position, I’m straight, but I really feel like my friend could be being gay better. And like, oftentimes that person is, like, very thoughtful and kind. And it’s like, I don’t like feeling this way. I don’t want to micro-manage anyone else’s gayness, but like, I feel like they’re maybe making a little harder for themselves and they have to.

Danny Lavery: And like, I just I feel for you letter writer. I think you have good intentions. You seem kind, you seem caring. You know, you’re clearly curious about whether Kenji feels lonely or isolated. And again, without trying to force the question of what he’s going to do next, if part of what you just want is to say to Kenji, I really love you, everyone’s really worried that you don’t have like close friends. And I don’t know if I’m being super presumptuous or just projecting on to you, but, you know, how are you? Do you feel lonely and isolated? Do you have maybe close friends I don’t know about? Like, you know, not like give me their names. Tell me, like if you’re just curious about a friend who you think maybe seems lonely, I think a lot of times people won’t say anything. Maybe because they don’t know exactly what to say or they don’t want to seem rude and. I’m not worried about you being rude. You sound thoughtful. I think maybe just saying something might actually be really meaningful, and maybe Kenji will be like, Oh, I’m good. You’ve misunderstood the situation, and that would be fine too. But maybe he’ll say thank you for noticing or thank you for asking.

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Danny Lavery: Mostly I’m okay, but this is a little hard for me, like the fundamental desire here, which is like to be a little bit more honest with Kenji about how you’re feeling about your relationship and to express some, you know, moderate concern about whether or not he’s doing as well as he could be and asking if you can help. Those are all achievable and like laudable goals for a friend. So I hope that goes well. I hope he does come out to your friends. I don’t want to give any rulings of like if someone’s in the closet for 20 years, you’re definitely allowed to, like accidentally on purpose out them in front of your friends. But I will continue to give the question some real thought.

Speaker 2: I feel like the question is not like, why haven’t you come out yet? It’s like, do you have the support you need? Are you are you good? Are you good? What can I do to help?

Danny Lavery: Yeah. Yeah. And maybe like even from curiosity, like you say, his parents seem loving and supportive, although they’re not attending Pride. Maybe that’s a good opportunity to ask Kenji generally like, Hey, how did coming out go at grad school? How has it been with your family? Because he might have an answer. That’s like, you know, I was out of grad school and it was like kind of fine but kind of weird or like it’s nice that my family is supportive ish, but there’s also lots of, like weird low grade ways. It’s kind of stressful and I don’t even always know how to bring it up because there’s not one big bad thing. So yeah, every time I come out, I’ve given myself this new like problem to solve, and I kind of like having one group of people where I don’t have to do that totally.

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Speaker 2: Like the fear could not like it could be coming from somewhere completely different than the friend group. Like the friend group could be totally safe, but like other situations maybe have not been like as safe and maybe he is just has apprehensions about going through the same process. That has not worked out perfectly with people he really loves and cares about and wants to keep in his life the same way.

Danny Lavery: Yeah, yeah. And not to go on too many tangents, but like I was just having a conversation last night with a friend of mine who’s been kind of like a, you know, going through like difficult family reactions to transition like a few years in. And one of the things that we kind of like settled on was like it’s it’s rare that somebody will like underestimate how bad a particular relative’s reaction or transition is going to be like. I think usually if you think someone’s going to have a bad reaction, you’re right. But often we don’t anticipate how weird some of the bad reactions can get.

Danny Lavery: Like you think, okay, yeah, like Kyle’s going to take this badly, he’s going to kind of be attack about it. But like, you could never have guessed that like two years after you debuted, they them pronouns. Kyle’s going to find out you started hormones and, like, storming to your childhood bedroom, angry, crying, being like, Do you think your ex-husband loves you as a woman or as a non-binary person? And you’re just like, Oh, this is so fucking deranged. I didn’t see this coming. Like, I expected someone to say, like, I’ll never accept this. I did not expect this. Does that make sense?

