Monday, July 29, 2019

Big City Habits in a Small Town

Nothing very puzzling about this letter, sent via an online discussion to the Washington Post’s Carolyn Hax. I see it as a sign of the times and as an instance of the kind of bad behavior promoted by the therapy culture. As I read the letter, I see no indication that its author was ever in therapy. Still, her intervention, her effort to lean in, her offering a standard issue therapeutic interpretation leads me to wonder.

Consider the letter a sign of the times, a symptom of cultural degradation, or whatever you like:

Earlier this year, I moved back to where I grew up and reconnected with some old friends. My best friend from high school was especially excited to see me again, and we started seeing a lot of each other.

But she's really critical of my lifestyle — I like to job-hop and date around, while she's married with a 5-year-old and has a steady job as a medical assistant. I laughed it off at first, but her put-downs got meaner and meaner, and I finally lost it and told her off. I said her need to criticize my life meant she was defensive about hers, and that meant deep down she was insecure and unhappy.

Everyone who was telling me I shouldn't put up with her behavior is now telling me I went overboard, because she seems devastated. I want to say to her that she sure can dish it out but not take it, but our families are really close, and there are a lot of family connections between us (small town).

My mom has asked me to apologize at least for how I said it, if not what I said, but I'm not sure what I said was so bad. Where's the line between standing up for yourself and being mean?

I'm thinking the easiest thing would be just to pull up stakes and move again, but I really like the job I have right now, and I'm not quite ready to quit. What should I do?

Of course, she should apologize. Hax tells her so, forthrightly. 

She made a mistake by assuming that she could behave in a small town the way she behaved in the big city. We do not know what jobs the letter writers flits around at, but we suspect that they are on the level of waitressing. And we do not know what she means by dating around, but if she has garnered herself something of a reputation, she should know that residents of small towns, especially female residents do not look kindly on such dissolute behaviors. Not only is she setting a bad example, but women will understand, first, that their husbands might find this woman tempting, and second, that they themselves will suffer reputational damage by hanging around with a loose woman.

In short, her friend is trying to warn her. Her friend is inviting her to mend her ways. The letter writer, having apparently suffered too much therapy, refuses to accept that her own behavior might be damaging her own reputation… so she denounces her friend for being judgmental. And for doing what the therapists call projecting, or practicing projective identification. She has done no wrong. Those who think that she has need therapy.

In the big city it’s easier to avoid judgment, because you can more easily avoid certain other people. The big city offers the dodge of anonymity. Many people happily embrace it.

So, the letter writer should change the way she is behaving, lest she become the social pariah. Then, she will be obliged to move back to the big city.


Unknown said...

Hey, isn't this "Dating App Detractor" writing 10 years earlier? I bet she drinks tequila and soda and eats veggie lasagna, too. Ride the carousel until it spins you into the wall, sweetheart.

Anonymous said...

stuart - a fantastic demonstration
of the letter-writer not knowing what she doesn't know.

Demographics, geography, social expectations, good manners for starters.

As I get older,I admire more and more those who are responsive to feedback from their surroundings.

Many seem to simply double-down (and imagine themselves "activists").

- shoe

Sam L. said...

Good thing she didn't Ask Polly. Hax gave good advice.