dragging around your case files vs. telling the truth with vulnerability
August 24, 2016 9:50 AM   Subscribe

"...there's no lasting glory there, in the middle of a dude entourage. Sometimes you feel like the smartest of the lot, the funniest, the most insightful, the most interesting. But then you realize you're just the girlfriend. And after that, you're just the ex-girlfriend. You don't matter at all. Everyone pledged to be friends forever, but you were the one who didn't matter."
posted by amnesia and magnets (25 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Heather Havrilesky is extraordinarily good at giving advice.
posted by maxsparber at 9:54 AM on August 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


I happen to know (from my boyfriend) that she’s basically unemployed, just broke up with her long-term boyfriend, is probably unhappy and insecure, and is always high-strung and self-centered.

jesus. this is no kind of man for a self-described "deeply insecure" woman to date and it is no coincidence that what he denigrates his ex for, probably accurately, is just what the letter-writer is worried about and ashamed of in herself. He has a type and he is not kind to it after he's done with it.

(maybe it is my wilful ignorance of reality that makes me think a man self-aware enough to say "my exes tend to be obsessive, insecure, unhappy women because that is what I am attracted to and that is the kind of company I enjoy" would not turn around and treat these attractions as flaws just because he's not dating them anymore. but a little awareness of his issues instead of hers and the ex's would do them both good, I think.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:28 AM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


We fell for each other really intensely and beautifully, and it’s been great ever since.

Aw, puddin'.
posted by xingcat at 10:32 AM on August 24, 2016 [22 favorites]


maxsparber: "Heather Havrilesky is extraordinarily good at giving advice."

Wow, how did I lose track of her? I used to love her ridiculous Wednesday cartoon posts on suck.com a million years ago. Somehow I never thought to see what she was up to these days.

posted by caution live frogs at 10:34 AM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am enraged by casual unfriendliness and sloppiness and even imprecise dipshittery, and I love making a detailed, bulletproof case against the smallest, stupidest things.

I would suggest that making detailed, bulletproof cases against small, stupid things is maybe a form of dipshittery itself? (Maybe it's precise dipshittery, though?)
posted by clawsoon at 10:34 AM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think that's her point - that this is one of her own flaws, and she's helping the letter-writer to learn how to overcome it. It's pretty good advice.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:05 AM on August 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


Seriously, this is one of the best pieces of advice I've read in a long time. It doesn't matter if you're right, it doesn't matter if they acted in bad faith. There is no Law & Order speech to give because nobody is listening.

Thank you so much!!
posted by teleri025 at 11:13 AM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


As someone who games out scenarios in my head too much, and as someone who thinks about people who don't matter at all in my life anymore too much, I like this.
posted by limeonaire at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


jesus. this is no kind of man for a self-described "deeply insecure" woman to date and it is no coincidence that what he denigrates his ex for, probably accurately, is just what the letter-writer is worried about and ashamed of in herself. He has a type and he is not kind to it after he's done with it.

At first, I was going to comment about how the dude in question could do better than either of these women, but reading it again, I would not be surprised if the current girlfriend is the only actual problem here. Polly's advice might help Current Girlfriend deal with this particular situation, but I don't see things going well for Current Girlfriend and Boyfriend down the line.

Everything in Current Girlfriend's description of the ex-girlfriend could be taken as typical "welcome to the group, getting to know you" type friendliness combined with maybe a little bit of social cluelessness that kept her from picking off any cues that Current Girlfriend was giving off about being uncomfortable. Or, you could be Current Girlfriend and decide that it was obviously some kind of attack. And that was just in a description of the first meeting.

Now, less than a week later, Current Girlfriend is apparently "blowing up" for some unspecified reasons that I guess can be chalked up to the fact that ex-girlfriend is still part of Boyfriend's social circle.

Part of why I don't place a ton of blame on Boyfriend here is that his description of ex-girlfriend reads as a list of reasons to treat her with kindness (unemployed, just lost another boyfriend, probably unhappy and insecure, which would make sense if one was unemployed and newly single), plus a couple of entirely reasonable reasons not to want to date someone (high-strung and self-centered) that might not rise to the level of not wanting to be friends with that person.

