Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wait, hold on a sec, Cupid

I had so many thoughts about a call to the latest Savage Love podcast that I did a hasty partial transcription for you, just so you can read it.

Caller said:
Hi, Dan. I'm a twenty-something lesbian and I have an odd situation... I recently made this friend, we were Internet friends, we became real-life friends, it's not something I normally do. We hung out maybe ten times, maybe half of those just one-on-one, and I found out that she thinks we're dating. There's no reason for her to think we're dating... We haven't kissed. I think we hugged once, and it was an A-frame, pelvises away, platonic hug, and I think once I put my hand on her knee. That's literally all the physical contact we've had, and I didn't think we were dating! We never called what we were doing dates, and we weren't really flirting. I've hung out with her with other friends, and they think it's absolutely insane that she thinks we were dating. [Caller continues describing how the girl presents as straight, how she found out about her misconceptions about the dating originated when the girl's friends referred to her on the phone as "her other half," and other specifics, until call fades out]
Dan's response, also poorly transcribed and edited for brevity:
Maybe she would have told her herself that she thought you believed that you two dating if she had been able to get a word in edgewise... The problem's very simple. All you have to do is tell her that you are not dating and you don't know how she got that impression and you don't mean to hurt her, and if you did anything to mislead her or make her think you were dating you apologize, but, "just to, like, clear the air and settle the matter, you and I are not an item." The end! Very simple. ...There's no way to avoid hurting the delusional fantacist. She needs to get hurt, in this instance, to get over it, meaning misappropriating friends and relabeling them as girlfriends and presenting them that way to other people.
Lulu: So here's my thing about this one. How did these people meet online? It matters! Was it though a message board, online game, or fandom, for example, where it's about some common interest, or was it through a "meet people" website like OKC or CL? If they met on OKC and the girl assumed they were dating when they kept hanging out, that doesn't seem that unreasonable.

Ashley: I don't think it makes her a crazy person to assume that, certainly.

Lulu: Even if the caller's profile said she was only looking for friends and activity partners or whatever. Nobody reads anyone's entire profile. Maybe she got to "6 things I could never live without: Cuban food, my family, ninjas, ninja stars, classic NES games" and just had to message her.

Ashley: You have experience in this area?

Lulu: Not at all. You know, even if it was an interest-based friendship like they were PM'ing each other on the official Friends of the Daily Jumble Chat Room, it's not necessarily insanity. I mean, the girl knew the caller was gay, and she seemed to be affectionate; maybe Quickdraw Dategirl assumed she would be the one putting on the brakes, if anyone one. Maybe it didn't occur to her that the caller wasn't interested.

Ashley: You have experience in this area.

Lulu: For sure. Look, it's weird meeting people from the internet. There's no official protocol. Many people have exclusively dating-based experiences. Even those who don't might start to feel like it's a date just because of the nervousness and pressure of this weird one-on-one meeting that you usually don't encounter in a casual friend type scenario. The expectations for how datey a particular meet-up is going to be vary wildly.

Ashley: And lesbians are weird.

Lulu: Right, I mean both the internet meetup thing and the lesbians thing create levels of ambiguity because the unspoken social rules are not as well established as for straight meet-through-friends-or-at-the-grocery-store type dating. So like yeah as a hopeful internet dater, you should not assume you are in a relationship with people without a clear green light from the other person... but I get how the signals could get crossed.

Ultimately, our advice is pretty similar to Dan's--make the situation clear, if you haven't already--gently, even apologetically, but firmly and unambiguously.

And yes, if you meet someone you'd like to date from the internet, the onus is on you to be clear about your intentions (and not to assume the other person is on the same page). However, if someone you meet from the internet appears to be flirting, or if you're not sure, it couldn't hurt to bring up the topic. It doesn't have to be a The Talk, especially if you're not sure what they're thinking. Here are some terrible examples!

"I've met some really great people through my profile. I'm glad I put 'friends only'; it really takes the pressure off meeting up to know it's not going anywhere romantic." [NB: only if you met through a "friends only" profile.]

"I was skeptical about meeting people from online, but we've become such good friends... I still can't imagine dating someone I didn't meet in person first, though." [NB: only if you do not have an active dating site profile.]

"So I've been seeing this awesome girl..." [NB: This may be too mean.]

"I really love being single." [NB: This may also be too mean, and may backfire if the listener perceives it as a coded way of saying "I really love casual sex."]

Or a variation of this one, which worked on Lulu: "It's so important to meet people in person. You can email and email and never know if it's a friends vibe or a dating vibe. Then, you see the person, and you pretty much both know instantly if you're going to end up making out that night."

Or even: "You're such a good friend." [NB: Definitely too mean!]

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What it takes to get along

Yesterday's Cary Tennis dealt with money in relationships.
I have been dating a wonderful man for six years... I could see myself marrying this man.

Here is the rub: He is cheap. Not thrifty, CHEAP. Since we started dating, we have split everything (meals, gas, etc.) but we both make about the same salary and I was raised to pay for myself so this never bothered me. What bothers me is when he picks up a stamp for me while he is at the post office and then asks me for the 44 cents. What bothers me is that when he comes to my place for dinner (about five nights a week), he doesn't bring anything. If we go to a party thrown by his friends, he expects me to help pay for the wine we bring, but if we go to a party thrown by my friends, I'm on my own to pay for it. If I run out of money and need to borrow a dollar, he is damn sure to get that dollar back from me. He won't go certain places if he has to drive (even a few blocks) because he doesn't want to pay for gas. It's crazy. This is unlikely an actual money issue as he came from a well-to-do family, has enough money to live comfortably and frequently buys himself very nice things. ...

He will go out of his way for me: He is very generous to me with his affection and time. But, when it comes to cash, he is just absurdly cheap, and his strange deal with money makes me think that there is some deeply selfish side to him that is being reflected in this cheapness. ...

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill or is his cheapness indicative of some bigger problem? If so, how do I possibly bring this up to him without sounding like a gold digger?
This is one of Cary's longwinded days, so I'm providing only excerpts of his response.
You could give him an invoice.

He might dispute some charges. For instance, on the

bottle of wine for the party: 1/2

he might dispute his share because he didn't drink any of it. You would have to say: Note the

category: gifts.

On the postage stamp thing, if you give him a postage stamp, bill him

$USD 0.44 first class postage, 1

Give him a monthly invoice of all the charges for which he is in arrears. See if he will write you a check for those things.

If you're going to marry each other you're going to be using money together all the time. You're going to be eating together and buying groceries and cars.

You are going to have to get to know what money means to each of you...

Here is something you can do together about money that may be fun:

Put a jar on the kitchen counter.

When he comes over for dinner, ask him to put any spare change he has into the jar. Say it is a jar you are saving money into so that you and he can go do something cool. Then when the jar is full you and he can take the money out and go into the world together and do something cool with the change you saved in a jar on the kitchen counter. ...

It's just money.

Make it about the money. Don't make it about the relationship or his attitudes or his cheapness. ...

He pays his bills, right? He gets invoices and pays them? He probably scrutinizes them but he pays them because he recognizes them as legitimate. Maybe he does not recognize the bringing of wine to a party as legitimate. So you could explain to him that wine is the money of friendship. It is money in the economy of the friend. In the economy of the friend, we pretend that money is not the issue, because we like to have this primitive fantasy that friendship exists when we are cavemen, before money was invented, because we are still tribal in our friendships and no other countries exist; there is no France or England, there is only our cave or our tent into which we invite you if you bring a Snickers bar or a bottle of burgundy. ... [a lot of stuff about friends vs. credit companies, social class, and capitalism] ...

We say, "It isn't about the money." But it is about the money. To say it isn't about the money is to demean money. Like money isn't important. But money is very important. Money is just slippery and hard to deal with, but it is the issue. We say, it's not about the money, it's about fairness. It's about not being cheap. Or it's about attitudes. But attitudes toward what? It's his attitude toward money.

He loves you. It's not his attitude toward you. He doesn't think this is about you. He thinks this is about money. And it is. It's about your attitude toward money and his attitude toward money. ...

So the one approach is to invoice him. And the other approach is to get into what money means.

Ashley: Cary Tennis says "money" a lot.

Lulu: Suggested theme song for today's Cary Tennis: "Mony Mony" by Billy Idol. Or "Money" by Pink Floyd, but that might be a little too on the money.

Ashley: Stop saying money, it's creeping me out.

Lulu: So but I mean I think the invoice idea is good, actually. Even if it's not that formal, just holding him to the same exacting standards that he holds her to. Personally I prefer a relationship where you just lend each other money whenever, and don't keep track, but clearly he prefers the "keep perfect records" strategy, and if he can dish it out, he's got to be able to take it.

Ashley: I was going to recommend the opposite approach: a joint account. Since they make about the same salary, they can figure out how much their time is worth, right? If they figure out how much time they're wasting on this shit, they can figure out how much money they'd save by not doing it. Just be like, "how much money are you comfortable giving up for mutual convenience"? They could start small, at like $5 each.

Lulu: I agree. When you factor in the time it costs you to save this or that tiny amount, it often makes more sense just to pay more for convenience. But people who are super weird about money tend not to buy the time argument.

Ashley: Feh.

Lulu: But a joint account for shared purchases might be a good idea anyway, since from her description, it seems like he'd be more likely to pay himself back for money borrowed from the joint than he would be to pay her back for money he borrowed. It could cause more arguments, though. "Why did you buy that bottle of wine out of the joint account? They're your friends."

