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Dec 05, 2011; The wonderer Asks:

Hi Stacey. Awhile back on here, you were answering someone's question and you said that the person shouldn't cut off their mother (or maybe father). You said, don't do that. And that if the person wanted to know why, you would explain. Could you explain? I would never cut off my mother or father because I think it would make me feel too horrible (even if they were horrible, which they're not) but I have cut off someone else in my life who, according to professionals, is verbally abusive. But for a good long time, that verbally abusive person was also my friend, in between moments of being an asshole. I feel bad about cutting this person off, and sometimes even miss the person, at the same time I feel kind of free and kind of like "well why was I putting up with that crap in the first place?" about it. My self image feels better for it at the same time it feels totally guilty. Cutting people off, even crappy people, feels bad when you care about them, even if you care in a complicated don't-want-to-return-their-phone-calls or divulge-personal-information-around-them way. Could you elaborate on whatever it is you were going to say before? I really hated this person when I did it, and can still think of stuff she's done that makes me hate her again, but that wasn't all there was too her. Sometimes I feel like getting back in touch, but trying to find a way to not get sucked into the whole thing again. Is that nuts?

Stacey answers:

Hi Wonderer. No, you are not nuts. Not only are your ambivalent feelings understandable, it takes sensitivity and courage to perceive them. It’s still a loss, even if your friend was a jerk—why wouldn’t you feel that? And of course your friendship meant a lot to you—if there wasn’t love, you wouldn’t have bothered to get angry.

As for cutting people off, I have different opinions for family vs. friends (& exes). With family, I think severing a relationship is a false solution with potential for bad-soul reverberations. (Obviously I’m not talking about family members who’ve done things we all agree are really fucking bad). The problem isn’t that it's too mean, it’s that estranging yourself from a parent isn’t the same as being free of them. Instead of vanishing, they’re likely to take up residence inside your head and become symbolic (i.e. the Bad Daddy). At that point, you’ve stopped dealing with the real person, so nothing can change. There’s no chance to grow up or watch them become doddering or get a nice china set out of the deal. It’s just you and Bad Daddy, locked together in a weird psychic room, forever.

With friends, the situation is less dire. You’ve already had the experience of breaking up, moving away, changing schools, quitting tennis team, or whatever it was that taught you that friendships can come and go without anyone dying or maybe even feeling that bad. And friendships are predicated on enjoying each others company; if it becomes torture, what’s the point? The truth is that people change and it can suck. A bad personality trait that was almost imperceptible once, like an ear poking out of their hair, may expand to cover their entire head. Then you change. Qualities you once found endearing (binge drinking, dissecting sexual encounters, extreme lateness) lose their madcap charm. There’s nothing wrong with moving on. I say do that. But it usually feels better to try non-extreme measures first. Distance, negotiation, telling them to stop it, that stuff.

It's kindhearted of you to wonder if your relationship can be redeemed. But it brings up questions about your objective chances of pulling this off. Have you gained some hotshot diplomacy skills lately? Because whatever happened before is likely to happen again. And do you think she’d be open to it, or is she too pissed at you for dumping her? Was she undeniably abusive, as in stealing your things or locking you in her car and driving 100 miles an hour? (Really bad). Or did she use abuse-style language while you were free to complain, leave, or use it back? (Obnoxious, but some people can deal with that). Would it work to try a more distant, fun-type friendship instead of an intimate one? Or would that just send her to Crazy Town? Are you idealizing her now? Did you over-react then? Did you give her a reasonable chance to reform? Even if you don't become friends, does she deserve an apology? Or are you just a nice, gentle person a who feels guilty easily?

You know Wonderer, it sounds like that feeling of half-wanting to get back together with an ex-boyfriend. Sometimes the longing isn’t so much about the boy himself as it is about being lonely and boyfriendless. Do you really miss her? Or are you feeling lonely and friendless? If it’s the second one, maybe it’s better to put more energy into your existing friendships, eat chocolate, surround yourself with stuffed animals, and buy a dog. If it’s the first, maybe it’s worth getting in touch with her to see what happens. That’s admirable. But brace yourself, Wonderer, because she might be really angry at you for dumping her.

