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Dear Polly,

I have no questions left for you. I have been reading your advice since it was only on the Rabbit Blog, and I am here to thank you for helping me to be brave enough to embrace my own wild heart during this apocalyptic time. I had planned to quit my job and pursue freelancing while working remotely part-time in late February but just gave my notice last week after hunkering down for months. I am financially prepared for this particular disaster and am exchanging isolation in my freezing and provincial city for isolation in new areas and warmer climates for a month at a time this winter.

In the past sixth months, I have broken things off with a narcissist, mourned the death of a pet, held it together alone, and healed old wounds with difficult family members. I did the crazy thing of reaching out to an ex from a decade ago who seemed too mentally stable (and good, too good) for me at that time, and we are Zooming in more ways than one.

Polly, I am not surrounded by like-minded people who realize that life is short and should be enjoyed and felt wholeheartedly, so I attribute much of my courage this year to your accumulated advice over the last decade or so. It now lives in my head and in my heart, and I think you need to know how much your words mean to people.

Love love love,

C

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Arrrrgh, thank you. I was just writing a reply and thinking "my words are not enough." So it's really nice to hear that my collected words might accumulate and form themselves into a solid life philosophy that's useful. And look, it's so fucking hard to find like-minded people who realize that life is short. Maybe that subset is growing, thanks to this unholy nightmare world we're in. But I get it, I really do. One thing I do now is just assume that people get it until they prove me otherwise -- that's made me a lot of great friends lately. Trusting that good people will bubble up out of the depths when you open your heart is one of the most insanely magical instant fixes I can think of. They always appear out of the mist! Uncanny! Anyway, thank you thank you thank you. Needed this today. xo

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Your words are so much. Please, never doubt that. You are a beacon, a lighthouse, not only warding us from the rocks but beckoning us to explore the sea! I'm so grateful to live in a time when such insight and strength isn't seen as threatening by men the world over as to be directly dangerous for your well-being!

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I will add this to the treasury! Trusting that people are generally good has been... errr, trickier than usual lately, but I will keep my heart open and my feet on the ground! It’s true that for every person who makes a face when I tell them about my winter and career plans, there is another who confides that they wish they could do the same.

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aaaah! I had planned to quit my job and pursue freelancing in April, but then March ~happened~ and I decided to hunker down too, for a little while, and now it's september and I feel stuck... I am so pleased that you've made the move and I'm cheering for you!!

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Ooo, I made that move back in February, and let me tell you, baaaad timing. But in the end, I found a freelancing contract in June, and I’m actually on to my second one now and it’s going better than I had ever dared to hope, especially after the rocky start... so, it is possible!

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Thank you! It would feel completely crazy if my field weren’t still in demand and I didn’t have enough savings to live on (very frugally) for two years. Also my job was awful and I felt that my skills were deteriorating. The pressure to stay put is very real right now! I hope you can pursue your dreams soon!

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I have a job interview in 45 minutes. Please send good thoughts and light candles.

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I've lit a candle for you. Deep breaths! You got this.

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Thank you!! I'm feeling confident and good.

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Done!

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Thank you! Really appreciate it.

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Thinking about you rocking it right now!

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Good luck and good thoughts to you!

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Thank you it means a lot!

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Sep 11, 2020Liked by Heather Havrilesky

I spent hours in this thread last week and it was such good medicine. Thanks for the space. I was a stay at home mom and then my husband asked for a divorce. In a few weeks I lost my house and my insurance, had to find a job, and had to adjust to parenting alone. Then in May I elected to quit my new job because they wanted me to get back in the classroom without masking or social distancing and that felt so unsafe and scary. And I was over teaching after 20 years of trying to make it work for me (overstimulation is my kryptonite). Now four months later I'm considering going back to school to become a therapist but I'm totally crippled by fear, stress, and self doubt. How will I manage going from parenting only to parenting and getting a masters degree? Will I even like it? How do people accomplish things when they are depressed? When they are parents? When the sky is filled with smoke and the world feels upside down? I can't do nothing, but doing something feels sisyphean. Even securing letters of recommendation feels like a huge stone to push these days. Thoughts?

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I almost never recommend pharmaceuticals, but when you write "How do people accomplish things when they are depressed?" a part of my brain says, "They try Lexapro." Personally, I don't like the feeling I get on drugs, but I also know that if physical circumstances lead me into a funk when overall, my attitude is pretty bright and cheerful, I'll take that option.

The first step before drugs is exercise, a lot of it. If you're not exercising and you can, that's the fastest shortcut to finding your motivation. So how do you get motivated to exercise? You schedule it and start and it sucks and you say it sucks out loud and you do a little more every day, the end. It often sucks. You do it because you notice that your brain is happier the more you do it. You also need that energy for parenting. And as you age, and have kids, whew, you need it you need it you need it.

I would write down one thing ONE THING on your to do list, every day. Get up, stretch, make a strong coffee, drink it, then ask for one letter of recommendation. THERE! DONE FOR THE DAY! I mean, it's messed up but if you have the luxury of time, sometimes it really helps, when you're in the shit, to define your "successful" days in incredibly lightweight terms. For me it's just: Did I write anything? If I did, I'm a success. This is probably a mistake because I write too much and people are just bored of my words by now! But I love to write, and I love to feel that feeling of I DID WHAT I ASKED MYSELF TO DO AND I DID IT EARLY. That feeling builds on itself. You'll gain steam.

Take your shitty feelings seriously in the sense of treating them with exercise and drugs if necessary. But take them LESS seriously in the sense of noticing that most people, underneath the triumphant exterior, have a lot of the same shitty feelings. Writers who write books are just writers who say hello to the shit every morning and write anyway. When you get into a spot where you're analyzing WHY AM I LIKE THIS, WHY CAN'T I DO THIS, WHY? then it's truly time to stop asking and just do one dumb thing. Analyzing shitty feelings about inertia in particular is rarely useful -- it adds to the inertia. Inertia and shitty feelings become what you meditate on every day.

There is no why. Most people are like this. Most people don't know if they'll be able to juggle a bunch of new challenges at once. In my experience, once you start juggling those enormous challenges? You feel a million times better than you did when you were worrying about them. You just need to start, and you'll see. So start. xo

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Thank you Polly for putting into words the idea of "analyzing shitty feelings about inertia". I have always struggled on and off with avoidance - there have always been plenty of days when I just waffle around and don't want to work on anythingggg. The difference now is that rather than questioning what is wrong with me (Am I ADHD? in the wrong line of work?? Just really lazy???) and stressing over the things that I'm not getting done, I recognize that it's pretty human to not wanna do shit.

I've learned during pandemic that the best thing to do when I feel that way is to journal about something interesting that I've been thinking about, it doesn't matter what, but something about vomiting a bunch of words onto a page really helps to unblock me. But even more importantly, the bad feelings don't send me into a death spiral of bad thoughts and more bad feelings.

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This is a really helpful perspective.

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Thank you! I'm exercising consistently for the first time in my life. It's definitely saving me from worse feelings not hopelessness. And I did ask one person for that letter of rec. I'm trying to be realistic about what I can do in one day. But I'm catastrophizing also. Probably because I'm surrounded by catastrophes. For accountability I'm stating my intent out loud: I want to get serious about fighting the inertia one small win at a time and give myself credit for the small victories. 💛

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Good! Remember to focus on the enjoyment of each day, even as you crawl toward your goal, particularly when you're besieged by your catastrophizing mind! When doom sinks into your cells, that's when you stop thinking and look for ways to feel the textures of the day, stretch, listen to music, read, connect with anything and anyone that helps.

Let me add that when I do this lately, I sometimes feel this really strong I DON'T EVEN LIKE THIS ANYMORE. Like: Oh I don't read. I don't play games. I can't enjoy TV anymore. That sort of thing. That is unfamiliar and difficult. But if I say, "whatever, I'm doing this even though I'm sure it'll be flat and dead," every single time, I get more patient and get into it.

The point is, circular thoughts are not solved by thinking more, they're soothed by actions, some goal-oriented, some utterly pointless and therefore worthy.

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"I don't even like this anymore" is a very familiar refrain - one that I'm totally capable of overanalyzing. Thank you. Your writing is on my list of greats that I return to again and again and it's an honor to get a reality check from you.

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Cheering for you on the “just show up and check the box” front. “The How of Happiness” helped me develop a list of boxes *to* check - just options for activities but sometimes one would snag me enough that I could at least Get Started. The inertia of starting was the toughest part. Hope that’s any help or use to you. Keep hanging in there.

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Push the stone. Little by little. Put one foot in front of the other and both hands on the cool expanse of rock and push. The world needs you and your gifts. And if you have a desire for it, you have a gift for it. Yes it will be hard, as anything worth doing is. But then you will do it - I don’t know how, nobody does, but you just will - and you will look back with so, so much pride in yourself. Forget about all the things, just focus on the one thing. Download the application. Then the next thing. Fill it out. Then the next thing. Send it in. At any point you can stop. But the important part is to start. Don’t let another 20 years pass you by, because they will.

I was in a similar position to you - sans child, sans pandemic, but terrified, broke, freshly heartbroken, “too old” - and I decided to go to school. There were many peaks and valleys, there were times I cried myself to sleep and wondered why I was so stupid to dare to follow my stupid heart, but I pushed through and 10 years later my life is bigger and richer than I could’ve ever imagined. And I don’t mean in a woo-woo the friends I’ve made along the way, way, either. I mean I am making more money than I ever dreamed doing exactly what I love. And the biggest reward is knowing my life is MINE. I made it. I did it. I paid for it, yes, with blood, sweat, and tears but also joy, Faith, and love. Push the stone.

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Just left my child in the next room to sit on the toilet and sob. You'll never know how much I needed to hear this. Thank you, stranger.

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What are you doing, by the way? What was the dream?

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I'm a screenwriter. Closed the deal on my first feature yesterday, start on my 4th major network tv show at the end of the month :) Funnily, I'm moving this week and looking through old journals found an entry from 2014 (*after* I'd graduated) that was just pages and pages of terror and doubt...I don't know if I cried until I laughed or laughed until I cried. Believe me, this path was NOT linear. Nor did it ascend neatly. I was back at square one for a long time. And my first writing job was almost by chance. But it did happen. I want you to have that feeling. I want you to find this letter in 10 years and cry laugh/laugh cry and say, "well, wouldja look at that! Hot damn, I did it!" or some variation of that because life is weird and funny and zigs when it should zag, doesn't it? And I won't even pretend to know what it's like with a kid, and I don't want to downplay that element at ALL. But the point is, you can re-invent yourself, I know you can. Not all at once, little by little. Forward.

Like driving at night - your headlights only illuminate so far in front of you, and all you need to worry about is what you can see - you'll still get there. Even if you have to drive slow, even if the view seems to never change, even if you have to pull over and rest, you're still covering ground. The destination will be there, just waiting for you to arrive.

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I feel inordinately proud of you considering that I don't know you. Thanks for this.

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May I ask you what you studied to do what you're doing now? Your story is very inspiring to me.