Ashley: I'm saying to use it as giving up the money. So even if they DO spend it on themselves, that is an amount of money you've decided not to care about.

Lulu: I think that's what Cary Tennis is getting at with the change jar, too--just get him to let go of some money, as an exercise. But it just makes me tired thinking about dating this guy--even if this is only his weird money hangup and not a general trend of selfishness. Look, I wouldn't keep track of who paid for what dinner and how much they relatively cost, but if I was dating someone who squared up each account nicely, sometimes asking for more money and sometimes giving me more money, that would be fine. It's the fact that he doesn't pay her back that bugs me. He's only keeping track when it benefits him! He's forcing her to keep records too just so she doesn't get cheated. Sure, he's the one who cares about being cheated, but it's not so much about the money, for me, as the unfairness. You shouldn't have to be on guard against your partner cheating you, no matter how irrelevant the consequences.

Ashley: It makes me sleepy, too. I'd just pay for everything, and then break up with him very shortly thereafter. But she's been with him for 6 years!

Lulu: I can see hanging in to see if you eventually make your way into his circle of "people I'm looking out for, money-wise" but after 6 years, it seems unlikely he's capable of including anyone but himself on that list. I mean, intellectually, I think it doesn't necessarily reflect on his other attitudes,
because, people are weird about money sometimes. But it would be hard for me to have him on his guard against being cheated by me for 6 years without feelling like he doesn't trust me.

Ashley: I just can't imagine dating someone with that much focus on minutia. It doesn't really matter what it's about. If he were keeping track of something else that meaningless, I'd also be annoyed. Like, I dunno, maybe who's turn it is to do a particular chore?

Lulu: I would always either be like "who cares!" or I'd be looking for a system to keep track for us, so we don't have to waste time thinking about it. Which i guess is the beauty of the joint account--just both put in some agreed-upon amount and use it for joint purchases and forget about who paid for what when--but you also need a dose of "who cares" to make that work, in case of any disputes.

Ashley: Yeah. I would have dumped that guy on the first sign.

Lulu: I guess we are bad people to be advising on this.

That should probably be the conclusion of all our columns. Um... Send us your major life queries, folks!!!!!!!!! MY IMPORTANT DRAMA AT GMAIL DOT COM YO

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Guys vs. grenades

The fifteen year old from a few days ago isn't alone: this girl in today's Ask Amy is 17, and also not allowed to date.
DEAR AMY: I am 17, and I don't know how to talk to my parents about letting me date. I've never had a boyfriend because my parents always said no.

I understand that having a relationship at 15 is too young, but my father has told my brothers and me that he was 17 when he started dating, so I think I should be able to date too.

I am the oldest child and the only daughter. My parents might be afraid of my getting pregnant as my mother did at a young age.

I am planning to go into the military service fairly soon.

How can I talk to my parents about this?
Amy offers some practical reasoning and compromise for her to try:
Ironically, if you are permitted to date while still living at home, this will give your parents an opportunity to see you navigate in the dating world, to check out your choices and to influence you in a positive way.

As it is, I worry that you'll go into the military with no interpersonal relationship experience. That could spell trouble for you.

Dating is important because it teaches you how to discern. It helps you figure out what makes other people tick. And dating is fun.

Start by asking your folks what might be acceptable. If they won't let you go out on a date, would they let you invite someone over to the house?

Lulu: "Yup, your parents are wrong!" That still doesn't really give her anything to actually do.

Ashley: She asked how to talk to her parents, and I guess Amy answers that. She tells her to ask specifically what she is and isn't allowed to do.

Lulu: I guess? I guess it's good to clarify the rules. I mean, really, she just needs to do what people since time immemorial have done and date anyway.

Ashley: Well, yes. Given the current world situation, it's probably safer to date than to go into the military, so why do they allow the more dangerous one?

Lulu:Yeah, her parents are cool with that? Maybe they aren't, but she'll be an adult by then.

Ashley: She can date in the military?

Lulu: I guess then she shouldn't date anyway now if she wants to train for following the arbitrary rules of superior officers. But then also no backtalk. Hers is not to reason why.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The official acceptable text response window

Today's Dear Abby concludes with a simple quick question:
What is an acceptable time frame to receive a response to a question you send via phone texting?
And gets a simple quick response:
Although we live in a world where most of us seek instant gratification, the answer depends upon how busy the person you are texting is.
While I admire brevity (clearly I am incapable of it), I also like responses which give arbitrary solid answers. I posed the reader's question to Darnell.

Darnell: Infinite?

Lulu: Well, yeah, that's true! "Acceptable" is the weird word there, since it seems like this is a question from the original text-message-conversation initiator. I don't think they get to say what's acceptable for the other person.

Darnell: Like, at what point you should start screaming at your friend because they haven't responded to your text?

Lulu: But I still feel like there is a distinct time frame to be figured out here. Let's imagine this is somebody who had received a text, and wanted to know if it was too late to respond to it.

Darnell: Texts are weird - I have an example of this from last night.

Lulu: You have a text from last night?

Darnell: Hah, I guess I do! My friend sent me a text, but I didn't have my phone on me at the time. When I finally saw it, it was when I was going to bed, so I didn't feel like responding. Then by this morning it was too late, so I will never respond to that text.

Lulu: Exactly. At a certain point, it becomes much more unlikely that you'll respond, because you feel like you missed the window.

Darnell: If somebody doesn't respond to your question within four hours you are allowed to call them, how about that?

Lulu: Yeah. That's what the person wants, I think; just to know when it's okay to bug them again. Or when to give up.

Darnell: If you cultivate a habit of fake-angry-demands you can do it almost immediately. "Hey, Lulu!" beat, beat, beat, "FINE!"

Lulu: Yeah, I mean, only you can determine what you deem acceptable or unacceptable. And the four-hour rule we just made up is not a bludgeon to beat people with. It's not "unacceptable" to fail to respond within four hours--as Abby points out, the person may have a busier life than you, or even if they don't, you can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are busy with something for any given four-hour period. Or just don't feel like responding yet. That's not a capital crime. But most people who text do check their phones daily, so if you want a window for your own peace of mind, I think you can assume that if you don't get a response within 12 hours or so, the conversation is over.

Darnell: And if you ask a question three times via text and they never respond you are either doing something wrong or need new friends.

Never mind, teen sex is fine

So, today (shut up, shut up, it's still Thursday, shut up), as if in response to our criticisms, Dr. Wallace of Tween 12 and 20 is totally neutral about a teenage girl's plan to lose her virginity.
I'm 19 and my boyfriend is 22. We have been together for four years and are deeply in love. ... Our campuses are about two hours apart, so this makes it easy for us to spend time together. Believe it or not, I am a virgin, but that won't last long because we plan to get married after I graduate. I plan on becoming an elementary school teacher and he will coach and teach at the high school level.

Since it will be about two and a half years before I graduate, we want to start a sexual relationship. We will get married to each other, so we feel that a sexual relationship will only make us love each other more (no lectures, please).

My only worry is the possibility of becoming pregnant. We want children (three) after we marry, but having a baby nine months from now would put a serious crimp into our future plans. If I get on the pill and Phil uses protection, what are the chances that I would conceive? Of course, getting a sexually transmitted disease is out of the question.
Dr. Wallace says simply (this is seriously all):
If you're on the pill and he uses protection, you have a 99 percent chance of avoiding pregnancy. The odds for conception are very slim, but it is still possible.

Lulu: I love that in the face of her panicking about lectures, he's just remarkably blasé about the whole thing. So is 18 just the cutoff? Under 18, it's a travesty, over 18, of course you're having sex? She didn't get the memo either, I guess:

Ashley: Well, she thinks she'll get a lecture for considering sex before marriage.

Lulu: Oh. Right. Marriage. She mentions it, too, but it didn't even occur to me that that was a thing.

Ashley: East coast hippie liberal scum. It's weird that she's even writing in, especially considering the lecture she expects; she can't, you know, google that shit? Or ask her doctor?

Lulu: She sounds kind of repressed about sex, since she thinks she'll get a lecture for considering it at age 19, so she's not going to ask her doctor, but this information is all over the Internet. Planned Parenthood has a chart comparing all the birth control methods. She can also learn how to combine the probabilities of independent events, such as two different birth control methods failing. The actual probability of both failing is something like .04%, but only if both are used correctly, i.e. no forgetting two pills in a row then taking three in the same day. To pull a random example of misuse out of the air.

Ashley: Thanks for the PSA.

Lulu: I like, also, how he doesn't address the girl's weird control freaky vision of the future - I mean, I doubt she can be talked into chilling. Still, it seems weird not to even mention it. You want exactly three kids, huh? Good luck making life adhere to your plans. Also, good luck getting sex to "make you love each other more." No pressure or anything.

Ashley: It's important to have sex before marriage in case it sucks.

Lulu: And to expect it to suck the first time. I mean, results vary, I guess, but it seems like she's going to be really disillusions when it's awkward and odd. I wish I could tell her "It's really not that big a deal!" because I feel like her placing so much importance on it is going to bite her in the ass. Right now, to her, it's this monolithic, magical, pinnacle-of-human-existence, totally terrifying experience.

Ashley: That will automatically result in a baby.

