The “Caring or Controlling?” Edition

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S1: Slate plus members, it’s survey time again, which means it’s your chance to tell us what you think about Slate Plus and Slate in general. It’ll only take a few minutes and you can find it at Slate Dotcom Survey.

S2: Your freedom, your prudence, your prudence, give me your proof here. Do you think that I should contact him again? No help. Thank thank. Thank you.

S1: Hello and welcome back to The Dear Prudence Show once again, and as always, I am your host, Dear Prudence, also known as Daniel M. Laborie. With me in the studio this week is Rex King, who may have one of the greatest names of any guest who has ever appeared on the show. I’m going to say it one more time. Rex King is the James Beard Award nominated writer of Taqi, forthcoming from Vintage Books in twenty twenty one, as well as the host of the podcast Low Culture Boyle. Her writing can also be found in Glamour magazine Catapult and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her hedgehog and toothless Pekinese. Rack’s, welcome to the show.

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S3: Thank you so much. If nothing else, I’m really glad that the hedgehog and toothless Pekinese are getting their due in the advice column. Podcasting World.

S1: Are they with you today? Are they going to be kind of like providing you with succor as you try to think of how to tell people to lead their lives?

S3: The hedgehog may come out of his little grumpy guy nest and chew on some kibbles, the Pekinese. If she were in here, she would be barking out the window, telling other people how to live their lives. So she’s in the other room.

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S1: What do hedgehogs eat? I just realized I have no idea.

S4: My little man eats cat food kibbles as his, like, main course, and if he’s good, he gets a blueberry. If he’s good, he gets a blueberry. I hope he’s mostly not good, but he gets a blueberry anyway because I’m a bad mom that feels very Redwall.

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S1: You know, one hedgehog with his single berry like taking a break from his little quest.

S4: Yeah. He holds it in his hands like it’s a like it’s an apple or something. It’s really good.

S1: That’s what that’s really upsetting. I’m sorry for whispering obscenities at the start of the show, but this is really, really cute. And speaking of obscenities, actually, that’s kind of where we get to start our first letter. Would you be so good as to read it?

S3: OK, so the subject line here is horrifying. Last name. Dear Prudence, the CEO of a small startup, recently, I interviewed a series of candidates for a new position, one man in his 20s was very impressive and met all of our requirements. However, he had a last name that is extremely rare but is shared with a prominent Nazi think Mengele. I’m Jewish and my ancestors fled the Holocaust when I saw his resume. I had a visceral, negative reaction. I have no reason to suspect that this young man harbors Nazi sympathies, but he could have changed his name and has apparently decided not to. It’s hard for me to rationalize why someone would keep the name of one of the most evil men who ever lived. The young man was perfectly pleasant during the interview and is a strong candidate. Is this something that I should just get over? So I assume that I’m being brought on to help with this one because of my Jewish tendencies, and I got to say I sympathize with this person because I would probably have a similar visceral reaction. But, you know, you can have a visceral reaction to any number of things. And I kind of do think it’s not this guy’s fault. You know, it’s a little hard for me to say that, but it’s still not.

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S1: Yeah, I wasn’t quite sure whether the sort of classic office space, why should I change my name? He’s the one who sucks approach would apply here. My main thought was whether or not this falls under the category of questions that it is illegal to ask a job applicant about. And I know that I think the closest thing I could think of is you can’t ask questions that are trying to get at somebody’s marital status to find out whether or not it’s a maiden or a married name. But beyond that, it’s not a protected category. So certainly if it I’ll take the letter writers word that it’s like one of the top tier ones, you know, it’s gerbils or it’s Mengele. It’s it’s something instantly recognizable. It it doesn’t seem to me wildly inappropriate that if you were thinking about hiring somebody that you would be working with closely and like introducing to clients that you would ask at some point during the interview process, hey, I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but your last name is familiar. How do you handle that? And again, not not necessarily like what do you think? Don’t assume that you’re you know, don’t don’t ask the question. Is it like now I need to make sure you’re not a Nazi, but like how would you want to handle that at work? I don’t think you’d be getting into legal trouble. That seems like a question you could possibly ask. It would be uncomfortable, but so would working with somebody whose name was Mengele and never saying anything. Right.

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S4: Yeah, it’s tricky. I mean, I’m going to even do something that I like never, ever do and end quote, Torah a little bit. Parents are not to be put to death for their children nor children put to death for their parents. Each will die for their own sin.

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S3: I again, like thinking about this visceral gut reaction, I would absolutely have the same thing, but as the CEO of this company, you are in a position of ultimate power over this person’s ability to work for you. And I do feel there is a subtext to this letter of asking permission to not want to work with Mengele Jr..

S4: I think that if you want that permission, you have it. I might not want to work with that person either, but. You know you know that you’re the big boss and you are well within your rights to hire or not hire as you see fit.

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S3: I think that if you yourself feel that this is a judgment call you shouldn’t be making, then, you know, this guy really is the strongest candidate for the job. Hire him and live with it. Maybe or don’t. But you are in charge here.