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I wish I had more advice but I wanted to say thank you for leaving teaching when it wasn't safe. My mom is a teacher and is constantly under the same threat of being forced to return to an unsafe classroom -- no masks, no PPE, no disinfectant. They just keep rolling back that return date by a few weeks at a time. I'm so scared for her. You're doing a great job and making all the right choices.

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It's so unfair. Teachers already had a nearly impossible job and now they're being asked to be on the front lines. I'll be thinking about your mom.

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Ooooh Anna thank you for writing this. I’m the mother of an 18 month old, and although I’m married, I’ve been a mostly stay at home mom since she was born, and I think about What Would Happen if I didn’t have my husband all the time. I love staying at home with her, but I also miss working so much, and part of me is scared to be that ambitious person again. Your question really helped me clarify things. I think it sounds like you are doing an AMAZING job, and you are such an inspiration to other moms. I have no doubt that you are going to accomplish what you set out to accomplish.

Also- I have hated working out my entire adult life, and this pandemic finally forced me to do it every day, and it really does help with depression. Start small- I just did 20 minute workouts every day that I found on YouTube at first. It sucks on days I don’t feel like doing it, but I’m always glad after.

Lots of love and good things to you and your child.

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Thanks for your message. Being a stay at home mom is so hard to begin with, and then another ballgame begins when you're going to try getting back to work, and then the disasters around you pile on and it becomes just about too much. I would say: don't feel guilty for one second about wanting to have part of your regular adult life back just for yourself. The best thing about co-parenting was getting every other week back to think about my own damn self. You said it: we get scared of our own ambition. Maybe we should both redirect some of the mistrust we have of our selves and channel it into mistrust for the systems that make us question our own value when we become moms.

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You. Can. Do. This. If you need money along the way, you might look into tutoring English remotely; there is a big demand in China right now. You’ve survived this long and will push those stones to a plateau. People don’t mind writing letters of recommendation, and in fact would probably love to feel useful to someone at a time like this. You’re right; you can’t do nothing. For me, the combination of having a routine, exercising more than I did before the pandemic, and not drinking unless there’s a special social occasion (so, rarely) is what helps me feel like living. And Fleetwood Mac, etc.

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Having a routine bus SO HARD but I know that I need to start cultivating some discipline. But it's so hard because I also really want to be gentle with myself. Fleetwood Mac is a great suggestion, and a perfect post divorce vibe too. Thank you.

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I hear you! For this reason, my routine is not too strenuous and includes “fun” things like taking walks and bike rides and occasionally sitting in a park where I can see and hear other human beings.

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Polly, my beautiful dog of 10 years has been diagnosed with bone cancer and only has a few days, maybe weeks to live. He’s been my companion throughout my twenties, when I moved alone to a new city, dated shitty men, tried to build a career, and struggled through life in general. I don’t know how I’ll be able to cope without him, living alone in the middle of a pandemic, in a racist, generally oppressive society, away from my family. I’m struggling to let him go - the grief is so strong - but I don’t want him to suffer.

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i lost my cat while struggling to get over an abusive relationship, and in a (personally) brutal year. it was really fucking hard, but i tried to think about how we had so many beautiful days together , and that letting him go was the best kindness i could do for this small creature i’d shared my life with. it was really bloody hard and in the end it was a bit of a relief - i knew he wasn’t in pain anymore, even as i was grieving his presence.

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I relate so much. Your cat was lucky to have you xx

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I said above that of all the things to mourn, I'm mourning my dog who died two weeks ago from cancer. I'm so sorry. As sad as I am, I'm not sad about my decision to give her the best last morning she could have had, and let her go before she descended into pain and trauma. The peacefulness I felt when her heart stopped under my hand will always be with me even in the tears. It can be there for you too as a comfort amidst the grief. You're not alone. ❤️

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Hannah, I’m so, so sorry. It’s really heart-wrenching. I wish you continued peace xx I know I will also do the best thing for him. I love him too much to see him suffer. We are having a celebration day in the park tomorrow, where all his human friends are invited to come say goodbye.

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My heart hurts for you, Issa. I understand the magnitude of this grief, and the fear that you won't be able to handle his loss in your life. For me, it helped to welcome the grief as the companion to love, as a way to acknowledge the love I have for my friend was changing form. I let myself bawl and scream and stare blankly into space. I let myself look at pictures as the tears streamed down my face. I let myself remember her, just totally thrown open. It's beautiful to love another soul so much, and I am so sorry they can't live forever. <3

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This is such helpful framing, Ash. Thank you for your compassion. You’re right, the pain now is a testament to the love shared. I’m sorry you also experienced this, and grateful you had such a wonderful companion.

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Sending lots and lots of love to you and your pup.

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Thank you so much. It’s been harder than I could’ve imagined.

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I can imagine! It's so fucking hard when our animal friends leave us, but the love is real and it lasts forever <3

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Hi. I'm very sorry you & your dog are going through this, & having also been through it - losing my first dog who had been by my side during so many formative experiences, who truly was, at times, my lifeline - I feel for you in so many ways. As painful as this decision, process, & aftermath are for you to face, I hope you can feel some of the pride & beauty that come with helping our small friends through their final moments. Your dog has been there for you, for so many years, unwavering in his comfort & affection (no doubt, he is still trying to reassure you, even while ill). Now, it is your turn to be strong for him, to unburden him from his physical pain & exhaustion, in spite of your own, because you know he will make every effort to continue on for your sake. It is an incredible responsibility that we have for these animals, who devote their lives to us, & while this is easily the most difficult stage in caring for them, we owe them a safe, comfortable, & timely passing. It is NOT easy, & you will suffer, but they are worth it. And I promise you that over time, as your memories of him become a source of joy, rather than pain, you will be fortified with the knowledge that, at the end, when it was the most difficult, he spent his final moments knowing how intensely you love him. ❤️

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Thank you so much. Very wise words that I will keep close to my heart in coming days. I appreciate this so much

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Hello Issa - strange as it may sound, I have thought of you & your sweet dog off & on since reading your post. If he has passed, I hope that it was peaceful for both of you, & that you are doing alright, all things considered. Thank you for caring for him until the end. As a lover of dogs myself (especially those who are older & have been let down by their previous caretakers), I am sadly aware of how often they are abandoned by people when the going gets rough. Also, having suffered this loss before (& fairly recently), I can say that adopting & caring for a new dog helps tremendously. I don't see it as a replacement - more of a continuance. Some people say that grief is love with nowhere to go. As you grieve the loss of your boy, you may find comfort in caring for a new little friend. At least I have found that to be the case. Anyway, take good care.

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Hold onto to all of the good memories and imagine the peace he will feel once he’s no longer suffering. His spirit will always be with you.

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Thank you, I’ll try to hold on to that thought

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sending you love and care as you navigate this awfulness

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Thank you so much <3

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I'm so, so sorry. It sounds like you've been together through it all. A love for the ages will be a loss for the ages. Sending lots of love.

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Thank you Yasmeen <3

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I am 36 and I am so lost. I can't make sense of what I'm want/should do with my life anymore and feel like I'm just going through the motions now. I wanted so much more for my life at this age: a family, a home, a partner who loves me, and career that sets me on fire. How do you figure this out? How is it so easy for others? Did I miss something? I just feel like a prisoner and that every day I'm just ticking it off as I move closer to death.

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Feel much the same way, but I don't think it's easy for others regardless of what I see on social media.

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word

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Polly, how can I get over my habit of only wanting things/being able to do things when it seems like it might be too late? I procrastinate heavily. When I tell people that, they reply "oh yeah, I put off things I don't want to do too!"

That's not what I mean. I can be thirsty with a glass of water next to me, and put off drinking it for hours because... now just doesn't seem like the right time. It never does, until I realize I might not have all the time in the world after all. Since I know that intellectually, how can I get it through to my actions, and do things when they're available to me?

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Relatable content alert. I just signed and sent out 30 books to Honorary Evil Twins (who subscribe to both Molly and Polly) after making the offer a solid six months ago. If I told you the reasons why, you'd understand. But there's a simple avoidance issue in play that's plagued me for years. I make the plan in a happy, effusive haze and then I put it off a little, and then the box of unsigned books becomes a visible reminder of my inability to live up to my promises, act like a grown adult, etc. I decided I would deal with them a week ago, and then I told my husband I decided I didn't want to do that after all, and he said, "I think you should really do that today." Keep in mind he does not tell me how to spend my time, ever. So this felt, uh, meaningful.

Anyway! I get it! But I don't miss deadlines and I do manage to do work that I'm not in the mood for with clock-like regularity, and this is how I do it at the moment: I bought a cute little tomato-shaped timer, for the kitchen, and I set it for 30 minutes and then dive into whatever work I am deeply not in the mood for. Even when I'm thrashing, knowing that I can stop after 30 minutes helps. The more I've done this, the more I notice that the thrashing part usually goes away quickly EVEN when I believe that it will stay forever. So I've made diving into hard work slightly mundane and habitual. You have to if you want to finish a book, because like that box of unsent books, a book likes to become a gigantic drooling monster looming around your life, taunting you, telling you that you suck and you'll never finish. I'm writing my fourth book so now the monster and I have some tea and cry it out.

The water thing is weird, but maybe it's similar to putting off a reward? Like I've been saying to my 11 year-old, "Let's play Stardew Valley today!" since the goddamn pandemic began, and I finally did it yesterday. She's on to Animal Crossing so she hasn't cared, but I like games and I won't give myself that kind of pointless leisure time right now, which... why not? I do think there's a relationship between procrastination and NOT GIVING YOURSELF REWARDS, EVER. When I work myself too hard, I go on strike and can't write. So I'm careful not to grind myself into the rug every day. Are you too punishing with yourself? Do you know how to slow down and enjoy your reward for doing something you didn't want to do? Are you paying too much attention to your RESISTANCE mood when, in fact, that mood will shift dramatically the second you BEGIN? With exercise, I just put the bad workout clothes on and then I surrender to the pain. Before I'm dressed? Still on the fence.

This was pretty garbled but I'm guessing MANY PEOPLE HERE will have tips! Let us have them! The kitchen timer thing is called The Pomodoro Technique I think but I procrastinated reading about it!

https://www.sketchplanations.com/post/179972023741/the-pomodoro-technique-a-super-simple-method

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Sep 11, 2020Liked by Heather Havrilesky

i want you to know i am going to read this and appreciate all the other comments and tips but in typical fashion i'm going to be late for something if i don't leave right now! thank you!

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identifying too hard with that resisting mood is such a fucking trap! the resistance seems so strong, but starting often just makes it evaporate.

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There's this really cool device called "TimeTimer" and it's meant for little children to understand "how long they have left" - we've used it in a workshop and I fell in love with it.

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I have the same thing - especially with water. I've told my therapist about it - saying that sometimes I feel like I don't "deserve" drinking. But in the end -it's probably really severe ADHD hindering me on every step of the way. Dring the water anyways. It's good for you. I drink a glass for you, too.