Lulu: When she should know the karmic rule of "I want exactly three kids" is that you turn out to be infertile.

Ashley: Okay, here's my PSA: DO NOT use Lulu's karmic rules in lieu of medically-approved birth control methods.

Lulu: I'm Lulu, and I support that message.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We make matters much worse

Given our focus on younger readers, I was pleased to find a syndicated column with the same focus, Tween Twelve and Twenty by Dr. Robert Wallace, not least because he's kind of an old guy and is probably square and out of touch and other totally hip and with-it phrases of today's youth, of which I am clearly one.

I've actually been reading it a few days and was surprised to discover that I had... no problem... with most of his advice! For the most part, he seems straightforward and sympathetic, and treats younger readers as human people with autonomy and the ability to make choices based on logic, which many columnists fail to do.

However, today's column revealed a key override: teen sex.
I'm 15 and have a real big problem. I'm both mentally and physically mature for my age. And because of this, I feel comfortable with a guy who is 21. Believe it or not, even though Bobby is six years older, he is very immature and insecure. He is afraid that I will drop him. He is a "mamma's boy" and I guess that I "mother him." Bobby feels comfortable when he is with me, and I know that he loves me because we have discussed marriage. Besides, he gets jealous if I talk to another boy.

I'm not allowed to date. My parents think I'm spending time with my best friend when I'm with Bobby. If they ever found out, I would be grounded forever. Bobby and I are sexually involved, and he could be charged with statutory rape. Bobby is aware of the risk, but he thinks I'm worth it. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that I do like Bobby, but I'm not sure if it's love.

My parents are very strict, but they're very loving. I love them very much, so I don't want to lose their trust. Do you see any harm in our relationship? Please say no. Bobby and I have been seeing each other for three months.
Dr. Wallace's response:
Stop a moment, and let's review the important points.

First, Bobby is six years older than you and also immature. Next, he's a jealous "mamma's boy." Point No. 3: You're not permitted to date, and you are breaking your parents' trust by sneaking out without their knowledge.

To make matters much worse, you're sexually active. Bobby could be charged with statutory rape and you could become pregnant.

Finally, you're not even sure if you love this guy.

Break up with Bobby for all of the above-mentioned reasons. He will find another girl to mother him and you will meet many boys within your "age range," who will enjoy your company whenever Mom and Dad allow you to date.

Do it now! Waiting too long could be disastrous in many ways.
Ashley: I love the "to make matters much worse." Oh, please. There is only one thing you say to a sexually-active teen, and that is "use condoms."

Lulu: Yes. She's going to ignore that advice so hard, and I'll tell you why.

Ashley: You have to wait till you're allowed to date? I'd be in an effing cloister.

Lulu: That's exactly why! I feel like there are legitimate points in there, but when you appeal to unconvincing arguments, you make all your arguments seem bad.

Ashley: I agree in general that dating Bobby is stupid. She does not seem especially mature.

Lulu: She's all over the map. He sucks, but please don't tell me to break up with him. The fact that he's insecure--that she recognizes that--and that she doesn't love him are good reasons to break up, but I also kind of feel like she has to discover that on her own. She asks if there is any harm in the relationship. My feeling is that she wants to separate out the grown-up party-line bullshit and see if there are any legitimate objections. But Wallace embraces all the objections, even ones she's clearly already selected as acceptable risks--like losing her parents' trust. It's like he's begging to be tuned out.

Ashley: I don't really see harm. I see harm for him, but whatever, he's the adult, he can make that choice. I don't think 15 is too young to start dating, whether or not one's parents approve. She's bored, she wants some drama, that's fine. Don't marry the guy, but it's fine for now--she's racking up some relationship experience, and there's something to be said for that.

Lulu: Yeah. It's sort of necessary to have some shitty relationships so you'll recognize a good one when you have it. Trying out shitty relationships is the kind of mistake you can't talk people out of making. It doesn't seem like a situation where she's being preyed upon; I believe her when she says they're on the same plane of maturity. She's going to grow out of him, but that will happen naturally.

Ashley: She should come up with contingency plans, because her parents are going to find out, and the guy is going to throw a fit when she dumps him. That's pretty much inevitable. But beyond figuring out how she's going to deal with that...

Lulu: Use condoms and don't get married.

Ashley: Yep.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's not *always* misogyny...

Last Monday, Cary Tennis had an insane letter of the entertaining-if-read-through-crack-in-fingers variety:
Hey Cary,

How does one ... how do I ... rebuild lost karma?

Something happened between me and this woman B, last week, and ever since I feel so, so sad for her and for me and for everyone. ...

Recently, I had been not sleeping with anyone. ... Then two weeks ago, I tried online dating, immediately met S, and planned our first date. In the interim, I met B at a party, and we really hit it off and ended up sleeping with each other back at my place. The next night, I went with S on a first (wonderful) date and we also slept with each other. (Circumstantially, S is a better fit for someone that I could end up with than B was.) And instead of feeling like a slut, I felt cocky, like somehow the world owed me success with women.

In an under-analyzed attempt to prove to B something (I'm still not sure what), I asked her to go on a second date and we again went back to my place. Just before sleeping with me, though, she said that she wanted to be clear that she was not interested in a long-term boyfriend. Although I didn't want to be in a relationship with her either, counterintuitively I was still stung.

After sex, we talked about our exes. Intimately but painfully, B asked me to recount every detail of my girlfriend (unilaterally) breaking up with me. As I told B the sad story, I felt very close to her, but also felt very vulnerable and sad. And at that exact moment, B pointed to a rash on my knee and asked me what it was from. And instead of being a real person and lying and saying that I fell off my bicycle, I (under the pretense of honesty) snapped:

"You really want to know?"


"You sure?"

"Or course."

"It's from sex with another girl."

"You're kidding?"


"You're serious?"


"You mean you're not kidding?"

"No." (with analytic lack of emotion)


"Two days ago."


I point to the rug across the room. She inhales a cigarette as we twist the conversation back to small talk. And after 20 sterile minutes, B leaves.

And despite this karma catastrophe, things are ironically working out really well with S, and we are moving quickly into a great relationship. Yet I feel so scarred by the episode of misogyny that I want to flagellate myself.

You know in "Gandhi" when the Hindu man confesses to Gandhi that he had killed a Muslim boy and that he was feeling incredible guilt and what should he do? And Gandhi replies that all he has to do is find an orphaned boy and to raise him like his own son. And the Hindu agrees. But then Gandhi (in Ben Kingsley's eternal voice) adds, "Only be sure ... that he is a Muslim. And that you raise him as one."

I know my story is nothing, but who can my adopted child be, Cary? I'm not an emotional person, usually. But I just feel so, so sad.
Cary Tennis is often very rambly and musey in a way that seems at best tangentially related to the problem at hand, but this is one of his good days, as he fairly succinctly calls the guy on his bullshit:
Let's clear up something. In the third paragraph from the end, there are four words that don't belong: "Catastrophe," "scarred," "misogyny" and "flagellate." It wasn't a catastrophe, it wasn't misogyny, you're not scarred and there's no call for flagellation.

It was just a mistake in judgment.

Maybe there were reasons. You want possible reasons? It's easy to imagine how you might have felt hurt and small as you recounted your sad breakup; it may have made you feel powerful to reveal how you had had another woman there just the other night. You're only human.

Humans make mistakes. Let it go.

I don't know about this business of finding a Muslim boy and raising him Muslim. But if you hurt this woman's feelings, maybe you can do something nice for her. There's hardly any downside to doing something nice for someone, as long as you don't blow it by acting all guilty and apologetic and complicated.

Just get her a little gift. Just get her a little gift because you feel you owe her something but don't tell her it's because you feel you owe her something or that will spoil it and you don't want to spoil it as you've already spoiled enough for one week.

Lulu: I like Cary this week! This guy is clearly trying to be earnest in a way he thinks will be appealing to Cary Tennis, and Cary is like, "...yeah, no." I don't really see why he's racked with guilt either. I can see how it's impolite to tell someone you're dating about the other people you're dating, but it's not like the worst thing evarrrr.

Ashley: No, and she said she didn't want a long term boyfriend. He said he was hurt by that even though he didn't want her as his girlfriend either. I think everything else in the letter is rubbish.I think he just said it to prove that he didn't want her either, and i don't necessarily think he should have lied, but he infused it with so much Meaning. If he were just matter of fact about it, it seems like it would have been fine.

Lulu: No, obviously he's a terrible person for infusing everything with Meaning, and he was trying to hurt her. Maybe that's why (or at least part of why) she was hurt. He comes across as this weird, vulnerable, snapping thing that lashes out in the face of extreme feelings, which he has often.

Ashley: And then feels guilty for the wrong things. Misogyny???

Lulu: Right, if anything, it seems more misogynist to lie, assuming the person can't handle knowing the relationship is not exclusive even when they said they didn't want one

Ashley: It also just seems like he's fishing for problems. It didn't work out with the girl he didn't want it to work out with, and it did work out with the girl he DID want it to work out with. Who even gives it a second thought??

Lulu: He feels guilty that it worked out so well, because he feels like he acted badly. And should be punished.

Ashley: Boo-hoo?

Lulu: He wants to make amends! The thing is, you don't always get to make amends for acting badly. Sometimes, you live with the knowledge that you are capable of acting badly, and you let that inform your future decisions of how to act.

Ashley: At some point though, the offense is so minor that feeling badly about it and focusing on it is just narcissism.