S1: Yeah. And so, yeah, to that end, if you have an H.R. department, maybe run this question past them or try to familiarize yourself a little bit more with employment law, because they certainly don’t want to give anybody any advice that like a lawyer with them. Right. And they like actually that’s illegal discrimination. So, you know, do your research there. You’re a CEO, make sure you’re not legally discriminating against anybody. But yeah, gosh, you know, if it were me and I met somebody whose last name was actually Mengele, I would sure ask, why haven’t you changed it?

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S4: Then again, I mean, is it so easy to you know, I have not changed my name legally myself, but I get the impression that there is a pain in the ass bureaucratic process at work here. If my last name is Mengele. Yeah, I change it.

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S1: Yeah, I have changed my last name legally. You know, it was a bit of a hassle and it was a bit expensive, but it wasn’t a massive undertaking. And if I were to weigh that against the discomfort of having to field people’s reactions to that name constantly, I’d probably do it too. But yeah, you know, I just I can’t think of a great reason. Like, it’s hard for me to picture somebody saying, yeah, but aside from that, I have such a fondness for that name, you know. You know, if you if you remove that context, I just it’s my family name. I feel really good about it. I would I have a hard time imagining that I would probably have a different answer if it were not, you know, top tier Nazi name. But I would say either. You know, he’s a strong candidate, he’s not the only candidate you have other people you can consider, I guess I yeah, I’m just going to come down on like I don’t think the letter writer is is on the precipice of doing something awful, like he’s the only good candidate. Everyone else was terrible. And I’m just not going to tell him why I’m not going to hire him. That would be different. But as it is like, yeah, I would probably want to work with somebody whose last name was not that.

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S3: One thing that comes to mind for me is my dad was born in nineteen forty three and he went to school with somebody same age as him who was also a Jewish guy whose name was Adolf and I. Just you know, I do personally think if I’m a Jewish guy born in nineteen forty three, walking around with the name Adolf, do I personally want to change it? Yeah, for sure. That angle is a fair one to consider. But there’s something about the. Like, please give me permission not to hire this person vibe that I get here where I’m like, I don’t know that you even need permission, I feel that there’s a little element of overthinking here, you know, if. Right. Either hire or don’t hire, you know, but, you know, examine, I think, the level of discomfort and where it’s coming from and how much it’s been addressed directly with the person in question.

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S1: Before hiring or not hiring, yeah, they say he’s a strong candidate, he met all the requirements. If nobody else had met your requirements, you know, maybe my answer would be different. But it’s the kind of thing where usually you get a couple of strong candidates and there’s always that sort of question of, you know, they’re all they’d all probably be pretty good. And at some point, again, making sure that you’re not including any illegal criteria for your decision. If you want to work with somebody whose last name doesn’t make you think of one of the architects of the Holocaust every day, that makes a lot of sense to me.

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S3: Yeah, for sure. I think that, like, if you want that permission, you have it. But if you want somebody to tell you to think about it a little more and really examine your level of discomfort.

S4: Yeah, you could do that. You know, why not?

S1: Yeah. Good luck. And again, please, any employment lawyers feel free to get at me. If I’d just advise someone to do something very illegal, I’ll sure take it back if I have. So the subject of our second letter is, oh, no, not this again. It’s really it’s really something of theme. And I get letters that start with, you know, my wife or my husband is great. But this is not how this letter starts, which I kind of admire. Here we go. Dear Prudence, my wife has terrible social skills and always has one of her worst habits is that she’ll tell the same story we’ve all heard four hundred times already. It doesn’t help that these stories are ten minutes long. At least it’s much worse when she’s been drinking, but it’s bad when she’s sober. I’ve tried talking to her, gently fighting about it, interrupting her, trying to show my disinterest with my body language. None of it works. Her kids have talked to her about it and some of her friends, and she still does it. We’re in our early fifties, so I don’t think there’s a degenerative memory issue. She just thinks she’s being charming. And since the stories were funny the first time, she thinks it’s OK for her to tell them over and over. How can I get through to her that this is making people not want to talk to her? She cannot be stopped. You’ve tried it all, haven’t you?

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S4: I love that, he says. I’ve tried fighting about it like, OK, that was that was my first question was have you tried having a big fight about this thing?

S1: Yeah. Know, normally when I have a big fight with someone because they think I’m a bore, it goes really well. You know, Rex, as you read this letter, did part of you want to ask the question like, do you like your wife? Because that sure came up for me.

S4: Yeah. I mean, this feels very much like one of those things.

S3: I read a lot of advice columns, and there are frequently letters to the effect of the person that I live with and see the most, does something annoying as shit and refuses to stop.

S4: And it really sounds in this case like she refuses to stop. And it also sounds annoying, but pretty harmless. So, you know, how much do you need her to not refuse to stop? Because I can tell you right now it’s not going to happen.

S1: Yeah, I guess that’s a helpful approach because I, I wished I had more context of like, how often is she telling these stories? Like, it’s clear that when she does it, it’s repetitive. But like, does she ever ask people questions? Does she ever listen? Does she ever talk about something that’s not launching into a monologue? Because if this is the vast majority of her conversation at all, that’s a huge issue. And would probably it would probably mean you need to ask yourself whether or not you want to live with this woman for much longer.