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Speaker 2: Yeah. Like it’s like you get accepted, but then you have to, like, process people’s reaction. You know, it’s not like a blanket, like, refusal of, like, no, get out of my life. It’s like, okay, like, you’re still my relative, but like, I have a lot of stuff here and now this. I’m giving this to you to help me deal with it. And it’s like, Oh, okay, that’s just one more thing that I didn’t realize I would have to carry. Yeah.

Danny Lavery: And, like, there’s plenty of people who will just say straight up, like, I don’t accept your coming out whatever form of coming out of this for many people, possibly many more people who will say some variation of, wow, that’s a lot. Thank you for telling me. I appreciate that. Obviously, I love and support you and who will then spend the next six years acting bananas and horrible and they’ll never admit it’s because they’re wildly unhappy with your coming out and they’re just like, No, I’m fine, but I’m going to say the most fucked up thing to you you’ve ever heard in your life. But I love you, and I consider one of my missions on Earth helping people try to identify that type as early as they can, because otherwise you’re in for a real time waster of a scenario.

Speaker 3: And yo, you no doubt.

Danny Lavery: Anyways. Moving, moving on. Would you mind reading our second letter?

Speaker 2: Yeah, of course. This one. Comes from a hurt and heartbroken place. My four year relationship recently ended horribly after a terrifying depressive episode a few months ago. I suggested we take a month long break with clearly defined goals and rules so I could work on my recovery alone. I agreed to open up the relationship so he could see other people as my depression had totally killed my sex drive, which I know had been really hard for him and had been causing a lot of tension between us.

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Speaker 2: When we met up at the end of the month, he almost immediately said he wanted to break up. Without hearing about anything I worked on during the break. He was upset when I told him I wasn’t sure we could remain friends because I didn’t know what I’ll need to hear and didn’t want to make false promises. We didn’t reach a conclusion, so we agreed to meet again. But before we could do so, I found out that he had slept with someone that broke the rules of the open arrangement. It was with the same girl he had talked about multiple times in a way that didn’t make me feel good. And I had even told him this and how it related to trauma I still carry from past relationships. I consider this to be cheating.

Speaker 2: But he did not agree and refused to cut ties with this girl even after he took pains to describe how much this breach of trust had hurt me because, quote, she isn’t as significant as you think. And to quote. I made multiple attempts to describe how and why I was hurt. But he never apologized because, quote, We had both hurt each other in this relationship and quote, I finally had to tell him to fuck off. This whole experience has left me wondering whether I’m wrong for being so upset about him breaking the rules. Am I wrong for feeling unheard and hurt by this? How can I move forward and trust someone again without having to involve him in the process? Phew.

Danny Lavery: Yeah. So this one’s definitely, I think, heaviest. And yeah, there’s, there’s, you know, lots of sadness and pain in this one. And I just am and I really want to both, I think, try to offer some advice that I hope will prove bracing and useful, but also acknowledge that, like the letter writer has been through a lot, a bad breakup and before that, like what sounds like a terrifying depressive episode. So I think I think that’s where I want to start, which is just letter writer. I am so sorry. I hope that you have been able to get whatever kind of like medical and therapeutic treatment is useful to you as well as hopefully a lot of support from friends and other important people in your life besides your ex. And I just want that for you, I think, first and foremost. So I hope that you can continue leaning on that support that hopefully you to have for as long as you need it. I’m so glad that you have survived this terrifying depressive episode. That’s really hard and I’m really glad that you did.

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Speaker 2: Yeah, definitely. I feel like this letter might be coming from a place where someone has been told that there are rules for when you’re allowed to feel hurt. And I feel like the answer to the question, like, am I allowed to feel hurt is always like, yes, right? Like you always you always feel what you feel like, what you do with that can the advice can vary from situation to situation, but am I allowed to feel this? Like the answer is always, of course. Of course you feel what you feel. And I guess like speaking to the kind of focus on on rules throughout this letter, I feel like this would be a very painful situation even if this ex hadn’t broken a rule that you set.

Speaker 2: Right. Like. Even if it’s just you’re coming out of a month long break, you’re coming out of a really terrifying depression. Your current partner says that that they’re done and you find out that, you know, he starts dating someone right after that. Like, that alone is, like, incredibly painful and, you know, cause for concern for a lot of. Of hurt. Feelings of betrayal. Feelings of abandonment. I feel like that’s all incredibly real. Even if you, you know, don’t take into consideration the fact that there was an open relationship arrangement and that he. You know. Went against the rules for that kind of betrayed that trust, started doing his own thing without really, really checking in and.