Nov 22, 2011; Jon Asks:

Nice to meet you for lunch! I like the site. Best, Jon

Stacey answers:

Jon the songwriter! Yes it was. Thank you for letting me eat your hummus.

Nov 08, 2011; Julia Asks:

Aloha Stacey, First, I must flatter you: You rock! All right, enough of that. I am writing an undergraduate argumentative essay on the ways in which you use irony in your work, which will incorporate ideas from Barthes's pleasure principle (boring, I know). If you have any inclination to tell me how you personally feel about irony, even if your opinion is a snippet, a haiku...whatever comes to mind. I would simply like to have the benefit of your opinion without waiting for you to write your memoir (or a book 'on writing.') Thanks! -Julia Grace

Stacey answers:

You, Julia Grace, rock as well, and your paper sounds good even though I can't remember what Barthes said anymore. Didn't he like Japan? More boys should be named Roland. Here's what I have to say about irony: it can seem subversive, intelligent, obvious, or cutting, but really in the end, it's simply impossible to avoid. Try it. Good luck. We live in a world where there is no one thing we all believe in. Irony is inevitable. Amen.

Nov 02, 2011; Diego Castro Asks:

What is your take on the prospects of a graduating college student given the current job market (or what you've heard about the current job market). On a more personal level; I have almost completed a major in Biology along with all the necessary research experience, publications, internships, and positive academic recommendations but now find academia boring and the sciences dull. Have I wasted my time? I do like sea creatures.

Stacey answers:

No, you haven't wasted your time! Sea creatures are awesome, and liking one thing is better than liking nothing at all--which describes some people when they were fresh from college like me. Another awesome thing is that the job market is in the crapper! All entry-level jobs inherently suck anyway so it's not like there ever would've been some fantastic job-plum just waiting for you to pick it. A shitty job market gives you time to think about what you want to do, rather than just going with what will make you a good income quickly-ish--there's nothing like that now! So you don't have to have the "should I go to law school?" dialogue. Lawyering's over!

Honestly Diego, there's nothing wrong with trying things, flailing, failing, succeeding, and changing your mind. I know how important getting everything all figured out seems to you now, but personally I wish I hadn't wasted my twenties worrying about what I was going to be or do with myself as though every month of my life was somehow being chiseled in granite. It made me unhappy, it didn't help, no one cared (except my parents), and I had to figure some things out, like the not-liking anything. When I graduated from college, the economy was also very bad. Very few of my friends could find real jobs; most had internships and waited tables and stuff like that. And they were all worried. And now they're all totally doing interesting, grown-up, impressive, satisfying things. I think the bad economy actually helped in the end.

Oct 29, 2011; Occupier Asks:

What's your take on Occupy Wall Street?

Stacey answers:

I think it's neat.

Oct 26, 2011; Afraid to sleep at night... Asks:

Hi Stacey, I've been having vivid dreams almost every night for the past several weeks. Lately, the vast majority are apocalyptic in nature and last night's dream contained an unprecedented amount of gore I didn't even know I could imagine. I'm starting to fear my unconscious. Any advice on how I can dream about candy lands and puppies again? Do lucid dreaming techniques actually work?

Stacey answers:

I've been having them too. The first thing to try, which I haven't tried yet, is cutting out any insane, concentrated, large sources of caffeine, like those big guarana capsules I keep swallowing in the afternoon. So stop that, you. Then try taking 5-HTP at night with half a Benadryl (or a whole one, or none). Amazon has 99 cent hypnosis MP3's you can listen to as you're falling asleep. I like Gail P. Borden's "Sleep Deeply," though I think it has some annoying New Age music in the background. It kind of works the best if you don't think it's going to work and don't really listen while it plays. Having a purring cat on top of you can be extremely soothing; pretending you have one on top of you can help too. Don't underestimate the power of washing your sheets.

Or you could just go with it. After all, your subconscious is you, it's you, it is you; it's not a marauder or a Visigoth. Something is camped out in your mind right now, something dark or denied or unfinished or scary--why not take a look and see what you think? There's a lot to be said for not being divided from yourself, for letting the bad stuff speak. It's kind of great that you're having your dark dreams around Halloween, the one time when images of all our mean, bad, bloodthirsty, and angry desires become socially acceptable. Don't you kind of want to know about the apocalypse inside you, the gore? What's ending in your life right now, what's wounded?