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Yes - everything all the others said. There are really great communities for women with ADHD on reddit. I've only been diagnosed at almost 30 and it's been a life changer for sure - go get it checked out. And drink that water <3

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coming in to add to the "this sounds like executive dysfunction and you should ask someone about whether you might have ADHD" chorus! Setting yourself little reminders helps! Or even like, getting a straw so you don't have to pick up the glass of water, but can just sorta move your head over to it.

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Honestly.... I only drink water from a straw these days. Like one of the reusable tumblers with a straw. And it has to be ICE COLD.

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Have you looked into the possibility of an executive function disorder? I have done this same thing and getting a diagnosis of ADHD and developing a treatment plan with a medical professional has been a WORLD of help. Many times women and girls go undiagnosed because it presents differently for them than for boys. I had my lightbulb moment reading the comments on this piece several years ago; maybe it will help you too! https://the-toast.net/2016/05/19/adhd-not-mpdg/

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Oh man, I needed to read this today. Thank you for posting. I too, struggle with these insane things like not drinking when the water is within arms' reach, and seeing someone else say it makes me feel a bit less crazy/like I'm a bad human. I can't even get myself to get up and go pee when I need to. At this moment I have been sitting here needing to pee for at least 45 minutes and unable to summon the willpower to just GET. UP. AND. GO. What the heck is wrong with me? Your post and all the replies are making me realize maybe there's something more going on. My daughter has a metabolic disorder that can lead to executive functioning issues, and when I read about people with her disorder struggling with those things in online support groups, I find it surprising how well I can relate to the feelings they're describing when I don't actually have this disorder myself.

For those who know more about this, is it possible for me to have ADHD if I do not have the history of struggling in school, etc.? Like, I was my high school's valedictorian, I graduated college with a 3.98 GPA, I never struggled to finish homework or anything. Never missed deadlines. But I did struggle with paying attention in lecture, like I don't even know why I went because I just did sudokus the entire time (thank god we didn't have smartphones back then because I think it would have been 1000x worse). I definitely identify with being the type to start projects in excitement and then get bored and never finish them, in my personal life and in work.

I've really been struggling to focus on my job lately which probably isn't helped by the fact that I've been working from home since March. I'm in this vicious cycle of not being able to focus on work, spending time reading and engaging with stuff that actually interests me (like this thread!), feeling bad that I spent most of my day not actually working, guilt tripping myself because I'm my family's sole provider at the moment and my job that I'm sort of neglecting is basically our survival, resolving to do better, then it happens again the next day. Intellectually, I completely understand Polly's advice of just getting over that hump of resistance/your mood shifting the second you actually begin, and I have experienced that (when I finally do get going, I often get a bunch of shit done really quickly). But I somehow still just can't get myself to do it. Boo. :(

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I put a post it note by my work computer last year that reads "what are you really avoiding" and it's probably not helpful, but parsing emotions behind my procrastination is a fun new way to procrastinate AND ruminate, and wow, multitasking is in these days.

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I love this idea! I think you are definitely right that there is generally an emotional issue behind the procrastination. Plus, just about anybody who's on an Ask Polly thread loves a good opportunity for rumination, right? ;)

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Thank YOU for posting THIS today. I relate to literally everything you say, and also wonder if I'm "not broken enough" to fit into a diagnosis.

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To OP and Kristina: if your dys/functioning is causing you distress and you want help figuring it out, please ask for help and don’t stop asking until you get help. “Broken enough” is a subjective measure. Somebody will always have it worse. No matter what you’re worthy of finding YOUR best and most glowing self and being that person.

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Kelly, YES. I also did incredibly well in school and had a high GPA but was bad at paying attention to lectures. Typically in high school, lectures are just the teacher going over what was covered in the reading, and I could re-read a paragraph however many times I needed to, but you can’t ask a lecturer to keep repeating themselves until you’re able to focus, lol. I didn’t really have much trouble with performance until I got a higher-level job at my company, where information is mostly relayed in meetings and things move too fast for anyone to bother writing them down.

ADHD impacts both your control over your focus and your control over your ability to execute. Sometimes you can focus, sometimes you can’t, sometimes you can’t STOP focusing (this is known as hyperfocus, and yes it can be helpful for finally getting stuff done but sometimes it also makes you late for spotting else you need to do, or you forget to eat or drink water for hours). You should get evaluated.

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Uhhhhhhh, this is one of those "Wait, everyone is like this" questions for me. Am I to understand that not everyone is like this? Cool. Very cool. Definitely going to spend some time thinking about executive function this afternoon.

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Sounds like ADHD to me! Strattera changed my life on that front. I still struggle a lot with what you say, since it's not a magic bullet. It does however give my attention and follow-through a lot of power steering and more control. :)

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I just turned 30 and my fiance and I are contemplating having a child in about a year. I mostly feel good about this but any time I tune into the consequences and reality of climate change I feel overwhelmed and like having children is completely insane.

This morning I spent 2 hours reading every story I could find about the wildfires. It just doesn't feel fair to create a child when there's so much NEED in the world already and so few competent people in leadership. I also wonder if our lives will remain as stable as they are right now. We're both skilled, high-earners but we come from working-class and immigrant backgrounds (meaning we don't have secret pots of money). And I also think if we forgo having children, we'd be able to make more of a dent through organizing, running for office, or pro bono work. I worry that even if everything goes "right" our children will be angry with us for not doing more while we were raising them. We want 2 children and my fiance tells me to think about this way: "we'd be replacing ourselves."

Anyone in their early 30s contemplating these questions?

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Other people will have very different opinions than mine on this front. My opinion is that you're going to raise educated human beings who might make a difference. We need all of those we can get, because they're scarce. I also think you need to think about what you're here for. If thoughtful, caring people like you do all of the valiant and difficult work of trying to save the planet from destruction without giving themselves whatever they require to feel joy from day to day, that means the best people will all be exhausted and broken an deprived of a joyful life.

Children are pure joy. They just are. I think human beings deserve to have kids. That's a controversial statement at this point. I have trouble imagining my kids' future, and that sucks a lot. But even if there's suffering ahead, even if everything falls apart and everyone dies, I'm glad they had a chance to live for a while. Even a short, hard life is worth a lot.

Embracing joy is important. You cannot fight for this world if you don't prioritize joy. You deserve to feel happy and enjoy your life, even in the face of doom. I strongly recommend that you step back from overthinking this basic human drive (not everyone has it! but it's impossible to ignore for some, and that's fine!) and let yourself be a joyful animal who wants things.

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I started crying out of relief reading this. This is what I want to believe...I just have a hard time holding onto it in all this. Children are pure joy! I look at other people's kids and I beam, because they're exactly who they want and need to be. I didn't have that growing up and I've tried to give that kindness and understanding to my chosen family. Now I want to give it to our children.

I really believe we'd make good parents, even if everything went to shit. We've both been tested in a lot of ways. We've known each other for 10 years, been together for 5, and made it through graduations, moves, mental health crises, and deployments. At this point our strengths and weaknesses are clear, our communication is strong and our values are aligned. I just need to let go of the idea that us having 2 children is some tipping point when the truth is our world is way past that already.

Thank you for your words and compassion. I know others have said so here but I'll say it again: they make a difference and I hope you never stop!

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I'm in my early 30s and have a two year old now, but I was in your shoes a few years ago. I think it's one of those situations where you have to be able to cope with multiple conflicting feelings being simultaneously valid. On the one hand, it never stops being terrifying, being a parent. Those feelings of uncertainty and fear don't go away. Even now that my daughter is here and alive, I wonder if she'll someday hate us for choosing to bring her into existence in this fucked up world. She has a rare metabolic disorder (diagnosed at birth so we had no idea it was even a possibility before she was born) which requires special medical care/foods. She can't eat a normal diet or it will cause brain damage, and the replacement stuff is specialty medical foods that are prescribed and not readily available. I am not kidding when I say that my greatest fear is of society falling apart and her being unable to get her medical foods/care. Her beautiful, perfect brain would slowly be poisoned by the foods she would have to eat to survive, and she would irreversibly lose mental capacity in this horrifying Flowers for Algernon way. BUT! In spite of all this, as Polly says, children are PURE JOY. She is the most beautiful and perfect creature alive in my opinion, and my husband and I go to bed each night asking each other, can you believe how perfect she is? How lucky we are? She is exactly the kind of person this world needs and I am so glad she's here. What is the point of anything if not to get to experience that kind of love and joy?

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I'm not a parent, but as a child of confirmed parents, I can safely say that I do not spend time regretting being in this world, and even when I do, I don't hold my parents responsible for bringing me into it. I am just here. There are a lot of other things I hate about this world, but I don't hate them, and I don't hate them for my existence.

We live in a bad world right now. It getting worse or better is just entirely relative to our experiences. Kids come into this world not knowing anything about it beforehand. We imagine what they would think based on what we ourselves think, not realizing that our minds aren't blank slates. There's decades of life experience that forms our views.

I know my parents think the world is a worse place than it used to be, and they worry about it for their children. But I see the world and I only see what my life has let me see. I have no way to tell what's worse and better. I only have what I have. I can only do what I can do. My children will have what they have. And they will make their way in that world in ways I couldn't have imagined now, the same way it was for my parents, and the way it was for my grandparents.

My dad grew up at a time when they had to make long distance phone calls by cycling over to the nearest post office. My grandma grew up with her city getting bombed by war planes. Her father grew up not knowing what a train looked or sounded like, and spent a career designing railways. I don't know what his parents did. His mother didn't like cold weather. I don't think any of them envisioned the sort of future their kids wound up living in. But the nice thing about children is that they never worry about that sort of shit at all. They just live. They never worry about contextualizing their experiences. They just cope with it as they get them. It's pretty great.

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I'm saving this. You are so right.

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Ah!! Your life sounds beautiful (and perilous and challenging, but mostly beautiful). I think with parents like you she'll grow into someone brave and kind. I hope with all my heart her medical needs continue to be met. Reading all this is helping me see my anxieties don't really have to do with children but rather feeling secure in my ability to savor the small joys in whatever hardships come. And at peace with all the rest. Thank you for sharing.

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I'm so majorly on the fence about having kids because... on the one hand, I would hope that I could raise kids who aren't total assholes, and we need more people in the world who aren't assholes. On the other hand... there are already too many people in the world. And how long will the world even last?

So at the same time that I'm HEAVILY grappling with thoughts of mortality / what it all means / what is the point / what comes after / who will take care of me when I'm old, I'm also grappling with whether it's even ethical to do the thing that seems to help most people deal with all that.

Anyways, you're not alone <3

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I love Heather’s response here, and as a parent I agree with it. I also want to add that, although climate change is, yes terrifying and bleak, that you can look at ANY time in human history and think “the world is going to shit. Why have children?” The Middle Ages, 1968, 1918, The Troubles, etc. etc. etc. (these are all very Western examples).

I think when it comes to kids you have to remember that at the end of the day we’re all creatures trying to survive, and that as hard as life can be, most of us would rather experience living than not.

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Yes. This and AR's response are reminding me of a conversation I recently had with my mom where she described being 7 years old during the Six-Day War in Egypt and watching her dad run in the streets screaming at people to put out their lights so Cairo wouldn't get bombed out of existence. I had always known she was born 1960 but I never pieced together that meant she lived through that war and how traumatic it must have been at that age. It also makes me think of being 10 during 9/11 and just feeling this deep sense of dread and instability. And yet here she is, and here I am. It's incredible.

