No Urge To Merge

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Speaker 1: This Ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership. Lucky you. And.

Danny Am: Hello and welcome back to big new little Newt. I’m your host, Danny Am Lavery. And with me in the studio this week is Jules Gill-Peterson, an historian and writer who lives in Baltimore and teaches at Johns Hopkins University. She’s the author of Histories of the Transgender Child and a co-host of Outward on Slate. Jules, welcome to the show.

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Speaker 3: Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Danny Am: I am so excited to have you here. I feel like I’ve been looking forward immensely to this one, and I hope that I have found a nice sort of sampling of different problems people can have, rather than I realized I had this sort of string of guests where every time someone had like a single subject that they were sort of an expert in, I was like, Oh, I’ll just do three in a row about one unrelenting topic.

Speaker 3: It’s nice to have range, though. I feel I felt the like sampler platter, you know, T.G.I. Chile bee’s like fantastic happy hour special of it all. So thanks for. Thanks for showcasing a lady’s ability to to hit more than one subject.

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Danny Am: I just want everyone to feel like they’re in a foreign power.

Speaker 3: Yes. I mean, perpetually.

Danny Am: That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

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Danny Am: Well, in that case, I am especially excited for you to read our first letter, which is just like such a sweet and charming problem that I feel like we are probably fairly well equipped to to answer who.

Speaker 3: When I tell you, I might try not to annotate this one in advance and very excited. So our subject line is a question, and the question is a glacial pace. I’m a bi woman in my early thirties dating a lesbian named Alex of the same age. We’ve been together for about eight months and she’s wonderful, brilliant, kind, attractive, thoughtful. It’s my first serious queer relationship.

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Speaker 3: After about four months, Alex started saying things like, When we’re married, which gives me a bowl of conflicting emotions. The idea of growing up together gives me a warm, glowy feeling, but I also feel scared and anxious in a nebulous way. I can’t identify all our friends make constant. Why haven’t you move in together yet? Or you must not love her if you’re not sharing tattoos in the first year jokes. And that makes me feel even more panicked. I know more than a few lesbians who married after less than a year together. But this whole topic makes me feel rushed and panicky. Is this a sign that the relationship is wrong for me, or should I just be asking people to cool it?

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Speaker 3: I’m very happy with Alex, but if I had to get engaged or break up right this instant, I’d choose the breakup. I’m historically great at committing to things and people, but only if I can get there in my own time. I do best with lots of time to develop slow, steady feelings and then make serious decisions. What do I do?

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Danny Am: I love this letter writer.

Speaker 3: She’s usually written Taking US On the journey.

Danny Am: It’s just subtle notes, her own mind, conscientious. Do it. Great. Like letter writer. I just. I like you immensely.

Speaker 3: I know. Like, the best kind of person seeking advice as a person who is very wise and clearly knows what’s up from the beginning, but just needs some, you know, social affirmation from peers. And it’s like, you know, what can I say? I’m a divorcee, so I have feelings. And there were moments like, you know, even just reading that letter out loud where I was like, don’t, don’t pause for dramatic reaction. But I was like, who are all these lesbians, you know, that are getting married after in under a year, excuse me, today in this economy?

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Speaker 3: Well, actually, in this economy maybe. But like, you know, oh, my gosh. Like, you know, I really feel for this person and that kind of feeling of like the way that people I don’t know, just the way that sort of like anxious, insecure jokes about attachment or relationship forms often start in this really innocuous way. And so you don’t want to kind of dramatize them or you don’t want to, like, inflate their stakes. But then at the same time, when your whole friend group is like, you know, when you like start dating someone and like your whole friend group like, takes their weird side in this adversarial way to, like, rib you all the time. I don’t like that dynamic. Can I just say that as an aside? I mean.

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Danny Am: Yeah, I feel like I don’t experience that very much, but I’ve certainly experienced that at different times in my life, and I think that kind of goes hand in hand with what this letter writer is experiencing, where like, it’s one thing to occasionally make a lesbian U-Haul joke, but when that joke gets repeated over and over again until it sort of becomes this narrative of like forced unanimity, it can get really like unpleasant, where it’s just like, what is the advantage? Or like what is the appeal to you in making this joke again and again? Is it really that you want to make everyone couple off and get married right away? Because if so, that went from like a kind of funny joke in the eighties about some people to just sort of like a weird social hammer.

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Speaker 3: Right. It’s like, first of all, Subarus are. Very expensive cars have never costs more. This has big like the friends are giving big like one of us energy. I mean, I think one of the questions I would have if we were talking to this letter writer sort of like, okay, so, you know, they’re kind of coming in as a bi woman in their early thirties saying this is their first serious queer relationship.

