'How Do I Survive This Ongoing Hell?'
You have to believe, in your heart, that you deserve nice things.
|Heather Havrilesky||Jul 29|| 32||11|
Interior with Sudden Joy (1951) by Dorothea Tanning
I am a regular reader of your column and I have contemplated writing to you for any number of issues to get your perspective, but I haven't, because I was afraid that I would be taking space and healing from someone who actually needed help. Now that I write this I feel like I sound deranged for 1. assuming that out of all the mail you get, my letter would be chosen, and 2. not even allowing myself the grace to just try it at the risk of putting undue attention on myself. All that to say, I am really in it right now.
It's the end of July in this ongoing hell. My now exboyfriend and I moved apartments in May, to a new "fun" city where nothing is open and I'm scared everyone will get me sick. We had a rocky start to our new digs - or I did at least. I had (and still am having) a hard time transitioning to city living, and I don't feel comfortable here, and frequently drive back to my hometown to bum around with my parents outside (masks on).
We broke up about a month ago, and I thought it was mutual - it wasn't so much of a break up but a conversation where we both agreed that we were better as friends and weren't going to end up together, but still loved each other. I had talked myself into the idea that we were basically still dating just no longer "accelerating" towards marriage. But then a couple weeks later he said that he didn't love me the same way, and then proceeded to say more surprising, hurtful things over the course of the last few weeks (including rating my body an 8.5 out of 10, admitting he never actually thought about my feelings in the relationship, past the point of recognizing he did something wrong and then not doing that specific thing again, and saying that he was relieved he would no longer have to be there for me emotionally now that we're broken up).
Last night was the first night that we slept in separate beds in separate rooms and it destroyed me. I cried more than I have in weeks. I just feel so lonely right now. I should mention that I don't really have options to move out right now, aside from moving back in with my parents, which I really don't want to do. I should also mention that there are other stressors like THE PANDEMIC, but also trying to continuously stay informed and involved in the BLM movement (going to protests, signing petitions, donating money, volunteering, reading books and articles, being part of 3 work projects on racism in our organization - I am trying to do the farthest thing from brag here - I am just a white person who cares a lot and also is probably doing the white lady burnout thing (ie upholding white supremacy)). I also generally feel unappreciated at work (I was passed over for two promotions in April and generally do work that does not challenge nor excite me). Finally, for the last 4 months or so I've been researching PhD programs to apply to for the Fall 2021 season (unknown to my parents because I am terrified of adding that additional pressure). That is I guess a source of hope? I am very excited about the chance to go back to school, and have been working diligently toward this goal through all of this mess.
I guess my question is, how do I allow myself space to grieve this relationship while still living here? I feel confident that I will follow through on my grad school applications, even though some days are really bad, because that's just what I do. But, how can I appreciate that this is difficult right now, and see myself as a human being with lots of complicated needs? I often feel like I am the only one experiencing the things I'm experiencing right now (ex: earlier on in the pandemic, I tried to have an open conversation with my supervisor where I admitted that this whole thing was a hard adjustment, and that I was feeling depressed, and she just responded - well of course - we're all having a tough time right now). So, if you have any words of comfort or wisdom or solidarity, I just want to feel like myself again and get through this.
Pandemic Surviving (Not Thriving) With My Ex
The first paragraph of your letter is the most important one. In it, you state that you’ve wanted to write to me before but you were afraid you’d be stealing “space and healing” from someone else. You also write that you feel stupid for assuming your letter might be chosen at all, and then, you beat yourself up for not even trying to write to me.
In summary, according to you:
1) You don’t deserve nice things.
2) When you get something nice, you’re stealing it out of someone else’s hands and that probably deserves it much more.
3) You’re not special.
4) It’s deluded of you to believe, even briefly, that you are special, and
5) Even though you clearly don’t deserve nice things, you’re also bad for not giving yourself nice things.
Now let’s look at your situation. You’re living with an ex who 1) has zero interest in supporting you emotionally, 2) feels relieved that he no longer even has to feign love or concern for you anymore, and 3) has assigned a numerical rating to your body in order to indicate its relative quality when compared to the greater population of women on the planet.
I mean that was pretty generous of him, right? If he can’t give you his love or a shoulder to cry on, at least he can give you some highly useful clinical feedback about how attractive you are to him, subjectively, which is the exact same thing as how attractive you are TO THE ENTIRE MALE POPULATION. Because your ex is a SCIENTIST OF HOTNESS and he has THE DATA YOU NEED.