S4: He does say the stories are funny when she first tells them, which to me is an indicator that you like your wife and just find something she does excruciating or like her ten years ago when all the stories.

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S1: But, you know, obviously not. Obviously, I think four hundred is probably an exaggeration. But if it’s four hundred times if it’s around the clock, if her kids have talked to her, if her friends have talked to her, and if you have tried all the things you’ve listed here, you know, if your question after all that is how can I get through to her? But you can’t she’s she’s decided not to be gotten through to she doesn’t wish for that. She has turned herself into a brick wall.

S4: In that respect to my mind. One thing that this guy doesn’t say, he’s tried. And I just I feel like this is going to sound incredibly rude when I say it. But if she starts talking and and you can, you know, here she goes again, just get up and walk away if you have to. I mean, if it’s that important to you to not have to personally listen to this thing one more time. I know it’s rude, but get up, walk away, because she clearly doesn’t care if she’s being rude.

S1: Yeah, if you’ve already asked her to stop and thought about it, it’s not as if you are just doing that out of nowhere without having tried other things. First, I thought, by the way, when you said you were going to suggest something rude, I thought you were going to suggest like like either lip synching along with the story or trying to say it in unison with her, which I agree with you to rude like don’t do that better. Like, you know, six year old behavior. Don’t do that. But getting up and leaving the room is like that’s that’s a level of rudeness that I think I can sign off on here.

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S4: I mean. Right. Like you’ve tried everything. You’ve tried to do everything that can be done, I think, in response to this behavior. So just try. Removing yourself from the equation if you really have to, and I mean maybe she’ll get the message, maybe not. But if the problem is just I cannot listen to this anymore, don’t listen to it anymore. Find a way to not have to. Yeah.

S1: And I think that’s going to be useful in the short term, not because I think it’s going to be a great way to conduct the rest of your marriage. But it’s maybe going to either highlight like either she’s going to dial it back or you’re going to realize, wow, this means I get up and leave the room like 50 times a day. Why don’t I just get up and leave the house one time and send her a bill of divorce?

S3: Yeah, I mean, I it’s hard when somebody asks a question about an annoying behavior outside the context of the rest of the person, because I’m like, is this a question about one annoying thing your wife does and how to get her to stop? Or is the substance of this question? I can’t stand my wife anymore and I’m whingeing that entire situation on this one complaint and how do I live my life moving forward? I kind of get the sense that it’s more the former than the latter. But, you know, letter writer, you know better than me. So you use your gut? I think so, too.

S1: Usually letters like this include some gesture towards she’s got some other good qualities. There’s nothing like that here. Her social skills are apparently just terrible. So I’m guessing she’s not also a really great listener. And then there’s a kind of mention that, like when she’s drinking, things get worse without going into much like what else is she like when she’s drinking and how drunk is she getting and how often is that happening? But, yeah, this just sounds shitty. I think getting up and leaving when it happens will help you kind of figure out just how much you don’t like talking to your wife. And if you really don’t like talking to your wife, one thing you can do is go away from her. And it’s sad for the moment and for you. But it sounds sad now, you know, at least. Yeah, at least then you wouldn’t have to hear these stories over and over again. But yeah, I don’t think you’re going to convince her that it makes other people not want to talk to her. The thing you can really just control here is whether or not you talk to her in those moments. Right, right. I want to hear one of her stories like I wish I could I wish I could meet her a snippet of one of her stories. And then I could personally make a ruling on how charming I find it.

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S4: I just I have this weird gut sense for basically no reason at all that I would get along with this lady for like a month.

S3: And it would be one of those really intense friendships that you have on a really high level for about a month. And then you don’t talk for ten years. I don’t know where that sense is coming from, but I just it sounds like one of those things where she’s the life of the party. The first couple of times you meet her and then you realize she never turns it off. It’s like dating a stand up comic.

S1: I was just going to say, I kind of picture that awful show, the marvelous Mrs. Meixell. She’s like a truly dreadful stand up and also just an incredibly grating personality. But the whole show seems to be like, gosh, isn’t she wonderful? Can she turn the world on with her smile and just feel like, no, no, she can’t now. My world.

S3: Yeah, yeah. I mean, if the whole point of your problem is like, how do I get someone who never turns it off to turn it off? You can’t you can turn it off. That’s it.

S1: Hello. Good luck. Right back. Transcribe one of her stories if possible, or have her write us and tell us what she doesn’t like about you. Would you read our next letter, please?

