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Asking for a Friend: Unprofessional Advice for Uncertain Times

Dear reader,

Welcome to this new adventure, where we’ll try our best to make the most of messes, and maybe even set a few straight. Here’s what I can promise: I won’t laugh at your queries, even by myself; I won’t pretend to know much about sports or particle physics; and besides my made-up name, I’ll always tell you the truth.

I love big questions. I love scary questions. I love the kinds of questions you might preface with “this is a weird question, but…” (You don’t have to preface here.) I wouldn’t expect any easy answers from me — partly because, like you, I’m writing this straight from the middle of things myself, muddling through with a pen, some pals and the occasional existential panic, but especially because I’ve already gotten a question about particle physics.

If you’ll trust me with your wondering, I promise I’ll handle your queries with care, and with all the sweet juicy woo-woo vibes I can muster. I’m writing this at 5:30 in the morning from a motel in a town that has two streets, from what I can tell, and two ski resorts at least. I don’t live here, and I’m not here to ski. Today, right now, is the morning after the darkest night in 500 years. Through the window I can see snow weighing down the feathered branches of nearby spruces, and the promise of sunlight is just starting behind the mountain. Amid the turbulent uncertainty of the last weeks and months, in this lucky corner of our upside-down world, I hope you’ll forgive my optimism. There is a lot to fight for, and a lot to ask, and without a little hope we might as well call it early.

But we’re just getting started. Allons-y!


My entire life, I have been told that I was special, wise, mature, an old soul. All of this seemed like a compliment. But I’ve found it incredibly isolating, because from from toddlerhood through high school, into college and my few post-college years, while I’ve watched people engage in relationships that are messy and sexy and fraught with friction and love and anxiety, I have not. Yes, I have had a few (fleeting) relationships, but the men I choose are never “ready” for me, whatever that means.

Right now, I feel more than ever that I’m getting to know myself on a really deep level, and that I am ready to share that deeper self with someone. I thought I met that person — not necessarily the “one,” but someone with whom I could maybe have something swimmingly, achingly beautiful. He seemed interested, intrigued, attracted. I told him I liked him, he retreated. He’s not looking for that right now. He’s not “available,” which is beginning to feel like my pattern.

It was heartbreaking, earth-shattering. But my question is not about that person. My question is: how am I supposed to go through life having faith that I will find someone? Someone who is complete all on their own, like I am, but is also ready for me, for all of me?

xoxo,
Old Soul

 

Oh, my fellow old soul. I have two things to tell you, and neither you nor my editor is going to like the first one: I wish I had an answer for you.

More accurately, I wish I had an answer for both of us. Because — the second thing — the reason I have no answer for you is that I’ve asked the same question myself, out loud, in pen for nobody to read, and occasionally in that scared and sullen teenage voice inside that is ready to believe the worst because she wants the best too much.

No answer yet has stuck; I’m still wondering with you. So much, in fact, that when I read your letter I questioned for a moment whether I’d written it myself in some forgotten fit. I had a fleeting, frightening thought that my therapist had broken several ethical boundaries and sent it on my behalf. I wondered which of my friends might be messing with me.

Then I started to wonder what I could tell you that you (and I) haven’t heard before. The answers I’ve clung to — the decision to celebrate solitude, to weave dense tapestries of true friendships, to revel in potent art and meaningful work and really great scrambled eggs on buttered toast — are not about finding faith, but about building a life you’d like to share in the first place. It sounds like you have one.

It also sounds like you’re brave. You told this erstwhile maybe-man of yours that you cared about him, which is one of the scariest things a person can do without risking death or dismemberment.

But you talk about messy and sexy and friction and perhaps even a little fear — and messy, scrambled eggs are not. Or, you know, not in the way you mean. I wonder: how much, in your wise and knowing life, do you let yourself not know? How often do you ask a question whose answer you can’t anticipate? How easily do you launch your body into space without knowing where exactly it might land, or what the fall will feel like?

How much, in other words, do you get to play?

Because, it turns out, self-knowledge is not enough. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a lot. More than a lot of partnered people have, for sure. It’s a reason everybody tells you to go to therapy in your twenties (and then forever after that, because therapy is, like, really great). But it doesn’t suffice if the thing you want isn’t inside you, but somewhere out there. Knowing other people is different than knowing yourself. And knowing other people generally messes with our tidy outlines.

You and me, we’re missing the mess. Maybe you’d say you don’t want that; maybe you want someone to fit you as sedately as a jigsaw puzzle, just as you are, in your deepening self. But something tells me — every great book I’ve ever read, for starters, and also most of the mediocre ones — that there’s no such thing, or not a thing worth longing for. A snow globe was built to get all shook up.

So I think that’s our real question, sister soul. How do we get messy without giving up our neatly manicured edges completely? How do we celebrate not just our solitude but our sadness? How do we give in to wanting something we don’t have, and keep always wanting something big and scary, because what else would cause our tame abandons to get just a little more wild?

To trust in that someday-someone, we’ve got to expand our surface areas instead of curling up in our old souls like snail shells. I don’t mean we have to go out more or wear more lipstick (though my grandma suggests we try). I mean we’ve got to engage with the world with a little more friction — if only to have faith that when the real deal comes along, we’ll be engaged enough to notice it.

We’ve got to learn to play. It sounds so easy, but it’s hard to unlearn the weight of responsibility, the density of consequence. To do something just because: that’s a good start, I think, to getting messy and all the wonder that goes with it. You just have to figure out what gives you that untethered feeling. Some people do Parkour or drugs, or talk a lot about Burning Man. Me, I jump in snowbanks. Learning this thing that comes built-in in toddlers feels like learning a language everybody else already knows — but people do that too. Lucky for us, we’ve got neuroplasticity and sometimes therapists who take insurance.

Your question, as you wrote, wasn’t about this guy. This guy wasn’t ready, so he wasn’t it. Your question was about faith, but I think we forget that faith, like love, is an activity. To have faith in the messy and sexy and fraught with friction, you’ve got to have a little of that inside yourself. You’ve got to crackle with your own electricity. You’ve got to welcome a mess, to make one sometimes. How else can you trust that what you want is reaching its way to meet you in the middle?

Let’s be brave enough to wonder where and when we might stumble on it. Let’s remind ourselves what it might look like by making it ourselves. And let’s enjoy the hell out of our scrambled eggs in the meantime.

Love,
Olive

 

For a little unprofessional advice in these uncertain times, send your questions to our anonymous portal. We want it all, from the epistemological to the inane. We’ll do our best to find some answers in the next installment of BLARB’s new advice column, Asking For a Friend.

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