Thursday, May 5, 2011

Yay porn!

Lulu: Whoa the commenters in Love Letters are pretty much unanimous that a guy who likes rape porn is ONE SECOND AWAY FROM SNAPPING:
Dear Meredith,

I'm a 31-year-old female. I've been in a relationship with a great guy for six months now. We met online. He's 32 and has a graduate degree and a great job. I've met his family and passed their test, and he's met mine and passed theirs. We live apart but spend three to four nights a week together at each other's apartments. So far, so good.

The other night was an unsettling experience to say the least. I was at his place for the night. I woke up at about 3 a.m. and he was not in bed. I could see the light on in his office so I got up and walked down the hall. As I approached the office, I could see him seated at his desk, enjoying an adult video on his computer. I'm not a prude – I know that this happens -- but what was unsettling was that he was viewing [extremely aggressive] material that was degrading to women, both verbally and physically. And what was worse, he was muttering to himself as if he were part of the scene.

Needless to say, I was appalled. He absolutely is not like that. He treats his mother and sisters with great respect. Our lovemaking is sweet and tender, almost too gentle. He's about the last guy on earth I would have expected this from. Now I'm concerned that he harbors some deep hatred of women that might work its way to the surface someday.

My question is, is it normal for a guy to view pornography that is way outside his everyday persona? Do pornography habits ever translate into action in real life?
-- Not Sure What's Behind the Green Door, Weston

Lulu: Meredith is pretty even keel about it, I guess, but she's clearly expecting the commenters to blow their collective fuse:

In college, for my women's studies minor, I did a thesis about feminism and pornography. It by no means made me an expert (in fact, I really phoned it in with that paper), but I was surprised to discover during my research that many feminists were open to pornography that on the surface appeared to be offensive to women. These feminists wrote that fantasy lives were separate from real-life behavior and that role playing was just fine. And for the most part, I now agree with the spirit of that philosophy. After all, we all know that I fantasize about a 17-year-old vampire high school student who lives in suburban Washington. If he actually existed, I can't say that I'd date him, let alone touch him. I mean, he's 17.

I believe that the answer to what's going on behind your boyfriend's green door can be answered with a simple conversation, NSWBTGD. Tell him what you saw. Ask him what he likes. Then ask him why. He'll either talk about it and explain himself in a normal way -- probably with some silliness and shame -- or he'll tell you something that will make you feel bad in your gut. Guts are important when it comes to this stuff.

And don't get me wrong, if the pornography you saw can be described as true violence against women, the answer is probably clear. But if it's just about role playing -- and you're OK with that as long as he's not some sort of secret misogynist -- then just talk to him. You'll get a vibe.
Because there is no normal. Some people are anti-pornography. Some couples watch pornography together. Some people's fantasy lives have nothing to do with what they actually enjoy when they're with another person. Only you can decide what you can live with. See how he reacts when you ask him about it.
Readers? Is this normal? Should she talk to him about it or just bail? Is it weird that he was doing this while she was there? What should she say to him if she has the talk? Does the "too gentle" thing bother you?
Ashley: Incredible.

Lulu: But everyone seems really invested in whether the porn is violent or not, whereas it seems to me that it can depict something infinitely violent as long as the actors were not actually harmed - I mean that is the standard we hold non-porn TV to, right?

Ashley: Right, right. Although I do find it creepy when people talk at the TV as if they're there; usually this happens with sports, the whole yelling at the players to do things. It's supremely uncomfortable for me. So maybe it's the same thing? You're hoping the people on the screen will "score"? But really, I guess I don't have an issue with any kind of porn, as long as no one's actually injured.

Lulu: Right, agreed, and I have read some pretty violent stories that had erotic intent... so...

Ashley: Yeah, it's hard for me to see where people would draw the line. I.e. I'm not really interested in watching porn, but I don't care if it's got the M/F adult thing, or foursomes or kids or whatever. It's all not my cup of tea, because I like to read my porn. I can't imagine caring.

Lulu: I mean, maybe if you're not into any kind of porn (visual or text) and you don't have any fantasies other than finding someone nice and settling down, then maybe you don't have any basis for understanding that it's possible to get off on watching characters do something you don't want to do in real life.

Ashley: I love all the comments that are like, "why is he sneaking off at 3am to watch porn? That's so creepy!" When do YOU watch porn, commenters??

Lulu: 11 AM. On Tuesdays.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Facebook Etiquette: there's less than you might think

It's been a long time since we posted on Carolyn Hax, both because she is usually unimpeachable, and because her RSS feed URL changed, like, a month ago, and I didn't notice. Today's second letter on Facebook etiquette, from an oddly tech-savvy grandma, piqued our interest!
Recently, I had the following conversation with my sister:

Me: “I’m taking care of my grandson until his mom and the new baby come home from the hospital.”

Sis: “WHAT? When was the baby born? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Me: “Well . . . we posted it on Facebook . . .”

Sis: “Oh, I never bother with that!”

Maybe I should have given her the news personally, but at the same time, I feel slighted that she’s not interested in me enough to read my “public” news.

It’s not the first time I’ve run into this sort of thing — I’m not young, and neither are most of my friends. Many are technologically challenged. Some don’t understand that “I had a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch” means “I don’t have exciting news, but I’m alive and well,” rather than, “I’m going to force you to read every tedious detail about my life.” I understand that.

But having gotten to the point of opening a Facebook account and becoming “friends” with me, would you say there’s any rudeness in failing to check it occasionally?
Carolyn's response basically amounts to "leave me out of it," an unusual but fun choice coming from an advice columnist.
Oh my goodness.

If the outcome you want is to get along with your sister, then learn from this without prejudice and start sharing big news with her (and others) directly. If what you want is to find fault with your sister, then you’ll have to look somewhere else.
Lulu: You're supposed to keep up religiously with all your fb news feed posts? What if you have hundreds of friends? I think I'm the only person I know with a two-digit number of friends, and even I miss tons of updates if I happen not to check for a day or two.

Ashley: Obv she's wrong. EXCEPT. When there's a big event that you're expecting to occur in your family, it's KIND OF your responsibility to keep track of it. That doesn't need to be on Facebook. From the letter, it seems like the sister knew about the pregnancy but not the day of birth. If she was interested, why didn't she call up and ask how things were going?

Lulu: True, the responsibility of keeping track of all interested parties and disseminating information to each one should not fall entirely on the shoulders of the person who has the interesting life, who is presumably busy.

Ashley: Hypothetical here. Let's say I have a thing coming up, an exam or something. It's a big deal for me but I don't assume it is for anyone else. I post on FB. If people want more details, they ask me. Why would I inundate the world with details if they don't care? Wouldn't that be the grilled cheese for lunch equivalent? You can't bitch about FB being too crowded with details and then demand more details!

Lulu: Wait... which one are you arguing against?

Ashley: Both of them! They're both wrong.

Lulu: Answering the LW's question directly, no, there's no rudeness in failing to check fb even if you went to the trouble of creating an account and friending someone, because people open fb accounts for different reasons. "For a lark" or "to play games" or "to check every blue moon when I'm bored" are legit, and you'd still friend people/accept friend requests, because it would be weirder not to.

I think if you want to know something about someone, you should contact them using whatever means of communication is most comfortable for you. Check their fb, call them, whatever. It's not their fault if they fail to contact you in the way you want.

It's also nobody's responsibility to keep up on your preferred method of making announcements. If you really want a specific person to know something, contact them directly; don't assume the message got to them unless you get a confirmation (response to post, email back, they say "uh-huh", whatever).

So, yes, I disagree with both of them too.

Ashley: Yay!

Lulu: This reminds me of a question I read awhile ago. Someone thought it was rude for people to post a lot, because it pushes the 'meaningful' posts off. It was like the opposite of this LW with her grilled cheese posts. Let's see if I can find it. I don't think we discussed it, which makes it more difficult.

Ashley: We didn't. I didn't read it.

Lulu: Yeah, when I search for "facebook" in my gmail I just get this:
me: I have poked you.
me: you will be notified of the poke next time you log into facebook.
me: just so there are NO SURPRISES.
me: WHAT
Lulu: Oh, here we go, Miss Manners from March 25.
What do you think about Facebook “friends” who post things that no one cares about, like “I took a nap today” or “I woke up feeling grumpy today” or “I got my oil changed today”?

Also, and even more annoying, are people who post lots of pictures and comments about themselves, their kids, their vacations, etc., but never comment on anyone else’s posts. Please share a little Facebook etiquette for everyone!
Miss Manners responds,
What a gift those sites are for bores. If someone came up to you at a party and said, “I got my oil changed today,” how long would it be before you had to excuse yourself because you thought you heard your mother calling you?

The good part is that it is easier to escape bores who have not cornered you in person.

Politeness in any form of discourse requires taking into consideration what would interest the listener, which is exactly the element that is missing in bores. It is a particular danger of Internet postings that what might interest one person is not of widespread interest.

Miss Manners is willing to imagine that the oil change would be of interest to someone planning to use the car; the nap would interest someone directly concerned with that person’s health or ability to stay up late for festivities that day; and the grumpiness might serve as a warning to keep out of his or her way.