Lulu: Yes, I agree. It's All About Him. It's way more about his feelings about what he said than it is about hers. His concern over her seems really fake. It's about his ego, his vision of himself as a nice person.

Ashley: Gah, my coffee addiction is giving me a headache and also makes me hate this dude.

Lulu: Well, I kind of hate him too, but--

Ashley: Forget your feelings, focus on me! I have a coffee headache!

Lulu: I don't care that you have a coffee headache, and that makes me feel really bad about myself.

Ashley: You should make amends. But how?

Lulu: I will raise a baby and teach it to gently soothe people with cold compresses and caffeine injections.

Friday, September 17, 2010

My important cruelty

In today's Dear Prudence, a former bully considers apologizing:
I'm a 27-year-old female with a wonderful life. However, as an elementary school student, I was overweight, nerdy, and bookish, and I was teased mercilessly by classmates. I was a sensitive child, and these taunts hurt me deeply. In turn, I did something that I'm still ashamed of—I bullied another classmate. She was an Indian girl and, most embarrassingly, I teased her about her cultural background. (As an adult, I would never tolerate such racist comments.) I have found her Facebook page and would like to send her a brief message apologizing for my behavior as a child. Is this appropriate to do? I don't want to stir up trouble or further hurt this woman in any way, but I need to let her know that I am truly sorry. If one of my former bullies sent me such a message, I would understand why he or she felt the need to apologize.
Prudence's advice starts out straightforward enough...
You can't be wrong for apologizing for doing something shameful. Where you can go wrong is in expecting a forgiving or otherwise gratifying response from the person you hurt.
But quickly takes a turn into the weird...
I'm old-fashioned enough that I don't feel a "brief message" (a private one, please!) on Facebook covers this. I think you should reintroduce yourself through Facebook, then explain that you have been long troubled by your atrocious behavior toward her in grade school and that you would like the opportunity to give a fuller apology—either over the phone or in a letter—if she would consider it. She may just blow you off. If she does, accept that you tried and respect her feelings. If she agrees to talk to you or gives you her address, be careful not to excuse what you did, but explain that you now understand that in the ways of childhood, you struck out at her as an irrational response to your own anguish. Tell her you know you can't undo the pain she suffered then, but you hope she will consider your apology now.
Lulu: Snail mail apology letter? Call her on the phone? What? That's creepy!

Ashley: I know! It's so stalky! Just apologize in a Facebook message. Make it short and sweet, and if they want to respond, they'll do it.

Lulu: Exactly. The reason the LW is hesitant about this in the first place is that she's worried that just thinking about her will bring back bad memories. I guess Prudence wants to err on the side of polite grandeur, but this is not the time!

Ashley: "Can you give me your home address so I can send you A Very Important Letter?" Terrifying.

So here are our Handy Pocket Tips for a Possibly Unwelcome Apology:

* Do make the message as convenient as possible for the reader. Keep it short and sweet, and don't ask for or expect a response.

* Don't make excuses, or try to prove your currently-a-good-person cred. (For the record, I think the way this LW put it is fine--thanks to her matter-of-fact tone, the background information came across as an explanation, not an excuse.)

* Don't assume that you loom large in the apologizee's memories or that they even necessarily remember you. That doesn't mean you're off the hook for apologizing, but keep in mind as you write that your misdeeds are probably more important to you than to them.

* Do communicate with them in a way that minimizes your intrusion into their private spaces and which makes it clear you have done no special research to find them. Facebook is perfect.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Do not take on Ashley and Lulu in debate club

In today's Dear Abby, a high school freshman tries to decide on extracurriculars. This is totally our bailiwick.

DEAR ABBY: I'm a high-school freshman with a dilemma. I'm a good student and get A's in all my classes. I'm also an athlete. I play year-round softball and have started playing soccer for the high-school team.

My problem is, I took a debate class over the summer and really liked it. I want to join the debate team, but I am unsure if it would be piling too much on my plate for my first year.

I'll be carrying one honors class in addition to two above-grade-level classes. Debate practices are held after sports practices two days a week for one to two hours, so they wouldn't directly conflict with anything except homework time.

Do you think I'm overestimating how much I can handle in extracurricular activities this year?

- Too Ambitious? in Oregon

DEAR TOO AMBITIOUS: The fact that this is causing you concern could be an indicator that it is too much.

That's why, before making up your mind, you should discuss this with your parents as well as your guidance counselor at school.

Lulu: Nope!

Ashley: Not even a little bit.

Lulu: Negatory.

Ashley: Wait, are we talking about Abby's advice, or answering the LW's question?

Lulu: Both. First of all, "ask your parents" is such a blow-off answer that I can't believe she's even running the column, if she's that stumped. Second, no. It's not too much.

Ashley: That's what I meant. Oh noes, one honors class. Poor baby.

Lulu: Yeah. This kid seems like a geek, and for a geek, he is severely overestimating the difficulty of high school. The fact that he's worried isn't a sign that he's right; it's a sign that he's a worrier, which is more indication that he's a geek! Look: a sufficiently motivated geek can pretty much do every club. Maybe not if they are held at the same time, but maybe even then. Since the practices for sports and debate don't conflict, it means they're designed so you can do both, in which case you can definitely do both. You don't start questioning whether it's too much until you have to break nine different rules in order to get your schedule lined up.

Ashley: Even then.

Lulu: And homework is nothing to worry about. Also, homework is boring! Why would you miss out on doing something you enjoy so you can devote more time to something you don't enjoy?

Ashley: Debate club should teach you the skills to get out of homework.

Lulu: Seriously.

Ashley: But before joining debate club, I'd switch to all honors classes.

Lulu: Agreed. The hardest classes are not that much harder than the easy classes and they are more fun because there is more time on the material and less time on basic discipline.

Ashley: Or at least less busywork which takes more time. Nothing like handing in your notebook every week. I had to do that for psych class in high school: hand in my notes for the class. To make sure I was taking them.

Lulu: The thing is, it is easy to quit things if you get overwhelmed. Why make the decision now? Try it out. Even if you fully believe you will drop something, if you sign up for everything to start, the decision about what to drop will be informed by what is actually the most fun.

Ashley: Just do everything. People should have the Starbucks strategy, especially in high school: If you can handle the current load, keep adding stuff.

Lulu: Until the market is saturated?

Ashley: Precisely. You never know how many Starbucks is too many until you reach unprofitability.

Lulu: The other disheartening part of the advice given is that I can almost guarantee a guidance counselor would also tell the student to not to overextend himself, and I really believe that's bad advice! Isn't it better to scale down because of a real reason--"I felt overwhelmed"--than a feared reason--"I was afraid I was going to feel overwhelmed"? Feeling overwhelmed isn't like death: it's temporary and reversible! You don't have to anticipate it. Be limited by real constraints, not imagined ones! Fly, little bird!

Ashley: Why do you always say that? You know we give advice to humans, right, and not to birds?

Lulu: Oh. That makes the debate club I was imagining much less adorable.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Roommate sex and gay teen bro code

Darnell: Back to being a commenter. Terrible.

Lulu: There is a drunk roommate drama in Dear Abby today, too.

Darnell: My wheelhouse! She is being un... used... for storing wheels?

Lulu: Our usual advice won't work, though. They already banged.
DEAR ABBY: I have gotten myself into a "pickle" and I don't know how to get out of it.

I rent a house with two roommates (both males) and have always followed a strict rule of not dating roommates or co-workers. One night, I came home after having a few drinks with friends. One of my roommates was up and we started talking. Then he started kissing me. I wasn't thinking clearly, and didn't object when he trotted me off to my room.

I do like him, but only as a friend. There are no sparks for me as there are for him. I don't want this to happen again, but I don't want to hurt him, either. In an ideal world, I'd like to remain friends and roommates, not lovers. Do you have any suggestions?

- Can't Believe I Broke My Rule

in Florida

DEAR CAN'T BELIEVE: Yes, I do. You need to quit drinking or institute another "rule" that you'll stop at two.

Inform your amorous roommate that in the cold sober light of day you regret what happened and don't want to repeat it. It won't "hurt" him; it will let him know where things stand, and it's important that he get that message. If you do remain roommates, maintain some distance - and don't come home "pickled" again because you know what could happen if you do.
Darnell: Dear Abby is telling girls who get drunk and sleep with guys that they might not when sober to stop drinking. I no longer like Dear Abby.

Lulu: Does the girl's description of what happened seem insanely passive to you, even for a "I was so wasted" story?

Darnell: Also "having a few drinks" is a specific phrase that does not mean getting wasted.

Lulu: Come on, the drinking already gives you plausible deniability. You can just say, "I was drunk and I banged him."

Darnell: It does make it sound weirdly rapey.

Lulu: Hm. Yeah, it's unclear what happened--if she is so embarrassed she's attributing everything to him, or if he was like, "Finally, her defenses are weakened! I shall press my advantage!" She still likes him "as a friend," so it kind of seems like the former? But who knows?

Darnell: Maybe her rule is stupid and she actually does like that guy, which is why she banged him. Alcohol isn't actually magical bangin juice. Especially if you already know the person. A stranger you might get a beer-goggled opinion of pretty easily, but your roommate and friend, eh.

Lulu: So you think she likes him, but is really embarrassed to like him for some reason?

