S1: Just a quick note to our listeners, I am recording next to my new dog, Bonbon, today, who I love very much and who also has a slight cough for which he is getting his little, tiny, tiny dog medication. So I’m just hanging out with him, making sure that he’s OK. So you will occasionally hear a little dog coughing in the background.
S2: And it may be the most plaintive and adorable thing you’ve ever heard. Or it may, you know, activate your desire to fly in and feed him medicine yourself.
S1: Just want to let you know he’s doing great. You’re looking after him. He’s getting all his medicines. His cough will go away soon. Thanks for being with us.
S3: You’re freedom, your prudent ghiberti, prudent, dear, dear prudence here, pretty, do you think that I should contact him again? No help. Thank. Thank you.
S4: Hello and welcome to another episode of Dear Prudence, I’m your host, Danny Marberry, this show is for you are plus subscribers. Our guest this week is novelist Aylesworth. Their first book, we are watching, Iliza Bright is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing, an April 20 21. And now here’s our first letter.
S5: Oh oh oh oh oh oh. All right. This next one is me. And I’m glad because.
S2: I really went back and forth about editing the first line because, you know, the first line, I feel that it’s it testifies to the the letter writers state of mind or way of attempting to defuse tension by talking like this. So I want to start by saying, bless this letter writer. I want to help you. I encourage you to not use this kind of language. So the subject is newly activist friend taking it too far. Dear Prudence, I’m really struggling with a script to talk to my friend without sounding like a white, privileged jerk face many muggins. Great guthridge. She’s recently become very involved with Black Lives Matter protests, which is fantastic. She’s also been talking about it with her other white friends, which is also great. But she keeps sending us and me specifically material about how white women aren’t doing enough and saying we should do more while this is broadly true. I feel like a jerk for being bothered by it. I’ve worked for over a dozen years with school districts and education related government agencies to address systemic racism. They’re not perfect, but they were all genuinely trying. I also talked to my own relatives and friends about racism. I donate to organizations whose work I respect and do what I can in my own corner of the world. I don’t always talk about these things with my friends or on social media because I don’t want to chase accolades for work that simply needs doing. For what it’s worth, my friend often makes a big deal out of her own acts of kindness and I find it embarrassing. So when my friend, who wasn’t very active until a few months ago, tells me I’m not doing enough for anti-racism, especially when she doesn’t ask what I’m doing at all, I feel hurt and angry. I also notice that this uptick in awareness only started after she began dating black men, which makes me uncomfortable. Should I say anything? Everything I imagine saying makes me sound defensive and whiny. Rich tapestry, as they say, what’s going on here?
S6: There’s a lot to unpack. Yeah, I’m sorry.
S4: Go too hard on that first sentence. I just really mean, like, when you say things like I’m hurt and angry and I feel frustrated that she doesn’t ask me questions, I feel like, yep, you’re in touch with what you’re feeling.
S2: You are speaking honestly about your thoughts and concerns. And when you say things like, I’m worried, I sound like a white, privileged jerk face many McGinnes. To me, it sounds like you are attempting to displace a certain level of discomfort or fear by trying to make yourself sound very cutesy and jokey. And it jars so, you know, lose the jerk face Ninni Muggins lingo when you are talking with your friends about racism, protests, activism, etc.. Now that that’s out of the way, where do you see opportunities for intervention here? What do you think the letter writer should focus on? What do you think letter writer should not worry about? What’s your take?
S7: Wow, I feel like your I feel like the letter writer is probably feeling defensive. And so just as an FYI, I do want to acknowledge that we are too white people talking about race. And, you know, we’re you know, we should be talking to other white people about race, which this letter writer seems to be doing. But but we we may do well, fuck it up. So that’s just a thing I want to acknowledge. This letter writer probably is defensive because white people are so delayed on doing anything about this that enough is no longer possible. There is literally not doing enough ever. There’s no way. There’s only long awaited forward momentum. Finally, that’s like I feel like we’re at that point. So the things that I want to focus on is that your discomfort with your friend right now is not an emergency. You can just be uncomfortable with this interaction and sit there in your discomfort with this interaction and interrogate why each of these things is making you uncomfortable individually.
