Clingy Sister Syndrome

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Speaker 1: This Ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership. Lucky you. And. Hello and welcome back to Big News. I’m your host, Daniel Mabry. And with me in the studio this week is Kate Beaton, a New York Times best author. Her highly anticipated graphic memoir, Ducks two Years in the Oil Sands Out This Fall, recounts the time she spent working and living in Canada’s oil industry man camps.

Speaker 2: Kate, welcome to the show.

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Speaker 3: Welcome.

Speaker 2: Well, thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 3: I’m such a pro. Gosh, I mean, I. Thank you. Thank you. I’m. I feel welcome.

Speaker 2: Good. I want to say welcome.

Speaker 3: What is say? No, I’m very excited to be here. I think this is the first time that we have talked face to face, even though I feel like I have been connected to in the online world for a long time.

Speaker 2: I think that that’s true.

Speaker 1: Although to be fair, only you have seen me dancing in the background of the video I have.

Speaker 2: You? Yes. Well, we’re still.

Speaker 1: Seeing through a glass darkly.

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Speaker 3: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Speaker 1: But yes. No, I was thinking about this, too. I was just talking to Nicole Cliff, my former business partner and best friend yesterday. We’re coming up on a decade since she and I started the toast together. And you and I both kind of came up in similar corners of the Internet around, I think, a similar ish time. And it’s it’s kind of remarkable to think of, like, that particular era being a decade in the past.

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Speaker 3: Oh, exactly. And you and I were both making jokes about literary stuff that we enjoyed. So people were like, this is like the same.

Speaker 2: Like, these.

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Speaker 3: Two are the these are my faves and stuff. And it’s always nice to be to be lumped in with somebody who you also admire. You know, I would read your stuff and be like, Oh, this is way better than mine.

Speaker 2: I would do the same. But for you.

Speaker 3: And then I would be so happy to be to be in your company, but also like jealous.

Speaker 2: Well, I hope it helps that I transitioned.

Speaker 1: It was solely so that people wouldn’t make us up.

Speaker 2: You know.

Speaker 3: What? You did me a solid, so thanks.

Speaker 1: Absolutely.

Speaker 1: I am also in an especially good mood because since the last time I recorded the show, I made my first trip to medieval times since the fourth grade. And it was the the new unionized castle, the first Medieval Times Castle has unionized in New Jersey. And I got to go last week, and it was the same menu that I remembered from the fourth grade. And that way inordinately happy. Are you familiar? Have you been? I know that there’s a medieval times in Toronto.

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Speaker 3: There is, but I never went when I was there. And I’ve never been to medieval times. But I did have a friend who worked there and she was saying, I just want to be like a wench for a while, you know, slaying some just.

Speaker 2: Likes as so many of us do.

Speaker 3: And then she found it really hard to like, carry giant trays of.

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Speaker 2: Of.

Speaker 3: Like slushy drinks around, I think. And she was like, this is and there was a lot of behind the scenes drama, I think.

Speaker 2: I don’t doubt that at all.

Speaker 3: Oh, I would listen to a podcast of medieval times behind the scenes drama of cast members and things. And I think it’s, you know, if TV producers are listening, that’s a great show. I mean, sit down and watch the show. I know. I mean, forget this podcast.

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Speaker 2: I will say, since I was.

Speaker 1: Mentioning to my friends where I had been, three separate people have said now, including you. Oh, I have a friend who used to work at medieval times and I have begged all of them to put me in touch with that person so I can ask them a thousand questions. And I will do the same to you. If your friend is interested in discussing her years as a.

Speaker 2: I get a little uncomfortable saying it now like, Oh my God.

Speaker 3: That was her word. She was like, she was like, This is my dream.

Speaker 2: I mean, I really dream.

Speaker 3: But my, my, I think she would been working in something like art galleries and stuff and she’s like, I’m done with this. I just want to be a wench.

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Speaker 1: It makes sense, though, because I think of all the places I’ve ever worked, restaurants have had some of the highest levels of interpersonal drama and staples. Yeah. And yeah. And Medieval Times combines the two because you’ve got restaurant staff and you’ve got course staff. And when you put those two together, like, My God, I cannot imagine the level of personal animus, breakups, cheating, threesomes, struggles.

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Speaker 2: Oh, I’m too dazzling.

Speaker 1: Like, yeah, there’s, there’s absolutely so much grist for the mill there. And I don’t know, are you, are you busy? Can we start a podcast. The other where we interview.

Speaker 3: I would I would I would I would I 100% were because that’s that’s the juice baby.

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Speaker 2: A great great. Okay. And the other thing.

Speaker 1: I want to get to the bottom of, because of course, as soon as I left the show, I looked up to see if they were hiring.

Speaker 2: I was like, I mean, I could give me that to New Jersey to work a.

Speaker 1: Few days a week at medieval.

Speaker 2: Times. Yeah. And I was really.

Speaker 1: Surprised to see. So the Squire program is the only way to eventually become a knight like first year squire. You’re handing out lances, you’re cleaning up impromptu horseshit, etc.. Yeah, and if you do that long enough, they let you train as a knight.

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Speaker 2: And you have to be a guy.

Speaker 1: And they say like, we’re allowed, we’re exempt from equal opportunity stuff because it’s historically accurate. And I was.

Speaker 2: Just kind of floored.

Speaker 1: It’s like it’s.

Speaker 2: It’s a castle in New Jersey. Yeah.

Speaker 3: Like squeeze me. You guys offer like, large Slurpees or something on your.

Speaker 2: Right? Yeah. Like you have a little, like.

Speaker 1: Museum section where next to each other are the sorts of, like King Arthur and Robin Hood.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it’s a bunch of made up stuff, famed.