Darnell: I want to know if he has begun courting her. Or if she is like, "Oh no no no he thinks we are dating now oh no!" and he is sitting in his room going, "I sure did like having sex, I wonder what's on TV?"

Lulu: She says there are sparks for him, so maybe he has begun brining her flowers and whatnot, and she is like, auuuuuuugh.

Darnell: She says there are sparks for him without providing any corroboration other than that he gave her the ole sausage... Oh, wait, maybe we are overthinking. What if the sex was bad? That would explain everything, right?

Lulu: Oh! I can't believe we didn't think of that sooner. That's what "no sparks" means!

Darnell: We are slow on the uptake today.

Lulu: So Abby's advice is actually fine except that I don't think her getting drunk again would tempt her to repeat the experiment.

Darnell: I don't have a problem with the other half of her advice. The "you made a mistake whilst drunk therefore stop drinking forever" part is dumb.

Lulu: The next letter, the high school drama, is super cute.
DEAR ABBY: I am a girl in high school and have a friend, "Joey," who is gay. Joey saw another guy, "Eric," who he thought was cute, and he made me go over and ask Eric's friend if Eric is gay. His friend told me he is straight.

Eric lives in my neighborhood and we became good friends. He has asked me out and I would say yes, except that Joey said he likes him. Joey has never spoken to Eric and only likes him in an "appreciating" sense. And of course, there's the fact that Eric isn't gay.

What should I do? Does the "girl code" apply to your gay friends, too?

- Conflicted in the South

DEAR CONFLICTED: With the "girl code," girls agree not to date men another girl has her sights set on - theoretically, because there is the possibility that he can be snagged if there's no interference. But in a case like this, where a gay person "appreciates" someone who is straight, the chance is remote to nonexistent. Out of consideration for Joey's feelings, talk with him about this. I'm sure he will appreciate your concern for his feelings - and give you his OK.
Lulu: And actually I agree with Dear Abby's advice to the high school girl too. She is on a roll today! The LW does needs to talk to Joey before she agree to go out with Eric, because I feel like he would be hurt if he found out about it after the fact.

Darnell: I agree with her too, with the addendum that even if the gay friend does not approve, you can still do it. Girl/guy code does not allow you to call dibs indefinitely. Especially if you fail to make a move!

Lulu: Yeah. I actually think it's in Joey's best interest for the girl to date Eric.

Darnell: That is how he will find out that he has been secretly gay this whole time?

Lulu: Well, just in case! In any case, it gives Joey an excuse to hang out with Eric, not that I think he should try to steal him away, but if he does ever develop an interest in a guy, it's more likely to be somebody that he's already friends with. Alternately, getting to know him better might make Joey realize he doesn't like Eric that much after all.

Darnell: Then we'll get a letter from him in a month. "Dear Abby, I had a few drinks and slept with my best friend's formerly straight boyfriend, but there are no sparks."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cell block H

It's a brand new week (yes, Tuesday is when I start my week) and Ashley is home! Let's get back to basics with a teen-and-parents question from Sunday's Dear Abby.
DEAR ABBY: Like most 16-year-old girls, I have a cell phone. My father pays for it and I'm grateful that he does, even though I live with my mom and he's a two-hour drive away. He has been paying for it for a year and a half.

Every month when I visit him he demands to see my phone. Then he looks through my messages and photos. There's nothing "bad" on my phone, but I feel my personal space is being invaded.

I brought it up to him a few times, but he just said, "Deal with it!" He said if I don't want him to see something, I should delete it.

What can I do to get my dad to respect my privacy? I feel he wants to control my life. I want my own space.
Ashley: What I find odd is that he actually tells her, "if you don't want me to see it, delete it."

Lulu: Yes! What does he even think he is accomplishing? If it's a security check, he knows she can easily get around it, and has even told her the way. Is this just his clumsy way of finding out about her life? I think if I were her, though, I just wouldn't keep anything on my phone. Delete messages as soon as I get them, delete my call history every week before I visited. Just in principle.

Ashley: Precisely. Make it look as guilty as possible.

Lulu: Not even that, but just to thwart whatever he's trying to do, because it's irritating. Hand him clean phones until he gives up out of boredom.

Ashley: I mean, the other option is to plant messages that indicate her interest in lesbian satanism or something. I'm not sure that would help?

Lulu: I think a blank slate is both more innocent and more haunting. I also think this is a case where she could talk to him about it. She says she has brought it up, but I wonder if she has asked him why he does it. If he just wants to know more about her, she could offer to volunteer information about her life. They could have conversations instead of interrogations. She could try answering his problem with logic. But first she needs to find out his motives, because I'm stumped.

Ashley: She could also get her own phone, of course. The Virgin Mobile data plan is cheap. (I am not being paid to say this!)

Lulu: Yeah, I mean, that would solve it.

That's what Abby says, too:
I'm sure your father means well, but his attempt at "supervision" when you visit him seems heavy-handed.

The first thing you should do is discuss your feelings with your mother. Perhaps she can help him understand that you're mature enough to be trusted.

But if that doesn't work, you will have to figure out a way to come up with the money to pay for your own cell phone.
Lulu: I think Abby's suggestion of taking to the mother is bad. This is between her and the dad.

Ashley: Yeah. I don't see how the mom could help. It would do nothing, except once again to show that a teenager can't deal with her own insignificant problems.

Lulu: Yeah, I think the idea she should be trying to convey is that she is ready for an adult relationship with her dad: trust, interest, conversations, not bizarre check-ins. Calling her mom in to help undermines that.

Ashley: I guess his philosophy could be that she should learn to cover her tracks? So that... future employers don't find her drunk on Facebook or something...? That's the only semi-reasonable explanation I can come up with. But it's still weird!

Lulu: In that case, her deleting her phone records will make him proud. Maybe he is training her to be a master spy. Secretly, and without her knowledge.

Ashley: Let's go with that. It makes him seem less of an incompetent moron and more of a ninja.

Lulu: She should find out if she moves silently, like wind whispering through bamboo. She could poll her friends.

Ashley: While she's at it, she could poll her friends about their cell phone plans.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Two columnists, two bloggers, one bisexual interfamily Craigslist drama

Today is the day, folks: our first instance of the same letter posted to two different columnists. Interestingly, Margo Howard, whose column posted the letter today, is the former writer of Dear Prudence, now written by Emily Yoffe, who got the scoop in her August 2 live chat.

I'll print the letter only once, since it is virtually identical in both columns.
I have a rather unusual problem, and I don't feel I have anywhere to turn but you. [Ed. note: How ironic.]

I'm a 33-year-old man who's been married for seven years. I am bisexual and have known so for quite some time. About a month ago I responded to a posting on Craigslist. It was from an older gentleman who, like myself, is bi and was looking for some discreet fun. In responding to the ad, I sent a faceless/headless picture of myself without a shirt on. He responded back to me with some pictures that were a bit more graphic and a phone number. Upon seeing the number, I became immediately undone. It was the cell phone number of my father-in-law!

Once I realized it was him, I never responded back to him. I received several e-mails subsequently asking me what was going on and if I was still interested. However, not only did he e-mail me from his personal e-mail address, stupidly, he used the joint one with my mother-in-law. Fast-forward a few weeks. My mother-in-law was checking e-mail and somehow found the exchange between my father-in-law and myself. Obviously, and justifiably, she has become hysterical. She found the e-mail that I sent to him (from an anonymous e-mail address) that had my picture.

It gets worse; she told my wife and her sister and brother, and they are trying to figure out who this guy is who "seduced" dad. At this point, I am freaking out as my wife is wanting to see my picture, but her mother has not shown it to her yet. Do I bite the bullet and let the cat out of the bag that I am the two-home home wrecker, or should I let my wife and in-laws continue to play detective? I feel such guilt as my wife cries on my shoulder as she tells me the latest developments every day.
Here's Prudence's answer:
Your posting didn't say, "I like pina coladas, and getting lost in the rain," did it? Because your letters sounds like an updated version of the dreadful Rupert Holmes song. Though I would like to see a movie version of this in which Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller end up as the lovely couple, it's time for someone in this family to be straight about not being straight. If you are committed to sending out headless photos of yourself in order to cheat on your wife with other men, you have to tell her about this right now. It's not just because you want to get ahead of her having that flash of recognition when she sees the photo of the "seducer's" torso and recognizes the pattern of moles. It's because you are lying and cheating and potentially endangering your wife's health.
And Margo's:
What are the chances, as they say? Maybe this is God's way of saying: Pick a gender. First, because your m-i-l has a (headless) picture of the guy who "seduced Dad," it is not likely she will know you by your torso, but your wife might, should your m-i-l share the picture.

The whole thing is such a lie, however, that I would come clean with your wife — perhaps in the office of a counselor — and let her decide what she wants to do. Her father may be collateral damage, but there you are. — Margo, haplessly
Darnell: Let's advise him to keep his shameful secret forever, because it is the advice he clearly wants after submitting his letter a second time when he didn't get that answer the first time around! That way we win advice.

Lulu: The first one was a live chat, and the second was a print column, so my bet is he submitted them both on the same day and Margo took longer to get to it in her queue. I was disappointed there were no new developments in the second column. The advice is virtually identical, except for Margo's little dig at bisexuals.

Darnell: Was that weird? I thought that was weird.

Lulu: It was weird! Also, the bisexual thing is not inherently part of the problem. He could have accidentally cheated on his wife with a woman they both knew, or if he was gay, accidentally cruised his husband's father. You know?