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THIS!! I am also 30 and always thought I would have children. However, with the escalating climate change, unfriendly economic environment, and general increasing chaos I struggle with the same questions you bring up. Is it right to bring another human into the world who will also consume resources, especially when we have stressed/outright destroyed all of our ecosystems? However, part of me hears what your husband and Heather speak of. The world needs more people who can help us innovate and repair the damage done/discover new ways of being. It’s an act of hope to have children and I believe Heather when she says there is joy alongside all of the complexities, heartaches, and worry.

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"Anyone in their early 30s contemplating these questions?" late 20s, but yes :X beautifully explained, Yas.

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Oh my god, it feels like we just ran into each other on the subway! I miss happenstance meetings.

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Thank you for this, and for your Wednesday column, which hit a nerve in a good way. I'm in my early 50s (how did that happen?) and escaped an abusive husband in my early 30s. (When your therapist breaks neutrality to yell, literally, "When are you going to get the fuck out before he kills you?"...yeah.)

It's taken me until this year to rebuild every other part of my life -- I had to couch-surf and move around the country to escape him, go back to school, rebuild a career, etc., etc. -- so I literally could not even think of dating anyone except in sporadic moments until now. (Also, he made it clear in ways that weren't admissible in court that for years after the divorce he was going to stalk anyone he found out I was dating. While he remarried. Charming.) I think it's safe to date now. I hope.

So, um, give me encouragement for weird pandemic dating and reinforcement that not all men are like him, someone please?

I hope you and yours stay safe through the fires, Polly and everyone else reading who may be in range.

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Thank you for writing this post, it may sound strange but it is so comforting and hopeful from where I am now to read a post by someone with a couple of decades more life experience than me and see how much you've survived and made it through. Not only that, but your words are kind and generous. I don't feel equiped to give dating encouragement - but - your attitude alone makes you a catch, and there are men out there who can match your kindness and generousity.

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I'm crying reading this, Eva Marie, but that's okay. Thank you so much for your reply. I'm glad the post gave you comfort and hope. Best wishes to you.

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The silver lining of pandemic dating is that it forces you (or gives you and excuse) not to rush in. There are good men out there, and it’s harder for the bad ones to trap you in a whirlwind remotely. Wishing you a future of self-love, true love, and clarity!

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You're very right. Thanks so much!

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You sound like a total badass. And like someone who should trust their gut! There are lots of terrible people, and lots of good people, and some of the good ones are men. You'll know it when you see it. You got this.

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Thank you so much. This helps.

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Polly, I'm in the no-man's-land of having finished the manuscript of my first novel (yay!) and finding representation to get it out into the world, and the uncertainty is killing me. This thing I love so, so much could change my whole life or mean absolutely nothing! I've freighted it with the responsibility for transforming me from Bookish Girl into NOVELIST, and I can't seem to take that back. How do I weather this long period of uncertainty? How do I forgive myself for not having done it sooner? How do I let myself feel legit while awaiting external legitimization? And if this one doesn't take off, where will I find the courage to make more art?

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keep in mind that even books that don't "take off" are valuable contributions. If even one person reads your book and that impacts them in a profound way, or they remember it for years without exactly knowing why--that's powerful. External validation is great, but a lot of the time we never know or see how our contributions affect others. That doesn't mean they're not important.

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Don't have any useful advice but that is so fucking exciting and I'm excited for you! Congratulations!

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aaaah, major congratulations! you finished a novel! just fucking remember to bask in that, you are amazing.

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Thank you!!! <3

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I know I fucked up big time in my job (I did get fired in the end - Covid19 reasons included) - and my last day is next Friday. I haven't been able to focus and I'm scared I've ruined my reputation for good. When I was younger I was promised the golden lands of success, like any gifted child - though trauma in various forms and shapes and a progressively worsening ADHD has pushed all those dreams and hopes I had for myself far away. I still get some shit done - but not remotely the shit I'm being paid for. I feel bad for my employer, I feel bad for my friends who probably worry about me and my gloomy future. I'm 32 and I'd love to make people proud, including myself.

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I've been fired twice and might experience a round three sometime in the near-future. Also have both childhood trauma and ADHD. I feel really worried for myself quite frequently. But it helps to think of myself as a badass survivor. Once I started to think of myself that way instead of as a victim, I actually noticed how strong I was, especially in comparison to people whose lives have not thrown them those rough breaks. Also worked very hard to start detaching my worth from my job and income (not an easy task in our money- and career-obsessed society!)

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Sending peace to you, it's a really hard thing to cope with that isn't talked about a lot.

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I adore your writing and perspective, it brings me so much comfort. I'm wondering what your advice is for a soon-to-be 24 year old who has never had a boyfriend and feels woefully inadequate because of this. Every situation-ship I'm in always feels so life-or-death because I feel desperate to find love and be loved the way everyone else seems to do with ease, and every time I start talking to a new man, I'm shattered when it inevitably doesn't work out. How do I stop feeling like this? How do I stop pinning my whole life on finding love?

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I didn't have a boyfriend until I was 26, in fact, I didn't have my first kiss until that age either. I can promise you, you have so much time and, believe me, everyone else does not love with ease. Enjoy yourself while you search for love, and do not hurry things. Being in the wrong relationship is a lot worse than being single.

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thanks for taking the time to write this <3

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I'm 28 and have never had a boyfriend. At your age I felt very inadequate because of that as well, but I don't any more. There's nothing wrong with being a sensitive soul. Being single also allows you to experience wonderful things. Often it seems that we single people miss out on much - but I have found it works both ways. Being in a relationship does force you to compromise in a way being single doesn't. So enjoy your single life! And don't think less of yourself because of your relationship status. And don't look at others merely from a "could they be the one" perspective, but try and discover who they are as people.

You'll make great acquaintances! And maybe some day you'll find that it can lead to something more? I wish you the best. ❤️

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I didn't have my first bf until I was 26. It's totally and completely fine. You have so many fun years ahead of you. The way you stop feeling like this is by accepting that you have at least another 10 years before you even need to consider worrying about it.

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So much time and life ahead of you, dear girl. I would recommend you read the 4 Agreements. Life changing and deadly simple. Each of these men are stepping stones to the right man. When you take each situation-ship as a learning experience, and remove some expectation, they will help you to grow and get clearer and clearer about the type of partner you want. And the most important thing is your relationship with yourself. This desperation for love signals needing acceptance from an outside source. Accept yourself. Love yourself. Embrace all of yourself. That is the most critical part of love.

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thank you for this <3

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Hi, i’m almost 28 and hadn’t had a relationship in about 5 years but um, I don’t think it’s the pinning for love that might be the most draining thing. A big part of the disappointment of not having a boyfriend or a girlfriend was that I kept trying to make it happen with everyone the same way you say you do and that exhausted me. When every interaction was so over thought and over analyzed for meaning both on mine and their side I found myself opting to not interact at all. I just didn’t have the energy to go through another round of “how can I make myself ideal and desirable”. And I think it’s that impulse that ends up being harmful. It’s human and natural to want love to happen to you, it’s the pressure of believing that we need to be a very specific version of ourselves in order to be loved that causes problems. Sadly I can’t say I have a solution since it’s still a struggle to just be, but I try to think of myself as one of those weird dogs from tiktok, someone’s bound not just to find my inability to pronounce Hawaii endearing but to want the rest of the world to see just how cute I am too. And if they don’t, then a relationship with them would’ve meant hiding parts of me for a long time only to feel even worse by the end of it, so I didn’t really lose anything at all by missing that chance.

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this is so helpful and relatable!! thank you for your reply <3

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Maybe an opposite perspective will help. I met my now husband on my 20th birthday. I definitely wasn’t looking for anything long term at the time but it worked out that way. We stayed together in a serious way and life moved fast! After college we moved in together and he got a great job and I put off grad school because that was our best prospect at the time. Around 26 I had an epic quarter life crisis about how I felt like I couldn’t do a lot of “20’s” things because we were always having to factor each other into every decision. I felt like I was always waiting for my turn. I just turned 30 and we are still together and we worked out ways to not feel like either of us are putting too much aside for each other and I’m happy with that now, but my point is, embrace being single while you are! You can go anywhere and do anything you want and nobody else gets a say. Relationships are great, yes, but there is something to be said about singleness too. The grass isn’t always greener...sometimes it’s just different grass. Your friends in relationships won’t tell you this til later because they don’t want to sound like they’re unhappy. And they’re probably not, but they might still feel like they’re missing out too. I don’t want to sound unhappy or ungrateful for my relationship either because I’m not, but I’m logical enough to recognize that I did have to sacrifice some things that my single friends did not. Everyone’s lives happen in a different order..don’t get caught up in made up milestones or a check list or anything like that :) you don’t have to have everything by age 26 (or any age!) to be a more-than-adequate, whole human being.

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these are some really great points! thank you thank you <3

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Committed romantic love is one of many types of love! Where else is there love in your life? Who do you love? (Friends? Family?) what do you love to do? (What brings you joy? What excites you/energizes you?) what places do you love? Or times of day? You can cultivate connectedness with other people in a loving way and it can do wonders for filling your proverbial cup so that you don’t feel that desperation for love while searching for romantic love. Look a little closer and see where love already is and where love could grow.

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Hi Polly,

What does a good relationship feel like? My parents have a very bad marriage and I haven't seen many stable or good relationships in my life so I have a really hard time telling. I also think I obsess over whether my boyfriend is the "One" or the best person for me.

We have dated for a year and I'm still questioning whether it feels right or if he really cares about me. I feel like I'm constantly accumulating a list of facts about our relationship (we both like to read, we have the same sense of humor, we have the same interests, he always supports me and listens to me) as a way to prove it to myself that we are good together. But then when I notice a small thing that seems off, like if he doesn't compliment me in the exact way that I need, or if I see a couple on TV or something who have a different dynamic, I start picking apart our relationship and wishing he was like that. The other day he told me that he feels like I want him to be a different person. This was really sad to hear because I really love him and like him, but I understand why he thinks that.

I think I'm worried that I'm going to go down the same path as my parents or waste years with someone when they were wrong all along.

I know there aren't any rules for what makes someone right for you...but are there?

- A

P.S. Thank you for existing your column is therapy for me!!!

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When you have parents who didn't get along, that's what feels like home to you. So when someone attends to your needs and listens to you, that feels off and dissatisfying at times. You want something different.

Now, I'm not saying that this guy is RIGHT for you and you're blocked by your distaste which springs from your background. I'm just saying that intimacy is hard for you because it feels like a place that's farrrrr from home. You nitpick. You look for trouble. You feel uneasy and dissatisfied.