No doubt there are general announcements intended for an entire circle of friends: births, for example, or “I won the lottery.” But one has to be totally besotted with someone else to be fascinated by the mundane details of that person’s everyday life — as indeed, bores are with themselves. You may be sure that they do not bring this sort of thing up because they want to hear about your oil change.
Lulu: The thing is, this doesn't need to be an etiquette issue. Facebook HAS TOOLS FOR THIS..

1. You can use "Top News" instead of "Most Recent" and it will weight the posts which have comments and likes.

2. Using the pulldown under "Most Recent" you can filter to show only the most recent posts from the people in a particular friend group. So you can create a friend group consisting only of your most interesting friends.

3. To ignore specific people, you can click the 'x' which appears in on the top left corner of a news post on mouse over, and the dropdown offers an option to 'hide all by' that person. They will be added to your "hidden" list which you can also manipulate if you go to "Edit Options" under "Most Recent."

It does not need to be a problem that your friends are boring! No need to complain that people are being rude by being boring! It does not need to be a problem! As Miss Manners says, it's much harder to ignore them in person.

Ashley: I know! I'd rather have them on FB!

Lulu: What do you think about this second remark about how people are rude for not commenting? Like there's some kind of currency of comments and it's like Lendle borrowing and lending or something, where you earn the right to post a status update by commenting on other people's?

Ashley: Or like slash fic. Didn't you once say you'd only write a sequel to a story if you got to a certain number of comments?

Lulu: That was off the record. Anyway, it was to gauge interest!...

Okay, I do feel like the fanfic community is a specifc place where comments do serve as currency, to a certain extent. They are the only payment writers get. I sometimes feel like a taker for posting stories more than I read and comment on other people's work, but I've been assured by multiple readers that that's okay. There are enough people who only comment and don't post to make up for it.

So even within fanfic where "getting feedback" is a goal people are openly working for, it's still understood that certain people will 100% post and 0% comment, certain people will 100% comment and 0% post, and there is room for that.

And I never felt that that was a thing on Facebook.

Ashley: Right. I certainly don't comment on FB (maybe once a month?) and I never thought I was rude! I'll respond to other people's comments. Like if someone likes my sweater or something, I say thanks!

Lulu: I VERY RARELY comment unless someone asks a question. I never felt that there was any social pressure to comment. I think that social pressure is just in the LW's imagination.

Ashley: Agreed.

Lulu: There is also a Miss Manners from April 1 about Facebook invites, which i found in the process, but here, MM is right. Don't use Facebook invites if you need an RSVP.

In conclusion:

Facebook is good for some things and not others!

If you have preferences for what method to keep in contact with, you should use that method! To keep in contact! But don't expect others to know which method is best for you.

Post whatever you want to post! Read whatever you want to read!


Friday, April 22, 2011


Reader mail! Rosalie alerted us to an awesome smackdown of an advice column suggesting that a 14-year-old lesbian should remain in the closet. Thanks, Rosalie! The original letter appeared in the Dear Lizzie column of the Pennsylvania Patch newspaper, which we may have to start following.

Now, we move onto college. In April 14's Miss Manners, a student doesn't want to share notes!
I am a college student with a question about the etiquette of borrowing notes. It has taken me a long time and a lot of hard work to get to college, as I’ve been financially independent since high school. Now that I’m actualizing my goals of higher education, I take my studies seriously and make a point to not skip class, to do my homework, to understand the material, etc.

There is a girl who was in a couple of my same classes last term and is again currently. She is an excuse maker, and she is constantly behind. She asks me for help. Last week, she asked to borrow notes. I said okay but told her to return them before next class so I could keep my notes in order.

Surprise, she didn’t show up. She brought my notes back to class today, but, since she missed class again on Monday, now wants to borrow those notes. I find it rude that she would ask for a favor, not uphold my conditions, and then ask for another.

I’ve turned down her requests for help in the past, but she keeps asking. I am sick of hearing her self-pitying; none of her excuses are justifiable for consistent lagging (i.e. oversleeping, slow bus, etc.), nor are they more serious than any of the challenges I’ve overcome to be here. Life is hard, so is college; stop making excuses and get to work.

How do I politely tell her that I am not her personal tutor?
Miss Manners responds,
You have a perfect excuse in that your classmate did not abide by the terms you set when lending her your notes. Yet you have fresh experience of how annoying excuses are.

Miss Manners assures you that no such evidence is necessary — nor is using one desirable. Excuses invite the persistent to argue back. You would only bring on another round of her excuses and unreliable promises.

Lulu: I'm not anti-nerd. I'm not anti-take-good-notes or anti-do-well-in-school. I like all of those things! (Although I did not take good notes.) But this LW really rubs me the wrong way, and it's not just the word "actualize." It's pretty clear that the thing about keeping notes in order is an excuse, and the LW doesn't want to share because he (I'll assume it's a he) doesn't think the asker deserves them. He feels put-upon that he has to do all the work and some people GET AWAY WITH DOING NOTHING. I can't stand that attitude.

Granted, the asker sounds like a tool, too--if you borrow something, you should return it before the other person needs it--but what's the big deal with giving out your notes? Why do you have to be possessive of them? Why can't we help each other, regardless of the moral fortitude of our peers?

That said, since he believes that hard work is a sign of virtue and failing to prioritize academics is a sign of worthlessness, he could at least make an effort to find out if the reason she can't make it to class is because of obstacles (e.g. job, family responsibilities, learning difference) or priorities (prefers to sleep, active social life, overloaded on other classes etc.) "Overslept" could mean "I was partying" or "I was working the night shift to PUT MYSELF THROUGH COLLEGE."

But if he doesn't want to share his notes, he should just say so. It seems like the only reason he's doing it is because he's dimly aware that refusing would make it look like he's being uptight, but since that is what he is doing, he should just be honest about it.

Ashley: Or he could just photocopy them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Liveblogging the Carolyn Hax Chat

Lulu: Carolyn Hax chat is NOW NOW NOW

Ashley: Okay, so the first question...

My daughter is a few weeks shy of 16. She is a good student, a good athlete, and very popular at school. She has a boyfriend who is (I believe) about a year older than she is. We assume they have sex, because she came to me six months ago and asked for advice about birth control. I'm okay with this, and in fact feel rather lucky that she was responsible about it. But everyone else seems to think I am a negligent or somehow terrible parent for knowingly allowing a teenager to be sexually active. I'm at the end of my rope with the judgments. What do you think?
Carolyn responds,
I'm with you on a few things: I would rather my kids be open with me, even if it meant I had to learn about and then condone their sexual activity at 16; if I got the news about the sexual activity the way you did--by being asked about birth control, by a 16-year-old--I would not stand in the way, and if fact would try to help the birth-control process along; and I think people are out of line in judging you.

The one thing that really stopped me was your parenthetical. Maybe it's misleading, but it makes it sound as if you don't really know/know much about the boyfriend. If I'm wrong about that, great, but if you aren't well acquainted with him, then I think it's your job to get to know him.
Ashley: "A few weeks shy of 16th birthday" is 15. And six months ago is definitely 15. And while 16 is fine in most states, 15 may in fact we illegal. If that's the case, the parents should at least not advertise that they know about it. They can get charged with neglect, and possibly endangerment.

Lulu: Oh, good catch. I wonder if that would change Carolyn's answer.

Ashley: I don't care about 15 vs 16, and I would totally do the same thing (minus the gossiping). They just might want to stop talking about it enough for everyone to judge them.

Lulu: Yeah, I wonder how all these people are finding out about it. Maybe the daughter talks about it?

Anna: It sounds like the LW is getting judged, not the daughter. The LW is a terrible parent, not the daughter is a slut or anything.

Lulu: Right, but if the daughter tells her friends, and her friends tell their parents, the parents might judge the parents. Like, the daughter's friends don't judge, they think it's awesome. They're like, "Well, MARLENE's parents let her have sex. They are TOTALLY COOL WITH IT."

Ashley: I see. Right. Ooh, there's a followup comment in the chat from another reader.
Why are you violating your daughter's privacy by discussing this deeply personal topic with anyone other than 1. her and 2. her other parent?
Carolyn responds,
Oh duh, I totally missed that. Thanks.
Lulu: Yup. We just covered that!

Ashley: I was just showing off that I caught it.

Lulu: So what's our advice? We're thinking denying and feigning ignorance would have been good strategies when it originally came up, but what can the LW do now?

Ashley: Change the subject, I guess. What do people do when others bring up topics they don't want to discuss?

Lulu: Yeah, I guess "I'm not going to discuss my daughter's personal life" works anytime.

Ashley: It is weird to say that if you gleefully discussed it before. Maybe,
"well, let's agree to disagree" and then shut up about it.

Lulu: Should we post this RIGHT NOW? SUPER TIMELY!

Ashley: DO IT

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Editing the script

I love it most when advice columnists get very specific and tell you exactly what to do or say. Vague advice is less interesting and less useful, and it's also less easy to nitpick!

Meredith Goldstein from Love Letters occasionally gives LWs a specific line or script for a dating situation. Recently, Ashley and I critiqued two of these.

