As the Cut’s Ask Polly advice columnist since 2014, Heather Havrilesky grapples with readers’ questions about life, death, babies, relationships, family, friendship, growing up, and more. Last year, she published How to Be a Person in the World, a collection of new and old Ask Polly columns. In her weekly posts and in her book, Heather’s advice-giving voice is frank and powerful, marked by full-throated tenderness and facing-the-mirror honesty. “I love your letter,” she wrote recently, “because you’re so spoiled and nothing is wrong.” Below, our nine favorite columns from 2017.
1. ‘I Hate Men.’
“You assume the worst about men because you believe in your heart that they are in control of your happiness, that their appreciation or disgust with you will determine your fate — in love, in your career, in life. You couldn’t be more wrong. You are in control of this picture.”
“I’m still conflicted about your question. I want you to have the fairy-tale and live inside a fantasy and live in reality and savor being alone, too. I want you to have everything. Most of all, though, I want you to know that this world loves you more than you can possibly imagine.”
“You’ve let your hardworking, perfectionist self take over your love life, and it’s turned you into a publicist. You have to stop being a publicist. I get that you’re down to earth, an oversharer with lots of friends. I get that you see yourself realistically. But you still, deep inside, want to be better. You want to erase your physical flaws. You want to be perfect, and you want to date someone perfect. You see yourself as constantly improving, forever approaching infinity, better and better and better. If you keep asking for feedback, you will crack the code. You will satisfy your clientele. You will win the big prize of Happily Ever After.”
“You are a very loyal person, and you’re also someone tempted to believe that she can bend reality using only her mind. You are firmly committed to this story that your friends are amazing and supportive and that their open relationship is working for them. But neither of them is being that sensitive or supportive toward you at this moment, and their relationship choices are quite demonstrably NOT working for them right now. These two people are both unhappy. You don’t put your chair in the center of the circle when you’re at peace. You don’t straddle someone in the middle of their conversation when you have the ability to keep other people’s needs in mind. There’s a big question mark in the air here, one that might just involve words like “borderline personality disorder” and “crystal meth.” But digging into those mysteries, here or in your head, is not your job. It would be corrosive to your sanity to worry about their problems and their dynamics more than you already do. Instead, you need to figure out what you want and need, and figure out how to ask for those things without feeling like a garbage person just for asking.”
“I hear you when you say that you would never, ever, act on these fantasies, and I believe you. Fantasies are really just these weird, floating things that drift into our minds and then disappear. Sometimes if they work for us, they return. If they work really well, we return to them repeatedly. And look, sometimes guilt is part of what makes them work, perversely enough. We feel guilty that THIS is what does it for us. If we grew up with enough guilt and shame in our lives, there’s something in the mix that brings us back to the strange magic of being very young and very confused and a little bit awestruck about the world.”
“Now we come to the tough part: Once you decide to only spend time with people who see you clearly and care and want all of what you have to offer? You have to tolerate those people. You have to tolerate feeling like you’re a wolf who went to go live with the bunny rabbits. Are these people weak for seeing you? Are they pathetic for caring? Aren’t the bullshitters who were grossed out by your complexity more attractive, more carefree, sexier? They aren’t. And you’ll know that you’re about to experience a mind-bending change in your life when you finally look at the bullshitters without your sad filters and you can finally see, with certainty, that they are not sexy and are in fact running scared from themselves.”
“Stop faking happiness. Be a malevolent spinster tornado instead, one that’s spilling over with rage and frustration. Write angry poems with names like Your Third Wheel Is Flat and Witches’ Brew and Biological Clockwork Orange. Read books about people who are single and really fucking pissed off about it. Somehow most people who write books about celebrating the lives of single women seem to secure long-term partners before their books even hit the shelves. Which is nice for them! But I want to read a book that’s not about celebrating solitude or even embracing graceful acceptance, a book that’s not written from some afterglow of coupledom. I want to read a book about being single that’s pissy and indignant and funny and despairing. Bridget Jones, but industrious and pushy and unresolved.”
“Why is it that pregnancy-related troubles and job-related challenges FOR WOMEN are so often summed up as First World problems? I don’t hear men apologizing for falling into a funk after a big career misstep. And if men had babies, fertility issues would be discussed out in the open, over beers, mentioned by sports announcers left and right. (“LeBron’s shot is a little off but that’s understandable, he’s been trying to get pregnant for two years now!” “Man, that’s a rough road.” “Don’t I know it, Bob!”) Women need to stop apologizing whenever they go through something difficult, as if all of our struggles amount to shameful personal failures.”
“Sometimes you have to test the groundwater. And you do that by asking, “Why do people live this way?” and “Why are these jobs structured to fucking kill you?” Sometimes women give up their jobs to have a baby, and then they find themselves asking, “Who makes it out of these hours alone with a baby with their sanity intact? What kind of a chill motherfucker IS BUILT THAT WAY?” And look, any kind of job with a nurturing element to it needs to be interrogated, because we women view ourselves not just as failures but as terrible selfish pieces of shit when we can’t give and give to infinity and beyond. And as you already know, people with dysfunctional backgrounds who are attracted to helping professions are particularly vulnerable to this identity trap. The truth is that you can be amazingly good at helping others and still be torn to shreds by too much of it.”
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