Darnell: Also, is that really what the pina colada song is about?

(Brief pause)

Lulu: Okay, I just read the lyrics...

Darnell: Apparently it is about a married man who answers a personal ad and when he goes to meet the woman it is his own disastified wife.

Lulu: Aurgh, scooped!

Darnell: So, not really? That seems to be more about how people don't know their spouse's secret heart. Not about how their father in law wants to go balls deep in some dudes.

Lulu: The columnists are telling him to come clean for moral reasons, but he seems to be more asking if he should come clean because he will be found out anyway. To which I'd say: probably not? I don't think he should stay in this marriage, but I also don't think he needs to tell her this.

Darnell: No, there is practically no risk of that at all provided he was smart enough to delete his own emails. What he is doing is what every bad liar does. You use your own knowledge of the lie and project it on to other people until you can no longer see how they could possibly not figure it out.

Lulu: Yeah, the wife won't be looking for the torso to be his, even if she sees it; and I don't see why she even would. I think he is overestimating the extent to which they are trying to figure out who it is, because as far as they know, it's nobody they know. If she IS expecting it to be him, she already knows anyway, but he could still deny it; how distinctive is his torso?

Darnell: If he is going to tell her, it should be because he wants to have a divorce and pursue his love of man bits.

Lulu: I agree. And I still don't think he should tell her about this incident.

Darnell: Part of me kind of thinks he should tell everyone ever about this incident because it is kind of hilarious. Then again, she probably wouldn't appreciate the humor. Yet.

Lulu: He could just use it as a conversation starter. "Oh, your father is looking for a bisexual affair? That reminds me."

Darnell: I don't think he should tell her either, also separate from the gayness of his cruising. You shouldn't cheat. If you are going to cheat, you shouldn't tell your wife about it. Coming clean is often better for the terrible person than the one who was wronged.

Lulu: I don't think sexual exclusivity is for everyone, but you should not be in a relationship with someone who expects fidelity if you yourself have no intention of following through on that.

Darnell: I am surprisingly anti-cheating, it is my moral and I cling to it like a drowning man to a bloated floaty corpse.

Lulu: Whether or not you approve of monogamy in the abstract, you need to assess (1) whether you know you will not stop, and (2) whether your spouse would not like it if she knew, and if the answer to both of those questions is "yes", you should just break up. Be free! Nobody cares if you cruise CL if you are single, or in a nonexclusive relationship.

Darnell: All right, I can provide this guy with reasonable sounding advice that will actually resolve the situation in a way that is terrible for him and will provide his poor wife with some closure. I think he should point out that there isn't a seducer in this case, and explain in clear detail how CL postings work - that they are not directed, but that her father responded to an anonymous ad. Specifically detail how cruising for men works via this method. And that if her father had been smart, he would have set up an anonymous email address. But that either way they should absolutely stop looking for this other guy. Be as clear on this as possible, repeating it in stammering tones and sweating if possible. Stammering and sweating are clear signs of honesty. Also adamantly refuse to take your shirt off in front of your wife or in-laws under any circumstances. Start wearing a t-shirt to bed and the beach.

Lulu: Forever?

Darnell: However long it takes. If pressured tell them you took some pictures of your naked torso for no reason and felt self-conscious about how they looked. I feel like people feel better when they discover lies for themselves than they do when the liar confesses. TV has trained us that people who come forward of their own accord are brave and should be rewarded, but if you figure it out on your own, you can be as mad as you want. It is cathartic!

Lulu: You can still be as mad as you want if they tell you, I think... but I suppose by making it obvious, but not telling them, you are giving them the option of pretending it isn't true, if that's what they want.

Darnell: You know, I am far from an advice column expert, but are the letters often from people who are so in the wrong? The ones I've seen would typically come from the wife in this situation. Dear My Important Drama, I think my husband is trying to put the dirty man spurs to my father!

Lulu: Yeah. He chose two advice columns where he knows the columnists hate cheating and will tell him to tell the wife. So I guess he got the advice he wanted.

Darnell: I have trouble offering helpful advice to people I disapprove of. I think he should have unprotected sex with lots of sailors.

Lulu: I think the gayness factors into my disapproval of him, not because I disapprove of gay sex--I encourage it for everyone--but because I suspect his marriage may have more to do with protecting his straight-guy image than with making them both happy.

Darnell: She is his beard! My beard is my beard.

Lulu: Your beard fools people into thinking you are straight?

Darnell: It sure does! Otherwise they can all see that I have blowjob lips. I guess that actually means my moustache is my beard.

Lulu: We may have our first MID T-shirt slogan.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Nights out, day jobs: Darnell week continues

As luck would have it, my guest week with official My Important Drama revelry expert Darnell is a good week for drinking-related advice columns. From today's Baggage Check:
Every time I go out with my housemate, she ends up wasted. We're just friends, but it always becomes my job, as the guy, to take care of her. I'm tired of having to cut my night short or miss out on meeting people because they assume we're together. I don't want to come across as selfish, and I know I could just stop going out with her, but we're all in the same circle. — Involuntary Baby Sitter
Andrea's response:
It sounds like we have two layers of problems here: your friend's drinking, and the logistics of your friend's drinking. No doubt you're being affected by both, but if you truly value the friendship, you'll prioritize the deeper issue here, which is that she needs help.

Sure, emphasize those logistical issues — by explaining how much her drinking affects others and by cutting off the enabling. But with this circle of friends of yours, help her seek out treatment and/or an AA meeting. I can understand your frustration, but the longer you view this as a problem of circumstance rather than a serious mental health issue, the larger a disservice you do your friend — and the more you guarantee the problem will continue.
Darnell: Hah, she calls him out but good. I don't think is actually correct, but it is a good zing. I'm not surprised that advice columnists jump to alcoholism but this story does not paint a picture of alcoholism for me.

Lulu: I guess it depends on how often they go out? I mean, he could have written the same letter with the detail, "Every Arbor Day, when my friends meet up for our annual bar night, my friend gets wasted..." and the drinking problem issue would not have been raised. But they could just as easily be going out nightly.

Darnell: Even then, it is probably just a person who doesn't know her limit. Because if the story is that their entire circle of friends goes out to a bar every night - they are all alcoholics, and in no place to intervene. An intervention is not going to fly well if the problem is that when you all go out drinking together, the intervenee gets drunk. "Lulu, I'm worried that when we're drinking together you get shitfaced a half an hour before me."

Lulu: So let's leave aside who may or may not have a drinking problem; we don't have enough information to judge, and if they do have drinking problems, that doesn't seem like what they want solved. There's still the issue that people think they are together.

Darnell: Here's the thing as I see it. He doesn't need to stop hanging out with her, or even have a talk with her. He needs to stop shouldering the responsibility of babysitting her when she drinks. There is a breed of person who thinks this is a holy responsibility when it is not. The "my job, as the guy" is telling.

Lulu: Yeah--I noticed that, but I thought he was saying, "everyone thinks it's my job, as the guy..." But you're right, he's just saying, "it's my job, as the guy..."

Darnell: Men, am I right?

Lulu: Yeah, he needs to let go of the idea that it's his responsibility to protect her and be all chivalrous and whatnot.

Darnell: Let your roommate get wasted, lost, and gangbanged a little. Maybe then she'll cut that shit out.

Lulu: I feel like there's a middle ground, where, when you get a ride or head home, you get her, but other than that, she is on her own.

Darnell: That would work out just fine. The other side of that coin is that she might be the kind of person who hearts the attention, in which case, the more he white knights for her, the more she is going to behave that way.

Lulu: It seems like he's taking on the stand-in boyfriend role voluntarily. If he's worried that women will think he is unavailable, I feel like hitting on a few of them would clear things up.

Darnell: Uh-oh. I'm on the cusp of suggesting they should just start banging. Again.

Lulu: It does kind of seem that way, doesn't it? He's already halfway to acting like her boyfriend. But it seems like he is not that into her.

Darnell: I know, I'm suggesting he get into her. Zammo! Penisvagina.

Lulu: I can't tell if she is into him. She might like the damsel in distress thing because she thinks it is the way into his pants. Her: "Every time I get wasted we end up at home with him gently dabbing cold compresses to my fevered brow... one of these days, we're gonna end up making out!" Him: "WTF I do not need this cold compress bullshit AGAIN"

Darnell: Then he is not only encouraging bad behavior, he is leading her on when she is at her most vulnerable. The cad!

Lulu: I don't think it's actually a wonderful idea to make a move because they live together and that could be weird. But if he's not going to, he should stop acting like her boyfriend SOMETIMES.

Darnell: I would be willing to put money on him not talking up any other sexy ladies even when he stops babysitting.

Lulu: You mean he'd hit on girls if he really wanted to--he's talked himself into believing this is the reason he doesn't.

Darnell: Yeah. Then he would be without the excuse that they are all avoiding his big ugly face because they think she is his girlfriend. I may be getting mean towards this guy without reason... Which means, next letter?

Lulu: You're so ambitious. Ashley and I usually only do one!

Darnell: They're on the same page, I can't help myself!
I'm so bored in my job. No one cares about what they're doing, and I don't get any meaningful work. I know it's a tough time to be looking now, but I'm thinking of just quitting. The problem is that my parents won't continue to help me out if I do that (they pay some of my college loans and help with my car insurance). They're worried that I will take forever to get a new job. But I think that if I don't have a job, I'll be more motivated in my search. — Stuck
Darnell: Nope, the meaness isn't going to stop here. This guy is a moron.