(Note: in both of these, I edited the letters heavily for space, but if you follow the links you can see the (less-)edited version. Both the LWs express their personalities very vividly in writing.)

From April 8, She's a Stage 5 Clinger:
I'm considered a pretty nice person, which at times is not good. Yes, I have gotten the whole "You're too nice" malarkey several times. And no, this is not one of those "waaahhh I'm too nice, I hate my life waaaahh" stories. No, I'm not like that I, I don't play that card, I find it pathetic. But every once in a while I wish I could be more of a jerk.

...[A] couple weeks ago, I hooked up with this girl and she stayed over. Sweet, right? Wrong. I've known this person for a long time and had a sense that she liked me but I wanted no part of her beyond what we were doing that night and made that explicitly clear. Before anything physical began I reviewed the ground rules (this is what it is and not anything more, I don't want you calling me all the time, I will not visit you, I do not feel for you romantically, this is just a hook up etc etc). And now I am being mercilessly bombarded with numerous daily texts, phone calls, Facebook chat messages and wall posts, she's friended my friends ... I hate when my cell phone buzzes. Seriously it's NON STOP. I've reminded her of my pre-bedroom riot act speech but nothing changed. Currently I'm ignoring her and it’s not working... She is a STAGE FIVE CLINGER.

...I have never had to resort to being a jerk to get rid of someone and I really do not want start now. I feel like that might be my only resort unless you can figure out an alternative.
Meredith responds,
Feel free to cut this next paragraph and email it to your clinger.

Dear [insert clinger's name here],
This is a difficult email to write. I'm concerned about our friendship. I allowed our relationship to become physical a few weeks ago and it was probably a mistake. I've been noticing that you're contacting me a lot more often than you used to, and while I think that you're pretty great, I just can't be the friend/partner you're looking for. I'm starting to feel guilty when I don't pick up the phone, and when I do pick up the phone, I afraid that it means more than it should. I think that we should take some space to figure out how to make our relationship more like it used to be. I care about you and don't want to hurt you. But I also want to be honest and make it clear that I was happy with what we had before we crossed a line. I hope you understand. For now, let's keep our distance.
[your name here]

That answer falls somewhere between passive and jerky and makes it possible for you to block her on Facebook and to ignore her calls without feeling as though you're disappearing without explanation. Just be clear about what you need -- and do it respectfully. It's called being empathetic and assertive. You're capable.

Lulu: Well I mean it's kind of tangential point, but I don't understand this guy's definition of "too nice."

Ashley: It's a common misunderstanding of "nice", avoiding someone because you don't want to hurt their feelings or whatnot.

Lulu: Yeah, that's sort of what it seems like now, he's being indirect or conflict avoiding because he thinks that's nice, but before the hookup, it seemed like he valued directness over tact, what with the lengths he says he went to to assure her it wasn't anything more than a hookup. I just can't form a consistent code of ethics out of what he says.

Anyway, it doesn't matter, because the solution is the same. He has to be direct with her now. I see NO WAY in which Meredith's letter is "somewhere between passive and jerky." It's waaaay too nice. It's mixed messages, and there are so many compliments that she'll just read it as a love letter.

I don't think it's mean, or jerky, to say what you mean in direct language, especially when hints or softer language have proved useless. Being mean would be calling her a dumb bitch, which is what he's going to snap and do if he keeps trying to be nice and she keeps not getting the point.

Ashley: Yeah, I'd just break up with her. Even though he said blah blah etc., clearly she thinks they're together. "I'm sorry, I can't do this anymore. I'm seeing other people, please stop contacting me."

From March 29, "Dating While Dry":
This past year I was diagnosed with epilepsy and my days of enjoying cocktails at the bars of Back Bay are, much to my 27-year-old chagrin, currently shelved alongside my dating books. One of those very books on that shelf says that dating at this age without adult beverages is virtually impossible, and I can assure you that is a fact. I recently went on a first date and couldn't have my patented first date glass (or 3) of wine.

The date went surprisingly well and at 2 a.m. it was time to go home. Thank god, because Cute Boy was clearly digging this Back Bay blonde and I wanted to ride the wave to date number two. Here's where it got awkward. Ugh. He made a comment about me not drinking. "So I need to ask you, are you always dry?" The question was fine. I mean, it is weird when people don't drink and you don't know why.... [but] it kind of ruined the moment. He ended up saying, "Maybe I'll see you around Back Bay this weekend." (Awesome, Cute Boy. See you at Shaws. I'll be in the H20 aisle.)....

So what should I do Meredith? Stalk AA Meetings? Fake Drink?
Meredith assures the LW she can still date without drinking, and advises her on how to answer the "Why?" question, which I agree is her real problem.
There are ways to answer the booze question without getting into specifics. You can try, "I'm on meds that don't mesh well with booze." Or, "I'm a vodka-tonic girl, but only on special occasions." There's also the good old, "I can't drink much because of a health condition. But I make a fantastic designated driver." You don't have to get into the whole epilepsy thing, but you do have to come up with some sort of answer. And as long as you're easygoing about that answer, it'll be OK.

Lulu: I'm here to tell you that dating without drinking is possible. I think I've had a drink on maybe 1% of my first dates.

Ashley: It's harder, in the same way as having any restriction is harder than not. And how you frame it matters. Take vegetarians as an example. I would have no problem going to a bakery or something for a first date, if they didn't tell me they were vegetarian. If they did, i'd be automatically thinking of things we can't do instead of things we can. When you focus on things you can't do, it makes the person less appealing.

Lulu: Yeah, I agree, it's about context. If you plan a date at a barbecue place, the fact you're vegetarian will come up, and it will make you look repressed and inflexible with your sad salad. If you go to a bar then not drinking looks weird. Maybe she should plan a first date at a coffee place.

Ashley: Okay, I've read it now. So, it's not exactly that she's telling people ahead of time, which was my concern; it's that when they ask, she doesn't have a response. In her situation, I think it's fine to say "I have epilepsy."

Lulu: Yeah, I don't see why she can't tell it like she did at the beginning of letter. "I have epilepsy, so I can't drink." I didn't know that was a thing, but a guy will figure it out from context, like I did reading the letter.

Ashley: It's not like it's a stigmatized disease or anything. I think "health condition" makes it sound way worse than it is.

Lulu: Ditto "meds."

Ashley: Yes. Meds is bad. Makes you sound like you have schizophrenia. (You shouldn't drink on those meds either.)

Lulu: Even 'medication' isn't great.

Ashley: (What should schizophrenics say??)

Lulu: I have epilepsy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tiny House

Lulu: Check out this awesome girl in Annie's Mailbox.
I am a 14-year-old girl. I am arguably the smartest in the school and have never lacked confidence. I admit I am prideful and have never questioned my self-worth. I am always the one in the group with a sarcastic remark, although I am always careful never to hurt anyone with my words. I consider myself literate beyond my years.

This past week, my friends said they didn't think I could be truly "nice." I don't question my friends. I know they are the best of the group, and I am thankful for them. But one of them described me as "cold." This upsets me a great deal, as I thought I had been doing better opening up to people and being less aloof. I thought I was succeeding, but I have failed miserably.

I don't particularly want to be Miss Congeniality, but I also don't want to be labeled as cruel or cold. I am fun loving and can be sweet and compassionate. It appears to be overlooked that I do volunteer service regularly and have befriended "outcasts" when others wouldn't look their way. I really do try, and I know my personality is getting in the way. But I don't know how else to present myself.

I don't want to alienate myself from others. It sounds really stupid, but I want to be the stereotypical girl everyone wants to be with. Just a little. How can I open up after 14 years of acting totally self-sufficient?
Darnell: Immediately, this girl has Asperger's. She is Tiny House. ...Bungalow?

Lulu: The thing about House is that he is (or professes to be) fine with not being liked.

Darnell: Maybe he secretly writes into Dear Annie when nobody is looking.

Lulu: I bet he does! "I love them, but I keep pushing them away! What is wrong with me?"

Darnell: I think that every middle-to-high school outcast thinks that they are the smartest person in the school. It is the only thing they can cling to.

Lulu: True. I'm not sure she was condescending as much as she thinks she was to the outcasts she befriended. Maybe they were also like "Oh, i better befriend this outcast."

Darnell: And now regret it EVERY day.

Annie responds:
You sound smart, sassy and completely self-centered. Nearly every sentence in your letter has "I" in it. It seems as if you behave in order to be admired, and this is what your friends are reacting to.

If you truly want to open up, take a genuine interest in your friends without comparing their accomplishments to yours. Ask how they're doing and how they feel. See if you can make it through the day without saying something snarky.
Don't brag about yourself. Make your friends feel important to you. You can be assertive and still develop some humility. It will help.

Darnell: I love advice that boils down to "Stop being yourself." Because that is clearly not working for this girl.

Lulu: And to try to appear nice, which I think she has been trying. It just seems like her previous attempts to appear nice have rung false and insincere in her friends' ears.

Darnell: Probably because those attempts were both false and insincere.

Lulu: I'm not sure she can invent sincerity though. Annie tells her to be genuinely interested in her friends, can you do that?

Darnell: No, you cannot. I think what you can do is make a real effort to not be such a self-important doucher.

