Inhabit yourself
November 30, 2018 4:46 AM   Subscribe

"I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life" The Cut's advice columnist Heather Havrilesky, a.k.a. Ask Polly, with some thoughts on the angst one feels when looking back on misspent(?) time.
posted by seanmpuckett (47 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
 
One of the best compliments I've ever received was a few months ago, when I felt like some sort of alien from a distant planet and my friend TL told me I am the most human person she knows. I almost threw up but it meant everything. Thanks for posting.
posted by wellred at 5:02 AM on November 30 [7 favorites]


No no no, this hits too close to home. Same age as the lady too and have even less to show for.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:08 AM on November 30 [2 favorites]


I’m 42. I have been so deeply mired in where this woman is for a couple of years—definitely this year—that it’s been hard to even get out of bed and keep going. I needed that. Thank you.
posted by thivaia at 5:32 AM on November 30 [5 favorites]


63. When the admitting nurse at the hospital asks me who they should contact in case of emergency, there is no one. That's just my life.
posted by SPrintF at 5:36 AM on November 30 [26 favorites]


I am the same age as the writer and about to run off to my next city for my next job, further from my 'home.' 30s are weird, particularly for those who identify as a woman (I don't, but biologically I am) in that around the time you start to truly understand yourself, feel confident in who you are, lose your fear of failure, and start to make progress on all the things you didn't try in your 20s because you were bogged down with mental health issues and career-building and etc. etc., you also have the very real societal and biological pressures of "settling down." It's a huge mind fuck for me, as it makes me feel even further alienated from my peers. Of course, I stopped caring about things like wealth and what not over experiences and accomplishing my creative goals a long time ago...I don't subscribe to the building of wealth as a goal as one tiny thing can take it from you instantly (as I watched happen during the recession to people far older than I who depended on the system to be on their side)...and then what have you done with your years?
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:41 AM on November 30 [17 favorites]


What an incredible answer!
posted by cincinnatus c at 6:07 AM on November 30 [3 favorites]


The people who I know with spouses and kids tend to moan a lot about all the dreams they sacrificed, although they're often quick to get smug about having spouses and kids. There's really no solution. Everyone is deeply unhappy if they choose to be -- God knows we all have ample reason.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:08 AM on November 30 [27 favorites]


We should have a MetaHelp contact listing for people who need a person. Alumni of my college have this and it is awesome. You're in trouble? Send up the bat signal and we're there.
posted by wellred at 6:19 AM on November 30 [48 favorites]


>When you’re a human being, life feels satisfying. Everything adds up.

Um... wow. If this is true, I'm not only not a human being, I've never met one. I'm not sure what the point is of writing such a thing--I understand the need to end the article on A Note, but that's like presenting photoshopped pictures of supermodels as examples of what everybody should look like. Not to be a total buzzkill, but 'when you're a human being' you are not necessarily going to get what you want. Dealing with disappointment and futility is part of life--not the only part, if you're lucky, but you can't make it go away by glibly admonishing yourself to Just Be You or to Own Yourself or anything similar.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:23 AM on November 30 [14 favorites]


I have a friend in her late 40s who, after a series of really shitty relationships, also recently threw away her banking career in order to pursue a kind of solo light-hearted frivolity; immersing herself in folk-music, dancing, social engagements and experiential living. She hasn't got a whole lot of money, but she's oceans happier and is making the kind of friendships that will last her the rest of her life.

(I will say that this kind of decision is a whole lot easier to make in Canada and other civilized countries where medical insurance isn't a factor in the calculus of your life.)

For the past few months she used what little of her savings was left to do a cheap tour of Europe so she could do a reset on "figuring out what's important to me, and what I want to do with the rest of my time."