These things happen in the course of good relationships and marriages, and they also happen in the course of bad relationships and marriages. To me, the difference lies in how you feel after you're completely honest about your feelings. If you sit your boyfriend down and you tell him, very calmly and vulnerably, that you've been struggling with your own expectations and disappointments even though you know some of them are unfair, and all of that makes you hate yourself a lot, and he listens without giving in to defensiveness (please note: very difficult!) or at least stays present as much as possible without making it all about rejection? That's a very good sign. But look, almost any radically honest talk that winds up making you trust the other person and feel more attracted to them is GOOD.

And if honesty doesn't help at all, time and time again, then you have to consider quitting. Because that's what a good relationship feels like: It can be aggravating, tedious (after a few years! lol), frustrating, and amazing, but it always has to feel possible to tell the whole truth. We all have parts of ourselves we don't want to share, and that's fine. But if you mostly don't feel better when you tell each other the truth, gently, in an attempt to learn from it? That means you probably won't manage very well over the long haul.

The best married couples I know tell funny stories about how irritating their spouses can be -- through laughter, mind you, without an edge to it. That's mutual acceptance, honesty, and secure attachment in motion.

That said, though, don't stay with him forever out of guilt. Show more of yourself, address your inflated expectations as they come up (like tell him how you want to be complimented, don't wait until he fucks up) and watch how your feelings evolve over time. It's natural to get cold feet in relationships when your parents fought a lot. You need to do a lot of processing to understand what your issues around intimacy are. I recommend therapy! And talking vulnerably to friends who are in good relationships. Best of luck. xo

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I second this entire question! Would love to hear thoughts on this.

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A, I'm in the same boat, two years with my partner, and just not sure. Always measuring against others' relationships. My parents are divorced and unhappily remarried and I don't have a sense yet of what healthy feels like. You're not alone <3

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I'm in Pasadena with my husband and 18 month old, and the smoke and ash and gray skies are really starting to take a toll on me. Being outside was our answer to quarantine, and now we can't even do that. My husband also goes back to work next week doing a very fancy job that we're grateful for (he's an actor.) and I'm going to be inside alone with a toddler feeling like I'll never get to work again (I'm also an actor, but have had a very long professional dry spell combined with pregnancy and postpartum time.) I love being home with my daughter, but ohhhh I wish there wasn't a global pandemic and that there weren't wildfires and constant sirens and that I was going to a film set or rehearsal room and bring her and a babysitter along with me. But we're all healthy and can pay our bills and I'm thankful for that every day.

Sending love and encouragement to all of you out there.

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I just want to validate that being at home alone with a child and no place to go is very difficult and your worries make so much sense. It's not that we aren't lucky, it's that we are lucky AND this is fucking hard.

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Absolutely. Thank you Anna. This year is So Fucking Hard.

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I feel like I am drowning in CAN'T right now. I can't go into the office. My son can't go into school. I can't visit friends. I can't have a 10th birthday party for my son. And now I can't go outside. My 79 year old mom was just hospitalized across the country and I fear that I may never see her again. We cancelled our summer plans to get together due to the pandemic (another can't). In her post-surgery delirium, she's asked me to come to FL. "I need you to be here." I feel like I can't get on a plane to see her. What do I do?

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to be fair, I think air travel isn't quite as dangerous as we originally believed -- as long as you wear a mask, sanitize frequently and go on an airline that takes it seriously. I completely understand your hesitation, but airline travel isn't as clear a CAN'T as a lot of the other things, so maybe consider it. https://medical.mit.edu/covid-19-updates/2020/07/how-safe-air-travel

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Thank you thank you! I've been looking for something reassuring that I can share with the family and I hadn't come across this.

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Is driving an option? We did 18 hours of driving to NC and back to help my mom with a move and to visit my brothers. It was exhausting for sure but I don't regret it one bit.

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Thanks for replying. I would need to drive from WA to FL, so while doable, it's probably not realistic.

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Oh gosh. That is very far. If everyone's stuck at home, maybe a short-term rental in FL makes sense? I don't know the specifics of your situation but we've bounced that idea around in our household.

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Thanks, Polly ❤️ My partner asked for a relationship break a few weeks ago. We have a difficult relationship and during Covid I’ve realized that I haven’t relied on him for much because he’s kind of emotionally unavailable. In normal times that is ok, because I have lots of supportive friends, but in Covid it’s much harder to deal with. In the last argument before the break I told him I was struggling (Covid has been bad for my anxiety) and I needed him to be kinder to me. And he basically was like “not if you’re going to act in ways I don’t like.” (Those ways being arguing with him angrily ((not yelling because he won’t engage if I yell. But speaking angrily)))

I was leaning towards ending things after he asked for the break. But then I found out I’m pregnant. This is very unexpected as I’ve had tons of issues with ovarian cysts and assorted gyno issues for my entire adult life. I’m also 41. So this is likely my only shot to have a baby.

I can’t figure out if I should try to make it work with him and try to have a family, or if I should just break up with him and get an abortion. I don’t think I want to raise a baby by myself, and I don’t know if he’s capable of changing. I’m so lost and confused and it’s so hard to figure out how to even begin making these choices.

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I know you've asked Polly, not me :-) but I wanted to just say I'm sorry you've found yourself in this situation, but encourage you to think a bit more about raising a baby by yourself. My "partner" left 2.5 years ago, six days short of our 20th anniversary, and it was actually a huge blessing for me and my girls, then ages 6 and 8. I'm so much better off as a solo parent in most ways, though it is exhausting. If you really want to have a baby, and see this as potentially your last shot, what if you saw it as a gift from the universe? I'm in a moment in my life where everything has ended - my LT relationship, my job thanks to covid (also a blessing)- and am planning to move 1000 kms away to start fresh. Most days I feel like I'm walking off a cliff, but I remind myself that there will be a net to catch me, somewhere down the way.... you just have to have faith in that, and try to get comfortable in the free fall.... Good luck to you in whatever you choose. (Just want to add, I have absolutely NO judgement if you were to choose to have an abortion. You do what feels right for you.)

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How do we create spaciousness when it feels like everything is pressing in on us?

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I am a freelance writer and editor with about 35 years of experience; I am great at my job and have happy clients, but I hate the self-promotion/marketing part (I know I’m not alone). In the midst of COVID-19, it is even easier to become paralyzed. Any wisdom to offer on working up a bit of gumption?

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It's hard! Sometimes it's easier to network and market if you think of it purely in terms of business, because it is. We writers really identify with our skills and taking some of the emotions out of it can really help with all sorts of situations. Including asking for more money, heh.

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Dear Polly, My (26f) boyfriend (23m) and I are stuck in a messy self-made cycle. To be clinical, he is an serviceman in the Air Force who has a lot of early childhood trauma/avoidant attachment tendencies, and I am a Big Time anxious attacher whose trauma is much more recent in life. To be flowery, we started dating over a year ago when we met at our favorite dive bar. Everything felt serendipitous as it does and we both decided to let love lead and begin dating just two months before he was leaving for the first of two planned deployments, this one to the Middle East in the fall. As life would have it, love and good intentions and attempts of plans for communication/support while abroad fell wayward quickly and we were stuck in 6 months of sad frustration of him not being able to deliver the level of support/communication/expressed affection I was asking for, and me not being able to understand the military world/how it demands he operates/speak his language of "I love you even if I am not able to talk to you for a few weeks because I can pick things right back up when I'm home". Two days after he finally got home in November, my father was diagnosed with cancer (he is doing okay now, but it was a Big Bad Wrench as you can imagine in our already tumultuous attempts at Figuring Stuff Out). I told him he had full permission to GTFO in the wake of that news as there was already so much for us to work on, and he pledged to stay. We got back into the miscommunication cycle of me asking him to show up in certain ways, him not being able to deliver for whatever own reasons/fear he had (think Will Hunting from GWH), etc until he made the decision to call things off before his shorter spring deployment to the Pacific of just three months because he did not want to promise to be able to provide a level of support that would again fall wayward in the event that things got more difficult on the deployment than he anticipated (I think there is an element of shame he feels when he is not able to meet a request that I have asked of him, but I know it is a losing battle to try to over-therapize your SO). Despite this, he ended up reaching out to me once COVID struck the states right after he left and our communication was amazing the entire trip. We both discussed point-blank that we still had feelings for each other and wanted to make things work when he got home in June. Upon his arrival home, things were peachy keen until, back into the cycle once more, they weren't. I think I have been able to lukewarmly identify the genesis of this cycle: as someone who needs more active/attentive/in the moment care, I present new needs and asks out of my intentions of love/wanting to grow our relationship stronger --> If he does not meet them/doesn't express active efforts to understand/meet them, I feel hurt --> Small things build into anxiety/frustration that I then bring up--> He gets frustrated --> Rinse and repeat. He asked for a little bit of space to breathe about two weeks ago, which triggered my anxiety/attachment issue but was ultimately healthy and allowed time for me to consult my therapist in addition to my Personal Boyfriend Translator (his favorite cousin who is in his late 30s who is Team Us and has offered advice/perspective several times) who both came to similar conclusions that we need to: 1- point-blank address the cycle we get sucked into, 2- explicitly discuss our base needs with each other to not feel sparkly rainbow sunshine special but to feel respected and cared for (i.e.: I need, on average, to have quality time alone together at least once a week) and 3-to understand that we come from wildly different ideologies: his idealized How to Make It Work plan is we just grow together organically in between deployments by spending time together/doing the mundane/just existing in the same space with him checking in on deployments when he can, and I want to grow through intentional relationship discussions/work when he is home (which he has expressed is stressful to him) . Naturally, as I was excited to bring my metaphorical notes and new perspective to him, the military snatched him back up and sent him on temporary leave of duty two weeks ago for which he does not have a return date. My bouquet of conversation topics wilted when he came to my place to say goodbye before scrambling to pack on a 48-hr notice and I ended up presenting the outline of what I wanted to say (introducing the concept of identifying and explicitly articulating each other's base needs). He was receptive to it but reiterated as well that he is more of a "doer/exister in the moment" of wanting to grow our relationship rather than have all of these Big Conversations/Fix-All-Solutions to it. We have had a little bit of communication since he’s been gone this time around, but it is difficult to just not feel back in an anxious rut and the knee-jerk reaction of wanting to Actively Work on Things and Also Feel Supported!!! while he is away instead of just letting things breathe and appreciate the little moments in which he is able to get through to me. All of that word vomit is to just say that we are two very in-love idiots who can’t get our footing and are trying to learn each other’s languages. Is there any advice to give, any new perspectives to have, tricks to try, or are we just going to be stuck in a twister that sinks us to the ground once more? I know you can’t tell the future, Polly and that like in the recent Molly letter and the follow-up letter, it is ultimately our choice of what decision we make for the energy we give, but I don’t know if it seems foolhardy or impossible to finally stick our landing and find our footing. With much, much love.

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My fiance was in the Air Force for 6 years and we started dating about halfway into it (so I knew what I was getting into but still!!!!) He deployed 3 times during our relationship and every time was challenging. I attach almost exactly as you describe -- very anxious and in need of MOTION and SIGNS and WORKING TOGETHER. And he constantly wanted me to just trust that he loved me and we were moving in the right direction, even if we weren't having really emotionally gratifying conversations regularly.