Speaker 2: I feel like this is like an inflection point maybe in this relationship where they’re both the letter writer and and their acts are trying to figure out like, well, how do we move forward from here? Like, can we stay friends? And I don’t I don’t know if someone who doesn’t even, like, ask how you’re doing after you spend a month, you know, trying to recover from depression is like worth staying friends with.

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Danny Lavery: I wasn’t quite sure. Was the do the letter writer say explicitly, I want to stay friends? I think it seems like the letter writer feels pretty clear. Like at the time I said I wasn’t sure. And now I think I’m pretty clear that the answer is no. But you’re right. Maybe there’s some wobbly ness in terms of like, well, am I wrong for feeling hurt? In which case, do I owe him a friendship? Could maybe be the implicit follow up to that.

Speaker 2: Yeah, maybe it feels like there’s maybe just some attachment on both ends, you know, of, like, how do we put this thing of four years behind us? It’s like, really messy, you know? There’s just a lot of feelings on both sides, like. And I feel like that’s, you know, regardless of the particulars, this is a really painful, painful spot to be in.

Danny Lavery: Yeah. Yeah. I think all of that is really true. And so letter writer, whatever I’m about to try to either, like, pull out of your letter or suggest for the future. I really want to make it clear, you know, I don’t want to, like, give you a list of homework to do or say that you ought to feel one way or the other.

Danny Lavery: So, you know, this is this falls into the category of just like you had a tough breakup and you’re allowed to feel hurt over it. There’s you know, please don’t be too hard on yourself. If you feel like, am I feeling the wrong thing or am I feeling the right thing but for the wrong reasons or in the wrong fashion just, you know, mentally assign yourself to the category of I’m a person. Persons are allowed to be upset after a bad breakup of a four year relationship. As long as you are not like, you know, setting alight bags of dog shit on his doorstep or like showing up at his workplace to yell at him, you know, you are allowed to say like, it is not my job to like have perfect perspective about my ex-boyfriend, right? Like I just like cut yourself a little bit of slack.

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Danny Lavery: Like, yes, I do want to be able to help you think about like useful ways to think about the end of this relationship. But you’re also just really allowed to say, like, I’m really mad at my ex-boyfriend. I don’t feel like having charitable thoughts towards him right now. I want to have some friends over and say, Fuck that guy. And for them to say, Yeah, fuck that guy. And that is we’re not harming him. We’re not like cutting him off from community. We’re not, you know, unfairly demonizing a human being. Like, we’re engaging in like, okay, post-breakup rituals.

Speaker 2: Yeah, totally. Like there’s going to be a lot of grief and like, whatever you need to do to process that or to come to a place where it feels like you’re on a little bit more solid ground, I think that is that is totally real. Yeah. To just have a lot of anger, like there’s a lot of anger involved in in any kind of dissolution, I think of a four year relationship. It’s, it sucks. It sucks no matter what. And it’s okay for it to suck and whatever you need to do to like feel that fully and not, you know, I don’t think you need to like, tamp that down or like worry about it being excessive or disproportionate. I don’t I don’t think there are rules. I mean, you know, beyond just not actually harassing him in person is.

Danny Lavery: Which, again, you, the letter writer has not done has not been anything that you believe they would do. So like.

Speaker 2: I don’t think desires like.

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Danny Lavery: That’s your limit.

Speaker 2: Yeah. To punish punish this man in material ways so yeah. Any, anything beyond that I think is a very, very real and worth doing. Yeah.

Danny Lavery: So having said all of that, I do want to maybe look a little bit at kind of the timeline again, letter writer, not in the interest of like you should have done this differently or you were wrong to do that, like just in terms of like kind of getting useful after the fact, emotional information. You know, what I see in I had a terrifying depressive episode. I suggest that we take a month long break with clearly defined goals is a possibility that you know, I mean, again, I can understand any any number of relationships. If you go through a terrifying and unexpected depressive episode, you might need to do something drastic. But one possible reading I get there is maybe your boyfriend was not supporting you at the time in the way that you need it. And maybe that’s part of what’s animating some of the hurt you’re feeling. And again, not like this makes him a monster. This makes our whole relationship meaningless. Just like I wish he had been there for me more than he was. And that’s part of why I’m hurt.