The hints are that maybe she'll pick up part-time work here and there while pursuing a dramatic career change through a new degree, but who really knows. She is glowing with the kind of life you usually only see in children, and I am thrilled for her.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:27 AM on November 30 [24 favorites]


I also found her response a little unsatisfying. And to start talking about the difficulties one is having on one's book tour, for God's sake, to someone who is deeply upset and feeling that their life hasn't amounted to anything seems like rubbing salt in the wound to me.
posted by peacheater at 6:28 AM on November 30 [29 favorites]


"When you’re curious about your shame instead of afraid of it, you can see the true texture of the day and the richness of the moment, with all of its flaws. You can run your hands along your own self-defeating edges until you get a splinter, and you can pull the splinter out and stare at it and consider it."
I read this yesterday and, boy, Heather Havrilesky's been trying to give me good advice since the days of Suck, but this is gold.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:32 AM on November 30 [6 favorites]


I'm twenty years older than the writer but I feel like I had just started my adult life at her age. I didn't graduate from college until I was almost 34 and got divorced at the same time. I had zero money, lots of debt, a twenty year old car, no relationship and only a couple of local friends. Her mileage may vary but 35 is far closer to the start of things than the end.
posted by octothorpe at 6:32 AM on November 30 [8 favorites]


The original question reminded me of how I felt in my late 20s, watching other people have their lives totally in order while I felt like I was floundering. The response, however, didn't speak to me now any more than it would have helped me then. I think every part of it was intended well, and I hope the asker thinks it was great advice, but it wasn't for me.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:34 AM on November 30 [5 favorites]


Life is Not Linear: Where Do You Want To Go Next?:
“I think we’d like life to be a train… You get on, pick your destination and get off. Every day, you have to see where the wind is and check the currents and see if there’s anybody else on the boat with you who can help out. It’s a sailboat ride — the weather changes and the currents change and the wind changes. It’s not a train ride. That’s the hardest thing I’ve had to accept in my life. I just thought I had to pick the right train — and I worked hard to pick the right train. And darned if I didn’t get off at the end of it and find out that was just a midway station.” – Barbara Brown Taylor
...the trains never run on time, nor do they always stop at the station you want, but you have to keep on moving.
posted by cenoxo at 6:49 AM on November 30 [8 favorites]


It’s okay to be in debt and worried.

Thanks - how silly I’ve been!
posted by Segundus at 7:05 AM on November 30 [13 favorites]


Came here to say yeah, now image your exact same life at age 50.

Funny how the FPP next to this one is about millenials who don't have any money.
posted by Melismata at 7:26 AM on November 30 [6 favorites]


I hope the asker thinks it was great advice, but it wasn't for me.

+1 for me. I was waiting for the person to be told to read "Who Moved My Cheese?".
posted by thelonius at 7:41 AM on November 30 [6 favorites]


I love Polly (what circa-2000 reader of Suck! could not) but this is weird advice.

No one controls their luck, but life is anything but random. People who have the conventional success the letter-writer to Polly seems to value (spouse, kids, financial security, community rootedness) have and keep those things through very deliberate, very long term, focus on achieving and maintaining those objectives, with copious sacrifices, compromises, and delays of gratification along the way. There are all kinds of things that the letter writer (likely) can change about her approach that can dramatically increase her odds of getting what she wants, and Polly seems to acknowledge none of them.
posted by MattD at 7:45 AM on November 30 [5 favorites]


There are all kinds of things that the letter writer (likely) can change about her approach that can dramatically increase her odds of getting what she wants, and Polly seems to acknowledge none of them.

The letter writer probably knows this already and feels like shit about it. The thing is, if she'd invested in that way, who knows what would have happened? Her partner might have left her. Her child might have been terribly ill. Her career might have fallen out from under her. And even if none of this happened, she might feel trapped in a suburb, wishing for the daring life she never had. There's a Taoist story about this, in the form of horses.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:57 AM on November 30 [9 favorites]


life is anything but random

I’m afraid the older I get and the better I understand the world, the less I agree with that.
posted by Segundus at 7:59 AM on November 30 [31 favorites]


It’s okay to be in debt and worried.