Speaker 3: And so, you know, one thing I’m wondering is like, how many of the friends are like him, allegedly straight people or whatever, and like, you know, just this kind of feeling of like, well, we’re in our thirties, it’s the time everyone’s getting married and having kids and like, why aren’t you growing up yet? Now you’re choosing to be I don’t know. You know, just like I feel like there’s a way that, like, you know, Goddess knows our early thirties are a moment these days to begin with.

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Speaker 3: And a lot of us still feel really infantilized, like by our life situation, like by the economy, like by politics and like by like the environments that we live in and this sort of sense of like it would be better for everyone to pair up. I just feel like is sort of one of these masquerading as solution solutions that like is even inflecting our, our hallowed queer and lesbian, you know, lives that I just want to be like, you know, good for you for feeling in your like, for listening to your gut and listening to your heart and knowing that that, you know, creates a feeling of panic.

Speaker 3: And I feel like, you know, as someone who if I listen to every feeling of panic I had, like, wouldn’t ever get anything done. I understand, like the impulse to question that. But like, I think in this case, honestly, I’m so with you. Like, yeah, don’t, don’t like don’t give in to this. And after about four months, I mean, four months, I don’t know how much time time is anymore, but four months is not a lot of time. Right?

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Danny Am: Right.

Danny Am: And I think, too, another thought that I had about this was the possibility that maybe one of the reasons that the letter writer included the information that I’m bi, she’s a lesbian and this is my first serious queer relationship is potentially a fear if I say I don’t love the you hold jokes, is everyone then going to say, oh, well then you must not really be able to hang out with all these lesbians or like you just don’t understand the culture. And so I thought if that was a fear that you had letter writer, hopefully no one will react that way. But in case they do, I want to give you real full permission to push back on that.

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Speaker 3: Like, oh, my gosh. Yeah, do not let them, like, you know, lesbian base around your bisexuality. That’s the thing, right? Is like this is coming from such a place of care, which I really I really appreciate. Right? Not wanting to hurt Alex’s feelings and like, maybe to Alex it’s a joke, but like, of course, often jokes we make with people we’re getting to know are both a way of signaling intimacy, right? Well, the fact that I can make fun of you is a relationship milestone, but it’s also often a way of signaling information about yourself that you actually feel like kind of insecure about.

Speaker 3: Right. And so maybe Alex has the reverse feeling, right? Well, you know, maybe maybe Alex has been a lesbian for a long time and wants to make sure that letter writer feels secure right in the queerness of their relationship or in the lesbian ness of their relationship. Does it? Why, you know, it doesn’t want our letter writer to feel self-aware of being bi or whatever. Right? I will say this is something that as a Capricorn I’ve really struggled with in relationships is when people are just like abruptly, like, I don’t like that behavior. I opted like it really like puts me in my place emotionally because I always think that everything I’m doing is like really reasonable. I reflected upon it and that’s that I forget that that’s not true. And so I feel like this is the trick, right? Is like to address the sort of jerkiness of it, which I think is the best place to go. Like treat it as jokes, right? Don’t treat it as serious ultimatum energy if.

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Speaker 3: Right. But to have that kind of conversation is like you got to be careful, right? To be like, hey, like, you know, maybe next time it happens, right? Like, hey, it’s okay. We talked about this for a moment, right? Like, you know, like, I don’t love those kinds of jokes, but, you know, it’s hard. Like, how do you start a conversation about jokes? Like, I just feel like it’s such a oh, my gosh. I mean, I’m breaking out in hives. Just thinking about it is not the kind of thing I like to do.

Danny Am: I, I think I’ve gotten a little bit better at it over the last couple of years. If you got hives, I’m happy to step in with a little Benadryl. Yes, please. But I think there would be, you know, one way to discuss it with Alex and then another way to discuss it with your friends.

Speaker 3: Yeah.

Danny Am: And the nice thing with your friends is you you don’t have to wait for them to do it again. I think that always feels then you kind of feel tense, like waiting for them to do it again, to just say and again, like in a relaxed tone. But just like, I know that these are sweet jokes, but I don’t I don’t want you to joke about like, either not really being in love or why we haven’t moved in together yet or gotten matching tattoos. I don’t like that. And so now that you know that, I’m sure you won’t want to make that joke again. And that, you know, is is nicely guiding. And I think, you know, with Alex, I don’t in any way think that this is necessarily. To cater that she’s trying to push you into anything. I have, you know, lots of hope that you two can talk about this. Well, I just want to say letter writer, you know, hearing when we’re married from someone you’ve been seeing for four months, if that makes you scared and anxious in a nebulous way, you can’t identify, like, allow me to help you identify it. That’s very reasonable. Again, that doesn’t mean she’s wicked or trying to entrap you necessarily.