S2: Yeah, and I mean, I think the source of the discomfort here is pretty clear, which is like my friend is not actually familiar with the work that I am doing. She’s not sort of like doing her homework and she’s speaking pretty blithely and with authority about something that she doesn’t know a lot about, which is on top of it, genuinely frustrating. So I think I think you’re right. I think it’s good to move away from getting her to say, you know what, you’re right. You are doing all the good work. You I know you don’t want cookies, but here is the crown saying you don’t want the cookies.
S6: So here’s a crown, you know, and also I the the letter writer seems to have worked with school districts and education related government agencies that address systemic racism. And I also want to acknowledge that sometimes those things are sites of tremendous racism.
S2: Yeah, I agree. I think that line about like, they’re not perfect, but they’re trying, OK, sometimes trying is good. Sometimes trying isn’t, you know, sometimes you can both try and make something worse. So effort in and of itself or like good intended and well intended effort isn’t necessarily creditable. So really, I would just say share some of this with your friend, not necessarily in the sense of I want to defend every organization I’ve ever worked with or everything I’ve ever done. But if she’s stunning, you’re just another general article that’s just like as a group, white women are doing good things. And you say, I feel like you’ve been sending me these a lot. This feels really pointed. Do you have questions for me about the kind of work that I do? Do I don’t think that you’re actually especially familiar with it. I want to talk to you about what you’re doing. You know, I’m not worried about that kind of conversation, again, because this is between two white friends, like talking about their relationship to activism. And I think there’s grounds for conversation there that, yes, as you were saying, should not come from the goal is to get her to come away and say, you’re right, you’ve been doing this longer, you know, more, I should knock it off. But like, if she’s bugging you by sending you a lot of articles about a general group dynamic and that you feel like, you know, you want to challenge say that, I would say leave out the stuff about. I notice that you’ve only been talking about this since you started dating black guys. Partly just because she came to it, how she came to it, you know, you can have your own opinions or ideas about. That but. She she she’s there now, she wants to think about it, she wants to talk about it saying like, go back in time and think about it earlier, it doesn’t really work like that. And I don’t know that it’s actually going to be helpful to say like. I know that your motives are only from your own romantic life, and, yeah, I just don’t see that ending up productive.
S6: Does that make sense? Yeah, because this person asked for a script. I actually wrote one. Oh, my gosh, look at you. So I operate with scripts a lot of the times where I’m like, OK, what is actually what I want out of this conversation and what is the like ingredients of the my like my ingredients of how I might get there. And so if I were in this exact position, I might use the script and basically say, I want to continue to talk about racial justice with you, but I want our conversations to shift in focus to what we’re currently doing and what we should be doing next. And that’s how I would feel more supported and accountable and how I feel best supporting you and holding you accountable. And can we can we please shift our conversations in that direction because it feels more actionable than the articles. I would appreciate that deeply. I think that’s super useful and that is what I would say. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. I think that addresses the things that are genuinely like getting in the way of having a real conversation, but that don’t turn into look at all the good things I’ve done or all the good intentions I’ve had. Tell me I’m good. And if you would like to, again, I don’t think you need to go into this saying like you never shut up about it on Twitter when you do something that you think of as good or as activist.
S4: But you can say, like, I have been doing X, Y and Z work. I don’t talk about it on social media for the following reasons and talk about that like make a case. There’s there’s a lot of room in between. Any time I do something helpful or useful or attend a protest, I plaster it across social media of myself looking just dazzling and my jaw line looking sharp versus I lie about it. I tell people I don’t do anything, but I’m secretly doing a ton of slicky. There are ways to non anxiously and non defensively talk about work that you are involved in or work that you find valuable with your friends. There’s room in the middle in between, never saying anything and never shut up about it.
S6: And like I found things to do based on the things my friends were already doing, like I found organizations to donate to. I found call scripts that have made sense to me that I have, you know, riffed on when I’m, you know, calling the government whatever government needs, calling that day. Just the big government. No. And so, like talking about it also isn’t necessarily bad, especially if the idea is, you know, giving people the tools to also then themselves act in this way. Yeah. And if, you know, someone has never heard of the project before and your thing is what leads them, they’re like, hell. Yeah, right.