The only hitch is that you have to write down your dreams. Otherwise they wash away with the day. And when you write them down, they begin to change--in fact, writing down your nightmares might stop them. If you're looking for a reading list (and I know you are) the most intelligent thinker about our inner shitty side was Carl Jung. He's sort of unreadable though so I recommend the books Owning Your Own Shadow and Inner Work by the Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson. He's pretty dry but he's clear and his books are short. (One caveat: he's sort of a drama queen, and warns his readers to use caution lest they have a psychotic break, so powerful is the shadow within them--just ignore that. It's a legacy of Jung, who had a great imagination but went a little woo woo with the ghosts and extraterrestrials).

As for lucid dreaming, I don't think that's going to get the puppies back. Lucid dreams are cool but scary. I only had one, once, with the aid of a Lexapro. I was in charge but I also sort of wasn't--it's a dream! I flew around over San Francisco, Superman-style, then ended up in school (I go to school every night, college usually, though this was grade school) where I flew through the halls yelling "School's out for summer." The air was full of beautiful fish.

Oct 22, 2011; Meowin' 'n' Lickin' Asks:

Say Stacey, have you taken the time to ingest any long form television lately?

Stacey answers:

No, but I dreamed I started watching Mad Men and had to turn off the TV very quickly in order not to see Don Draper looking at himself in the mirror saying, "Who am I?"

Oct 14, 2011; Mixed up in Maine Asks:

Hey Stacey. So, I've done a bit of thinking-- I haven't had the chance to wander off on the Appalachian Trail and meditate (work, familial obligations, etc), but I did go cold-turkey on the side action and that did give me some clarity. What I was able to come to terms with is that I am just not a monogamous person. I frankly don't know if it's in my nature. But, for the sake of my child, I don't want to break up my household. What I would like to do is to "open up" the marriage. Do you think there is a good way to broach the subject with my wife without totally crushing her spirit? I've thought about how I would feel if my wife was "getting some" from another man, and frankly, if it brought her the happiness that my fling has given me (and I didn't have to know the details), then so be it. From the time I learned what a mid-life crisis was I've wondered how mine would manifest. Welcome to my jungle!

Stacey answers:

No, there's no way. You're totally going to crush her and probably get yourself kicked out. I keep seeing a white stucco apartment complex, ski-lodge beams, a pool full of rotten leaves--a Brady Bunch purgatory. How did that end up in Maine? Maybe you're not really in Maine. Maybe you're kind of a liar, MUIM, if not literally then on the inside to your own self. Because you have to have a clue, a little clue-voice piping inside you, cheep, cheep it says, and also: This doesn't feel right! and Holy shit, what if this situation were reversed? and maybe even I fucking love her (though I don't know which chick gets your love, and God have mercy on her soul). Marriage is hard, open marriages are hard, and changing your regular marriage to an open one is really fucking hard. I'm going to go with a plumbing metaphor: if you're going to put that much pressure on a system, it better have strong pipes to start with. Otherwise there's going to be shit everywhere.

MUIM, dude, you've never said you love your wife; even after I admonished you for your coldness you didn't say it, and if you don't love her, why would she let you do whatever you want? What's in it for her? Are you doing anything to make her happy? Or are you just hoping she'll be a nice mommy to her little bad boy and let you skip school if you ask her real nice? Stop it, just stop. You're not a prince, your shit is not golden, and you are not going to get whatever you want because of the delightful fact that you exist. If you want a lot from your wife--to change the rules, to have a girlfriend, to have her be happy for you in your private life, which is separate from her--then you better be a great man for her. You better give and give to her, and give up things for her, and then give some more. It should be difficult, and painful, and change you. Then you'll be in a position to ask her to change for you.