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Danny Am: It’s just like, of course, that’s very understandable because that’s very soon. And even if you’ve had an unrelentingly good four months, you know, my first thought would just be we’ve had a great time, but like I haven’t even seen you in a different season yet, you know, like I’ve seen you and like spring in a little bit of summer. I don’t know what you’re like in Thanksgiving, you know, like, I just I haven’t seen you through enough of the seasons of your life to have a really thorough sense of your character. Yet I have, you know, first, second impressions that are leading me in a good direction. But I would need to have known you for longer and through more, you know, a wider variety of life events.

Danny Am: Before, I felt at all comfortable talking about things like long term commitment, moving in together, marriage, what have you. So I you know that I think if that helps you identify it, it makes a lot of sense. It’s simply too soon to say. I want to talk even lightheartedly about marriage again. Lots of people feel light hearted about marriage, and it may be that she wanted to make those jokes because she just doesn’t think of marriage as a huge deal. So I don’t want to say, like, obviously she’s trying to push for something, just, you know, it’ll help you to tell her what you’re feeling.

Speaker 3: Exactly. And you don’t have to know exactly what you’re feeling about. Like, I mean, I guess if there’s anything I’ve learned from watching, you know, reality dating shows which of course trend that is that like apparently it’s a thing that you like have to know what you think the loss of relationships is in order to go on a first date. And I’m just like, okay, well, like as queer people, like, know or just like as people in this world, I’m like, pick your poison climate change monkey pox cover. Like, you do not need to know what you think is going to be happening in ten years in your own personal life. If you’re just worried about like whether there’ll be a world to live in. And so like do you need to know if you want to get married or not at four months into a relationship? Do you even need to know if you think marriage is an appropriate place for a relationship to ever arrive? No, it’s totally fine. Do I think you should get married? In general to everyone. No, but that’s fine, because I’m a bitchy divorcee, so, like, you know, don’t even take my word for it.

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Speaker 3: Right. I think the point is there is a way to kind of cool things down and dramatize and be like, this is great, I’m loving this. Let’s figure out what our repartee is as a relationship and as a couple. But maybe let’s just like table the old mariage for a little while and enjoy all of the other things that can come before, during and after the tying the knot.

Danny Am: I love. I don’t I don’t know what the term for it is, but that sort of signifying that you are attempting to defuse a potentially serious conversation by emphasizing different syllables is such a particular mode of like. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to freak you out or say, I don’t care about you.

Speaker 3: It’s like millennial, like. Like gay or that, basically. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I definitely feel like I’ve learned that from like, I don’t know, comedians my age in New York City when we were all younger.

Danny Am: That that seems right. Yeah. I have some of my more like glamorously Auntie Mame type friends do that sort of thing. So, you know, the question, is this a sign the relationship is wrong for me? Not necessarily, but it is a sign that you should talk to Alex. And I think it should just be really brief. You know, it doesn’t have to be this huge serious. We need to slow things down conversation because you’re not asking to slow things down. It sounds like aside from the jokes, you’re you’re doing well and on the same page about how much time you see each other, what you do when you’re spending time together, etc.. So it’s not as if she’s making these jokes and then also like really pushing to have you, I don’t know, spend more nights a week at her place than you want to or like sending you listings for apartments to buy together.

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Danny Am: So I think this is really just a case of I didn’t mention anything earlier because I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but I just was I actually don’t like joking about marriage. It doesn’t really line up with the way that our relationship is going in other ways, which is to say like pretty comfortable, easy, low pressure. And these jokes just they don’t make me feel good.

Danny Am: I would like to not joke about that sort of thing and then just, you know, talk about our relationship as it comes up and, you know, kind of straightforward ways. I think that’s a straightforward request. It’s not the same thing as I want to slow things down. I want to back off or please don’t be interested in marriage. It’s just if we’re going to talk about marriage, I’d like to have that serious conversation and maybe we’ll disagree. I don’t want to joke about that. I think is really fine and appropriate. And my guess is if Alex has all these wonderful things that you say she is her, she should be probably a little embarrassed because she didn’t know. But then she will say yes.