Lulu: I do agree that trying to not think about everyone else as peons will help her stop treating them in a way such that they recognize they are so many peons to her.

Darnell: We said the same thing but you said it more nicely! An alternate route is to play up being cold and mean. Focus it outside of your group, obv, for laughs!

Lulu: Yeah, I mean, we started off talking about House, and his method is: be a jerk, be known for being a jerk. Show a TINY AMOUNT of basic decency to those closest to you. SOMETIMES. They will grow to crave it.

Darnell: If you're aggressively cruel to people outside your group, you can probably ramp it down to just neutral with your friends and it will be mistaken for kindness. Warning: May get you punched in the mouth.

Lulu: If she really is somewhere on the autism spectrum, it could be that she doesn't communicating in a way that most people expect, and that is why she is coming off as cold. On users with autism and Asperger's have written some useful step-by-step guides to social niceties. Which I know for no reason. No reason in particular.

Darnell: Wow, actual advice.

Lulu: I'm also asking Ashley for her take!


Ashley: Yeah, I mean, it's hard to fake being nice if you aren't.

Lulu: Right. People can tell when you're being insincere. I speak from experience.

Ashley: Although people think you're insincere regardless of your sincerity.

Lulu: I don't know why! I don't mean to be mean!

Ashley: I don't believe you. I guess not being nice occasionally prevents me from doing things other people might want to do, but they're never things I want to do. I guess I don't see the problem of being cold.

Lulu: Well, if she has zero friends, it might be lonely.

Ashley: She has friends. They're the ones who told her she's cold. If my friends told me I was cold, I'd say that you have friendships with different people for different reasons. Presumably I have good qualities that are not "niceness," and the friendships should focus on that instead of expecting me to be something I'm not. It doesn't sound like she expects intelligence from her friends, so why do they expect niceness from her?

Lulu: She shouldn't say THAT part.

Ashley: Ha ha. I WOULD.


Lulu: Ha ha. Ashley said the girl in the column should say to her friends, "I don't expect you to be smart, so why would you expect me to be nice?"

Darnell: That is a good way to not have friends!

Lulu: I love our advice.

Darnell: Their response would likely be that they are both smart and nice. After all, they are outcasts so they are the smartest people in the school.

Lesbian prom date

Ashley: Abby has an interesting column, and I don't agree with her response. It's a lesbian love triangle situation.

Lulu: OooOOOoooh!

Dear Abby from March 26:
I am a female high school junior with many friends I love and a boyfriend I care for very much. A number of my friends are gay.

One girl, "Belinda," is a year older than I am. She told me a couple of years ago that she is a lesbian. I have done everything I can to help her and support her. Last year, Belinda shared that she loves me more than as a friend. She would like to take me to the prom this year, and I would like to go with her.

Because I am already involved in a relationship with a boy, should I not be Belinda's escort? If I go, how do I tell my parents?
Abby responds,
It's time you have another talk with Belinda and explain to her that you like her very much as a friend, but not in the same way that she feels about you. Because you are already involved in a relationship, you and your boyfriend could (possibly) attend the prom with Belinda as a threesome -- but you should not be her "date." If this turns out to be the solution to your problem, I'm sure your parents would have no objection to it.

Lulu: Well, if the girl thinks it's a date, then I don't think she should go. On a date. With someone who is not her boyfriend.

Ashley: Right. Why does she want to go to prom with the girl if she's got a boyfriend? Does he not want to go?

Lulu: It's Belinda's prom. She's a senior, the LW and boyfriend are juniors.

Ashley: Oh, I see. So now Belinda is supposed to invite both of them?

Lulu: She can't. Tickets are sold in pairs. I don't think you're even allowed to bring more than one date from outside the senior class.

Ashley: Right, that's why Abby's thing doesn't make sense. Even if it's allowed, though, it's weird. It's definitely possible to go to prom as friends, so if it's like a support-your-lesbian kind of thing, then sure. I don't see why not. As long as Belinda's clear on the show-of-support date as opposed to a date-date.

Lulu: The fact that Belinda has confessed her love, though, makes me think that it's too fraught. Unless the LW actually does want to go on a date with her, which kind of seems possible. I mean, it kind of seems like maybe the LW likes Belinda more than her boyfriend.

Ashley: Eh, I think she likes proms more than not going to proms.

Lulu: Just saying. She can go as Belinda's actual gay date. I'm just throwing that out there. Or she can go as friends, if they're both clear they are going as friends.

Ashley: Agreed.

Lulu: And if that is the case, the way she tells her parents is, "We are going as friends."

Ashley: Sort of in either case, depending on the parents.

The bad boys

All right. Let's do this.

Hey Cherie from March 24:
Here's my question: Is having the wrong friends better than having no friends at all?

Let me explain. I am the new kid in 10th grade... This is a school that is pretty small — less than 800 kids for the region. These kids are from families that don't move. Everyone has been here forever. Everyone knows each other. Everyone knows that I am the new kid. No one else has been new in like two years, and I am not exaggerating.

For a couple of months, I didn't have any friends at all. That sucked in a lot of ways. Then about two weeks ago, a group of kids who I would otherwise not be friends with somehow decided that I might be cool enough to hang out. They are into their cars and stuff but not grades and books. Some of them drink. I know some of them smoke 420 quite a bit. They are not at all like the kids I was friends with when I lived out west, but I don't live out west anymore.

So I guess my question is: is it better to be friends with these kids just so that I can have some kind of social life, even though they are not the kind of kids who would normally be my friends? Or should I put up with more months of being all alone in hopes of something better?

Cherie says:
New Kid, I'm going to give you some advice that some people might disagree with. I think it's fine to be friends with kids who want to be your friend, even if they're not like your friends when you lived out west. I think that you will find that at least one of these new friends could turn out to be a true friend — and be much deeper and more complex than you might expect.

It is easy to judge people, like books, by their covers. But books are not their covers — believe me, some great books have crappy covers! — and people are not always how they present themselves to the world. If you use good judgment and avoid activities that you wouldn't ordinarily do, I think that you'll do just fine. It's no fun to be alone.
Ashley: She... she says things I agree with!!

Lulu: Yes!! I was nodding along when she said the LW will probably find some value in the people if he spends more time with them.

Ashley: Yeah. Also it's like jobs: easier to find one if you have one, even a crappy one. You can meet other people who're tangentially part of the group.

Lulu: The one thing that's weird is "avoid activities you wouldn't ordinarily do"--I mean, no, if you do that, you'll be stuck at fifteen forever. Part of the open-mindedness Cherie is talking about is letting yourself try new things. I think what she means is "avoid activities you object to on moral or legal grounds."

Ashley: Well, what she means is "don't smoke pot."

Lulu: Right. And being friends with people doesn't mean becoming them. I've definitely been in groups where I was "the one who doesn't drink" or "the one who doesn't smoke" and they just thought it was quaint. It's possible as long as you're nonjudgmental. Or if you say you're straightedge.

Ashley: Or if you make up for it by hotwiring cars.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rodent choice follow-up

We have been chatting and will post again soon, I promise! In the meantime, this small cool thing. In the comments of our Rodent Choice post, in support of my rodent choice of the noble rat, I linked to an article about hero rats that sniff out landmines and tuberculosis. It turns out you can donate to buy hero rats bananas and exercise wheels! Wow!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

College visit

In today's Dear Abby, a girl wants to visit her boyfriend at college.
I am a 17-year-old senior in high school. My boyfriend, "Kenny," is 18 and goes to college five hours away. I'd like to visit him over the weekend sometime, but I need my parents' permission. Mom is OK with it, as long as I take the train (she doesn't want me driving that distance alone) and I pay for it. Dad is old-fashioned. He dislikes the fact that Kenny and I would be unsupervised in his dorm for a whole weekend, even though Kenny has a roommate.
We've been together for a long time and have been unsupervised before, but Dad's still uneasy. He treats me like I'm younger than my age. I'm almost 18 and have traveled alone by plane. I'm respectful to my parents and feel I deserve Dad's trust.

Kenny and I love each other, but having a long-distance relationship is difficult since we hardly get to see each other. Dad likes and approves of Kenny, but thinks it's "unnecessary" for me to visit him since we call, Skype and text each other often. How can I get my father to see my point of view?
Abby responds,
You probably can't - but your mother may be able to, which is why you should enlist her help in talking to your father for you. However, if that doesn't work, the alternative would be for Kenny to travel to visit you when he's able to get away for a weekend.
Abby is on a roll of giving rather permissive advice lately; she's not really helpful here, but she at least seems to imply that if it were up to her, she would let the girl go. Of course, Ashley and I are more strongly in the teen's corner, but so what else is new?

Lulu: Do you think there are logical arguments she could use to make her case, or is her dad just not going to change his mind because his thing is very emotional and it's about not letting his little girl go off and have sex?

Ashley: Well, I mean, has she had sex?

Lulu: She doesn't say. She sort of neatly avoids the issue, but I feel like it must be on her mind. The "We've been unsupervised before and nothing happened!" argument was always one my friends and I would pull out when we wanted to do sleepovers or trips with our boyfriends and girlfriends, with equal vehemence whether we planned to have sex or not.