There are absolutely things that Boyfriend might be doing that explain why Current Girlfriend is going so crazy* over this, but she didn't describe any of them. So based on her own description, I think she's just the kind of woman who can't handle her partner having opposite-sex friends but tries to pretend that she's not by demonizing said friends. She plays the self-deprecator describing herself as "insecure" and having "trust issues", but she doesn't seem to be able to internalize the fact that she's being so shitty (she tries to cast ex-GF in the worst possible light, and she's blowing up at Boyfriend over it).

Polly's description of ex-Girlfriend as some pathetic hanger-on seems pretty shitty to me too. It's like she doesn't think that it's possible for women to genuinely be part of social circles that include men unless they have some kind of romantic attachment. Doesn't it seem just as likely that ex-Girlfriend is still friends with this group because she's just a good "friend." Your value in your social circles doesn't get erased just because you stop putting out for a certain person.

Maybe Polly was just doing that as a thought experiment, to try to help Current Girlfriend see herself better -- but that just doubles down on the fact that Current Girlfriend can't be happy unless she can believe that other women are lesser than her.

If Boyfriend were my friend, I would hope that he realizes all of this and DTMF soon.

*just so it's not in doubt, I recognize the gendered connotations of this word in this context and yet I still feel it's appropriate.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:08 PM on August 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


She dated your boyfriend, and she found it easy to plant herself at the center of his life, among his buddies. But there’s no lasting glory there, in the middle of a dude entourage.

My advice would be not to date a man who has or is part of a "dude entourage."
posted by jamjam at 12:24 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


What if he's a member of a posse or crew?
posted by notyou at 12:30 PM on August 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


Run.
posted by jamjam at 12:32 PM on August 24, 2016


Sidekick, is or has?
posted by clew at 12:59 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Dependent on possession of sufficient levels of sass.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:21 PM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


I had exactly the same take as sparklemotion's here, fwiw.
posted by tangerine at 2:43 PM on August 24, 2016


jesus. this is no kind of man for a self-described "deeply insecure" woman to date

What if he portrayed his ex this way in a (misguided but well-meaning) attempt to relieve his girlfriend's insecurity?

This woman wrote a wisely self-aware letter describing her insecurity and looking for advice, and Heather wrote a brilliant response. It seems to me the letter writer gave far too little information about the boyfriend to allow us to conclude anything good or bad about him without adding massive assumptions.

The great thing about the exchange is that Heather is reminding her to focus on herself and her reactions, always good advice.
posted by C.A.S. at 2:51 PM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


I had exactly the same take as sparklemotion's here, fwiw.

It's true, sassy sidekicks are always acceptable.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:56 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


What if he portrayed his ex this way in a (misguided but well-meaning) attempt to relieve his girlfriend's insecurity?

that would be super duper disgraceful then. To say mean character assassinating gossip things that aren't true, just about a regular person, that's regular awful. but to say them about someone you used to date, where you're believed to really know what they're like and what their real faults are?

you have to be pretty bad for it to be ok for an ex to tell other people even your true dirty secrets [1], so if she isn't actually awful, then he is extra awful.

(also, who sincerely attempts to reassure their girlfriend by saying, don't worry, my last one had all the same flaws you have but just an extra six millimeters more in all obsession and insecurity dimensions so obviously it was totally intolerable. You're good, though, just as long as you don't get any worse! )

[1]When there's every chance the person hearing about your awful personality is going to meet you socially. True gossip is 100 percent OK when the person you tell it to will never talk to the person you're telling it about, and gets less OK from there. says me.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:57 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Letter writer and boyfriend have been together for more than nine months, are madly in love and are planning a future together.

Ex-girlfriend is an integral part of the boyfriend's social group for years, and he's in the know about her current travails (unemployment, recent break-up).

Yet the two women only met last weekend.