I remember feeling really out of sync before his first deployment. I wanted him to see how hard it was going to be for me and (I didn't realize it at the time) he was just frightened about the reality of having to exist in a war zone for several months. He didn't want to hand me HIS TERROR before he left so he didn't share anything. We talked on the phone and emailed as much as possible, which sometimes meant we didn't talk for several days but the more honest and patient and curious we got about each other, the better everything got, even if the communication was infrequent. I started to realize that I was asking him to prioritize our relationship and that he wanted to, but he also had A LOT OF FEELINGS beneath the surface about his service, the regions he was deploying to, the ethics of his missions, and whether he even wanted to stay in the guard (spoiler: he left).

When I started giving myself permission to just miss him and let things move at that obnoxiously slow pace and started listening to his feelings about what occupied most of his waking hours, we got much closer. I don't know if any of this resonates but it sounds like you two really do want to be together. There's no timeline for that! There's just waking up every day and doing your best to care for yourself (loving someone in the military can be very isolating and challenging) and listening as patiently and openly as you can when you are able to connect.

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I started dating my boyfriend in March, so as you can imagine, emotions have been intense throughout our entire relationship, but I truly love him and feel so grateful that he's in my life. I think he's a real cutie and try to tell him that as much as I can, but he doesn't believe it. Last night he told me that he thinks he's ugly and feels like I "shouldn't" like him because of that. This broke my heart because I have struggled with body and face dysmorphia for years and know how painful it is, and I'm secretly scared that I made him feel this way. I don't know how to help him other than recommending a therapist and doing things to make himself feel better (getting a haircut, changing up his clothes), but of course I can't *make* him do any of these things. I can tell he's depressed, and that gets in the way of taking care of himself both physically and mentally, and it's scary and frustrating to see how much pain he's in. I've been forced to take an active role in my mental health for years, so I at least think I know the things that will help him, but I don't want to overwhelm him with the things that it's taken me years to get to (go outside more! get on meds! exercise daily! go to bed earlier! know that you can change! CBT! therapy! journaling! compulsively consuming self help content!). My capacity for anything is so depleted right now and I know his is too (we're also in burning-sky territory) and I just don't know how to help.

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If he really understands that he's in charge of his life—that only he can make the changes he needs to make to feel better—your presence and patience is liable to make a big difference. Keep doing the things you do to care for yourself, and don't hide them from him. If you want to, invite him to do the things that help you (if you can go outside, go for a walk? Inside, maybe stretch? Meditate? Just sit together, listen to music, and hold each other?). But keep an eye: is he willing to do the work, even if right now he might not be able to? Or is he looking to you to fix or save him? It sounds like you might be the type of person to take on too much responsibility. Keep your compassion for yourself centered and remember that you can't 'make' him feel anything. His dysmorphia isn't yours to bear, but your love and support might help him get through it.

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I'm in a rut and feel hopeless. To be fair, this predates the pandemic but has only gotten worse since the world really started to crumble. I'm in my early 30s and an artist, though my creative output is so meager I should probably stop referring to myself as such. I used to work a fulltime job in the art world, which I hated and finally broke from a couple years ago. Since then I've worked a slew of concurrent freelance gigs, most of which pertain to my interests, allow me to make ends meet and don't make me miserable, but lockdown obliterated the delicate balance I had going. I no longer have any kind momentum, artistic or professional, and find myself questioning whether I will ever have a real place in the world or regain a sense of purpose. Part of me knows I need to throw myself into a project-- your wisdom about the value of hard work isn't lost on me-- but my anxious-depressed mind talks me down from starting anything. I'm so afraid of perceiving failure from myself that I don't take any risks or leaps, so instead fail in more incremental, insidious ways.

I'm also single, and have been for two years after extricating myself from a 5-year relationship with a man who had significant mental health issues. Only in hindsight is it clear he was extremely manipulative and emotionally abusive. I do believe I'm better off, but I feel like I'm marooned on an island totally alone. I had a couple short-term things since, with guys who cooled off and just faded out and left me feeling even shakier about my ability to forge lasting and healthy connections with men. I want so much to keep an open mind and heart, but I can feel myself growing increasingly skittish and commitment-phobic, almost like I need to beat these guys at their own game, if that makes sense. As is the theme here, I was already incredibly lonely in my life, but quarantine just upped the ante.

I guess I'm not sure what I'm asking, but it's stuff that's hard to discuss with the people I'm actually close with, and anything you say will be deeply appreciated.

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I have zero advice (except maybe be brave and bring the real talk to your friends about what you're struggling with), but I feel called to reply as so much of this resonated with me, esp the work or career bits. I feel a lot of the same things you are feeling around relationships too, particularly the "skittishness" and "needing to beat guys at their own game" - that was me before I met my boyfriend, and newsflash, its still me, except now I have a boyfriend who notices my weird moods and weird reticence and emotional baggage (he's great about it). I am working on getting a therapist to help me process these things and then truly let go of baggage around my ex and some of my more shitty jobs. I find that I am absolutely awful at processing my emotions fully, like I find it EXTREMELY hard to cry about myself or my issues, and I can't even remember the last time I cried for more than 10 seconds before stopping.

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Thank you for relating— that alone helps. You’re right about opening up to friends. I perceive their lives as far more together and on-track, and it’s definitely shame that prevents me from reaching out.

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Barring finding the right time/moment to talk about stuff, I find that friendships often get better with a little confession time of how unsure you are about things, or they are revealed as ultimately stunted (or just different! shallow friendships are fine too) by one person's inability or lack of desire to be intimate. Some of my friends are very open but also somewhat self absorbed (I am also self-absorbed as well, because I refuse to get over things, and then get stuck on them forever), some are SUPER tolerant, great listeners and closed books who never share about themselves but will field a 11pm text from you freaking out with grace, some are in between.

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Hey! Confused 18-year-old here. I love Ask Polly the column/newsletter and these threads. There is something in them that resonates very deeply with me. So I thought I might share something I have been struggling with for the past couple of weeks and see I could hear some people's thoughts on this.

I have dated some guys before, nothing very serious. The pandemic has left me taking a gap year back in my parents' house in my home country where I know no-one and where going outside is still as dangerous as it was back in March. I miss dating (especially (sorry) the physical aspect of it).

So I have been lurking on some forums, and met a 20-year-old guy from the US who I have been talking to for the past month. I have enough evidence to confirm that I am not being catfished (or, if I am being catfished, whoever is behind the screen is doing it in an extremely elaborate way). I also haven't shared any of my personal social media accounts with him (we talk through a chat app). In the past month, we have had some explicit voice calls.

So. A couple of days ago I saw his face, and didn't find him attractive at all. Since then, he has been trying to talk more to me, and has implied that he would like this to become a serious relationship.

I don't want to have an online relationship (I tried before, and it's terrible). I also don't think I am as attracted to him as I was before seeing his face, which makes me feel shallow and terrible. I have thought about deleting my account in the app we talk through (it's a burner account anyways) and just ghosting him, but that feels shitty, given that he is very nice to me and seems to be very honest about how he feels. Also, I like hearing his compliments/him asking how my day went/etc. And I just like knowing someone likes me. So I'm in this strange place in which I still talk to him daily and have the same explicit calls, but I feel weird and kinda sad every time because I'm not very attracted to him and feel like I'm using him somehow. I also feel guilty, or like I'm doing something I'm not supposed to, about doing this with someone who lives across the world and who I met on a questionable forum--so that complicates everything.

I don't know what to do.

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Attraction can shift at any time for any reason, and no one is to blame. You don't want to feel guilty and conflicted while you grit your teeth. That's bad for you. Tell him you had fun and think he's great but your feelings have changed and you don't feel ready to get serious. He will probably understand. If he gets pissed off, don't feel like you have to explain - and KNOW that someone who gets angry when you tell them about your feelings calmly is a person who's too immature to be in a serious relationship.

You're not shallow. Everyone makes choices based on attraction. It just is. Accept it and move on without blaming yourself.

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You don’t need to feel guilty for not being attracted to someone. It’s nice to have a connection during this time, but you can absolutely tell him you just want to be friends or aren’t interested in a serious relationship right now. And if he responds badly, just delete the burner account and don’t look back!

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Hi Polly (Heather) - Thank you for what you do, your advice always feels healing for me. My question is about how to cope with the moment. I'm 36, single, and estranged from my family. My business is barely making enough money for me to survive off right now, many of my beloved hobbies are now unsafe because of covid, the sky outside is orange from smoke, and I'm terrified about the future of the U.S. and full of rage and grief that so many of our fellow Americans would choose this for all of us. I'm actually one of the fortunate ones because I have some meaningful close friendships and enough savings that I am not worried I'll be on the street or starve for awhile. I guess my question for you and the community is, how do you cope with all of this? In the past, I would get through extended difficult times by planning something to look forward to and working towards it. But it's hard now because I am struggling to imagine a future where all of this isn't just getting worse.

I should mention that I am taking anti-depressants, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy/drinking water, etc. Unfortunately I have an injury where I can't exercise for another month at least which is probably not helping things!! Still, I feel like I am moving through life in a fog. How do I make something meaningful out of all this shit around us?

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I relate to your post as another 36 year old feeling a little lost while doing lots of things. And also the no-exercise fog. I really hope your body feels better soon. As someone who does lots of cardio, I've found that restorative yoga is really balancing for me. Have you tried that as something you can do to connect with the body while only moving like three times across thirty minutes? I have weird low back issues that flare unpredictably. It helps me to accept them as a kind of enforced body-winter and let myself slow down and hibernate so that I'm ready to get back out there when my body is.

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I have not tried that yet, but I will! Thank you!!

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jinx

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Earlier this spring I reconnected with a married ex (he and I dated a decade ago, before his marriage) who was working toward having an open relationship with his wife. I was not surprised that it crashed and burned in one of those spectacular middle-of-the-night-yelling-phone-call scenes, though that's not quite the issue I'm stuck feeling hurt and lost about. While he and I were talking, I felt lit up from the inside in a way I haven't in a very long time. Some of this was about the person he was when talking with me -- thoughtful, encouraging, insightful, complimentary, patient, shared interest in art, etc etc. In the time we were talking, I began to journal daily, took an illustration class online because I've always wanted to learn how to draw, started reading more regularly, and found myself jotting down ideas left and right. I felt engaged and alert most days, which is not to say illogically happy, but present in a way that felt good and right.

When our relationship ended, I tried to put things in place to ensure I wouldn't lose steam in these new habits I enjoy, but I find it happening despite my efforts. I am single and live alone, and during the pandemic have not been able to quaranteam with anyone for the past six months. I don't have a lot of close friends that I can share things with on a daily basis (though the friends I do have are good ones, even if not exactly right for my needs at this time) and I feel myself closing up again. I find myself distracted and ornery at work, unable to complete simple tasks without dragging my feet. I haven't been reading, and my journal is giving me the side-eye as I write this.