S4: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s true too. I think that’s useful because it’s like the less you get worried about figuring out or establishing someone’s intentions and the more that you focus on like what’s the useful work we can do, what are the ways we can make sure that our own self-image or our own defensiveness doesn’t get in the way of the work that we’re trying to do? That’s a good thing. And so, like, to that end, like, I think it’s OK to just say to yourself, like, I feel a little defensive that happens. And I think if you act like, oh, no, I can’t be defensive because then that would be bad, then you will do a lot to prove to yourself that you’re not being defensive. And again, I don’t mean that you should, like, run out and tell your nearest friend, like, I feel defensive about my work with anti-racist non-governmental organizations, like that’s not energy that I encourage you to take out into the world without any kind of filter. But to yourself and to people whose judgment that you trust, people that you’re close with, people that you are invested with, people whose judgment you admire, I think you can just say, like, fuck, I know that. Like, I’m not supposed to be doing this sort of thing for the accolades. And I’ve just found a part of myself that really does want the accolades in a certain context. And so I feel defensive about that. Because if you name it and it’s true, you can work on letting it go, and if you turn the water to try to prove to yourself that you’re not defensive, you’re going to feel more defensive. And that doesn’t help anybody.
S6: And you’re also going to like if you don’t name it and if you don’t feel like this is happening for me, it’s still going to drive your actions just now without you really noticing. Like, it doesn’t it doesn’t stop being a thing that influences your behavior just because you’re like, no, I hate it. And you push it away. It just doesn’t it doesn’t stop you acting from that place. And so naming it and shining the spotlight on it and being like, yes, OK, here’s the thing. This is the thing that we are all conditioned to do. And I would like to not behave rooted in this thing. So I’m just going to, like, put it right out in front so I can keep my eye on it and then make some different decisions.
S4: Yeah, and there’s a lot more and especially there’s a lot more that we could talk about, both in terms of their dynamic and also the possible dynamics of your friend and the guys that she’s been seeing. But we’re going to get lost in the weeds if we do that, and there’s just not enough to go on there. But if it seems like her activism starts and stops with guys that she’s sexually attracted to, that’s something you can definitely take to her and encourage her to reconsider because boy, oh, boy, that’s not a great system.
S6: Would you read our next letter? Yes, I would. This subject on this is how to have sex without being turned on. Dear Prudence, I am a twenty five year old woman who is always considered myself asexual. I had sex for the first time the other day. It was fine. I felt safe and cared for through the entire process. Occasional jitters, but never scared. Sometimes it hurt and whenever that happened, we stopped and went back to cuddling, but it never felt good. I ended up rubbing my clit to distract myself. He thought that was hot, but it was really more about relaxing and having something to focus on. I love cuddling and he would definitely be up for that and not pursuing sex again if I asked. But I want him to have fun too. And he likes intercourse, so I want to try it at least a few times before I rule it out. Plus, we’ve been building trust and occasionally teasing one another for the last year, so I feel really comfortable with him and like there’s room to explore, I get physically aroused but not mentally turned on. I never have and I don’t think I ever will. I have a difficult time getting into it even by myself, which can make relaxing a challenge. Is there a way to make penetration feel OK? If I might never really be turned on enough tips on how to zone out, do I just get a bunch of lube and hope that’s enough?
S4: I found this letter so charming, there’s so much that’s great here, I’m not going to give anyone tips on how to zone out. So that’s just I just I got to say no to that one.
S2: But I found this really sweet. Yeah.
S6: And like the so I found it really sweet, and if you’re truly into exploring, because there is I feel like there’s room to explore in here, then like, yeah, a bunch of lube and rock on. But like also so much of this feels like you do not want to do this at all. And I just don’t want you to spend your time that way, even if you don’t feel scared, even if you feel safe and cared for. Like, I just don’t want this for you. Right. Right.