Ashley: She's already tried the "the trust my word" approach and it didn't get her very far.

Lulu: Actually, it seems to be more like the "see, we totally won't have sex - the ROOMMATE WILL BE THERE!" approach. Which I feel is less effective than a straight-up, honest, "trust my word" approach. "Listen, I know you're worried that I'll have sex over the weekend, but I'm promising you that I won't; that's not what this is about; I just want to spend time with somebody whom I love and who lives far away."

Ashley: If she already has had sex, she might as well come clean and say she's not a virgin, so his worst fear has already come true. In fact, I might say that even if I were a virgin.

Lulu: I don't know that it's necessarily all about purity. If your parents think you are too young to have sex, but you have already had sex, they still want you to not have MORE sex.

Ashley: Really? Because I think the first time might matter way more.

Lulu: They don't want you to have babies. Sure, you got lucky SO FAR with zero babies...

Ashley: Then the argument is that you know what a condom is.

Lulu: Condoms break Ashley.

Ashley: You know what an abortion clinic is?

Lulu: Well, THAT'S not helpful. You getting an abortion is a worst-case scenario. Depending on the parents, they might even prefer you to have a baby at 17. But either way, we're playing out exactly the conversation she shouldn't have. I think she's cannily avoiding mentioning sex for a reason; she doesn't even want her parents to know it's on her mind.

Ashley: I'm just suggesting alternate routes. If her don't-mention-it / trust-me approach doesn't work, she has several options:

1) wait till she's 18
2) argue that she'll have safe sex
3) just get on the train and go

Lulu: There is something to be said for asking for forgiveness not permission, but it could be a huge shitstorm. She should exhaust all alternate routes first. Do you think the "I need to see what college life is like" approach will get her anywhere? Obviously, she can't claim it's her #1 reason for wanting to go.

Ashley: Yeah, not really. Maybe "I'll be in college in 6 months anyway"? If he doesn't think she can control herself over a weekend, how the hell will she do for the rest of her life?

Lulu: Yeah, I do think it's logical to be like, listen, I'm about to be on my own, baby steps are better than just suddenly being dumped from the nest. Also, I'll sleep on the couch! (I won't sleep on the couch.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Extry, Extry: We Agree With Dear Abby

Sometimes we have little conversationlets about the day's advice that we don't bother posting because they are so short and we are so, so lazy. But I wanted to note this moment in history from last week, where we agree wholeheartedly with Dear Abby!

From Dear Abby's March 9 column:
I am a 50-year-old gay man. On New Year's Eve, there was a block party on the street I live on. My neighbors, "Tim" and "Marie," are a good-looking 30-ish couple. I was watching the fireworks when Marie sat down next to me and said, "Tim and I would like to get to know you better. How about we drop by for drinks some night after we put the kids to bed?" She said this while stroking my upper thigh with her hand.

I find the idea of being intimate with her husband appealing, but I have never "been with" a woman and I don't think I want to be. It seems to me the most prudent approach would be to pass on this opportunity, but how do I do it without offending or causing embarrassment for one of my neighbors?
Abby responds,
Does this neighbor know your sexual orientation? If the answer is no, just thank her and tell her you're not into threesomes. Because it has taken you so long to give her an answer, she probably won't be surprised that a liaison is not your cup of tea. However, if she does know, tell her with a wink: "Thanks for the offer -- I'm not into threesomes. But you can send Tim over anytime."

Ashley: You're right! That is what he should do!
Lulu: I know! I have nothing to add. "Send Tim over anytime": inspired.
Ashley: Marie probably just wants to watch anyway!

Being Jewish

Often we don't post because we can't find anything remotely interesting in the advice columns; other times, one complete month of advice columns goes by and we're too busy with our online gaming addictions to even read them. But yesterday's seventh graders mocking each other in Ask Amy is just the kind we have strong opinions about, enough to break free of our orc-forged chains and actually do a post.
Dear Amy: I am in seventh grade. I am Jewish. I have a Native American friend in the same grade. We have a lot of classes together, and his locker is right next to mine. We have fun together, and he makes me laugh a lot, but he makes fun of me a lot too.

Sometimes he says that I'm fat, but most of the time he makes fun of me because I'm Jewish.

For example, today we were goofing around, and a friend of his said, "What's going on?" and he said, "She was being Jewish." This really hurt my feelings.

He has said that kind of stuff before, and I hate it when he does it. I have tried to get him to stop. Sometimes when I tell him to stop making fun of me, he says stuff like, "But you make fun of me, too." I don't make fun of him like that.

I told him I didn't like it when he made fun of me for being Jewish, and he stopped for about a day. My mom knows that he has made fun of my religion a few times, but I haven't told her that he does it almost every day.

I would feel safe telling a teacher, but I'm afraid that if I do so I will lose him as a friend, and I don't want that to happen. We have almost all of our classes together.

I can also imagine that it might make things worse if I tell. But sometimes I want to cry when he makes fun of me. I don't know what to do.
Amy responds,
There is a difference between having fun and "making fun of." Friends goof around and occasionally tease each other. But it's never okay to criticize someone's ethnicity or religion, even if you're joking.

That's not friendly teasing, that's bullying. And if you're afraid to tell an adult because you think it might make things worse, then that's a sign that this kid is a bully-in-training.

You can say to him, "I want you to stop making fun of my religion. I don't make fun of your being a Native American. What you're doing is mean, and I don't think you're really a mean person, so I want you to stop."

Give him another chance to change. And then, depending on what he says or does next, you should definitely take your concern to your mother and to a teacher.
Lulu: Amy seems to be telling the girl to do things she has already done: ask him to stop, tell him where the boundaries are, and if he doesn't stop, tell a teacher. But I think all of that is shitty advice for a seventh-grader.

Seventh-graders will not respond to a calm discussion of boundaries. He keeps doing it because it gets her riled up, not in spite of it. Saying "This is off-limits, don't make fun of this" is like drawing a target.

And crying to teacher will solve nothing. What is a teacher going to do? Punish the boy and make you feel like a tattletale? Have a Classroom Activity about Being Sensitive to Each Other's Culture, which the boy will ignore and mock?

Ashley: Is it wrong of me that maybe she should make fun of him for being NA? She'll prolly get expelled though :(

Lulu: What is there to make fun of? Your people were oppressed and killed by white man! LAUGH RIOT. I think she should ignore it. Just roll her eyes when he does it. Talk to him about something else. Or don't, if he's not worth talking to.

Ashley: I guess you could own the joke?

"Want to hang out?"
"No, I'll be over here being Jewish"

Lulu: Ha. Yeah, that's another way to go. Demonstrate how ridiculous it is.

Ashley: But yeah, at the end, you either accept it as part of your friend, or you get new friends.

Lulu: And learning how to deal with a friend who is kind of a jerk--to either ignore the jerk parts or drop him as a friend--is an important life skill! Because everyone is a jerk.

Ashley: It's true!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We have no advice (we have advice)

Ashley: In Prudence, there's a teenager who found her dad's porn.

Lulu: That problem always comes up, and I never have any advice. Uh, ignore it? Everyone watches porn.

Ashley: Or reads it.

Lulu: Everyone consumes porn. Nomnomnom.

Ashley: There's a bit of a twist in the column, though.
Q. While looking for a movie to put on my iPod on the family computer, I saw a really disturbing title. "Wild. Teen (S-E-X)" What should I do? I have a feeling this movie might be illegal, and I am kind of scared to be around my dad right now. I don't want any divorce/court/prison-type things to happen, so I am clueless. I have two 5- and 7-year-old brothers, and I haven't told anyone. HELP!

A: As disturbing as your discovery is, I doubt there is anything for you to be scared about. Yes, the idea is creepy, but men viewing porn is very, very common. Your father would probably be more mortified than you are scared when he discovers you came upon his porn-viewing. Take him over to the computer and show him what you saw and say, "Dad, I found this when I was searching for a movie, and obviously it upset me." Let's hope he's grown up enough to apologize and make sure it doesn't happen again.

Lulu: Okay, so I guess this kid assumes it is child porn? Because it says teen sex? But teen could mean 18 or 19 or 27 pretending to be 18.

Ashley: Usually the latter, yeah.

Lulu: Or even 27 pretending to be 16, and it would all be fine and legal. Given that probably 90% of porn videos claim the female lead(s) are celebrating their 18th birthday, the fact that it has teen in the title is meaningless. It might not even necessarily be what the dad is into but just what is available. The fact that i have hint of lime taco chips doesn't mean I love lime, it just means I love taco chips and that's what was at the store. I DO love lime, but that is irrelevant.

Ashley: I also love lime! And 18-year-old girls.

Lulu: I would not do what Prudence said.

Ashley: Correct. Why seek out an uncomfortable discussion?

Lulu: There are two passive aggressive methods that i can think of if what she wants is to get the dad (or mom!!!!!!!!) to stop leaving porn videos in the open:

1. delete any you find

2. save your own to the same folder

Ashley: Find a gay video, save it with the same filename. See what happens.

Lulu: I bet he won't notice, because I bet he didn't intend to leave a copy in the My Downloads folder or whatever. So she can probably safely delete it, protect her young brothers' virgin eyes, and do her dad a favor in the process.

