THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


Dear Indy...

by P

Illustration by Pia Mileaf-Patel

published April 7, 2017


 

I am hopelessly in love with a neoliberal. All of my woke friends disapprove... but something inside is telling me that life is about more than politics. Please Indy! How do I love the player but hate the game?


To be honest, this might be the first time I’ve heard someone referred to as “a neoliberal.” Maybe because it’s such a maligned category and something few people would self-identify as (there was even a rule briefly at the Indy that we wouldn’t publish the word “neoliberalism,”  since it is such an overused term and vague target) [still a rule –ed]. Plus, when talking about the main players of neoliberalism, most “woke” people would probably use much more demeaning names ‘filthy imperialist,’ ‘greedy capitalist,’ ‘frat boy Reaganite.’ All of which is to say that the game of assigning people labels based on political ideologies and/or complicity in existing political structures is often pretty fraught. 

I doubt your potential partner would characterize themself as “a neoliberal” or candidly state that they believe in an economic and political program free of market controls that has led to increasing global wealth disparity and environmental catastrophe. They might very well believe these things, but I really doubt that they would put it in those terms. 

A person’s politics can say a lot about their ethical outlook on life and their openness to particular experiences. But if you really want to see what a person’s about, you have to listen to them on their own terms (I don’t think you should do this for everyone—in fact, I think it’s both impossible and a little dangerous to be entirely generous and patient with everyone. Who we are generous to and patient with matters: it’s one of the main ways we sustain intimacy. Though if you’re in love or even deeply infatuated with this person, it probably means you’re already willing to be very patient with them and to listen very closely to how they think of themself). From there it’s up to you to decide whether you feel like this person is a good partner for you.

It’s also important to recognize that, as you said, “life is about more than politics.” Just as political labels have particular uses in particular moments, the ethical impulses and experiences behind the politics and self-descriptions people take up are deeper and more fascinating than whatever surface level descriptors you can attach to them. People’s politics—as well as people themselves—change. Choosing to be with someone, whether as a lover or a friend, is a decision to engage with the deeper parts of a person that can be channeled into all sorts of political programs. Being with anyone is largely a project of mutually figuring out what sort of future and present experiences to put your energy into, together—a decision that’s always going to involve politics to a certain degree.

One of the most exciting things about a romance is that it’s an ongoing conversation. If you decide that you really love this person, you’re going to deciding with them how to care for one another and the types of relationships you think people should have with each other. The relationship’s success will follow largely from whether you continue to love and enjoy the ways these negotiations go. This is all to say that if you really love the player, you’re going to have to start writing the game with them.

 

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I’ve been going to therapy for some time now and am just finally starting to make good progress on my depression, anxiety, improving my relationships with loved ones. The downside of my improvement is that I find it difficult to ask my friends for advice without the conversation taking on the form of a therapy session. The overlap between therapy and friendship feels misplaced to me. Shouldn’t those things be compartmentalized to a certain extent? The more pressing question I find myself asking concerns the nature of advice itself. Surely I am not the first person to feel dislodged from the advice-asking practice. Some people say that all solutions to one’s problems must come from oneself. Others say that to ask advice is to exhibit one’s weaknesses. My question to the intelligent, faithful advice columnist: to what ends does advice serve if not self-improvement and weakness (which I’m sure we can all agree are insufficient and inaccurate characterizations)?

 

First off, glad to hear that you feel like you’re making progress! That’s a rare and exhilarating feeling that should be taken for all it can give you.

And as for the compartmentalization of therapy and friendship, I’m actually not so sure I agree with you. Even bracketing the question of the availability and expense of therapy (a large bracket, I know), I’ve always thought that the trained patience and care of talk therapy could be better provided by intimate (and free) networks of friendship/love. Of course, we don’t live in that world and have to work with what we have at hand: a world in which certain modes of care have been professionalized (sometimes for the better, sometimes less so) and blurry conventions have taken hold as to what feels right in particular contexts. I’d be willing to bet that the tendency you notice for conversations with friends to take on the form of a therapy session comes largely from the awkwardness by which all sorts of social conventions are distributed so that this form feels like one of the only ways they can provide any sort of care.

But again, that’s by no means to say that you should drop out of therapy and suddenly enter some sort of loving paradise of friends who are as well-trained and attuned as a professional talk therapist (they’re not). Rather, it’s to remind you to look to the ways your friends are able to care for you. Once therapy and advice-giving become professional activites, it’s harder to notice the settings in which they occur more naturally (as behavior-modelling, shared goal navigation, mere presence), without the awkward formalities that sometimes accompany us trying to be trained, caring professionals. 

Personally, I’ve largely separated the types of care I approach friends and professionals for: I find it more useful to let friends know what is going on without asking for them to provide solutions, saving that type of work for my therapist or loved ones I particularly trust. Instead, I try to appreciate the ways that people deal with this knowledge and do help me (even though this often means asking that they not try to be my therapist, saying that there are other ways they can help me), whether that’s bothering me to make sure I get out of bed or going with me to get ice cream.

As I’m sure you understand, caring for loved ones is difficult, and expressing that care in the right ways, in ways that really help that person in that moment, is nearly impossible. For the most part, all I can recommend is a certain patience, a recognition that your loved ones do really love you and that it will take a bit of work for both you and them to find the modes of care that feel the most natural.

As for advice, I find that it’s most often a kind of performance of wisdom. Or—and especially in a setting like this, decontextualized from the ways that problems actually affect people—fodder to get some writer to fill newspaper pages. [____-ed] 

The best advice columns have a pretty typical structure: let me tell you about something that seems totally unrelated to the problem you brought to me, then a bit about myself/my place in giving this advice, then something to tell you that you will be OK. What’s notable about the format is exactly the same as what’s meaningful and notable about the way your loved ones actually provide care for you. They talk about something else. For all sorts of reasons, the best and most moving ways we have of caring for each other right now are largely indirect: they are part of the texture of living life with those close to you, things verging on the too ordinary to even notice as care. Learning to recognize these acts as love can be just as much work as learning to enact and reciprocate them.

And when people are direct about concern, love, care, or advice-giving, I’d recommend taking it for what it is: another person trying very hard to reach out to you, ignoring all the rules of an often baroque and unnecessarily difficult game of caring for each other.

 

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Sometimes I have the desire to make out with my close friend, but it would be inappropriate for us to make out. What can I do to stop wanting to make out with my friend?


On the surface at least, this doesn’t really seem to be a problem. It seems perfectly natural to have sexual feelings that sometimes get attached to your close friends. I don’t want to be in any sort of position where I’m telling you that you are wrong to have these desires or that they must somehow be silenced.

Yet, at another level, desire can sometimes be very distracting (which is also why it’s so exciting!). All I can really suggest is to try to think about other things. Perhaps zero in on the music and push that erotic energy into your dancing instead of looking for that dfmo [dance floor make-out –ed]. Or take a page from horny teenagers the world over and think about something decidedly unerotic: for whatever reason the example that comes first to my mind is baseball.

Or, if you feel like it’s a very serious distraction and you feel comfortable doing it, maybe let your friend know? I’m sure they’d appreciate the compliment (people tend to like being desired!). And having it on the table may just be what’s needed to keep it from feeling like too much inside of you. Or maybe it’ll be one step toward making it seem less inappropriate. ;)