Danny Am: And again, even if the next thing that happens is she says, Well, I really do want to get married. And then you say, That’s hard, because while I’m having a really good time, if I were to choose between getting engaged or breaking up, I would not want to stay together. Maybe then you would have a sad breakup. But I think if that were what it came down to, it would be better than uneasily sitting through jokes that aren’t jokes and then inevitably having the same conversation later. So I don’t think this is necessarily a sign you two don’t want similar things. You’re just letting her know you don’t want to joke about that kind of thing. Super reasonable. And yeah, your friends just told to knock it off.

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Speaker 3: Yeah, exactly. Friends can, you know, keep quiet. And you and Alex can have a moment of communicative coming together, which is very natural. And. All right, at four months, I think it’s going to go well.

Danny Am: Eight months now, I think.

Speaker 3: Okay.

Danny Am: I started at four months now.

Speaker 3: I have been lying this whole time. Just I think that I don’t I mean.

Danny Am: My advice doesn’t change hugely between four and eight months, but.

Speaker 3: I’m not aware of the difference.

Danny Am: Yeah, it’s all the same. Yeah. And I just think there can be something really alienating. I think about a lot of people saying over and over again that there’s this sort of universal queer experience that you’re not having. And I think that that’s also maybe part of why you feel just this sort of vague unease, which is everyone just like this is what lesbianism is. It’s this like relentless, you know, urge to merge that everyone experiences in the same way and it can be so alienating cause it’s like, this is my first serious queer relationship. I thought I would be feeling, like, newly emboldened, self-aware, you know, articulated. That’s not the word I’m looking for. Self, whatever.

Danny Am: And then all of a sudden, everyone’s telling me I have to feel this totally different way, and it makes me feel awful, like, yeah, that’s, that’s no good. And that’s where there’s this limit to like some jokes about like common ish queer experiences can be fun and funny. And then when they turn into everyone experiences this in this one way all the time, it can feel just totally almost worse than any other feeling, just like, Oh, you think you see me? And you don’t at all. I hate this.

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Speaker 3: I mean, what have we learned from Twitter? People don’t make generalizing statements about queer people. It never works. And like, who wants their friend group to turn into that? And I just feel like it has such big like. You know, families pressuring people into convention and straight marriage, energy. And it’s like not it’s not like cool because it’s, you know, it’s not cool due to the presence of a U-Haul. I’m so sorry. It doesn’t work that way.

Danny Am: Self-actualization was the phrase that I I’ll be reaching for. Yeah. Yeah. And like it also, again, like, I don’t want to go too far in the opposite direction of making assumptions, but like, if someone’s making nonstop u haul jokes, it makes me think like, well, where are the like the pissed lesbians in your life? Like, where are the leather dykes? Like, where are the lesbians who have like 50 girlfriends a month and a bunch of terrible breakups like lots.

Speaker 3: Of they’re out.

Danny Am: Student do not just like pair off and spend eternity staring into one woman’s eyes.

Speaker 3: It’s true. And the PC anniversary deserves celebration, too. So I’m just saying. Yeah, yeah. Like that down the aisle.

Danny Am: Okay.

Danny Am: I will take us out of the realm of pissed lesbians waving fondly to our.

Speaker 3: Go on fare. How dare you drag me kicking and screaming? Fine.

Danny Am: I’ll take you back. I will read our second letter, which sadly features no P.S.. There’s no. There’s no piss play in any of the questions today, which is fine. It’s a little depressing, but it’s fine.

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Speaker 3: We’re making do.

Danny Am: It’s my fault. I haven’t, you know, I haven’t, like, reached out more to the to the community for the questions. So the subject of this one is no friends except these walls. I’m a 2022 college graduate who had a nightmarish 2021. I lost a close friend last spring and a professor that I had a complicated but close relationship with that fall. Given that I couldn’t work much during the pandemic, aside from making pennies as a peer tutor, I now have to live with my parents to save money. My parents are moderately transphobic and I don’t have the energy to come out to them as non-binary, especially since at home we speak a gendered language that doesn’t have a history of a singular they. I feel similarly incapable of talking to them about therapy. My mother says things like, quote, Your brother thinks he has ADHD, but he got through online school fine. Or quote, Sometimes I think your father’s autistic, but he always understands my emotions. She was also downright cruel to me about my emotional dysregulation when I was younger.

Danny Am: My partner, who lives an hour away, is really the only person who’s offered me reliable support in the last few months. I have friends, but they’re all either long distance or struggling with serious mental health issues of their own. I’m trying not to think of my partner as, quote, the only one good thing in my life right now, because I know that’s not healthy, but it’s far too tempting. How do I tough it out through the next year without tanking my most meaningful relationship or becoming a person I despise? I really felt for this letter writer, especially that last half of the question like letter writer. I don’t know exactly what kind of person you would despise in this scenario. And so I don’t know if the idea of just relying on another person is something that you’re afraid of or if you’re worried that you would take advantage of your partner.