Lulu: Andrea's on it, though. I think her advice is good:
I wouldn't be deemed responsible if I encouraged someone to quit a job without having another lined up, especially in this economy (which feels about as strong as my NBA prospects). And the fact that the people who serve as your safety net wouldn't be on board with this plan makes it even more dangerous.

So, why not boost your motivation without shooting yourself in the foot and making your parents angry? Create a reward system for sending out resumes, or set up a bet with one of your friends that puts you out a certain amount of money if you don't do a job search task by a certain date. Make small daily goals and go from there, but do it while still collecting a paycheck.
Darnell: Her advice treats him kind of like a child, but as he is behaving like a big stupid baby, I am okay with it.

Lulu: This also seems like a guy who is saying one thing but means another: "I will be more motivated to find a job if I am unemployed" = "I don't want to work. I want to bang on the drum all day."

Darnell: He may find that scouring job sites, sending out resumes and tailoring cover letters is at least equally boring. Shock!

Lulu: He wants this magic other job that's better and amazing, but if he quits this job before he gets another, he will be, if anything, motivated to take a worse one. Providing his parents stick to their guns and don't support him.

Darnell: And if they do, why would he have any motivation?

Lulu: Unless his parents make his life as unpleasant as possible while supporting him
which I would endorse, if they wrote to me!

Darnell: I would tell them to disown him.

Lulu: I initially thought Andrea said, "Why not boost your motivation by shooting yourself in the foot?"

Darnell: Just go kill yourself, it'll work out for the best.

Lulu: Not kill, maim. Then you'll appreciate what you had!

Darnell: Two feet.

Lulu: And a job. Okay, we may be being needlessly mean to this one now too.

Darnell: No, this one has it coming. He isn't alone either, there have been several stories lately about people being dissatisfied with their jobs even though they were unemployed beforehand.

Lulu: The most recent mimismartypants had a quote from Drew Carey: "Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group that for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar."

Darnell: People are weirdly entitled. When people ask me if I like my job, my answer is invariably: yes, for a job.

Lulu: I do think the idea that you have to get fulfillment out of your job is odd. People are only willing to pay for things they want done, not necessarily things you want to do.

Darnell: And jobs that are fulfilling tend to also be pretty terrible. For example, if you helps kids with cancer you also work insane hours and watch kids die of cancer. Oh, and you get paid less than I do for not helping any people at all. So they are welcome to their spiritual fulfillment.

Lulu: This guy doesn't seem to care about fulfillment, he just wants interest. I say, why not get interest in other parts of your life? Some jobs are actively soul-sucking, but if your job is merely boring, you're fine.

Darnell: Right, that is the real point of work: you suffer through it so that you can better fund your actual interests outside of work.

Lulu: Of course, we obviously have nothing to complain about as I am sitting here doing exactly what I would do if I were home: chatting to my friends and not doing any work.

Darnell: I am "working from home."

Lulu: Nice.

Darnell: Maybe we should be more sympathetic towards this assclown.

Lulu: We are hypocrites, it's true, but that doesn't make him any less wrong!

Darnell: "I don't see why he has a problem with boring work - ah, excuse me, my money bath is ready."

Lulu: Great, I'm laughing out loud--now they know I'm not doing any work.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Endless Springcycle

Yesterday, Darnell and I discussed a Dear Abby letter about designated drivers, but because there were two letters about drunkenness in the column, I decided to take advantage of his vast, vast experience (vast) and ask about the other.

Lulu: So, about the other letter.

Darnell: Yeah. This is very Jerry Springer.

Lulu: I feel like Dear Abby's response is a little terse. Technically, she only asks for validation, but I feel like she is secretly asking for a course of action.

Darnell: The problem being there isn't a great one that I know of. How to get over a fucked up situation in ten days?

Lulu: Well, she's asking about trust...

Darnell: Start banging Jill?

Lulu: ...

Darnell: ...

Lulu: Oh, wait. We are talking about different letters!

So it looks like we will be doing a hat trick of the letters in Saturday's Dear Abby.

Letter the third: drunken shenanigans cont'd
DEAR ABBY: I became fast friends with one of my husband's co-workers after meeting her at a happy hour. We had fun going out, usually to dance clubs.

One night when my husband tagged along, I overheard her tell him, "If you weren't married, I could be with you." When I confronted her about it the next night, she apologized, saying she had been feeling no pain and can't believe she said it. My husband chalks it up to her being stupid drunk, but I can't let it go.

Now when I see her at work functions, I am cordial and she acts like nothing ever happened. We could have been great friends if she hadn't said what she did, but each time I think I can bury the hatchet, I get angry and upset all over again.

Should I just get over it? Or am I justified in feeling I can't be friends with someone I can't trust?

- Distrustful in Illinois

DEAR DISTRUSTFUL: You're justified. And I'm saying it cold sober.
Darnell: Wow, that is a terse response from Abby.

Lulu: Right?

Darnell: "Feeling no pain" is a great "I'm hammered" phrase.

Lulu: I did not know it and it made that letter very confusing.

Darnell: Her husband sounds like me.

Lulu: You're always getting hit on by your wife's friends?

Darnell: Naturally. But the "she's a stupid drunk" response is a good one.

Lulu: "She's stupid drunk," I believe. No "a". It is less mean that way.

Darnell: Right, right. Being drunk and being a drunk are two entirely different things.

Lulu: Well, being stupid and being stupid drunk are different things. Ot would be great if the husband were just like, "She is a stupid drunk and I hate her." I think that would have helped actually. The wife would be less insecure.

Darnell: A lot of these letters have a theme of, "We could have been great friends/lovers/whatevs," if it weren't for their personality. Stop idealizing people you just met because they are initially fun!

Lulu: Yeah, and because you don't know them. You don't just assume everything you don't know is amazing!

Darnell: That second letter has the same problem.

Lulu: Oh, fine, we'll discuss your precious second letter.

Letter the second: Banging Jill
DEAR ABBY: "Tracey" is beautiful, caring and fun to spend time with. I fell hard for her and knew I could love her forever. When she broke up with me to "be on her own," I was very hurt.

My best friend, "Henry," says he started sleeping with Tracey right after our breakup. I was his best man when he married "Jill." Now Henry has left Jill for Tracey, and I am left with a sick stomach. How do I heal my wounds while supporting Jill, which keeps them painfully open?

- Heartsick in Ohio

DEAR HEARTSICK: One way would be to remind yourself that as "caring and fun" as Tracey was to be with, she had no reluctance about dating a married man. Another would be to level with Jill, explain that spending time with her is a painful reminder of the way you were dumped, and take a break from it until you have healed.
Darnell: In retrospect I bet the first line of: "Tracey is beautiful, caring and fun to spend time with" means "Tracey is hot."

Lulu: No question. Fun to spend time with means she was fun to have sex with. Caring means she has nice eyes. Actually, it's probably not a bad move if every time an LW lists a litany of good qualities, we read it as "hot... really hot... really very hot." Unless they say "sweet," and then we know it means "plain."

Darnell: People call me sweet!

Lulu: Oh no!

Darnell: That's a lie. Nobody calls me sweet, because I am a jackass.

Lulu: I do think girls use it often to mean "I like this person, but I am not that interested in actually dating them." This has become an enormous digression.

Darnell: I use it to describe candy.

Lulu: Well, that's exactly what I mean. I like candy... but I would not date candy.

Darnell: I would totally date candy. And then there would be a headline in the paper. MAN EATS GIRLFRIEND.


Darnell: I honestly think that "bang Jill" is the best course of action. It completes the Springcycle and then everyone can get over it!

Lulu: Wait, he says he is "supporting Jill." Doesn't that already mean he is banging Jill?

Darnell: I don't know, he sounds like kind of a pussy. He could actually be providing emotional support.

Lulu: In that case, he should totally make a move on Jill, and if she rebuffs him, then she will probably not want to spend time with him anymore,
and his problem is solved!

Darnell: We are idea people.

Lulu: Ha ha. Except that doesn't actually solve anything.

Darnell: Look, the situation is in a place that cannot be fixed, so just complete it and move on.

Lulu: I guess maybe they wouldn't feel so bad about getting left. Or they wouldn't feel like the other people scored points, because they got points too? You know... Sex points.

Darnell: Jill gets revenge on "Henry" for cheating. LW gets vengeance on "Henry" because he broke bro-code by sexing up "Tracey" when he knew the LW was into that.

Lulu: Yeah, it also seems like Henry was a little dumb about it - he told the LW he was sleeping with Tracey right after the break up! He should have been like, "Well, you know... these things happen... she was on her own for.. cough months..."

Darnell: He was already lying, he just didn't do it hard enough. Because they were having sex before the breakup. That is just scientific fact.

Lulu: Oh my god. You're right. So what, the only solution is for the LW to bang Jill better than Henry is banging Tracey, yeah?

Darnell: He does have to one-up on at least one level. If he can't pull off better, and I somehow doubt that he can, more often. In the butt. Just pick a goal that you can achieve. I guarantuee he can find soemthing that will make Jill say, "Henry never did ." Jill probably has plenty of ideas; the injured party is always eager to talk about inadequacies.