This part of the advice was really good and hearkens back to the thread on self-care earlier this week. We set ourselves up for a lot of extra suffering when we berate ourselves for feeling shitty about stuff. It's okay to feel shitty! If you're worried, lonely, or tired: that's okay. It's part of life!
posted by witchen at 8:00 AM on November 30 [6 favorites]


I understand the strong reactions to being told it's satisfying to be a human and that it's ok to be in debt and worried. My therapist says stuff like this all the time. Your reaction is a human reaction. The feelings you are having are human feelings. It is OK to feel this way. It is OK to be imperfect. Etc. When she first started doing it, all I could do was cry because it was the opposite of all the messages I had been given, my whole life.

But she's right. I am starting to get it.
posted by wellred at 8:09 AM on November 30 [9 favorites]


I don't feel safe sharing here so I'll just say that this piece really resonated with me. Thank you for posting it.
posted by Automocar at 8:49 AM on November 30 [7 favorites]


Countess Elena - it’s not about luck (which can’t be reckoned with), it’s about odds (which cannot only reckoned with, but can be selected). At 35 she can sign up for a post bac and good odds she can be a qualified physician by 45, with 30 years of financial security ahead of her. She can start dating a little fatter, balder and boring-er and odds she has a nice husband and two kids before 40 improve. She can cut up her credit cards and cook her meals at home and likely have her finances fixed by 37 without any changes to how she dates or works. There’s almost certainly a charity that desperately needs her as a volunteer or a sci-fi convention that needs her as the membership chair or a church that desperately wants her as a congregant and there’s her friends and rootedness.
posted by MattD at 8:51 AM on November 30 [6 favorites]


She can start dating a little fatter, balder and boring-er and odds she has a nice husband and two kids before 40 improve.
Oh yay, it's that old chestnut again - that all that's standing between women and happily wedded and childed bliss is their own impossibly high standards.
posted by peacheater at 9:19 AM on November 30 [43 favorites]


Stripped of all mythology and mysticism, the religion of conservatives is just a pure expression of the just world fallacy, isn't it?
posted by Space Coyote at 9:19 AM on November 30 [13 favorites]


People who have the conventional success the letter-writer to Polly seems to value (spouse, kids, financial security, community rootedness) have and keep those things through very deliberate, very long term, focus on achieving and maintaining those objectives, with copious sacrifices, compromises, and delays of gratification along the way.

I feel this point would be more relevant if she were a shut-in who never put herself out there. But Letter Writer has been dating and in a number of serious long-term relationships. While our society might like to believe you can earn anything just by caring enough and putting in enough hard work, it's not true. Especially regarding relationships with other people.
posted by Emily's Fist at 9:27 AM on November 30 [10 favorites]


I'm 52 and life is feeling pointless. All of the therapists I call aren't taking new clients. Sigh...
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 9:33 AM on November 30 [5 favorites]


I feel like, on one hand, the response is a mish-mash of things, and please just say the word therapy to this woman who is talking about not caring about anything and drinking too much, and on the other hand, I did start crying* while reading it. So ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

(and as for all the concrete things the letter-writer could be doing to achieve whatever, if you think that you're fundamentally broken it's REALLY GODDAMN HARD to commit to any of that)

* stuff is hard rn, yo. different hard from the letter-writer, but not that far off
posted by epersonae at 9:34 AM on November 30 [4 favorites]


The attitude of people who act like house + kids + career is the only thing worth aspiring to really scares me sometimes-- just the sheer severity of judgment for anyone who chooses not to or cannot have those things. I've heard people subtly suggest their single friends have deep flaws in their character that render them unable to have stable relationships. I've heard people write off their financially struggling friends as lazy. If that's what "success" looks like, I'm not sure I want it.