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Danny Am: So I want to try to speak to a number of different possible fears here, but I do just want to start by saying, at least based on what you have here in this letter. The worst you have done is sometimes think of your partner as the only good thing in your life right now rather than like bombard them way past their limits or behave inappropriately in some way. So I just want to say again, without knowing more about what you despise, it doesn’t sound to me like you are in serious danger of behaving badly.

Speaker 3: No, no. And you know, letter writer, you’re so thoughtful.

Speaker 3: Okay, first of all, you have an incredibly sophisticated read on the situation, right? You’re able to assemble this kind of, you know, wide ranging cast of characters and thread them all through this difficult moment in your life. And I’m sorry you’ve had to experience some really tough losses. And I can only imagine what it would feel like to have to reenter the family home. I mean, I think that’s something that can be really difficult for everyone regardless, even if even in the best of circumstances. And I think it can often bring up a lot of a lot of kind of feelings of being put back in situations that you never consented to.

Speaker 3: By definition, having grown up and it can feel like regression and it can feel like isolation that can feel like being put under the jurisdiction of people who don’t have your best interests, especially your mother. I’m not a fan of from these descriptions, and so I totally get that right. It’s like this is a moment of vulnerability, of fear and of trying to figure out I mean, I really hear that, you know, tough it out through the next year. I mean, it sounds like you’re making a bargain that on paper makes sense. Right. But that feels really potentially destabilizing in other parts of your life that have been hard fought.

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Speaker 3: Right. You’re, you know, potentially, I don’t know, outright. But maybe coming into, you know, being non-binary or coming into an understanding of your relationship, you know, to your parents or the legacy of how they’ve treated you or, you know, having a wonderful partner who you now have to be an hour away from. And so I totally understand that in some ways, you know, I kind of identify with this sort of dynamic. I think around your age. I used to be a lot like that where my fears of doing wrong by other people like the compassionate self, while totally legitimate kind of kind of would take over. Right. And so part of what happens is that you start to experience yourself as potentially a burden.

Speaker 3: Right. And so I you know, I understand why you’re giving us all this information, but I see a lot in your letter telling us about how. You have to accommodate others. You have to adapt to deal with other people’s bad behavior or to help maintain strength to people who are really positive influences in your life. But I hear less about what you would like, what would you want?

Speaker 3: And, you know, I think sometimes there are these years in our lives that feel like we’re on hold. But but I want to encourage you to think that this isn’t a time where you are on or where you have to go into a defensive kind of like, well, you don’t you don’t have to hold together what is good in your life to preserve it for when you’re set free from this living arrangement. I think that’s the good news of it, right? I don’t think that’s actually how things tend to pan out. And I think you can make. You can you can ask more from people, but you can also be allowed to ask yourself what you would like to ask for from other people. And also, just like, what do you want for yourself? What? What could be good during this time?

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Speaker 3: Right. And, you know, it’s a tricky time getting out of college of that that feeling of here we are, you know, we just wanted to all this, you know, there’s here’s an economy that’s just, you know, laughing in our faces and what am I supposed to do? Everyone I know is in the same situation as me. We’re all struggling. That’s precarity. That is not your fault. That is some capitalist nonsense. That is, you know, 70 and 80 year olds in positions of power making policy decisions before you were born that are that are, you know, that are hurting. Right. And so you do not need to be responsible for those in your personal or emotional life. They’re not within your individual control. And so I want to also just grant you some relief there. If if it if if that feels any way for you that like it’s a generational problem that everyone in your life is also struggling.

Speaker 3: Right. And so you’re so thoughtful to come to that with with an ethic of care and not wanting to make anything worse, but know that you are never, ever the origin of those dynamics. And so it’s not really you who’s going to make them worse by asking for things from people. But it does sound like if if I’m reading between the lines and, you know, don’t tell me what you think, but like it sounds like part of what you might be asking for is like, you really do want some people to be there for you right now. And it’s not going to be your mother. It’s not going to be your parents at home. Right. In fact, they might be the reason you need someone. It’s going to be your partner to some extent. But I think part of what I’m hearing is like, you know, who doesn’t want more? More people you can count on, right? Maybe someone closer to where you’re living now.