Something doesn't jibe.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:06 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


also, who sincerely attempts to reassure their girlfriend by saying, don't worry, my last one had all the same flaws you have but just an extra six millimeters more in all obsession and insecurity dimensions so obviously it was totally intolerable. You're good, though, just as long as you don't get any worse!

I feel like it is unfair to assume that the Boyfriend realizes that Current Girlfriend is insecure (especially not to the level that current girlfriend is insecure).

you have to be pretty bad for it to be ok for an ex to tell other people even your true dirty secrets [1], so if she isn't actually awful, then he is extra awful.

Remember we're getting Current GF's take on this, and I wouldn't fault a guy for participating in the following two conversations:

1.) Pre-bar:
BF: Just so you know, ex-GF is going to be there tonight. We haven't dated since college but she's still friends with my friends.
GF: Oh? Tell me about her.
BF: I mean, she's fun to hang out with, but she was a little too self-centered for us to work out.
GF: Why haven't we met in the previous 9 months?
BF: She can be a little high-strung so she's a lot to deal with on a first meeting, and it's so awkward with exes, you know?

2.) The drive back from the bar:
GF: Wow, Ex was really mean to me!
BF: I'm sorry, I told you she was a lot to deal with.
GF: Yeah, she was going out of her way to make it clear that I'm an outsider in the group. She just seems really insecure.
BF: Well, we used to date, and she just broke up with her current BF so I could see her feeling kind of insecure about meeting you.
GF: And why does she have to keep going on about her great apartment, and why does she care about my job?
BF: Well, she's pretty much unemployed and she's probably unhappy about having to stay with buddies rent free and is just over compensating. TBH, I was glad to see her out and about, she's been kind of depressed lately.
[and scene]

Arranged like this, these seem non-awful things to say about a non-awful person, by a non-awful person.

Of course, that's perhaps giving BF more benefit of the doubt than he deserves. It's also possible that he talks to GF about how terrible she was/is all the time. But I feel like, if that's true, GF's insecurity about the situation is even less rational (if BF thinks that his ex is awful, why does GF care what ex things about her/them?). Though, I guess if BF isn't anywhere near as in love with GF as GF things, he might have been keeping her separate from Ex for [reasons] and is trying to cover his ass by slagging Ex to GF now.

But regardless of how you feel about BF, it's pretty clear that Current GF doesn't come off very well in her own story.
posted by sparklemotion at 5:25 PM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


But regardless of how you feel about BF, it's pretty clear that Current GF doesn't come off very well in her own story.

This is certainly plausible. But even if she's a total knobhead, I think the advice is good because it doesn't actually matter whether she's right or not. It places responsibility for how she deals with her feelings on her, making clear that she has a responsibility to strive for empathy and honesty, while also encouraging her to practice self-compassion. Following the advice seems likely to help everyone involved, no matter what the "true facts" of the situation.
posted by howfar at 7:22 PM on August 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


I loved this, thanks.
posted by salvia at 9:00 PM on August 24, 2016


But what if the boyfriend is in fact unreasonable and shitty? We just don't know either way. What we do know is that vulnerability can be healthy if done in a healthy way. The maladaptive obsessing is pretty common among some women who are told to suppress their emotions, instead of encouraged to be open to what they're telling us.

On preview, exactly what howfar articulated just above me.
posted by A hidden well at 6:19 AM on August 25, 2016


The whole description of this scenario and the people involved remind me that, if the aliens show up and offer me a lift off the planet, and ask me if there's anyone else who might want to go, I'd say, sorry, I'm a stranger here myself.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:26 AM on August 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


This was really good; thank you for sharing it. And I read it expecting to find useful advice for other people and ended up feeling punched in the gut about some feelings I've been having about others (not jealousy, just focusing on their flaws and how unfair it is and dragging around my case files, basically) with the reminder that I can refocus on myself and drag those rusty and broken bits into the light with kindness. Which is going to take some time to process, let alone practice.
posted by lazuli at 5:38 PM on August 27, 2016


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