Danny Lavery: And maybe it doesn’t feel as justified as he violated a specific rule, but you’re allowed to say, you know, again, he is his own person. He’s allowed to want different things. And what I want I wish that he had been there more for me and that I hadn’t needed to say, I need a break. That’s the thing that I’m sad and heard about that would make sense to me. So I hope you can give yourself some permission to explore that possibility.

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Danny Lavery: I also think that if you tell a partner, I’d like us to take a break for a month and here are some rules and goals. One of the things, again, like not that you were wrong to do that, not that you shouldn’t have done that. It sounds like you knew that that was something that you needed at the time. But I think it’s also important to think that to understand that you are inviting the very real possibility of a break up with that, like you might hope for the best. But I think it is rare, possibly vanishingly rare, that there is somebody whose commitment to a relationship is strong enough that if you say to them, I want us to break up for a month.

Danny Lavery: Here are some rules. Let’s come back and discuss it a month from now and that they will show up in a month feeling closer to you, feeling stronger in your connection. I think it is more likely that even otherwise loving and supportive people will feel like, I don’t know that this is the kind of relationship that I want to be in. And none of that is to say, therefore, you did the wrong thing and therefore you have to be comfortable with how your boyfriend handled this breakup. Just that, you know, you say he almost immediately said he wanted to break up. He didn’t even want to hear about what I worked on during the break. I really hear the pain there and it makes a lot of sense to me. And I’m not saying this to be like, but you asked for it. So like, don’t don’t complain. You made your bed. Now lie in it. That’s not this at all. Just like I think that makes sense.

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Danny Lavery: One of the things that he did with that time was think about what he wanted. And after a month of not being in a relationship, but also following rules about who he was and wasn’t allowed to see. He decided that he would rather not be in that relationship and make his own rules about who he was going to see. And you don’t have to like it at all. It doesn’t have to feel good. But it was one of the likely outcomes of the request that you had made of him. And so again, you have to like it.

Danny Lavery: But. I think oftentimes when people suggest let’s go on a break with clearly defined rules and goals, it has more to do with I don’t want to throw away our four years together. So I need to feel like there’s still a chance we’re working to salvage something. But it is. It’s really a breakup, I think. And. I don’t say that so that you have to feel like that’s obviously what I was doing. I should just feel great about it. But I think that if you say to someone, I don’t want to date for a month, I just want you to follow some rules on my behalf. You’re trying to break up with him. Does that feel like I’m taking it too far? Do you feel like I’m psychoanalyzing, like, our letter writer in a way that’s just, like, over the line?

Speaker 2: I feel like it’s hard to know because, like, the way that depression can kind of fold and manifest itself. Like, sometimes you really can’t see people or, like, be, you know, a functioning human being for a month. And if there’s someone in your life who is kind of asking certain things of you or wants you to be attentive in certain ways that are, you know, that you can’t rise to. I can totally see being like making the decision to just be like, I need to distill my life down to the kind of the the bare minimum of what I need to do to stay alive so that I can start to rebuild, you know, some pieces of my mental health. I got some habits on track. Like if this is a relationship that was taking up a lot of a lot of time that, you know, I think like. There is maybe like an underlying sense in this letter that that the letter writer felt that they weren’t able to be their best with their partner.

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Speaker 2: Right. Like they there is a disappointment and hurt, you know, kind of even before this month long breakup, I think like clearing space and just like getting oriented for a month. That can be what it is like that that can be the goal is just like, let me just orient like what’s going on with me. Like try to get some help, you know, try to get some medical care.