S3: I will. Subject is control conundrum. Dear Prudence, I am a woman who has been in a relationship with another woman for five years, she cooks for our family, supports me while I’m in school part time, and asks me a lot about my feelings. But she has a habit that bothers me. She asks me questions about everything I do. Often when we go out, she will ask what I’m doing or where I’m going and stops and waits with a smug, frustrated look for me to tell her in detail what I had in mind when I go upstairs to pee during a movie. She pauses it and asks me, Where are you going? Why didn’t you pee before we started watching? When I cook, she asks me, why are you putting so much milk? I’ll have to turn off the burner to explain it to her so the food doesn’t burn. While I dole out a lengthy explanation, answering her questions can turn into long conversations and I find myself doing things her way or in secret to avoid them. Last night we argued for two hours about why I put the dog in the crate for two minutes when she came home. When I explain, she has a follow up question after a follow up question, I believe her point is to show me why my choice didn’t make sense. But she denies this. She often asks these questions with irritation. I feel that I do not need to explain why I need Serial in detail when she makes a grocery list. I don’t want to overreact, so I just have a curious partner. Her response is make me question my ability to read intention. What do you think of to me? The telling detail here is that. A completely inconsequential conversation about a dog being in a crate for two minutes went on for two hours. That is not. A healthy amount of time, curious about something pointless. Yeah, yeah, I just I’ve been in this relationship before and. Your partner, as I see it, is leading you in a dance that she’s taught you. She asks a question and you have sort of been trained to do the steps she’s taught you to respond with an explanation. And you go from there and it goes on for hours. And in the end, I would be willing to bet that she is satisfied and you are miserable. And as I see it, what if you stop dancing and have that be a sort of diagnostic for how much of a problem this really is? What if she asks you why you need cereal and you cheerfully tell her where she can stick her questions and, you know, see what becomes of that? Because you don’t have to answer these.

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S1: Yeah, I mean, I questions like, what are you doing when you’re going to the bathroom? Which like, she could probably into it. And then why didn’t you go pee earlier. Like that is just an inane question that is designed to like what kind of a question is that? Like, I didn’t pee earlier because I didn’t have to pee. I have to pee now. Like, do you wanna have a conversation with my bladder? Like what? To me, this feels like such a great reason to just like walk off into the sunset because I feel like any attempt to have a conversation with her about this is just going to turn into relentless badgering and like, well, that doesn’t make sense to me. Explain it again. Explain it again. Like, in some ways I feel like this person that you’re with is a has even worse social skills than the last like problem in the last letter, which is just like this is a person who does not want to listen or take your word for it. When you say something like I made it relatively inconsequential decision about when to use the bathroom or when to put the dog in his crate or how much milk to pour into. I don’t know what kind of dinner involves pouring milk in, but maybe like a Bashmilah.

S3: Yeah, I mean, I, I would be curious, I guess, again, for purposes of diagnosis, what actually consequential conversations with this person are like, like when you have a real difference of opinion about something where such a difference of opinion would have actual consequences, is it more of this like hours and hours of litigating every aspect of every decision? Is it more reasonable than this? Because this does not look good to me at all.

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S1: Yeah, this looks exhausting. This looks relentless. I kind of don’t care what her intentions are because what actually happens is that she exhausts you. And I think trying to find out her intentions is going to be that’s kind of a lost cause. Like, I don’t know that you’re going to get the truth out of her. I don’t even know if she knows why she does it. You know, you say she cooks for your family. Well, actually, sometimes you cook, too, because part of the problem is that when you cook, she interrogates you. She asks you about your feelings, OK? She supports you while you’re in school part time. You know, again, fine. You know, none of those are like, wow, those are such incredible, amazing qualities that, like, you should definitely think twice before breaking up with her, like she does some totally bog standard relationship things. And then in this one huge daily thing, she’s an asshole.

S3: Yeah, it does feel like a problem of inertia. I mean, the only reason I’m picking up on to stay in this relationship is that it’s been going on for five years. And to end it would be a disruption and it always is. But your life is being disrupted on a daily basis with interrogations about absolute nonsense like which disruption is more important to avoid, I guess.

S1: Yeah. And the only other thing that I was wondering is whether she supports me when I’m in school. Part time means that you’re financially dependent on her. I didn’t quite get the read here that this was a case of like I don’t think I can leave her right now because I wouldn’t be able to support myself. If you are worried about money letter writer, you know, I would say do not let that be an incentive to stay with her longer. I would say, like quietly reach out to friends or family members that you trust and ask for help getting your own place or ask for help, like setting aside some money so that you can make your moves. But I mean, I think my my my final thought here is I think like because I can’t do things that would normally fall within the category of just like normal things that adults do independently throughout the day, whether they’re in a relationship or not, based on their own judgement, because I can’t do those things unless I can convince my partner that I have a good reason for doing it. The implication here is like I won’t be able to break up with her unless I can prove I have a really good reason and things like I’m frustrated or I’m unhappy. She won’t think are good reasons and so she won’t let me argue with me. She’ll be relentless. She’ll wrote me into a five hour long fight at the end of which I just feel exhausted. And if that’s at all a play letter writer, I would just say, like, one of the great things about breaking up with people is you don’t have to convince them it’s a good idea.

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S3: I don’t know. My only thinking here again, I have been in this relationship before with the person who has to interrogate you at every turn, who needs you to really be under their thumb in in this innocuous seeming sense. Until you’re living with a day to day. And for a time, I myself was not able to leave just financially. To the extent that you need a way to keep yourself sane in the day to day while you make your moves. My advice is stop dancing, do not participate in these conversations, do what you need to do to be a brick wall, you know, be really unsatisfying to argue with. Don’t play, don’t raise your voice. Don’t try your best not to be a responsive partner to this stuff because you are just going to continue to be exhausted, make your moves and. It’s this person, if you can if there’s any reason not to. I don’t know what it is.

