Thursday, December 5, 2019

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Among the few interesting parts of the letters sent to New York Magazine advice columnist, Ask Polly, is this: many of the letter writers are  Polly fans. They take her blather to be holy writ. They provide us a test case of what happens to people who accept Polly's advice. As it happens, nothing good. Don't say I didn’t warn them.

So, here is a letter from a woman who has mastered the art of losing friends and alienating people. She has no filter, she lets it all hang out, she speaks her mind and her heart and her gut. When she is not showing off her flaws she is stressed out because she feels like she is repressing who she really is.

Among the pieces of arrant nonsense that Polly purveys is this: be who you really are. Polly will add that other people will naturally be attracted to a woman who is who she really is. The evidence of the letter says otherwise.

Were I to offer the woman advice, I would recommend a deep dive into the works of Miss Manners. She does not know how to function in society. She does not know how to treat her friends. By following Polly’s advice she has become rude, crude and probably also lewd. Naturally, she does not offer the least detail about what she said or did. The reason is simple: dealing with facts and reality would draw her away from the Pollyesque task of discovering who she really is.

Here are some excerpts from the letter:

Even after all your advice on “embracing your flaws” and “letting your freak flag fly,” I still feel like I’m defective as a human being and because of that, I’m uptight about everything I do and say. This all started a year ago when I had a falling out with two of my friends. The whole thing can be summarized in two parts:

1. I had just gone through a breakup after a yearlong relationship, so it was a vulnerable period for me. At that time, I was a turbulent person who acted on my emotions, so you can imagine how irrational and difficult I was to the people around me. I lashed out, I made spiteful and hurtful remarks when my friends offered me advice I didn’t like hearing, and I often asked the same repeated questions for reassurance. I’m not sure why I wanted to hurt the people who were trying their best to help me; maybe it’s because I wanted them to be able to understand how overwhelming my emotions felt, and I got defensive when they didn’t understand. This is a problem of mine I still struggle with, and I fear I’ll never really be able to control my emotions before they get the better of me — hence leading me to lose more people I love.

I would note here that she is making excuses for bad behavior. I would also note that Polly’s columns have recommended that she do so.

2. I went on a holiday with aforementioned friends not too long after the breakup. During the holiday, I did quite a few things which annoyed them both and now we’re no longer friends. Back then, I considered them my closest friends — though looking back now I see that our friendship lacked deeper levels of honesty and maybe even genuine love (though I can only say this mostly on my part, as I can’t be sure if that’s how they felt).

Anyway, back to the holiday which soured our relationship. I’ll use the names Allison and Becca for anonymity. Allison said I had been irrational and impractical and too emotional, and she just couldn’t deal with it because she’s the opposite of all that. I know I was selfish. I wanted some things to go my way, made some impractical decisions that indirectly inconvenienced them, and sometimes behaved like the world centered around me. Towards the end of the trip, in the midst of having a conversation about my breakup with Becca, I insulted her unintentionally when I compared her situation with mine (something along the lines of, “That’s easy for you to say, you have a boyfriend”). And that pretty much concluded the entire episode, and also our friendship.

OK, irrational and impractical and too emotional… isn’t that the formula that Polly recommends, get in touch with your feelings, feel your feelings, express your feelings. How is that one working out?

What is the letter writer doing? She is introspecting, criticizing herself, flagellating herself, doing penance for her bad behavior and her general all-around badness. She has managed to conclude that she should not even pretend to be a good person. But, how many people really want to associate with a bad person? Huh?

Since then, I’ve grown a great deal by trying to be more independent. I try my best not to make waves, and I keep my wants and desires to myself as much as I can so that I won’t inconvenience others or go against their own wants and desires. I try to be more selfless and thoughtful, and in general I’m happier with the person I am now. I no longer have to pretend or act like a good person. I genuinely feel more at peace with who I am: someone who tries to place others above herself.

But I still feel scarred by what happened with Allison and Becca. I overanalyze everything I do in fear of people leaving me because of how I function as a person. It feels like I’m constantly walking on thin ice: I worry when I catch myself saying something that can be misinterpreted badly, when I’m clumsy and mistreat someone’s belongings, when I’m short-tempered, when I’m honest about what I want but I’m afraid that it would go against what others want … It’s just constant worrying for me. I know I can’t expect myself to be perfect, and I shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. I think I’m also extra hard on myself so I won’t repeat any mistakes I catch myself making, hence preparing myself so that I won’t turn my future friends against me.

