I have no idea how to introduce this topic smoothly so I’m just going to jump right in and start.
You know how sometimes you’re talking to someone and you’ll say something silly because during the exchange of words, you’ve slipped into auto pilot?
“Enjoy your meal.”
“Thanks, you too!”
“How are you?”
“Good, how are you?”
“I’m good, how are you?”
Bee tea dubs, I do that second one all the time!
In these situations, I think going on autopilot is okay, because when you muck it up it is pretty hilarious and more importantly, entirely harmless.
But there are other situations when going on autopilot and giving the automatic response without really listening can be quite not good at all.
And I’m talking about situations when someone asks you for advice.
See, recently I discovered one of the people I quite look up to and respect was starting a blog where they offered advice to anonymous emailers. Brilliant right! I was pretty pumped. Nothing quite so comforting as first hand help from someone I have a lot of admiration for.
So I sent then an email with my problem.
My problem was about my impending university course on creative writing. I’ve been feeling kind of nervous about it, because I’m not sure if it’s the course I should be doing because a) it won’t make me very employable and b) I’m not sure if I’d be any good at it and c) there are other things I’m interested in studying BUT d) there’s the other voice saying “follow your heart and do it!” and e) whether anything came of it or not, it would still be a lot of fun.
So I have no idea what to do. Change my degree to something more practical and academic (less freeform, like my current course will be) or take the plunge and just do it and hope for the best and hope things work out okay.
I asked, and the advice came back in the form of two sentences:
“If you don’t want to be a writer, don’t do a writing course! You can always write in your spare time.”
See, I wasn’t really expecting wise words from a stranger to make the path ahead clear, but come on. That’s kind of crap.
Mainly because beyond oversimplifying a more complex problem, it’s also missing the point completely. my problem was never with whether or not I want to be a writer. The problem was whether it was a sensible idea to make that desire the foundation for my entire course. Of course I want to be a writer but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to be one, or that I’ll be any good at it, and therefore would it be better to spend $50’000 on something I can get a job with?
But at the same time, because I want to be a writer, should I do the romantic thing and take the plunge and hope for the best?
Which would I hate myself more for, in other words. Following my romantic side, or following my practical side?
My two sentence reply didn’t help much in that regard.
So there’s the problem of not really listening, but beyond that, making out like this is something quite simple when to me, this decision is causing me quite a bit of anxiety about my future.
But my problems really aren’t everything. And since then, i’ve decided to take the writing course part time with a couple of other electives on the side, and see how things work out. It’ll be a lot of work, but it should give me an idea of what things i really am passionate about and want to commit to studying.
The issue goes further though, because I had a look through some of the other words of advice on this persons blog and found the same problem over and over again. Every plea for help, every question and query, was met with these incredibly simplistic words of advice that more often then not entirely missed the point. There was one submission however that had a reply that went longer then a paragraph, and this caught my attention.
The person was asking for romance advice. They were sixteen years old, and had never had a romantic encounter.
Hey, join the club! They were asking the usual questions, how can I get a boyfriend, is there something wrong with me, etc.
And the response I can paraphrase down to this: “Be yourself, but not as yourself.”
They suggested the following. Be yourself, a guy will like you for you. treat guys like friends (not bad advice actually) BUT in order to not become ‘one of the guys’, make sure you’re still a bit feminine, a bit flirty. Wear girly clothes and a bit of makeup. And don’t be a afraid of putting yourself out there and making the first move.
Now, i can’t exactly talk because I am perpetually single, but that just doesn’t seem like very good advice.
First of all, and it took me a long time to make my peace with this, but sometimes there just aren’t any guys who do it for you.
Wanting a boyfriend is quite different to wanting to be with someone. For ten years I wanted to be with the LTULOML (see previous blog posts) but completely separate to that was longing for a boyfriend.
If there is a guy or girl that you’re into and who’s company you enjoy and who gives you that happy fizzy feeling inside, that’s wanting to be with someone.
That more vague, non-descript, achey feeling of wanting to be wanted and not wanting to be alone, that’s quite different. One is about another person, one is about yourself.
In high school, I saw so many girls go out with guys they really didn’t like that much for no other reason then it fulfilled the achey, longing, lonely side. It wasn’t about a person, it was about having a boyfriend.
So, in not so many words, just ‘having a boyfriend’ as much as I myself have complained about this before, is not everything, and shouldn’t be as important as waiting for that person, the one that makes you feel gooey and silly and nervous, to come into your life.
My other issue with this piece of advice, is that I think it overlooked a very important point and actually managed to subtly push quite a negative one.
As a girl doomed to be forever alone, I have to say that I feel like a freak a lot of the time. I’m only nineteen, but no ones ever even asked me on a date. It’s hard not to believe that there’s something wrong with me.
BUT, even though it hurts, I know full well there are plenty of people in the same position as I am. Perfectly normal, interesting, charming people who just haven’t had that experience yet. People the same age as me, people younger, people older.
In other words, as unhappy as I feel sometimes and as alone, the truth is that I am not a freak.
This sixteen year old asking for help was not told that there is nothing wrong with her for being single. She was told how to get a guy to like her. She was, in not so many words, told that she is not normal, that being single at sixteen is not okay.
And that is total fucking bullshit.
It’s important to listen, actually listen. It’s important to not say the expected or cliché thing. Life is too complicated.
DISCLAIMER: I still respect this person even if I think their advice is a bit naff.
Speaking objectively, it could even be a good thing to be given shitty advice, because it makes you wonder why it was so unsatisfying, makes you wonder what solution you would have preferred to hear, and helps you solve your problems yourself. But still, if someone asks you for advice, that is a time to actually listen and try hard to really understand. Imagine people complexly.