To put it in concrete terms: if you want to keep your girlfriend and get your wife's retroactive blessing, then you're doomed, selfish, and an emotional idiot. I'm sure it's not your fault and that you'll feel pain eventually, blah blah blah, but it still makes me want to hit you really hard on the head with a piece of PVC pipe (from your broken plumbing) while screaming, "What's wrong with you?" over and over. Because, you know, what's wrong with you? This fantasy that your wife will go along with your all of your wishes is either laughable (because you're so clueless) or truly sad (because she may be in a position, emotionally and financially, where she feels she has no choice, even if she hates your guts).

On the other hand, if you're really serious about simply being a non-monogamous person in your journey of life, I'll stop hitting you over the head. Fine, good, you go you avant hippie art-boy. Monogamy is for accountants and bankers and this is what you need to do: give up your girlfriend, permanently and for real. Let six months go by. In that six months, try to be a mensch, which is Jewish for a good man. Listen to your wife when she talks and look in her eyes. Don't fake-listen, listen listen, like you did when you were dating and you didn't already know what she was going to say before she said it. Do what she asks you. Be a good daddy but makes things be about her too. Help her before she asks. Tell her she looks beautiful. Try to love her. Stop rating her in bed and start trying to make the moves she thinks are hot. I don't care if you have to meow like a kitten and lick her ankles, it's not going to kill you, so do it. In fact, meow like a kitten and lick her ankles. Be nice, be funny, pay attention to her. Keep at it for six months (just don't start it all at once or she'll wonder what's up).

Only then, after you've built a foundation of good feelings, can you launch into The Talk. This is when you tell her how much she means to you, how much you love her, and how your life would be meaningless without her, meaningless, empty, and bleak. However, you don't think you're built for total monogamy. You're afraid you're too much of a low, horny bastard to be monogamous forever, and you are a shithead for not telling her that BEFORE you got married. You didn't know before you got married, but now you do, ergo you are a shithead. Keep saying the word shithead. Then say you need to ASK HER if she thinks your wonderful bond could withstand a little meaningless sex on the side, for recreation, discretely, now and then, hardly ever, but not in total betrayal and secrecy because that makes you feel like a hoarded piece of moldy cat shit.

If I were her, I would instantly reply, "Why, is there someone else?" To which you will reply, "No, but there was." Don't lie, she may not have caught you so far but she'll catch you then. Also, for some reason you want to tell her the truth, so tell her. Then you will look at her and wait. You will answer her questions truthfully. And since you are a mensch who understands that a relationship involves two people, you will honor her wishes.

So basically, you have to cut out your heart and put it in her hands. She might say no, she might say yes, but you need to let her decide. Otherwise, you're just another asshole. Sorry, but you asked.

Oct 11, 2011; gravy boats passing in the night Asks:

You ever hear of Stacy Sutherland? I just typed in "a loves thats sound stacy" (sic) to pull up a lost album, and out of 9,568,492 hits you came up fourth. I find this strange because 16 years ago we had a drink at some party in a parking lot. Remember? You were so goddamn cute, but I just assumed you turned lesbian because you were so chummy with Anna Keefer. Oh, well. And, speaking of that, sort of, did you ever get that film transferred to DVD? I believe the last time I asked you requested that I check back in 6 months. I think that was 5 or six years ago? So that is 4 questions so far! But all of those questions lack import! So...what is the nature of our veiled realities in relation to the palimpsest of our consciousness? Seriously. I have no idea what the fuck anything means. Help me out here.

Stacey answers:

No Gravy, I haven't heard of Stacy Sutherland and I don't remember you. In fact, I'm pretty sure we've never met, though it's hard to know since all I've got to go on is a parking lot, a beverage, and that fact that you're a pussy (I know because lesbians scare you and you won't tell me your name). Also, assuming you're male, the use of the word "palimpsest" suggests that you don't live in Tucson (sorry fellow Tucsonans). So no.

I'm still working on the meaning part of your question...I need a snack for that.

Oct 06, 2011; Mixed up in Maine Asks:

Thank you for those much needed words of advice. I spoke to a friend of mine recently and he told me pretty similar things. He equated my situation to one of a junkie with the mind-blowing sex being the drug and the woman being the pusher (and the price of the drug being my sanity/marriage/job etc) and I need to detox. I thank you for your frank words and I'll update you in a few weeks.

Stacey answers:

You're welcome. Thanks for trusting me with such a difficult question.

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