Speaker 3: Famed historical figure.

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Speaker 2: It’s also like everybody loves lady knights. Are you kidding me? Like, oh, I’d go nuts for that. You’d be pretty.

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Speaker 3: Similarly. When when like the knight, like, who wins the tournament takes off the helmet and like, a bunch of hair falls out, and she’s like, you sons of.

Speaker 2: Bitches all.

Speaker 3: Along.

Speaker 2: And people go nuts. Do people go.

Speaker 1: Nuts? Kate I feel so proud of myself because I finally read Spenser’s the Faerie Queene this year, which was to drag my heels on, which you may remember was written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The first.

Speaker 2: And and.

Speaker 3: It’s a long it’s like a slog. But I mean, yeah, it’s like I have not read it. Also, I’ve read bits and pieces and be like, Oh, that’s enough for me.

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Speaker 1: But there’s a whole book about Britomart who’s this Lady Knight who goes around traveling dressed as a knight and on, I believe, at least five separate occasions in a single book. She does the taking off her helmet to reveal her gorgeous hair and everyone’s like, Oh my God, that’s a lady. And this is from like 1593.

Speaker 3: And you don’t mess with the classic.

Speaker 2: It’s a classic for a reason. People have enjoyed this for centuries and will enjoy it now.

Speaker 1: So I’m going to start writing a letter to Medieval Times every week.

Speaker 2: With different scenes from Edmund’s fantasy. Very different. The people want lady knights.

Speaker 3: They always have that. And you’re like, Have they not heard of Joan of Arc? Like, What’s wrong with you?

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Speaker 1: We should advise some people and not just talk about theme restaurants. And I’m wondering if you would be so good as to read our first letter?

Speaker 3: I’d be happy to.

Speaker 2: Thank you.

Speaker 3: Subject. It’s not you. It’s us. My current boyfriend is from a verbally abusive family who have made him feel worthless and insecure. One of the ways they tear him down is by telling him I’m too good for him and believe him. I spend a lot of time over our relationship reassuring him that I love him and I’m not cheating. The problem is, now I feel like I can’t leave him around. So I’m conforming to what his family has always said.

Speaker 3: We moved in together during the shelter in place, part of the pandemic in 2020, and I’ve been falling out of love with him, not because there’s anything wrong with him or that I think I’m too good for him. We spent almost two years together in the same apartment, and now I know enough about him to see that we’re not going to last. And I’m not the kind of person who can give constant validation and cheerfully deal with constant accusations of cheating. I’m fully itching to get out into the world and meet new people and hopefully have sex. I actually want to have. But I know this is going to reinforce all the jealousy and insecurity he’s felt through this whole relationship and be devastating to his self-esteem. How can I break up with him without making it about his worth and only about our incompatibility?

Speaker 1: I have such a short answer for this letter writer that I don’t think they’re going to like.

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Speaker 3: Go. Go ahead.

Speaker 2: Yeah, you just. You know.

Speaker 1: It is a fantasy to think I can break up with someone and control how they think about our breakup. And that’s sort of antithetical to the project of breaking up. I’ve said this before, but like when you break up with someone, it is in part because you can no longer agree on a narrative of your relationship. And one of the things that a breakup necessarily invites is now you’re going to both walk away with two different stories. Yes, obviously, be polite when you break up. But, you know, there’s just. There’s no way to make sure that your ex doesn’t feel bad about the breakup. And frankly, you know, even if there were a way, I wouldn’t encourage the letter writer to take it because you’re just allowed to break up with people. And if they feel sad about it, they go talk to other people about the breakup. That’s that’s how it goes.

Speaker 3: Yes. And I’m sensing a couple of different things here that’s being said. You know, the letter writer says that that it’s not because of anything but her incompatibility, but then they do go back. The only incompatibility that they’re really saying is this insecurity and that that they’re constantly rebuffing accusations of cheating and having to bring up this this validation.

Speaker 3: And I guess they’re looking for a way to let down gently and in a way maybe even be facetious about the things that really do bother them. And if you do that and you you let this partner go and make them think you really didn’t do anything wrong. And I’m it’s not that the way you are bothers me. It’s it’s our incompatibility, which is like a natural thing or something. Then you’re sort of giving them permission to go into the next relationship with all of this insecurity and accusations of cheating and everything ready to roll out for the next person without them having learned anything from the truth.

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Speaker 1: I can see some of that. I don’t want to make the letter writer feel responsible for how their ex behaves in the future.

Speaker 2: But no, no. I definitely am not that.

Speaker 1: I thought that’s what you were saying. I just want to make sure I don’t go too far in that direction. But you know, letter writer, I think maybe you feel like you’ve been kind of painted in a corner because of how frequently your partner has brought this up. But I just really want to stress it’s actually pretty fucked up that your partner is constantly accusing you of cheating.

Speaker 2: And I want you to.

Speaker 1: Again, you don’t have to get into a really long conversation. I think sometimes people feel like if they’re going to break up with someone and they know their partner’s not going to like it, they owe them like an eight hour long conversation where they just go back and forth on every single detail until everyone agrees on everything.

Speaker 3: Oh, yeah, that’s not going to happen. They’re never going to agree on everything. And it and it does sound like this letter writer has has expended so much compassion for the position that their partner has been in for everything that they’ve been through and that they take from their family. But there’s there’s well, no indication in the letter, anyway, of how much the partner has been doing to to work on that themselves.

Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah, I don’t but I don’t know.

Speaker 3: But there’s no but there’s no information. So you’re only all you have is, is your your advice in the beginning was the best one just based on what there is here in the letter, which is very brief.