Speaker 2: I, I don’t know if that is necessarily always pointing to a breakup. I think, you know. It can definitely, obviously lead there. I don’t know if that’s always, always true. You know, like I think I’ve I’ve seen it happen that sometimes people do come back together after like really hard times where they just kind of can’t like they just can’t deal for a little a little while or they can’t be present for each other for a little while. It’s not always how the story goes, but. But I think in this case, like just the first meeting after this break where the boyfriend is immediately like, yep, I’m good, I’m done. I don’t really care how you are or how you’ve been doing or what you’ve been working on or whether you’re better. And it just kind of went out. I think that’s that’s pretty, pretty clear.

Danny Lavery: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, to be clear to I don’t mean like letter writer, you obviously only wanted to break up and this was your way of doing it subconsciously. I just mean you in addition to feeling like deep love and commitment to this guy, I think you also on some level felt like, I can’t. Get better or heal or take care of myself. With him as my boyfriend. And that’s meaningful information, even if it’s also coupled with. But I don’t want to lose him totally.

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Speaker 2: So that’s a hard contradiction to hold. But I wonder, like, what what information came to you during during this month apart?

Danny Lavery: Because again, I don’t want to like read everything into just this single letter, but like, you know, the only thing the letter writer says about how the boyfriend treated her before their breakup was that it was really hard for him that depression killed her sex life. So maybe he was amazing otherwise. But I think usually when that’s the case, people put that in the letter. And so it seems and again, I don’t want to demonize somebody for like missing a sexual connection with their partner. It just like with no other information when that’s all that I know about what he was feeling during her depressive episodes. It it makes me kind of wonder like, was he kind of dismissive of your depression generally? Was he a little bit more like. Sorry to hear that you’re not feeling great or whatever, babe. But like, what about me? And again, like, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he wasn’t on that end of the spectrum. It’s just like. I’m curious. So yeah.

Speaker 2: And maybe one more thing to offer is just like that, mental health is not really in a vacuum, you know, it’s not just like psych like psychology in general is like a social experience, right? Like you feel a certain ways often, but not. Not always, but often because of, like, who you’re in relationship with and what your social bonds are like. I guess maybe just like speaking for my own experience, like some of my worst depressions came when I was in real bad relationships, and that was part of it, you know, and I’m not saying that that’s what this is, because we don’t have that information. But just like.

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Danny Lavery: There’s a few clues that suggest it might be right next to you, but maybe.

Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think and just like maybe more broadly speaking, like your your social field has some impact on, on how you’re doing. Generally, that’s kind of just, I think generally true for human beings.

Danny Lavery: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, I want to move away from that because I feel like I don’t want to like hammer on this point that might make the letter rate or feel like solely responsible for the pain that she’s feeling. So, you know, like letter writer, you say that your ex got upset when you said you weren’t sure you could promise that you would stay friends. I’m really sorry that he did that. I get maybe nobody’s at their best during an actual breakup conversation, but that was fucked up. He should have said That makes me sad, but I understand and take all the time you need. If you ever change your mind, please let me know. And in the meantime, I respect your space or, you know, some variation of that that sounds looks like a human and not a therapy robot would say that was a fucked up response. And I’m really sorry that he said that to you.

Danny Lavery: And that was, in fact, an incredibly, like appropriate, sensible, bracing, healthy thing for you to have said, which was, I can’t make you any promise. We’re breaking up right now. I don’t know whether or not like this is just now happening. Like, I cannot commit to an immediate friendship when we are in the throes of breaking out badly and you are 1,000,000% in the right there, you know, and again, just like, yeah, if I were to guess, I would say one of the things that maybe felt sad is like you were like, I’m taking this time to work on myself and hoping that if my partner will just like do these like couple of specific things that will be able to come back together and instead he didn’t. And that’s painful. Of course that’s painful. That makes sense to me.

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Danny Lavery: And I again, like, feel free to dismiss that. If you look back over your own recent history and feel like this doesn’t line up, but maybe part of what you wanted in that sort of like testing period was like, Can I trust you? You know, will you do the things that we agree upon, even if you don’t know that he likes them? Like just if he says he’s going to do something, can you trust that?

Danny Lavery: So, you know, I don’t think that there’s any reason to try to continue to hash out with your now ex whether or not you both consider this cheating. I think one of the most like helpful freeing things I’ve ever heard about the idea of break ups is you often break up when you can no longer agree on a story of your time together.