S1: Yeah, I think I think this is a dumping thing. I don’t think this is the kind of thing where you try to work on it. This sounds relentless and exhausting and really, really like demeaning. You know, just like why did I spend half of my afternoon justifying my milk choices or my choices and their choices? Like, you don’t feel like, you know, like a frustrated parent asks a five year old and a road trip when the kid’s like, I got to pee five minutes after you leave a McDonald’s or something. And it’s like, right. Even even then, it’s like a sort of cliche question, you know.

S3: Yeah. The frustrated parent is the one who’s like, why do you need sugary cereal? Why didn’t you pee before we left? But the only reason they get to do that is they’re like the parent in charge of partner is not in charge of you or your bladder or your cereal.

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S1: I think you should break up with her. And I don’t know, maybe she’ll get together with the letter writers wife from the previous question. And, you know, she can ask incredibly and increasingly inane questions. And then her new partner can just monologue at her for ten minutes and they can still make that sounds like kind of a satisfying relationship to be in, actually. You know, they’re both very high energy. It seems like nothing tires them.

S3: Yeah, the bloviated and the Spahr. That sounds like a romance novel.

S1: I would not hate to read when you get to a Eberts talking to each other.

S4: Yeah, it’s just endless. They would get in one conversation and it wouldn’t end for a decade.

S1: It’s fantastic. Yeah, but but the people who wrote in, you should definitely break up with these people. OK, we’ll move on again to a slightly, slightly calmer waters because this next one is a little lower stakes, which is nice. Subject’s just taking a break from therapy. Dear Prudence, I’ve been seeing my therapist since April of twenty nineteen and owe him a huge debt of gratitude, he helped me work through the end of my marriage, frustrations with the divorce process and my re-emergence into dating, among other things. But lately I’ve been feeling like I haven’t had much to talk about with him. I’ve always been an indoor cat in a manner of speaking. And while I understand that covid has pushed me to the breaking point, I’ve kind of been thriving. Eliminating outsiders due to covid restrictions has allowed me a level of control over my day to day life that has left me in a state of consistent contentment. While I know this will not be the case forever, this new level of control has removed a lot of the stressors I used to manage through therapy for the last three to four virtual sessions. I’ve had less to talk about, so much so that my therapist was clearly searching for discussion topics because I’m in such a good place. I’d like to see how it goes taking a break from therapy without closing the door on resuming treatment at a future time. The thing is, I have no idea how to express this to my therapist. Do you have any suggestions on how to approach this?

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S3: This is the most normal conversation in the world to have with a therapist right there. They wouldn’t even be the first one today. Probably just say the sentence.

S1: I’m in a really good place. I’d like to take a break from therapy and I’d like to leave the door open to resume treatment in the future. Yeah, that’s great.

S3: Yeah, they’ll be happy for you and you won’t be spending money on therapy you don’t need for a while. And there you’ll be.

S1: It’s perfectly common. Therapists hear it all the time. I think the one thing that I hear most often from people who are like starting therapy for the first time that they seem to think is that like somebody who’s been like a therapist for twenty years, has never had a client and their working relationship. And it’s just like you got to know that that happens to them constantly. Yeah.

S3: It’s not like breaking up with somebody or ending a friendship. It’s you know, you’re stepping away from a professional whose services you don’t presently need.

S1: Yeah. And like, I don’t think your therapist said that first session, like now I expect we’ll be working together until both of us die together when we die together. Yeah. Say it totally normal. You do not have to be afraid. You don’t have to apologize. Your therapist might have some questions for you or might, you know, mildly disagree. That’s fine. Again, he can’t like unless his response is like, no, you’re not ready. You’re you’re even worse off than you were before. You’re not. Well, it won’t be. You know, if he really goes all out and like, displays bad judgment, maybe close that door. But my guess is he’ll simply want to discuss it briefly with you. You might feel a little awkward, but you just don’t need to. It will be fine and very normal. Yeah. The only other thing I’ll add to that is you sound pretty aware that some of your issues you’ve been dealing with in therapy have to do with the desire for control. And the fact that you’re able to control and kind of isolate yourself right now is making you really happy. I don’t want to pathologies that. That could be fine. But as long as you are aware that you will not always be able to exert that kind of control over your life and that you’ll need other coping strategies, I’m not really worried about that. I just wanted to mention it. As, you know, be aware that you might have times in your life in the future where you have much less control than you do now. And you might need therapy a lot in that moment.

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S3: I feel like for most people, a therapeutic relationship is not, you know, once a week, every week for the rest of your life, you dip in and out as you need and you switch therapists maybe or stop going forever. You know, there’s a lot of ways to do it. And you got to go by your lights.

