Thursday, April 25, 2019

She Is Bottling Up Her Emotions; or Is She?

It’s difficult to imagine that New York Magazine columnist, Ask Polly, can get any more stupid, but here she is, this week, outdoing herself. She is advising a woman who is clearly in pain. What is Polly’s advice: become an emotional basket case. Don’t just be an emotional basket case: show the world that you are totally unhinged. Rant, rave, yell, scream, abuse, confront… tell everyone what a complete mess you are. Tell them that you can’t hold it together… and lo and behold, Polly suggests you will free yourself from repression and walk bravely into the light of day. In truth, this road leads straight into a ditch.

In short, Polly reaches down into the depths of her ignorance and decides that the woman in question is suffering because she is bottling up her emotions. The letter writer seems to have alienated just about everyone around her… from which we can easily conclude that she has let them all know how miserable and dysfunctional she is. Thus, they have walked away from her, not because she is charming and functioning, but because she is wearing her emotions on her sleeve. Polly does not see it. As always, that does not deter her.

In truth Polly is advising this woman to have a nervous breakdown. The result will almost surely be commitment to a psychiatric institution, a rehab facility. And some serious medication. Polly does not think about this because Polly does not know how to think.

As for whether I am exaggerating her response, here are some excerpts, without even sharing the letter:

But for you to tell the truth about how angry you are, you’re going to need to accept that you have things to say that fly in the face of your fun, upbeat-seeming, perfectionist former self. That girl is gone. She might reappear in some other form in the future, but if you want to feel your feelings and be an authentic person in the world moving forward, you’re going to have to reckon with just how disappointed you are in the life you’ve created for yourself and the people you’ve pulled close and the successful, charming, exhausting DIY strategies that landed you here. You were raised by withholding ghosts who don’t want to face themselves or address what’s real. You were raised among smaller ghosts who mimicked their parents and wound up with drinking problems (and many other maladies, I’m sure). And now you have a choice. You can become a contemptuous, withholding ghost who never has sex with her husband and never tells her friends or co-workers the whole truth, or become something new: a ragged, ineffectual, melting woman who tells everyone everything.

That’s right: tell everyone everything. Forget about your self-respect. Forget about your dignity. Let it all hang out. In the normal course of human events, this tactic is self-defeating and self-destructive. If  the letter writer is suffering from an absence of human connections, Polly has told her how to have fewer human connections.

Polly continues:

If you’re going to save yourself, you need to start melting out in the open. Right now you are tidying. Stop it. This is no time to seem fine. This is no time to be good. This is no time to play along with our culture of weak substitutes and tenuous connections and fake friendships and imaginary alliances and never-ending, around-the-clock bullshit.

She advises the woman to become “an authentic raging, sobbing mess.” Seriously? How better to get yourself committed than to follow this advice:

This is a moment to be an authentic raging, sobbing mess. This is a moment to say to someone, anyone, “I am falling apart. I need you.” This is a moment to show up, in all of your wretchedness and fear, and ask — no, actually, demand — that your brand-new spouse very quickly learn to show up, too. He will express disappointment, too, of course: My brand-new wife is mean and sad and won’t fuck me. Prepare to hear that. When he begins to peel off the layers of how he feels, the top layers will be gross and you’ll hate him even more. Be patient with that part, knowing that there’s something underneath that you want.

As for the letter itself, I will now offer some excerpts. Because it is uncommonly long and detailed. This does not make it uninteresting, but here are some of its highlights. As it happened, this woman lost her brother, presumably to alcohol, while he was imprisoned and at roughly the same time that she was getting married. Evidently, she was facing a death and a birth at the same time… which confused her.

My husband and I were married five months ago. A lot of my family couldn’t make it to the wedding, most notably my older brother, who reported to county jail on the morning before we walked down the aisle. When I finally did get to see my brother, just after Thanksgiving, it was at his funeral. He died of alcoholism a few days before his birthday. The proximity of these two events — our marriage and the death of my closest sibling — has had the effect of blurring the lines between grief and the “marital adjustment period,” after a year of family drama and mind-numbing, reluctant wedding planning.