The fact is that privilege plays an enormous role in whether someone achieves the socially-agreed-upon definition of success or not. Certain people have escalators placed in front of them; others have stairs. Some very unlucky ones have neither. Sometimes those conditions that create 'success' or 'failure' are not super visible from the outside.
posted by coffeeand at 10:03 AM on November 30 [19 favorites]



We should have a MetaHelp contact listing for people who need a person. Alumni of my college have this and it is awesome. You're in trouble? Send up the bat signal and we're there.


I...I think this is a brilliant idea. Societal safety net, like sleep, in our modern life at times take a backseat to other things going on. But neglected long enough they would come back to bite us at some point. I'm loathe to be an armchair psychologist and say this is all the lady in the article needed. But it certainly won't hurt.

I, in my 20's, was arrogant enough to never think about it. It took having a child in conjunction to having a minor physical ailment when I finally realized that I needed people. That my son needed people and community around. We then deliberately expended the effort to get to know our neighbors. To hold near weekly dinners to strengthen the bond and I'm happy to say that our little community is growing. It's an incredible relief to have people around nearby if we need to drop the kid off for an hour or two for an emergency. Or to have people show up with supplies when you're sick.

But it's too small. It's just a community of 3-5 families. There are others that need the support. People who need the stability of knowing there are people around who care and will shoulder the burdens you're carrying. I don't know how the logistics would go because frankly if I don't know who you are I'd be reluctant to reach out via this contact listing even if I am in trouble but the idea resonates with me....
posted by 7life at 10:04 AM on November 30 [7 favorites]


I realize I missed the opportunity to call it MeHelp or HelpMe...

It works on trust, in the alumni group. Often used when people are traveling and have an issue. MeMail would be a help, here, as you can always decide whether things seem hinky before you get in too deep. I guess it could be a wiki page - username and general location listed. All voluntary on all sides.
posted by wellred at 10:09 AM on November 30 [1 favorite]


Yes, it is very weird clinical depression (and I don't mean GO TO THERAPY!) was not brought up until the comments on this.
posted by colorblock sock at 10:12 AM on November 30 [2 favorites]


The attitude of people who act like house + kids + career is the only thing worth aspiring to really scares me sometimes-- just the sheer severity of judgment for anyone who chooses not to or cannot have those things.

Yes, and it also erases queer people entirely. I like living in cities and dislike car dependency, but could probably deal with living in an old streetcar suburb or something for cheaper housing, except for the fact that I'm gay and still hold out hope of finding a relationship. So, I'm stuck paying for a big-city lifestyle, because if I moved to the suburbs, the chances of me finding a boyfriend or husband are much smaller. And I don't even live in a particularly expensive place, but I'll never be able to afford to buy something for a more stable housing situation.
posted by Automocar at 10:20 AM on November 30 [7 favorites]


All you have to be is a human being, haunted.

Indeed. I know that's the name of the asker, but even still.
posted by chavenet at 12:00 PM on November 30 [6 favorites]


I'm 45. After flirting with cohabitation a few times in my twenties, I've lived alone ever since; and while I've never been happy, I at least haven't been tortured. Many of the married people I know are beyond miserable, or anyway it looks that way to me. A few of my peers are two (or three) marriages deep. They mostly seem to be reconciling a comfortable companionship with what looks increasingly like decades to come without a sex life. If that's marriage, I'm okay with Netflix, porn and whatever sad hookups come down the pike. It's fine.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:10 PM on November 30 [9 favorites]


I know that's the name of the asker

I did not even catch that first time around, and I loved the sentence as-is.
posted by salt grass at 12:32 PM on November 30


Life is SO random. Let's not act like bootstrapping will get you what you want in life. It's tough out there.
posted by agregoli at 1:33 PM on November 30 [7 favorites]


Guys, thanks for sharing. Really.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:56 PM on November 30 [1 favorite]


Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
posted by SPrintF at 2:15 PM on November 30 [2 favorites]


Oh yay, it's that old chestnut again - that all that's standing between women and happily wedded and childed bliss is their own impossibly high standards.