Lulu: There is only one problem with this advice that I can think of. What if Jill is ugly?

Darnell: We're all God's children in the dark, Lulu.

That's right, folks: it took one column left without the calming supervision of Ashley to advocate revenge-driven sexual one-upmanship. Hello and goodbye, everybody!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Designated driver drama, with special guest Darnell!

Darnell: Can I be Ashley this week?

Lulu: Oh thank god. I am so alone. Also, there were 2 letters about drunkenness in Dear Abby yesterday.

Darnell: Oh boy, that is my goddamn wheelhouse!

Lulu: Here's the letter and response:
DEAR ABBY: A few weeks ago, I met a group of friends at a local pub. "Charlie" was the designated driver. As the evening progressed, I noticed Charlie was drinking beer. When I mentioned it, he said he'd had only three. Then he insisted he was fine and "it was only beer."
I tried to explain the danger of driving while "buzzed" and told him I'd walk home. Charlie then became insulted that I didn't trust him to know his limits. He said I should relax and quit being so uptight.

A few days later, some of my friends told me I had caused "unnecessary drama" that night and that my standards for the designated driver were "unrealistic." They also said that Charlie wasn't drunk and was totally capable of driving. But the fact remains, our designated driver wasn't sober, and I wasn't comfortable getting into a car with him.

I voiced my opinion; now I'm being punished for it. Did I judge Charlie too harshly?

- Values My Safety, Davis, Calif.

DEAR VALUES YOUR SAFETY: Not in my book, and not in the one published by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. In its California Drivers Handbook, under the section titled "Designated Driver Program," it lists the requirements for someone to be a designated driver. Among them: "Must abstain from consuming alcoholic beverages for the duration of the outing." That means not drinking anything with alcohol in it. Zilch!

You were right to speak up. In the future, if you decide to socialize with these folks, arrange to meet them. And if the location is not within walking distance, take a cab.
Darnell: "It's only beer" is the worst excuse ever.

Lulu: You can't get drunk off beer! It's like water. Or wine coolers.

Darnell: I think this theory needs scientific testing. I'll just hop in my time machine and perform those tests last night. ... Nope, beer works.

Lulu: I mean clearly the guy was incorrect, what I'm wondering is how much "drama" the letter writer actually created. Are her* friends objecting to her walking home because the designated driver was drinking, because that's lame, or are they objecting to her delivering a 20-minute monologue on the subject?

[Ed. note: We assume the LW is female for no real reason.]

Darnell: The problem with advice letters in general is that they rarely tell the part of the story that might make the LW look bad.

Lulu: Although, given what she reports her friends actually saying, it seems like they were defending the drunk guy and being incorrect about the role of a designated driver. They don't seem to have identified her delivery as the problem with the message.

Darnell: Yeah, this is one of those situations where I want to be against the LW but can't really justify it. It seems like, barring the possible diatribe, she behaved pretty well.

Lulu: So it sounds like she needs better friends.

Darnell: That is my default and always correct answer, but I try to take my time getting to it. This feels so close to being a non-issue that it is kind of baffling me. I am a guy who will have a few drinks and drive, and I believe that people can know their limit safely. But it is also okay to see somebody drinking and say that you don't want them to drive you. Your friends saying that expecting a designated driver to not drink at all is unrealistic, that is just goddamn stupid.

Lulu: Yeah, I'm trying to see why the friends got upset that she walked home, and I can't. Unless she tried to give them grief about it, how does it hurt them? Sure, walk. Why not?

Darnell: The bit about the Drivers Handbook I find fascinating as well. There is documentation around how you have to be a DD?

Lulu: Yeah, I thought it was just a term for the driver. Who is designated.

Darnell: The definition being the poor shmuck whose turn it is to have no fun.

Lulu: I don't see how it can be an official thing if it's all entirely informal. I mean, how can the designated driver be either tested or recognized by the state. You don't get a medal.

Darnell: Maybe in California you can get some kind of DD tokens to trade in for prizes.

Lulu: Free beer.

Darnell: I was thinking an arcade prize counter at the DMV: "I've been the DD twice so I can get the tiny squirt gun or the friendship bracelets!"

Lulu: This is a great idea.

Darnell: The awarding of tokens might be problematic, but that is for the pencil pushers to figure out. We're idea people.

Lulu: I love being an idea person. It is no work.

Darnell: It's a pretty great life.

Tune in next time (tomorrow?), when the chat about this same day of Dear Abby continues!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bonus post: vacation, and Al Pacino

Ashley is leaving on vacation tomorrow, so it looks like I will be on my own next week. Look forward to plenty of wishy-washy, ill-considered, unbroken blocks of text!

Speaking of fan fiction (we were, weren't we?), I have some bonus advice for a letter-writer in today's Dr. Lovemonkey.
I am a college student in my mid-20s and have been married for two-and-a half years to my husband, who is wonderful and who I adore. Here is my weird problem: for many years I've had a hopeless crush on Al Pacino. I know, I know, Al Pacino is old enough to be my grandfather. I have DVDs of all his movies and watch them almost every day. My husband initially found this rather funny and endearing and told me that he, too, was attracted to certain celebrities (he mentioned Cameron Diaz). Eventually he has become irritated because I insist that he watch the movies with me and I like to discuss and speculate about his personal life... [T]his is creating tension.
Dr. Lovemonkey tells her to develop some non-Al Pacino-related interests to share with her husband, but I have the opposite advice: she should get into online fandom and find some people who want to talk to her about her celebrity crush. It's possible my advice to everyone who has an obsession is to blog about it, but look how far that's taken me!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I hope nobody copies our pro-plagiarism stance

It's been a few days since we did an academia column, so, in today's Dear Prudence, a question about plagiarism!
Dear Prudence,
I am a graduate student who is finishing my master's thesis. For inspiration, my professor suggested that I look at the thesis of a student who graduated last year and tackled a similar topic. He said it was of the quality that I should be aiming for. I got the thesis and found that most of it is plagiarized word-for-word from a book that I have been using as a source. The subject is rather obscure, and I would not expect my professor to be familiar with the plagiarized book, but I still can't believe that the student got away with it. I don't know what to do. On one hand, I feel it's none of my business, but on the other, I feel the school should know. I also can't help but think that if I don't speak up, during the grading process, my paper will be compared to his, which actually was written by the master in this field.

—Just Want To Graduate
Prudence's anti-plagiarism stance is unsurprising and probably practically and morally correct.
...[N]ow that you have discovered this violation of everything scholarship is supposed to stand for, you must expose it. Take the book and the thesis and highlight a generous selection of relevant passages. Bring it to your professor and explain that as soon as you started reading the thesis, it was obvious it was a work of plagiarism. Let's hope this prompts an investigation and a stripping of this young man's graduate degree.
Probably unsurprisingly to reader(s) of this blog, we take a more, um, morally liberal view of cheating.

Lulu: I can't bring myself to get that incensed about plagiarism.

Ashley: I know I'm supposed to care, I just don't. It's the same with any kind of cheating.

Lulu: From a teacher's point of view, I see how it defeats the purpose, and the school absolutely has a right to try to catch and punish you, but if you can get away with it--I mean, that is a transferable skill.

Ashley: Cheating is how things get done at a job! Rules in academics are stricter than in real life. It's like with programming. Everyone Googles for what they need and cut and pastes other people's code, and that's standard practice in a professional environment, but you'd get in trouble if they caught you doing that on a test.

Lulu: Maybe it's less emotionally charged, because when you get down to it, it's a set of instructions. People don't feel like they put their personality into it. I can see being upset if someone got a lot of money off a story I wrote.

Ashley: I thought you only wrote fan fiction.

Lulu: Okay, a lot of comments. Is an academic work more like a novel or a computer program? Personally, it feels to me more like a computer program: it's to get a job done (convey information), it's not personal and original in the same way as fiction or a memoir. I can imagine feeling differently, so I see why some people get upset. But I do think the consequences of plagiarism allegations in universities outweigh the seriousness of the crime.

Ashley: I don't know if they'd really strip him of his master's. A PhD maybe. They might not want to deal with it.

Lulu: This could really screw him over, though! And there's no way the LW can find out ahead of time. "So, hypothetically... if a master's student were to plagiarize... NOT ME..." I don't think the student actually has a moral duty to protect the plagiarizer, but I also wouldn't want destroying his credentials to be on my conscience.

It depends I guess on how wrong s/he thinks the crime is. Ethically, there is an argument to be made on both sides, but  it would be hard to separate an honest moral opposition to plagiarism from the desire to stick it to the adviser. "Hey, you know that thesis you wanted me to look at? Plagiarized!"

Ashley: I can, but only because I'm morally bankrupt. I would not turn that person in UNLESS I'm sticking it to the advisor. I see no reason not to turn someone in for plagiarism if their plagiarism makes your life difficult. I wouldn't turn someone in for cheating at a test, because I think I will do well enough anyway, but I can see why someone would, if there's a curve.

Lulu: The LW does seem concerned that the thesis wrecks the curve.

Ashley: And, in this particular case, the plagiarism is just so bad. He could have put a little effort into making it less obvious! So I don't feel super bad about turning him in.

Lulu: You think he deserves to be turned in for his poor craftsmanship?

Ashley: Precisely. Put effort in your plagiarism, that's the lesson! It's really an art.

Lulu: We should never be hired to write The Ethicist.