Now, if you took a random sampling of women on the face of this cursed planet at this cursed hour of human existence, and you placed them in your exact situation at this moment, some of those women might believe that they should not continue to cry themselves to sleep at night, every single night, in the same apartment with an ESTEEMED CLINICIAN OF SEXINESS like your ex. (Let’s assume, for the sake of statistical significance, that our entire pool of female subjects is made up of women whose bodies are an 8.5 out of 10 on the OBJECTIVE SCIENTIFIC RATING SCALE OF HOTNESS. Otherwise, it’s not a controlled experiment, right? WE KNOW SCIENCE, DON’T WE?) These women might do some simple math and determine their next course of action, ranging from MOVE OUT IMMEDIATELY to KICK OUT THE SHIT HEEL RIGHT NOW AND FIND ANOTHER ROOMMATE.
Why would these females be contemplating such actions? Well, in spite of the fact that THEIR BODIES ARE ONLY AN 8.5 OUT OF 10, these women still might hold tight to such stubborn beliefs as:
1) I deserve nice things.
2) When I get something nice, I am not stealing it out of someone else’s hands. I have a right to enjoy it.
3) I am special.
4) It is not vain or selfish or deluded for me to believe that I’m special.
5) It’s understandable, nonetheless, that I don’t give myself nice things, because I’m a woman and this is how we’re taught to treat ourselves: punitively, unyieldingly. Our culture teaches us that we’re taxing and impossible and we don’t truly deserve to be loved and supported, and when we do ask for love and support (or ask for anything at all, really!), we’re usually inconveniencing some BUSY AND IMPORTANT CLINICIAN OF FEMALE HOTNESS who has far more pressing things to do than to offer us a word of kindness or a shoulder to cry on. (“MAYBE IF YOU WERE A 9 OUT OF 10 I WOULD CONSIDER IT! BUT PROBABLY NOT BECAUSE IT’S A PAIN IN THE ASS TO BE NICE TO YOU! PHEW, THANK GOD I CAN SAY SHIT LIKE THIS NOW! ARE THOSE CHICKEN POT PIES READY YET, OR WHAT?”)
Okay, so listen up: You probably don’t want to go home to live with your parents because they sometimes seem to agree that you don’t deserve nice things and you’re not special. I mean, look, this completely poisonous belief system and the massive amounts of shame it’s kicking up came from SOMEWHERE. I get it! And maybe it feels impossible to either get the fuck out of that apartment OR kick your emotionally stunted, avoidant, child-like dipshit of an ex out on his ass. But I would beg you to consider the possibility that you’re a glutton for punishment because being ignored, neglected, and punished FEELS LIKE HOME.
So if you stay in your current situation, it’s almost like you’ve made a home away from home, one that’s just as emotionally devastating as your actual home must’ve felt for you, growing up.
In other words, you need to see a therapist immediately.
Now, I love that you’re dedicated to Black Lives Matter. I love that you haven’t lost sight of how much that matters to you, in spite of everything else that sucks in your life. I even love that you’re trying to be cool with your supervisor saying to you, “We’re all in the shit right now” about the pandemic, even though that’s not actually a normal response by an older boss person to a younger person who’s in crisis. A normal response is, “I’m so sorry that you’re struggling.” A normal response is, “We have resources to help you through this.” A normal response is, “We’re all in the same nightmare world, but look, if you need to see a therapist, you should set that up immediately – you know it’s covered by our health plan, right?”
I’ll never forget my first real boss out in the world, after I graduated from college. She was an executive secretary. Technically, we both worked for another boss, a senior vice president at a bank, but he was an abusive piece of shit with a tiny pea brain so he’s not really worth mentioning. My boss, the executive secretary, heard me crying one day and caught wind of the fact that my suit shriveled up in the rain like plastic wrap (I WORE A SUIT, HA HA!) and when I tried to show this clerk behind the counter in the juniors department at Macy’s how messed up it was, she told me loudly, in front of a long line of people, that my suit smelled bad and that I should’ve gotten it dry cleaned before I brought it in.
My boss called Macy’s immediately and she had some harsh words to share with a long string of humans there, including the supervisor of the woman I’d spoken to and the woman herself, who had seemed to take pleasure in embarrassing a very shy, pimply, depressed girl, age 21, who hated her job a lot and felt stupid around the clock and lived with a boyfriend who most definitely didn’t love her anymore (it was obvious!) and whose body was maybe an 7 out of 10 on a good day, according to the objective clinicians of female hotness that lived inside her head during that dark, dark time.