S2: Like if you really feel like he knows I’m up for trying this out four or five times, that the best thing that I can say about it was that it didn’t hurt much and that he treated me nicely. And with respect, like if that’s the best thing that comes out of it, that’s, I think, a pretty good indicator that this is not for you. It’s not something you like. It’s not something you want to try hard to like. So I don’t want to infantilize the letter writer because, you know, she’s twenty five years old. She sounds fairly confident and she sounds like she’s been pretty clear with this guy and that he’s been treating her well, but like the baseline of like he’s being, you know, safe and making you feel comfortable and he stops when you’re hurting. That’s all good. But that doesn’t mean like oh my God, what a prince. Like definitely like, wow, what an amazing look. That’s just baseline. Decency that’s not stunning, you know, and like they’re also just like in terms of like but I want him to have fun, too.
S6: But you also said that he would be totally up for that. We don’t know how he’s going to feel till you bring it up. So just keep communicating. We can’t predict what he’s going to say. And there are also so many different kinds of relationships. And you don’t have to focus all of your attention on fitting into a normative, monogamous relationship if that’s not for you in this guy or you just don’t have to do it.
S2: Yeah, I think that’s it, too. I think the thing that I worry about here is like I want him to have fun. He likes intercourse. He had a really good time. The thing that I did to kind of like focus my mind until I could finish was like a thing he found really hot. And so I would just say, take yourself really seriously here. He seems like a good person. He seems like a guy who knows what he finds hot. So trust that he will pursue those things if that’s really what he wants. Like, don’t. Don’t advocate on his behalf before you advocate on yours, if that makes sense, because I think he’s taken care of in that area, you know, just just watch out for that, because if you find yourself, like, looking for reasons to say, like, well, it wasn’t really that bad, I didn’t have a good time, but he has had a great time. I might as well, you know, what’s ten times then once they’ve done it ten times, like, why not just keep going for it? Like, I just. Exploring is fine, exploring is great, being clear with him that, like, I was mostly rubbing my clit just like have something to focus on, I’m glad you found it hot, but like, I wasn’t super turned on. I wasn’t even a little turned on that. That is the thing that I think you need to be really straightforward about, because otherwise I just my worry is that you’re just going to be so invested in like, well, he’s having a great time and it’s not that bad for me. So maybe if I can just check out enough and get enough lube and, you know, mentally run through something that interests me, we can give each other what we want. And it’s just a lot better for both of you, but especially for you. Let a writer like. I don’t want you to get into this mindset of how can I check out enough so that this like at best annoying experience means that he has a fun time while I send my brain to Jupiter for 20 minutes. It’s just not necessary. You just don’t have to yeah, don’t do it. Yeah, yeah. So like, again, without saying like you don’t have sex with him a second or third time, I think just be really straightforward with him and be like. You know, we can give it another shot, but it’s not going to be a thing that we do. I don’t like it. I feel pretty certain about that. I’ve tried getting off on my own. It’s not doing anything for me. Like, I just I think I’ve thought this through. And so maybe that means that you two will have a relationship of sorts where you flirt a lot, you cuddle a lot, you tease one another, and then he either goes off and jerks off or he finds somebody else to sleep with. If that’s something that you’re cool with or you to just stop flirting and cuddling, any of those outcomes are fine. Like whether he’s like, great, how do you feel about my sleeping with other people? And you’re like, oh, I feel fantastic. Have at it. That will be great. Or if he’s like, you know, I don’t know that I would want to be in one kind of relationship with you and then sleeping with other people. That might be too much for me. And you’re like, that’s a shame. Call me if you ever want to go see a movie in a couple of months. Once we both had a chance to kind of get over this one, that will be fine as well. Yeah, there are so many ways to have a relationship. All of them are great. Yeah. But, you know, if the question is like it’s not even just like, oh, it was kind of uncomfortable and painful. It was just like at best I didn’t like it. That’s the key to me. Again, not that like if you ever, ever have penetrative intercourse with someone that you’re, like, negating yourself as a human being, I just I don’t want you to get in that habit of thinking. If somebody else likes it, I have to find ways to make it bearable. I would say hard agree as a guy, as you were saying. Ostin like if you want to do it another time or two, sure. Get a lot of lube, tell them to take it slow. But if you really just didn’t have a good time, all the lube in the world and like having a fun TV show for you to enjoy in the background is just like. I think it would be better for you to just say, I love cuddling, I don’t like to fuck. How do you want that or not? And if he doesn’t wish him well, find somebody who does, because there’s people out there who, like you’ve just described, a delightful relationship. We have trust, safety, we flirt with each other, we cuddle. I don’t want to fuck there are people out there who are like, sign me up.