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Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 3: For something that’s so there could be so many things and how, how I read into it, you know, this is I am not the advice, but I guess I see different avenues that could be the truth and could not be the truth. But all you have in the letter is these bare facts. And and the fact is that you you are allowed to leave and you don’t have to stay for the sake of somebodies problems.

Speaker 1: Right. I mean, I think the letter writer probably knows this on one level, but it might help to hear this be said out loud. Letter Writer You are not the cure for low self-esteem. No therapist in the world, no doctor in the world would see your ex and say, Okay, my prescription for your relationship with your abusive family and recurring feelings of worthlessness is to make sure this one person dates you forever. That’s not that’s not the solution.

Speaker 1: And again, I know that you probably know that on some level, but on another level, you probably feel like, well, since I’ve been part of this relationship for a long time and I know this about my partner and I know they’re afraid I’ll leave. If I leave, I’m going to make their life worse because I will exacerbate their self-esteem problems. I just really, really want to reassure you, letter writer, you are not any sort of treatment plan. You are a person who gets to decide what relationships you do and don’t want to be in. And your partner not only can figure out better ways to cope with feelings of worthlessness or damaging relationships with their family members, it will behoove them to do that on their own without trying to make other people feel responsible for for bolstering them again. Like I’m walking a fine line here between like, everyone should just be perfectly self-sufficient before they get a boyfriend or girlfriend. I don’t mean that, but you really can’t use another person like a Band-Aid to fix, you know, your mean mom or your your, like, disparaging grandparents.

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Speaker 3: No, not at all. And I feel I understand how this person feels. I don’t want to come down too hard on the partner either. I don’t know how they you know, how they’ve comported themselves during this whole time either. And maybe they are working on themselves. But like the letter writer says, we are just incompatible, that there are other things going on in their lives, that their their day to day lives. They’re not all this. They have spent all of the pandemic together, and that really puts everything into sharp focus, every facet of your relationship, not just like these, these couple of things, but but this is certainly the issue that’s looming the most on their minds.

Speaker 1: Yeah. So letter writer, my advice would be break up with your partner as soon as you can. Keep the conversation relatively brief. I don’t mean like, just text them like we’re dunzo, but, you know, go in with like a plan of after we talk for like an hour. I need an out. Like, I’ll have another friend that I’ve told in advance, and I’ll make plans to go for a walk with them and kind of decompress so that I don’t kind of get caught up in this really intense back and forth about this other person’s sense of worth, because that way you might get drawn into one of those like full day break ups that just do nobody any good.

Speaker 3: They live together as well.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Yeah. And so maybe also have a plan for where are you going to stay that night, assuming that your ex will probably not like be moving out that same evening. I mean, that’ll be great, but, you know, plan for it taking at least a few days for each of you to find a different living arrangement and really, yeah, like tell a friend or to ask for some help and support so that you don’t feel guilty or like you’re not allowed to end the conversation until your ex feels good about it. Given that you’re a soon to be ex, often like demands that you reassure them that you’re not cheating. I am a little concerned that they’re going to try to pepper you with questions about whether or not there’s somebody else or to try to get you to justify your decision in a way that makes you feel like too guilty to actually leave. And so that’s why I want you to have like a heart out plans with somebody else so that you can just sort of get away from you must give me my answers. You must give me my answers again. It’s really up to you.

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Speaker 1: You can absolutely just say, you know, we’ve had a lovely two years together. I just don’t think that we’re compatible. I’m not happy in this relationship anymore. I want to break up. That’s perfectly appropriate to say if you wanted to also say, you know, and something that didn’t help was constantly being asked if I was cheating. You can you also don’t have to like you’re not obligated to give like up to the moment feedback on like how could I better serve my next customer?

Speaker 2: And if you feel.

Speaker 3: That that is a bit what my, my initial thing said like and I didn’t I did mean is I didn’t mean it to sound that way. I just meant sometimes when we want to put people down gently, we no one hurt their feelings. You kind of want to overcompensate. And maybe I guess I’m talking too much from personal experience here when I’m younger and I don’t know how old this person is, but, you know, to really make it sound as though like have how do I put it, almost almost shift all of the blame onto yourself in some way. And then that maybe gives the other person permission to be angry at you and not think about like their role in a relationship at all. But obviously I’m projecting.

Speaker 2: Oh, I never do that.

Speaker 3: No, you never do it. Wow.

Speaker 2: I tried.

Speaker 1: It once and I realized it wasn’t perfect and I.

Speaker 2: Stopped. I mean, yeah, there can.

Speaker 1: Be breakups where it can potentially be useful to say, like, this is something I hope you don’t do again. But also sometimes it just comes down to we just want different things. I do think this falls into the category of like behavior that I really hope your ex stops in future relationships.

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Speaker 2: But they also.

Speaker 1: Don’t know if they’re prepared to hear it right now. I don’t know if hearing it from you in the middle of a breakup is going to land. So it’s like it would be great if your ex changed this, but it’s not. It’s not like you’re the only person who can give them this information, like they could learn this from from other people. So if you feel up to saying it, say it, don’t feel like you have to. But again, you know, nobody has so bad a family that they are owed a permanent boyfriend or girlfriend from the universe. I know you know this, but just like repeat this to yourself. This is not proving his family right. This is everyone is entitled to leave a relationship when they no longer want to be in it. And your ex probably needs to figure out a different way to relate to his family. You can’t do it for him. I can’t do it for him. He can do it for himself if he wants to.

Speaker 3: Yes. Yeah.

Speaker 1: I also just letter writer. I imagine after you do go through this breakup in a few months, once you feel less like your job is to constantly reassure this person, you might start thinking like, okay, I actually don’t need to be so quick to say there’s nothing wrong with him because I’m not actually being asked to offer like a final judgment of his worthiness before a universal judge. I actually am okay and allowed to say something like, you know, actually sometimes he really like played the victim so much that I felt manipulated and coerced. And I don’t think he was necessarily the worst person in the world or that he was doing this consciously while twirling his mustache and thinking, Oh, good, I’m hurting you. But it was kind.