Apparently, she is the only functioning member of her family, so everything fell on her shoulders:

My parents are scatterbrained, secular baby-boomers with few family traditions and no aptitude for modern technology, and my other siblings are distant and self-absorbed, so after planning the bulk of our wedding, it was then up to me to plan my brother’s viewing and memorial service, write his obituary, field questions from friends and family, make a photo board, and buy cheese platters at Costco. I had to remind my husband that we needed a cat-sitter while we were both out of state for the funeral. Meanwhile, a friend asked if I could still perform in a show we had booked that weekend, and my father convinced me to scoop out some of my brother’s ashes into an old makeup bottle for his estranged alcoholic girlfriend. I became bitter and hopeless in the face of other people’s incompetence, selfishness, and inability to grasp the weight and significance life events such as marriage or death.

Do you really believe that no one noticed that she was bitter and angry at everyone else’s incompetence? Polly does, but Polly’s mind has been occupied by psychobabble.

The letter writer’s problem is clear: no one has reached out to her. No one has offered to help. The reason might be that she is so overwhelmed by emotion and is showing herself thusly that they are avoiding her:

No one in my family checked in to distract or comfort me, and friends I saw at work couldn’t be convinced to visit me at home where I might be safe to shed a tear on their shoulder without embarrassment. All I wanted was someone who would give me permission to be real with them without having to travel to a church or after-hours support group in the middle of winter, but the thought of asking for these things felt selfish and entitled. The fact that no one would take it upon themselves to extend an unsolicited caring gesture of friendship or familial concern left me simultaneously disillusioned and disgusted with myself for wallowing in self-pity. By conventional standards, one would consider me a popular person — a former model and sometime performer with flattering Google results and a successful career — but now I was a cliché whose entourage turned out to be comprised of vapid, indifferent acquaintances. After a few weeks, I felt confident enough to host a New Year’s Eve party, and that night I had to ask my husband kindly not to finish the fourth drink that he was spilling all over the floor, reminding him how my brother died.

Friends and family knew that if they saw her alone she would implode. Thus, they avoided her. If you care, it all means that she feels sorry for herself. She feels sorry that her brother died and ruined her wedding and her marriage. She feels bad and put upon that she must do everything. The solution is for her to get over herself, certainly not for her to show the world that she is emotionally overwrought.

Since Polly was babbling about how this woman is bottling up her emotions, you can feel confident that the woman did succeed in expressing her feelings. About what, you might ask? Why about her husband’s failure to cook dinner. That’s right, folks. She is also a true believing feminist and she threw a tantrum over her husband's inability to cook dinner. Neither she nor Polly consider that to be a problem in her marriage:

Then I got angry. To be fair, I had been angry the whole time, but for some reason it all came out after I asked my husband if he felt like spearheading dinner some time and he described his disinterest in cooking. In general, my husband is objectively a very kind and sentimental person, but I know now that he is not thoughtful and probably never will be. I let out a wail and sobbed something about how no one does anything just to be nice anymore, and then lectured him about how spouses who don’t like to cook subconsciously just want a maternal caregiver to take for granted for the rest of their lives. I recalled the last time I blew up at him, just after the wedding. I had asked him why he didn’t help me plan anything; why he took more time and spent more money for his bachelor party than he did for our honeymoon, and why he didn’t try harder to spend time with me on our wedding day. He gave me a sullen hug.

Yes, indeed. She needs her husband to support her, so she pushes him away. Brilliant strategy.

I will spare you the rest. Clearly, the woman has a problem. Just as clearly, Polly has offered just the wrong advice. The letter writer should get over herself, should stop indulging her negative emotions, should stop letting everyone know how miserable she is, and should start making kind gestures of her own. When you sit around looking sullen, angry and depressed, people will avoid you. When you ask them to spend time with you, they will demur. The solution is to start making kind gestures toward them. And to ignore everything Polly said.


Sam L. said...

Makes me glad and happy to be on the other side of the country from Polly and those who write to her.

Anonymous said...

Sam, nice of you to send your regards to Polly today. Randy finally reveals his big secret... that he IS Lorde.

Sam L. said...

Anon, who is Randy, and what is his secret?

Anonymous said...

Sam, it would take 21 min and 30 sec of wasted life to find out... Some things better off left unknown.