Rachel Berkowitz

Dear Hypocrite: An Advice Column


ISSUE 46 | LOVERS AND FRIENDS | NOV 2014

Oh Hypocrite Readers, you are overwhelmingly adrift, and statistically mostly Aquarii. You’re bound to be wishy washy like the fishies you are, which can make for serious issues of ambiguity in your relationships. I, a Sagittarius (that’s a centaur), known for rudeness and pomposity, am happy to shake you to your senses!

Dear Hypocrite Advice,

Last night I had a short almost-argument with my significant other. It started after I had spent most of the evening sobbing on the phone about petty family drama, and told him that he would have the only key to my emotional vulnerability. He paused, and then expressed his wish that he wouldn't overstep that trust. I asked if he had anything in particular in mind. He responded with a vague sentence about 'being attracted to people sometimes.' I asked if he was planning to sleep with someone else. He said no, he would never do that without talking to me first, which reopened a conversation that we'd tabled two months ago. (We've been together for three.) He reminded me that I'd said I couldn't imagine sleeping with only one person for the rest of my life, and how he'd agreed. That night I saw him in my sleep, hairless and beardless, sitting on a couch. An old friend from high school, who fancied herself a seductress in those days, came over to him, hugged him, and lied upon him. He pulled her hair back and started kissing her. She eventually extricated herself, looking alarmed, and slinked off. Meanwhile, I started floating in mid-air, twisting in circles, moving down and up the staircase, before slowly somersaulting over a wall and into another room, and landing on the couch. He followed me, tumbling onto the same couch, almost as I did, except not without gravity. Then I told him I couldn't see him anymore.

The dream, I think, lays bare my insecurities and fears around fidelity, as well as my frustrating attachment to monogamy. Sexual possession seems backwards and oppressive, and I'd like to believe an ideal partnership could very well involve some kind of mutual sexual freedom—well-articulated, agreed upon, and revisited. The sexual excitement of a new relationship is destined to fade and the eye is doomed to wander, so why does my heart protest so loudly at the first mention of external sexual partners? How can I re-orient my thoughts and feelings around this? Is it worth it?

Yours,
A Mid-Air Monogamist.

Dear MAM,

Two nights ago I dreamt I visited several public restrooms of increasing improbability (portholes in stalls, stalls in an empty field, etc.) and, despite being situated on a toilet in the traditional manner several times, could not help peeing on myself. By the end of the dream I was completely covered in my own piss. I tell you this because I think it’s a very good example of what dreams do—I had gone to sleep that night with a full bladder, and by going to sleep had physically blocked myself from successfully using a regular bathroom. I dreamt all night about that betrayal (but I didn’t pee my bed, thanks for asking!).

But see, the only reason this dream means anything at all is because I already knew I had to pee. All dreams are significant, but not all of them are straightforward. There’s a lot going on in yours (the hairlessness, the old friend, the floating), so it might make sense in this case to just ignore it and get straight to the things we know: you and your boyfriend have discussed opening up your relationship in some capacity but you have reservations.

It doesn’t matter whether monogamy is backwards and oppressive, MAM. Right now, you want monogamy in this particular relationship. I don’t know your business or your life, but you have been with this dude for 3 months! You can’t both be thirstin’ after that strange already! I understand a bit player may stroll through your life casting temptation two years in, when you and beard dude know what each other’s farts smell like and maybe live together in a too-small apartment in a too-isolated neighborhood. But if temptation is already rattling 3 months into a relationship, when his attraction to you should still be electric, maybe that’s a problem?

So what I’m saying is, if beard dude is already after O.P.P. (other people’s pussy), or vaguely insisting upon it like an I.C.P. (immature cowardly pussy, also insane clown posse), you need to ask him, “why?” Is there a specific young (wo)man that’s got him excited? Is he afraid of the idea of commitment and trying to poke airholes in his lifebox so he doesn’t suffocate at some point in the future?

And if you’re theoretically into bi/poly-gamy, but you’re not feeling it right now, ask yourself “why?” Do you lack trust for beard dude? Are you not sure he’d come back after a foray into strange? Are you afraid of the complexity of an open relationship, the competition of who got more, the dynamics of explaining your situation to a new partner? What scares you, MAM? Track down your fear and track down his fear and make those fears each other’s business. And then you might get somewhere.