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Speaker 2: Of fucked up.

Speaker 1: And I just want you to feel permission to someday, maybe not feel only or predominantly there’s nothing wrong with him. He is good. Like he might have done some things that were fucked up and also had an abusive family who treated him. Sadly, it is possible to have low self-esteem and to hurt somebody else. So just you know, you don’t have to think of him as the small being, if that’s what you are sometimes tempted to do.

Speaker 2: Get out of there. Have some great sex.

Speaker 3: Yes. Have that good sex. Get out there and and think about your feelings, you know, and and the things that you need. Because I feel I get the feeling from the letter that that you have been thinking about somebody else’s feelings for a long time. And even in this in this at this hour, when you should be thinking about your needs, you’re you’re putting this this sort of pressure on yourself and and you really need to be thinking about your best interests.

Speaker 1: Yep. And he will be able to cultivate a sense of self-worth. And he has the ability to try to develop different kinds of boundaries or relationships with his family of origin, whether or not he ever speaks to you again. And that doesn’t mean he won’t be sad when you break up. And that doesn’t mean he might not have a hard time. But he has access to resources, new strategies, other relationships. You are not the only thing standing in the way of him in total despair. So just remind yourself of that. Keep the breakup conversation relatively short. Make sure there’s somebody else to kind of swoop in and say, if you if you’re getting, like, dragged into a conversation that’s just like, why me? Why am I suffering? Oh, no, I’ve got to help him. He’s he’s in a crisis. So good luck. Let us know how that goes. I really hope that breakup is short and sweet and soon.

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Speaker 1: Do you feel ready to move on to something more.

Speaker 2: More intense and heavy? Even.

Speaker 3: Even more intense? Yes, more intense. I feel qualified and prepared.

Speaker 2: Good. Yeah.

Speaker 1: You know, I think both you and I have probably had some thoughts about loss and family.

Speaker 2: So with that preface.

Speaker 1: Out of the way, the subject of this letter is not that close. I became a strange from my parents as a teenager, and I lost my sisters as a casualty. Six years later, my eldest sister has also cut off our parents and reached out to me. At first, I was thrilled that she reached out. Deconstructing our abusive childhood together was intense and healing for about a week. Now it’s been three months and she’ll still text me with whatever random traumatic memory comes to mind multiple times a day. I was so available at the beginning that even taking a few hours to respond now elicits follow up messages. I said that hearing about all this was sometimes draining because I wanted to get my point across without hurting her when she’s so fragile. But I don’t think the hint landed in the right way.

Speaker 1: Now, if I’m asleep or busy or otherwise unavailable, she’ll say she misses hanging out with me often. At the end of the day, she’ll tell me that she spent time crying but, quote, didn’t want to bother me with it since I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve been on sick leave from work lately due to a chronic illness, but I’m about to go back and I realize. I feel like I have two full time jobs now. My sister will not see a therapist. I’ve suggested it a few times and she insists she can’t afford it. She talks a lot about how we used to be best friends when I was a teenager and she was a young adult, but I didn’t see it that way. We were close compared to the rest of our siblings, but I’ve always had other best friends. She claims she hasn’t had another best friend in the time that we were estranged and keeps saying that she’s so happy that we went, quote, right back to being best friends. Am I being unreasonable? I’m happy to be back in her life. I love her kids and I’m happy that she’s out of our family’s dysfunction. But I don’t consider her to be my best friend by any stretch.

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Speaker 1: And I spent six years doing all this emotional processing by myself, and I was poor and hungry and sometimes didn’t have a place to live. She’s apologized for that distance, and I’ve forgiven her for a lot of what happened between us. I’ve come to peace about her outing me. I believe her when she says it wasn’t malicious. And I’m not exactly angry that she had a relationship with our family in the interim. But it’s also hard to hear stories about the horrible things she heard them say about me even just a year ago. I don’t know how to express that. I’m not angry, but that she also doesn’t suddenly have access to me as if she didn’t disown me as a teenager. There were fewer than three people I speak to on a daily basis outside of work, and none of them have this high in expectation for my availability. I don’t want to damage a relationship that’s so new, but it makes me feel so constricted to be expected to offer this level of investment all the time.

Speaker 1: Oh, man, this one is so big. I don’t know why I, like, seized on this first, but that whole. I might be your best friend, but you’re not my best friend. Conundrum. Just, like, wrung my heart like I felt that one viscerally.

Speaker 3: Yes. This this letter made me very sad, and it’s it’s a heartbreaker. And and you can’t help but feel the letter writers conundrum. And and but also I think some of their perhaps unsaid anger. In there that they’re still feeling and maybe don’t feel like they have the space for that. And like, this is just what I’m gleaning from the letter that that they were hurt really badly by this family and maybe never expected anyone to pop back in.

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Speaker 3: But then somebody did and they came in with huge emotional needs and perhaps not, from the sounds of it, an ability to understand everything that the letter writer has been through. Otherwise they wouldn’t. Otherwise they wouldn’t need to have them as their best friend. And to go right back like the the these sister seems to want forgiveness so badly and and immediately. And I can see being thrown for a loop when a family member comes back into your life that it you know, there’s a honeymoon sort of thing and then a reckoning after that was work how you really feel. And the two narratives don’t really match up between the two siblings.