S1: Yeah. And, you know, there’s a lot of different approaches to therapy. Certainly there are people in psychoanalysis five days a week for, you know, a really open ended amount of time. And depending on the therapist you’re seeing in that type of training they’ve received, they might have different goals. So I don’t want to say that the only point of therapy is to feel good. And if you feel good eight weeks in a row, stop seeing your therapist. But certainly if you feel like no new problems are cropping up, I’ve consistently felt a little bored and distant in therapy. It doesn’t seem worthwhile to me to explore that boredom or distance in therapy. I would prefer simply to pause it. That’s fine. You’re allowed to do that. Nothing wrong. You enjoy having a good time, you know. Have a good time. Having a good time.

S3: Impossible. I have never once had a good time while having a good time.

S1: Maybe you could create problems like imagining that all your friends are about to become bored with you and and then you can have something to talk about in therapy. No, don’t do that. Take a break. Would you read our last letter?

S3: I would. I feel uniquely qualified to give my thoughts on this one actually on the subject. How can I be less judgmental? Dear Prudence, I’ve been pretty isolated during the pandemic, so I’m spending a lot of time on social media. It’s made me much more judgmental of others in my life. I’m taking in a lot of content that doesn’t allow for positive intentions before criticizing others, essentially judging folks who use the wrong language, make decisions. I wouldn’t or don’t live their lives as social justice oriented as I do without leave. Space for the idea that people are at different places and their social justice journey. I’ve noticed so much distance opening up between my friends and family and me, whether it’s people’s travel during covid, their passionate defense of capitalism or love of football, I have less and less in common with people I used to love. This exacerbates the loneliness which leads me to spend more time on social media and creates a vicious cycle. I can feel myself judging and othering, and I hate it, but now that I’ve learned these ways of seeing the world, I feel like I can’t unlearn them. And no, I don’t get any points for being more woke than someone else. All it’s given me is sadness and anger at the world. How do I break this cycle and get back to the more carefree live and let live person I used to be? Please help. I am way too online myself, and I can relate to a lot of the ways that you’re feeling. This is my immediate instinct here. I think that there are two problems happening. And one is that you feel like you’ve like you’ve seen too much and you want to go back to being less knowledgeable and more happy. And the other is that social media is doing what social media does and is bringing out the worst in you. And I think that problem number one is not something that you should even try to resolve. I don’t think that there’s any worth in, you know, lobotomize in yourself and removing all the knowledge that you now have about the unfairness of the world and being happy again, that, you know, you want to live with that knowledge and adapt it into your world view and move forward with it. That’s not your problem. Your problem, as I see it, is not that you are too judgmental, but that. Twitter is sucking up all your social energy and all of your judgments and ruining your life a little bit, which it has certainly done for me at various points in my time as a Twitter user.

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S1: Right. And even beyond Twitter, it’s the fact that, like your ability to spend time with other people in person has been seriously reduced due to circumstances way outside of your control. So that’s not to say like none of this is anything you have an ability to do anything to address, just like before you go down the road of like, oh, my God, I’ve become a judgmental monster. Let’s also acknowledge, like, you’ve been forced into unbelievably stressful circumstances over the last year. You’ve been pretty isolated for, you know, it’s February now. That’s probably about a full year. And depending on how depending on what city you live in and how serious the level of lockdown you’ve been under, you know, you might have just gone a year without, like, hugging someone, you know, that that does a number on your mental health. So I I think it’s great that you’re realizing I’m going overboard in the judgments. I’m losing my ability to kind of prioritize how serious an issue is. And I’m reflexively negative in a way that I don’t like. That makes sense to me that that’s something you want to change. But also, it’s not just that you woke up one day and were on Twitter too much and became a jerk like you are living in really bad circumstances and you are struggling. And that makes sense to me, right?

S3: Yeah, there are absolutely structural issues at play here that you couldn’t resolve if you wanted to. You can’t just make it single handedly make it go back to non pandemic world when you can see people and interact with them in a more meaningful way than you’re able to do now. That’s not resolvable. But something that did jump out to me in your letter and something that I think you do have a degree of control over in the meantime. You gave examples of things that are bothering you when you use social media and the three examples are traveling during covid passionately defending capitalism and loving football. Those are three very different issues with very different stakes. And I would bet a lot of money that if you were having these conversations in person with people you love, they would not be half as frustrating as they are when they’re presented to you as little press releases on social media that you are encouraged to interact with publicly in a really unhealthy way. I think that it is an admirable instinct to want to reduce that while still acknowledging that you live in pandemic hell world and there’s nothing that can be done about that from your end.

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S1: Yeah, that struck me as well. You know, travel during covid. I don’t know if you’re talking about purely recreational travel or work related travel, how avoidable it is. I don’t know how close the people are to you who are doing the traveling or if you’ve had any conversations about it. Again, I get that it’s fraught and you might not necessarily want to quarrel with all of your relatives about it. But, you know, there’s you have a variety of options they’re up to and including if these are close friends of yours, you know, bring some of your concerns to them, try to talk about it rather than just like feeling privately and quietly distant the love of football. Gosh, I just. That was a little harder for me, I don’t have anybody in my life who I think cares a lot about football, so it’s a little hard for me to imagine. I don’t know how much do you want to talk about post concussion syndrome, but. I would say in those in those moments, maybe just like let that one go. You know, if you want to talk about football, don’t talk about football.