With best wishes for future fearless ménages-a-girl’s choice,
Rachel

 

Dear Hypocrite Advice,

In a post-Enlightenment world of total moral relativism, where there is no God, how do I know I am doing the right thing. How do I balance desire, and discipline, and doing the 'right thing' (for whom), and not giving in to impulse, and work, etc.

I slept with one of my closest friends and now that it's over and she's with someone else, we've stopped speaking or seeing each other, and both our friendship and closeness feel damaged and/or gone. I don't know how to recover it without feeling like I'm not a.) adequately protecting myself, or b.) simply constantly begrudging her her happiness in a way that's bad for both of us.

How can I have a sense of self that is protected/separate from my understanding of what I mean to other people? In a way that doesn't do violence to them and their Otherness?

How do I have reasonable expectations

How do I navigate between the feeling that 'you should just be who you are' (which kind of feels like an empty platitude friends say no matter what) and the stronger feeling that I should try to be better or improve myself or look better or have abs etc.

But my tinder profile is funny and that means i maintain an ironic distance from it right (even though i do want the things)

Sincerely
ivan goncharova

p.s. i am an aquarius

Dear Ivan, dude,

You have just handed me a tumbleweed and asked me to give you back 25 straight sticks. There’s a lot going on here. You want to be able to reestablish a relationship with your friend, but that seems maybe like a separate issue from your wanting to be able to meet people and relate to them earnestly without layers of emotional armor? Is the issue that you feel you can’t be earnest with romantic interests? Is your issue that you have no fucking clue what you actually want from anyone or anything so you’re just putting up a front because it’s easier that way?

If you slept with your friend with the knowledge/acceptance that it was casual, I’m asking myself, would you be this conflicted? Probably not. You probably have feelings for her, or resent the fact that you did not end up together, or maybe just resent that you didn’t get the chance to say no to ending up together. Ask yourself, which one is it?

Find that reason, find the seed of your discomfort, and you’ll begin to see your problem clearly. Right now you’re feeling and speaking in a fog, and what you need most of all is clarity. You ask right at the beginning of your letter about doing the right thing. And I am telling you, moral systems are a crutch for people who lack emotional and mental clarity. Hard situations can push us all into a fog sometimes, Ivan. A single piece of our life shifts somewhat and we’re thrown entirely off balance; we face a new conflict without a clear resolution and suddenly hundreds of new conflicts bloom in the shadow of our uncertainty.

If you are sufficiently self-aware, basic compassion and good sense are all you need to make the “right choice.” Self-awareness is being able to determine what is rationalizing and what is reality, and able to distinguish between your viewpoints/feelings and the feelings of others. This seems especially relevant to you, Ivan Going-insane-with-denial-arova.

So here’s an exercise for you: go home, sit on the ground or a cushion cross-legged, and relive your intimate relationship with your friend. At what points were you the most hurt, confused, or happy? How did you feel when it began? When it ended? What conclusions can you draw from this mapping of events to feelings? What moments and conflicts were most difficult for you? Be honest with yourself; you might be surprised or disappointed by the truth. Once you’ve accepted what you wanted and how things have turned out as an objective observer would--that is, once you’ve dealt with YOUR SHIT AROUND THIS--you can try to reconnect with your friend without your self-defense mechanisms getting in the way and making you a fucking jerk.

Yours in LOVING YOU,
Rachel

 

Dear Hypocrite Advice,

For a couple of years now I have been considering starting psychotherapy.

The reasons I have been stalling have historically included: Suppose I am angry at my parents (likely, but we get along so nicely, and I do not feel particularly inclined / prepared to deal with this)? Or: suppose I seduce my therapist (cool, but gratuitous, unhelpful, and expensive)? Suppose I fail to seduce my therapist (worse on all counts)? Suppose therapy is a bourgeois practice and participating in it will undermine what semblance of a politics / ethics / god I might have (probably, though not certainly, undesirable)? I have been pretty carefully keeping the compulsive introspection at bay; suppose therapy over-encourages symbolic readings of character traits, memories, repressed sexual fantasies, dreams? Suppose my life problem is not a deficit of gurus but an overabundance?