I can't help but think of this tweet, which never fails to make me laugh.
posted by dubitable at 6:53 PM on November 30 [5 favorites]


42, and same. Stuck in a job I'm both bored and exhausted by, that I honestly don't know how much longer I can manage to keep up with the physical requirements of. I've jumped from job to job for so long that I can see the people who stayed, who've gotten seniority based raises, who've put together families and careers, and I realize that that sort of thing isn't something I'll be able to do. I had an event last night, at a bar run by friends, they let me come and cook. It was great. We made money. I came home and divided the money out into all the bills. I paid Mrs. Ghidorah for her time and work, because I couldn't do any of this without her. And in the end, I paid myself $10. That, and the event was on 11/30, the anniversary of the end of my restaurant, and pretty much the last time I was happy in three years.

I'm watching the people I was close to for over a decade slowly being seduced by assholes like Jordan Peterson and Gavin Mcinnes, and I realize that I can't be a part of that, and like that, 12 years of friendship and shared experiences are gone. The genuine good people who care about me and want to see me, I basically push away, because I have to work pretty much every day off I have on a side business in order to pay the bills. I know that Mrs. Ghidorah is deeply unhappy and depressed in her own, very unwilling to talk about it way, and I'm terrified of trying to talk to her about it, because I don't know where that conversation will end. I am, though, pretty sure I'm the worst thing that has ever happened to her, and I don't know how I can ever make her happy again.

Shame? Yeah. I have shame. Recognizing it isn't going to make the bills any easier to pay. It's not going to give me a day off. But the title of this post is exactly me right now. The idea that I'm not alone in my suffering, it's not the boon it's meant as. To me, it crushes my heart to know how many other people are having to deal with this same shit.

Please don't be alarmed. This is not a cry for help, I am not going to hurt myself. I have too much work to do. And fuck it. Today is my day off for a month, I am going to go out and play fucking Pokémon Go with a friend. Today is my day, and I will fucking enjoy it, as much as I am able. It will be enough to get me through the end of the year, at which point, I will be able to relax for a day or two.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:04 PM on November 30 [17 favorites]


I enjoy Ask Polly generally, but I'm... I don't know, dubious? about the thread she brings up in several columns: "Fall apart! Be horrible! Show everyone your worst side all the time! It'll be great! People LOVE a hot mess!"

When I got sliiiiightly snippy or had a bad day with my former friend group, they'd publicly lecture me on my unforgivable negativity like I was a 5-year-old who'd colored on the wall.

I'm facing the prospect of building a new shiny friend-winning facade to tote out there into the world, so I don't burden my spouse with 100% of my social life. And Havrilesky's "lol, be a hot mess" advice keeps ringing in my head. It's so tempting to lie down and let my mental illness win. I won't let it. But I wonder if she's right, whether if I stopped trying to heal, stopped going to therapy, stopped trying to teach myself to be a decent person, and just screamed and raged and lashed out forever -- if people would flock to me. I don't know. I wouldn't flock to somebody like that, but I am weird.

Funny thing, though, I normally read this column every week but happened to skip this one. It's a doozy.
posted by cage and aquarium at 7:10 PM on November 30 [2 favorites]


cage and aquarium: on the one hand, yeah, I think people wouldn't flock to tons of conspicuous crazy. On the other hand, I think where she's going with that kind of argument is to be honest about yourself and your flaws to other people instead of always trying to stifle and be perfect, because someone who can stick with you will be able to deal with your crazy.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:20 PM on November 30 [3 favorites]


It makes a difference that Polly answered this from the perspective of "how to be an artist."

But yeah, if this were AskMe, every response would be "this sounds like depression."
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:42 AM on December 1 [1 favorite]


I see coworkers and strangers in their sixties and above chewed up by life, miserable and with little to no joy in their lives. This terrifies me and makes life terrifying because I desperately do not want to be broken like that at that age.
posted by thefileclerk at 7:42 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


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