Huh. I guess we did have advice for this LW after all.

Now, we really don't any advice for the LW in today's Love Letters. We just find the letter spectacular.
A few months back, I began to realize that I was falling in love with a woman I have known for some time but never got to know well. Being a hopeless romantic, I penned a letter to her stating that I had come to cherish our time/conversation and that I didn't know where our relationship was headed, but that I was so blessed to have her in my life.

She did not respond directly to the letter, though at other points she had told me that I was "endearing in every way" and made me blush (inside and out, I imagine) with other generous (albeit exaggerated) compliments.

Over the following months, we texted every night before we go to bed, hung out after work, talked intimately about life, and generally appeared to be engaged in the process of falling in love as I have come to know it -- the breaking down of barriers and the full sharing of oneself with another.

Yesterday, after playing board games at a local cafe for a few hours after work, she invited me to her apartment. I accepted, not thinking/expecting that anything physical would occur, but with heart aflutter that this was yet another sign of a desire for romance.

After looking at photos/artwork on her bed, I told her, in no uncertain terms, that I had fallen hard for her. She seemed excited to hear this first-hand, but also cautious, because, as it turns out, she is in an open relationship.

Such relationships are not for me (though I certainly do not begrudge others for engaging in them), but I now find myself between a rock and a hard place with two emotions/thoughts: (1) A wish that she had told me about her status earlier so that I could try to emotionally reorient myself (though I admit that I probably could not have stopped falling for her), and, connected with #1, (2) A concern that our relationship, somewhat paradoxically, cannot continue because we are so close, but cannot take the next step.

Should she have said something earlier? Exclusivity isn't important to her but was it reasonable to assume it wouldn't be for me? Do I try to slowly move away from the intimate communications we've been having, so as to create distance while not being reactive?
Ashley: He's right. She should have told him. But he's such a tool that I don't care.

Lulu: Right?? I mean, I don't agree with Meredith's response, because she comes down hard against open relationships in general. I don't think that you're not allowed to have an open relationship. I do think it's shady not to mention your relationship with someone you're having these intimate Life Conversations with, and who has made it clear he's interested in you, no matter what kind of relationship it is. If she wanted him to be a secondary partner, or whatever, she should have made that clear so he could make an informed decision. But it sounds like she's not particularly into him at all, really.

So I do sympathize with him. It sucks to find out the person you have a crush on is unavailable in the way that you wanted. Realizing you can't be around someone you like because you wanted them as a girlfriend and not a friend is not paradoxical, it is normal, and it sucks.

But I still think that he is a real knob.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gaming the job application test

Today, a teen job hunter in Hey Cherie is confounded by her first encounter with those lame job application personality tests.
Q. I am a 16-year-old girl who is applying for an after-school job at a supermarket... I talked to the assistant manager, and she told me that I should fill out an online application. I went to the website and did all the easy stuff, like what my job history was (not much!) and where I am in school. That part was easy.

The hard part was what came afterward. There were all kinds of questions of psychology with multiple choices. Things like, did I like to talk to strangers? If I saw someone slacking on the job, would I tell him or her off? Do I like to work as part of a team or on my own?

Cherie, these questions stumped me. I didn't know the right answers, so I haven't send in the application yet. I have talked to my friends, but they all have conflicting ideas about how to answer these kinds of questions.

A. In the olden days, back when your parents were teens and trilobites roamed the earth, applying for a job was pretty straightforward. You filled out a written application and did your follow-up. Now it's a lot trickier with online applications.

First of all, answer every question. As you do, think about what your employer wants in an employee. If it's a supermarket, your boss will want you to be neat, clean, presentable, work in a team, and know that your every move is a way of representing the company.

Have you ever stopped going to a business because of a rude employee? When that happens, not only do you stop going, but you also tell your friends that you are not going anymore. There is a negative ripple effect that all employers justifiably want to avoid.

So, think about your answers to those psychological multiple-choice questions from the point of view of your new boss. That will make all your answers easier.
Lulu: I mean, as far as I recall from doing this kind of application, it's usually pretty straightforward. Say NO I NEVER STEAL.

Ashley: Except that if you're too perfect, that gets flagged too.

Lulu: Does it? I know on like, the MMPI, it does, but on a standard job application test? I feel like they usually want you to superhumanly saintly.

Ashley: Say you never steal, that's fine. But if you say you never lie, that's not believable.

Lulu: Once I had one where it tried to trick you into thinking stealing was normal. "What is the cash value of the items you have stolen from your employer in the last year?"

Ashley: I have stolen things worth ZERO DOLLARS.

Lulu: I just stole people's hearts! And pens. They have like no resale value right?

Ashley: If it's directly job-related like stealing, then you definitely should say you never steal.

Lulu: It also seems from the question she cited that they are looking for her MBTI personality type: the "Do you work best individually or as a team?" "Do you see the forest or the trees?" kind of questions. In that case, I would guess what personality type they're looking for and answer that way (for a supermarket job: ESTJ?), but I know MBTI well enough to see through the test. But Cherie's advice, to try to imagine what kind of person they are looking for and answer as that person, applies.

Ashley: Yeah. Although I still think "individually AND as a team" is the right answer for every. job. ever.

Lulu: This ehow article on how to answer these kinds of questions is pretty comprehensive and straightforward. They provide sample questions and correct answers:
I work my best under pressure.

Most people will second-guess this question and think "Well, if I answer 'true', then they'll expect me to work extra hard." Remember, it's just an assessment. The score is interpreted as a raw number. The individual answers have no bearing on your job placement; the only thing that's important is that the answers are right. Therefore, when a question like this arises, always answer favorably.
They seem to think that you can't be too perfect--that the software isn't actually subtle enough to include or identify lie-catcher questions. My feeling is that for the most part the kind of test used by a supermarket, and the people interpreting the results, may be too unsubtle to notice an overabundance of perfection. You don't want to be screened out for being too honest on the test to find out if you are a liar!

Ashley: Some of them are weird, too, because there are factually-correct answers that are not what they want. You're supposed to strongly disagree that "Most teenagers go through a shoplifting phase," but that's a fact! You can't disagree with a fact!

Lulu: Well, for the purposes of the test, you'll just have to learn! And to go to a bizarre place of moral rigidity. Oooh, here's an answer key!

Ashley: Ha ha. This is the most useful post we've ever done.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Efficient advice machines!

Ashley: What do you think about today's The Vine?
Q. I have an older sister. The thing about her is that she was a pretty comprehensively horrible older sister to grow up with, and a while back, I decided that I was kind of done with her being a horrible older sister to be a grownup with, too. ... I offered her a deal. I wanted to get off the merry-go-round of aggravation and nastiness, so I proposed terms which boiled down to some pretty elemental behaving-like-adults stuff. ... Sister said no, she wasn't interested. I said if that was her choice, then we couldn't have a relationship any more.

It's been about a year and a half since then. In that time I have seen her in person once, at Christmas 2009, at our parents' house. (I was civil, but distant.) The part that gets awkward? She still gives me birthday and Christmas presents, transferred via our parents. This Christmas, my mother followed this up with suggesting that I should write her a thank-you note for the present I had rather awkwardly taken along with my gifts from my parents and family friends.

I feel like doing so would be wrong — because I set a boundary and it's important to me to hold it, and because it would probably suggest to her that I was caving and we could resume a relationship on her terms, which I feel would be unfair, since that isn't going to happen.

What do you think? Should I write her a note — but tell her that I'm still not going to interact with her if I have a choice? Should I ignore it, and treat the gifts as damages for past injuries, or pass them on to charities? Should I reject the gifts entirely? (In my cultural background, refusing a gift is incredibly rude, and I'm reluctant to horrify my parents like that, but…)

A. But you're still interacting with her. You still have a relationship with her, and she still controls you through it. Standing right at the boundary line and informing her, over and over, that this is the boundary and you will defend it is not ignoring her or ending the relationship. It's creating even more thankless work and frustration for yourself within it. ...

Accept that she will not learn, give yourself permission to stop giving a shit, and do whatever requires the least effort and emotional engagement going forward. It doesn't sound to me like you've explained the situation to your parents, which you might consider doing, in brief, so they understand why you behave certain ways, but if it's going to turn into even more drama and they'll still make a federal case out of you accepting the gift, well, then just accept the damn thing. Take it, write a short thank-you note, and sell it on eBay or drop it in a trash can two blocks away. ...

You don't have to forgive her, or stop thinking she's a dick, but if you genuinely don't want to deal with her? Don't. But holding a boundary this unswervingly is dealing with her. Find another way, one that lets you go back to not thinking about her as soon as possible.

Lulu: I think if you have told somebody you do not want them to contact you anymore, you do not need to write them a thank you note. She can accept the gift given through the parents and discard or keep it as she wishes, because the parents don't need to be put in the middle of this, but if she has told her sister she doesn't want a present, then it's fine for the sister's presents to go into the void UNTHANKED.

Ashley: Yeppers!

Lulu: Hee hee. Anything to add or shall we move on to dispatching Miss Manners?

Ashley: I think that covers it!