Danny Lavery: And so, you know, it’s not about either he formally, officially cheated in a universally recognizable way and is therefore a bad guy you’re allowed to be mad at, or he can get off on a technicality and you have to forfeit your anger and hurt. That’s just not how it works. So, you know, you just get to be hurt and sad about that and you get to, you know, you have my full permission to say it. Run me like you’re allowed to use that. If if you. If you worry that it’s not bad enough cheating and that you have to like be happy, that’s just not, again, not how it works.

Danny Lavery: Like he did something that hurt you. He didn’t tell you the truth. Whether or not he thought that what you were asking was reasonable, it was kind of incumbent upon him when you made the suggestion, if he was like, This sounds unreasonable and I can’t meet these criteria, you know, she probably should have said something then. So, you know, be hurt. Don’t waste time trying to get him to agree. Yes, I did cheat. Yes, it was wrong, you know. Yes, you should win and I should lose in this argument because I just think that way lies madness. But by all means, you know, call it what you would like and feel the feelings that you feel. That is reasonable.

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Speaker 2: Definitely.

Danny Lavery: Yeah. And then, you know, beyond that. This well, I think is not going to draw water. And I think that’s my sort of like last thought, which is like I really wish that I could get him to understand how much he has hurt me that would be meaningful to me. And that hasn’t been what you’ve been able to get from him in the last few conversations. So with all the like love and compassion in the world, I would say stop trying to draw water from this. Well, it is dry. You could go back to him with the most eloquent descriptions of what you have been going through these last few months, the most, you know, reasonable, sensible arguments that you can possibly come up with and your ex-boyfriend is not, I think, ever going to say.

Danny Lavery: You know, when you put it like that, you’re right. And I was wrong and I’m sorry. And here’s everything that you need from me in order to feel good about how we ended this relationship. Maybe someday you two will be able to have, like, a kind of poignant, respectful conversation of, like, wow, that was really rough breakup ten years ago. I’m really sorry that I hurt you and wasn’t there for you. I’m glad you’re well. Have a good life. It can’t count on that. I wouldn’t count on that. And I definitely don’t think you’re going to be friends in a meaningful way. And that I think the best thing that you can do for yourself right now is not talk to him for a good long time. My only last thought is how do I move forward and trust someone again without having to involve him in the process? Do you have a strong sense of what the letter writer meant by that question? I have a gas, but I’m not quite sure if I’m right.

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Speaker 2: I my sense is that it kind of has to do with what you were just talking about with like, how can I trust again or move on if I can’t like tiny bo on this, you know, and say like, you know, come to an agreement between the two of us that he cheated and it was wrong. And I’m I’m right to to feel the way I’m feeling. I guess, given that interpretation, my response would just to be like, you don’t need his permission. You don’t need his okay to feel what you’re feeling. It doesn’t have to be tied up. It’s like you don’t need him to confirm that it’s as bad as it is because it’s as bad as it feels. However it feels for you right now. That’s how bad it is. And that’s real. And he he does not need to weigh in on on how real it is. Like, you know, it’s real because of how you’re feeling.

Danny Lavery: Yeah. My only sort of note of possible concern had been that the letter writer was suggesting, if I date somebody else in the future, how do I trust them? While also like carrying around hurt and and like frustration and a sense of betrayal from the end of my last relationship. And if that’s the case, I would really strongly encourage the letter writer to take ownership of that one, because I think one of the worst things that you could this would be my one thing where I would strongly encourage you to, like, avoid something is if you get into a relationship with someone else in the future and. Try to make them feel at all responsible for how your last relationship went or ended.

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Danny Lavery: That is a recipe for hurting somebody else. And I don’t want to like cause you against that. Like, hey, I know you’re sad and suffering and somebody just hurt you, but you need to think of yourself as potentially hurting somebody in the future when you have done nothing of the kind, just that whatever it looks like for you to work through these feelings of like betrayal, resentment, hurt, etc.. Do that. Pursue that fully. It doesn’t even have to be like a perfectly healed before you go on a date with somebody else.