This is why we have to give Karens a break sometimes. Because sometimes Karens are racist bitches, sure. But other times, weird old white boomers who want to speak to the manager are angels in heaven who beam down onto the earth and prevent sad girls with shrunken-up suits from the shitty juniors department at stupid-ass Macy’s from believing that THEY DON’T DESERVE A FUCKING THING IN THIS WORLD.
Now I want you to imagine that I am your boss (her name was Virginia Garcia, such an amazing woman, I don’t know where she is now but she was a pure delight, I will always love her). I’m your boss and I’m telling you what Virginia told me, which was, “Take it easy on yourself, honey, it’s really hard to be all alone in a new city like you are! It’s so hard and I’m so sorry this happened to you!” (This made me cry all over my desk and blow my nose 50 times in a row because no one was talking to me that way at that time, including me.)
And after that, I want you to imagine that I’m your good friend who’s a little bit older and kind of a bitch, and I’m sitting next to you right now on the bed in your sad, lonely room, and we are eating a giant bag of the best gummy bears and we are cackling about what a fucking dickweed your ex in the next room is. I MEAN HE IS THE FUCKING WORST, DUDE! It’s hilarious what a wilty little twerp he is. You don’t realize it yet, just like I didn’t know that it wasn’t normal to stand at the counter in Macy’s and watch a woman SMELL YOUR SUIT AND MAKE A FACE. I mean, why would she do that?
Because she smelled my fear first.
She smelled my fear. That’s how it was back then. Motherfuckers could smell my fear, everywhere I went. They knew that I believed that I didn’t deserve nice things. They agreed that when I got something nice, I probably stole it from someone else who did deserve it. They knew that I believed that I wasn’t special at all. And they shoved all of that shit into my face, because they also felt powerless. That’s what happens when you’re punitive and unyielding to yourself for too many years, against the backdrop of a punitive, unyielding world. You take it out on other people.
They didn’t want to help me with my return, even though I’d called ahead to make sure it was okay first. They thought I should spend $20 to dry clean a $60 suit that had crumpled up in the rain the very first day I wore it to work. They wanted to embarrass me in front of a long line of people, because they knew I wouldn’t stand up for myself. They knew that I would mumble an apology and leave and cry my way back to my shitty job at my shitty office because I DIDN’T DESERVE THINGS and I WAS NOT SPECIAL.
So look. Pass the marzipan. You’re special. You deserve things. Look at us, on your bed, me and you. Would I be here eating marzipan with you if you weren’t special? Of course not. Repeat after me: I’m special, you’re special, we’re special, and that motherfucker in the other room IS A RECURRING PUNCHLINE IN YOUR FIRST NOVEL.
Do not speak to your ex anymore. Do not dream of spending time with him or sleeping with him again. Decorate your room like a princess castle or a spa or a sanctuary and make it magical. Get a therapist. Apply to PhD programs. Give yourself everything you need to get through this, including the repeating mantra, cultivated in the privacy of your room OR in the privacy of your apartment that’s now devoid of a certain clinician of hotness, that YOU ARE SPECIAL.
You’re special and you deserve things. Say it again and again. You will always be special and you will always deserve things. Take better care of yourself. When in doubt, imagine me, your weird, bitchy-ass boss or bossy-ass friend, standing up for you. Imagine Virginia Garcia, the best boss in the whole world, who cried when I cried, and then picked up the phone and ripped three new assholes for three total strangers, in my honor.
When there’s injustice in the world, you correct it. Sometimes that includes speaking to the manager. Sometimes that includes asking your manager for what you need. Sometimes that includes believing that you’re special, in spite of all clinical evidence to the contrary. Sometimes that includes resolving to see yourself as an 11 out of 10 inside your mind, just because you can, and because THAT’S THE ONLY PLACE THESE THINGS MATTER. Sometimes that includes adding your tears to someone else’s tears. Sometimes that includes passing the gummy bears.
Some day, you will look back on this time in your life and you will laugh long and hard. After the pandemic is over — and yes, it will take a while, so buckle down — you will tell the story of the sad little worm man you lived with during the pandemic, and everyone will throw their heads back and laugh along with you and clink glasses and then you’ll all make out together, in one great big pile, because your bodies are all a 12 out of 10 inside your own minds, and what else do you do with bodies that amazing, but use them? This world is going to embrace you and love you and support you, is the point. But you have to embrace and love and support yourself first. You’re not doing that right now. It’s time to start.
You know this newsletter is free, right? So why haven’t you signed up yet? Don’t you deserve nice things? I think you do! You can read my column here every other Wednesday, and you can read it the other Wednesdays on New York’s The Cut. You can also read Ask Molly, written by Polly’s evil twin. Write to Polly: askpolly @ protonmail.com.