Lulu: Okay, so today's Miss Manners.
Q. I seem to be at the very beginning of what might be a romance, having gone on two fun and innocent dates. I know that you encourage a period of "friendship" before plunging in. Would it ruin the illusion of just being friends to give a handmade valentine card?

I do like to make valentine cards with lots of lace and red hearts, but maybe that would seem silly. Should I give it in person, or mail it? Mailing it would require finding out the mailing address somehow. And, what should it say?

The general message I would like to convey is, at the very least, "I would very much like to keep dating you!"

A. Leaving aside the notion of "plunging in," which Miss Manners would prefer not to think about, she may well have suggested the friendship approach to romance. Not that she really expected anyone to listen.

So instead of courtship strategy, she will discuss your question in terms of the strategy of etiquette. As this has to do with the effect on the recipient, it may amount to the same approach.

The object should be to delight him, rather than to embarrass him. You know him better than Miss Manners does, although not much better, since you don't know where he lives. If you believe that a valentine from you will set his heart racing, go ahead. However, she believes that even if a romance is budding between you, it is all too likely to inspire the unromantic thought, "Uh-oh. Was I supposed to send you one?"

Ashley: I do agree re: not making him think he was supposed to get you something, but I don't think a card necessarily implies that, especially if you like making them. Maybe make a stack and pointedly fish out his? So he doesn't think he's too special?

Lulu: Ha ha, yeah. Search ostentatiously through a messenger bag of red envelopes. This is similar to advice Darnell gave me about the candygrams - plausible deniability! She should definitely try to keep it simple and spontaneous-seeming, and avoid going overboard. She shouldn't send it in the mail.

Ashley: Agreed. Mailed would be weird.

Lulu: Okay, so we're done here too? We're so efficient with our advice today! Bam bam bam! Let's do another! Any thoughts on ex-girlfriend pictures on Facebook? This is in Love Letters, and Meredith comes down HARD on the side of taking down the pics.
Q. [My sister's] boyfriend and the guy I've been dating for a month are both reluctant to remove their cuddly, kissy, coupley Facebook pictures with ex-girlfriends. Both men rationalize that they are trying to maintain casual friendships with these exes, and do not want to take the hurtful action of removing or untagging the pictures.

My sister and I lean toward thinking that this is a bunch of malarkey. My sister fears that her boyfriend still cherishes feelings for his ex. I don't feel similarly threatened by my guy's ex-lady, but I just feel awkward that his profile contains dozens of public photos of him with her! ... I can't relate to my guy's reasoning since I'm not friends with any of my exes, but personally I always take down coupley pictures once a relationship has ended. (I've also noticed that many of my guy friends keep pictures of their ex-girlfriends on their profiles. Is this related to gender?)

Help! What do you think we should tell our guys? Is there a standard of etiquette around this issue?

A: If the picture is on his profile, he should take it down. If it's tagged on someone else's, he's allowed to de-tag himself. Your feelings should be more important than his ex's. And if he's worried about offending anyone, he should slim down his entire gallery of photos so that he's just keeping the bare minimum.
Really, I've never understood the whole I’m-putting-everything-on-Facebook thing. I know I'm an old lady in my 30s, but it's about respect and privacy, two things that never go out of style.

You're right. He's wrong. And your sister is right, too. You can't start dating new people and expect them to smile at your Facebook profile if it's basically a scrapbook of your dating history.

Tell you guy he should take down the pics -- so he doesn't seem like a jerk. And if he doesn't agree, forward him your friend's text. He’s obviously worried what people think of him. He should know how this looks.

And maybe tell him that he doesn't have to replace those pictures with 100 photos of you. Make some memories in real life. Not everything has to be part of the display.

Lulu: I don't see a problem with it at all. If facebook is the place you put all your pictures from your life, then obviously you will have a lot of pictures from every relationship. I don't think you should have a picture of you with your ex as your main profile pic, since that's the one that's supposed to represent you right now, but I don't see what's wrong with having outdated photos in your photo section.

Ashley: Maybe she should defriend him. Then she won't have to worry about it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Personality and dating your ex

Lulu: What do you think about the second letter in Tween 12 and 20?
Q. Tim and I had been dating steadily for three months when suddenly he said that he wanted to "play the field." This hurt terribly because I care for him very much (it could be love), and I didn't want to end our relationship. Last night, he called me and said he still wanted to go out with me, as well as several other girls.

I talked it over with my mom, and she said I should go out with Tim if he called. When my dad entered the conversation, he disagreed and said that Tim was probably only going to call me when he didn't have anything better to do, so I shouldn't go out with him anymore. We all agreed to let you have a say before I make up my mind.

A. Keep dating him, but just make sure you're not sitting around waiting for his call. Put the relationship on your terms, not his. Do things with your girlfriends and family and, by all means, date other guys. Do not break another engagement to go out with Tim — only go out with him if you're not busy.
Ashley: I think it's good advice, for once!

Lulu: I think it's good advice in THEORY, but it's impossible to do in practice.

Ashley: Really?

Lulu: Basically you have to act as if you don't care what he does and how her interacts with you, because you don't want to care, and because you don't want him to know that you care. But if you do care, it's hard to force yourself not to, and it's hard to behave convincingly as if you don't.

Ashley: Perfect advice for Extraverted Thinking personality types though! Since I am one, it made perfect sense to me. Now that you mention it, she did say "it could be love." She might be Feeling or Introverted Feeling. People should be required to give their MBTI types at the beginning of each letter.

Lulu: I'm T--milder than you, I guess--and I just think I would always be second-guessing myself. Suppose he asked me out and I didn't have solid plans, but I had some possible irons in the fire. A lot of times plans don't form until last minute. Do I blow him off, if he asks, on the basis of probable or possible plans? And if I don't, is that prioritizing him? If I say 'yes' because I'm not busy, does it seem like I'm prioritizing him? It seems dumb, but it's easy to overthink when you're more invested than the other person. She would have to have a lot of self-discipline.

And she would also have to be able to distinguish between wanting to see him because she likes to hang out with him (which is a legit motive to go out with him) and wanting to see him because she wants to convince him to come back and be her steady boyfriend. Because if that's what she wants she should not bother.

Ashley: Maybe she should shop around his friends. That's what I would do. In-your-face happiness is the best revenge.

Lulu: I do think the best thing she can do is to live well and go after what she wants. Just because he wants to play the field doesn't mean she has to. It sounds like she wants to go steady so she should go steady with someone else.

Ashley: Right, but if she doesn't have anyone yet, it's too early to pitch a fit. She should date him casually until she finds someone, and then go steady with them.

Lulu: Why bother with him at all? If she's dating to look for a boyfriend, he's already told her he's not interested.

Ashley: Having casual dates will make her look more desirable to other people too.

Lulu: Unless they think, 'Poor her, chasing after whatever crumbs her ex will throw her.' I mean, you see, it could be taken either way. She should assume he'll never be interested in going steady, and go on a date him if and only if she thinks the time she spends will be enjoyable.

Ashley: Practicing dating has its own rewards. Some dates aren't fun. She should learn how to handle them. Isn't it better to practice on an asshole whose feelings you don't care if you hurt?

Lulu: Why make yourself miserable just for a learning experience? I hate that. Anyway, going on a date with someone you went out with for three months is not necessarily an accurate testing ground for going on a date with someone new. You need to line up a series of blind dates with people from the internet with whom you have no evidence that you have anything in common--to be SCIENTIFIC!

Wow, for once we have an approximate equal amount of arguing on both sides of an issue.

Ashley: Big surprise: the extrovert is arguing for going out and doing things, and the introvert is arguing against it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sports, video games, and other conversation-breakers

Ashley: Tween 12 and 20 has a sports question, where Wallace tells a girl to develop an interest in sports lest she lose her boyfriend. And her best friend. The girl asks:
DR. WALLACE: With our boyfriends, my girlfriend and I double date about once every two weeks. At first it was fun, but now it just turns out to be one long discussion on sports. Even my girlfriend puts her two cents' worth in about who's going to win the Super Bowl (I don't even know who's playing). They talk about Ohio State football and basketball. And they talk about the Yankees being a cinch to win the next World Series because of the all-stars they recently signed.
I keep telling my boyfriend that I'm bored with all this sports talk, but it doesn't seem to matter. He still does it. I've asked my girlfriend for help, but she says she enjoys talking sports, too. I hate to be a party pooper, but I think my only solution is to refuse to double date ever again. Do you see a better solution? — Bothered, Zanesville, Ohio.
And Dr. Wallace responds with:

BOTHERED: If you want to stay with your boyfriend, maybe you should try to cultivate an interest in sports instead of growing increasingly exasperated with the topic. It's not fair of the other three to repeatedly leave you out of their conversations, but that doesn't mean they'll stop.

For you, deciding to find a way into the conversation — rather than refusing to double date again, which might cost you both your boyfriend and your best friend — could be the simplest solution. And once you're in the conversation, you'll probably find it easier to steer it to topics more to your liking.
Lulu: That's kind of like how I should be into LOTRO.

Ashley: Yes, you should be into LOTRO! Or you'll never get a double date again. Although we've moved on to League of Legends, and the new Star Wars MMO is coming out soon.

