Eleanor Athena Liu

Dear Hypocrite: An Advice Column


Dear Hypocrites,
correct me if i’m wrong about this (maybe it was somehow on tv??) but i kind of feel like no one ever told me i would hit my late twenties and think, wait a second, i do not want to date anyone who hasn't known me for years. what exactly should i want of an intimate, if not that?
1. is this a common feeling
2. what is to be done.
should i loosen up my old taboo against dating people who have already dated my friends? should i get over this stuffy bourgeois affiliation between sex and profound, intimate, rapport? and just hookup with people i find intriguing but don’t know as deeply as my friends?
am i wrong to think there is no synthetic substitute for the real-time knowledge of a person over years?
please advise,
hostile towards novelty

Dear HTN,

I too am vigilant to the bourgeois in me but I’m not so sure it’s capitalism that makes us want sex to be profound and intimate. I don’t buy that you think so either. The most anti-radical setting I’ve ever been in was home to a big-time hookup culture (and lots of frats)—but I’m straying from the point: to my mind, the radical possibilities in sex with strangers have to do with opening yourself up (profoundly, I’d say) to a person you don’t know, and with honoring that connection—however transient, imperfect, non-normative—as real. If you’re not feeling down for that kind of vulnerability with people you’ve just met, fucking a stranger is not going to make you more radical.

But your larger question is a serious one: what is profound intimacy, and must it come with time?

I’m intrigued by the phrase synthetic subsitute, which suggests to me that you’re kinda freaked out by Tinder et. al. and you’re feeling, well, a bit reactionary, hence your nervousness about being seen as old-guard. It’s okay. You’re absolutely right: someone who did not know you when you were five did not know you when you were five, and that’s that. But if what you’re looking for is intimacy, the years and years together are not the real which is to be simulated, but rather one of many ways you can grow to love and trust a person, one kind of closeness. Remember the phrase “kindred spirit”? Isn’t the point that some people feel like kin, like you’ve known them forever, even if you’ve just met? I, for one, also go through phases of being more or less open to people, more curious, more willing, generally, to take a risk. Sometimes I’m ready to find love, sometimes I’m not. So there’s luck (chemistry?) and there’s time.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting your sex to be deep. The question is how (given that it sounds like you’re close to exhausting your collection of old buds) to widen the circle of people who feel like kin without waiting years and years for new friends to become old. How can you coax the curmudgeon in you to trust and pursue new relationships in ways that are fulfilling?

Well, rather than jumping the gun to hookups, what are other kinds of connection you can nourish in yourself? How do you feel about your social life & community life generally? Sometimes building security and connection in one area can make you more open to risk in others—or maybe what I really want to suggest is that opening yourself up to new things in one way can build towards other profound kinds of newness. I suggest that you seek out the settings that, for you, tend to be fertile ground for friend-finding. (Some of mine: camping trips arranged by other people, radical reading groups, collaborative projects, shared houses. Some that work for other people but not me: jobs I hate, sports, most parties.)

If you feel like you don’t want to date people you don’t know well, don’t. You might force yourself to hook up with people you on some level are not feeling it with, in which case it’s probably not going to go that great. Alternately, if you ARE feeling it with someone, but a part of you just doesn’t trust it, like in the abstract, I’d ask: what would it look like to say yes to that connection but still honor the part of you that’s like, hell no?

Hell to the yes,

Dear Hypocrites,

All the time in my head I have arguments where I try to convince myself to do things. Wake up earlier, read Gawker less, floss more, quit smoking, stop thinking about this, work on that, on and on. My arguments are airtight, because I’m good at arguing—I know I’m right, I should change, I’ve thought of all the excuses and addressed them. But the arguments just don’t work! It's like there’s a disconnect between what I have reasons to do and what I actually do. It seems like a tiny gap but it’s unbridgeable, at least for me. So first of all, if I can’t argue myself into being different, then how do I change? And second of all, if I can’t even convince myself to change, why bother arguing with others? I mean, if I can’t even change my own mind, how can I change other people’s? Maybe they’re not any more reasonable than I am! I’m confused as you can see, and I feel like my mind’s closed.


Dear T,

Well yes your mind is closed! Because your arguments are airtight! I don’t think this language is a coincidence. Change involves uncertainty: a fantasy of knowable change (change you can map out and assign yourself) won’t move beyond the realm of fantasy. The mind that deals with logical argument is only one part of the self that acts, behaves, chooses. But the mind can help open us up to change. To answer your second question first: I think arguments can convince other people when, and only when, the other people are ready to hear them. Me, I can be convinced by arguments quickly if the ground has already been laid for them in my mind. If it hasn’t, but the argument is good, I may well reject that argument vehemently, but slowly—over hours, days, months—it alters my thinking. Yes: argument alone won’t do it. The rest of the self has to make room for the new material, see how it fits into the existing structure of lived understanding.

But back to your nicotine habit: A wise friend who shares my initials once said that change happens through the rising tide of desire. Where is your desire in all this arguing, Taurus? The tiny, unbridgeable gap you’re describing seems to be the gap between what your arguments suggest you believe and value, and what your behavior suggests you believe and value. What would it mean to honor the beliefs you appear to be acting out? To describe them, generously, and work from there? You believe in pleasure, you believe in the present, you believe in joining the disenfranchised ranks of the degenerate…

Most of the things you’re trying to convince yourself to do could be understood under the rubric of Health and Productivity, a tricky beast because on the one hand it’s hard to argue with caring for your body and accomplishing the things you want to accomplish—and on the other hand, the healthy, productive body as some kind of fundamental Good sounds like capitalist ideology to me (see above: vigilance). So it’s hard (for me, and I imagine for you) to know how much the self that doesn’t want to floss is trying to stick it to the man, and how much that self just doesn’t want to believe it’ll get old and need good teeth.

I believe in baby steps connected to radical possibility. If it really is possible for you—like REALLY POSSIBLE—to build a life around what you value and want for yourself (and not around how you kinda wish you were) what might you gently do for yourself along that road? If you want change, seek openings, not a lockstep regime. Build practices where there is room for them, not proofs in a vacuum. In my experience, that kind of semi-obsessive mental arguing is a way of refusing to put something down. What would you lose if you let go of that something? Where might you find yourself?

See you there,

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