I know you’d probably tell me that the trauma of losing two friends has led me to believe I’m somewhat inadequate as a human being, and it’s probably just paranoia that’s leading me to believe I have a huge problem within myself. I would agree with that, but I can’t shake the idea that my idiosyncrasies and flaws are not the type that the majority of people can accept.

Apparently, it never crosses her mind to correct her flaws. She is rationalizing bad behavior by saying that it’s just who she is. Which is meaningless and irresponsible. She has been stripped of her moral character and does not understand why people do not like her.

Throughout my life, I’ve angered and unknowingly hurt many friends because of the things I’ve done or said — most of which were unintentional. Some of them have told me that they found it hard to believe when I stated that I genuinely meant no harm, as “it was very obvious those actions would lead to such consequences.” Everything has lead me to feel like my thought processes are vastly different from everyone else’s, and I’m afraid I’ll continue making mistakes that will cost me all my friends and loved ones.

I will abridge the letter and skip to the conclusion:

I respect your opinion and would love your insight on all of this. Part of me is tired of being so hard on myself all the time. I’d love to scream at myself to just chill the fuck out, but part of me feels that letting my guard down opens up the possibility of making more mistakes and pushing people away.

Uptight But Trying

As for Polly’s appallingly bad advice, here’s a taste:

You have to exit this paranoid, ego-driven lockdown and resolve to be your own scrappy uneven, inconsistent invention. You have to learn to look in the mirror and say to yourself: I am okay when I’m ugly and confused. It’s okay to be lumpy and lost. I can stand right here, feeling broken, and I am still lovable. I deserve love. I deserve honest, loyal friends. I know I can be that kind of a friend, too. But I can also dress up and show off and look great and take up a lot of space, and guess what? That’s who I am, too. I am a complex human and I need some room to grow right now. I need friends who get it.

Get over your narcissism by looking in the mirror—how is that for incoherent thinking? Polly does not recommend change. She does not recommend learning some better manners and more adult social skills. She recommends that UBT keeps doing what she was doing and embrace it… because the problem is with other people.

Ironically, those are also the people who seem to seek understanding the most, instead of telling you how you should be. I don’t think your friends really wanted to understand you, even when you were doing the hard work of trying to understand them. Go find friends who care, who listen, who love you for who you are. That’s what you deserve. You’ve worked hard for it.

Polly thinks like an adolescent and is writing to someone who has not yet exited childhood. The notion that people will love the letter writer for who she is, is psychobabble. And, by the evidence of her experience it is very bad advice.


whitney said...

My guess is she is a drunk and gets drunk and tells people terrible things and then feel shame about it when she's sober

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Very astute... thank you.

whitney said...

Not really. It just looked familiar to me from a previous life not really

UbuMaccabee said...

My job as a husband is to ensure that these people never enter into my wife’s circle of friends, and worse, as a consequence, into my circle. It is best they stay a long way away; we don’t want another Tommy Udo redux.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to assume it's not about drinking (I could be wrong) because she would've been told by her friends that she gets nasty when she's drinking, or that she's an alcoholic. My guess is that she is an infantile, bratty person. She's writing to Polly in a bid for permission to go back to her old ways. Polly seems to think friends ought to put up with any crap, and that one can find friends who will do this. That is crazy. Friendship isn't just handed over because you exist. You have to offer something valuable that overrides your faults.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There is a school of thought, from popular culture via TV dramas, old movies, and plays that people have to "get their anger out" to heal. It's considered bad for you somehow to "repress" it, hold it in. The mothers and wives of antisocial personality disorders tell me this all the time, that Justin just has all this anger inside of him that he needs therapy to help him get it out. My temptation is to say "No, he's getting it out just fine. It's keeping it in we want Justin to work on."

It's not bad for you to hold these things in, people.

Korora said...

Dear UBT:

In the immortal words of the Second Doctor, "I think you've been listening to some very bad advice."

Ron Liebermann said...

This is exactly the argument that black people make. They believe that their behavior should have no bearing on how they are viewed, or treated. They believe that all black people are descended from a line of Royalty, which simply needs to be reclaimed. They say "Only God Can Judge Me."

And they say that they can do whatever they want. So there shouldn't be any outcomes.

But I can think of a really good outcome.

Anonymous said...

My mother is like this: she must vocalize every thought and the listener must affirm it no matter how crazy or chaotic it is. And no she doesn't drink; she just has no self-control. The women on her side of the family are all like this.