S6: There are so many ways to have a relationship. And if he’s like, that’s not for me. I just want to stress that that’s not on you like that. That doesn’t mean anything about you. And it doesn’t mean anything about your sexuality or your orientation. It is just like, oh, yes, that is not for me, OK. Damn shame.
S2: Yeah, yeah. I just think, like, again, you’re allowed to try it a few times if you want. I don’t think that you’re running the risk of of harming yourself irreparably, but like based on what you’ve written in your letter. I think you’ve given it a couple of pretty good goes, you’ve tried getting off by yourself, you’ve thought about sex with other people. You’ve you’ve been getting to know this guy for a year. And it doesn’t sound like you’ve ever changed your mind about wanting to have penetrative sex with him. Like that’s you have information. I think if at this point you were to say, like, you treated me really nicely, but I just felt fucking nothing and I don’t want to do it like that would not be premature. That would not be like, oh, you didn’t really give it a fair shake. And if you want to be fair, do you want to be fair, you should do it five more times.
S6: Like I think you have the information you need to make an informed decision right now, to be honest, even with even if you had no data, even if you had no data at all, just if you don’t want to do it. I just don’t want I don’t want that for you. Just don’t do it. You could be like I’ve never thought about this once. And also I don’t want it. That would be fine. Yeah.
S4: Yeah. So I’ll just like I guess I just want to wrap up with my thesis about differing either like mixed libido relationships or mixed relationships where somebody like I’m asexual and somebody else is like I’m sexual, is not like oh any sort of compromise or doing something for someone else is always wrong or it’s always a sign that you are, you know, sacrificing yourself for somebody else. I want to leave a lot of room for nuance, compromise, different kinds of relationships with different sorts of context. But if you’re approach to it is basically trying to talk yourself out of something that sounds like you actually feel pretty confident and clear on into. But he’s having a good time. So how do I just check out mentally, make myself, as you know, not uncomfortable as possible and just let him have his fun? That’s not an approach I want to encourage because it it privileges his interest, his desires as like, well, you know, he wants it. He has a good time and the carried implication of like and it’s normal and like normal people want this. And so like I should frankly consider myself lucky that someone like is chill with my weird thing. And I just I just don’t want that for you. Like, fuck normal. It’s like, oh, wow, this is so like mind blowing, like, oh, transsexual advice columnist is like, you don’t have to be normal. Sorry, I really sound very cliche, but like I really do mean it. It’s, it’s not just like wow, he’s really nice and special that he’s OK with the fact that you don’t really like intercourse. Like think of it as something that is good, true and cool about you and that you’re also allowed to change your mind about someday if you ever want to. But you truly can just say this is a good, cool thing about me. I like this about me. This is not a problem. This is not abnormal in the sense of like I got to catch up to other people.
S6: This is my thing as another queer transfers. And it is no surprise that I’m like, yeah, hard cosine like. Yeah. And there’s just so many people in this world. And and as you said, this letter writer has just described someone’s perfect relationship. Yeah.
S1: There’s so many great opportunities for you. I really don’t want you to get locked into to the idea of, like, this guy’s great. How can I give him what he wants, even if it means I’m like bored and annoyed. So good luck right back. I’d love to hear how you’re doing. That’s our mini episode of Dear Prudence for this week. Our producer is Phil Cercas. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton. As always, if you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message at four zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three to seven. And you might hear your answer on that episode of the show. You don’t have to use your real name or location, and at your request, we can even alter the sound of your voice. Keep it short. Thirty seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening for.