Speaker 1: Yeah, I really got the same sense, I think, from this letter. You know, there’s a couple of times towards the end that the letter writer says, I’m not exactly angry or I’m not angry or I’m no longer angry or I’ve forgiven. And I both want to like take the letter writer at their word. And I also wonder if maybe a slightly more precise way of putting it would be, I’m not only angry or I’m not always angry or I’m not so angry that I don’t want a relationship with her.

Speaker 1: But I would maybe encourage the letter writer to say, even if it’s just to yourself right now, something more like part of me is still angry about some of these things. It’s not a raging anger that wakes me up in the middle of the night, and it’s not the only thing that I feel. But this hasn’t completely healed between us or that we haven’t completely discussed this. And that doesn’t mean you have to immediately like hash through all of those things. I think it just might be a little bit easier for you letter writer, if you didn’t put quite so much pressure on yourself to say, I’m not really angry. I’m not really angry.

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Speaker 3: Because and and I, I forgive you because you need it so badly or seemed to because you need me to be there for you to go through this painful separation from family. Now, and you weren’t there for me and possibly are the reason that I was exiled from the family.

Speaker 2: Yeah, that was a little bit opaque, but it did seem.

Speaker 1: To me like the sort of through line was this the letter and her sister outed them and that precipitated the family estrangement. If it didn’t exactly directly immediately lead to it. It was definitely like the first domino.

Speaker 3: And and this is when the letter writer was a teenager and the sister was a young adult, so established in the world. So one was in a position of much more vulnerability than the other.

Speaker 2: Right. And the letter writer, it.

Speaker 1: Sounds like, became, you know, intermittently homeless as a result.

Speaker 3: Yes. And and the sister sisters has children. So you you can maybe infer that they are doing.

Speaker 2: It doesn’t sound like the.

Speaker 1: Sister is homeless or.

Speaker 2: Struggling financially beyond like.

Speaker 1: An average struggle of.

Speaker 3: Brave that phrase. It’s not it’s not indicated. And I think that maybe it would be it’s so but a lot of those details, they’re like in the middle or at the bottom of the letter when when they seem like they are important to the letter writers story and their feelings. And I think everything that that they’re saying is so understandable. You have been separated from your family and then someone approaches you basically out of nowhere saying, I’m sorry, I feel the same way.

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Speaker 3: Let’s talk about, like, all these things that hurt you over the years. And me, they hurt me, too. And you feel enveloped in the thing that you have missed for so long, but then it keeps piling up in a way that you weren’t ready for or don’t like or haven’t been able to think about, because it just, you know, she says about a week it was good and it’s only been three months. And clearly the sister is going through it and does need help even though they won’t go to therapy that like the last person is not the responsibility of the letter writer.

Speaker 1: Right. Right. Yeah. So I think there’s a lot that’s available to the letter writer.

Speaker 1: And I wonder if the most helpful thing to start with would be maybe letter writer. You might want to like just jot down a quick list of like what are some things that I would like to ask of my sister or what are some of the expectations I have? And it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’re going to share all those things with her. It just might be useful for your own ends to kind of see them. Like, maybe you’re like, Ideally, I’d want her to go to therapy. If not, I’d at least like her not to text me multiple times a day about when she’s been crying. Maybe you want to tell her that you don’t consider her your best friend and you would like her to stop saying that. Maybe that sounds like too much and you just want to give yourself permission to not. Bond in kind.

Speaker 1: You’re like, she can say that if it’s helpful to her. But it’s important to me to be honest and to say, you know, back either like, thank you, that means a lot or I love you, but not you’re my best friend. Even if that does eventually lead to, like, a difficult question, maybe that feels really important to you. Maybe it doesn’t. But it’ll be useful, I think, to write some of those things down and then to kind of think about maybe like what’s keeping me from sharing those things with her. And so that might be useful information to like.

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Speaker 1: Is part of you concerned that she’s just so overwhelmed right now that if you made any request from her, she would just shut down or would get angry with you and maybe revert back to an earlier version of her where she kind of it sounds like your family problematize you early and often and you’re afraid if you’re actually, like, not just kind of giving her what she wants in the moment that she’s going to turn on you. Or maybe you’re afraid that if you do acknowledge your limits and boundaries with her, it will remind you of other things that you actually are possibly quite angry about and maybe don’t want to be angry about or feel tired of being angry about or felt like. I feel like I forgave her for this five years ago, but now I’m mad again and that feels like disorienting and upsetting. Maybe that’s part of what’s coming up for you.

Speaker 3: So there are still resources for people who don’t want to go to therapy, and that depends on what your sister is interested in looking at. Because. Because family estrangement is not an uncommon problem, unfortunately. And for some people, just knowing that there are other people to talk to or other experiences to read or or other things that they can relate to helps pass what they’ve seen and what they’ve felt. And I don’t know who else this sibling talks to or anything, but having therapy is is wonderful. But for somebody who’s averse to it, there are other things to look into possibly that that might even start them on the road to actual therapy, which they need.

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Speaker 1: Right. And like even if the line about like I’m not going to see a therapist has an implied because you’re my therapist like the good news for you letter writer is it’d be great if she saw a therapist. It’d be great if she found a support group would be creative. She did a number of other things, but even if she doesn’t, it’s still okay for you to say, I cannot talk about our estranged family every single day. I need you to stop texting me about it every day. And again, you can maybe suggest, like we can like set aside some time to talk about it once a month or like I’ll let you know when I do have time, but it’s really upsetting for me to get impromptu texts about this stuff. So I need you to find additional forms of support.