I always used to consider myself an introvert but I think I am, in reality, just a picky extrovert. The energy I found from having his reliable support made such a considerable difference and I am struggling to find that same kind of true joy without it. I want to be turned on again, to radiate the light and excitement that I am afraid, for me, only comes from sharing myself/time with someone else. I am not an unhappy person and there's so much about my life that I love and am grateful for -- but now that I have remembered this other version of myself who felt more than okay, who felt like I used to so many years ago, it's so difficult and sad to adjust and close myself up again. I have learned that I like myself far too much to hide, but I don't know how, or where, or to who, I should show all of myself.

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I came here to write much of the same... feeling lit up by someone for the first time in forever, not knowing how to light myself up instead. I don't have the answers, just wanted to sad that you aren't alone in this journey. "Picky extrovert" indeed.

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Polly, thank you for providing this space for us to connect to each other through our grief and love and lives. <3

I'm 39 years old, and I hate my job. I am glad that I am able to pay to live (thanks, capitalism), but I resent that I have to, and I am angry with myself for the choices I've made that landed me in a secure but underpaid (thanks, capitalism), overworked, and understimulating position. My basic financial needs are met, but not much else. Increasingly, I feel like a trapped animal- verging on panic, scrabbling but stuck. I have ideas about where I might go, other things I might do, but they seem impractical and/or unachievable, thanks to money, or time, or energy (which is drained out of me hour by hour on work days). I doubt myself a lot - my abilities, my age, my character, my circumstances, my judgment - and talk myself out of movement, because I don't trust my thoughts and feelings anymore. I don't know if I hate my job, or if I hate myself, or some combination of both. I know that every day I get up, and dread the day. I dissociate for the hours I'm working, and it's hard to find myself again once I've unplugged. I worry this job is killing me; not just the physical effects of stress, but killing the part of me that knows myself, the core of who I am. I feel myself dissolving, weakening, shaping myself to fit the space I'm in so it chafes a little bit less. And THAT'S not who I am. I grew up in a household where I had to fight to survive, and I always took pride in that; my stepfather didn't break me, though he tried, and in the end, I left that house knowing I stood up for myself and stayed true to myself, and that's when I was a (not so) helpless child - I'm an adult now, damn it. How can a job break me, when that didn't? How do I stop it before it's too late?

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I've always wanted kids. Ever since I was a kid! Even though I hated being a kid! I have lots of little siblings younger than me, and was expected to raise them and resented it. But I loved them so much and still want kids. And if I can manage it I'm going to try to make the best, most functional and kind little family I possibly can someday. I've brushed off all my peers saying it was unfair to bring kids into a world that is ecologically doomed and that hates poor people. And I still think I don't agree with them. But I don't have a good argument for why. I think you've answered this one before maybe, but...am I just being stubborn and selfish? Is it a sign that I can't articulate my arguments to other people super well? I guess, as a historian, I feel like the "logic," as it were, of children has never in all of human kind been about the receptivity of the context into which they've been born. We just do it as a leap of faith and, at best, as a commitment to pouring senseless love into the world with no hope of return. But that logic is a lot more woo-woo than anything else I'd ever argue, about any-THING else. I don't know. Not a question. Just meditation as the world collapses.

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Why did you hate being a kid?

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I was really unhappy! It felt like endless boredom, lack of control and restlessness. I read for hours every day to escape my reality. Also, my mom loved me, but as a pair my parents picked on me and construed me as the "loser" of the family, even while they handed off a lot of the household and childrearing duties to me. I was deliriously happy to move out at 17, it felt like that's when my real childhood began in a way. I'd never felt so free to be silly or at ease before then.

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You have kids to celebrate life and spread love. Just that.

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Update on last week's comment: I'm doing much better emotionally and mentally, although objectively speaking, my week has gotten a little bit worse. I only say a little bit because, in spite of missing multiple deadlines (all three I had this week, in fact), I'm doing okay. Other things are happening. I'm dealing with them and feeling optimistic about dealing with them. So there is that.

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Okay Polly, I posted last week about lack of friendships and how that is bothering me (not sure if you remember). But now I'm starting to wonder if I fixate too much on friendships instead of giving myself what i need, similar to how some people think romantic relationships with save themselves. Do you have any expereince/thoughts on this? I sometimes feel like I take the same approach to dating as I do to friendships, and it's not very helpful!

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That's really nice of you. I feel so unbearably sad about the state of the world and especially vulnerable humans and animals. How did we become so careless? x

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Been a fan for years since Rabbit blog. Thank you for all your words over the years. They have helped. Grateful. I just don’t know how to live in this world anymore.

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Is the correct action right now to work for things to get better but expect them to get worse?

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Does shame ever truly and completely go away?

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I just had a really productive review of my work and all I can think about is how far behind I am on everything. :(

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I’m happily married and yet. I made a new friend about a year ago. An instant and deep connection and attraction for both of us. She sees me. It’s not better than my marriage, just different. We have different things in common and talk about different things than I do with my wife. She touches a side of me that I didn’t realize was lonely. Non-monogamy isn’t a deal breaker for any of us, but there are probably too many complications for it to be workable here. My wife knows of my feelings and isn’t happy because she wants us all to be friends. We’re all great as friends! How can I get over the attraction and more-than-friend feelings while still remaining so close? How do I know if I feel this way because I was missing something (that I should focus on addressing) or if it’s just because I met an amazing person (I truly think it’s this one)?

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The only way to figure it out is to wait and keep talking about it. Don't take action. As great as it feels to see and be seen and connect on a new level, you're probably a continent away from knowing, concretely, what day to day life would be like with the new friend. The newness makes everything seem magical. But happy marriages are not that common, and once some of your feelings settle and you move this thing out of an obsessive or grabby space in your heart, you'll understand what you're dealing with. As long as you obsess, fantasize, and treat every word you exchange with the new friend as extra special and precious, you won't see what you have through clear eyes.

You might also want to dial down your access to the new friend. Sometimes just taking a month off shifts things dramatically, and you can look back and see that you were telling yourself stories about what small connections "meant" instead of slowing down and tuning in to your real life.

There's an immediacy of feeling that happens with new people, but it shifts and things find their natural level eventually. Likewise, talking to your spouse about the ways that your connections feel less immediate and vivid can help. It's usually not about some magical person as much as it's about the attitude of the two people who are connecting. For you and your wife to connect again, you have to take some time (that's not full of insecurity and strife) and talk about your fantasy of how close you could be and how alive you could both feel within your marriage. That kind of honesty is what will bring you back into a passionate place with your wife, as long as you both try very hard to stay open and be present and forgive the hiccups along the way.

To do that, you have to want it. And when you're obsessed, you don't want it. You just want to live inside your obsession. I do think a break with the friend could help that. If that feels wrong, then focus on how you've made your contact with her addictive and approval-seeking and fantastical and then try harder to move back from those behaviors and move into your immediate living space, your day, your body, your desires, your history with your wife and your connection to her. It's not that easy to shut down a more exciting source of fun for the more mundane work of a longtime partnership. But the more honest you are about the bumps and the more accepting and open you are, the more you'll understand why you chose your wife in the first place.

Even if you always have a crush on this woman, your understanding of your choices will shift dramatically every single day you pledge to slow the fuck down and stop fixating. Fixating doesn't give you good information. Patience does. Strengthen your relationship to yourself and ask yourself what you're avoiding, what you want more of, what you crave. Then talk to your wife about it in a vulnerable way. Good luck!

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Thank you, Polly! You’re right. I’m sitting in a very grabby space in my heart, and I need to work on my patience. I do think we can all mellow into a less intense place and be real friends.

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Oh wow. This is such good advice and as someone who is both deeply happily married and who can also obsess, advice I wish I’d read and internalized years ago.

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Hi Heather! I think I’m past the two hour mark, which makes sense, because I’m always late. I didn’t try to be. I just didn’t check my email until now. I’m really struggling with being a late bloomer. I feel like chances are passing me by bc I am so slow. It takes me forever to feel comfortable. It takes me forever to decide. On a career. On a guy. On where I want to live. I’ve generally been ok with being on my own timeline, but I’m starting to get impatient. I’m almost 40 & want to go on adventures with a fun guy I love. I know I’m supposed to go on adventures by myself but this pandemic thing has really thrown me for a loop. Everything that was hard before is exponentially harder. How do I cut myself some slack while also pushing myself to learn & grow? I hate the darkness & the icky feeling of loneliness I feel. I know I’m supposed to let myself feel that, but then what? I know it’s the journey, not the destination, but I have so many desires & I don’t know how to be brave enough to go for them. I feel so defeated every time I realize I’m too afraid. How do you do things you are afraid of doing when the world feels exponentially scarier, and for good reason! I used to be scared to get on planes & be away from my family, but I could at least remind myself that it’s irrational to think I’d never see them again. Now that doesn’t seem so irrational. Anyway, I’m not even going to read over this bc it’s already late, and I’d rather just try than be even more late & miss my chance again. Maybe that’s the answer: be messy, be late, just try. Also I love what you write. Your words have helped me so much over the years. Thank you for that.

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What a beautiful thing, to be impatient for life. To be impatient to live. Go, you! Try out this present time, the beauty of the mess, the trees that are still standing. They live on a different timeline, can you feel it? Everything irrational is rational, everything brave is vulnerable. Try this world, a little bite at a time, any time. Now is the right time.

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I'm so glad you are doing this again, every time I got a comment of encouragement, it was such a highlight for my week. Now feeling like I'm once again stuck in the house (because of hazardous air quality instead of a virus this time) I feel weirdly hopeful because eventually due to the law of averages something HAS to give or change eventually right? I turned 30 this year and tallied up the list of "stressful life events" I had in my twenties and it was a doozy - five moves to new cities, two major illnesses/injuries, one death of a loved one, countless breakups if those count as single person divorces...and I am so so desperate to just feel joy again and not crave it from some emotionally stunted narcissist who is unable to give it. When do the good times actually show up? It's been a long long drought since I've felt overwhelmed with happiness and joy and it's a long long slog in between.

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I so hope the bright and jolly times are coming to you. You'll recognize them for what they are as soon as you see them. And I agree, they will be coming from within, not from a city, not from a narcissist, not from sickness, not from health. Much life!

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Haven't gone through all the comments yet (technically should be working), so I apologize if this is redundant. Thanks so much for this Polly ❤️❤️❤️ I'm reading the Overstory. Has anyone read it?? It's all about trees (I learned redwoods live for over 1000 years!!!) and we're killing them. Taking the fires and this week's NPR story that trees can't regenerate in the warming, drying climate, I feel a larger, complete sense of loss than normal. How does one wrestle with this loss and maintain some hope each day? I do all the things one tells you to do. But will policial leaders ever listen? I want to give our earth a big hug and say, I'm so sorry. I want all of us to have a healthy, safe place to live for centuries to come ❤️

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Hi Polly. How does a "healthy" marriage/partnership work? I read about your marriage in your columns and I think, yes, I'd love something like that! I am always trying to figure out if my relationship with my partner is going to be truly long-term but I never really know for sure. Thanks so much, you kind-hearted person. Please say hi to Molly for me--I love her.

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I'm giving you advice as someone who divorced after 10 years, but for what it's worth: does your partner care about your needs and make an honest effort to meet them when possible? Do you do the same for your partner? Do you recognize when your own shame or partner's shame are kicking up dust and can you contend with that together in a way that is constructive and maybe even contains a sense of humor?