Lulu: I am less interested in League of Legends than LOTRO. I like high fantasy better than superheroes.

Ashley: League of Legends isn't superheroes. It's more Pokemon than anything. But it's all magic and stuff! Stuff, I tell you.

Lulu: Sure. In any case, according to Dr. Wallace, I should have developed an interest in video games SOME TIME AGO. I don't think you should be opposed to picking up interests of your friends' but you shouldn't have to develop all of them. Sometimes they are just dead boring to you!

Ashley: Look, you choose a champion, and they have different skills, but the main point is that it's an RTS; it has very little to do with superheroes. Also there are skins and terrible backstories! It's glorious.

Lulu: Dude. Sometimes you just can't get into something no matter how much someone else likes it!

Ashley: Oh, right, like sports.

Lulu: ... Yes.

Ashley: Dr. Wallace mentions this, but I would probably focus on how she can change the subject: conversational tactics as opposed to interest tactics!

Lulu: It can be really hard to change the topic when three people really want to discuss it though. Maybe she can plan an activity for the double date?

Ashley: They'll probably want to watch a sporting event. On the one hand - boring! On the other, though, it's much easier - the trick is to make fun of announcers. Announcers are always wrong, in all sports.

Lulu: Good to know!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Middle school problems

In today's Ask Amy, a middle school girl has nebulous drama. Then, I have middle-school drama!
I am a seventh-grade girl. I have been having trouble with a guy at my school. We'll call him "Chas." Me, my friend and one other girl all like him.

Chas has shown some interest in asking all three of us out. To make matters worse, our Valentine's dance at school is coming up.

The three of us girls decided that we won't be mad at whoever Chas asks to the dance. But to add even another problem, we all have other "crushes" as well.

I thought I only liked Chas, but in the past couple of weeks, I have seen a guy who I like even more. We'll call him "Randy." Randy has also shown an interest in at least talking to me. I think he might ask me out.

I wouldn't mind dating either of these guys, even though I think dating at my age is a little insane. But even if I dated one I would still like to have a friendship with the other boy. What should I do?
I can see where Amy is coming from with her advice, but it's just the sort of thing an adult would say.
The first thing you need to do is - simmer down.

I realize that asking a seventh-grade girl to simmer down is like asking Justin Bieber to stop being adorable, but all the same, if you could relax you'll have a better time at the Valentine's dance, and beyond.

You and your friends are starting to choreograph a dance you'll be performing for the rest of your lives.

For now you should do your "dating" as a group. If you don't pair off, you won't have to worry about a boyfriend relationship interfering with your friendships, and you'll be free to enjoy your crush-of-the-day.
Lulu: I just don't think it's feasible.

Ashley: I don't get either the problem or the response.

Lulu: It's a non-problem. She's new to dating and exuberant and doesn't know the rules. For her reference, here are the rules:

1. If you want to go out with someone, ask them
2. If someone asks you out, decide whether you would like to go out with them, and say yes or no accordingly.

That is all!

Ashley: Ha ha.

Lulu: I know it's more complicated in practice. And Amy's advice to relax and take things as they come is good (if hard to implement). But her advice to not date and just go out as groups is not going to work at all. That's a total adult fantasy of what young teen social life should be like. Like it or not, middle and high school kids are all about couples and pairing off. Doing stuff as a group is fine, but there will be pairs within that--even if they change daily--and the participants will always be obsessing about who is with who.

She can choose not to date, but she won't, because that's no fun when you're the only one, and she certainly can't change what her friends do, or the boys do. You can engage in the dating culture that's around you, or not, but you can't just decide to have a different culture.

Ashley: I didn't participate in seventh-grade culture, but I don't remember being particularly confused. If she likes a guy better than another guy... ask the guy out. What's the problem?

Lulu: It's unclear. I think she likes 2 guys, and even if she sort of likes the one better than the other, the other is more popular and she doesn't want to be out of the running? I dunno. If she can't decide between them, she can just wait and see if one of them asks her out. Or she could decide which one she likes best and ask that one out. Or she could flip a coin. Middle school relationships don't last that long, as a rule; it's not a huge commitment.

And to answer her actual question, dating one guy absolutely doesn't mean she can't be friends with the other! She can have as many friends as she wants. She PROBABLY can't date both at the same time--that would have been frowned on in my middle school--but she probably won't get the opportunity, so it's no problem.

Ashley: She also says it's insane to date at her age??

Lulu: Yeah, maybe that's why Amy is telling her not to date. She seems to find the whole thing overwhelming and a bit ridiculous. It is a bit ridiculous, because you say "going out" but you're not really going out--neither of you can drive, you can't get anywhere, you mostly probably hang out at school. All it really means is that you have a special feeling about somebody and they have the same feeling about you, so you've agreed to give each other titles. If that seems fun and exciting rather than totally pointless, then you're old enough.

[lull; Lulu checks work email]

Oh god, officewide Valentine's candygrams!

Ashley: Oh god.

Lulu: I can't afford to send one to the entire team and yet if I don't I'm playing FAVORITES.

Ashley: Send them to no one!

Lulu: Yeah. That is what I will probably do. But I want to GET some. Maybe I will send myself like 4.

Ashley: How expensive are they?

Lulu: 2 for $5.

Ashley: How big is the team?

Lulu: Like 20 people!

Ashley: Hah!

Lulu: There are only 5 in the row, but there is ONE PERSON I like outside the row. And there is one person that I have a childish crush on, but my first instinct--to send them four--could probably be considered workplace harassment.

Ashley: You're just screwed then.

Lulu: Probably it is more cost effective to just buy myself candy that I like, but that's not fraught with potential important office drama!

Do we have any readers, still? This is an open call for advice for MY middle school level non-problem! Or the LW's, I guess.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The dating game

Lulu: Ha ha. Reading Love Letters today, I was like, "Yeah, this seems like a normal problem, this is sort of like me," and people in comments are all "I don't understand, this is weird, you need therapy!"
I'm a 25-year-old woman, and it has been seven years since I've been in a relationship. Not just a serious relationship -- any relationship at all, or any date with a guy I've had positive feelings for...

I sing in a very social choir; I work at an office full of young people; I live in the city where I went to college and am still close with a lot of college friends. Granted, these aren't all the best ways to meet guys (my co-workers are mainly women, and choirs tend to be weighted towards men who are not interested in women), but I do socialize with a lot of people. Obviously there are a lot of fluky things that can result in dry spells, but it just seems like in such a long period of time, something should have happened with someone.

My conclusion here is that the problem is most likely something I'm putting out there. ... If I do have a crush on a guy, I'm not shy about trying to spend time with him. But if I don't already have strong feelings, it's hard for me to flirt in a way that might lead somewhere. I find myself pulling back. ... I also get really embarrassed at the idea that other people might think I'm romantically interested in someone. Is there any way I can turn off this scared-of-romantic-interaction vibe? Anything you can tell me to change my mindset? Again, it's not an issue with guys I have feelings for, but that happens really rarely (maybe once every two to three years).

Is there anything I can do besides be patient and hope the next seven years don't go by before something clicks with a guy?
Lulu: Also everybody is telling her to join sports and ski clubs. What if she doesn't like sports and skiing???

Ashley: I think she's a lesbian.

Lulu: Right?? I mean, some of the commenters identify her problem this way: she's not comfortable dating people she doesn't know, and she wants to be friends first before she dates. But that doesn't really happen after you get out of school. You have to date, and to be explicit about your interest in someone, even though it can be awkward. I think that's correct, and I have the same problem. I even have the thing where I'm only physically attracted enough to a man to overcome that aversion to flirting every 2-3 years.

That said, I mean, I'm (basically) gay. And I'm much more comfortable and into doing dating/flirting/there-is-no-plausible-deniability-I-am-interested-in-you conversations with women, even when I don't already know them well and they're not dropdead gorgeous model/actors.

That said, she doesn't mention being attracted to women, and you'd think she'd know that by now.

Ashley: Maybe she's just less attracted to people in general?

Lulu: It occurs to me that possibly the basic fantasy of slash fiction is a relationship where you intimately know the person before you consider them as a romantic partner.

Ashley: She probably loves slash.

Lulu: If she doesn't already, she would. But introducing her to slash is NOT A SOLUTION! It will only further her unrealizable romantic fantasies! With her gay chorus friends!

Ashley: The thing is, I also like to be friends with people before i date them. But i do eventually date them. So there's a weird disconnect for me between her preferences and her actions. There needs to be a step two: how does she get from preferring to date friends to not dating anyone?

Lulu: All her friends are women? If she's not a lesbian, she needs to become one! I mean, yeah, I guess the people who recommend sports clubs are correct in that she needs an activity where she'll meet guys. But sometimes you do not like those activities and are not good at them. Like imagine me joining Darnell's soccer team.

Ashley: Sports aren't the only option.

Lulu: It's true; of the activities I've looked into alone, several are male-dominated: coding, cartooning, rock music. And we know she can sing! Although maybe you don't want to date someone in your band.

Ashley: Video games. Role-playing games.

Lulu: Is that our solution to everything?

Ashley: Be gay or start gaming? Or both?

Lulu: Yeah.

Ashley: Well, it works!