Speaker 1: You cannot keep bringing this to me on a daily basis, and you can say that lovingly. You can say that without judgment. You can say, You know, I’m not saying this because I don’t care. I’m saying this because there is a limit to how much of this I can work through with you. And if you have so far felt like you don’t need a therapist, because I’m available every day to have these conversations, you know, I’m just I’ve hit my own limits and we need to do something different. That is, you can say that lovingly. You can say that without, like, pushing her away. You can say that without being like you piece of shit. But she does need to listen to you and you say that. And if her response in the moment is not great, you can always say like, let’s take a little time. Calm down, check in again in a couple of days. But like, I really want you to think about what I’ve said rather than get drawn into an argument, or if she tries to like recrimination or say, I don’t have anyone, you’re all I’ve got, I need to be able to text you five times a day saying I’m weeping and freaking out.

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Speaker 1: And if you don’t give me that, like in some ways this reminds me a little bit of our first letter, frankly, because this sort of underlying thing is our relationship needs to be on my terms at all times and I need to be able to come to you with any insecurity or fear I have and demand reassurance in a way that could be consistent with someone who genuinely wants to be loving and in a good, safe, healthy relationship but is not able to access. There’s sort of like higher order thinking right now.

Speaker 3: Yeah, I this is even more exhausting and almost traumatic when, when you’re being battered, the thing that, that you have been dealing with your self alone for, for so many years and gone through so much pain already. And the question in the letter was, am I being unreasonable? And the answer is no, no. And I think that you know that. But I think that you also need to hear it.

Speaker 1: Yeah. And I think it can be really painful. Like it’s one thing to go through a family estrangement and mourn those losses, but it can also be really difficult to try to navigate like a reintegration of a formerly estranged relationship, especially when it’s like, well, it’s better in some ways, but it’s not perfect. And they’ve apologized for some things, but not other things, and sometimes they want stuff I’m not prepared to give them that can feel like in some ways at least, the estrangement was really straightforward. We just didn’t talk. Now I feel that’s kind of half on, half off, partial forgiveness, partial resentment, really tricky dance.

Speaker 1: And so, you know, letter writer, I think saying, you know, in addition to I can’t have these conversations everyday, we need to talk about a different schedule and I really need you to listen to me when I tell you what my limits are. I also really would encourage you to say to your sister, I need, you know, in order for us to talk about our family, I need you to not share with me shitty things our relatives said about me, especially during the years that I wasn’t talking to you. I can’t handle that information. I can’t do anything useful with it. All it does is provide me with, like, bad thoughts that will rattle around in my head. And so as an act of, like, love and care for me, I need you to share them with anyone else in the world who isn’t me or like my own partner or whatever, you know, like you need to I need to never hear that.

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Speaker 1: So I think you can ask for that. That’s not the same thing as saying like, you’re not allowed to call me your best friend or like get away from this level of access. That’s just like, you know, I think you can present that to her as like if you would like to treat me lovingly and with care, which I think you do, this is a good thing, a kind thing, a caring thing you can do for me, starting right now.

Speaker 3: Yes, you’re you when you said before like that that the relationship was all on the sister’s terms at the moment, that that seems to be the case. But the question that you both want to ask each other’s, how can we love each other now? And that’s a question that she has to ask herself, too, and that you have to you have to give to her, I think, and not not flatten yourself out in the way that you have been, maybe in your feelings just because because it was a surprise to have somebody come back into your life and because maybe in the moment of return, there was a euphoric feeling and and it seemed like the right thing to do to to feel forgiving and to feel the ways that you do when you’re reunited. And it’s not like you have to take back what you said or that you’re taking back feelings. But that’s an understandable those are understandable things to go through. And then and now as you’re establishing this relationship again, that’s a good question to return to maybe how best do we love each other?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I think that’s.

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Speaker 1: Such a lovely way of looking at this because my my hope and some of my sense here is that, like, your sister really does want to love you and be close to you. And she’s in a pretty messy place right now, and she hasn’t yet been able to pick up on some of the hints. But it is my hope that if you are clear with her about these like loving boundaries that are not about like, get out of here, fuck you. It’s just like I also need to take care of myself that she will hear that and be able to change and that she might not immediately say, Hey, thank you for this loving criticism. I’m going to reflect and like.

Speaker 2: Immediately do it.

Speaker 3: But people usually do their they love the criticism.

Speaker 2: Yeah, but.

Speaker 1: Hopefully she can hear this in the spirit of love that you so clearly are hoping to offer it in. And she will be able to to hear that and to pause. And, you know, you say you’re worried about damaging this new relationship, and I really hear that. But it’s also true that the only way you’re going to be able to cultivate a healthy, you know, possible relationship is if you introduce these new boundaries like you can’t keep going on like this. If you do, you’re eventually going to snap and then not talk anyway. So don’t don’t feel like there’s some version of events where you can just so carefully hint and avoid stuff that you never have to have this difficult conversation. And just again, I really want to give you permission. You don’t have to promise her that you’re never angry about any of this stuff. Again, I do want to take you at your word when you say you forgave her, but like the outing stuff had real consequences outside of just how do you both feel about it?

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Speaker 1: And so it might be one thing to say, like, I don’t wake up every day wanting revenge, but it’s also just true that like you’re outing me as a teenager, regardless of your intentions and and even knowing that you were also dealing with our abusive parents and that you were a young person, it still changed my life in pretty significant ways. And we can’t just brush past that.

Speaker 1: And, you know, honestly, you might also need to say to her or decide you want to I need you to pause on calling us best friends. I really get where you’re coming from with it. I appreciate and affirm the love that you have. For me. But it feels like too much and it feels too intense. And I’m not in a place where I can reciprocate that. And I would like you to stop. I need more boundaries and patience and pausing with the love that you are offering. Again, you might decide that’s too much for her to hear. You might decide you don’t want to say that. And that would be totally understandable.