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Thanks for replying <3 We've had our issues, but in general, I can answer all your questions in the affirmative, and that feels good. We are working with a therapist around issues of shame and how that shows up in our arguments, but still, we're working toward more humor+constructive communication.

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Willingness to work on it counts for a lot. ❤️

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Hi Polly

First, just want to say I love you and your column.

It’s the first place I go when I’m feeling really conflicted or sad.

I’m a woman in my mid twenties trying to let go of a on/off again relationship.

We spent years talking every day, but I’m realizing now that it was more of a witty chatbot situation instead of an emotional connection.

We dated briefly in college before I moved away and then would see each other every few months. The relationship quickly failed due to distance, he shut down, but we went back to texting a few months later.

I blamed this not working on so many things, distance, his mental illness/ emotional problems, the 4 year age gap.

But recently we gave it a real chance. He moved across the country, said he was here to make this work and it ended very badly a few months later to where we just canceled plans to move in together. He was distant and cold, narcissistic and mean at the end. He said he was in love with a projected ideal of me that I fell short of.

I was surprised at who he really was under the veneer.

How do I let go of this longtime friend and someone I thought of as.. I guess a soulmate? I feel very hurt and trapped in this cycle, this relationship that feels deep and shallow at once.

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I love "witty chatbot situation" so much. Big gold star on that part of your term paper! Ha. But I'm sorry for everything else. People who are mean at the very end are... not the best bets, even at the beginning. When someone loses their love for you and blames *you* for it, that's someone who has never learned to love and accept themselves. You don't make those sounds when you're okay with who you are. You don't back out the door saying, "I could've aced this fucking thing, asshole, but YOU FUCKED IT UP BECAUSE YOU SUCK." Short of being horribly betrayed and cheated on, that's not how regular flawed humans end things. People with big-time troubles sound like that, and many of them never, ever stop making those sounds.

Whew, I have avoided stigmatization today, and also generalizing! But that "see you later and fuck you btw" ending is a big big big red flag that you dodged a bullet. The only kind of input you give someone you're not staying with is gentle, constructive, thoughtful words, and then ONLY WHEN THE WORDS ARE REQUESTED. Remember that letter I got where this dude told his girlfriend, "You're like an 8 out of 10, looks-wise" AS THEY WERE BREAKING UP? That kind of statement is a gift. It tells you that you were in for a world of pain with someone who hates himself if you stayed.

Your path to a better relationship lies in learning how to level up from witty chatbot situations. That means showing people your flaws and being vulnerable and earnest. Sure, men don't always love that shit. But fuuuuuuuuck that distaste and fear, because honesty and feelings are the path to trust and real connection. You gotta know that and believe it and not treat yourself like a worthless squid when you have nothing but fragile feelings to offer. And you've gotta let fragile feelings that come from others take root in your life. Watch how you push other people's fragile realness away. Notice. Adjust. Try to show up for what's real.

Hang in there, I know it's hard. I'm more worried about the road ahead for your ex, honestly, because he has a rough ride in front of him. You? You'll be way more than fine. xo

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This guy sounds exactly like my most insecure ex. He was my first serious relationship, also an age gap present. Throughout our years of "chatting," he always found belittling ways to make me think I was the problem. The final straw being when he texted that my boobs were too small, then proceeded to not contact me for weeks. It's been 5+ years since I moved on, have gained pride in my smallness, and he still texts me "what's up" "how ya handlin the pandemic?" like we're friends even though I've ghosted for the past 5+ years.

Moral of the story is that the people who have the most critical things to say to you? They're the most ashamed of themselves. Their life is full of missed chances of what could have been because they're too insecure to look inwards to address their own faults, and they know this intuitively but probably won't admit it. Their ego gets harder and harder to unpack as the years go by.

Good for you girl, you dodged a bullet. Let the soul-bonding experience you felt with this years-long relationship be a testament to your wonderful, open, loving, and forgiving heart. Someday you'll find a person who extends those wonderful qualities back to you.

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I feel so behind, and so stuck and stunted. I'm 28 and staying with my parents for a semester, because I gave up my lease in the city where my grad school is and was too nervous to move during the pandemic. But I feel ashamed that I couldn't get over my fear, and that I want to be with my parents so badly during this time. I feel like I should be with a partner, or friends, people my age -- like my life is not moving forward. I'm also in divinity school and I have no idea why -- sometimes I think I know but sometimes I think I'm just wasting time in an expensive way, and trying to become smart/wise by reading philosophers and theologians that I often can't understand at all. Is something wrong with me?

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Hi Polly and anonymous friends,

I'm here in LA too, also beholding this apocalyptic sky and campfire scented air. I was furloughed from an awful job back in March (a huge blessing), but have been struggling to transition to a successful private practice since then. My best friend, who is also my ex, and not the most emotionally stable person, was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and a massive brain tumor. I've been here for 6 years and am still struggling to find connection and community. I try to keep up with simple practices like daily meditation and gratitude lists but I am really adrift right now. Your columns and other spontaneous virtual appearances are a bright spot in my week. Thank you.

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Hi Polly,

I feel pretty well resourced during this time. How do I help friends who are struggling without seeming condescending or making them feel worse?

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Just wanted to send you support and encouragement too. It's corny, but your words have helped me grow over the years, and I look up to you as a wise woman ahead of me on this weird path of life. Take care, and know there are people out there sending good vibes to a stranger on the other side of the continent.

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Dear Polly,

Any advice for moving on from a friend breakup? I am still trying to figure out how to detach from one that happened earlier this year in a rather unceremonious way. Some days I feel like I am not missing this friend very much (she was not very loyal and sometimes judgemental and demanding) but other days I miss her wit, thoughtfulness, and steadfastness. Do I just need to ride it out?

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Okay so I wrote a long, long reply to you and then my computer ran out of charge (IT WARNED ME SEVERAL TIMES! I PROCRASTINATED!) and I lost it. Ha.

Ugh. I guess what I'm mostly hearing here is ambivalence about the breakup. Can she grow? Does she want to grow? Do you want to grow? Can you both face your flaws and be vulnerable with each other? Can you learn to build conversations -- even conflicts! -- around feelings and experiences and confusion and humility, instead of blame and accusations?

I ask because I was a preacher of other people's flaws for years. I could deliver rousing sermons on HOW FUCKED UP people were, always always always. When trouble hit, I went to my pulpit and held forth, usually to a boyfriend or to my husband. It was a way of defending myself from the mob that I imagined in my head, the mob of humans who know allllllllll of my flaws and will list them in excruciating detail when given half a chance.

I had to face the imaginary mob in order to become someone who was capable of friendship. I was too insecure to have friends, full stop.

So. That's not unusual. Lots of people live that way their entire lives. And the ideal isn't to just float around thinking everyone is fine when they're not. I just want to push you to face what this situation has kicked up for you. Focus on what you imagine your friend saying about you (or what she did say) and how that makes you feel. Look at past instances of being misunderstood, and the stories you tell about people who don't love you enough. Ask yourself who loves you enough.

I think up until meeting my husband, I would've said "No one." I had so many friends, always, but I didn't trust that any of them loved me enough, so I had trouble loving them enough, too.

THAT SAID, if you're sure moving on is the right thing, well, my advice is pretty much the same. Write down what you miss about her and write down your worries about how the break-up reflects on your flaws. Even if the break is needed, the part that won't resolve might live close to your deepest issues and triggers around intimacy and emotion. A deep dive into your notions about your value and how you've been loved is warranted here! Get a therapist if you don't have one. Be as vulnerable as you can possibly be, and watch what comes up without judgment. xo

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2019 was one of the most insane years of my life. First, I got caught up in a whirlwind cross-country romance. Then I went to a week-long personal development retreat in California where I worked on a number of my biggest fears. One day, we wrote them down. I’m going to tell you what I wrote, before I go on. 1) Germs/getting sick 2) Bed bugs (apropos of nothing) 3) Concussions (apropos of something) 4) My parents dying 5) Never finding someone 6) Long term disability

I decided I would try to leave those fears behind and emerged from the program as a hesitant butterfly who no longer needed to wash her hands all the time or put her luggage in a heat box when returning from travel (which typically I did religiously).

Here’s what happened next. My doting boyfriend left for the same program in a different state a week later. While there, I discovered I had brought bed bugs home from the retreat. In the next week, I threw out 80% of my belongings and moved.

In the middle of my move, my boyfriend called me and abruptly broke up with me, based on some realizations he’d come to during his retreat.

A couple months later I flew to see him for a weekend. After a lovely time, on the way back to the airport, he ran a stop sign and a truck hit us. The cars were totaled and...I got a concussion.

I was hoping 2020 would be the best year ever but then pandemic (fear #1) and my parents are elderly in a town with a huge outbreak (fear #4).

The main thing I want help with is how to get over the jealousy I feel when I think about other people, especially now, and how seemingly fearless they are. Nearly every single person in my close circle has figured out one or ten different solutions to living happily during a pandemic. My fear and circumstances have made it really hard for me to do any of that. Friends that have partners have moved somewhere cool with their partners. Friends that are single have almost *all* moved home to live with their parents (I'm way, way too worried about giving my parents covid). Friends with families are with their families in their large, air conditioned houses, going on trips and making it work. People are taking precautions, no one has gotten sick, and still living a pretty nice life. I tried my best for months but now the air quality makes it impossible to go outside and it looks like it will be this way until late November.

I can't be happy in my tiny apartment by myself for much longer, especially as my last remaining friends are moving home to Europe in a few weeks. I've come up with "options" for what to do next but all of them seem fucked in some major way (e.g., go stay with cousins who are physicians seeing covid patients, pay an exorbitant amount to live in Hawaii post quarantining for two weeks and worrying about covid + hawaiian hospitals, isolation, etc.)

Through all of this, I know that the problem isn't the external circumstances as much as it's simply...me. I want to be like everyone else I know and do just fine during this time but instead I'm driven by fear and completely stuck. It's really hard to appreciate myself right now which degrades my self esteem and (fear #5) makes me unsure if I'd choose me as a partner, if I could.

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My anxiety level is off the charts. I can’t focus or get anything done.

I welcome all your writings.

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Polly, I carry a great deal of shame and feelings of inadequacy due to being bullied in my childhood. How do I learn to be ok with myself and, in consecuence, to connect to others without constantly thinking I'm not enough?

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I'm so upset with the fires over there and also here in Brazil. People keep posting (with good reason!) pictures of burnt animals, dead animals, hurt animals... and even though I'm in Brazil it seems far away and out of my capacity of helping. Sometimes I wish I was not here to see this world get so fucked up by capitalism and greed and awful people that only use power to destroy. I don't have a question, I don't have almost anything in me anymore, but I wanted to jump in and say how much your words mean to me, Heather. So thank you for that. For everyone out there, please keep safe, you'll be on my thoughts.

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I'm 7 months pregnant with my first child and just received the news that my dad has a couple of weeks to live. Any advice for how I can navigate through what