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Speaker 3: Right. Or maybe someone really far away. You know, I don’t know. Right. But. But having more people in your court, more people, you know, on your side, feels like probably something that would contribute to both a greater sense of security. It would help allay this fear that you’re going to hurt the people you love by being too much and eating too much. But also, just probably, you know, I’m just imagining what it would feel like and how you might get through this year if you had, like, fear for people who are just like. Invested in, you know, people who are like, yeah, you’re amazing and you’re going through something difficult right now, but guess what? Like, I’m I’m excited to know you. I’m excited to see where your life is going. And I’m just I’m really, like, down for your wants and needs. Even if I can’t fulfill them. I want to recognize them. I want to name them. Right. You know, those can be really important people in your life. They can be friends, they can be therapists. It sounds like getting access to therapy is a little tricky in this situation.

Speaker 3: Anyways, I just part of what I’m what I’m trying to to think on here a little is like how what are some what are some positives that we could think about, you know, being a part of this year? And maybe that would look like just spreading around the love a little bit more because you deserve lots of it. You know, there’s no limit on the amount of of love and support you’re allowed to receive, right? You don’t have some inherent or calculable deserving ness relative to other people. And so, you know, part of what I want to do besides reaching through, you know, cyberspace and giving you a big old hug, is saying that, like, you know, that that might be something that’s achievable. Right. Trying to think about this time is also a time to build more relationships of of many kinds. Diversify that relationship portfolio. Apologies for the market metaphor that describes.

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Danny Am: I won’t hold it against you. Yeah, I think all that’s really useful to bear in mind. I wish I knew a little bit more when the letter says I feel similarly incapable of talking to them about therapy. Whether that was because you feel that either like you would need their financial support or they would you’re worried they would find out on the insurance, or if you don’t have sufficient privacy in your family home to be able to either leave to go to a therapist’s office or as I imagine, might be slightly more likely to do remote therapy in your room without fear of interruption or somebody overhearing something.

Danny Am: So if that is like a logistical fear, my my first suggestion would simply be whenever you start talking to a therapist in that sort of intake call to say that like privacy is a concern, billing as a concern, and ask how they can work with you to make sure that you can work with them anonymously and without other people in your life having that information. If it’s simply I would feel weird going to therapy without telling my parents, don’t worry about that. Oh, my gosh.

Speaker 3: You don’t do it.

Danny Am: Yeah. If you’re just kind of like, well, it’s on the list of things that I would like to talk about them with them someday. Wait for someday. When you’re not living at home, now is not the time. Like put that in. If it’s not a logistical issue, put it in the same category as I’m not coming out to these people right now and do that cheerfully and with a smile. I mean, not necessarily that you’ll feel cheerful about it, but just, oh my gosh, that is a conversation that can wait until you are not living with them. You you should be looking out for like when is it going to be convenient for me to come out to them? Not I better do this as fast as possible because otherwise I’m bad.

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Speaker 3: And just because you’re moving back in with them doesn’t mean you owe them all of this stuff. I mean, it sounds like, again, I’m reading really closely apologies. I used to be an English professor, but like, you know, it sounds like one of the things your mother might be doing with these really pointed kinds of statements is like it almost sounds to me like she’s sort of like acknowledging something that she does not want to actually talk about. And so she’s saying like, hmm, I actually think, you know, like, you know, different questions about mental health or like emotional dysregulation or neurodiversity are like topics that probably obtain to our family. But I do not want to talk about that, and I will not have those be made about who I write. And it’s like that’s it seems like fishing, frankly.

Danny Am: And maybe that’s why the letter writers been worried about talking because like they’re worried that their mom is going to be like, seems like you’ve been in therapy lately or you.

Speaker 3: Thackley and probably, you know, it’s like and so even if that happens, like it’s totally cool to be like, what are you talking about? No, I have not been in therapy. You’re so. We are. Goodbye. I’m going to my room. Or like, I’m going for a walk, you know? And the same thing about being, you know, about being non-binary. It’s like you don’t owe your parents that. And just because they might, they may start acting like you owe them information because you’re back in the house. I think this can be a really challenging thing at that moment in your life, regardless of your situation, to sort of assert boundaries with parents and remind them that you’re an adult now.

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Speaker 3: Right. And sometimes it takes a little you know, sometimes you just have to say that over and over again, like, well, I’m actually an adult, so I’m not interested in talking to you about that, you know, or whatever. Like, however you would have that conversation. But yeah, I encourage you to, to like do the things that you want in the meantime and like, you know, to do them as far away from home as possible. But like when it comes to logistics, I do think one of the things about a good therapist now finding one of those that you can afford is a whole thing. But, you know, when one has a therapist that is decent, right? Sometimes you can just take those. This was news to me. It took me years of therapy to realize this. You.