S3: Yeah, I think that’s one problem with the you know, all of our social lives have been effectively confined to social media for a year now. And I think that there’s a real flattening of what’s important versus what’s not.

S1: And yet because passionately defending capitalism. That’s you know, that’s a serious question of your values that makes sense. That bothers you. It makes sense that it would make you feel distant. I don’t think you should try to square that one away. I think that discomfort makes sense. But if you’re kind of unable to let it go when a friend of yours enjoys football. And you’re like, I can’t put that away at all or even just like, let that one go then. Do we have better advice than just like logoff in those moments? Like, it’s hard because I really don’t want to say, like, oh, just get great coping strategies. Just read beautiful leather bound books inside your home by yourself in solitude and then drink some lemon water.

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S3: Yeah. No, I mean the do self care until this problem goes away. That’s not an approach that is going to work. It’s just going to drive you nuts because it’s not going to work and you’ll feel like something’s wrong with you. But I do think there are ways to. Reduce those painful instincts that social media use fosters while still using it as needed to maintain relationships while you can’t see people in person. Like for me personally and these are goofy examples, by the way, but this shit works and the whole thing of social media is, you know, we can’t tell what’s important anymore. And we need to do stuff like really force ourselves to draw out the important stuff and ignore the chaff. I do not let myself scroll anymore. I think that, you know, I get on, I make my posts, I talk to my friends and seek out content from people I know that I like and see eye to eye with. And if I find myself just endlessly scrolling for hours with my mouth open like I fucked up. Yeah. And, you know, turn your notifications off. Maybe if you don’t see your phone lighting up every 30 seconds, telling you nonsense information about who’s liked to your post or whatever, you’re not going to turn to it as often. You’ll only turn to it when you mean to. I mean, it’s. Kind of reductive, silly stuff like that, but it’s a good stopgap for when you don’t have the ability to have these meaningful relationships the way that you prefer to.

S1: Yeah, so I agree. And I think that’s helpful, too, because it’s not like get rid of all social media and just stare at a spot on the wall. But it has to do with like to the best of your ability when you realize that it’s been 20 minutes and you’ve just been scrolling endlessly like close laptop, you know, switch to a stupid, mindless Candy Crush type game on your phone or, you know, like do something that’s also stupid and pointless. You know, you don’t. So it’s not like I have to go eat broccoli now. I have to go do something like good and boring, but do something that you like that is like not necessarily productive or useful or like morally uplifting, but that doesn’t create quite that same sense of like inner poison. And and I think that will you know, you’re substituting a less harmful distraction for a more harmful one. And that, I think could be useful. And then, you know, the other thing that I think is at play here more than social media is, you know, letter writer. You say that you’re judging people who make decisions you wouldn’t or who use the wrong language. And you’ve noticed distance opening up between your friends and family and yourself. You say that you’re actually criticizing anyone. So I think part of what’s going on here is not actually that you become too judgmental, it’s that there’s a huge gap between how quietly and privately judgmental you are inside of your head and how much you don’t say shit when you disagree with somebody you care about. And I don’t mean like stop being a coward and tell your grandma you hate her. But, you know, look for ways not necessarily like pick fights with everybody that you love, but, you know, call somebody that you care about and and initiate a conversation that starts with. I’ve been feeling really lonely and isolated lately. And I feel like one of the ways I’ve been trying to deal with that is by quietly judging everybody else’s choices on social media. And that’s not working for me. Communicate the problem you’re having to the people who love you, not because they can solve it, but because that will make some of the loneliness move from like a 10 to a eight and a half. And we’re looking for that point and a half right now. Like that is good. That’s not going to get you to care for live and let live, but it’s going to get you a little better than bottom of the pit.

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S3: Yeah. And I think that also those are conversations you want to have one on one and privately over the phone, not texting like not at a remove.

S1: You need to be like at least hearing a voice, ideally seeing a face.

S3: You want to make it a human experience. You don’t want to just make passive aggressive posts about how you’re feeling lonely because everybody else in your life is doing everything wrong. That’s not a meaningful way to address this. You want to have conversations with people that you love.

S1: Yeah. And I think, you know, my last thought here would be letter writer. I don’t know what it means for you. And you say that you live your life in a socially justice oriented way. I don’t know what that looks like in terms of how you spend your time or what you do during the day or or what direct actions you participate in, if it’s mostly posting. That’s probably an indicator that you are not living out your values in a way that actually feels fulfilling and meaningful, and I don’t say that to be like, oh, you dilatant piece of shit. Like I spent a lot of time posting to. I get it. I also struggle with that. Sometimes I’m like, my values are such and such because I tweet about them and then I’m like, that’s not. No, that’s not real, I’m being silly, so, you know, if you were to sort of take stock of like, what am I doing to live out my values again, giving the time and and distance constraints of covid, this might be an opportunity to say like, oh, I’m actually kind of not living up my values in the way that I wished I were. Maybe there’s a mutual aid organization in my community that I could participate in. Maybe there’s some bail funds that I could try to volunteer for. Maybe there’s some direct actions I could go participate in, you know, depending on your your health restrictions and all that like might be a good time to go try to meet people who do share your values. Again, if you catch yourself like, you know, mentally ranking everybody you meet on every issue, like where do you fall on the scale of a good person and you just can’t turn it off. You know, that’s a bigger issue, but if part of the thing here is just like most of the people in my life don’t share my values, and that makes me feel bad, like go make some new friends, you can keep the old ones, you know, the Girl Scout song, but make some friends who do share your values. That’s not weird to want that.