Speaker 1: But you also get to bring your own terms to this relationship. And this is one where it sounds like she does offer you need to offer you continued ongoing amends for some pretty serious boundary violations that she’s transgressed. And if one of those things is like in the past, you’ve transgressed my boundaries by like sharing my information with too many other people. And now I feel like you’re kind of trying to dictate the terms of our closeness, and I need to be in the driver’s seat there. Can you please do that? I think that would be reasonable and appropriate.

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Speaker 3: Yes. The best friend’s phrase in particular stood out a lot. It seemed a funny thing for a someone who I assume is in their mid to late twenties to be focused on. But it is perhaps something there. It’s a safety thing, perhaps. You know, my best friend would never. Abandon or hurt me. And and so if I am calling you that and we get right back to being best friends, then, you know, fixing this sort of label to you puts you in a position of, of sort of kind of closeness and allows a feeling of safety on the other end of that, because I don’t know anybody who calls their own. I mean, I don’t know the people maybe they do, but but you sort of grow out of calling people your best friends a little bit.

Speaker 3: Um, and so that, that kind of reaching for you through nomenclature maybe, or because you say yourself, I don’t have any best friends and I have lots of friends, but I don’t think of them that way. It feels like anchoring you to her side a little bit. And and I don’t know, I guess I just wanted to go back to that phrase because it kept popping out as a an oddity to me.

Speaker 1: Yeah, I think that’s dead on. I think a big part of the reason I mean, obviously, I think also the sister in question like is lonely and hasn’t had a lot of close friends. But I think a lot of the work that like we’re best friends, I can’t believe we’re back to being best friends. How great is that? That we’re best friends is trying to do is like and it’s okay that I hurt you. It’s okay that I outed you. You’ve totally forgiven me. That’s totally healed. Like there’s just so many gradations between, like, forms of forgiveness, forms of reproaches and forms of feeling, forms of change. Like it’s possible to be in a loving, caring relationship with someone and to say both. Like some of this in the past, some of this is healed, some of this is still sensitive and requires like tenderness or care or patience or distance or or a boundary. There’s a lot. It’s not just like it’s either you’re not my best friend and you did bad things that I hate you or you’re my best friend. And it’s all water under the bridge and we have no problems. There’s a lot of in between.

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Speaker 3: Yes. And these are sibling relationships which are even more intense than friend relationships a lot of the time, because there you can join from when you were we babes. So there’s no there’s no untangling that. Not.

Speaker 2: You know, nobody else.

Speaker 1: Shared your childhood like.

Speaker 2: That. No.

Speaker 3: No. And and to even just call it like a friendship is very like it’s very simplifying. Yeah.

Speaker 1: I really hope she hears this. I hope she responds. Well, I think that your requests for boundaries and some slowing down is a good and a loving one. And if she can’t experience it in that way, then it is probably a sign that you need to take a step back again. I hope that goes well. Please keep us posted on how you’re doing and let this just be a reminder to all of us to be careful about who you declare your best friend. Make sure that they are also stepping off the cliff at the same time, because otherwise you will maybe be making someone feel very uncomfortable. That’s not like the primary lesson here. It was just like my biggest takeaway is like, Oh yeah, you’ve got to get buy in from someone else.

Speaker 2: And it’s difficult to give that. You can’t just ask someone out, right? You can’t just say like.

Speaker 1: Hey, you think we’re best friends, right? Because like, it’s uncomfortable to say no to that. So you’ve got to there’s got to be some sort of like tentative feeling out way to see, like, are you ready? Am I ready? Or you can just have yourself a problem and not worry about calling in your best friend.

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Speaker 1: How are you feeling? Are you feeling, like, drained and exhausted and you need to, like, get a cool washcloth? You feel fairly like.

Speaker 3: Yeah, well, I used to read your columns all the time and everything and I would marvel at the, the ability you had to thread the needle on certain questions because these are difficult questions. These are people’s lives. And you start to because I found in the first letter, you know, I started to give advice and it started to go in like weave in a direction. I was like, Oh, not there and there, but, but it’s, it’s sort of went that way anyway. But it’s very, very hard to, to stay the course and to contextualize what you’re saying in a way that is nuanced and succinct and doesn’t project too much from your own experience. You know, this is this is tough. And and you’ve got to have a lot of empathy for these people. And this is a job for the real like the nights of empathy over here.

Speaker 2: That is very, very lovely. And thank you so, so much.

Speaker 1: That’s that’s very meaningful. But also, you know, not to make it too neat a transitional moment, but it does feel like a useful moment to to talk a little bit about your latest project, because I have also followed your work with a keen eye over the last decade and have enjoyed it immensely. And I know that. Dux you first published, I think like a small series of comics back in 2014 about you, like your time spent in the are they called the oil man camps or the man camps?

Speaker 3: They’re called men camps. They were called work camps when I was there. But I guess they’re called man camps more generally. And so I live both in the town of Fort McMurray and the oil sands, and I lived in the work camps, which is part of the like the shadow population of transient workers working in the oil fields of northern Alberta.

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Speaker 1: And so was it like you did that proto book back in 2014 and then largely left it until you started working on Dux, the memoir? Or was that sort of always in in the background of your other projects?

Speaker 3: Oh, it was always in the background. It’s a book that I’ve been thinking of making for a long time, but I think I needed to accrue the skills as a cartoonist and a storyteller before I could actually do it. And I think the the courage in some ways, because it was very different from Hark a Vagrant was and I, I think that if I had if I’d even tried to do it when I left, it would have not have done what I wanted to tell justice. Because you’re you’re too close to the story. You’re probably too invested in your own emotions of of having just been there. And and I needed some distance from it to look at it a bit more critically.

Speaker 1: Now, do you remember when you felt like, I think I’m ready now? Was there like a particular moment or did it just feel like a continuing process?