Speaker 3: And take your logistical problems like I don’t have privacy and just like pick them up and hand them to the therapist and be like, Hi, I don’t have privacy. What should I do? And then the therapist can offer you ideas. It’s amazing. This is probably really obvious to a lot of people, but to me I was like, Hold on, wait, the therapist can help me solve problem like like tangible problems in my life, right? And so like, you know, having someone like that, right? Maybe it’s like maybe your partner does some of that kind of practical thinking out loud with you. Maybe not, you know, depends on your relationship. Maybe some of your friends would or could, but aren’t feeling like they’re in a you know, they think they have that capacity right now. But like, how could you find more people, right? Like I was just thinking about, you know, hey, you wrote this letter, right? You wrote in for advice, like you’re good at reaching out, right? So can you find more people to reach out to? Sometimes just in a practical way? That’s not this like my life is a moral dilemma. What do I do about it? Existential question mark.

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Speaker 3: But actually, just like. Hey, like. Do you know anyone who’s at home like me? I’m one of those people who left home at 17. Even though I have relationships with my parents and have, like, never been back and, you know, and, like, I don’t know, I’m not the person to tell you. But, like, I think, you know, there are strategies, there are there are tactics. And, you know, there’s there’s the Internet and there are cell phones and there are ways to cultivate other relationships that that that seem kind of important. So I just say, like, go for that, you know, like as much as you can, as much as you have energy for that, I suspect all the energy you invest in that is going to feel like pretty rewarding.

Danny Am: Yeah, hugely. And I think especially that that bit about trying to make this short term living at home with your parents is easy on yourself as you possibly can. It’s really the trick. It doesn’t mean you might never try to have a difficult conversation with your mother about how she handles other people’s feelings. It does mean you’ll never potentially come out to your parents. It just means that you’re deciding right now is not the time for you.

Danny Am: And so, yeah, to that end, you know, if you don’t need to talk to your parents about therapy, don’t. And if your mother says things that feel kind of like bait, I can really understand that. On the one hand, party feels frustrated, like, this is my mother. I would like her to understand me better. I would like her to be a little more open minded. But if you just need a sort of tactic for getting through the next six months or for kind of acknowledging, like, she’s not a great listener, she’s not super receptive to this kind of thing, I’m going to save my energy. Then you can say things like, Interesting insight, mom, or like whatever you can say. That doesn’t sound totally sarcastic. Like, that’s really interesting. I think, you know, I’ll think about that and I’m glad to hear Dad understands you, you know, just vague, banal, like affirming non affirmations that don’t really give her anything to argue with but don’t necessarily commit you to saying like, mom, I agree and co-sign with your worldview.

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Speaker 3: And they.

Danny Am: Go a long way towards saving your energy. And then, you know, beyond that, I would encourage you to maybe reach out to like recent alumni services at your school. It’s possible that they have like low cost therapy or resources available to you. Reach out to those long distance friends who aren’t struggling with their own serious mental health issues. I realize it’s not the same thing as getting to see your boyfriend in person, but it’s better than nothing and just let them know how you’re doing. Maybe try to schedule a semi-regular check in if you can. And I would just say, yeah, focus the rest of your energy on saving up money and getting a place of your own. I think as long as you’re occasionally checking in with your partner to say, I’ve been really appreciating the help and support, I hope you still know that if you ever had a limit or you need me to, like, pause talking about something with you, I’m ready for that.

Danny Am: I’m okay with that. I want to both, like, lean on you when I need to and also make sure that you feel some freedom to say what you need so that I’m not just making assumptions about what works and hopefully your partner will be honest and upfront about that. But if it’s just a case of I feel I feel, you know, you lost your close friend, you lost a complicated mentor. It makes sense that your world feels smaller right now.

Speaker 3: Yeah, I do think I have a lot of empathy for the the fear of of a partner being the only good thing in your life right now. And I think it’s tricky. You know, I can think of times that partners have said that to me, and I have. Been unable to shake that off like it is a it’s a fear, right. And fear is a little bit contagious. So I think one one thing I don’t know I would say about having conversations like that is also try to to move beyond that statement and to think about what else there is there. Right. And so like like you were just saying, you know, encouraging your partner to to bring things to you.

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Speaker 3: Right. And also, you know, it it does take some. Some work with the self, right? Is my partner the only good thing in my life right now? Absolutely not. Like, I can just guarantee you that right now it may not feel right. But what could you be doing right now to foster the possibility that you won’t feel that way anymore?