Danny Lavery: But if you catch yourself going on a date at some point in the future and feeling a sense of like, Well, this guy’s got a long road ahead of him because he has to make up for my last bad boyfriend. Don’t go on a second date with that person. Check in with your therapist. Check in with your friends. Check in with your journal. Do what you need to do. But whoever you date in the future is not this guy and has no responsibility for making up for what this guy did.

Danny Lavery: And I think that that is like my strongest word of advice here is like make sure that you can see anyone else you date in the future as having nothing to do with this man. And that doesn’t mean you can’t share, generally speaking, at an appropriate time. Like I’ve had a difficult time in a relationship, or like I had a partner where a breakup was really bad. Or sometimes I’m nervous about this or that particular issue because of my history. I’m not saying present yourself as a blank slate or pretend that you’ve never been hurt, but there’s a big difference between that and like, you know, someone else cheated on me in the past. And so you’re on thin ice is a recipe for hurting a new person.

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Danny Lavery: Does that feel like a possible read or is just like I’m just being paranoid here?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I think that’s possible. I think I think when you’re so in it and you think about like, what about the rest of my life? It kind of feels like the way your body is feeling and it is just going to, like, stay with you forever, you know? And it’s like, Oh my God, how can I possibly date someone else when I feel this bad and I’m going to feel this bad for the rest of my life? And I just like to offer that. It’s not it’s not going to be the rest of your life. And it’s hard to to feel that it’s hard to feel that future beyond, like, the trauma of the separation. But I’m really glad this letter writers like doing work for themselves to, like, get healthier, get more support, you know, work on, work on a lot of things that are really painful already. I think, like all this can be can be part of that work. And there is there is this future where it is not this immediate, like somatic like alarm bell ringing all of the time, you know, like that will eventually quiet and and it will feel it will feel a lot better.

Danny Lavery: Yeah. Yeah. You don’t have to trust anyone new until you want to and until you feel ready. I think it’s a kinder way of putting it than like make sure you don’t do something wrong in the future. Which when even though you’re not hurting anyone now. Yeah. Just like you. All you have to do right now is be sad about your breakup and be, like, hurt and cross and whatever else comes up for you. Angry, furious. Devastated. Pick a word, pick a feeling, explore it. And yeah, don’t. Don’t worry about trusting somebody new until you want to. And it sounds good.

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Danny Lavery: Thank you so much for helping me out today.

Speaker 2: Thanks so much for having me on. It’s been a treat.

Danny Lavery: It’s been a delight and a half. And I hope that I can get you back on the show sometime soon and that either someday I see you basing around in Colorado or you see me basing around wherever it is that I’m based out of.

Speaker 2: Hopefully we can base together.

Danny Lavery: Can together. And with that. Thanks for listening. Goodbye.

Danny Lavery: Thank you for joining us on Big Mood, a little mood with me. Danny Lavery, our producer, is Phil Surkis, who also composed our theme music Don’t Miss an episode of the show, had the Slate.com slash mood to sign up to subscribe or hit the subscribe button on whatever platform you’re using right now. Thanks. Also, if you can please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. We’d love to know what you think. If you want more big mood, little mood, you should join Slate. Plus, Slate’s membership program members get an extra episode of Big Mood, a little mood every Friday, and you’ll get to hear more advice and conversations with the guest. And as a Slate Plus member, you’ll also be supporting the show. Go to Slate.com forward slash mood plus to sign up. It’s just $1 for your first month. If you’d like me to read your letter on the show, maybe need a little advice, maybe some big advice. Head to Slate.com slash mood to find our big mood, a little mood listener question form or find a link in the description on the platform you’re using right now.

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Danny Lavery: Thanks for listening. And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. I’m considering paying someone I’m dating to do labor for me. First of all, why are we using language like labor in this context? Please, please don’t. Second of all, fucking don’t do it. What should I consider? There’s not, like, a cool laundry list that’s going to make this a good idea. There’s no, like, level of, like, therapy or online communist speech that is going to make this sensible is a foolish, dumb idea. Not that your partner’s foolish or dumb, but what he is suggesting could go so badly in so many ways. To listen to the rest of that conversation, join Slate Plus now at Slate.com, forward slash mood.