Speaker 3: I think it was when I started drawing those comics in 2014 because I was just in my studio and I was like, I just got to start drawing this or I’ll never start. And so I started drawing the sketch comics and I put them up and and they got a good response, especially from people who had spent time there themselves. And that was very meaningful.

Speaker 2: Yeah. Yeah. I was going to.

Speaker 1: Say, have you sent copies to anyone that you worked with at the time?

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Speaker 3: Yes. Yeah. I spoke to most of the people that I could get in touch with before while I was writing it, because I don’t think anybody wants to be surprised. I mean, like surprise or in a book, it’s just a, you know, the courtesy of telling them that they were there and so they knew it was coming. And then I sent a few out to people. And the response so far has been good because it was really just my memory is just sort of trying to be honest about it and you can extrapolate any kind of of message from there. And certainly there are messages embedded in it because you you take your memories and you form a book out of them and you edit out some things and you make cuts and you you create the story that you’re telling people, but it is also just the truth. So I’ve been I’ve been lucky that no one has slammed the door in my face.

Speaker 1: Yeah. No, I mean, it’s, you know, if you don’t mind my saying so, it is a remarkable book and it also feels very much like a a new step into a new portion of your career, both in terms of like the scope, the scale, the ambition. I obviously can’t speak to the craft because I still can’t draw anything. But it feels like a real culmination of a number of different processes in a way that feels like pretty exciting to get to read, especially as someone who has followed your career for a long time.

Speaker 3: So thank you very much.

Speaker 3: Well, you know, as someone who has written humour yourself, it’s I think it’s it’s always good to never sit on your laurels and to to keep it moving and to do the things that you’re interested in. And and if you have a readership that’s with you that are often with you all the way, you know, you can change your tone and you can change your subject. And everything and and people will still be with you. And and that is nice. You know, I never felt any kind of trepidation going to make this book as though, like, I would be abandoned by readers who used to read Kafka Vagrant because because I knew they were on board with what I was doing. I was I was honest about it. I was telling people what I was making. Yeah. And and it’s no surprise.

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Speaker 1: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And yeah, I do think sometimes, obviously there’s, there’s lots of ways that you don’t always know what elements of an audience comes with you from project to project versus what people might be knew. Like, I never take a poll of like, you know, whoever might be buying a recent book, like, are you familiar with my older stuff? But it is always like moving and genuinely exciting to get to hear from someone who has been like following something you’ve done for a while and has seen like growth and change. Yeah. When you know so much, you know, I could not have imagined for the last, say, four years of my life. Like there was no way to plan for that change or those series of changes so much as just to go along on the on the ride of of my life.

Speaker 3: No, I know. I remember reading you a letter or a message on like Twitter or something, and I was like, How’s it going? I haven’t seen you around in a while. Hope everything’s good. I had no idea what was going on in the background.

Speaker 2: You poor thing. I, I remember that it was incredibly.

Speaker 1: Kind of thoughtful of you. And I also remember being like, all right, is there a way to update Kate on what has been going on in my life? That does not sound just like you’ve asked someone for directions and they’ve opened their mouth and like the sound of a thousand dying animals comes out like.

Speaker 2: Oh, that’s not what I asked for.

Speaker 3: Oh, my. You know what? That’s what used to happen when people would ask me about the oil sands.

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Speaker 2: And ducks died.

Speaker 3: Yeah, you’d be like, how? What was it like working in the oil sands? And then I would just start talking and like, they’d be there like an hour later, like looking at their watch, being like, Holy fuck, because I had so much to say about it. And and obviously it was something that meant a lot to me, and it was a book that was going to get made, obviously, you know, I had to. But yeah, I’ll never forget that message. And then later on, like, I saw some bits of yours, I was like, Oh.

Speaker 2: Thank you so much. What a beautiful little sound.

Speaker 3: I wrote to when I had the TV show going on. I was like, You know, will you be our dream, one of our dream writers? And and that never worked out. But if we get another season, you know, I’m knocking on your door again, so please do.

Speaker 2: I would love nothing more.

Speaker 1: And this is now a verbal agreement that is legally abhorrent.

Speaker 2: So someone write it in a TV.

Speaker 1: Show with 18 seasons right now.

Speaker 3: Yes. Well, well, yeah. We if we get another one, I’ll be knocked out.

Speaker 1: I will open up that door.

Speaker 2: Kate, thank you so, so much.

Speaker 1: Where and when can people pick up a copy of ducks? If they would like to do so.

Speaker 3: They can get it anywhere. But on September 13th, that’s the day I.

Speaker 2: Did it for him.

Speaker 1: Thank you so, so much. Have a fabulous rest your day.

Speaker 3: Thanks. You, too.

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Speaker 1: 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 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.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening. And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. I think what I would suggest would be like a brief phone call. It sounds like you’re in some kind of contact already, so it wouldn’t be totally like out of the blue. But I think I would just suggest, like, maybe the next time you talk on the phone to say, this might sound strange, but I’m really looking forward to seeing you next summer.

Speaker 1: And I’m also kind of nervous. You probably remember when I was growing up, my mother had a lot to say about what I ate and how I shouldn’t. And I’m just kind of anxious. And I just wanted to say it before I got there. I’m fat and I’m happy. And it would mean a lot to me if I just knew you weren’t going to, like, comment on what I ate or tell me that I’m fat. I already know that that would just go a long way towards making me feel comfortable. My hope is even if she was like surprised by that or hadn’t encountered someone saying something like that before, she would be just generally polite and gracious enough to say, Oh, thank you so much for letting me know. Of course I won’t do that. To listen to the rest of that conversation, join Slate Plus now at Slate.com. Forward slash mood.