Speaker 3: Right. Because some of that doesn’t have to do with your relationship to your partner. Some of that has to do with your relationship to yourself. And like there’s so many there’s so many things you could try to you know, I don’t know. It’s just like, whatever, take take up a hobby. Find something bizarre and weird and, like, free and fun to do with yourself. Right? Or, you know, I don’t know, just like any anything that could go under that good thing category. Maybe, maybe that’s a place to park some more attention, just like on your own or with friends or with other people who aren’t your partner. Just so that like in your heart, right? That fear and insecurity and the guilt that comes along with it can start to soften over time. And I think that your partner will probably pick up on that.

Speaker 3: Right. And probably appreciate it. And so there is a there is a role to play here that isn’t even just like within your relationship. And and that’s just like, you know, those are things that are important for us all to be, you know, cognizant of at different moments in our life. When there are moments in life, when things shrink, when things unfortunately, loss happens. You move something like college ends, right? I mean, these are huge moments of change. It is tough. And we do reach out and search for what is stable, what is familiar and what is good. And that is totally okay.

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Speaker 3: But know that this is not forever, right? I mean, all of these things that have just changed, it’s not just moving in with your parents, right? Like a lot has changed in your life, but also like let the change breathe a little and know that like it can also bring good new things, right? So your balance sheet can also be improving. You don’t just have to double down on what is good for now. You’re also allowed to kind of plant some new seeds. Yeah. Grow that garden, you know, maybe. Maybe start gardening. Oh, my gosh. Do your parents have a backyard?

Danny Am: Maybe. Yeah.

Danny Am: And for the record, I’m glad you brought that up, too, because I would strongly encourage letter writer. Don’t ever tell your partner that they’re the only good thing in your life right now. It doesn’t sound like you’ve said it. You’re just like, I want to not think it so much. So I’m not worried that you’re going to be like, just to be really clear, don’t say that to anybody. You can tell them how much you appreciate them or say, You know, I am really glad for all the support you’re providing me and I want to check in and make sure that that doesn’t feel overwhelming for you or something. Just there’s other ways to say, you mean a lot to me. I want or need more support in my life elsewhere, and I hope I can find it, etc., etc. You can say all those things without saying exactly that, which again seems clear that you don’t want to do so.

Danny Am: All that being said, good luck. I hope things are better six months from now. I hope they’re better a year from now. Do I think have at least a contingency plan in I mean, hopefully you and your partner don’t break up, but it’s also possible. And so I would just encourage you to like have a sort of back up, you know, not great, but like break glass in case of emergency. Like, what will I do if that happens? Because it might. And if it does, I want you to be as ready as possible.

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Danny Am: So, yes, as Joe said, grow that garden, find maybe a support group for people who are going through bereavement. Since you have recently lost more than one person to death, recently reach out as much as you can to your friends who are not also like swimming through a thick morass of distress. And also when you can feel up to it, reach out to your friends who are sailing through that thick morass and good luck. I’d love to hear back from you in a couple of months, so please let us know how you’re doing.

Danny Am: Jules, thank you so, so much for coming on the show and being right about everything.

Speaker 3: Especially addicted to that. Thank you. Now, I mean, you know, I appreciate it. It’s nice to be reminded in this moment where let’s let’s be real. I’m actually a I can be a pretty cynical person. And I just appreciate the thoughtfulness of everyone writing in like, you know, I it warms my heart not just to be in conversation with you and talking to to the letter writers, but to remember that there are people out there just really taking the time to to sift through what’s going on in their lives because that is some work right now. Okay. There is a lot going on for all of us. Okay. But some of us more than others. So, you know, keep that up. That’s good. That’s very attractive. It’s great behavior.

Danny Am: Well, Jules, you have great behavior. I hope you have a fabulous rest of your day and that I get to see you again sometime soon in the real world. And thank you again so, so much for helping me tell people some ways that they might choose to live if they want to try.

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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, a little mood every Friday, and you’ll get to hear more advice and conversations with the guest. And as a Slate Plus member, you’ll also be supporting the show. Go to Slate.com forward slash mood plus to sign up. It’s just $1 for your first month. If you’d like me to read your letter on the show, maybe need a little advice, maybe some big advice.

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Danny Am: I really understand why the letter writer feels reluctant because it’s never fun to tell someone that their home doesn’t smell good. That’s very personal. But your only other options are, you know, deny the acquaintance and don’t hang out with her again, which you can do. You can always just have an excuse if you would like to. But I really think that sorry, but like pussyfooting around is not going to help. So I think you just say I’m really sorry. There’s no fun way to say this, but the smell of catch it was just so overpowering the last time that I was over that even opening a window and a candle didn’t make a difference.

Speaker 1: To listen to the rest of that conversation, join Slate Plus now at Slate.com, forward slash mood.