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S3: That’s a good point. If if you’re feeling unfulfilled in that social justice arena of your life because you’re not seeing enough posts that align with how you feel about social justice, I think that you’re trying to solve the wrong problem. And I think that fulfillment is not going to come from posting or from hectoring your grandma about football or whatever. The whole point of these social justice values is to make positive changes in your community and in the world around you and you. That’s not something that you’re able to do alone, just seething at other people. It’s something where you need to meet others who, again, you have to share your values. And and, yeah, that’s just that’s the approach that’s going to feel better in your life than trying to find the right posts on the timeline to look at.

S1: Yeah. And I mean, again, since so much of your life is potentially spent in such a way that you have to be indoors often, I don’t want to pretend that it’s going to be like easy or immediately intuitive that you can just, like, pop out your front door and join a convenient direct action that’s happening down the block. But but even with those like mutual aid organizations or even with those bail funds, they often need coordination, work, dispatch work that’s being done remotely. And you could find ways to participate. And again, I’m not saying like never go on Twitter, just fucking join a mutual aid and dedicate all your time to that and then you’ll feel great. You know, these are all things that need to be done in conjunction with one another. I’m talking about a few hours a week of trying to dedicate your time to a cause that you care about, not, you know, around the clock. Don’t don’t burn yourself out. But if you try to do that and if you try to take yourself off Twitter a little earlier in the day and if you try to like put a lot of dumb but fun games on your phone that are time suckers, but at least don’t make you feel like you hate everyone you know, and you also call one or two friends a little bit more often and say, I’m having a tough day. You know, those things will add up and they will take you from the 10 to the eight and a half to the seven. And eventually, I can’t promise you’re going to get care free and happy go lucky during the pandemic. But I think you I think you should, though. No, that would not be the you would be evil if you felt like completely carefree right now.

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S3: Carefree is not the not the move right now. That’s not going to do you any good. I don’t even think you would feel better. Probably.

S1: Yeah, but but, you know, sustainable and like. Right. The next day is a proposition that you can handle that would be good.

S3: And I also think that’s going to be super hard at first. I have had that experience during the pandemic where for weeks at a time, I don’t want to call anybody. I do not want to be perceived. I you know, it’s like taking your medicine that tastes bad. You know, you do these things that are difficult and anxiety inducing to the extent that you can do it. So in service of the greater organism, you know, you want to try to do these difficult things because you know that at the end of the day, you’ll feel better.

S1: That’s so true. I’ve gone through so many different cycles during the pandemic, like, I definitely had the like late summer, like I’ve got schedules. I’m like, you know, giving my time to organizations that I care about. And like, you know, last week I broke my pinky toe tripping over my tiny dog. And like all of you today or cookies like I’m not in a great place in February in some ways, but. You know, it’s not about making sure you get through the pandemic with fabulous coping strategies and like ABS and having read like, you know, everything Marcus Aurelius ever wrote or with the most, like, robust correspondence based friendships of all time, it’s just about catching things when they get really bad and doing what you can to move the needle toward something more bearable and then trying to help somebody else, if you can, and just drag yourself from room to room as best you can until things are a little less shitty. I’m going to go have a third cookie is what I’m going to do. I hope you hit your head like a blueberry. Rex, thank you so, so much. This is just fabulous. I’m so, so, so glad that I got to tell people what to do with you.

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S4: Yeah. No, this was great. This is a good conversation.

S5: Thanks for listening to Dear Prudence, our producer is Bill Cercas. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton. Don’t miss an episode of the show had to slate dotcom. Dear Prudence, to subscribe and remember, you can always hear more prudence by joining Slate. Plus go to Slate dotcoms. Pretty hard to sign up. If you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message for zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three to seven. And you might hear your answer on an 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, 30 seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening.

S2: Oh. Oh.

S1: And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday, part of what’s really exciting when you have a great first kiss to share is sharing it with people whose lives are really steady so that they can give you the sort of like excitement and warmth and distance that you would like if somebody else like, well, I just have an amazing first kiss. It’s like, fuck you, this is my thing.

S4: Yeah, it’s a symbiosis, I think, between, like, the single wild people and the more settled, more married people, you know, that’s how you make a alone. Right. You know. Yeah. Get a few of each. Yeah. You need a balance I think, in your friends circle. And it sounds like you have one, you’ve got friends who are in your position and you’ve got friends who aren’t there yet for whatever reason.

S5: It’s nice to listen to the rest of that conversation. Join Slate plus now at Slate dot com forward slash Prudy pod.