published April 17, 2015

What do I do if I met some people over spring break who I am in love with and will probably never see again? Do I try to stay in touch, or simply the enjoy the ephemerality of our relationships?

P: This is tough. A lot of these kinds of relationships seem to me to be built on the basis of their limited timeline, that being what makes them feel sort of special. But I also don’t think that that means they have to end. I think you could reach out to these people and say something to the effect of wanting to keep up but not being quite sure how to. Try to remember that these are relationships built upon a certain suspension and go from there.

S: Writing letters is kind of like time traveling. I think you can stay in touch in a way that preserves the ephemerality of your relationships. It’s all about matching friendship-style to friendship-content. Don’t connect on Linkedin. Exchange addresses, think of envelopes as archives.

Every time I have to say ‘no’ to someone, I end up feeling so rejected myself...and I think there’s something about the finality of a rejection that I just can’t make myself face. Help me figure out how to have the confidence and resilience to turn people down?

S: Try: ‘not really,’ ‘probably not,’ and ‘I’d prefer not to.’ Or try saying ‘No’ and then immediately do something validating that reminds you of your own self worth, like singing the Self Worth Song (lyrics: ‘I like myself, I’m worth a lot’ x2 with accompanying hand gestures).

P1: Is ‘me too’ helpful advice? Eventually you have to let some doors close, you can’t pursue every opportunity presented to you. No matter what, you end up saying ‘no’ by not doing some things, it’s then just sort of kinder and more helpful to let people know earlier in words.

P2: Rejecting someone means having faith that there will be other people, now or in the future, who you don’t reject (assuming you like having people in your life!). I think that’s the scariest part of saying no or saying goodbye—it’s hard to remember that you’ll continue to draw people in, and some of them will be people you do want to keep close.

There is a freshman in one of my sections who is tremendously over-eager. Her hand is in the air every moment the TA gives us the opportunity to speak, even though it was made explicit at the beginning of the semester that (a) no hand-raising necessary, and (b) attention should be paid to the proportion of contributions one makes to class discussion. I wouldn’t normally think twice about it, as I feel I can sympathize with her situation to a degree—being new, being nervous, being excited, etc. But as the semester has progressed I can now say that she has single-handedly ruined discussion section. All conversation must react to or notably ignore her digressions, untamed verbosity, and contrived attempts at sounding profound. The TA hasn’t done much to curb the pestilent enthusiasm. I’m reaching out to you, Indy Features Advice Column, to ask if you think there is something I can do to convey to the freshman a better section etiquette without coming off as entirely demeaning/offensive. I really like the class and want to engage in conversation about the material, so I’m coming to you in a last ditch effort to save a section gone awry.

S: Ignoring the number of deprecating comments about the Indy Features Advice Column in this submission (ahem “last ditch effort”), I think you should ask her for coffee. Usually when I’m not getting along with someone I don’t know in a group setting, it’s too easy for me to code that person as ‘the tremendously over-eager freshman who unnecessarily and compulsively raises her hand while ignoring the proportion of contribution she makes to the section.’ Find out what her coffee order is, what she eats for breakfast every morning, and what she thinks about when she is waiting in line for the doors to open at a concert. There are probably a million and a half reasons she talks so much during your section, including, but not limited to a debilitating fear of silence, a deep and unrequited love of the TA, or a desire to engage with the material that is so genuine that it’s impossible to find reprehensible.

Or maybe she knows how much it annoys you. You just can’t know until you ask!

P2: Please ask her how she does it and report back to me, I’m still terrified of speaking in class! Or maybe she and I could alternate days in each of our classes, for the perfect cumulative amount of participation? Let me know if she’s interested. Thanks!

Sometimes being myself and living the life I live seems unbearable. But then I think about the problems I actually have and compare them to problems that other people have, and they seem unimportant. But then I feel guilty for feeling bad about the problems I have. Should I accept that the problems I have are real problems for me because of my situation and worry about them, or try to care less because they’re so trivial?

S: Perspective is the goal. Some problems are trivial and some problems are simultaneously trivial and significant because they become tied to things like sleeping or breathing or being able to remember where you put your keys this morning. I’m sorry that the life you are living seems sometimes unbearable. I’m glad you realize that it is probably pretty privileged. The key is making sure the trivial problems do not become the significant problems. Perspective. Take a drawing lesson.

P1: Agreed, for me, the thing to watch for is how your own problems compromise the types of attentions and efforts you can bring out into the world to work with more meaningful problems. In this way, these are very much non-trivial problems. I also don’t think working on these things are mutually exclusive. I feel like I’m always working on two fronts: on things outside of myself and with my own shortcomings and internal problems, to make myself more attentive to things I haven’t even thought to think of yet. And neither exists independently, every internal breakthrough I’ve had comes from working on problems outside of myself.

P2: Often I think that meta-emotion—feeling guilt or worry about other feelings—is the least productive and most harmful way to experience the world! Let yourself feel things, and try not to judge those emotions so much. You’re going to feel. You’re also more than your feelings. Can you repeat that to yourself a few times?

For me, the goal of life is to be happy. But what if that happiness comes at the expense of others, which it is almost certainly going to do in some way? Should I care? I only have one life, so should I just try to make myself as happy as possible, even if it might ruin the lives of others? Why do I have any obligation to help others instead of myself? Please answer without referencing some sort of religious or religiously derived code of morality.

S: The happier you make yourself, the more your happiness will trickle down to make other people happy.


P2: I’m curious what kinds of things you wish to do will simultaneously make you very happy and ruin the lives of others. Are there other activities that could suffice?

I have a terrifying fear of having a question of mine answered in an Anonymous Advice Column. What should I do??

M: You could have given us your name.