And which kind of therapy? Perhaps not psychotherapy, perhaps psychoanalysis? The couch is appealing. Perhaps I make too many decisions based on what I find "appealing." And perhaps my traumas are not located in my past, perhaps the Oedipus family drama is wearing thin? Will I see a young therapist or an old one? A Jew? A man or a woman? (A man or a woman?????) (????!?!?!?) Do all therapists hate BDSM? (Should I hate BDSM?) Should I find someone who takes medical insurance? Or someone who scorns medical insurance? Or someone who tries not to cultivate scorn? There are probably a lot of therapists in this world who would prefer to read Gary Snyder than Aristotle, is that the kind to seek out? That's probably the wrong kind??

Please advise me.

Adrift,
Leo Rising

Dear LR,

I see where you’re coming from, LR, I really do. Like many other things, therapy is hard work; unlike many things, therapy is designed to actually upset you at first. As a Leo and a regular human being, you want to be able to just be chill with things, and you don’t want to make mountains out of molehills. Most people do not go to therapy until things get so bad they have no choice, but I’d argue that’s the wrong approach. Investigating yourself and your relationships in great detail can help you pre-empt issues in the future.

You are bound to have a relationship or job or accident at some point in your life that will throw you into some kind of crisis. For reference, I direct you to any of the other letters in this column. This crisis will most likely be your fault, generated because you were acting based on selfish impulses and shitty assumptions that you didn’t even recognize in yourself. If it’s a crisis involving two people it’ll most likely be caused by both of your shitty and selfish selves being shitty and selfish at each other!

Literally the only way to fix this kind of shit is to avoid it entirely. How can you do this? Start working out your shitty, selfish shit right now. RIGHT NOW. See a psychotherapist. I have found that choosing the right one is mostly a question of personal connection and philosophy. So ask your friends who see therapists they love to recommend theirs, or ask their therapists to recommend like-minded colleagues. If you think you could have reservations about discussing any subject with any type of person, avoid that type of person. For example, I can’t discuss sex with middle aged women. Maybe you can’t discuss your mother with old men. Who knows, just be aware of that.

Let me briefly address some of your crazy-ass ramblings: Psychotherapy is really all that exists anymore. Psychoanalysis is only practiced by horrifying old people who were probably actually contemporaries of Freud and have no idea about your modern 21st century lifestyle. // Good therapists are rarely in-network, and a bad therapist is worse than none at all. Maybe you’ll get lucky, though. // Therapy and personal training are both bourgeois, and they both contribute to a longer and happier life. // Gary Snyder? Aristotle? What is wrong with you? Are you high? // It’s possible to overanalyze everything in your life and still be utterly ignorant about how to live it, so your overabundance of gurus theory doesn’t seem relevant here.

Therapy, LR, is about preparing for the inevitable crisis, when things stop being chill. It gives you the tools you need to survive difficult situations with self-awareness, compassion, and healthy perspective. It gives you the self-awareness to avoid causing those issues yourself. Introspection is a powerful thing, and you’ll be an infinitely better friend, lover, son/daughter, employer/employee, etc. for having invested in it.

Hella Posi Vibes,
Rachel

 

Dear Hypocrite Advice,

I went to grad school in the humanities because of general malaise and the desire for others to see me as an "intellectual." Now I realize the joke's on me, since grad school doesn't solve my problems and in fact only magnifies them. There's also not really wanting to spend years writing something no one will read in pursuit of jobs that no longer exist. Should I drop out of grad school? If so, how will I acquire cultural and/or real capital?

Aimless in Academia (an Aquarius adrift)

Dear AAAA,

I have no firsthand experience with your situation because I am a born capitalist. But I can tell you with full confidence that you already have all of the cultural capital you’ll need in this world by having spent a few years in grad school. Seriously, 80% of the people I talk to on a daily basis don’t know that Latvia and Lithuania are two different countries, and they don’t care. I once tried to make a linguistics joke on a call with a coworker and she was so confused it derailed the entire conversation.

So not only is there a low bar for cultural knowledge, it’s kind of a disadvantage if you let it be known. Basically, once you’re in the for profit world any interest in culture at all will get you labelled as a hipster. Or you can work for an arts organization or Kickstarter.

If you want actual capital, which I’m guessing you lack, apply to a bunch of good paid internships and drop out of grad school as soon as you get one. Get the fuck out ASAP. Why be gettin’ essays when you could be gettin’ raises, you know? Most importantly, don’t be too proud to do bitch work. Bitch work is the only way to start out, because corporations don’t care about Keats or whatever and they won’t let you start out halfway up the ladder just because you read a lot. I say this with love and compassion, but you’ve got a hard path ahead of you.

Good $$$$$luck,
Rachel